Tag Archives: economic justice

Senator Mary Landrieu Reminds Southerners of that Peculiar Institution

Yesterday an NBC reporter asked Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu why Obama’s approval ratings in the south were consistently so low.  Without hesitation Senator Landrieu (Democrat) responded after noting that while the south has strong economic ties to the oil and gas industry, there’s something else, “I’ll be very, very honest with you. the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”

No kidding.  The degree of vitriol, blaming and shaming that has been directed at Obama has surpassed anything in history, besides possibly presidents that deserved such treatment such as Franklin Pierce or Richard Nixon.  Couple that with the resurrection of Jim Crow type threats, such as hanging nooses in front yards to using racist stereotypes to demean and degrade the president, one has to wonder sometimes what century people are living in.

No doubt the Republicans don’t like being called ignorant bigots, but look at their policies and the statements of many politicians and especially the expressions that burst on the public scene within Tea Party rallies.  Someone called the dog whistles so loud they all came running out of the pen.  Now here we are with Obama having served two terms and experiencing obstructionism unlike any other president, save possibly prior to the civil war when the south drew together in opposition to the threat of abolition.  But this is 2014 isn’t it?  Why do southerners and conservatives draw back and bare their teeth when anyone dare mention the ‘R’ word: Racist!  The attacks on Landrieu for her comments contain all the predictable smear.

Being called out can get pretty uncomfortable, especially when its true and you’ve got no possible way to evade the obvious.  Hence the “conservative” who supports policies that deny the existence of racism in this country, that want everyone who suffers from racism or inequality to just “get over it”.  Sure, but why can’t conservatives just “get over it” with being called out for denying history? (Oh wait, there’s more recent evidence of Republicans not being racists! Check out this from Alternet!) Possibly because getting over it would mean then addressing issues that persist that relate directly to the construct of division of people and communities by skin color in order to keep bondage and general oppression in place.

slave bracelets

America will be forever chained to its past until it deals with it and heals the wounds.

Considering that Africans, although kidnapped and held against their will, managed to build the south and provide much of the profit for the northern merchant class as well for at least a good 200 years, you’d think the south might have a wee bit of gratitude.  If one adds to that the period after emancipation when black folks still experienced a system that locked them into a state of servitude by skin color separation and social ghettos one would wonder why anyone would even dare to deny that a system of race based oppression grew in this country.   The mansions and plantation houses from Virginia to Mississippi visited by people all over the country are usually fawned upon for their splendor and architectural beauty.  Does anyone recognize or attempt to understand the pain and suffering that went on at those places? The unpaid hands who built them?

There are so many questions that must be asked if justice will ever be reached on the damage caused by slavery and the social system derived specifically to keep it in place and everyone in their place; including poor white folks.  Instead,  when any mention of the former “Peculiar Institution” and its relationship to the south occurs, an unprecedented howl of righteous fervor rises from below.america be like

Unlike most other accusations of racism directed at the south or conservatives in general, Landrieu’s cannot be shunned as mere criticism from uppity northerners or carpet-baggers, because she is actually one of their own.  Landrieu has had the audacity to break the unwritten code of the south wherein public figures shy away from public discussion relating to that Peculiar Institution and Reconstruction.  You can talk all day and the rest of your life about the “The War of Northern Aggression” and how President Andrew Johnson’s quick work turned Reconstruction into Deconstruction and put former rebel officers (treasoners) back into political positions and returned a defacto culture of slavery to the south.  But never ever mention that the south had anything to do with forcing an entire mass of people into bondage and hard labor to build the original American aristocracy, both north and south.

There’s too much at stake as everyone knows, as every white southerner has always known.  As every white southerner who ever inherited any wealth derived from the antebellum period knows, admission of guilt is only the beginning to opening the floodgates of justice.  As always, those who beat their chests the loudest about something usually have the most to hide. In this instance, the so-called “pro-liberty” and “pro freedom” party would rather keep the rate at which liberty and freedom are meted out, under their sole control.

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Carpenters Get Hot on Cheating Contractors

whatever 011On Thursday in Seabrook, NH, the carpenter’s local 118 got busy drawing attention to large contractors cheating labor out of pay and benefits and the state out of revenue. Focusing on a drywall company known as Metro-Walls, the carpenters held what they call a “banner line” to inform passersby of this issue.

The carpenters made their intent clear to remain in front of the construction site as long as Metro-Walls continued operating in violation of the law.

“Missclassification is the biggest problem in the industry right now, its destroying the industry slow but sure. We definitely intend to fight this to the bitter end, we’re not going anywhere, as long as misclassification continues, we’ll be on the front lines.”

“The real victims here are the guys being misclassified and they don’t even know it.” said Johnnie Berry, organizer for Carpenter’s Local 118.

Missclassification of workers involves the practice of cheating works out of workman’s compensation, unemployment eligibility and any future social security benefits.  Since the employer pays either all or a portion of the costs for these programs through payroll deductions, the incentive is high for unscrupulous employers to skirt payment of any of these, keep the employee entirely “off the books” and pay the employee cash instead, or “under the table” as commonly referred to.

We contacted Jim Craig, the Commissioner of Labor whose department handles the enforcement of labor law in New Hampshire. We asked to what extent its a problem in New Hampshire, “It hasn’t been qualified yet in New Hampshire, but I think there’s an enormous underground economy, I think its a national problem.”

We asked about why enforcement seems too slow for many, “You know the trouble with this is these guys move fast, ” explaining that in the construction business in particular a contractor may be on a project for a limited time and also the department handles many investigations that complicate their ability to allocate manpower on just this issue, “We also have to investigate many other labor issues.” he said adding, “We’ve come a long way — we have better enforcement, we have a couple inspectors working just on this issue now.”

We also asked Mr. Craig about the process wherein those found in violation often receive reduced fines and as such operate with labor fines as a cost of doing business, “We’re trying to change that and one way is with attorneys representing the department and we’re working on trying to change the definition of employee, making it more clear.”

As a result misclassification, employers unfairly compete for large contracts due to their reduced labor cost and also avoid responsibility for accidents or injuries on the job.  These costs then fall to the public in lost work time, unpaid medical care and strains on local assistance programs to deal with basic unmet needs to workers and families.

Metro-Walls is one of many companies working on two shopping center expansion projects on Lafayette Road in Seabrook, NH and has a substantial history of labor law violations according to reports made by Local 118 of the New England Regional Carpenters, Manchester New Hampshire.

One of many projects occurring on Lafayette Road.  Metro-Walls is contracted for hanging sheetrock.

One of many projects occurring on Lafayette Road, Seabrook, NH.  Metro-Walls holds the contract to hang sheetrock.

The Department of Professional Employees provides a detailed explanation of the most common types of misclassification on their website here.

More information can be found at the IRS website Independent Contractor (Self-Employed) or Contractor?

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Corporate Prison Leaders Tell the Truth About Themselves

prison factory

From our friend Arnie over at Inzane Times, weighing in on the ugly truth about the corporate prison system and their efforts to get our Congress and state legislators to sell off justice:

Corporate Prison Leaders Tell the Truth about Themselves

March 17, 2013 by aalpert

FORM 10-K IS A TREASURE TROVE OF INFORMATION

Maggie Hassan made it pretty clear during her successful campaign for governor that she has no interest in turning over control of New Hampshire’s prisons to for-profit corporations.  The majority of Executive Councilors elected in November feel the same.  While the State is still formally reviewing proposals from four private companies to build and operate its prisons, the chance that a contract for prison operation would be drawn up in the next two years is about as close to zero as it can get.  So why have at least two of the companies (CCA and MTC) bothered to invest in lobbying services to defeat HB 443, a bill which would ban private prisons in New Hampshire?

Read more on: Corporate Prison Leaders Tell the Truth About Themselves directly from the source.

For more on the privatization of public services: check this excellent article at truthout.org : Five Poisons of Privatization

thanks to the folks over at the Privatization Blog

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Grafton Voters Speak – No Wind Farms and No to Free Staters

angus signThe Free Staters no doubt are running for the proverbial Tylenol as they suffer their after-party hangover. Voters in Grafton sent a clear message to the Free Staters that their anti-government anarchism is not welcome or wanted.  As reported on Wednesday, March 13th (yesterday) in the Valley News, voters in the town of Grafton roundly rejected the Free Stater attempt to take over their town by slashing their budget by 13%.

At the town deliberative session the spending cuts passed by only one vote (33-32).  Those who watch the Free Staters and their antics may recall how the Free State Project adherents did everything short of dance in the streets and declare their colonization of New Hampshire near complete over this vote.  Of course the natives took note and took up their ballot pens in defense of the town and culture they have built.

In other votes the town voted down the Wild Meadow Wind Farm proposed by Iberdrola, a wind turbine company out of Spain.  Although this won’t stop the process of wind turbine approval, which is far more complex (involving the SEC), the town’s voters used the ballot box to express their lack of support for turbines on their highly prized ridgelines. The vote tallied 160 for the wind turbines against 366 opposed.  This vote also sent a message that the town of Grafton questions the SEC approval process as it stands at this time.

Please see the full article in the Valley News for complete story.  Grafton: Free Stater Bid to Slash Budget Rejected; Wind Farm Fails.

For more information on the Wild Meadow Wind Farm proposal and its argument against the value of wind power generation in New Hampshire.  We encourage all people to study wind energy generation, its return for energy consumed, the negligible to zero effect on reducing greenhouse gas production and most importantly and the environmental costs that result from the infrastructure development required for wind turbine placement.

Iberdrola Wild Meadow Wind Farm Industry Summary as presented to the town of Danbury, 10/2012

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Our Phantom Debt Menace

Is the game rigged?

Nick Vazzana

No matter where we look these days, we find an obsession with debt and the deficit. We hear on a daily basis that the deficit will ruin our economy, turn us into Greece and drown our grandchildren in crushing debt. How true is this understanding?

I am not an economist but I was founder and C.E.O. of a successful corporation for over 25 years. From a business point of view, debt is merely an obligation or liability to pay or render something to someone else. A problem emerges when investors lose faith in the debtor’s ability to repay the obligation. A company, similar to a country, sells bonds to provide working capital. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a bad thing for Chinese or European investors to buy U.S Treasury bonds. It demonstrates confidence in our nation’s economy.

Furthermore, the country’s wealthiest 2% tell us that any day now investors will lose faith in America’s ability to pay its bills. They warn of a run on Treasury bonds similar to what happened in Greece and see inflation skyrocketing. These scare tactics fail to recognize that the United States is not Greece and we have many safeguards in place since the Depression of the 1930’s. In addition, we overcame the Great Recession of 2008-9 thanks to a strong Federal Reserve, a competent President and a Congress that actually did its job.

Unlike Greece, we have our own currency and all of our debt, both public and private, is denominated in dollars. These dollars are not backed by gold but the full faith and credit of the Federal Government. Theoretically, our government can never run out of money because currency is physically manufactured on an hourly basis. Most citizens are unaware that currency printing began in 1861 to fund the Civil War and has always kept our economy solvent. This fact of life often leads to the following question: “If the government prints money to pay its bills won’t that lessen the value of the dollar and lead to runaway inflation?”

Economists tell us that when the government prints more money, investors may start to expect higher inflation down the road and this may push down the value of the dollar.
However, if these results do take place that would actually help rather than hurt the U.S. economy, right now. The fear of higher inflation would discourage corporations and families from sitting on cash, while a weaker dollar would make exports more competitive.

Generally speaking, our deficit is the result of higher spending and reduced tax revenue, caused primarily by a drop in personal income and the cost of two wars and necessary social programs. It is ironic that the scare-mongers of the debt menace are the very people who have benefited the most from our existing economic system.

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Workers in Chicago Arrested at Protest for Minimum Wage Raise

chicago protesters

In this article from the Chicagoist, workers and protesters demanded that the minimum wage be raise to a living wage level of $15/hour.  As reported below, 21 people were arrested but sympathy among even the arresting cops existed as quoted in the story.

We need more of this action, more everywhere across the country as people are pressed to work for less than what is required to survive.  Contrary to popular opinion and even apparently the opinion of some unions, “protecting the middle class” is not what unions are all about; they also must be about raising living standards for everyone.

The people who serve the middle class — the people who work on weekends, holidays and nights, who turn their hotel sheets, who smile and say “Thank you come again” because if they don’t they’ll get fired all serve many who already make a living wage, who enjoy the protections that unions brought them.

It is in the interest of all Americans to raise the living standard for everyone so that everyone can live a decent life and participate in the economy in a productive and meaningful way.

Read the full story here: 21 Protesters Arrested at Mag Mile Demonstration for Raising the Minimum Wage

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Yes, Right to Work Will Kill the Middle Class — But Why Empower Classism?

Center for American Progress has an excellent in depth article, that we recommend everyone read, on how the Right to Get Union Benefits Without Paying for Them hurts the “middle class”.  Now one would ask, if we’re against classism, why do we find this article so good?

Well, because the article analyzes the economic truths about our current capitalist system.  Its hard for most anyone to deny that the numbers that keep coming up everywhere don’t show that the capitalists and their resulting plutocrat class benefit by squeezing workers to their breaking point — workers are nothing more than a commodity nor different than oil shale, natural gas or water; get as much as you can out of it, as cheaply as possible and then let someone else worry about the resulting damage.

The problem of course with the Americans for Progress analysis is that it supports a frame of “middle class” because some geniuses somewhere get the willies thinking about rubbing ideological elbows with the lumpen proletariat.

Well, here’s a clue; we’re all proletariats, so if you work for a wage or as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, are doing your own thing as a “self employed” (meaning non-covered, under the table employee) “independent contractor” then you are a worker, you trade your labor and time for money.  You don’t have extra cash in the bank to speculate on stocks, business ventures, investments or what have you; your money goes to supporting you and that’s all you got.

Read the article, spread it around, but never forget that we’re all in this together and the ultimate goal to achieving real justice for all and democracy is the destruction of the hierarchy of oppression that capitalism requires to exist; destruction of classism and oppression altogether and the creation of a just, egalitarian socio-economic system.  Its possible.

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Examining the Drug War and Prison-Industrial Complex – “The New Jim Crow” Book Discussion

The New Jim Crow coverOn Sunday, January 20th, activists Brenda and Woullard Lett will be hosting a discussion on the Michelle Alexander book “The New Jim Crow”.

The event is free and will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 669 Union Street in Manchester at 11:45 am.  The event will be informal with a potluck lunch (please bring something to share).  Please RSVP by registering for the event here.

Michelle Alexander has opened up the discussion about how racism has continued to permeate our criminal justice system and other areas of our society, effectively keeping in place a system similar to the southern Jim Crow racist laws of the past.

This issue and awareness of Michelle Alexander’s book is a must-have for all of those concerned about the current movement to privatize prisons across the United States and the troubling elements of denial of justice that comes from that.

This interview gives an excellent overview of the topics covered in her book:

This is an open discussion to begin to explore ways in which can work to undo these oppressive cultural systems and free all of us finally from the tragic past of race-based oppression and move into a more just future. Excellent summary of Jim Crow and the new prison industrial complex:

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Workers Burn While Unions Find Their Ass

Make sure you find your local and stick yourself there.

Of course by now nearly everyone from your wingnut uncle Walter who lives in a trailer in the middle Ozarks to the brain-dead hipster in Greenwich Village knows that the Hostess company has filed for bankruptcy and basically screwed workers out of nearly everything.  Of course anyone with half a brain who’s been around long enough to know the lyrics to a famous Nazareth song about being pissed off and ready to fuck some shit up pretty quick, knows this old story about corporate meltdowns and workers getting the boot with nothing more than their last paycheck.  Its old hat these days.

So why the whining and hand-wringing going on among so many in the leftward blogosphere about “What Really Happened to Hostess”.  I mean really, Black Commentator had a piece a bit back, written by someone on the front lines in St. Louis, telling sordid tales of long active racism within the company’s management, about the company’s anti-union tactics and other misdeeds also so typical of the American worker story today.  We noticed other stories, well written that popped out right away telling the whole story for what it was.

So now again, why now all the Johnny Come Latelies?

Possibly we’d say because the unions have had to wake up from their trance and figure out that they just lost their ass again.   Oh wait, I forget myself; that’s right, the unions that the workers at Hostess were a member of weren’t part of the other fight [name one in your community or Local] because you know, the other unions have their own battles and hey, tough luck there kid.

Or something like that.  I know, how naive of me to imagine that possibly unions might be able to climb over their proverbial, imaginary fences that divide them and reach out and work with each other on a meaningful basis.  Of course that might also mean that the AFL-CIO drop their absolutely offensive “Save the Middle Class” campaign and stop trying to convince their rank and file that they are some kind of bourgeois Third Estate that the worker/proletariat must serve and that they must not soil themselves with fighting their battles.

I mean, have you seen teachers, fire fighters, police officers, janitors, hotel workers, meat packers, millwrights or the candle stick maker, the butcher and the baker for that matter all stand together in solidarity when one of them gets threatened by the plutocracy?  No, neither have I.

It seems high time they did.

Classism is a construct and tool of the elites, whether of tyranny by capitalism or whatever other means.  One will not find a donut in a shit pile and you won’t find democracy or justice within the oppression of classism, racism or any other construct made to divide one group against another, which only benefits those outside the struggle for crumbs.

Despite all the hand-wringing and analysis and the “OMG!” going on about the unholy greediness of the plutocrat class, the fact is you’d have to not only live under a rock, but possibly be living under a rock under Uncle Walter’s trailer and be deaf and dumb as a stump to not know that this has been going on with plutocrats for a pretty long time.  It seems at some point we can conclude that the capitalist class really sucks at creativity no?  They keep playing that old song of rape and pillage and many of us hold our hands to our ears and say, “I can’t believe it! I didn’t know they knew that tune!”

But with a regularity you can set your watch by, the liberals and left end of the spectrum here in the Land of the Not-So-Free acts with shocked and stunned surprise when they find out that a capitalist is greedy and selfish.  This happens so often that one might begin to think that a large portion of our society really wants to believe that capitalism really works.  Like the wife of the cheating husband who promises to be good next time, a large sector of Americans continue to sit at home alone, tears streaming down their faces not believing he did it again!  What happened, they think and then they ruminate on husbands misdeeds.  Well sweetheart, that works for the first time around.  Remember the old saying, “Fool me once…don’t get fooled again.” Oh wait that was the Bush II version, anyway, you know what I’m talking about; stop being a damned sucker.

Without solidarity — you know unity, without workers coming together from all sectors and standing up when any sector is threatened — as a unified act of power — nothing will change.  The plutocracy will not stop until every single worker in this country is reduced to the newly cherished and celebrated “entrepreneur” who struggles for whatever he/she can pinch out of the economy, with little hope of a pension or even basic protections such as worker’s comp or the added luxury of health insurance.  Don’t believe this? Look around at skilled jobs in the “private sector” among the working classes, besides the low hanging fruit of the Wal-Marts of the world.

You will see auto mechanics, trades people, sales professionals, temp workers, computer techs, service workers, maintenance workers, those in the building trades — all often working under the ubiquitous “independent contractor”, temp worker status or as the much maligned and marginalized non-voting/non-citizen resident worker.  A part of the new worker frame, found more and more tolerable as the standard among the young, the world many happily escape with a union retirement just one jump before the ax.

All the while though, the major business unions seem to be doing what?  Wisconsin was ready for a major general strike that would have shut down the whole state and showed workers where their power was, but the major unions bargained that power away with the Democrats who wanted a chance to grab power — and couldn’t do that competently.  For whatever the incompetence or compliance the Democrats demonstrated, the fact is that workers lost and large labor unions cemented their traditional bond with the Democratic party — you pay us to organize our people (not all workers mind you, just the select middle class) and we’ll deliver when you need them or hold them back when you ask.

Now again, a major company falls off the edge and throws its workers off the cliff and although the struggles of the workers at Hostess and the poor management of the company was no secret, the larger unions couldn’t find a way to get there and help the workers out.   Maybe run a picket, a campaign.  What did they do, clear their throats before their party overlords and ask permission that was denied?  Or did they more accurately, realize that they probably couldn’t even get their rank and file anywhere since they can’t even get them most of them to come to a meeting.

Now Michigan is about to turn, as one Facebook commenter aptly stated, “Right to Freeload”.  Unbelievable, historically the last bastion of the rust belt.  First Wisconsin last year, now St. Louis and Michigan in a matter of months.  In some ways its no surprise as the unions sat on their hands for thirty years, have ignored the job of educating their rank and file about the labor struggle and had the audacity to even (under the leadership of Lane Kirkland most notably) let Reagan and Carter before that negotiate rust-belt jobs away in the name of “competition” and some other capitalist tripe about impending globalism sold to the workers as meaningful economic theory for worker prosperity.

St. Louis needs another factory to leave that area like capitalism needs another ethical black  hole.  But hey, who cares? Anyone who had lived in the Mid-West knows damn well that workers there cannot afford to lose a job; the city like most of the rust belt was hollowed out long ago.  But let’s go ahead and talk theory; how and who was screwed over and especially how the Republicans are big bad meanies.  There are people going hungry on the streets, losing their homes — not just houses they bought, but apartments they rent.  There are people whose last paycheck was last week, last month, last year and they know all too well what it is to “struggle” in the “free market”.  Oh and by the way, let’s ask Warren Buckets-O-Money what he thinks.

Nothing like being one of those workers and having a member or a lackey of the plutocrat class tell you about how “liberals” need to stop “programs” because you know, what poor folks don’t have is ambition.  Because finding the ambition to make it to the next week is just small stuff; no worries.  Homelessness is a myth of course; it only happens to the drunks down by the river, in a tent, on your street corner with a cardboard sign.  Because we all know what their problem is and they stand as examples of what a “poor work ethic” will do to you too — until of course your company closes and you are thrown out in the street with the paper recycling; a commodity used up, disposed of and gone.

As I write this, a worker tells me tonight that he has worked for a week and a half, after being unemployed for months, his hands rough and nicked from the metal roofing he works with open in frustration before me, “I work for two days, get out for one day to heal myself and then go back to do it all again to make him [owner of the company] more money!” he then goes on, “Then what do I have? Two days of work, a prescription I can’t pay for a hospital bill that I’ll never be able to pay and if I don’t show up, I’m out with nothing.  I work to make him money and wear myself to the ground.”

He said that he told the hospital staff, “Insurance?! I have no insurance, I don’t even have workman’s comp! I’ll have to pay all my taxes myself, I can’t even get unemployment!”  The woman behind the counter quietly says, “Its too bad you don’t have a friend who has a prescription with Wal-Mart where you can get your prescriptions for a few dollars.”

Well I know that fact to be untrue.  I have a Wal-Mart card and I know that only a few commonly used drugs that are cheaply produced on the generic level are offered to Wal-Mart customers at ridiculously low prices and it wouldn’t surprise me if they receive a grant from the government or from the manufacturers to distribute some drugs cheaply through Wal-Mart.

Whoops, now we’re off on the healthcare system, but frankly, its all related.  As wages among workers stagnate with the least organized going first, all workers will face the multitudinous ways in which the capitalist system screws them over.  If they get paid, its so little that they can barely meet their most basic needs, but, a lifeline is woven inside the thicket of human commodification that helps to keep the workers on the thread and also appearing just saved enough for the masses to ignore.

Ignore at their peril as all worker’s wages are inextricably tied together and one lead weight over the side of the ship pulls the whole vessel further to collapse.  So long has this gone on and so gradual has the shift been (although it is disputable as to how gradual it is now, but that’s another discussion) that most of the workers in this country believe the shift to be minimal, to be an isolated event. “Keep calm and carry on” as they traditionally say in Britain with a stiff upper lip supposedly, carry that burden and shut up, keep up the faith, the one speaks first loses so the game goes.

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Blaming the Workers Until the Bitter End: Company has Long History of Not Being the Hostess with the Mostest

Hostess strikers in St. Louis, MO

Hostess strikers in St. Louis, MO

From the Black Commentator

by Jamala Rogers

Hostess Bakeries was recently allowed to close its doors when mediation between the union and the company failed. In St. Louis, the company never really changed its image or racist practices in 40 years. The ITT conglomerate was hit by a boycott back in 1971 from ACTION, an interracial, direct-action protest organization. Because all the ACTION demands were never met, the boycott remained in effect.

Workers prepare Hostess Twinkies for packaging at the Interstate Bakeries Corporation facility April 20, 2005 in Schiller Park. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Workers preparing Hostess Twinkies at Interstate Bakeries in Chicago, 2005.

There were three unions that represent the 18, 500 workers across the country. They are the Bakers, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM), United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International Teamsters Union. Union workers stood tall and firm in their refusal to be intimidated by the bullying tactics of the company. They now all face unemployment.

When Hostess Brands announced it was seeking bankruptcy (again) in the midst of contract disputes with its union workers, the workers went on strike. To add insult to injury, the company announced it intended to pay $1.75 million in bonuses to 19 of its executives. The company has been in bankruptcy for about eight years of the last decade. It had stopped paying into the workers’ pensions, and decreased health benefits but seemed to be taking good care of its top execs.

Workers striking in Peoria, Illinois

Even as it was throwing the blame of the company’s dismal future at the feet of the workers, Hostess had already given its executives pay raises earlier this year. The CEO’s salary tripled from $750,000 to about $2.5 million. This doesn’t exactly sound like a company in financial trouble. It sounds more like a company who wants to maintain superprofits for the top execs and its shareholders on the backs of its workers.

Back in 1971, a boycott campaign against Hostess and Wonder Bread, led by Percy Green and ACTION, proved to be incredibly successful even without the internet and cell phones. Within a few months, stores had snatched Wonder Bread and Hostess products off their shelves. The protests and subsequent reactions dominated the local news for months.

Strikers in St. Louis, MO

Those brand names fell under ITT which stands for International Telephone and Telegraph. At one point the ITT portfolio included a number of seemingly unrelated industries such as bakeries, hotels, insurance companies and electronics for weapons of war.

The company brought out its few black employees as the front guard of their fight, including its PR man, Sam Wheeler, (former Harlem Globetrotters basketball player), who called the protest “black against black.” The black drivers who received commissions from the sales of the delivered bakery products were encouraged by Wheeler to set up a protest at the ACTION headquarters. The drivers who were misled by the company apparently hadn’t realized an important element of discrimination uncovered by ACTION: that the black drivers’ routes included small black convenience stores while the white drivers got the big grocery chain stores.

Striking worker Joe Locey pickets outside a Hostess plant Friday in Biddeford, Maine. The Irving, Texas, company said a nationwide strike crippled its ability to make and deliver its products. IBC stands for Interstate Bakeries Corp.

Striker in Biddeford, ME

When the company tactic to pit their black employees against ACTION didn’t work, the corporation tapped into its buddies in higher places. Then Missouri Attorney General Jack Danforth filed an injunction and conspiracy suit against ACTION. The antitrust suit claimed that ACTION and Colonial Bread were in cahoots with one another to bring ITT Continental Bakeries down. Colonial Bread was Wonder Bread’s competition and it became an unintended beneficiary of the ACTION boycott. It also became a surprised co-conspirator in the AG’s anti-trust law suit.

Strikers in LA

Strikers in Billings, MN

This tactic backfired as well. It catapulted the conglomerate and all its dirty linen into the national spotlight for several years. It put the resources of a peer corporation into action (no pun intended) and forced the state attorney general’s office to settle the suit that there was no wrong doing on Colonial’s part.

The conglomerate became a target of antitrust groups but more volatile was being a target of the anti-war movement that prompted a national boycott of Wonder Bread with the slogan, “Don’t Buy Bombs when You Buy Bread!” ITT‘s ugly ties to the CIA’s topple of the democratically elected Chilean leader, Salvador Allende, were also uncovered during this time.

Hostess workers on the picket line in Columbus, Ind.

Strikers in Columbus, IN

The historical struggle of workers against companies like Hostess is a testament that we must stay vigilant in our efforts to uphold racial and gender equality and pay equity, along with issues of worker safety and product quality. These greedy corporations don’t get better with time. Let’s make sure we are fighting for immediate victories for workers but also for worker security and rights that will endure well into the future.

 

BlackCommentator.comEditorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.

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