SEIU launches innovative organizing armada today

In a letter to the Fisher Island Community Association today, SEIU gave Fisher Island until 5:00 p.m. tonight to allow access to the public slip at the Marina and to the public beaches and ferry terminal allowing access to those beaches, or face legal action. The letter states "If Fisher Island maintains its current position, an action for an injunction will be commenced to protect the right of the public to reasonable access to the island's beaches."

"Fisher Island's attempt to hinder public use of its beaches has statewide implications, undermining the State's public policy that "beaches below mean high water lines" --- are held by the State "in trust for all the people" (Article X, Section 11 of the Florida Constitution.) Significantly, Florida has spent substantial funds to purchase land to enable the public to access the State's beaches, with beach tourism contributing billions of dollars per year to the Florida economy."

More than a hundred community activists will land on Fisher Island beaches tomorrow to put a public face on Fisher Island's "separate, but equal" mentality regarding the workers who service the island and the public. "Because they are so isolated, Fisher Island residents think they can wall themselves off from the poverty they create," said SEIU 11 Political Director Hiram Ruiz, "We set out to make a point, that there should be only one Miami, not one Miami for the wealthy and another for the rest of us. Now, however, it has mushroomed into something much bigger: Can the very rich write their own laws, roll over public officials and bar Floridians and tourists from accessing our beautiful -- and public -- beaches?"

The exclusive, white beaches of Fisher Island --- long kept off limits to the public --- will be the destination of an innovative action by SEIU Local 11 to expose the layers of discrimination, unfair treatment and abuse directed at the workers who maintain the island's grounds, clean up after the wealthy residents, and keep the island safe.

The only way on to the island is by invite-only ferry, boat, or helicopter. The island promotes its exclusive reputation by refusing to allow members of the general public to ride the ferry to the island unless they have been personally invited. However, a stretch of the beach on Fisher Island is public.

WHAT: Boat launch to take "private" Fisher Island beach public

WHO: More than a hundred community activists

WHEN: Saturday, November 17, 12:30 p.m.
First wave of boats will leave promptly at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Jimbo's on Virginia Key to Fisher Island
Directions to Jimbo's: Take the Rickenbacker Causeway to
Virginia Key.
Take the first left after the light at Mast Academy, and follow the signs.


Named the richest ZIP code in the nation by Forbes magazine and profiled this past June in The New York Times Magazine as "Fantasy Island," Fisher Island is known for its extravagance --- including bird-walkers, separate million-dollar condominiums for pets, lush surroundings, and imported sand.

Despite being the wealthiest ZIP code in the nation, the service workers who tend the island make as little as $8.60 an hour, and never know if they will be offered enough hours a week to pay their rent and other bills. Other cities with similar luxury condominiums that cater to the wealthiest Americans pay the workers who clean and maintain their buildings considerably higher wages. In San Francisco and New York City, housekeepers make more than $16 an hour and have fully paid health insurance and standardized hours.

While workers are struggling to form a union to combat low wages and uncertain work hours, they are also drawing attention to serious issues of discrimination the workers are subjected to on the island and the ferry that takes them to the island.

A recent New York Times Magazine piece wrote, "Indeed, what becomes obvious on the island is first apparent on the ferry: there are only two kinds of people boarding. Rich people, many in expensive cars, and servants, who board on foot and take their spots on benches for the seven-minute ride."

In a case that harkens back to the civil rights lawsuits of the 1950s that ended racial segregation, 19 workers filed a class action complaint against Fisher Island Holdings, Inc., Fisher Island Community Association Inc., Fisher Island Club Inc., and Fisher Island Community Association LLC with the Miami-Dade County Equal Opportunity Board charging that policies and practices in effect on the Fisher Island Ferry Service that operates between the exclusive island to the mainland segregates Haitian, Hispanic, and African American workers. The complaint questions policies on the island-owned ferry that the workers must take to get to the island.

The island is only accessible by ferry, excluding the few residents who arrive by helicopter or private yacht. Billed as a paradise for residents and guests, the island attracts some of the world's wealthiest people, such as Mel Brooks, Sharon Gless, Janis Wackenhut (the daughter of the founder of the Wackenhut Corp.), and former Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) executive Michael Tokarz.

The workers have repeatedly reached out to the Fisher Islandcorporations and Somerset --- the New York City-based private equity firm that has pledged $300 million to make the island "one of the most exclusive addresses in the world"--to commit to high quality jobs on the island and to end discrimination against the island's service workers.


Union muscle fashionable again in the U.S.

Suddenly, it seems, organized labor in the United States is flexing its muscles again.

In the first strike in its 121-year history, the stagehands' union local in New York has shut down much of Broadway, while a walkout by 12,000 Hollywood writers is creating havoc for television and film producers. These work stoppages come soon after brief strikes by 74,000 workers at General Motors and 45,000 at Chrysler.

So do these walkouts portend a resurgence of American labor, even a new union militancy? The answer, for various reasons, is probably no.

Harley Shaiken, a labor relations expert at the University of California at Berkeley, says these disputes show that unions, although weaker than before, will not shrink from a fight.

"To paraphrase Mark Twain, all this shows that reports of the death of strikes are greatly exaggerated," he said. But many labor experts say the strikes result not from a newfound aggressiveness, but from a defensive effort to hold on to what union members have.

When 2,200 stagehands went on strike on Nov. 10, closing down 27 plays, it was in direct response to the producers' carrying out policies that reduced the number of stagehands per production as well as the overtime that stagehands would receive.

In Detroit, workers went on strike at General Motors and Chrysler after management demanded a worse health plan for retirees and a lower wage tier for new hires. (Some auto workers said union leaders had orchestrated short strikes to try to convince the rank and file that they had fought their hardest.)

"These aren't strikes to explore new territory, but rather to protect past gains - to prevent deterioration in working conditions and job security," said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. "All this shows that management is getting stronger and much more confrontational."

It might be an overstatement that Detroit automakers are getting stronger, considering the desperate shape they are in, but it is true that they, in their struggle to compete against Toyota and Honda, took their toughest bargaining position in decades. The latest United Auto Workers talks seemed light years removed from those a half-century ago when, with each round of negotiations, the then-mighty union would win an ever-better health plan or pension.

The United Auto Workers reluctantly agreed to more sweeping concessions with the Big Three U.S. automakers than it ever did before because the union and its members have a huge stake in seeing those automakers grow competitive and survive.

The Writers Guild took to the picket lines after Hollywood producers refused to increase the modest residual payments they give writers on DVDs and refused to give any residuals for new media like the Internet or cellphone transmissions. Many writers were seething that the producers continued to offer them only four cents in residuals per DVD.

"In all these situations, management basically said you do what we want you to do or you have to stage a strike, and the union viewed a strike as a good piece of strategic leverage," said Richard Hurd, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University.

He saw an important parallel between the disputes in Hollywood and Detroit. "The unions there are struggling to keep up with the changing structure of the industry," Hurd said.

Ruth Milkman, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Los Angeles, argued that the writers' strike was an offensive struggle, not a defensive one, because that union was pushing to increase residual payments.

"They're trying to push the envelope, but they don't have tremendous leverage," she said. "They don't have the type of leverage that auto workers and the truckers once had when they could shut everything down."

Shaiken suggested that the stagehands had more leverage than the writers. "The stagehands have darkened the theaters. Period," he said. "With the writers, it's a long test of wills. The TV networks can always show reruns. But the strike will exact a long-term toll in a volatile industry."

He said the stagehands' dispute was a far more conventional confrontation. "Broadway producers can't simply move a play to a theater in Mexico and have a New York audience watch it there," he said.

These much-publicized strikes are by no means the only ones where unions are on the defensive. For example, 600 nurses went on strike seven weeks ago at Appalachian Regional Healthcare, a chain of nine facilities in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, after management insisted on increasing health insurance premiums, reducing holiday pay and eliminating a policy of paying 40 hours of pay for 36 hours of work.

Chaison said the strikes in Detroit had a lot in common with another recent strike: the walkout by subway and rail workers in France that has crippled train service and the Paris M├ętro this past week. The workers in France flexed their muscles in an effort to block President Nicholas Sarkozy's demand to raise the age at which train workers can retire with a full pension, currently age 50. Most French workers cannot receive a full pension until age 60.

"The UAW," Chaison said, "is trying to defend their jobs and income against the pressures of globalization, and the French government is trying to hold down costs because of pressures from globalization."

But these labor experts see a few bright spots for American labor unions. Over the past year, unions have organized tens of thousands of low-wage workers, most notably hotel workers, child-care workers, janitors and home-health workers.

For labor, the brightest spot is probably politics. "Unions have a tremendous amount of influence in the Democratic Party," Hurd said. "Labor knows that the Democrats have a pretty good chance of winning the White House, but whether they can win a big enough majority in Congress to enact pro-labor legislation over a filibuster, that may be tough. A lot of unions are placing their future hopes on that."


Union negotiator turns into a strikebreaker

The people put in the most difficult position because of the writers' strike have undoubtedly been the show runners; the people who act as both writers and producers on their very own shows, who almost solely in charge of their series creative direction.

Once the writers' strike began that fateful Monday, show runners were put in an impossible situation – do they break the picket line and help finish up production on their shows, or do they adhere to the Writers Guild's wishes and stay away, while their series continues production without them?

'Lost', with eight scripts finished and production on going, has perhaps the most loyal and demanding fan base of any series on network TV. It is because of this that Lost writer, producer and co-show runner Carlton Cuse has decided to go back to work.

Cuse told the New York Times, "We feel we owe that to our fans. We would harm our franchise if we didn't do it ourselves." Whether this decision will be met with WGA resistance is as yet unclear, but Cuse himself is a member of the WGA negotiating committee, so I'm sure he ran this through the appropriate channels before making the decision.

I haven't read anything regarding whether or not Cuse's co-show runner Damon Lindelof will also come back to work on Lost. Lindelof recently wrote a relatively scathing op-ed in the New York Times about the writers' strike, admonishing the producers for their unnecessary greed.

Cuse will not be doing any writing, so he technically won't be breaking the strike. He's just there to work on post-production of Lost's eight new episodes that will air in early 2008. It's hard to disagree with Cuse's decision here. It really is for the benefit of the fans. If you know that the episodes are going to be produced and aired regardless of what you do, I think you probably owe it to the fans to get involved and make sure the episodes are up to snuff.


Dem Lawmakers to be Ousted Over Union Criticism?

There is no room for disagreement among Democrats. If you are a Democrat that has anything at all critical to say about a union, for instance, they don’t just get mad at you and call you names, they arrange special meetings to throw you out of power! See, this is the more “tolerant” and more “adult” Democrat Party we have all come to know and... uh ... love.

In Prince George’s county, Maryland, a little dispute has arisen between the UF&CW (United Food and Commercial Workers union) Local 400 and two members of the Democratic Central Committee, Vice Chairman Arthur A. Turner Jr. and Chairman Terry Speigner.

At issue is the monkey wrench that the union is trying to throw into plans to build a Wegman’s grocery store in the area. This project will bring a lot of tax money as well as jobs into Prince George’s, but because Wegman’s is non-union, the union is trying to deny the area this new commercial development.

We find the story on Prince George’s Gazette.net.

The dispute began in August when a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union filed an unsuccessful zoning appeal that could have hindered grocer Wegmans from coming to the county. Wegmans, a high-end grocery store chain based in Rochester, N.Y., does not employ union labor.

From here the two aforementioned Democrat Party officials sent out an email saying that they were aghast that the union would try to stop this useful community development.

The dispute is causing a rift between the committee – which handles political appointments, fundraising and other political functions in the Democrat-dominated county – and organized labor, a longtime ally of the party.

So the union thugs went after these two men who are only interested in the economic development of their county.

"Both these gentlemen have damaged their ability to lead the party," said Mark Federici, executive assistant to the president for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 ...

And the AFL-CIO had to get into the act, too:

"Labor unions have done more to create and expand the middle class in Prince George’s County than any other institution, not to mention our years of work to get Democrats elected to office," AFL-CIO President Joslyn Williams wrote in a letter obtained by The Gazette. "I am saddened and dismayed you would help spread such anti-union sentiments."

And now, two guys that have honestly wanted to improve their county’s economic situation find themselves under attack by their own people.

The dispute has sparked discussions about changing leadership. According to central committee members, member James Allen introduced a motion to remove Speigner and Turner.

There are 24 members of the committee, who are elected by party voters. Under the group’s constitution, two-thirds of its 24 members must agree to summarily dismiss an officer.

Yep, no room for disagreement if you’re a Democrat!


Mrs. Clinton accused of meddling in SEIU endorsement process

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards ran into many of the challenges of the Nevada caucus when he stopped by a New York-style deli for a bagel and cream cheese.

The former vice presidential candidate's campaign invited plenty of supporters to fill the seats at Bagelmania on Thursday, just off the Las Vegas Strip. But the shop's owner said she's apolitical. A cashier was a Republican. One of the servers said he doesn't vote.

"I vote for the best person, " said Jerry Sevier, a 71-year-old cashier, shortly after ringing up Edwards. "A Republican."

Nevada is new to the presidential primary game, with this year's caucus weeks earlier than usual and likely to play a role in naming the nominee. But campaign and party officials face a challenge in finding voters ready to commit to the caucus.

Fewer than 10,000 Democrats caucused in 2004, and party officials are aiming for more than four times that Jan. 19.

Edwards' stop illustrated some of the hurdles.

"I have to remain on neutral ground here because I have a restaurant, I have a lot of customers that come in and cross all boundaries. I have to be diplomatic," said shop owner Nancy Horn.

One of her servers spoke little English and said he didn't vote, though he happily shook the candidate's hand.

Outside the deli, Sharyn Graham, a 41-year-old apartment manager, described herself as very interested in the presidential race. She's an Edwards fan because she believes he cares about working-class people. But asked if she would caucus, she shook her heard no.

"I don't think so. I never make plans like that so far ahead," she said.


Across the street from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus where the debate was taking place in the Cox Pavilion, hundreds of supporters turned out to rally for their candidates.

Passing cars honked at the people chanting and carrying signs along the street bordering the UNLV campus. Some were led by organizers with bull horns. Others wore matching T-shirts. One man wore only a barrel.

Of the estimated 500 people in the crowd two hours before the debate began, the campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama were best represented. Together they dwarfed their Republican counterparts, who appeared to be only represented by a group of eight young people, who carried signs reading, "Keep Nevada Red."


Andres Mantilla, a Las Vegas resident and Edwards staffer said he arrived about 2:30 a.m. Thursday with four other campaign workers to stake out a prime spot to display waist-high, three-dimensional red signs spelling out Edwards' name.

"This was the big day so it was worth it," he said.

There was no indication the candidate drove by their location.


Tim Veit, a spokesman for the group Firefighters for Dodd, led about 100 others wearing bright yellow shirts.

He said Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut has consistently championed issues important to firefighters, who he said were the first line of homeland security but were struggling with shrinking staff levels.

"Just because the funding is gone, doesn't mean the responsibility is gone."


A boisterous Cindy Engleman chanted loudly for Clinton. The Las Vegas resident and educator said she was an Obama supporter but has since been swayed by Clinton's experience in the White House as first lady. No. 1, she said she doesn't agree with the No Child Left Behind law and thinks Clinton's approach is better on education as well as on the environment, women's issues and health care.

"It takes a village to educate a child," she said before she went back to chanting.


Two key union endorsements in Nevada are still up for grabs and the campaigns are jockeying to earn them.

Clinton raised eyebrows this week when she released a list of more than 200 nurses who had agreed to endorse her bid. The move appeared to send a message to the nurses' union — the Service Employees International Union — which has not yet picked its candidate in Nevada.

Edwards, who has won the SEIU's backing in New Hampshire and Iowa, accused Clinton of meddling with the union's endorsement process.

"SEIU has not decided who they're going to support in Nevada yet," he said. "But I have no intention of interfering in any way with the internal process of a good strong union that deserves to be able to make their own decisions."

The Clinton campaign had no response.

SEIU and the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union are expected to provide critical organization muscle in the caucus. Both unions are expected to pick a candidate in December.


Republicans were not invited to the debate, but that didn't stop them from weighing in. GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney issued a statement on what he called the Democrats' tax-and-spend philosophy.

"The only place you can lose more money than in the casinos of Las Vegas will be in that debate tonight."

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Sue Lowden had similar thoughts.

"Despite their efforts to put on a show tonight in Las Vegas, nothing can change the fact that the Democrat rhetoric of higher taxes and massive government growth are in stark contrast to the values of Nevada voters," she said in a statement.


Some of the lighter and less scripted moments of the debate came when the professional questioners handed the microphones to the amateurs.

In the second half, average citizens bought the room to its feet, ferreted out Clinton's taste in bling and wished Bill Richardson a happy birthday.

Catherine Jackson, the mother of a soldier who served three tours of duty in Iraq, was chosen to ask a question about a possible war with Iran. Before Jackson could query the candidates, the crowd showered her and her son, Christopher, with a spontaneous standing ovation.

Another questioner, Jeannie Jackson, asked about contractors in Iraq — and threw in a nod to the New Mexico governor's birthday. Richardson turned 60 Thursday.

The debate ended with the 2007 version of the infamous "boxers or briefs" questions put to President Clinton in 1994.

"Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?" UNLV student Maria Parra Sandoval asked Clinton.

She happily hedged.

"I prefer both."


Candidates moved from the debate to the Jefferson Jackson dinner hosted by the Clark County Democratic Party.

All eight of the Democrats in the field got a chance to make a pitch, including former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who was shut out of the debate because his campaign failed to meet a fundraising threshold.

Sens. Joseph Biden and Dodd both used their time on stage to thank the party for the opportunity to speak for several minutes — longer than they got during the debate, they joked.

Early questions in Thursday's debate focused largely on the race leaders — Clinton, Edwards and Obama.


FCS is no bargain in Writers Guild

Writers for The Young and the Restless issued a letter to deny published reports that some staffers resigned from the writers union, a move that would allow them to go back to work.

A story in Variety said several of the soap's writers had sought financial core status (FCS) membership with the Writers Guild of America. Writers can resign union membership and become FCS members, obliged to pay pro-rated initiation fees, annual membership fees (about $100) and 1.5% of their gross income to pay for the union's collective bargaining and other employment related expenses, according to union documents.

In a letter Tuesday signed by the entire staff of the soap, the scribes said they remain supportive of the Guild and the strike.

"Not a single person who was writing for Y&R when we struck has gone core. Not one. We stand united with sore feet from picketing," the letter said.


Big Rift within AFL-CIO over insurance mandates

John Sweeney meet Rose Ann DeMoro.

Last week, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney put his stamp of approval on an employer-based health insurance reform plan put forward by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

This week, California Nurses Association executive director Rose Ann DeMoro said that the Illinois plan was a plan that helped insurance companies, not workers.

DeMoro sits on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. DeMoro and the nurses support a single payer, Canadian-style health care system.

“It's unfortunate that the Illinois plan by Governor Blagojevich has gotten the support of any union that is part of America's healthcare agenda coalition since it does little to solve the healthcare crisis in Cook County and in Illinois that union members face,” DeMoro wrote to the AFL this week. “No money is provided to help the county, which is the primary provider to millions of low-income people. Instead, the insurance companies get more customers, expanded revenues, modest requirements for transparency, and new claims forms and external review for denied claims.”

In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, California Nurses Association public policy director Michael Lighty said the Illinois plan “keeps the health insurance industry at the apex of power and diverts the momentum for single payer.”

“But the fact that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney endorsed that and some of the other international presidents endorsed it does not mean that they also do not support single payer,” Lighty said. “The single payer movement in the labor movement is very much a bottom up effort. There are 300 locals that support it. There are now 26 state AFL-CIO labor federations and 70 central labor councils that support single payer. The Illinois state reforms keep the health insurance industry at the apex of power and divert the momentum for single payer. At the same time, there are going to be certain political calculations that are going to be made. And while we disagree with them, we don’t believe that that prevents us from organizing with these other single payer supporters within the labor movement.”

Lighty said that plans put forth by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator Hillary Clinton are pretty much the same.

“They all take the current system and try to make it meet our current human health care needs,” Lighty said. “We think that is wrong. You can’t do that. Private insurance by definition makes money by denial of care. And you can’t meet the needs of people through that approach. That’s why we support single payer. Everybody in, nobody out.”

The AFL-CIO’s health care initiative is being headed by Heather Booth. Booth sat on Hillary Clinton’s health care task force in the 1990s and worked to keep single payer grassroots supporters in line behind Clinton’s managed competition plan.

Lighty stepped gingerly when asked about Booth’s impact on organizing for single payer.

“She has been going around doing some of the educational presentations to union members,” he said. “We have developed a good relationship with her. We wish she was a die hard single payer person. She certainly supports single payer. It’s just our task to move that effort from the grassroots. She is definitely someone we can work with.”

Lighty says he has a copy of Booth’s single payer powerpoint presentation, but hasn’t seen her deliver it.

Does it support single payer?

“Certainly, the critique leads to single payer,” he says.

Lighty says the California Nurses Association has recently hired Bob Wages, a former president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, to help organize the drive for single payer in California and around the country.

A single payer bill passed the California legislature last year but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Lighty said single payer needs four votes in the California Senate and six to eight votes in the Assembly to override the Governor’s veto.

Lighty was also highly critical of a compromise bill hatched by Governor Schwarzenegger and California House Speaker Fabian Nunez that is currently moving in the state legislature.


Marxists' update on WGA strike

After months of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, on Nov. 5, the 12,000-member Writers’ Guild of America went on strike. The AMPTP is the negotiating group representing all of the major Hollywood studios.

According to the WGA website, the studio’s so-called Comprehensive Package Proposal is "comprised of 32 single-spaced pages containing rollbacks of every fundamental protection writers have won in the last 50 years."

At the center of the debate is labor’s future in new media. Digital media—on the internet, cell phones and other digital devices is up and coming. It makes big money for the studios through advertising and lucrative contracts. The AMPTP is bent on making sure organized labor has no jurisdiction over it. The big studios want the full cut, keeping writers and all others frozen out.

Additional items of dispute are the regressive proposal on residuals, which basically would do away with residuals altogether, and writers’ share of DVD sales. The writers are asking for a mere eight cents for every DVD sold.

But the writers are fighting back. Pickets are taking place in front of studios all over Los Angeles and in New York City.

The Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America have provided support in name, but SAG, the DGA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees all have anti-worker "no strike" clauses in their contracts.

The leaders of these organizations have invoked the "no strike" clauses in all strike-related communications with their members. They aim to coerce members to adhere to the precise language of their negotiated labor agreements so as to prevent any possible legal backlash.

While it is true that unions can be legally sanctioned for refusing to honor a "no strike" clause, such a clause is inimical to worker solidarity.

The positions of craft unions like SAG, DGA, AFTRA and IATSE on the writers’ strike does nothing positive for their own members or the writers. If anything, they are preventing the possibility of a wider work stoppage that could force the producers back to the table.

On Nov. 14, IATSE President Tom Short accused the writers of being "strike happy." Short has made numerous statements condemning the strike. Before it began, he threatened to sue the WGA if its writers went on strike. Some IATSE locals, however, have expressed support for the writers.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO’s Central Labor Council in L.A. County, has been completely silent about strike thus far.

The Teamsters, who won a "conscience clause" in their contracts with the studios—language permitting them to honor picket lines without reprisal—largely have honored the WGA pickets. Teamsters Joint Council 42 sanctioned the strike and Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer Leo Reed has supported publicly the WGA’s actions.

As Marxists, we know that even the most historically entrenched contract language can be overcome by militant action and worker solidarity.

We also know that the most powerful weapon against the capitalist bosses is the ability to withhold our labor power. As one picketing writer told pslweb.org, "This strike should be industry-wide. But, no matter what, we’ve got to fight. The greed of these corporations is unfathomable."

The WGA has shocked many in Hollywood and beyond with its willingness to stand up to the studio bosses.

The writers are not traditional industrial or service workers. In fact, many writers see themselves as creative artists, not workers at all. Some are high paid; most barely scrape by. Despite any subjective limitations among writers, they are workers who suffer exploitation at the hands of big capital.

A strike like this can make the real relationship of labor and capital clearer. This happens on the picket lines. This happens through action in the streets.

Around 5,000 writers and supporters came out in Century City on Nov. 9 for the largest rally in WGA history.

On Nov. 20, the Party for Socialism and Liberation will join the WGA in strike support rally led by the Teamsters and other labor and community organizations.

The last WGA strike was in 1988 lasted 22 weeks. This time, writers are braced for a long struggle and they intend to win.

Working-class people—union and non-union—should show solidarity with the strike and direct their ire at the studios.


UFCW to take dues hit as buyout shuts factory

Northumberland County, Ontario will lose another 300-plus unionized factory jobs next fall, with yesterday's announcement that Kraft Foods Inc. will shut down its Cobourg plant. In a statement early Thursday morning Kraft officials said the plant, which employs 380 union and non-union staff, will shut its doors in October 2008.

It's the second major food production plant in the region to announce a closure this year. In August 460 non-unionized employees at General Mills Trenton plant learned they would be out of job by the end of November.

Staff at the Cobourg plant were called to a meeting Thursday morning to hear the announcement. The announcement was made in conjunction with news Kraft Food Inc. has agreed to merge its Post cereals business into Ralcorp Holdings Inc. Ralcorp produces private label and frozen bakery products.

The Cobourg operation will be "transitioned" to other plants within the Kraft network, said Cynthia Waggoner, senior director of Kraft's Manufacturing Sector in a prepared statement. Union members with UFCW Canada Local 1230 signed a three-year contract with Kraft May 2007.

The Kraft plant originated as the Douglas Pectin Company in 1919 and was later purchased by General Foods. In 1985, General Foods was acquired by U.S. tobacco giant Philip Morris, which later bought Kraft.

Production of products made at the Cobourg plant will be transferred to other Kraft facilities.

The Cobourg plant makes a variety of products sold in Canada and the U.S. including cereals, coffee, powdered soft drinks, dessert mixes and coating mixes.


Candidate's support for striking writers is 'entirely phony'

Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a leading candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, is scheduled to appear Friday afternoon on the picket line of striking film and television writers. Edwards is a multi-millionaire and a big business politician whose particular strategy for political advancement is to play the “populist” card.

Edwards speaks of the “two Americas.” He claims to be the “only candidate who talks about poverty in America,” and he denounces the worst excesses of the big corporations. His record, his social position and the party he represents, however, expose these statements as fraudulent.

Edwards made his name and fortune (estimated in 2003 at between $12.8 and $60 million) as a personal injury lawyer. Elected to the US Senate in 1998 after spending $6 million of his own money, Edwards distinguished himself as a militarist and enemy of democratic rights. He voted for the May 1999 air strikes in Kosovo, the authorization to use force in Afghanistan and the infamous Patriot Act—the blueprint for an American police state. Edwards personally co-sponsored the Senate version of the authorization to use military force against Iraq, passed in October 2002.

His disagreements with the Bush administration over the colonial-style occupation of Iraq remain to this day purely secondary. In a recent debate, Edwards admitted that, if elected, there would be thousands of US troops still in Iraq at the end of his first term in 2013.

In 2004, Senator Edwards joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, casting himself as an “advocate for the people.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, his campaign netted more than $33 million dollars in contributions—including $10 million from lawyers and lobbyists alone.

Following the Democratic defeat in 2004, Edwards went to work for a mid-sized hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group of New York, a firm with $30 billion in assets. Business Week noted the move in an article headlined “John Edwards Hits the Street,” commenting: “Wall Street has long provided a soft landing for out-of-work pols. But increasingly, the revolving door leads to private investment firms. The Street’s latest recruit: John Edwards, the ex-North Carolina senator and vice-presidential standard bearer for the Democratic Party in the 2004 elections.”

In May 2007, the Washington Post reported that Fortress “markedly expanded its subprime lending business while he [Edwards] worked there, becoming a major player in the high-risk mortgage sector Edwards has pilloried in his presidential campaign.” Subprime loans are aimed at buyers with poor credit histories and charge higher rates, i.e., they exploit the misery of the “other America” Edwards claims to represent.

Involved here is not simply Edwards’ individual and flagrant hypocrisy, but the specific role of the Democratic Party under conditions of the decline and crisis of American capitalism.

The Democrats are one of the political parties through which the corporate elite manages its affairs in America, but its modus operandi historically has been to present itself as the advocate of the “little people.” This imposture is what gives present-day Democratic Party statements and policies their half-hearted, impotent and unconvincing character: the Democrats defend the ruling elite, which is relentlessly assaulting living standards and democratic rights, while attempting to convince the working population that they represent its interests.

As we noted recently on the World Socialist Web Site, the Democratic Party is wedded to the Hollywood establishment. According to opensecrets.org, the Democrats have received more than $14 million in contributions from the television, film and music industry for the 2008 election cycle, including $11 million from individuals. Some 77 percent of the contributions from this sector has gone to the Democrats.

In March 2007, Edwards was active, along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, gathering donations from the Hollywood elite. His $2,300-per-person event was held at the home of attorney Skip Brittenham. According to LawFuel.com, “Hollywood’s reigning king of the big deal ... Brittenham represents more top studio executives than any Hollywood lawyer, not to mention some of the most bankable stars ... and corporate clients such as Pixar Animation Studios.”

These facts demonstrate that Edwards’ support for striking writers is entirely phony.

The decision by the Writers Guild to provide Edwards a platform speaks to the dangers facing the film and television writers. Strikers are legitimately concerned about the danger of their strike becoming isolated. They recognize that pledges of “solidarity” from unions that instruct their members to cross picket lines are not worth the paper they’re written on.

But the promotion by the union leadership of the Democratic Party is part and parcel of a perspective that leads precisely to the isolation of the writers and the ultimate betrayal of their demands. It signifies the union’s acceptance of the entire framework under which film, television and every other aspect of culture is subordinated to the profit drive of huge corporations and the mad pursuit of personal wealth by the financial aristocracy that dominates society.

The economic needs of writers, as well as their artistic and creative aspirations—and the elevation of the cultural level of the population as a whole—are incompatible with the existing economic and political system, of which the Democratic Party is an essential part. Moreover, the type of struggle required to effectively confront the industry moguls—one which sets out to mobilize the broadest possible movement of the working class—is anathema to the Democratic no less than the Republican politicians. Edwards and company would react to any such expansion of the struggle by supporting efforts to suppress it, either openly or tacitly.

Illusions in the Democratic politicians block film and television writers from finding their way to their true friends and allies: fellow workers in the entertainment industry and the working population as a whole, massive numbers of whom also face roll-backs, wage-cuts and the destruction of jobs.

How, moreover, can writers pursue their craft under conditions where elementary democratic rights are under attack, as the government, with the complicity of the Democratic Congress, spies on its citizens and illegally detains and tortures suspects around the globe? And where George W. Bush, with Democratic Party connivance, lurches toward an attack on Iran, with potentially catastrophic consequences?

John Edwards’ embrace is one that needs to be rejected. It’s time for writers and other workers in this country to see through such hoaxes.

The writers need to orient themselves to the rest of the working population, which is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the strike, and to the great political questions facing American society: above all, the need to break from the two-party system and develop a socialist strategy that corresponds to the needs of broad layers of the population. Only by ending the stranglehold of the media conglomerates over entertainment and the media can film and television artists defend their social and cultural interests.


Faculty picketers greet new University president

As the University of New Hampshire's new president, Mark Huddleston, delivered his first state of the university address, picketing professors quietly made a point intended for him.

The professors, members of the UNH chapter of the American Association of University Professors, held picket signs outside the room Huddleston would speak in. The union members were beseeching the new president to take note of the fact that Thursday marked the 503rd day they have worked without a contract.

Among the messages on the signs were "UNH Faculty Strike in '08," "No Contract, No Summer School" and "503 Days Without a Contract." (For footage of the protest go to: www.seacoastonline.com/multimedia)

Professor Dale Barkey, chapter president for the AAUP, said the faculty understands Huddleston was not at UNH for most of the contract negotiations. "We want to send a message," said Barkey. "We'd like to see some leadership in regards to the negotiations. The message is for him, but also for the trustees, the administration and the university as a whole. Our real focus, however, is to get the contract settled."

Barkey said the issues are compensation, salary and benefits. "The gap is not so large when you consider the amount of money. The university is in a good financial situation," he said. "They have record enrollment and have received a few good windfalls over the past couple of years."

Huddleston said he shares in the frustration felt by the union.

"This has been a lengthy time to try and get a contract," said Huddleston.

In his speech, Huddleston said, "The most immediate task we face is to craft a successful conclusion to the faculty contract negotiations. We are working hard, doing all we can do to secure an agreement by the end of the semester."

Deanna Wood, the university's librarian, is a member of the negotiating team.

"It's been very frustrating," she said. "This means waiting, hoping to get a raise soon. The cost of food, gas and fuel oil are skyrocketing. It's been a year and a half. A lot of us have families and critical issues in our lives."


Teacher-union boss shamed by election results

With contract negotiations at a stalemate and many Fresno (CA) teachers unhappy with the direction talks have taken, the Fresno Teachers Association is embroiled in its own power struggle.

Four teachers who call themselves "whistle-blowers" have been elected to the union's executive board, vowing to keep union President Larry Moore in check. Moore said they are stirring up trouble at the wrong time -- the union and Fresno Unified School District will resume negotiations on Nov. 26. "We have to show unity," he said.

The election, however, paints a portrait of division.

Sherry Wood, David E. Bradley, Beverly Fitzpatrick and Robert Hoe won board seats after they promised in campaign literature to push for a contract settlement and full disclosure of the union's financial records. "The people have spoken loud and clear," Bradley said Friday. "They want change and accountability and integrity from our leadership."

Moore's side managed to get two candidates elected -- Greg Gadams and Everett Gaston. "Don't put too much into this election," Moore said, citing the low voter turnout of 855 ballots cast. About 4,000 members were eligible to vote.

"It doesn't change what we are trying to do -- get the best contract we can for teachers," he said.

The election may not have an immediate impact on contract negotiations, but Moore now has strong opposition on the executive board, which has the power to ask members to vote on any contract proposal.

Before the election, Moore had little or no opposition on the executive board.

Moore said Bradley and Wood are bitter because in 2004 Moore beat Wood in an election for union president. Bradley also lost his position as vice president.

But Bradley and Wood said the election results show the union membership no longer can tolerate Moore's adversarial style toward school officials and his threats of a teachers strike.

"The message is clear that teachers are in support of what we said, of getting a settlement and moving on," Wood said.

The election was unusual because Wood, Bradley and Fitzpatrick already had been elected to the executive committee, but the results of that election last spring were tossed out.

When teacher Theresa Pallares lost by one vote, she asked for a recount. The union's election committee found about 20 ballots that weren't filled out correctly. The California Teachers Association voided the election and recommended a new one.

Thirteen people were vying for six director-at-large positions on the union's 10-member executive board. Nine of the candidates supported Moore, but only two of those candidates won.

Moore still has control of the union, because he has the support of five members on the executive board, of which he also is a member. But now his opposition is making inroads at a key time -- he plans to retire next year. The election for president and officers will be next spring.

"Everyone is pointing toward the post-Larry era," said Moore, who was union president from 1998 to 2002 before he regained the post in 2004.

Moore said he needs the union's total support because the district's offer of a 5.5% salary hike is far below what the teachers deserve. The district's offer -- which includes a one-time $300 bonus and keeps the teachers' share of health benefits payments below $70 -- would be retroactive to July 1, 2006.

Moore has called for at least a 6% pay raise with stipends to teachers with special credentials such as special education or speech therapy. He also wants the district to get rid of a per diem policy paying some teachers a flat rate of $25 per hour for overtime work. Teachers should be paid an hourly rate in accordance with their salary, he said.

Because 19 months of negotiations have resulted in a stalemate, the union already has taken a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Michael Hanson and has authorized setting aside hundreds of thousands of dollars in case of a strike.

Hanson said this week that he neither knew of the election nor did he want to get involved in union politics. "I hope they work things out," he said.

Moore said "fact-finding" on Nov. 26 -- a process in which both sides tell a neutral arbitrator their positions -- will test the union's solidarity. The arbitrator will make a recommendation to the school board to resolve the impasse, but if the union doesn't like the contract proposal, Moore said the membership could vote to strike.

But Bradley said it's time for a change in union leadership. "Larry runs the union like a dictator," he said. "He doesn't want his members to know the truth about how dues are spent."

For example, Bradley said he and Wood have asked Moore for financial documentation concerning the hiring of a consultant and a lawyer involved in negotiations, but they never were given copies. Moore said that's not true, because Wood and Bradley are on the executive board and entitled to full disclosure of all union activities.

Like Moore, Bradley and Wood said they will continue to fight to get the best contract for teachers, but they believe it should be a collaborative effort with school officials for the betterment of the students. "It's better to build bridges than throw bombs," Bradley said.

Moore, however, doesn't apologize for his tough-guy style.

"I fight for the teachers and take unpopular stands," he said. "Some people don't like me, but I see that as a honorable thing."


Big Split in California union community

When Art Pulaski, the head of the 2.1 million-strong California Labor Federation, picked up his Oct. 26 Sacramento Bee, he was not pleased: There in the opinion section was a piece written by a top carpenters’ union official blasting fellow union members for “effectively” killing health care reform.

“In a misguided attempt to remain relevant, the California labor movement has resorted to a hyperpartisan approach and tactics such as fasting, candlelight vigils and chanting that forces one to assume that labor has lost the ability to do what it is supposed to do best—negotiate,” wrote Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters. “Labor has lost sight of a fundamental political maxim: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he added.

The commentary fell like a bomb in the organized labor community, partly because of the sentiments expressed, partly because some in labor view Curtin as a too-close ally of the Republican governor, and partly because health care reform is back on the table and labor is actively engaged in the discussions.

Some in the labor ranks complain that Curtin enjoys easy access to the Horseshoe—access that his colleagues in labor often don’t have.

Curtin’s letter stirred anger among organized labor executives, some of it rooted in philosophical differences between unions, some of it personal, some of it historic. In the eyes of some unionists, Curtin, who has directed the Carpenters’ Conference for the past six years, enjoys unusual access to the governor’s inner circle. In a Nov. 1 letter to Curtin, the angry Pulaski said Curtin “mangled the facts,” and described him as “an ill-informed spokesperson of this administration.”

Pulaski, whose group represents 1,200 union locals across California, added that Curtin “failed to contact us about any concerns you may have had with our positions on health care. That is why we find your op-ed, which publicly disparages our unions in the effort for fair health care reform, disconcerting.” Privately, Pulaski’s language was far sharper. “I guess you could say, he really ripped him a new one,” one labor supporter said.

Curtin flatly dismissed Pulaski’s contentions.

“I’m not a spokesperson for the governor. We fought him on all that stuff in 2005 (special-election ballot initiatives that included anti-labor provisions) and we wrote and produced campaign material. The carpenters spent a substantial amount of money.”

“We did it on our own,” he added. “We don’t speak for the governor, but when the governor supports $37 billion worth of infrastructure bonds, and we’re a construction union, and when he supports a $1.25 minimum wage increase, and now he supports universal health care and a water package – I have a hard time arguing against those. But to say I’m a spokesperson for the governor, that’s a stretch.”

But others in labor also are critical of Curtin.

“I haven’t seen the carpenters make any big move on health care,” said Jeanine Meyer Rodriguez, a spokeswoman and health-care activist for the Service Employees International Union, SEIU. She has worked for two years on health care reform, and she was particularly unahppy with Curtin’s comments. “I can’t say where he got his information, but he was certainly siding with the governor in that ‘op-ed.’ ”

“He’s been in a vacuum on this,” she added. “He hasn’t been involved in health care reform here at all. I’ve been running this health care campaign for months and months, and I haven’t seen Danny Curtin once,” she said, noting that the controversy surrounding Curtin’s purported relationship with the governor’s staff arose in earlier during the debate over the minimum wage.

“This came up over the minimum wage, and he was pretty much siding with the governor. The fact is, he was wrong then, and he is wrong now,” Rodriguez said.

Sal Roselli, the president of SEIU in California, was equally blunt. Roselli called Curtin the “chief lobbyist for the carpenters’ union” and an “ally of Gov. Schwarzenegger.” Roselli made the comments in an email to Andy Stern, the national head of SEIU in Washington, D.C., and other labor officials. Capitol Weekly reviewed a copy of the email.

“Curtin’s op-ed needs to be seen for what it is – part of the governor’s spin…,” Roselli said. “Curtin is not in a position to understand much of what labor and the Speaker are doing to achieve real reform.”

The dispute over Curtin, who is not a registered lobbyist, reflects differences in labor that have percolated for years—differences that resemble a family feud.

Partly, it shows the unhappiness that some in labor have felt for the carpenters’ decision years ago to split off from the larger Building and Construction Trades Council. SEIU’s decision at the national level to split off from the American Federation of Labor has also played out in California, where SEIU Local 1000 has become an autonomous union with some 85,000 state employees—the largest state employee bargaining group. Other unions are critical of each other --SEIU and the California State Employees Association, for example—and others maintain a public silence, but their members privately leave little doubt about their feelings.

In part, it was the public nature of Curtin’s comments that angered other unionists.

“He doesn’t really even speak for the carpenters. We got no sense from the carpenters that they share the same sentiments that he expressed in that article. We think this came from Danny alone. He’s out there sort of by himself, except for the governor. I mean, he’s taken positions that are really against labor,” said Anastasia Ordonez, spokeswoman for the California Labor Federation.

As for Curtin, he’s taken the rhetorical barbs in stride.

“We’re not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, we are relatively independent minded, we are independent spirited, and we have been for quite a while. We tend to be more pragmatic, we’re focused on our organizing and trade issues,” Curtin said.

“But I’m not driven by any relationship with the governor,” he added.


University strikes head into week 3

As a university strike heads into its third week, a conciliator has called the University of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan and the union back to the bargaining table. Conciliation meetings begin on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and have been scheduled for two days.

More than 2,400 support workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1975 have been on strike since Nov. 2. Wages and benefits are some of the main sticking points between the two sides. The striking workers normally do a wide variety of jobs, including clerical work, food preparation and cleaning.

For the most part, university classes haven't been affected, though some problems have arisen over the past two weeks.

At the U of S, which has a medical school, some health clinics have been cancelled. The strike is also slowing work at the College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon.

Dr. Charles Rhodes, the dean, said the remaining staff are coping with the strike, but they are not treating as many animals these days. Case loads have been cut by about 85 per cent.

"I don't think animals are suffering because of it," he said. "But some routine surgeries or elective surgeries may be postponed."

Some pet owners, like Regina's Shayla Bourassa, are upset. Bourassa's dog Shilo suffers from elbow dysplasia and a scheduled surgery was cancelled.

"If it's too late, my dog is not going to be able to walk, she's going to have arthritis, and we are going to have to put her down," she said.

Bourassa could take her dog to another vet, but said she's already paid a lot of money to the college at the U of S and wants Shilo treated there.

Meanwhile, at the University of Regina, a lab for a kinesiology class has been cancelled, affecting 90 university students and 80 school children with disabilities.

The course is Kinesiology 190, which offers classes on adapting physical activities for people with disabilities.

Lectures are continuing, but the lab portion of the class has been cancelled. Usually the kinesiology students coach children with disabilities, but those children are no longer showing up because their teachers are not crossing the picket lines.

Katherine Huxley, who's studying adapted physical activity, said the class continues to create lesson plans as if the children were coming, but it's not the same as hands-on experience.

"It kind of sucks a little bit," she said. "It's not the same unless you're doing what you should be doing."


Teachers' union saps education

Teachers are back in the news after agreeing in principle to a deal with the provincial government that will see them stay off the picket lines for at least five years.


It seems a couple of times a school year, at least one of the different boards has a strike threat, a lockout or some sort of complaint.

I've had it with stories about teachers and labour disputes, but I've finally figured out why. My problem isn't with the teachers. My problem is with the teachers union.

You see, whenever there's a story about teachers, they're all painted with the same broad ART 30 brush. Not all teachers are created equal and it's time we addressed that. There should be no such thing as a pay scale for teachers. Mrs. Johnson makes more than Mr. Anderson, even though Mr. Anderson is a way more effective educator, who stays late, coaches the junior boys volleyball team, tutors and supervises dances.


Beause Mrs. Johnson has logged a few more years in front of the blackboard? How fair is that? Like any profession, not all teachers are created equal, so why in the hell do we pay them like they are?

Let's give our educators a little incentive. How about an annual review? If you're doing good, going above and beyond, inspiring and taking an interest in the development of your students, you get a raise. If you're mailing it in, you don't.

Most any other job is like this. From bartender to welder, carpenter to lawyer, the more you try, the more you succeed, the better you do, the more you're worth and the more you get.

Wanna weed out the lazy, crappy, whiny teachers who are only in it for the summers off and third period spares? Start by dumping the teachers union that only protects the weak and saps any incentive to do more. In the meantime ... I'll just shut my big yap.


Guys, we're halfway through November. Last year you said you weren't gonna go through this all over again, but you will. You always do.

You now have just over five weeks to complete your Christmas shopping, but that doesn't matter, because you're gonna leave it till the last minute, aren't you?

You'll be in the mall on Dec. 22, 23 and probably midnight madness at Bonnie Doon on the Dec. 24, willing to turn a trick behind the dumpster at the Gap if only you could find an IPod Touch.

You'll be caught up in the mad rush of people blowing their nose with the Christmas spirit, people who've long lost sight of why they're buying the presents that they're buying, and have become obsessed with just getting them.

All that is wrong with the holiday season is never more prevalent than in the final week leading up to the fat man's visit. And if you don't wanna have your Christmas crushed, do what you gotta do at the mall today.

You know I'm right. I know I'm right. But that doesn't change the fact that me and you are gonna be lined up 18 deep at the checkout Dec. 24 with nothing but a gift certificate to show for it.

In the meantime...I'll just shut my big yap.


Yet another spinoff of the red-hot economy, that by the way I am so sick of, is an increase in vehicle thefts, more specifically big ol' redneck rocket pickup trucks.

Today, I appeal to the car thief, or any vehicular criminal in general.

Those who steal them, break into them, tire slashers, window smashers, vandals and stereo thieves ... please stop.

You have no idea what a pain in the ass you are.

It's happened to so many of us. You wake up, usually to go to work, to find your vehicle victimized. Bang! Right out of the gate you're gonna be late for work.

Then you gotta take time out of your day to go to the cop shop and file a report and they don't really give a dookie, because it happens a hundred times a week and they know they're not gonna catch whodunnit.

You sleep in your garage with a baseball bat for a week praying that they'll come back but they never do. Then you gotta drive around with a plasticed-out window for a month freezing your seeds off while you wait to hear back from your insurance company.

They're gonna give you the runaround, just so you can pay your $250 deductible on a $275 repair that you waited six weeks to get an estimate on.

Then you get your car back from the shop and it never quite runs the same again. Why? So some kid and his 16-year-old punk buddies had a warm place to hotbox their doobies for 20 minutes.

I can only hope that you losers get your lives together enough one day so you can experience what an extended cab, dually, pickup-sized pain in the ass you really are. In the meantime ... I'll just shut my big yap.


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