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Help Obama Find His Shoes

5:04 pm in Uncategorized by Amy B. Dean

President Barack Obama’s re-election is a huge relief—we dodged the Romney/Ryan bullet.

However, that’s not the same as winning a better future. If Obama’s first term is a prologue to the second, we should not expect to see much progress in strengthening the rights or bargaining ability of workers. Therefore, in Obama’s second term, we need to be:

• Smarter about the policies we advocate.

• Selective about the candidates we endorse.

• More disciplined about building a strong social movement.

Progressives need to recognize where the real fight is happening. Congress is still firmly under Republican control—or, at least, under threat of a Republican veto that can stop any worthwhile federal legislation. Since progress won’t happen in Washington, we must work for it at the state and local level. We are already seeing some of the most exciting innovations take shape in cities and metropolitan regions. Urban labor-community coalitions are making respect for collective bargaining a precondition for businesses to receive public support. They are also approaching politics in a new way. In exchange for supporting candidates, these coalitions are ensuring that politicians use the bully pulpit to defend workers and denounce union-busting. In San Jose, Calif., student, labor and faith groups demanded that local politicians back an across-the-board minimum wage increase that passed on Election Day. And in Long Beach, Calif., a coalition of LGBT activists, labor and faith groups got city council members to endorse a ballot measure for hotel housekeepers to get a raise, which passed.

Such coalitions must evaluate elected officials on whether or not they understand that their success in pushing legislation forward is directly linked to the strength of social movements. As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told me earlier this year in an interview for The American Prospect, “Sympathetic members of Congress have the power to draft, introduce and vote on legislation. But leaders in the progressive community … have the ability to mobilize, educate and organize all across America. We need each other to be successful.” We can no longer afford to invest in politicians who do not understand this.

Most candidates favored by Democratic Party powerbrokers are unable to grasp this concept. The few who do have social-movement roots, such as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Consequently, a long-term electoral strategy must involve cultivating candidates directly from the ranks of social movements and then fighting for them in the primaries.

As Obama begins his second term, Republican obstructionism cannot be an excuse for inaction—particularly when it comes to the president’s use of his bully pulpit.

During the recent attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio, and during the teachers’ strike in Chicago, White House leadership was nowhere to be found. Obama once promised, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America.”

The President seems to have misplaced his walking shoes. We should send him a new pair—and make sure that no future candidates we endorse have any excuse for losing theirs.

Originally published on In These Times.

How Progressives Won the Labor Rights Showdown in Ohio

11:34 am in Uncategorized by Amy B. Dean

This piece was originally posted on Truthout.

Last week, the labor movement and its allies scored a major victory with the repeal of Ohio Senate Bill 5 (SB5), a piece of anti-union legislation signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. In a referendum that gave voters a chance to speak on the issue, Ohioans resoundingly rejected the law, which would have gutted the bargaining rights of 350,000 public-sector workers. In a landmark defeat for Republicans, voters turned out in large numbers and voted 61 percent to 39 percent to strike down SB5.

To understand how progressives pulled off this remarkable win, I spoke with Paul Booth, one of the chief strategists behind the campaign to repeal SB5. Currently, Booth is executive assistant to Gerald McEntee, the longtime president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). But he is also an organizing legend outside of the labor movement. In the 1960s, Booth served as national secretary and vice president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and in the 1970s he was a prominent figure at the Midwest Academy, an influential training ground for organizers. He has worked for AFSCME since 1974.

Delving into the Ohio victory, I opened with a simple question: “Why did we win?”

“The people of Ohio decided that this was as a power grab by the governor and his people,” Booth said. “They decided public service workers’ rights were worth preserving.”

His answer seemed consistent with the common “overreach” analysis. Many commentators argue the Ohio vote is symptomatic of a widespread backlash against Republican governors who exceeded their electoral mandates by ramming conservative agendas through statehouses.

“I’m cautious about ‘overreach,’” Booth countered. “We stuck Kasich and his people with that characterization, but as a factual matter overreach is the wrong word. Because what they did was right out of their game plan. They had electoral success in November 2010. And, in order to thwart everything that we stand for, they wanted to cash that in as quickly and thoroughly as possible. They wanted to change the rules of the game for 2012. They view next year’s elections as their last best hope for throwing Obama out, taking back the Senate, and finalizing everything they’ve worked for in the last forty years. So this was reach, not overreach. They did exactly what they thought they had to do. In the context of everything they’ve been trying to do for the last forty years, it is essential for them to cripple the voice of working people.” Read the rest of this entry →