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Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Immigration Organizing Social Justice

Watch: May Day Forum with Gerry Hudson

On May Day 2022, Voices for New Democracy hosted SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Gerry Hudson for a discussion on the state of the American labor movement. Throughout the conversation, Gerry discussed his history at 1199SEIU, outlining how the union’s participation in struggles for racial justice and immigrant justice mobilized membership and helped secure important victories; how 1199’s emphasis on rank-and-file organizing and leadership was key to their strength; and what lessons these experiences hold for today’s wave of union organizing across gig workers, Amazon workers, delivery drivers, Starbucks workers, and more. Gerry also reflected on SEIU’s political mobilization around the 2020 elections — playing an important role in Biden’s victory — and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in 2022 and 2024.

Watch the full forum below.

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Analysis Economic Justice Organizing

Collective Bargaining and the Future of U.S. Labor

| Kent Wong |

This was a paper presented by Kent Wong to an international conference hosted by Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam in April, 2022. Ton Duc Thang is the Trade Union University of Vietnam and is affiliated with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

As the director of the UCLA Labor Center, I have taught labor studies, labor law and collective bargaining for many years.  Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of U.S. labor relations, and yet it has been under attack in recent decades.  This is harmful not only to U.S. unions and workers, but represents an increasing threat to U.S. democracy.  

Collective Bargaining in the U.S.  

For more than 50 years, unionization and collective bargaining have been in decline in the United States.  The right to collective bargaining was won in the 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression and as a result of unprecedented organizing campaigns throughout the country including a General Strike in 1934.  The 1930’s saw the birth of contemporary U.S. labor laws, and the establishment of collective bargaining as the foundation of U.S. labor relations.

Throughout In the 1950’s, fully one third of workers in the U.S. were members of unions and covered by collective bargaining agreements.  This massive union expansion resulted in historic improvements in the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.  U.S. workers were able to improve job quality, raise wages to support their families, and the growing strength of unions resulted in significant government policy victories including social security, employer provided health care coverage, occupational safety and health standards, paid sick time, paid vacation time, and pensions.   

However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the U.S. witnessed a decline in unionization that has continued to this day.  The causes of union decline have included globalization, a dramatic change from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and policies of deindustrialization that resulted in capital flight and plant shutdowns throughout the country.  Union decline was also accelerated by anti-union corporate policies and their support of anti-union labor laws that undermined collective bargaining rights.  Today, only 10% of U.S. workers are union members, and only 6% of private sector workers are in unions.

The decline in unionization and collective bargaining has led to stagnation and decline in the wages and working conditions for U.S. workers.  Previously high wage union jobs have been replaced by low wage non-union jobs.  The two largest corporations in the U.S., WalMart and Amazon, are both fiercely anti-union, and have invested millions of dollars to oppose their workers from forming and joining unions.

The decline in collective bargaining has also weakened worker political power.  Government policies that were established decades ago to support workers have steadily been eroded.  Also, weakened unions have also allowed corporations and the right-wing to exert greater political influence to support reactionary, anti-union politicians and laws. 

The Attacks on Collective Bargaining and the Election of Donald Trump

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for President, and received almost three million more votes than Donald Trump.  However, due to the undemocratic U.S. Electoral College system, Donald Trump was elected President instead.  

Three critical states that had supported Barack Obama in 2012, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016.  In each of these three states, Republican Governors and members of the State Legislatures had attacked collective bargaining rights and unions. 

In Michigan, the state where the United Autoworkers of America was founded, the state legislature passed anti-union “Right to Work” laws in 2013, dramatically undermining worker rights.  In Pennsylvania, conservative anti-union forces in the State Legislature have fought to restrict collective bargaining rights, especially for public sector workers.  And in Wisconsin, fifty years of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers was eliminated by a right-wing governor in 2011.  

The attack on unions in these three states had a direct impact on the 2016 election.  Trump defeated Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a margin of only 70,000 votes, which allowed him to prevail in the national electoral college vote and become president.  In 2020, after unions intensified organizing in these same three states, all three flipped back to support the democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.   

Joe Biden’s presidential victory was commanding, both in the popular vote and in the electoral vote.  In the midst of the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election was held and Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris were elected President and Vice President.  Joseph Biden had previously served as Vice President under President Barack Obama, and Kamala Harris is the first woman and first person of color (both African American and Asian American) to hold the position of Vice President in U.S. history.  

However, to this day, Donald Trump has promoted the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate and that he won the election.  On January 6, 2020, Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to engage in an armed insurrection of the U.S. Capitol to overturn the election results.  The Trump lead white supremacist and right-wing movement presents a major threat to U.S. democracy, and Republican leaders in Congress continue to spread lies and misinformation that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. 

Growing Economic Inequality

During the past two years of the global pandemic, the contradictions and crisis of U.S. capitalism have been exposed.  More than 900,000 people in the U.S. have died as a result of Covid-19.  Former President Donald Trump lied to the American people and deliberately down-played the seriousness of Covid-19.  He attacked public health leaders and safety guidelines, and refused to wear masks and abide by social distancing.  Many Republican leaders continue to spread lives about Covid-19, and have contributed to the public health crisis and increased death toll. 

Although the U.S. has the most expansive and expensive health care system in the world, millions of people do not have access to health care.  Covid-19 has disproportionately claimed the lives of the poor, people of color, and immigrants.  The wealthy have access to the best health care system in the world, while many workers and the poor are dying because they lack of health care access.  

The U.S. is a deeply polarized country, both politically and economically.  The U.S. stock market has been setting new records, and wealthy corporations and billionaires continue to make massive profits during the pandemic.  Housing prices and home rental costs are rising steadily, which also contributes to economic inequality.  The number of homeless people has also grown sharply as housing insecurity impacts more workers. 

A Growing Workers Movement 

The pandemic has also witnessed the rise of a new workers movement.  Public opinion polls reflect that sentiment supporting unions is at a 50-year high in the U.S.  More people realize that unions are necessary to improve the quality of life for workers.

There has been a new wave of strikes throughout the country, including in the manufacturing sector, and more workers have been engaged in union organizing campaigns in recent years than in recent decades.  Amazon workers, Starbucks workers, Fast Food workers, and “Ride Share” workers have been engaged in organizing campaigns in work places and industries that have never before been unionized.

Pro-union sentiment has been especially high among young workers and workers of color, who have been leading many of these organizing campaigns.  These campaigns bode well for the future of the labor movement, and also present opportunities to expand collective bargaining rights in the U.S.  

The Importance of Collective Bargaining Education

As the Director of the UCLA Labor Center, I teach Labor Studies to our students at the university.  Each year, we introduce collective bargaining education into the classroom, to provide our students with an appreciation of the role of unions, an understanding of the dynamics of collective bargaining, and the importance of a union contract in providing good wages, benefits, and working conditions, and a collective voice for workers.

One of the most popular learning activities within our curriculum is a collective bargaining simulation, where each student is assigned to participate on either a union or management bargaining team.  The students are given informational hand-outs based on real collective bargaining case studies, and then engage in a mock collective bargaining session.  They have the option of either signing a union contract, or engaging in a strike or lockout.  Inevitably, most of the student bargaining sessions result in a signed union contract, although in a few instances there are strikes or lock-outs.   This outcome mirrors what happens in the real world, where the vast majority of collective bargaining sessions result in a mutually agreeable settlement.  

The UCLA Labor Center in recent years has established a Labor Studies Major, the first in the history of our university and the first within the nine campus University of California system.  We are also in the process of establishing a Master’s Degree in Labor Studies.  

The Labor Studies program provides a foundation for students to learn about unions, collective bargaining, labor history, labor law, and contemporary issues that impact workers and the work place.  Our program also provides opportunities for students to engage in research on labor issues, and to take part in internship programs that directly place them with unions and worker organizations.  Through these placements, students learn about the world of work first hand, and many find jobs and careers through developing their skills and relationships.

The UCLA Labor Center has also established innovative programs to conduct research on young workers, and to encourage young workers to learn about their rights on the job, and to form and join unions.  Labor education plays an important role in preparing the workers of tomorrow to join the labor movement and advocate for the interests of the working class.  

The UCLA Labor Center is committed to continue our partnership with Ton Duc Thang University.  We applaud the efforts of Ton Duc Thang to promote worker rights and global labor solidarity, and we share our mutual commitment to advance peace and prosperity for workers in Vietnam, the United States, and throughout the world. 

Categories
Analysis Global Peace & Collaboration

Watch: Forum on Ukraine, The New Cold War, and The Changing International Situation

Last Sunday, March 19th, Voices for New Democracy hosted our latest monthly political forum covering the crisis in Ukraine and its implications for global geopolitics. Spring Wang, Steve Clark, and Floyd Huen joined the panel to discuss each of their analyses around the current international situation, sparking spirited debate over the nature of the war in Ukraine, its beneficiaries, and the long-simmering tensions and contradictions that preceded it. The debate raised key questions and implications that the Left should consider in our analysis of global politics and our strategy for building progressive change.

Watch the full forum below, and email voicesfornewdemocracy@gmail.com to submit your own reflections on these issues.

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Analysis Global Peace & Collaboration

March 20 Monthly Political Forum: Ukraine, The New Cold War & The Changing International Situation

Join Voices for New Democracy on Sunday March 20th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT for our next monthly political forum discussing the war on Ukraine, the new Cold War, and the changing international situation. Spring Wang, Steve Clark, and Floyd Huen will share their reflections on the ongoing conflict and its implications for international geopolitics. The majority of the time will be spent in conversation, so we encourage you to come with your ideas and analysis.  

Click here on Sunday, March 20th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT to join the forum.

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Commentary

A Tribute to Marty Nathan

This piece originally appeared at PopularResistance.org. We are reposting it on Voices for New Democracy to honor Marty Nathan, who was a comrade to many of us.

The Ku Klux Klan Murdered Five Of Her Comrades And The Father Of Her Six-Month-Old Child.

She remained undeterred in her activism for the rest of her life.

On November 3, 1979, Marty Nathan, Mike Nathan, and other members and supporters of the Communist Workers’ Party were stationed along the route of a “Death to the Klan” march in Greensboro, North Carolina. This multiracial working-class movement’s success organizing textile and hospital workers had attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan; “not surprisingly,” Marty explained, “the Klan began to rise in 1979 … [in places] where hard-hitting union organizing and strikes were occurring.” Not only were workers and organizers faced with resistance and threats from employers – they were also confronted with the Klan’s virulent racism, violence, and its efforts to spread fear and confusion as the Klan ran their own recruiting drives in the textile mills to split up the unions and grow its base.

The march, in Marty’s words, “was a response to a threat against unionization by the Klan, which would historically split up workers, black and white, threaten the leaders and essentially act on behalf of the corporate owners.” One of the key organizers of the march, Reverend Nelson Johnson, added that “it was absolutely necessary to have some expression of opposition to racism as manifest by the Klan in order to continue with the work of labor organizing in the textile industry and in order to continue with the work of uniting people from different racial backgrounds.” So, on November 3, 1979, the CWP organized a conference about the Klan and labor organizing, kicked off by the Death to the Klan march.

Marty and her comrades would later find out that the Klan had worked with the Greensboro police, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent, and an FBI informant beforehand, which provided the Klan with the route of the march and encouraged them to carry arms while the police mandated that the protestors be unarmed. Before long, the Klan descended upon the march, at that point embedded in the predominantly black neighborhood Morningside, with no police in sight – in fact, a rank and file officer responding to an unrelated call in the neighborhood had been told to clear the area hours before the attack.

As protestors stood on the street, a caravan of nine cars decorated with confederate flags and other paraphernalia approached. The klansmen attacked the protestors, first with sticks and then opening fire, killing five of them and injuring ten others. Marty and her husband Mike Nathan were both doctors stationed at the march to provide medical assistance if needed; she was posted at a later point along the march route running the first aid car when the attack took place and survived the massacre, but Mike, stationed in Morningside, did not. She would rely on her comrades to find out what happened to her husband that day.

In Marty’s words, the premeditated attack killed people who “were organizing unions. They were revolutionaries. They were socialists. And they knew that in order to change society, you have to have an organized working class.” Not only did this movement unite white and black workers with a clear vision, but it understood the importance of internationalism; after the massacre, the survivors linked this “North American death squad” to the death squads in Central America, North America, and South Africa, up to the genocidal violence perpetrated under Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil taking place today (later in life, Marty would at times wear a ring from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement that had been gifted to her “on my middle finger, which I give to Trump,” she told me).

“After you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future. For victims of racist violence, white supremacist violence, that’s the goal,” Marty told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. “In a time of climate change, threat of nuclear war, and increasing economic disparity, we all have to be in the streets, and we do not want to get shot,” she said. Marty continued to fight against racism and imperialism and for justice even in her last days before passing away on November 29, 2021 from lung cancer and heart disease; she was profoundly shaped by her work with the CWP and by the massacre, and those experiences continued to shape the people around her throughout her life.

Anyone who knew Marty would not be surprised to know that she was undeterred by the attack of the KKK that murdered five of her comrades and took away the father of their then six-month-old child. She fought tirelessly alongside the other survivors and their comrades to expose the direct connection between the KKK, the police, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which also had an informant embedded in the Klan and was aware of the attack before it happened but failed to take any steps to prevent it.

Not only had the police given the protestors’ march route to the klansmen; they were present at the massacre in the tenth car following the caravan in an unmarked police vehicle but did nothing to stop the massacre. Marty and the other survivors successfully proved this and other acts demonstrating the complicity of the police, city, and FBI in the massacre, finally winning a $351,000 civil lawsuit in 1985 after having lost two criminal trials in which the prosecution was more focused on prosecuting the communist victims and survivors of the massacre than the Klan. Only in 2020 would they receive a long overdue apology from the City of Greensboro. Though Marty and her daughter were the only ones awarded money in the settlement, Marty gave her settlement to the other survivors and co-founded the Greensboro Justice Fund in 1980 and, in 2009, the Markham Nathan Fund (MNF) in Mike’s memory to fund grassroots organizations to carry the work forward.

By the time Marty passed away in November 2021, she had fundamentally shaped the organizing landscape in her home of Western Massachusetts, where she moved in 1995. Even when people couldn’t stand each other, everyone seemed to love Marty. She believed in uniting people from a wide range of perspectives, but she never compromised her politics in moments of disagreement. She canvassed for the re-election of Congressman Jim McGovern along with other local officials, and when it came time to hold people to account, she did so unapologetically.

Even as her health faltered in the months and years before she passed away, Marty joined other anti-imperialist activists to call on Congressman McGovern to shift his position on Palestine and to work to lift the sanctions against Venezuela or, in her words, “to inhabit his own skin … – an understanding and compassionate one – … and tell him that he has to follow through because this is not a theoretical issue. This is an issue of people in Venezuela dying everyday… because of the sanctions.” It is in large part thanks to Marty’s work that Congressman McGovern did just that in a letter dated the day of that rally, cited as “the best letter that we’ve ever seen out of Congress on sanctions period” by Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a leading source of research and data on the sanctions.

Not only was Marty a fierce and dogged leader and mentor: she was also the people’s doctor. During her days in the CWP, she ran clinics at Duke Hospital to treat textile workers with brown lung disease caused by the cotton particles they inhaled on the job. In the weeks before her death, she stood with migrant workers at a press conference not only as a speaker but as a doctor, rushing over to a ditch to mend someone’s twisted ankle during the event. After moving to Massachusetts, she co-founded La Cliniquita, where she worked as a doctor primarily for immigrants and undocumented patients for 18 years, building an infrastructure to provide quality care that did not exist until she moved to the area for communities that had been systematically deprived of health care. At her memorial service, her former patients spoke about what she meant to them not only as a doctor but as a friend to whom she opened her home over the years. In 2012, she co-founded Climate Action Now as well as the climate justice group 2degrees and went on to help win the decades-long fight against a proposed biomass plant in Springfield, MA in 2021, always keeping climate justice at the heart of her work and revolutionary organizing at the heart of her life.

Marty’s list of accolades is unending, but those who knew her know that her ability to bring people together and lift up and mentor those around her, her refusal to give up no matter the obstacles or danger that she faced, and her unrelenting determination to fight for justice are irreplaceable. As Marty said, “after you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future.”

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Uncategorized

Worker to Worker, Union to Union: Building U.S.-China Solidarity

| Kent Wong |

This article will be published in the upcoming volume of the New Labor Forum.

A Toast to Solidarity 

After touring the massive port of Shanghai in 2007, a delegation of Los Angeles labor leaders had lunch at the onsite restaurant hosted by the dock workers union of Shanghai.  In the private dining room with Chinese and U.S. labor leaders seated together around a large, round table, the president of the Shanghai dockworkers union stood up to propose a toast to David Arian, former President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU). This gathering of two dockworker union presidents was remarkable, considering the fraught history of US and Chinese unions.  

The Shanghai union leader thanked the ILWU and the U.S. labor movement for the birth of May Day, International Workers’ Day.  “Every year, workers throughout China have a holiday on May Day thanks to the U.S. working class and the spirit of international worker solidarity,” he said in Chinese as he was accompanied by an interpreter.  

David Arian in turn rose to speak in English.  He thanked the hosts for the lunch and tour of the Shanghai Port, as the interpreter quickly translated his remarks in Chinese.  “While I am happy that the Chinese working class celebrates May Day, back in the U.S. we have to work on the first of May.  However, I want to thank the Chinese working class for celebrating lunar new year each year because during the two weeks that the Chinese dock workers are on vacation, we don’t have to work either because we have nothing to unload on the Los Angeles docks.”

This humorous exchange between two labor leaders from Shanghai and Los Angeles reflects the deep connection between workers in the world’s two largest economies.  The dockworkers provide a special strategic link, as workers who control the largest ports in our respective countries and the logistics flow between the U.S. and China. The U.S. and Chinese economies are deeply interconnected, mutually reliant, and together have a greater impact on global trade and global labor standards than any other countries on earth.  

The history of AFL-CIO’s Racialized Anti-Communism

The AFL-CIO has had a troubled history with China and Asian American workers.  The link between AFL-CIO foreign and domestic policy has historic roots.  Samuel Gompers, the founding president of the American Federation of Labor, was a lifelong opponent of Chinese migration to the United States, and refused to allow Chinese and Asian American workers to join U.S. unions.  Gompers was a staunch advocate of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  He wrote: “Racial differences between American whites and Asiatics will never be overcome. The superior whites have to exclude the inferior Asiatics, by law, or if necessary by force of arms.”

During the McCarthy Era, the AFL-CIO purged union leaders with socialist or communist affiliations, and enacted anti-communist clauses.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the AFL-CIO joined the U.S. government in the global fight against communism.  The federation’s commitment to anti-communism included support for the U.S. War in Vietnam, the U.S. blockade of Cuba, and U.S. backed military dictatorships in Central America. 

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the AFL-CIO was at the forefront of anti-China campaigns, among them a boycott of Chinese goods, the petitioning of the George W. Bush Administration to impose sanctions on China, efforts to oppose China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and calling for penalties against China for currency manipulation, a charge raised again by Donald Trump as president. The AFL-CIO leadership also opposed the attendance of U.S. labor women at the international women’s conference in Beijing in 1995.  In the 1990’s, the Teamsters Union invited right wing politician Pat Buchanan to address their members during an anti-China rally organized by the union, while the International Association of Machinists published a special anti-China magazine using racially offensive language and quoting right wing Republican Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the military threat posed by China. 

The AFL-CIO anti-China campaigns were a continuation of decades of Cold War ideology, and advanced the erroneous analysis that China was to blame for deindustrialization, capital flight, and worker dislocation caused by U.S.-based multi-national corporations.  Not only were they wrong politically, they failed miserably.  The anti-China campaigns did not result in a single policy victory.  Instead, these campaigns promoted racism among white union members that ultimately provided fertile ground for Trump to make inroads among the white working class with his anti-China, “America First”, protectionist, and nativist rhetoric.    

Breakthrough Exchanges 

In sharp contrast to the official policy of the AFL-CIO, in 2001, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) invited leaders of the Chinese labor movement to attend the APALA national convention held in Honolulu, Hawaii.  This was the first time an AFL-CIO organization had invited the Chinese unions to speak before their conference.  The APALA leadership met with the Chinese labor delegation at the convention, and discussed a mutual interest in strengthening relations between our two labor movements.  In response, the Chinese union leaders invited APALA to bring a delegation of U.S. labor leaders to visit China. APALA leaders have continued to engage in solidarity delegation exchanges between China and the U.S. over the past twenty years.  

In 2002, APALA arranged for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern and other key labor leaders to visit with labor leaders of China, breaking with the AFL-CIO policy of no engagement. The Change to Win Federation, in which SEIU is a founding member, established formal relations with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) in 2005, and explored collaborative projects together.  

One outcome was a joint meeting between ACFTU and U.S. labor leaders to discuss the fierce anti-union policies of Walmart in the U.S.  In subsequent years, the ACFTU successfully unionized 107,000 workers at 411 Walmart stores.  While this represented a major organizing victory for the ACFTU, some U.S. union leaders dismissed this victory and asserted that the ACFTU functioned as a “company union.” 

Although there was an agreement to develop a health care worker exchange program to share front line experiences in combatting the spread of AIDS, the Change to Win leadership withdrew from the initiative before it was launched. The Change to Win Federation’s internal implosion caused them to abandon many of their global and domestic ambitions, including pursuing relations with Chinese unions. 

In 2007, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor established the very first formal partnership between unions in the U.S. and unions in China.  California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, who was then the leader of the Los Angeles labor movement, led a delegation of Los Angeles labor leaders to meet with leaders of the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council (SMTUC).  Maria Elena Durazo and her counterpart, Chen Hao, the leader of the SMTUC, signed a memorandum of understanding between the two labor councils to meet regularly, to promote friendship, and to advance labor solidarity.  During the inaugural trip, the Chinese dock worker union and the ILWU toast was one of many meetings to discuss common interests.  This partnership still continues fifteen years later.

In follow up labor delegation visits, Maria Elena Durazo and Rusty Hicks, another former leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, toured the BYD corporation in Shenzhen which manufactures electric buses and cars.  On a separate trip, Hicks and Los Angeles labor leaders also toured the China Railroad Corporation (CRRC) in Changchun.  During the delegation visits, the Los Angeles labor leaders met with the union leaders representing workers at CRRC and BYD.  

Subsequently, in 2013 BYD and in 2014 CRRC opened up manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles County.  In part through these labor exchanges with BYD and CRRC, both Chinese-based corporations agreed to “project labor agreements” in the construction of the factories in Los Angeles, and both agreed to union neutrality.  Workers of both the CRRC and BYD facilities in Los Angeles are currently represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Sheetmetal Workers Union.  In a separate delegation visit, the presidents of the IBEW and the Sheetmetal Workers Union also toured the CRRC facility in Changchun.  

These exchanges represent concrete mutual advantages of engaging in communication and dialogue between unions and workers in the U.S. and China.  CRRC and BYD are two examples that benefited from U.S. labor engagement where Chinese corporations agreed to project labor agreements as well as union contracts that now are providing high wage, union manufacturing jobs to U.S. workers.

Although the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council partnership represents a breakthrough in relationships between unions and workers of our two countries, at the national level, there is still no formal relationship between the AFL-CIO and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, nor has the AFL-CIO yet articulated a cohesive position regarding relations with the Chinese labor federation.  

A major change in policy came at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles in 2013.  For the first time, leaders of the Chinese labor movement were invited to attend the convention, and a special workshop was held to address union-to-union relationships between the AFL-CIO and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), representing 302 million workers in ten national industrial unions.  Later that year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka visited China and met with leaders of the Chinese labor movement.  He was greeted by Chen Hao, the former leader of the Shanghai Trade Union Municipal Council who had since been promoted to the national headquarters of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions in Beijing. 

This was a historic breakthrough, representing the first time the President of the AFL-CIO traveled to China to meet with ACFTU union leaders.  Richard Trumka visited national and local union bodies, work places including the Port of Shanghai, and a university for mine workers.  Unfortunately, this was the first and only trip by an AFL-CIO President, and plans for future exchanges at the national level never materialized. The factors that have led to this set back included the AFL-CIO’s support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong, the heightened geo-political conflict between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Relations with the ACFTU, the only legally sanctioned union in China, is not without its challenges.  Greg Mantsios wrote an article in New Labor Forum about the complexities of engagement the ACFTU, which I largely agree with.  The ACFTU does not play the same role as unions in the U.S.  There is no right to strike in China, and the ACFTU assumes many of the responsibilities that would be overseen by government agencies in the U.S. However, Mantsios argued that worker-to-worker and union-to-union exchanges remain the only way to strengthen communication and understanding.    

With the election of Liz Shuler as the new President of the AFL-CIO in 2021, once again an opportunity exists to re-establish relationships between the two largest labor movements in the world, to explore mutual interests. Improving union to union relationships would provide a sharp contrast to the counter-productive anti-China rhetoric that has become so ubiquitous in the U.S. 

Anti-China Rhetoric and Asian American and Pacific Islanders Hate Crimes

U.S. – China relations took a turn for the worse under the Donald Trump Administration.  Not only did the “America First” rhetoric and China-bashing harm U.S.-China relations, but it also functions as a distraction from the central problem confronting workers in both countries: the excessive power of multinational corporations to exploit workers and drain resources from working-class communities.  The anti-China rhetoric advanced by unions confuses American working-class voters and union members, and has provided fertile ground for white workers in particular to embrace the Trump agenda. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. labor movement has a long history of supporting Asia-bashing and the rise in anti-Asian violence, thus obscuring the class interests of U.S. workers.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, U.S. manufacturing unions blamed Japan for the demise of the U.S. auto industry.  The UAW held public events to encourage their members to vent their anger by smashing Japanese imported cars.  In 1982, two white unemployed auto workers murdered Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit who they mistakenly believed was Japanese. The killers were sentenced to probation for their crime, which ignited a national protest from the Asian American community.

In March 2020, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and a coalition of 188 organizations co-signed a letter to the Trump White House, the Department of Justice and the FBI urging them to publicly recognize and denounce the escalating racist attacks and discrimination against the Asian American community in the wake of rising concerns over COVID-19.  Not surprisingly, the appeal fell on deaf ears by the Trump administration.

The unfortunate reality is that anti-Asian violence has been a facet of life for the Asian American community for more than 150 years.  It has been exacerbated and encouraged by racist rhetoric, including the dehumanization of Asian people and attacks on China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and other Asian countries over the years.  

Even elected officials are not immune from anti-China rhetoric.  Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who is Chinese American, recently enacted public health safeguards due to the pandemic.  She was flooded by racist attacks that called her “Mayor Wuhan.”

The Asian American community has stood up and organized against anti-Asian hate nationally.  The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is currently engaged in a national campaign to stop Anti-Asian Hate in partnership with key unions with a large Asian membership base, and to draw the link between the rise in Anti-Asian violence and other forms of racism and anti-immigrant policies, and to forge multi-racial unity.  APALA has stood with Black Lives Matter in actions throughout the country to link the attacks on Black people with attacks on other people of color.  

Opportunities to Build Cross-Border Solidarity

Noam Chomsky addressed the heightened tensions between the U.S. and China in a talk on February 4, 2022 entitled “Work Together or Perish Together.”  He criticized the Biden administration’s provocative actions towards China, and Biden’s continuation of the Trump policy in the region.  Chomsky also challenged the Pentagon framing of the “threat” posed by China as a pretext for U.S. military expansion, and called for diplomacy and negotiations to improve U.S. China relations.  

If relations between the U.S. and China continue to deteriorate, leading to more trade wars and potential military conflict, it is workers in China and the U.S. who will suffer.  It is in this context that union-to-union and worker to worker engagement are critically important.

A new opportunity currently exists with the new leadership of the AFL-CIO to advance a forward-looking approach to develop communication and partnerships between unions and workers of China and the U.S. around mutual interests.  The global pandemic has clearly shown the necessity of global cooperation to address our collective needs to distribute vaccinations and to advance public health practices at the workplace and in the community.  Health care and public health workers of China and the U.S. would benefit by learning from one another during this critical time.

A strategic focus of China-U.S. labor solidarity should be joint efforts to rein in multi-national corporations that have huge joint investments in both the U.S. and China.  Many U.S. based multi-nationals have taken advantage of the massive and growing consumer markets in China.  There are more U.S. automobiles manufactured and sold in China than the entire U.S. domestic market.  Many Chinese-based multi-national corporations are also investing heavily in industries throughout the U.S., and the CRRC and BYD are only two examples.  Exchanges between Chinese and U.S. unions representing workers in the very same multi-national corporations could strengthen collective bargaining and a stronger pro-worker agenda in both countries.

Worker solidarity between the U.S. and China should also train its sights on advancing labor policies that protect worker rights, promote sustainable wages and benefits, and demand that multi-national corporations that are operating in both U.S. and China respect worker rights, provide good union jobs and benefits, and address climate change.  

As the two largest polluters in the world, the U.S. and China have a shared mutual benefit and responsibility to implement aggressive policies to counter climate change. We should demand that the labor unions in both countries embrace changes to green our economy and prepare for workplace policies that actively reduce global warming.  Concretely, there are huge green energy initiatives in China that the U.S. labor movement would benefit from learning about.

Even in this challenging political environment where relations between the U.S. and China are strained and conflictual, the AFL-CIO should expand dialogue, communication, and partnerships to advance the interests of workers in both the U.S. and China.  Asian Americans and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, who have historically been excluded by the AFL-CIO in the formulation of their China policies, need to be included in this process.  

1 The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, 2015, James Bradley

2 “Tea for Two:  Chinese and U.S. Labor” by Gregory Mantsios, New Labor Forum (2002).  

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Forum on Progressive Electoral Organizing with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

This past Sunday, Voices for New Democracy joined our comrades at Convergence Magazine for a conversation with Linda Burnham and Max Elbaum around their new book, Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power. Burnham and Elbaum discussed their work with Convergence, pulled out key highlights from the book and examples of progressive organizing in action — including its pivotal role in ousting Trump — and emphasized the need for progressives to unify and work together to defend democracy while building grassroots power.

Watch the full conversation below.

Categories
Organizing

Power Concedes Nothing: February 27 Monthly Political Forum with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

Join Voices for New Democracy and our comrades at Convergence Magazine on Sunday February 27th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT for our next monthly political forum hosting Linda Burnham& Max Elbaum, co-editors of the new book Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections.

Burnham and Elbaum will discuss the new book, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power, including ousting Trump in 2020. Now, with 2022 posing the greater threats to democracy, all progressives need to unify and work together to preserve it while at the same time building grassroots power. Join us.

Click here on Sunday, February 27th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT to join the forum.

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Forum on Black Liberation with Robin D. G. Kelley

“There has never been a moment in the last 150 years on the planet that we did not have to rebuild the Left.”

Robin D. G. Kelley

On Sunday, January 23rd, UCLA Professor and acclaimed historian Robin D. G. Kelley joined Voices for New Democracy for our latest monthly political forum discussing the past and future of Black liberation.

The wide-ranging conversation touched on important reflections on where the Left stands today, and explores some of the lessons from historical experiences in the struggle for Black liberation from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition to BLM, and the reactions and backlash these struggles have faced. Building on recent forums and essays on Voices for New Democracy exploring some of the recent challenges and defeats we’re facing, Kelley asserts that the present moment is still full of opportunity. But to seize the moment, Kelley challenges us to think deeply about how we can build a unified Left, inspired by new ideas, that operates with organized cooperation and accountability. And as capitalism undergoes new structural changes in the face of concurrent crises, the Left will have important opportunities to advance our movement in different places at different moments. Whatever dark moments lie ahead, Kelley reminds us to maintain our commitment to the struggle.

Watch the full forum below.

Categories
Commentary Immigration Organizing Social Justice

Comment on the Biden Administration’s Continued Support of Trump-Era Immigration Title 42 and Remain in Mexico Policies

| José Z. Calderón |

Biden could have broken with Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and allowed anyone who wished to apply for asylum to be able to do so at a port of entry and increase the possibilities of immigrants from Central America and from places like Haiti to obtain lawful employment (through such measures as H-2B visas).

Instead, the Biden administration has kept in place a Trump-era policy, Title 42, which does the opposite by indefinitely closing the border to “nonessential travel” (to supposedly “limit the spread of the coronavirus”) and increases the deportation of those who are seeking work or who are seeking to apply for asylum. Title 42, under both the Trump administration and now under Biden, allows for the Border Patrol to decide who can enter the process of asylum and who cannot. As a result, in the last year, border authorities applied Title 42 to more than 80% of encounters with immigrants resulting in 530,000 expulsions of which 16,000 were children migrating alone and 34,000 children-plus parents. Adding to the number of expulsions, the Biden administration has moved on speeding up deportations of some migrant families through “expedited removal,” allowing for ICE to deport them without a hearing before an immigration judge.  

In this light, our organizing efforts, in addition to supporting DACA and Temporary Protective Status measures, has to include a halt to the contradictory government policies of Title 42 and a call for humane refugee asylum policies. 

Along these same lines, it is important to organize against the Biden administration’s reinstating of a Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, that is part of a deal struck with the Mexican government forcing asylum seekers to stay in that country until their U.S. immigration court date. Under this policy, about 70,000 immigrants have been returned to Mexico. Although the Biden administration justifies its actions by claiming that it is only following court orders, that it is applying “humanitarian speed-ups” of court proceedings of migrants and refugees, and that it is providing avenues for access to legal counsel, there is no getting around that the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policies are resulting in mass deportations and inhumane treatment. There are thousands of immigrants, seeking protection from increased violence in their home countries, who are being deported back to areas where they are met with brutal attacks and kidnappings perpetrated by deadly cartels and corrupt officials.  For instance, according to Human Rights First, there were at least 1,544 publicly documented cases of rape, kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed against individuals sent back under these policies this last year. 

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris has been assigned to focus on the “root” causes of migration in Latin America, announcing that the plan will deal with issues of  economic insecurity and inequality, combating democratic corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. 

While some of us in the immigrant rights movement have promoted policies that would focus on changing the economic conditions in the sending countries that are forcing so many to migrate here, the reality is that they are meaningless in this time period when there is a need to prioritize the passage and implementation of pro-immigrant legislation here in the U. S.  These gestures by Kamala Harris, focused on the conditions abroad, affect very little in the immediate and, with the Republicans already making immigration a central issue, the prospects for building the kind of movement that is needed to ensure the defeat of the right in the mid-term elections is further damaged.