Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mecha supports Blue Diamond workers

Chicano Students rally to almond workers’ cause
The nation’s largest Chicano student group brought some 400 students protestors on March 21,2008. to the Sacramento plant in support of the Blue Diamond workers’ long fight to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Since its founding in 1969, Mecha, the Chicano student organization, has supported workers’ organizing as an essential part of its program of community empowerment.

More than one-third of the workers at Blue Diamond’s Sacramento plant—the largest almond processing plant in the world—are Latino/a. After the workers began organizing in September 2004, the company mounted an aggressive anti-union campaign that landed it in trouble with the law. The National Labor Relations Board found Blue Diamond guilty of 20 labor law violations, but the company refused to admit wrongdoing. The workers have been building support in Sacramento, around the country and around the world for their right to decide for themselves whether or not they want a union in an atmosphere free of firings, threats and harassment.

Like the UFW in the 60’s, the Blue Diamond workers joining the ILWU know they cannot stand up to the company alone. Mecha ( Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) helped to build a web of solidarity actions from Sacramento around the nation and the world.

For more information: Marcy Rein, ILWU Organizing Dept., 510-847-4443

Thursday, March 20, 2008

MECHA seeks to close Blue Diamond in support of workers

Blue Diamond Almond Factory closes doors
in response to major protest Friday by hundreds
of students supporting ‘free and fair’ worker elections

SACRAMENTO – Blue Diamond Almonds – the world’s largest processor of almonds – reportedly has closed down for the rest of week because of concerns about a major protest here organized by a national Latino student group, which is busing more than 500 demonstrators to the plant Friday afternoon.

The demonstration will begin FRIDAY, at 1:30 p.m. at Blue Diamond Almonds (17th & C Streets), according to of M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan).

The students – representing chapters throughout the U.S. at a national conference this week at CSUS – will spearhead Friday what will be the largest rally yet to support under-represented workers at Blue Diamond Almonds plant. Hundreds of workers’ rights and community activists are expected to join the rally.

The protest is expected to be intense – legal aid, including that provided by members of the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU, will be available the rally.

After Blue Diamond workers began organizing in 2004, the company mounted an aggressive anti-union campaign that resulted in being found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of 20 labor law violations. Workers have been building support in Sacramento, and around the country and world in their fight for “free and fair” elections, despite firings, threats and harassment.

MEChA is the nation’s largest Chicano student group and is taking this strong action to support Blue Diamond workers’ long fight to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). MEChA has 10 U.S. regions, with 23 chapters in Northern California alone. MEChA has supported workers’ organizing since its founding in 1969.

MEChA students will board a caravan of buses at CSUS at 1 p.m. to trek to the 17th & C Blue Diamond plant.

Friday, March 14, 2008

UN Report finds Divided U.S.

U.N. Panel Finds Two-Tier Society

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 (IPS) - The United States government is drawing fire from international legal experts for its treatment of American Indians, Blacks, Latinos and other racial minorities.

The U.S. is failing to meet international standards on racial equality, according to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Last Friday, after considering the U.S. government's written and oral testimony, the 18- member committee said it has found "stark racial disparities" in the U.S. institutions, including its criminal justice system.

The CERD is responsible for monitoring global compliance with the 1969 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, an international treaty that has been ratified by the United States.

In concluding the CERD report on the U.S. record, the panel of experts called for the George W. Bush administration to take effective actions to end racist practices against minorities in the areas of criminal justice, housing, healthcare and education.

This is the second time in less than two years that the U.S. government has been found to be falling short of its treaty obligations. In March 2006, The CERD had harshly criticised the U.S. for violating Native Americans' land rights.

Taking note of racial discrimination against indigenous communities, the Committee said it wants the U.S. to provide information about what it has done to promote the culture and traditions of American Indian, Alaska Native and indigenous Hawaiian peoples. It also urged the U.S. to apply the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The CERD also voiced strong concerns regarding environmental racism and the environmental degradation of indigenous areas of spiritual and cultural significance, without regard to whether they are on "recognised" reservation lands.

The Committee recommended to the U.S. that it consult with indigenous representatives, "chosen in accordance with their own procedures -- to ensure that activities carried out in areas of spiritual and cultural significance do not have a negative impact on the enjoyment of their rights under the Convention".

In its 13-page ruling, the U.N. body also raised serious questions about the death penalty and in the sentencing of minors to life without parole, which it linked to racial disparities between whites and blacks.

In their testimony, Bush administration officials held that the treaty obligations do not apply to laws or practices that are race-neutral on their face but discriminatory in effect. The Committee outright rejected that claim, noting that the treaty prohibits racial discrimination in all forms, including practices and legislation that may not be discriminatory in purpose, but in effect.

The CERD panel also objected to the indefinite detention of non-citizens at Guantanamo prison and urged the U.S. to guarantee "enemy combatants" judicial review.

The panel said the U.S. needs to implement training programmes for law enforcement officials, teachers and social workers in order to raise their awareness about the treaty and the obligations the U.S. is required to uphold as a signatory.

Human rights defenders who watched the CERD proceeding closely said they were pleased with its observations and recommendations.

"The U.N. is telling the U.S. that it needs to deal with an ugly aspect of its criminal justice system," said Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch, which has been monitoring discriminatory practices in the United States for years.

In a statement, Parker hailed the U.N. panel for rejecting the U.S. government's claim that more black children get life without parole because they commit more crimes and held that the U.N. criticism of the justice system was fair.

"Once again, the Bush administration has been told by a major human rights body that it is not above the law," said Parker in of the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo prison.

Other rights activists also held similar views about the outcome of the CERD hearings in Geneva.

"[It has] exposed to the world the extent to which racial discrimination has been normalised and effectively made permissible in many areas of American life," said Ajamu Baraka of the Human Rights Network, an umbrella group representing more than 250 rights advocacy organisations.

As part of its recommendations, the Committee has asked the U.S. government to consider the establishment of an independent human rights body that could help eliminate widespread racial disparities.

Lenny Foster, Diné (Navajo) and representative of the Native America Prisoners Rights Coalition, was a member of the indigenous delegation to the CERD. He observed during the examination that the United States was "in denial".

"Spiritual wellness and spiritual healing is paramount to the very survival of the indigenous nations," he said. "There are efforts to prohibit and impede the spiritual access. Corporations cannot be allowed to prohibit access and to destroy and pollute and desecrate the sacred lands."

Bill Larsen of the Western Shoshone Defence Project delegation also testified before the Committee, making a strong case concerning environmental racism and the deadly pollution caused by mining on their ancestral lands.

In March 2006, the Western Shoshone leaders had received a favourable response from the Committee to its complaint about the U.S. exploitation of their sacred lands. The U.S. is obligated "to freeze, desist and stop further harmful activities on their lands", but failed to take any action.

Indigenous leaders said they welcomed the Committee's decision to ask the U.S. to submit its report on compliance within one.year.

"It is important that all Native Peoples within the U.S. know that they have rights that are recognized by international law even if the United States refuses to recognise them or act upon them," said Alberto Saldamando, one of the indigenous delegates attending the Geneva meeting.

"Now it is not just us," he continued, "but the international community that has recognised that indigenous peoples within the United States are subject to racism on many levels and has called for effective steps by the U.S. to remedy this situation."


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Columbia Free Trade Agreement

Columbia Free trade agreement

What I fear about the odds on defeating the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement if it comes to a vote is that, even though the Democratic electorate is sensitive to “free trade” issues in an election year, and even though labor’s message that murdering union organizers and granting immunity to their killers in Colombia should be a bar to a “free trade agreement”, Democrats remain potentially vulnerable on several fronts. First, corporate lobbyists are preparing to let out all stops in urging passage of the Colombia FTA this year. Second, most of Obama’s and Clinton’s economic advisors, and the corporate business interests that support Democrats, are fundamentally “free traders.” Third, lacking any principled critique or understanding of the American empire or its accompanying militarization, many Democrats might be stampeded by shallow and contrived appeals to “national security” and “fighting terrorism.”
Paul Garver:
Read the entire article:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Black - Brown cooperation

In Mississippi, African American leaders are the foremost champions of the state's growing Latino immigrant population. Some day soon, they hope, the new alliance will transform the state's politics.

In 1991, seeking to boost its never robust economy, the state of Mississippi passed a law permitting casino gambling. In short order, immigrant construction workers arrived from Florida to build the casinos, and the casinos themselves began using contractors to supply immigrants to meet their growing labor needs. Guest workers, eventually numbering in the thousands, were brought under the H-2B program to fill many of the jobs the developments created.
Throughout the 1990s more immigrants arrived looking for work. Some guest workers overstayed their visas, while husbands brought wives, cousins, and friends from home. Mexicans and Central Americans joined South and Southeast Asians and began traveling north through the state, finding jobs in rural poultry plants. There they met African Americans, many of whom had fought hard campaigns to organize unions for chicken and catfish workers over the preceding decade.
It was not easy for newcomers to fit in. Their union representatives didn't speak their languages. When workers got pulled over by state troopers they were not only cited for lacking driver's licenses but also often handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol. Sometimes their children weren't even allowed to enroll in school.
"We decided that the place to start was trying to get a bill passed allowing everyone to get driver's licenses, regardless of who they were or where they came from," says Jim Evans, the AFL-CIO's state organizer and leader of the black caucus in the state legislature. In the fall of 2000, labor, church, and civil-rights activists formed an impromptu coalition and went to the legislature. At the core of the coalition were activists who had organized Mississippi's state workers and a growing caucus of black legislators sympathetic to labor. Evans, a former organizer for the National Football League Players Association, headed the group on the House side, while Sen. Alice Harden, who had led a state teachers' strike in 1986, organized the vote in the Senate.
Harden's efforts bore fruit when the driver's license bill passed the Senate unanimously in 2001. "But they saw us coming in the House and killed it," says Bill Chandler, at the time political director for the casino union, UNITE HERE. Nevertheless, the close fight convinced them that a coalition supporting immigrants' rights had a wide potential base of support and could help change the state's political landscape. In a meeting that November, the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) was born.
One day soon, that black-brown-labor coalition might just be able to transform Mississippi's politics.

In big u.s. cities African Americans and immigrants, especially Latinos, often are divided by fears that any gain in jobs or political clout by one group can only come at the expense of the other. In Mississippi, African American political leaders and immigrant organizers favor a different calculation: Blacks plus immigrants plus unions equals power.
Since 2000, all three have cooperated in organizing one of the country's most active immigrants' rights coalitions, the MIRA. "You will always find folks reluctant to get involved, who say, it's not part of our mission, that immigrants are taking our jobs," Evans says. "But we all have the same rights and justice cause."
Evans, whose booming basso profundo comes straight out of the pulpit, remembers his father riding shotgun for Medgar Evers, the NAACP leader slain by racists in 1963. He believes organizing immigrants is a direct continuation of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Poor People's March on Washington. "To get to peace and freedom," Evans says, "you must come through the door of truth and justice."
Both Evans, who chairs the MIRA, and Chandler, who is now its executive director, believe social justice and political practicality converge in the state's changing demographics. Long before World War II, Mississippi, like most Southern states, began to lose its black population. Out-migration reached its peak in the 1960s, when 66,614 African Americans left between 1965 and 1970, while civil-rights activists were murdered, hosed, and sent to jail. But in the following decades, as Midwestern industrial jobs began to move overseas and the cost of living in Northern cities skyrocketed, the flow began to reverse.
From 1995 to 2000, the state capital, Jackson, gained 3,600 black residents. In the 2000 census, African Americans made up more than 36 percent of Mississippi's 2.8 million residents-a percentage that is no doubt higher today. And while immigrants were statistically insignificant two decades ago, today they comprise more than 4.5 percent of Mississippi's total population, according to news reports. "Immigrants are always undercounted, but I think they're now about 130,000, and they'll be 10 percent of the population 10 years from now," Chandler predicts.
That's still less than in the four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas) and the District of Columbia where some combination of blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans already make up the majority. But MIRA activists see one other big advantage in Mississippi. "We have the chance here to avoid the rivalry that plagues Los Angeles and build real power," says Chandler, who left East L.A. and the farm workers' movement decades ago to come to the South. "But we have to fight racism from the beginning and recognize the leadership of the African American community." Eric Fleming, an MIRA staff member and former state legislator who recently filed for the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Trent Lott, believes, "We can stop Mississippi from making the same mistakes others have made."
The same calculus can also apply across the South, which is now the entry point for a third of all new immigrants into the U.S. Four decades ago, President Richard Nixon brought the South's white power structure, threatened by civil rights, into the Republican Party. President Ronald Reagan celebrated that achievement at the Confederate monument at Georgia's Stone Mountain. "[Progressive] funders and the Democratic Party have written off much of the South since then," says Gerald Lenoir of California's Black Alliance for Just Immigration. But MIRA-type alliances could transform the region, he hopes, "and change the politics of this country as a whole."

The MIRA is the fruit of strategic thinking among a diverse group that reaches from African American workers on catfish farms and immigrant union organizers in chicken plants to guest workers and contract laborers on the Gulf Coast and, ultimately, into the halls of the state legislature in Jackson.
Chandler, who had been organizing state employees for the Communication Workers, went to work for the hotel union, UNITE HERE, and helped win union recognition in three Mississippi casinos. In 2005 in Las Vegas, the union was renegotiating its contract covering Harrah's Las Vegas operations. Harrah's also owned two Mississippi casinos in Tunica and one that was destroyed and later rebuilt in Gulfport. With the threat of a Nevada strike in the air, Harrah's agreed to a card-check process for union recognition in Mississippi, and eventually signed contracts covering the three casinos there at the end of that year, although temporary, contract, and H-2B workers were not covered.
To build a grassroots base, MIRA volunteers also went into chicken plants to help recruit newly arrived immigrants into unions. Mississippi is a right-to-work state, and union membership is not mandatory in workplaces with union contracts. Frank Curiel, a Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) representative who worked with the United Farm Workers for many years, says, "MIRA put the LIUNA business manager and a UFCW [United Food and Commercial Workers] rep on the board because we wanted them to understand the role of the union in representing Latinos-they had contracts in chicken and fish plants." In one plant, Curiel signed up 80 percent of the newly arrived immigrants, while in two others, an MIRA student volunteer from the University of Texas signed up every Latino worker in two weeks.
The unions' work wasn't confined to fighting grievances or recruiting new members; immigrant workers had much bigger problems. "There was a pretty repressive system in Laurel, Collins, and Hattiesburg," Curiel recalls. "Plants had contracts with temp agencies, and all the workers were undocumented. It was very hard to get a new contract because of the surplus of Latino labor and low membership." But by building a combined membership of immigrant and African American workers, union negotiators in one plant forced the company to get rid of the temp service and hire employees directly. "That meant that African Americans gained access to those jobs, too," Curiel emphasizes.
In the casinos, MIRA volunteers worked with UNITE HERE organizers. In Jackson, the coalition got six bills passed the following year, stopping schools from requiring Social Security numbers from immigrant parents, and winning in-state tuition for any student who had spent four years in a Mississippi high school.
Then Katrina hit the Gulf.

Vicky Cintra, a cuban american with a soft Southern accent, was the MIRA's first full-time organizer and got her baptism of fire on the Gulf Coast. After the hurricane blew through Biloxi and Gulfport, contractors began pouring in to do reconstruction, bringing with them crews of workers.
Cintra handed out 10,000 flyers with the MIRA's phone number, and the calls flooded in. Thirty-five workers abandoned by their contractor in dilapidated trailers received blankets and food. When two Red Cross shelters evicted Latinos, even putting a man in a wheelchair onto the street, the national news media reported on Cintra's efforts on behalf of the immigrants. "For the next year we were just reacting to emergencies," she recalls. The MIRA fought evictions and the cases of workers cheated by employers. "When we threatened picket lines, the contractors would sometimes offer to pay Latinos, but we said everyone had to be treated equally, and got money for African Americans and whites, too."
The MIRA eventually recovered over a million dollars. "And this was while the federal government had said it wouldn't enforce labor standards, OSHA, Davis Bacon, or any other law protecting workers," Cintra says. "Really, it had been like this for years, but Katrina just tore the veil away." The key to the MIRA's success, she believes, was that "we engaged workers in direct action. Eventually the contractors and companies settling in Mississippi got the idea that workers have rights and were getting organized."
MIRA volunteers also began to hear that guest workers were being recruited in India, not for reconstruction, but for the main industry on the Gulf-ship building. Working in the shipyards has always been dirty, dangerous, and segregated. Jaribu Hill, an MIRA board member, accuses the yards of putting "hundreds of black women into the worst cleaner jobs in the bottom of the ship. And when we get organized and outspoken, the boss starts looking for people who are more grateful, and more vulnerable."
In late 2006, 300 guest workers arrived at the Pascagoula yard of Signal International, which makes huge floating oil rigs for the offshore fields in the Gulf. They'd been hired in India by a labor recruiter and given H-2B visas, good for 10 months. Signal charged the workers $35 per day for the privilege of living in a labor camp located within the shipyard. "Twenty-four of us live in a small room, 12 feet by 18 feet, sleeping on bunk beds," Joseph Jacob, one of the worker leaders, says. "There are two toilets for all of us, and we have to get up at 3:30 in the morning to have enough time to use the bathroom before going to work."
Signal put the Indian guest workers to work in the yard alongside U.S. workers doing the same job, and claimed it paid them the same wages. The guest workers say they were promised $18 an hour, but many were paid only half that after the company said they were unqualified. Signal CEO Dick Marler admits the company reclassified some workers after they had arrived, from first- to second-class welders, and then reduced their wages. Signal deemed six of the workers incapable and announced that it would send them back to India-a move that portended financial ruin for the workers.
The MIRA asked a Hindi-speaking organizer from the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, Sakhet Soni, to come to Pascagoula. Together they helped workers organize Signal H-2B Workers United. Jacob was fired "because I attended the meetings," he says. "That's what the company vice president told me." Marler denies this.
On the day the six workers were discharged, company security guards locked them in what they call the TV Room and wouldn't let them leave. The MIRA went to the Pascagoula Police Department, and the police went out to the yard and eventually freed the workers. Outside the yard, dozens of workers and activists denounced the firings and mistreatment. The MIRA organized picket lines, and its attorney, Patricia Ice, started a legal defense campaign with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The company said it had used the H-2B system because it couldn't find enough workers after the hurricane. Other contractors have used the same rationale. "We've learned about case after case of workers in Mississippi, Louisiana, and all along the Gulf in these conditions," Chandler says. "There are thousands of guest workers who have been brought in since Katrina and subjected to this same treatment. Mexican guest workers in Amelia, Louisiana, were held in the same way. They also got organized and came to Pascagoula to support the workers here when they heard what happened."
Organizing guest workers is part of an effort to build an MIRA membership among immigrants themselves. MIRA members get an ID card and agree to come to demonstrations and help others. When the national immigrant marches began in the spring of 2006, MIRA members and volunteers mobilized thousands of people for a rally in Jackson and even a march in Laurel, a poultry town of 18,881 people with a progressive black mayor. "There's still a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment here," Cintra says, "but when people give the police their ID card they get treated with more respect, because they know their rights and have some support." Curiel says the same thing: "In Kentucky, outside of Louisville, Latinos are afraid to go out into the street. In Mississippi it's different."
Not always that different, however. In Laurel and many other Mississippi towns, police still set up roadblocks to trap immigrants without licenses. "They take us away in handcuffs, and we have to pay over $1000 to get out of jail and get our cars back," says chicken plant worker Elisa Reyes. And the way the state's Council of Conservative Citizens demonizes immigrants is reminiscent of the language of its predecessor-the White Citizens' Councils. Its Web site urges, "The CofCC not only fights for European rights, but also for Confederate Heritage, fights against illegal immigration, fights against gun control, fights against abortion, fights against gay rights etc. ... so join up!!!" The state's chapter of the Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement brought the Minutemen's Chris Simcox out from California to recruit at anti-immigrant meetings.
During the 2007 Mississippi elections for governor and state legislators, the Ku Klux Klan held a 500-person rally in front of the Lee County Courthouse in Tupelo. They wore the old white hoods and robes and carried signs saying, "Stop the Latino Invasion." Their presence was so intimidating that Ricky Cummings, a generally progressive Democrat running for re-election to the State House of Representatives, voted for some of the anti-immigrant bills in the legislature. When MIRA leaders challenged him, he told them that Klan-generated calls had "worn out his cell phone."
The Klan's Web site says, "Its time to declare war on these illegal mexican's. ... The racial war is among us, will you fight with us for the future of our race and for our children? Or will you sit on your ass and do nothing? Our blissful ignorance is over. It is time to fight. Time for Mexico and Mexicans to get the hell out!!!" The Web site also has links to the site of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement directed by Mike Lott, who sits in the state legislature, and the state affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
In 2007 Republicans introduced 21 anti-immigrant bills into the Mississippi Legislature, including ones to impose state penalties on employers who hire undocumented workers, English-only requirements on state license and benefit applicants, to prohibit undocumented students at state universities, and to require local police to check immigration status. Mike Lott sponsored many of these bills.
The MIRA, however, defeated all of the proposed laws. "The black caucus stood behind us every time," Evans says proudly. There are no immigrant or Latino legislators. Without the caucus, all 21 bills would have passed in 2007, as would have 19 similar bills in 2006.
The caucus didn't just wage a "vote no" campaign. It also proposed a series of pro-worker measures that would have abolished at-will employment (the doctrine that says employers don't need any justification for terminating workers), provided interpreters, and established a state department of labor (Mississippi is the only state without one). While these bills didn't pass, either, the difference between the caucus' and the Republicans' agendas is as clear as black and white, or perhaps, black/brown and white.
Although the political coalition in which the MIRA participates is powerful enough to stop the worst proposals, it isn't yet powerful enough to elect a legislative majority. Changing demographics is one element of a strategy to change that political terrain, but numbers alone aren't enough. Chandler describes three factions in the state's Democratic party-the black caucus at one end, white conservatives hanging on at the other, and "liberals who will do whatever they have to do to get elected" in the middle.
After some Democratic candidates campaigned in 2007 on an anti-immigrant platform, the MIRA wrote a letter in protest to Howard Dean, national chair of the Democratic Party. Those tactics, it said, were undermining the only strategy capable of changing the state's politics. "The attacks on Latinos, initiated by Republican Phil Bryant a year and a half ago, and joined by other Republicans, are now being echoed by Democrats like John Arthur Eaves [the party's gubernatorial candidate] and Jamie Franks [its candidate for lieutenant governor]," the letter said. State party leaders who "would go along to be accepted, rather than show the courage necessary for positive change ... are peddling racist lies against immigrants that violate the core of the party's progressive agenda. We do not need politicians whose only concern is getting elected. We need leaders who will represent the best interests of all the working people of Mississippi."
Despite their anti- immigrant rhetoric, both Eaves' and Franks' campaigns were unsuccessful. Conservative Republican Haley Barbour was returned to the governor's mansion and Phil Bryant was elected lieutenant governor. Democrat Jim Hood, however, was re-elected attorney general, with a higher vote total than either Eaves or Franks. He was the only Democratic statewide candidate who did not mount an anti-immigrant campaign and who had earlier been convinced by the AFL-CIO's Jim Evans not to support anti-immigrant bills in the legislature.
In December 2007, Trent Lott suddenly resigned his U.S. Senate seat only a year after being re-elected to a fourth term. Barbour appointed conservative Republican Rep. Roger Wicker to fill the vacancy, and set the vote to choose a permanent replacement for the November 2008 general election
"We can't rely just on the demographic shift to win," says MIRA's Fleming, who plans to run for the seat. He notes that a winning majority in Mississippi would require about 80 percent of the African American vote, 20 percent to 25 percent of the white vote, and all of the growing vote of immigrants and other people of color. "But demographics makes it a viable race. We live in a conservative state where people don't accept new ideas easily, so the challenge for progressives is that we have to campaign and educate people at the same time. If we want people to move out of their comfort zone, we need a powerful message."
In Mississippi, that message focuses on jobs, health care, affordable housing, and the basic economic issues affecting working people in a state with one of the nation's lowest standards of living and lowest levels of social services. Immigration issues, Fleming says, are not some toxic topic to be avoided at all costs. "If we talk about it in the context of protecting jobs, wages, and rights for everyone, it's something that can bring us together."
Finding common ground among immigrants, African Americans, and labor is the pillar of the MIRA's long-term strategy. Jaribu Hill of the MIRA and executive director of the Mississippi's Workers' Center, has launched her own bid for election to the legislature as a Democrat and argues that winning in the South requires open discussion of race and civil rights, even if it makes established institutions-including unions-uncomfortable. Before she can start any campaign in the fish plants where the workers' center is active, she says, "we have to talk about racism. The union focuses on the contract, but skin color issues are also on the table."
To organize a multiracial workforce, the divisions between African Americans and immigrants need to be recognized and discussed, Hill insists. "We're coming together like a marriage, working across our divides," she says. Rhetoric calling the current immigrant-rights movement the "new civil-rights movement" doesn't describe those relations accurately, however. "Our conditions as African Americans are the direct result of slavery. Immigrants have come here looking for better lives-we came in chains," Hill says. "Today Frito Lay wages in Mississippi are still much lower than [in] Illinois-$8.75 to $13.75 an hour. This is the evolution of a historical oppression."
Immigrants, when they, too, are paid that lower wage, are entering an economic system that reproduces discrimination and tiers of inequality originally established to control and profit from black labor. They inherit a second-class status that developed before they arrived.
Jean Damu, a writer and member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, also warns that drawing a parallel between the situations of blacks and immigrants has its limits. "After all, who would want to claim that deporting someone to Mexico is the same as returning them to slavery?" he asks. "But the similarities are powerful enough to convince many African Americans that it is in their best self-interest to support those who struggle against black people's historic enemies."
For all the differences, Hill still sees a common ground of experience. "We're both victims of colonialism, we're both second-class citizens denied our rights. If people could see how African American people live here, they'd see it's like Bolivia or Jamaica. On the other hand, it's important for African Americans to understand why people come here-because of what's happening in the countries they come from. If people had a choice, if they could live like human beings, they wouldn't have to risk their lives to get here. I don't believe any human being can be illegal."

David Bacon is a California writer and photographer. His new book, Illegal People: How Globalization Causes Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants, will be published by Beacon Press this fall. To preorder, call: 617-742-2110
For more art

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Barack Obama's problem --And ours

Barack Obama's Problem -- And Ours
Along the Color Line

By Dr. Manning Marable, PhD, Editorial Board

["Along The Color Line", written by Manning Marable,
PhD and distributed, is a
public educational and information service dedicated
to fostering political dialogue and discussion,
inspired by the great tradition for political event
columns written by W. E. B. Du Bois nearly a century
ago. Re-prints are permitted by any Black-owned or
Black-oriented publications (print or electronic)
without charge as long as they are printed in their
entirety including this paragraph and, for
electronic media, a link to]

Several years ago, I was walking home to my Manhattan
apartment from Columbia University, just having
delivered a lecture on New York State's notorious
"Rockefeller Drug Laws." The state's mandatory-minimum
sentencing laws had thrown tens of thousands of
nonviolent drug offenders into state prisons with
violent convicts. In my lecture I had called for more
generous prisoner reentry programs, the restoration of
felons' voting rights, increased educational programs
inside prisons, and a restoration of judges' sentencing

A white administrator from another local university, a
woman, who I had always judged to be fairly conservative
and probably a Republican, had attended my lecture and
was walking along with me to go to the subway. She told
me that my lecture about the "prison industrial complex"
had been a real "eye opener." The fact that two million
Americans were imprisoned, she expressed, was a "real

Then this college administrator blurted out, in a
hurried manner, "You know, my son is also in prison . a
victim of the drug laws."

In a split second, I had to make a hard decision:
whether to engage this white conservative administrator
in a serious conversation about America's gulags and
political economy of mass incarceration that had
collaterally ensnared her son, or to pretend that I had
not heard her last sentence, and to continue our
conversation as if she had said nothing at all. Perhaps
this is a sign of generational weakness on my part, but
the overwhelming feeling I had at that precise moment
was that, one day, the white administrator would deeply
regret revealing such an intimate secret with a black
person. I might tell the entire world about it. Instead
of proceeding on the basis of mutual trust and common
ground, transcending the boundaries of color, it would
be better to ignore what was said in haste.

All of this occurred to me in the span of one heartbeat.
I decided to say nothing. Two seconds later, I could
visually detect the signs of relief on the woman's face.
African Americans have survived in the United States for
over four hundred years because, at least up to the most
recent generation of black people, we have made it our
business to study white Americans generally, and
especially those who exercise power. This explains why
so many African Americans, at the very core of their
being, express fears that millions of white Americans
will be unable to cast ballots for Obama for president
solely due to his racial identity. Of course, the
majority of them would deny this, even to themselves.

Among the remaining Democratic presidential candidates,
former Senator John Edwards (albeit with a "suspended"
campaign) has been consistently the most progressive on
most policy issues, in my view. On issues such as health
care and poverty, Edwards has been clearly to the left
of both Obama and Hillary Clinton. But since Edwards
probably cannot win the Democratic nomination the real
choice is between Clinton and Obama.

We've all heard the arguments explaining why Obama's
"not qualified" to be president. Chief among them is
that he "doesn't have enough experience in government."
As a historian, I think it may be instructive to observe
that three of the twentieth century's most influential
presidents had shorter careers in electoral politics
than Obama. Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, served as
New York's governor for only two years, and was William
McKinley's Vice President for barely six months. Woodrow
Wilson served as New Jersey's governor for only two
years before being elected president. And Franklin D.
Roosevelt, our only four-term president, had served in
Albany as New York's governor for four years. None of
these leaders was ever elected to Congress.

Obama's seven years in the Illinois State Senate,
according to the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, show
that "he scored significant achievements there: a law to
videotape police interrogations in capital cases; an
earned income tax credit to fight poverty; an expansion
of early childhood education." To be perfectly honest,
there are some public policy issues where I sharply
disagree with Obama, such as health care. Obama's
approach is not to use "mandates" to force millions of
healthy twenty-somethings into the national health
insurance pool. He claims that you won't need mandates,
just lower the price of private health insurance and
young adults will buy it on their own. Obama's children
are still small, so maybe he can be excused for such an
irrational argument. Obama's reluctance to embrace
health mandates is about his desire to appeal to
"centrists" and moderate Republicans.

Not getting email from BC?

That brings us back to Barack's unspoken problem: white
denial and voter flight. It's instructive to remember
what happened to David Dinkins, the first (and still
only) African American elected mayor of New York City.
According to Andrew Kohul, the current president of the
Pew Research Center, the Gallup organization's polling
research on New York City's voters in 1989 indicated
that Dinkins would defeat his Republican opponent,
Rudolph Giuliani, by 15 percent. Instead, Dinkins only
narrowly won by 2 percent. Kohul, who worked as a Gallup
pollster in that election, concluded that "poorer, less
well-educated [white] voters were less likely to answer
our questions;" so the poll didn't have the opportunity
to factor in their views. As Kohul admits, "Here's the
problem - these whites who do not respond to surveys
tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than
respondents who do the interviews."

So I return to the white college administrator whose son
is in prison on drug charges. I made a mistake. People
of color must break through the mental racial barricades
that divide America into parallel racial universes. We
need to mobilize and support the election of Barack
Obama not only because he is progressive and fully
qualified to be president, but also because only his
campaign can force all Americans to overcome the
centuries-old silences about race that still create a
deep chasm across this nation's democratic life. In the
end, we must force our fellow citizens who happen to be
white, to come to terms with their own whiteness, their
guilt and fears about America's terrible racial past.

If there is any hope for meaningful change inside U.S.
electoral system in the future, it lies with progressive
leaders like Barack Obama. If we can dare to dream
politically, let us dream of the world as it should be. Editorial Board member, Manning
Marable, PhD is one of America's most influential and
widely read scholars. Since 1993, Dr. Marable has been
Professor of Public Affairs, Political Science, History
and African-American Studies at Columbia University in
New York City. For ten years, Dr. Marable was founding
director of the Institute for Research in African-
American Studies at Columbia University, from 1993 to
2003. Dr. Marable is an author or editor of over 20
books, including Living Black History: How Reimagining
the African-American Past Can Remake America's Racial
Future (2006); The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A
Hero's Life And Legacy Revealed Through His Writings,
Letters, And Speeches (2005); Freedom: A Photographic
History of the African American Struggle (2002); Black
Leadership: Four Great American Leaders and the Struggle
for Civil Rights (1998); Beyond Black and White:
Transforming African-American Politics (1995); and How
Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: Problems in
Race, Political Economy, and Society (South End Press
Classics Series) (1983). His current project is a major
biography of Malcolm X, entitled Malcolm X: A Life of
Reinvention, to be published by Viking Press in 2009.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Obama: Si Se Puede

I tried to upload the video, but there is no link.
I recommend this talk. Yes, it is a donation site, but you can look at the video without donating.
Duane Campbell

Monday, March 03, 2008

Money Spent on developing Latino Voters

March 03, 2008

Many consider next Tuesday's primary election in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as a mini- Super Tuesday make-or-break election for Senator Hillary Clinton. And both Democratic Party candidates are beating the band to woo Latino voters into their column to settle the question, the ultimate party favorite to square off with the presumptive Republican Party candidate, Senator John McCain.
They are really doing more than beating the band. According to James Pinkerton, his article appeared in the Houston Chronicle on February 29, 2008, Sens. Clinton and Obama are spending unprecedented sums to convey their messages in Spanish ads as "part of a Texas primary media blitz that one national campaign finance expert estimates will end up dumping $20 million in Texas for the March 4 contest." (See article - 3406.html)

My impression is that no previous political campaign has spent as much marketing to Latinos, albeit the lion's share will undoubtedly land in the coffers of corporate media outlets - a huge boon for the Spanish language networks.

It appears that Latinos represent the mother lode of votes to determine the outcome in Texas, fully 25 percent of the state electorate. This is a higher percentage than they represent in California, and while 30 percent of the state's Democratic Party primary turnout was Latino, an estimated 67 percent swung for Clinton. All things being equal in relation to other segments of the Texan electorate, African Americans will likely support Senator Barack Obama in the 90 percentage range, the white vote will split between the two, and the Latino vote is the unknown in play. It's nice to be wanted.

This is why I have always advocated for competitive districts, multiple parties, choice diversity, and an electoral system of the 21st century in America - proportional representation, public campaign financing, equal media access, redistricting of districts not by the seated legislators, elimination of the archaic electoral college, same day registration, and other necessary democratic electoral reforms. This all would make for much greater participation in civil society by all constituencies.

But, back to the money question in Texas. Mariachi bands, Spanish language ballads lauding the attributes of the candidates, messages emphasizing family values, healthcare reform and educational access, while minimizing the immigration issue, are costing Clinton and Obama literally millions - an estimated $8 million for the former, $10 million for the later, and the remainder by others. And this is just in a matter of several weeks of media exposure. What a waste! All message, but where's the proverbial beef?

The money could be better spent to empower a still too disenfranchised electorate - in voter registration, education, organization, and ultimately, mobilization. In fact, those experienced in voter registration peg the reasonable investment amount of $10 per new registrant in the average campaign. In another words, a $20 million investment in such a laudable and democratic experiment could harvest 2 million new Latino voters empowered to cast their lot with those who truly value their worth - think enough about them to invest in their electoral empowerment, in human capital not just media mesmerizing.

The Willie C. Velasquez Institute estimates that there are still six million unregistered eligible Latino citizens to be harvested. It also estimates that of the close to 10 million Latino registered voters nationally, less than 60 percent actually reach the ballot box on Election Day to punch for their candidate preference. The 40 percent voter apathy is really a question of education and motivation. On a different note, there are also 9 million permanent legal residents eligible for U.S. citizenship status - a mine full of potential new voters.

What party and candidate(s) speak to the issues of relevance and concern to Latino voters, short on rhetoric and long on concerted action, legislation, and social mobilization? Who will bring these voters to the dance as Willie C. Velasquez, in life, used to repeat the old Texan refrain? A recent experience demonstrates that one astute right-wing political advisor/consultant had it right (for this side) when he bet on and worked to bring a reported 4 million energized voters into the presidential fray of 2004 - the evangelical factor. I am referring to Mr. Karl Rove. George W. won his second term, and all else is history.

This was a good example of a campaign putting its money where its mouth is. Can Clinton and Obama say as much, or the Democratic Party for that matter? Only time will tell, but the Texas experience indicates that they still don't get the message.

Nativo V. Lopez - National President of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and National Director of the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana

Join us in this prolonged campaign for driver's licenses and visas for our families. The first step in making change is to join an organization that pursues the change we desire. We welcome you to our ranks.
Other organizations leading this movement include: Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), MAPA Youth Leadership, Liberty and Justice for Immigrants Movement, National Alliance for Immigrant's Rights, and immigrant's rights coalitions throughout the U.S..


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Puerto Rican Teachers Strike

Underpaid and dissed, Puerto Rico’s teachers may walk out in defiance of anti-strike ban

New York Teacher

Michael Hirsch

Feb 14, 2008 1:07 PM

After two years of failed negotiations with their Department of Education employers, Puerto Rico’s 32,000 public school teachers in the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the commonwealth’s largest union representing the bulk of the island’s 43,000 pedagogues, are mulling a strike. The issues: higher wages — the starting salary is $18,000 per year and teachers want an 18 percent raise — and better working conditions. Teachers also want decision-making power on class size and class schedules as well as repairs to much-neglected school buildings.

In Ponce some 600 FMPR members blocked streets in a recent pro-strike demonstration, while more than 500 teachers picketed in front of school board offices in Caguas. A strike could shut down some 1,400 public schools.

Strikes by public employees are illegal in Puerto Rico, and teachers and others face firing if they strike. The island’s government labor relations board decertified the Teachers’ Federation last month after some of its members authorized a walkout. The FMPR filed papers in U.S. federal district court in San Juan seeking to have the anti-strike law declared unconstitutional.

The starting base salary for a teacher in Puerto Rico is lower than any U.S. state, while the cost of living is generally higher. One new hire, a chemistry teacher, told the Associated Press: “If I am going to quit in three or four years because I’m not able to save anything, it doesn’t make a difference if they kick me out now.”

The strike could affect the mainland as well, as stranded students are expected to come to northern cities, including New York and Orlando, Fla., with sizeable Puerto Rican populations.

The fight is muddied because the current leadership of FMPR broke away from the AFT and the AFL-CIO last year, and 18 presidents of Puerto Rican unions affiliated with both the AFL-CIO and the rival union federation Change to Win denounced the FMPR’s strike plans in mid-January. They said the FMPR’s actions would hurt 100,000 public employees if the courts overturn the law, since their union recognition depends on it.

Plus, the Service Employees International Union, part of Change to Win, is seeking to replace the FMPR as the teachers’ bargaining agent. Heading the effort is SEIU leader Dennis Rivera.

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27
Associated Press, Jan. 30, 31
Orlando Sentinel, Feb. 1