March 28, 2008

Making Oregon Sweat-free - Event April 1, in Salem Oregon

Lets make Oregon Sweatshop Free!!!

April 1st 2008 we will show there is NO FOOLING with workers' rights in Oregon! Join Sweatfree NW and our allies at a "pro" sweatshop rally as part of April Fools' Day. Come out to enjoy satirical street theater and powerful speakers including the new Oregon Labor Commissioner-Brad Avakian!

What: Celebration of the Oregon Sweatfree Campaign Kickoff! The Sweatfree Northwest Campaign is working with Oregon's elected leaders to adopt a policy that will create a market for goods produced using fair labor practices. Fresh from last year's successful campaign in the City of Portland, labor, faith, student, and community leaders are building a network of support around the state to stop taxpayer dollars from subsidizing sweatshops.

When: Tuesday, April 1st at 12 noon.

Where: Steps of the Capitol (900 Court Street, Salem, OR).

We want to oppose the use of our tax dollars to fund unethical working conditions in the production of uniforms for our state employees. Together we can help workers win improved conditions. Sweatfree policies create a viable solution and ensure workers are treated with dignity and respect. We want Oregon to join over 180 states, cities, counties, and school districts across the country that have signed onto sweatfree policies. On August 29, 2007, Portland unanimously passed a Sweatshop Free Resolution that established a Portland Sweatfree Committee tasked with developing the final policy by September 2008. The resolution also reserved $20,000 in funding to a State and Local Government Sweatfree Consortium that will monitor and enforce the final policy. Sweatfree Northwest is using this model to create a smooth transition to their advocacy in Salem.

Together we can demonstrate Oregon's commitment to workers' rights through ethical purchasing!

On April 1st, Sweatfree Northwest will present a stellar line-up of local community leaders as well as street theater performances. We will have the pleasure of hearing Rev. Lynne Souse Lopez of Ainsworth United Church of Christ as a powerful speaker on social and economic justice and dedicated sweatfree advocate Arthur Stamoulis-Director of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. Brad Avakian-the newly appointed Labor Commissioner for the Governor's Office will join the celebration as a guest speaker. During his time in the legislature, Senator Avakian has been a leader on civil rights and workforce legislation. We welcome him as our new BOLI Commissioner and thank him for supporting our effort to end sweatshop abuse.

Lets make Fools of Corporate Greed! Join us Tuesday at noon! For more information contact visit or contact: Elizabeth Swager Sweatfree Northwest Campaign Coordinator Global Exchange 503-236-7916

April 15th Salem Oregon Event on the Roots of Migration

Witness for Peace Speaker Tour
The Roots of Migration: Free Trade, Debt and Survival in Nicaragua

The second most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua has struggled for years under the burden of internal and external debt. Take a deeper look into the effects of free trade, debt and immigration on the Nicaraguan people.

Witness for Peace Northwest invites you to join us for a discussion with...
Yamileth Perez, Nicaraguan community leader

Tuesday, April 15th
11:30 a.m. – Willamette University
University Center, Cat Cavern
Salem, OR

7:00 p.m. – First Congregational UCC
700 Marion St NE, Salem, OR

Hear the story of one remarkable Nicaraguan woman who lives and works in a community near the Managua city dump. Yamileth will share the first-hand impact of free trade and debt and the resulting increase of migration and poverty on the people of Nicaragua.

This event is open to the public.
Professional interpretation (Spanish-English) provided.

Yamileth Perez is a Nicaraguan born and raised in Managua, who currently lives and works in Acahualinca, a large community located in and around the Managua city dump. A committed community leader and trained as a community health promoter, she has also developed various health, education, and sports programs in her community. Yamileth also works for a fair trade Artisan organization called Esperanza en Accion, and is a single mother of four daughters.

Patty Narvaez is part of the Witness for Peace International Team in Managua, Nicaragua. She holds a BA in International Studies Latin America from Portland State University, and most recently worked as a community organizer and medical interpreter. Born to Nicaraguan immigrants, Patty is proud to call herself Nicaraguan-American, and after having lived in Oregon for fifteen years, calls Portland home. She will provide professional interpretation during the tour.

For more information, please contact
Regional Organizer Beth Poteet, or 503.287.7847 or

Event co-sponsors include: Willamette University, First Congregational UCC, Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, Witness for Peace Northwest


Gira Informativa de Acción Permanente por la Paz del Noroeste
Las Raíces de la Migración:
Libre Comercio, la Deuda y Sobrevivencia en Nicaragua

El segundo país mas empobrecido en el Hemisferio Occidental, Nicaragua ha luchado por años bajo la carga de una deuda interna y externa. La visita de Yamileth Perez nos presenta la oportunidad de profundizar sobre el tema de los efectos del libre comercio, la deuda y la inmigración en las y los Nicaragüenses.

Witness for Peace Northwest le invita a participar en una discusión con...
Yamileth Perez, organizadora comunitaria Nicaragüense

Martes, 15 de abril
11:30 a.m. – Willamette University
University Center, Cat Cavern
Salem, OR

7:00 p.m. – First Congregational UCC
700 Marion St NE, Salem, OR

Venga a escuchar la historia de una luchadora Nicaragüense que vive y trabaja en una comunidad cerca del basurero más grande de la ciudad de Managua. Yamileth compartirá sus experiencias personales en la lucha contra los impactos del libre comercio y la deuda externa, y explicará el vínculo entre el libre comercio y el aumento de la migración y la pobreza en Nicaragua.

Abierto al público. Traducción profesional disponible.

Yamileth nació y creció en Managua y ahora vive y trabaja en Acahualinca, una comunidad grande en las afueras del basurero de la ciudad de Managua. Yamilet es muy comprometida con su comunidad y es una reconocida lider que inspira a otras personas organizarse para mejorar la comunidad. Es una promotora de salud y ha desarrollado varios programas de salud, educación, y deportes en Acahualinca. Yamileth trabaja también con una organización de comercio justo llamado Esperanza en Acción. Es madre soltera de cuatro hijas.

Patty Narvaez forma parte del Equipo Internacional de Acción Permanente por la Paz (Witness for Peace) en Managua, Nicaragua. Ella es licenciada en Estudios Internacionales Ibero América de la Universidad de Pórtland. Antes de trabajar con Acción Permanente por la Paz, trabajó como organizadora comunitaria y como intérprete médico. Sus padres son inmigrantes Nicaragüenses y Patty está orgullosa llamarse Nicaragüense Norteamericano. Después de haber vivido en Oregon durante quince años, llama a Portland su hogar. Ella interpretará todas las presentaciones del Español al Ingles.

Para más información, contacta a Beth Poteet, o 503.287.7847

Patrocinado por Willamette University, First Congregational UCC, Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, Witness for Peace Northwest

March 26, 2008

The World Of Revolution: Portland And Saskatchewan

Potluck for Peace and Which Way Forward for the Antiwar Movement

Join PDX Peace this Saturday for good food and great conversation on where we go from here on Saturday, March 29 at the Multnomah Friends Meeting House on 4312 SE Stark Street in Portland. The potluck will start at 4:00 PM. This is a "vegan-friendly, alcohol-free, omnivores welcome" potluck. Please bring a dish to share. Be creative--they can use salads, deserts, bread, main dishes, non-alcoholic beverages etc. Please try to bring a list of ingredients in your dish to accommodate those with allergies and dietary restrictions.

6:00 PM discussion: Which way forward for the antiwar movement? with special guest Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal and co-editor, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People's History of the United States.

And Meanwhile In Saskatchewan...

public service workers may be losing the right to strike. This is important to Willamette Reds because so many of us are public sector workers. Read about what you can do to help the Saskatchewan workers by going here.

March 21, 2008

Obama visits Salem

An animated and enthusiastic crowd filled the Salem Armory Auditorium this afternoon to hear Barack Obama speak. Identifiable groups were SEIU, AFSCME, and PCUN. While waiting for his arrival, his Oregon campaign staff announced his candidacy was endorsed by Bill Richardson, Governor of NM. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer introduced Obama, who began his speech with a strong critique of Bush's war on Iraq, its failures, the cost to civilians and to soldiers and to the well-being of our economy and domestic infrastructure and his plan to begin strategic withdrawal in 2009 with the aim of US getting out of Iraq within 15 months of the onset of withdrawal. He received thunderous applause at his promise to close Guantanamo. He went on to speak for an hour or so, addressing economic, health care, education, and environmental concerns. Notable comments were his take on immigration and on our economic model. He received a question from a PCUN member about how he would deal with immigration, giving the example of a young person who, while undocumented, has been a long-time resident in the US. How would he deal with immigration? He stated that our borders should be enforced; that there should be a path to citizenship, but that those who are here legally should be first and others should "get in line." He got notably less enthusiasm from the crowd on this one. He stated that employers who exploit immigrant workers to maximize their profit should be stopped from doing so. He also stated that when people have put down roots here that needs to be recognized and that that US policy on immigration must not break up families, and he acknowledged that people immigrate here in order to survive and take care of their families. He stated that he believes in capitalism and in the free market model, but several times stated that it must be fair; citing that some CEOs make in 10 minutes what workers may make in a whole year. He recounted his meeting Seattle business owners who have grown from a mom and pop HVAC company into one that produces environmentally-friendly products with union employees who make very good wages,and cited this an example of a kind of business that we need to develop in order to keep good jobs here in the US.

March 19, 2008

Salem Oregon Peace Vigil - 5th Anniversary of Invasion of Iraq

175 people gathered this evening in Salem Oregon on the steps of the State Capitol building to mark the 5th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The communal mood was fairly quiet - some sang peace songs, or visited with friends, and others just stood; there were occasional outbursts of chants (What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? NOW!). I would say there was a more overtly expressed hunger in the conversations I heard - hunger for something to hang hope on - change in the white house being essential - hope to soon bring the troops home, to begin to try to repair damage done, to mourn and to heal.

Oregon Rocks For Social Justice!

From one end of the state to the other Oregonians are in motion for social justice. Here are just a few events taking place.

On March 1, SEIU Local 49 kicked off a campaign for a master union contract covering 1700 janitorial workers.

On March 19--today and tonight--we will see antiwar protests and vigils statewide. Some of these will be linked to support for Obama in light of the speech he gave yesterday. Obama events aound the state are reportedly sold out. In Salem we will have vigils at the State Capitol at 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

On Friday, March 21 there will be a fundraiser sponsored at the First Unitarian Church on 1011 SW 12th Ave. in Portland for child workers and their families in Peru. The event will start at 7:00 pm and is sponsored by WILPF.

On Thursday, March 27 CAUSA, AFSC and PCASC will sponsor a presentation on "Borders, Citizenship and Language: The Attack on Immigrants and the Crisis for Humanity" at 7:00 pm at Portland's In Other Words Bookstore (8 NE Killingsworth).

On Saturday, March 29 the Southern Oregon Assembly on Free Trade and Job Loss will convene at 2:00 pm at Jackson County's Medford Library at 205 S. Central in Medford.

On Wednesday, April 2 there will be a Rock Steve Novick to the US Senate event at 7:30 pm at the WOW Hall in Eugene (291 W. 8th Ave.) with Scene in Stereo & the Skyline.

March 18, 2008

Oregon AFSCME Endorses Obama And the Beat Goes On

The Oregon American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has endorsed Barack Obama in the Democratic primary race. The endorsement came at the union’s state executive board level and essentially supports AFSCME leaders around the US who are supporting Obama. It puts Oregon AFSCME at political odds with its International and highlights questions about AFSCME’s endorsement process. The International Union is backing Clinton and the president of AFSCME is particularly close to the Clintons.

Other unions in our state backing Obama are the Service Employees, Oregon Education Association, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The endorsement comes at a moment when Oregon labor is facing many difficulties and challenges.The Oregon AFL-CIO and a number of leading unions have endorsed Jeff Merkley for US Senate. Merkley is good on most domestic and labor issues, but so is his opponent Steve Novick. Novick has been consistent in opposing the war and has helped craft progressive labor policies while Merkley has not. When Merkley announced himself as an antiwar candidate at Portland’s peace rally last Saturday we were a bit stunned.

State races are getting a great deal of labor attention and most unions have lined up behind John Kroger (Attorney General) and Ben Westlund (Treasurer). These are not inspiring candidates; at best, they will hold the line on pension issues, help move more progressive state investment and responsible contractor strategies, support domestic partnerships and (at least) universal health care and help block some of the anti-union initiatives which the ultra-right is pressing.

We are seeing the Longshore workers start early bargaining with a particular advantage; a strike at the ports now could have a far-reaching economic impact. The docks will shut down on May 1 as a practice strike and to protest the war. On the other hand, in 2007 the Employment Relations Board told us what we already knew: the AFSCME-led strike in Josephine County in 2006 was provoked by county commissioners and the firings and the contracting out which then took place were retaliatory. It was, in some sense, a “mini PATCO” and helped strengthen anti-union forces.

After the Josephine County ruling, SEIU Local 49 was forced into a settlement agreement with the National Labor Relations Board which tied the union’s hands with using card checks and took away union recognition at SBM, a janitorial contractor. Paratransit Services in Bend, a bus contractor, was forced to drop its appeals of a union election won by the Amalgamated Transit Union around the time Local 49 had to sign off with the NLRB and SBM. The ATU’s victory was hard-fought and narrowly won.

Portland public schools workers represented by SEIU largely held the line--and some workers advanced—with a new union contract. I have lost track of how the District Council of Unions-represented PPS workers have done. The DCU is an amalgamation of fourteen unions and they went from December of 2005 to (at least) May of 2007 without a contract.

The Freightliner strike was also hard-fought and brought a mixed deal. The workers made up some lost ground from previous contracts, but the contract that was signed was agreed to with the threat of additional concessions. Looking back, we can see that the June drywall and related crafts strike should have received more support and greater labor mobilization than it did. The workers won modest wage increases and are better positioned for the mergers of their health and welfare trusts, but more might have been won through active solidarity.

The Oregon School Employees Association joined the American Federation of Teachers and six craft unions here merged to form the Mechanical Allied Crafts council. This council sounds as if it will spend much of its time working out job jurisdictional disputes. There is a push towards mergers in labor and much controversy over how mergers should be structured and accomplished.

We thought that the overtime-after-eight-hours rule for private sector workers in Oregon would be restored by the Legislature and we hoped for a victory on expanding OFLA. We were wrong. A labor-led press on the issue didn't materialize. The firefighters won some bargaining rights and the line was held on public services cuts, but the pro-business Democrats in the Senate were a major problem for labor.

Carpenters Local 2851 President Todd Gorham, from LaGrande, came back from a tour of duty in Iraq last summer and went to the press with his questions about the war and American involvement in Iraq. He has clearly had an impact.

Opposition comes from the Republicans, of course, who have had to shift back to trusting Kevin Mannix once more and relying upon the right-to-work and anti-immigrant forces and legal strategies aimed at stopping domestic partnerships. Mannix is formidable and should not be underestimated. Labor has been too slow in linking his program to McCain’s and exposing them both for what they are. Labor continues to be at odds with the immigrant rights movement in key areas; this is a weakness which can prove harmful to both in 2008 and 2009.

Each effort I have mentioned here exists in relationship to another effort or force. We cannot understand the victories without also understanding the losses. Union membership in Oregon increased from 13.8 percent in 2006 to 14.3 percent in 2007. Public sector, African-American and older workers led the increase in numbers. These workers come into a labor movement which is fragile and divided and still living in the shadow of concessions-driven bargaining. It is also a movement which continues to engage in political action with uncertain allies. Key union locals in the state are facing internal problems, restructuring and difficult bargaining as we move towards the November elections. In this context, then, the AFSCME Obama endorsement is a positive step, but must be grounded in a realistic and action-oriented progressive labor agenda for it to become a point for labor unity in Oregon.

March 17, 2008

Capitalist Magic: Homes Disappear And Prostitution Flourishes

Two particularly unhealthy debates fills the media these days, both brought on by the capitalist crisis.

Yesterday's New York Times carried an article about a real estate agent in Traverse City, Michigan who has so many foreclosed properties to sell that she has created a bus route for potential buyers, charging them five dollars for the tour. The homes are barely heated and some have been cleaned or reordered so that no clues remain of who once lived there. One house, however, had been trashed by the previous occupants and it was clear to the visitor-buyers that a family with young children had inhabited the home. Most of the buyers interviewed were reluctant to purchase a foreclosed home; most of them got it that the lowered price came with someone's loss and misery. The chill in the air of the vacant homes reminds them of what went wrong.

The real estate agent has competition. One of her competitors plays the karma card when talking about the bus trip and the houses, although he would be doing the same had he thought of it first. These bus trips take place all over the US as homes empty out and the families who lived in them go....where? The real estate agent justifies her role: what else can she do, won't someone else do it if she doesn't and isn't this an opportunity for someone anyway?

With these stories of economic crisis comes a related story about prostitution. The Times also carried an article giving some details of the lives of three prostitutes in the wake of the Spitzer revelations. One woman's father needed an operation and there wasn't money, another can't afford to live with her debts in New York and a third woman supposedly enjoys the work and the money and sees what she does as almost charitable work. The Times previously reported that "Kristen," the prostitute engaged by Spitzer, had been abused as a child and had struggled with drugs and homelessness, but had come out of it all basically okay and is still looking forward to a career as a singer.

Letters from readers and person-on-the-street interviews point out the widespread tolerance for prostitution and the hypocrisy of charging Spitzer or "Kristen" with crimes. The run-of-the-mill media-promoted rap has been something along the lines of saying that prostitution is a widely-tolerated and victimless crime.

That it is widely-tolerated and institutionalized is beyond debate. In 1847 our Communist Manifesto stated:

But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the bourgeoisie in chorus.

The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.

He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.

For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.

Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.

Bourgeois marriage is, in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalised community of women. For the rest, it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.

But prostitution as a victimless crime? That is a highly debatable point. Even the Industrial Worker, newspaper of the IWW, is not immune from this nonsense. An article by Maxine Doogan in the current issue of the IW says what so many in the bourgeois media are also saying: "The Trafficking Victims Protective being used as a front for the sex-negative, shame-based, anti-prostitution feminists who have joined forces with religious groups...The TVPA was made law in 2000. Previous Congresses had approved versions of the TVPA that claimed all commercialized sex trafficking a form of forced labor...The victim status doesn't square with my labor rights to associate freely and be self-determined...The conflation of consensual work with forced labor has been a strategic move that has resulted in the proliferation of non-profits that...serve the interests of the United States' prison industrial complex."

Alan Dershowitz has made the point that Spitzer is being persecuted for having busted corporate wrong-doing. This political offensive then broadens to say that prostitution is victimless and, while we're at it, let's repeal TVPA because human trafficking doesn't exist. Prostitutes associate freely and are self-determined people, after all. It's all just a strategic move by anti-sex liberals and their non-profits.

We say that all labor under capitalism is essentially forced labor, that truly consensual interaction under capitalism is rare and occurs through struggle. The "self-determined" individual is an abstraction. We go further in locating coercion between men and women in the very structures and logic of class societies and capitalism.

Alexandra Kollontai took up this question in 1921. Writing as a revolutionary, Comrade Kollantai said:

With the rise of capitalism, the picture changes. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries prostitution assumes threatening proportions for the first time. The sale of women’s labour, which is closely and inseparably connected with the sale of the female, body, steadily increases, leading to a situation where the respected wife of a worker, and not just the abandoned and “dishonoured” girl, joins the ranks of the prostitutes: a mother for the sake of her children, or a young girl... for the sake of her family. This is the horror and hopelessness that results from the exploitation of labour by capital. When a woman’s wages are insufficient to keep her alive, the sale of favours seems a possible subsidiary occupation. The hypocritical morality of bourgeois society encourages prostitution by the structure of its exploitative economy, while at the same time mercilessly covering with contempt any girl or woman who is forced to take this path.

The black shadow of prostitution stalks the legal marriage of bourgeois society. History has never before witnessed such a growth of prostitution as occurred in the last part of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. In Berlin there is one prostitute for every twenty so-called honest women. In Paris the ratio is one to eighteen and in London one to nine. There are different types of prostitution: there is open prostitution that is legal and subject to regulation, and there is the secret, “seasonal” type, All forms of prostitution flourish like a poisonous flower in the swamps of the bourgeois way of life.

Comrade Kollontai saw no place for prostitution in a socialist society--her socialist society--because prostitution is not useful labor, it is unhealthy and it works again proletarian power and the proletarian morality needed to build a socialist society. It is a remnant of the bourgeois world, she said. It is a violent act. You can read her entire essay here.

Nicholas Kristof, also writing in The Times, pointed out that the pimp's business model is the same everywhere, that the same ruthless means of violence and coercion are used to run an industry in the midst of society. The authorities go hard on the prostitutes but go easier on pimps and customers.

Is there a better example of the state serving as the executive committee of the ruling class to enforce bourgeois standards?

If there is, it is in the lack of state intervention in the banking and housing sectors as more people lose their homes and as at least a few of them are forced to take desperate measures to hold on.

March 16, 2008

PDX Peace Rally

Comrades from the Communist Party journeyed together to Portland to take part in the March 15, 2008 rally in Portland against the Iraq war and occupation, for the freedom of Palestine from its long time occupation and land theft by Israel. Despite the troubled times, despite the violent rain showers, we enjoyed being there: meeting new people, catching up with old acquaintenances and more.

We admired the work and labor of love it was to put together the whole event; particularly moving was the display of flags on the South Park Blocks lawns. So many white flags...

We reached many people at our table with CPUSA papers and materials.

A few more memorable images....

March 14, 2008

Losing your home?

This is a famous photograph taken in the 1930s at a Workers Alliance meeting. The Workers Alliance was a left-led movement which crossed the lines separating unions, community organizing and organizations of the unemployed and poor. It was quite successful.

I thought of this photograph today as I heard two senior citizens on the radio. They are about to lose their home because of a ballooning mortgage payment and because the financial institution holding the mortgage is near collapse. They got a one-month reprieve but they will still lose the house. "What are we going to do?" the woman asked. "What can we do?"

The Grassroots Policy Project records this event from 1934:

The scene: a tenement building in New York City’s Lower East Side. Two days earlier, a family of five received a ‘dispossess’ order. The landlord has rebuffed appeals from local business owners and a neighborhood synagogue to lower the rent and/or accept alternative payment plans. Neighbors, members of the local tenants organization, allies and supporters from other neighborhoods and from the Unemployed Council gather on the stoop and sidewalk to block the marshal who has been hired by the landlord to carry out the eviction. Not wanting a confrontation, the marshal turns away. Later that day, the landlord enlists a respected local businessman to work out a deal with the tenants.

You can do something. And you can enjoy doing something: read Rose Chernin's story here.

In the 1980s I participated in the unemployed organizing movement in southwest Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. At that time I was unemployed and I spent a lot of effort trying to push other unemployed people to be confrontational. We needed jobs and relief and the unions, the churches and the local powerbrokers didn't seem to care, or weren't prepared to cope with the sudden loss of steel, mining, river transport and trucking jobs. It seemed as if a small industry had been created to feed us and keep us quiet. We watched angrily as job losses continued, concessionary union contracts got signed, pattern bargaining disappeared and people lost their homes. When we protested we got hammered.

Looking back, I'm not sure that much more could have been done in that moment. We didn't have a movement and we had no way of looking back for a model to learn from. No one expected conditions to get as bad as they did. Who knew then that pattern bargaining was being throttled and that union membership would slip so fast and not recover? Most workers did the understandable duck-and-cover dance, praying that their job wouldn't go next and ignoring us as best they could.

But now conditions are indeed different. The housing crisis is happening as political campaigns are underway and there are viable centrist candidates running who can be pushed or pulled to the left. The crisis can be directly linked to the war, the Republicans, the banks and the shift in wealth which has been underway since at least the early '80s. Workers are smarter now than we were 25 years ago. The immigrant rights movement has given us a recent and working organizing model.

Someone has to gather the neighbors, block the eviction and turn the cops away when they come to take someone's home. Someone has to organize the sit-ins in the banks. Someone has to light that match and make it fun to protest. Someone has to win over the candidates to this kind of movement and take that effort into the unions and churches. Once it starts, it probably will not stop until conditions change. It's almost exactly that simple.

The banks can see this--and it terrifies them.

Can you see it?

March 10, 2008

Crisis in For-Profit Health Care and the Democrats' Response

The gravity of the health care crisis in the United States has brought the issues of "reform" and "universal coverage" to the center of debates between the two remaining contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each have a plan, but what are the details and how do their respective plans differ from one another?

Elizabeth Schulte looks at the fine print, debunks several common myths, and offers an analysis of the Democrats' plans in the new issue of Socialist Worker newspaper.

To read the story online, click here.

Need more information? For additional articles on the topic, visit the health care section in the Socialist Worker story archive right here.

March 7, 2008

Oregon's News This Week---Oregon, PERS And Beyond

Some news from the headlines this week:

* The University of Oregon's Oregon Index of Economic Indicators showed this week that unemployment is increasing and that building permits and weight-mile taxes are decreasing here.

* Thousands of Oregon PERS-covered retirees opted to retire with a lump sum distribution of retirement benefits. They thought they could retire with the account balance they had earned, as calculated by the PERS Board. Unfortunately these retirees--and many other retirees-- have been receiving collection invoices since last spring demanding recovery of overpayments.” PERS retirees who chose lump sum settlements of PERS accounts were hit especially hard by recent PERS Board decisions. Billing notices for "overpayments"may run as high as $40,000 and are coming several years after a retiree decided to take the lump sum option. These hits will especially hurt rural Oregon.

* Increases in basic food costs will continue to at least 2010. Food reserves are at their lowest levels in 30 years. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Morocco are facing food crises now.

* A record 0.83% of home loans are now in foreclosure. The delinquency rates for home loans is at 5.82%. Mortgage delinquencies have hit a 23-year high. The per cent of equity we have in our homes is below 50% for the first time since 1945.

* Oil hit $106 a barrel in Europe this week.

* Applications for Unemployment compensation are at 351,000. Unemployment is at its highest level since September of 2005 and falls perhaps just a bit shy of 5% nationally.

* Economic growth in the US may be in negative numbers. It is certainly not higher than 0.6% now.

* One in five American soldiers deployed in Iraq suffer from some mental health problem. As of January 10, the US acknowledged 135 military suicides in Iraq.

* Kellogg Brown & Root does not pay taxes on more than 21,000 KB&R workers.

* Something like 89,000 Iraqis have been killed in the war so far and more than 4200 Coalition forces have also been killed in the war.

March 6, 2008

Hispanic Oregon--Steps Forward And Backward

The VOZ Worker’s Rights Education Project won a $200,000 grant from the Portland City Council to open a site on Martin Luther King Blvd. This will be a day labor site which help the workers get work and help VOZ organize. The victory here is that the city has recognized worker rights and is funding a democratic effort to advance the rights of Hispanic workers.

In one sense, the origins of this struggle go back a few years to a time when workers, activists and organizers and progressive allies were working together to form workers' rights centers around the US. Most often these efforts arose because communities needed something more than unions could provide or because the union model didn't quite fit into situations where people needed higher wages and better working conditions as well a program for broader rights and protections. The most successful effort in this direction has been the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

So VOZ has won a great victory and we want everyone to support them. Contributions are always welcome, hiring through VOZ is a good thing to do and--of course--we need to stay in the streets to defend immigrant workers. Eventually this painful breach between the unions and the communities will have to be bridged; VOZ is doing what the construction craft unions should have done years ago.

The closing of the Oregon Council for Hispanic Advancement (OCHA) is tragic, on the other hand. OCHA was indeed critical in providing culturally-specific educational services to working class Hispanic youth in Oregon. It's success was well-documented. We can't say that OCHA's closing was due to lack of money because there is plenty of money around. Rather, we have to say that OCHA closed because people with money and people who control funding services were unwilling to spend the money as needs increased. What happens to the kids in OCHA next?

March 5, 2008

A People's Victory Helps Seniors In Oregon!

The Governor's commission working on nursing home staffing issues has announced new and important rules. The newly-adopted minimum staffing rules for nursing homes in Oregon do the following:

1. Increase the ratio of day-shift certified nursing assistants to patients from 1-to-10 to 1-to-8. That ratio will become 1-to-7 on April 1 of next year.

2. Increase the ratio of evening-shift certified nursing assistants to patients from 1-to-15 to 1-to-12, and 1-to-11 by April 2009.

3. Increase the amount of time nursing assistants must spend helping residents with daily activities such as eating and bathing.

4. Require nursing facilities to post and report daily staffing ratios.

5. Require the state to monitor facilities' staffing.

6. Encourage people to report out-of-compliance nursing homes.

Funding for this win came from Oregon's legislature and from the federal government. Training for qualified workers will have to increase dramatically in Oregon in order to meet these goals. Pushing hard for these changes was SEIU Local 503, which has been using a combination of political pressure, pressure on the nursing home industry and cooperation with the industry which extends nationally.

Recruitment and retention of qualified workers will be a problem, but if the union is able to leverage its power and build membership at the worksite level then wages and working conditions should improve over time. A way to guarantee this strength and future advancements is to build and extend union-senior alliances based on a principled progressive political program.

These changes come at a time when we're facing cuts in some social services and a developing budget crisis in Oregon. This week we heard conservatives debating whether or not we are in a recession and the first stirrings of admitting defeat in the elections by leading Republicans. Opposition to these changes on the right will be muted because those forces are confused, demoralized and internally divided. Their predictable response will be to insist on budget cuts and privatization as the means to recover from a "hiccuping" or "stumbling" economy and to highlight the problems which will certainly come with workforce development and finding new workers.

Regardless of the right-wing opposition, this is a solid victory for the people.

March 1, 2008

Salem, OR. Pays For The War

According to the National Priorities Project, taxpayers in Salem, Oregon have paid $160 million for the Iraq War thus far. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

32,555 People with Health Care OR
150,417 Homes with Renewable Electricity OR
3,299 Public Safety Officers OR
2,698 Music and Arts Teachers OR
27,410 Scholarships for University Students OR
15 New Elementary Schools OR
990 Affordable Housing Units OR
45,156 Children with Health Care OR
23,951 Head Start Places for Children OR
2,730 Elementary School Teachers OR
2,770 Port Container Inspectors

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