Monday, April 27, 2009

Former Republic Windows workers welcome VP Biden to plant

From the United Electrical Workers (UE) Union:

Chicago, IL, April 27, 2009 – Union members from the former Republic Windows and Doors factory today welcomed Vice President Joe Biden, as he took a tour of the Goose Island, Chicago facility. The factory is in the process of being reopened under the ownership of California based Serious Materials.

A small crew has been working in the plant for a few weeks preparing to get the plant back to full production.

“We look forward to getting all our members rehired and working at Serious Materials to create green jobs at living wages,” said Armando Robles, President of UE Local 1110, a maintenance worker at the factory.

The union and Serious Materials reached an agreement in February ensuring that all former Republic employees will be rehired at their former rate of pay. The UE will continue to represent workers at the factory.

“We are glad to see that we have the continuing support of the White House. This would not have been possible without the hard work we have done as a union, and the support of our allies,” said UE Local Vice-President Melvin Maclin.

“The former Republic Windows and Doors shows that simply relying on market forces and unregulated banks and corporations cannot provide an economy that works for the American people,” said Carl Rosen, President of UE Western Region.

“We hope that the Administration and Congress continue to take the steps that are needed to ensure that everyone in our country who wants to work has a steady, decently-paid job that they can go to every day,” Rosen continued.

The workers made national headlines and inspired a movement in December when they held a six day occupation of the plant in order to win severance benefits after their employer broke the federal WARN Act by closing their plant with only three days notice, eliciting the support of President-elect Obama.

Workers from the plant are available for interview.

Serious Materials contact: Valerie Jenkins 408-636-6329

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chicago's Latino Film Festival celebrates 25th year

By Curly Cohen
People's Weekly World

CHICAGO -- With four Cuban films and a live appearance by the island’s eminent actor, Jorge Perugorria, a documentary about Chicago-based labor organizer, immigrant rights and political activist, Rudy Lozano, Nicaragua’s Ernesto Cardinal presenting a documentary about his life’s work, 65 features, 45 short films and 50 directors and actors for questions and answers, the Chicago Latino Film Festival, sponsored by the International Latino Cultural Center, is packing a punch worthy of its 25th year.

While a Columbia College student taking ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, Pepe Vargas was aware of his own homesickness and the stamp of struggle that immigrants face. Vargas’ personal reality and films in Spanish was a way to connect to home and allow others a way to taste and understand people in a deeper way. The Latino Film Festival was born.

Vargas is still the director along with a small staff and hundreds of volunteers. The festival is year-round work. But Vargas thought of a larger, deeper connection with the International Latino Cultural Center, showcasing dance, comedy, fine arts, spoken word, literature, music in a building that houses that effort and excitement.
In an interview, Vargas explained, “The festival is the perfect combination of simple and very complicated. You buy a ticket, you watch a movie and maybe a whole new world opens up. The movies tell a story.

“This year, there are over 100 films from 18 countries. We have to screen about 300. There’s scheduling, customs, festival guide, transportation for actors, directors, special events and a very large outreach at Chicago public schools.

“Stories are the lifeblood – showing how diverse Latino culture is. And of course in 25 years, the population has changed. Latinos are now about 25 percent of the population, the economy, the culture. How do we learn and know who we are without these stories? Some films are more Hollywood, some are very controversial. We’re trying to tell the best stories that express a culture, and a culture that’s changing and becoming more dynamic.”

For more information

Chicago rallies for health care reform

By Will Hackman

CHICAGO -- Health Care for America Now and Citizen Action Illinois held a rally in support of President Barack Obama’s health care reform plan on April 18, at St. Augustine College here.

William McNary, president of USAction and co-director of Citizen Action Illinois, presided.

Union members from UFCW, SEIU and USW as well as advocates from Chicago Single-Payer Action Network and others packed the hall.

HCAN representative Steve Titus said the organization’s principal demands are: comprehensive benefits, affordable coverage, equal access to health care and, most salient, the option of a private or public health insurance plan.

Some supporters of HR 676 (a single-payer health care bill) stood outside the hall in protest of the public option as an unacceptable compromise with private insurance companies.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and co-sponsor of HR-676 answered criticisms from single-payer advocates. She said the public option is not a compromise, but a strategic step toward the single-payer system and the elimination of the private insurance industry.

The private sector is united in opposing any legislation that would expand publicly funded health care over and against the virtual monopoly of insurance companies.

The public option is simply the opening salvo against the private sector, Schakowsky and other speakers said.

Both Schakowsky and McNary stressed the need for solidarity among health care reform activists, in order to build mass support and momentum toward the goal of a single-payer system.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Midway privatization falls through - GOOD!

The Daley administration announced the collapse of the $2.5 billion privatization of Midway Airport to Midway Investment and Development Corporation (MIDCo), an entity made up of Citi Infrastructure Investors, Vancouver Airport Services (YVRAS), and John Hancock Life Insurance Company.

This is great news for the people of Chicago. It gives us a chance to rediscuss the privatization policies of the Daley administration. Let's put everything on the table, all the facts and figures (something a coalition of labor and community groups demanded April 20 in a city hall protest) before something else gets sold off.

We need a real democratic discussion about how to fix the city's financial mess, not something rammed down our throats by Daley and his corporate cronies.

Privatization is not good financial policy nor is it good public policy. It seeks short term gain, but sacrifices long term revenues. It ends up costing the public more for the same services at an inferior quality. That's what happens when you apply the principle of maximum profit to public services.

One elected official described privatization as selling off the furniture to pay the rent.

The $2.5 billion Midway deal was rushed through city council last fall in one week with practically no discussion. Council members were livid, yet still voted for it 49-0. This was repeated with the parking meter privatization fiasco.

Among the many big problems with that deal that never really got widely discussed in public was the promise by the city to assume $10 million a year in police and fire protection. This would have essentially eaten up any net profit from the deal!

At the time, Lisa Schrader, deputy CEO for the city said, “The mayor [Richard M. Daley] feels strongly that city governments have to be creative in these economic times,” Schrader added. “That’s why the city pursues these deals.”

The "creative financing" always takes away from the city's working families and never from the wealthy and economic elite. The Daley policies of privatization follow the neo-liberal model that are crashing and burning everywhere. Instead we need policies that promote the role of government and build up the public sector.

And here's a suggestion to pay for public services: tax the rich!

Solidarity against racist, anti-union harassment

By John Bachtell
Bedford Park – Workers at Commercial Forged Products (CFP) have had enough. After signing a new contract last year, 60 members of USWA Local 2154 have endured a constant stream of attacks and African American and Latino workers have been targets of racist harassment. They are mounting a fight back for workplace dignity and equality.

Chicago Jobs with Justice and other labor, community and religious activists joined the workers on a spirited picket line in front of the company April 17 while jets from nearby Midway airport thundered overhead.

“I’ve been here for 14 ½ years, said Charles Gilyard, Local 2154 president. “The last three years the company has decided to attack the workers on civil rights. They have no concern for individual rights.”

Gilyard described how a former plant manager once held up a hangman’s noose to an African American worker. “This is what I used to do when I lived in Mississippi,” the manager told him.

The company, which once had a majority African American workforce, also tried to remove the MLK holiday and civil rights committee from the new contract because African American workers were no longer the majority. This upset all the workers, African American, Latino and white. They also saw it as a scheme by the company to sow division.

The workers went on strike when the company sought contract language to limit the local union’s president leave to one term in office, whether re-elected or not.

“They wanted to weaken our union,” said Bob, a retired white worker. “Charles Gilyard is one of the best presidents we’ve had. The company hates him because he’s a fighter.”

Said Gilyard. “And I have fought for the rights of the workers and cost the company a lot of money. They want me out.”

Over 150 grievances have been filed against the company in the last three years. In the 11 other workplaces that make up the amalgamated local, only 80 grievances have been filed.

Workers also charge the company with ignoring the contract including bypassing the seniority system. On the day of the picket line, the older workers were sent home early while the younger ones were kept working.

“They don’t use the contact, said JC Moore, who has worked 36 years at the plant. “We came back (from the strike) to a lot of hostility. They said it was a ‘new day’. They broke into lockers, stole legal papers, picked people they wanted to work.

“All we want is the right to be treated equally and to make a fair living regardless if you are Black, Hispanic or white,” said Moore.

“One of the managers wants to run the company like its his manor, said Jose Leon, a 5 year employee. “There are cameras inside. Workers are afraid to go to the bathroom and to talk to each other.”

Lorenzo McDonald brought greetings from the Illinois Federation of Teachers. He said the raw racism “sent me back to a place I’ve never been – the 1950s. That’s a shame. That’s why Barack Obama is in office – people want a change.”

Scott Marshall, an activist in the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees told the crowd, “To see this crowd of Black, Brown and white united saying no to racism gives one hope in the future. This is the face of the future.” Marshall urged everyone to fight for the Employee Free Choice Act to counter the attacks of the company.

A leader of the UAW Region 4, Mark Haasis, called for greater solidarity. The UAW was under attack too, he said. “I hope you’ll stand with autoworkers and whenever there’s a fight we’ll be there with you.”

“No more! Rich getting rich on the back of the workers,” shouted Pastor Chisholm of the Englewood Pastors Association. “We will stand united. God will support us.”

Chicago Coalition of Black Trade Unionists president Robert Simpson also joined the picket line. Simpson told the World the company “was trying to turn back the clock. But we fought too long and too hard and we bled too much. You can’t just take away rights and not expect them to fight. CBTU will stand with workers fighting anywhere and everywhere.”

CFP is a division of Wozniak Industries, a $100 million family owned business and maker of parts for John Deere and other farm implement companies.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Coalition demands greater transparency of Chicago city finances

By John Bachtell
Chicago – With public outrage mounting over the privatization of the city’s parking meters, a coalition of labor and community groups and progressive aldermen called for greater transparency of the city budget and an accounting of the city’s privatization deals. The groups staged a protest in Chicago City Hall on April 20.

They claimed a $2.1 billion budget surplus exists including money from the parking meter and Chicago Skyway deals and funds hidden in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) accounts. After big one round of layoffs last fall Daley now says a new $300 million deficit has opened. He is demanding concessions from the city’s workforce or has threatened another 1,600 layoffs and service cuts.

“There’s $2.1 billion in assets sitting somewhere. We have been told this is a rainy day fund,” said Denise Dixon, Executive Director of Action Now. “I would call this a hurricane. We want to know how they are being spent.”

The groups also released poll results of 550 residents showing a growing dissatisfaction with essential services especially snow removal and street repair. Residents also want greater checks and balances on how money is spent with a greater role for city council.

“The largest percentage of people wants the surplus money to go for balancing the city budget and for paying for roads and infrastructure. Only 3% thought paying for the Olympics was a good idea,” said Genie Kastrup, political director of SEIU. Many suspect Daley is planning to use surplus funds on the 2016 Olympics should the city be chosen.

When asked if the 1,600 layoffs were necessary in light of the surplus, Tom Balanoff, president of the Illinois State Council of the Service Employees International Union said he didn’t know and that was exactly why transparency of city finances was necessary.

“The city is struggling through a sharp decline in services and the worst economic crisis in decades. Across Illinois there were 15,000 foreclosures in March, most in the city. Unemployment has topped 9%. We want to work together with the Mayor and City Council to solve this crisis, but we need open and transparent government and full accounting of all the funds available,” said Balanoff.

“The city council keeps getting press releases from Daley about the dire state of city finances,” said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, but never gets full disclosure of the facts. Preckwinkle opposed the meter privatization with four other aldermen. She said many others complained about how the deal was rushed through city council by Daley and how ill informed they were on the details.

“We couldn’t check the facts. We’re selling off income streams. This won’t just affect the people of Chicago now but especially future generations. There’s a growing feeling theses are not in the city’s interests,” said Preckwinkle.

Alderman Manny Flores called for passage of the TIF Sunshine ordinance backed by 22 aldermen. Some of Daley’s council allies are attempting to block it.

“We are standing by our city and working for a greater degree of transparency and accountability,” said Flores. “This is a way for people to engage their city government.”

Balanoff told the World the City Council and the public should have had more input on the process of how the Federal stimulus money was being spent. Daley didn’t consult with anyone before he announced the list.

“We hope the money can be spent to help prevent foreclosures and create summer jobs to address the epidemic of youth violence which has claimed the lives of 33 young people this year. We have a very difficult economic future. We need the City Council to be a bigger part of the process and to all work together to solve this crisis,” he said.

In addition to SEIU, the coalition includes the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Citizen Action Illinois, ARISE Chicago, Northside POWER, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Grassroots Collaborative, and Action Now.

Police torture victim Clements seeks state intervention in case

From the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Chapter:

April 17

Attorneys for Mark Clements, who has been imprisoned since 1981 when he was 16 years old, moved today for the appointment of Special State's Attorney Stuart A. Nudelman to represent the State's position in Clements post conviction proceeding, The motion was filed before Cook County Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel, who last week appointed Nudelman, a retired judge, to take over the state's cases in instances of alleged torture of defendants by detectives working under now retired Commander Jon Burge.

The motion will be heard and may be argued before Judge Biebel at 9:00 am Tuesday in Courtroom 101 at 26th and California.

In their motion Attorneys for Clements state that the appointment is necessary because "Detective Daniel McWeeny, who Clements alleges participated directly in eliciting Clements' false confession through psychological and physical abuse, and who has been the subject of numerous similar claims of systematic coercion, was subsequently employed by the Cook County State's Attorney as an investigator for over a decade, until 2007."

The attorneys note, "McWeeny's integral role in the systematic torture that occurred throughout the 1980s and 1990s in Area 2 and Area 3 Chicago Police Headquarters exacerbates the potential conflict" which should prohibit the State's Attorney from defending this case. "McWeeny not only worked for the [Cook County State's Attorney's Office (CCSAO)] while Clements' post-conviction case was being litigated but McWeeny also worked for the CCSAO when this Court held that Devine's potential conflict extended to the entire CCSAO."

Clements was arrested and beaten until he confessed to an arson murder in which four people died in 1981. He was 16 years old and could not read or write. There was no material evidence linking Clements to the crime, and investigators have now learned who the actual perpetrators were.

For an updated fact sheet on the frame-up of Mark Clements and the case, please go to

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Should Chicago host the 2016 Summer Games?

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World

CHICAGO – For the last several days, 13 members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been touring this city and getting to know its landscape. Chicago is being evaluated as the potential host city for the 2016 Summer Games and Mayor Richard Daley has been pulling out the red carpet for commission members.

But not all are happy that Chicago is in the running, and many feel bringing the Olympics to Chicago is not what working families here need.

Francesca Rodriquez is a community organizer with No Games Chicago and helped coordinate a protest against the Olympics at Chicago’s Federal Plaza April 2nd.

Rodriquez said she is disappointed in how much corporate money is being raised for the Olympics.

“When corporate powers want to pull their money together to throw a big party, don’t let it affect our communities negatively,” said Rodriquez. “Chicago Public Schools is running a $475 million deficit right now,” she added. “The priorities in the city are messed up and money being spent on the Olympics could be better used.”

According to Rodriquez’s group, Mayor Daley has a record of over-budgeting big projects at the expense of taxpayer dollars.

“People are not aware how the Olympics will affect their neighborhoods,” said Rodriquez.

Anna Arguello was at the rally with her children. “As a taxpayer and a single mother I’m already paying too much,” she said. She feels money should be invested in preventing crime and go toward improving Chicago schools, not the Olympics.

Brandon Mitchell is a University of Chicago graduate student. Mitchell agrees with Arguello and foresees many low-income residents being displaced from their communities with the construction of Olympic stadiums on the city’s Southside.

“A lot of host cities really don’t make a profit,” said Mitchell. “Hopefully, if the Olympics do come to Chicago than the city will be forced to improve our public transit,” he said.

Many at the No Games rally feel the city should be spending money to patch up potholes, improve public education, support free health care services and better hospitals and improve Chicago’s public transit system.

Other groups want Mayor Daley to give assurances in writing that include the creation of jobs and long-term policy solutions that meet people’s basic needs throughout the city if the Olympics come to Chicago.

The IOC is expected to make a decision next October after visiting the remaining finalist cities – Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.

However not every one is against the Olympics coming to Chicago.

One woman asked that her name not be revealed, because she currently works for the 2016 committee to bring the Olympics to Chicago.

“I have a different opinion,” she said at the rally. Having the Olympics in Chicago will bring so much revenue to the city and the sports stadiums could cause youth throughout the city to get involved in sports programs, the woman said.

“In nine years this city could be transformed into the most fantastic display of world athletic competition,” she said. “The U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world and Chicago is in the heart of the country. On a global spectrum it’s really important and with Obama as our president that alone could say a lot to the world,” she said.

Andrew Freeman is a college student and said he enjoys sports and watching the Olympics. He was at the rally and does not think having the Olympics in Chicago is a good idea.

“Hey, I like the Olympics. If Mayor Daley had our best interests at heart than it would be great, but unfortunately he doesn’t,” he said.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Future of classical music has a Venezuelan beat

By Terrie Albano
People's Weekly World

CHICAGO — The internationally acclaimed Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela traveled to three cities in the United States this month, Washington, Chicago and Houston. And with this breath of fresh air from the South comes a new opportunity for the United States to get serious about music education.

For more than 30 years, the orchestra has transformed the lives of more than 250,000 Venezuelan children — many from impoverished circumstances — through its free-of-charge musical education, opening the doors for the youth of Venezuela to become young musicians and to perform with some of the world’s best-known orchestras, and to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to be productive citizens.

El Sistema

That model of education, known as El Sistema (The System), has been so successful that it is now being replicated in other countries. El Sistema has grown to be a Venezuelan-wide organization of 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras and 270 music centers. The best musicians from these regional orchestras play in the Bolívar orchestra.

The orchestra was developed under the leadership of José Antonio Abreu, a retired economist and musician, who had a vision of creating a national system of youth orchestras in Venezuela dedicated to changing young lives through music.

Abreu, a recent recipient of the 2009 TED prize (Technology, Entertainment, Design, based in the U.S.) has one wish: to set up El Sistema programs around the world, including in the U.S.

It has achieved world renown as a highly effective vehicle for social change.

Although the orchestra program was set up two decades before Hugo Chavez was elected president, the Bolivarian Revolution — or 21st century socialism, as Chavez has called it — has helped the program to flourish.

‘The Dude’

Chavez recently called for “resetting” U.S.-Venezuelan relations, and, if the youth orchestra’s tour is part of pushing a reset button then it is one powerful button. The concerts in Houston, Chicago and Washington have been sold out for months.

Major U.S. media have been charmed by the talent of the Venezuelan young people, the possibility of what music and music education can do, and a 28-year-old phenom who has become the new face of classical music.

That 28-year-old is director Gustavo Dudamel, a protégé of Abreu’s, and the most famous example of what El Sistema has accomplished. Dudamel was recently named Los Angeles Philharmonic music director and is starting an El Sistema program for the youth of LA.

Dudamel has been called “The Dude” and the savior of classical music.

The Chicago Tribune’s music critic says Dudamel’s “outsized talent, ebullient personality and ecstatic podium manner connect with musicians and audiences in a way seldom seen since the days of the lamented Leonard Bernstein.” Which can’t hurt, the critic writes, since “a touch of show-biz imagery” can help symphony orchestras “eager to shed their fusty stereotype and fill empty seats during a prolonged economic downturn.”

Time magazine comments, “The South American country is now recognized as one of the world’s most dynamic vessels of classical music, thanks to a 34-year-old program that gives violins, French horns and batons to poor barrio kids and lets them interpret Handel and Tchaikovsky with a Latin verve that last year led Simon Rattle, director of the Berlin Philharmonic, to declare, ‘The future of classical music lies in Venezuela.’”

Music can change lives

Besides bringing new life to a genre of music that most people think is inhabited by stuffed shirts, Dudamel and his mentor Abreu are on a mission. They know, from first-hand experience, that music can change lives.

Dudamel once talked about a friend, Lenor, who played clarinet in the Bolivar orchestra and also spent time in jail.

“Holding a clarinet,” Lenor said, “was much better than holding a gun.” Venezuela, like the U.S., has a problem of violence and guns including among young people.

Dudamel has started working with low-income children in Los Angeles on the YOLA project (Youth Orchestra LA).

“We have to build something for the future and involve our young communities, so that they can think as citizens and become part of and involved in society,” he says. “Of course, it’s wonderful that kids have the Internet, television and computer games, but it’s so important, too, that they know about culture and the arts, that they can have pleasure in reading a book, creating memories and talking to friends.”

“The System exists not to build musicians so much as to create better citizens,” Dudamel notes. “Many of our kids come from neighborhoods where there are drugs and crime, some from broken homes. But when they are playing in the orchestra, they are all the same. It is a model democracy. It sets an example of how a community can function together.”

Democratic notion

Abreu, who embodies the democratic notion that people from the humblest backgrounds can not only appreciate but master high art, says his training as an economist helped him realize the power of investment in music.

“I was convinced,” he says, “that the way to genuinely develop a country was to develop its human capital, and that means promoting people’s talents everywhere, not just the élite.”

In an April 7 Washington meeting of the Organization of American States, Abreu introduced the orchestra’s brass ensemble, directed by Dudamel, saying, “No longer is this music the monopoly of higher classes.”

Families of the students become part of the process, as do neighbors and the whole community, Abreu says.

“They’re enchanted to see their children practicing this music at home, to see the self-esteem it gives them,” he says. “They share it with their neighbors.”

Abreu says he believes that the orchestra “can’t help but promote understanding, not just between the U.S. and Venezuela but the New World and Europe.”

Art funding in the U.S.

Such a philosophy and program from a country much poorer than the U.S. has helped artists here make the point that our government should support more arts funding, especially in the public schools.

Pop singer Linda Ronstadt recently told a congressional committee, advocating for arts funding, “Access to quality music education should not be only for those who can afford it. The benefits are too great.”

She pointed to Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s example of starting Youth Orchestra LA

“Today, children ages 7-16 in the urban core of Los Angeles receive free instruments, after-school music instruction and orchestra experience,” Ronstadt said. “Imagine what can be accomplished if we support the arts, engage ‘at risk’ youth and help them succeed in school and in their lives. For ‘underserved’ families, indeed for all families, participation in music and the arts can help people reclaim and achieve the American Dream.”

Creating jobs and more

The National Endowment for the Arts has some fresh funds from Barack Obama’s recent stimulus package to “preserve jobs in the arts.” But, from the pitiful arts funding for public schools to the cutbacks by cultural organizations hit hard by the economic recession/depression, it is clear more has to be done to rejuvenate the U.S. music and cultural scene.

U.S. orchestras of all sizes have been cutting their budgets in recent months. The Cleveland Orchestra’s music director took a 20 percent pay cut and administrative staff took cuts of various sizes. The number of subscription concerts will be reduced, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

The Minnesota Orchestra music director will make 10 percent less, and other salaries are being frozen or cut.

Orchestras in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have laid off staff.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s chief executive officer and other staff will take pay cuts now, unpaid furloughs later.

Even New York’s Metropolitan Opera has been hit. Unless it can extract cuts and concessions from its unions, general manager Peter Gelb told The New York Times, the Met faces a “disaster scenario.”

In the depths of the 1930s Great Depression, the government stepped in and created the Works Progress Administration, with a massive cultural component that spawned not only badly needed jobs but incredible works of art, architecture, music and music history, literature and parks that we enjoy to this day. Such a rebirth is possible today, and Venezuela has helped to show the way.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Poll: Just 53 percent of Americans say capitalism better than socialism

By Terrie Albano
People's Weekly World

This poll made our day.

According to a recent Rasmussen Report, only 53 percent of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

Not a very good spread for the profits-before-people, greed-is-good crowd. Ayn Rand must be rolling in her grave.

These numbers of course reflect the deep, transformative moment we are living in. An economic depression is a powerful force for people to experience, leading them to question the system that got us here.

Then there is the 20 percent that say socialism is better than capitalism, according to Rasmussen. Another wow! Twenty-seven percent are not sure which is better.
As the population gets further away from the Cold War years, the more they are open to socialism. The under 30 population is essentially divided: 37 percent prefer capitalism, 33 percent socialism and 30 percent are undecided.

Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the current system with 49 percent for capitalism and 26 percent for socialism.

But the ones over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13 percent of those believe socialism is better. What happened to the radical baby boomers?!

As you may imagine, those who have money to invest chose capitalism by a 5-to-1 margin. But for the rest of us who have no money to invest – a quarter of us say socialism would be o.k. Only 40 percent of non-investors think capitalism is better.

These are amazing statistics considering Rasmussen did not define either capitalism or socialism in their questions.

In an earlier survey by the polling firm they found, 70 percent of Americans prefer a free-market economy. When using the term “free market economy,” Rasmussen asserts, it attracts more support than using the term “capitalism.”

“Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors,” the poll summary stated.

Imagine how Americans would react if truly a national conversation was had on the benefits of socialism. Right now most Americans see it as a “government-managed” economy and they aren’t convinced the government could do any better than the corporate royalty, according to further poll findings.

Not included in the current popular view of socialism is democratization of the economy – where representatives of all communities, unions, schools, etc., would actually be involved in steering economic policy and decision making on all levels – micro and macro.

Recently, a colleague of mine, Sam Webb, the chair of the Communist Party said of the current economic and political situation:

“Is there any reason to think that millions in motion can't transform this country and world into the just, green, sustainable and peaceful "Promised Land" that Martin Luther King dreamed of?

“It would be a profound mistake to underestimate the progressive and socialist potential of this era. The American people have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity within their reach.”

While polls are just a snapshot of a very fluid and dynamic process of what people think, the more long term forces of the economy are already having this profound effect.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

3.5 million Illinoisans were uninsured in 2007-2008

From the Campaign for Better Health Care:

CHICAGO - A report released today for the Campaign for Better Health Care by Families USA found that approximately 3.5 million Illinoisans--30.8 percent of residents under age 65--were uninsured at some point of time during 2007-2008. In fact, 2.5 million of those uninsured Illinoisans, 72.5 percent of the total, were uninsured for six months or more during that time.

The Families USA report reveals additional important demographic information about uninsured individuals in Illinois:

* Nearly four out of five uninsured Illinoisans, or 78.7 percent, were in working families, working full- or part-time.
* More than half, or 53.9 percent, of those individuals and families in Illinois with incomes below twice the poverty line--$42,400 of annual income for a family of four in 2008--went without health insurance at some point in 2007-2008.
* In addition, over one in five, or 21.3 percent, of those individuals and families in Illinois with incomes at or above twice the poverty line--$42,400 of annual income for a family of four in 2008--went without health insurance at some point in 2007-2008.
* While whites accounted for the largest number of uninsured in Illinois, Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans were much more likely to be uninsured than whites: 50.7 percent of Hispanics/Latinos and 39.1 percent of African Americans went without health insurance in 2007-2008, compared to 24.5 percent of whites.

"Health care is the key to economic security and opportunity," said Jim Duffett, Executive Director of the Campaign for Better Health Care. "When the data show that almost 80% of Illinois' uninsured are from hard working families, it just underscores the grim reality that most of us are just one illness away from financial ruin. We call on the people of Illinois to send a clear and direct demand to our members of Congress that they must pass accessible, affordable, and guaranteed quality health care this year. No excuses!"

The situation is reflected nationwide. Approximately 86.7 million Americans--one out of three people (33.1 percent) under 65 years of age--were uninsured at some point during 2007-2008. The Families USA report is an essential supplement to commonly-used Census Bureau data, such as the 45.7 million people deemed to be uninsured for the entire 2007 calendar year.

"The huge number of people without health coverage in Illinois is worse than an epidemic," said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. "At this point, almost everyone in the country has had a family member, neighbor, or friend who was uninsured--and that's why meaningful health care reform can no longer be kept on the back burner."

The Families USA report was based on data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation as well as the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey used by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. The data were compiled with the assistance of The Lewin Group, a distinguished health policy and data consulting firm.

Copies of the report are available online at the websites of the Campaign for Better Health Care and Families USA. Perspectives on this report from the labor community, provider community, and further comment from the Campaign for Better Health Care can be obtained through Kathleen Duffy at (312) 913-9449.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Universal health care needed more than ever

Chicago – Health care activists rallied in Federal plaza April 6 to express their concern that the big hospital, insurance and pharmaceutical companies were “marginalizing” the single payer option in the discussion on health care reform currently before Congress. The activists were gathering in solidarity with a similar rally outside the White House Forum on Health Care Reform in Los Angeles, CA.

“The single payer option, or “Medicare for All”, should be part of the discussion in Congress, said Frank Borgers, of the National Nurses Organizing Committee. “Unbridled corporate power has brought the banking and auto industries to its knees and we fear it will happen in the health care industry as well.”

The activists from the Physicians for a National Health Program and the National Nurses Organizing Committee say this marginalization comes at a time when the single payer option is the most popular among the American people.

The activists applauded Pres. Barack Obama’s recognition of the need for government intervention in the health care crisis, but expressed their concern about the proposal being advanced by the private health care industry.

They contend the proposal will preserve a central role for private insurance industry. They say mandates for health care coverage on the 47 million uninsured would lead to greater corporate profits but not greater coverage.

Dorthea Mott, a nurse at John Stroger Hospital, is an advocate of universal health care coverage. She said Stroger is one of the safety net hospitals for the 5 million most vulnerable residents of Cook and surrounding counties.

“The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has projected an $800 million Cook County deficit by 2012,” said Mott. “This deficit could be overcome with a single payer system. We want to preserve Medicare and to improve it.”

“We have good news, and bad news,” said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of PNHP. “The movement for single-payer has never been stronger. Over 66% of the American people want it.”

“We can’t leave the health care system in the hands of the corporate giants,” he said. “But we have been denied a seat at the table. The health care industry hasn’t been sleeping. They’ve been scheming to convert the entire system to a private health care system.”

In addition to the majority support for the single payer model, 59% of US physicians now back it.

Mark Almberg, speaking on behalf of PNHP, said one-third of every medical health care dollar is being wasted on administrative bureaucracy and profits for health care corporations. “$400 billion could be saved each year, enough to pay for a single payer system and to eliminate all co-pays and deductables,” said Almberg.

Young urged support for HR 676 introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced a similar single payer bill in the US Senate, SR 703, The American Health Security Act. Young also urged support for the Illinois version of single payer, HB 311, introduced by State Rep. Mary Flowers with the support of 37 co-sponsors.

Chicago charter school teachers vote for union

(Based on a media release by Chicago ACTS)
In a historic step, an overwhelming majority of teachers at three Chicago-area charter school campuses, joined by parents and community leaders, filed authorization cards April 3 with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to form a union. The teachers seek immediate recognition of their collective bargaining unit and a commitment by school officials to promptly bargain and settle a contract.

The teachers work at three Civitas Schools’ Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS)—Wrightwood, Northtown Academy and Ralph Ellison campuses—under a charter held by the Chicago Charter School Foundation. They would be the first unionized charter school teachers in the Chicago area.

“We hope that, in the spirit of bettering our schools, our students’ education opportunities and our communities, the schools’ administration works cooperatively with our new union local as we move forward and settle a contract,” said Amy Jacob, a third-grade teacher at the CICS/Civitas Wrightwood Charter School.

Three-quarters of the total teaching staff at the three campuses signed union authorization cards to be the first unit represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. The number of teachers who signed cards well exceeds the simple majority required by state law.

The filing is the result of a two-year campaign by the AFT. The teachers are organized under Chicago ACTS because state law does not permit charter schoolteachers to be under the same collective bargaining agreement as other Chicago Public School teachers. A collective bargaining victory will be seen as a sharp rebuke to Mayor Daley’s efforts to steadily privatize the school system under his Renaissance 2010 program.

“We organized because a teacher’s voice in a school’s decision-making process will help create the best work environment for teachers and the best learning environment for students,” said Emily Mueller, a high school language arts teacher at CICS/Civitas Northtown Academy Charter School. “We love our work, and a union gives us the security of being able to voice concerns and ideas without placing our jobs at risk.”

In a letter to parents, the CICS teachers said, “We want to build a strong and consistent community of professionals and reduce the high rate of teacher turnover. A successful educational experience for any child depends on great teachers and engaged parents.”

The AFT’s Chicago and state leaders expressed their support for the charter schoolteachers to form their union. “Their dedication will help their schools become trailblazers of innovation and collaboration within the community,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart, who is an AFT vice president.

The CICS teachers intend to work very closely with the communities in and around the schools. “We hope the teachers’ union is recognized quickly, so they can start to do all in their power to lift our youth to even greater heights,” said Martha Biondi, associate professor of history at Northwestern University and chair of the Chicago Workers’ Rights Board.

More than 1,500 students attend the three CICS campuses, which are part of the Chicago International Charter School Network and are managed by Civitas Schools, a fully owned subsidiary of the charter holder, the Chicago Charter School Foundation.

Through its affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers, the CICS/Civitas unit of Chicago ACTS joins the nationwide Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, a community of educators at more than 70 charter schools in 10 states, who belong to AFT-affiliated unions.

Support is also building for a one-year moratorium on all school closings, phase-outs and consolidations called for in a bill introduced by State Representative Cynthia Soto (HB 363 School Closing Moratorium Bill). The bill would create fair and responsible requirements for all closures that the Board of Education must follow.

School closures particularly in the African American and Latino communities have sparked considerable anger and resentment. The closings are being carried out under Renaissance 2010 with the aim to re-open schools under charter management.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Picketers to Bank of America: stop blocking Employee Free Choice

Chicago - Labor activists and Logan Square residents picketed the local branch of Bank of America April 4, to draw attention to the bank's brazen campaign to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Chanting "Shame on Bank of America", picketers circled in front of the bank's Logan Square branch and gathered signatures in support of the bill, including from many bank customers.

"Two days after they got a $25 billion bailout from the Federal government, Bank of America convened a conference call with AIG, McDonalds, Home Depot, and other big corporations to discuss how to defeat EFCA," Leah Raffanti, of Chicago Jobs with Justice told picketers and pedestrians. "We are here to tell Bank of America to stop interfering with legislation that will help working families."

Bank of America already carries a lousy reputation in Chicago, especially after the role they played in the shut down of Republic Windows and Doors. As chief creditor they refused to extend a $5 million line of credit a couple of weeks after the bank got its bailout.

"I'm glad you're here," one bank customer told the picketers. "You're speaking the truth. They created the financial crisis with their greed and now they want us to pay double for it."

Among the picketers was Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. "They say passing EFCA will be the end of civilization. They say it's undemocratic. But EFCA is the ultimate in democracy, he said. "You can't stand by yourself against Bank of America. Only when working people stick together can we win."

Lance Cohn, a retired Chicago teacher said passage of EFCA was essential for economic recovery. "Unionized workers make 30 percent more than non-unionized workers, he said. "The last 30 years the corporations and rich have had it their way and accumulated staggering wealth while working people have taken in on the chin. EFCA will help re-balance things," said Cohn, who is part of the campaign to organize teachers at Chicago charter schools.

Also in the line was Charles Gilyard, president of USWA Local 2154. Gilyard said EFCA is one of the laws needed to strengthen organized labor's ability to not only win better pay and benefits but to protect it's members from being fired for union activities.

"I have seen companies ruining the lives of workers. One of our union brothers was fired for being a union activist. He's been off a year as he fights his way through the courts. He may win his job back, but he's already lost his home and his wife. His life is ruined."

Gilyard also said a major cause of the violence claiming the lives of scores of African American and Latino young people in Chicago is the massive joblessness and bleak economic future. He said creating union wage jobs would be a big factor in ending the violence.

Protesters joined the picket line from the Logan Square Neighbors for Justice and Peace, Organizing for America, the South Austin Coalition Community Council, the Logan Square-Humboldt Park Communist Party club, and Coalition of Labor Union Women, and vowed to stick together until the battle is won.

(photos by Scott Marshall)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chicago rallies for Employee Free Choice

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World

CHICAGO – Imagine the day when working people’s right to decide to join a union is guaranteed and protected by law. That day will come, many argue, when the Employee Free Choice Act is finally signed into law.

In a national week of action, Chicago Free Choice supporters led by the local Jobs With Justice chapter rallied on Tuesday in front of the Chicago-land Chamber of Commerce, which has launched an anti-worker propaganda campaign against the measure. Protestors at the downtown rally claim big business demands bailouts and tax breaks while laying off workers and paying huge bonuses.

“If we’re ever going to address economic inequalities then we have to give workers the right to organize unions,” said 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore to the World. “Workers everywhere have the God-given right to join unions and demand living wages with decent benefits,” he said. Free Choice supporters must continue to pressure members of Congress to support this cause and do the right thing, added Moore. “We are tired of having the wages of working men and women decline,” he continued. “Now is the time to say enough is enough and Congress must have the guts to pass this measure.”

Katie Jordan, president of the Chicago Coalition of Labor Union Women told the World that passing the Free Choice act would assist working women demand equal pay for equal work.

“Women without unions are on the lowest economic totem pole and do not have the equal opportunity to talk to their bosses about increasing their wages,” said Jordan. “Too many families today are not in unions and struggle to pay their mortgages,” she added.

“It’s the workers who make the products and keep companies alive,” said Jordan. “People need to get paid for what they’re worth and feel free to join unions without being harassed,” she said.

Rev. Calvin Morris with the Community Renewal Society said it’s important to challenge the Chamber of Commerce. It’s not right that corporate higher-ups make exorbitant salaries at the expense of the majority of workers who have little protections, he said.
“The Chamber says, ‘if you give workers what they want, then business will fall apart and the economy will suffer,’ but we know that’s not the case,” insisted Morris.

“That time is over,” he added. “This is a new day and the Employee Free Choice Act must pass and it will pass.”

In an on-going campaign to organize workers at Comcast, Dave Webster with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 21, said the cable company is a poster child why the Free Choice needs to pass. Webster said Comcast spends money on anti-labor attorneys and union busting campaigns, when they should invest their energy in meeting the demands of its workers.

“Workers at Comcast are afraid to talk to each other and the company threatens them saying if they join a union they will lose their jobs,” said Webster.

Pastor Robin Hood with Redeemed Outreach Ministers told the crowd that getting the Free Choice passed is “the fight of all fights right now.”

Leah Fried , an organizer with United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers (UE) Local 1110, which recently won a $1.75 million settlement from for its workers at the Republic Windows and Doors Chicago factory told the World,

“Without the Free Choice, workers will have to take over factories to fight for their basic rights just like we took over Republic.”

“The Chamber of Commerce and big business is spending millions of dollars to sell out workers in this country,” she said. “They are trying very hard to defend the status quo while corporate abuse continues to go unpunished.”

Two hundred and fifty workers conducted a six-day sit-in last December when the Chicago Republic Windows plant was abruptly closed and the worker’s vacation and severance pay and health benefits were illegally denied.

A group of the Republic workers were at the rally including Ron Bender who is a shop steward with the UE Local.

“Workers need the choice to vote for a union without being intimidated and they should decide for themselves,” said Bender. “We wouldn’t have won any of our demands without our union,” he added.

With the passage of the Free Choice act unionized workers will have more job security, earn 30 percent more than non-unionized workers, and are much more likely to have health benefits, short-term disability insurance, life insurance and pensions, supporters say.

Katie Jordan summed up the spirit of the rally projecting this struggle is one workers are determined to win.

“We will defeat you and we will fight until we get this work done, because there is more of us than you, even if we have to stand here until eternity,” she said.