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List Of Legislative Forums Around Iowa This Weekend

Please share far and wide. Thank you.

One of the most important actions you can take in this fight to save collective bargaining is to attend your legislators’ in-district forums. When you attend a legislative forum, be sure to introduce yourself and talk about the job you do or did as a public employee; not your title, but the services you provide. Maybe you’re a family member or just a community member who recognizes the importance of public employees – share that. Tying faces and stories to this fight is how we will win. If you live in a legislator’s district, make sure they know that, and let them know if you voted for them. Then ask,

Will you vote against any changes to my collective bargaining rights?

“If this bill is so great, why is it being done in secret”

“Why offer this shell bill with no opportunity for input from the public”

“Are you going to vote against workers rights?”

“What’s in the bill?”

“What are you hiding in this bill”

Let us know about the conversations you have; it helps us know where to focus our efforts. Send an email to and tell us about your experience. We also would like to have photos and videos of these events. Live stream on Facebook.

Here’s a list of legislative forums this weekend.

    State Representative Gary Mohr Constituent Meetings:
    Every Friday 9AM at the Hyvee, 2900 Devils Glen Road, Bettendorf, IA
    Saturday, February 4: 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Moore at Carson Community Center, 298 S. Commercial St., Carson, IA 51525
    February 4, 2017 10:00AM – 11:00AM Edward F. Owen Memorial Library, 1120 Willow Dr., Carter Lake, IA 51510
    Friday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
    Legislative forum with Sen. Sinclair and Rep. Fry at the Mosaic Building, 302 South 4th Street, Chariton, IA
    Saturday, February 4: 9:00 AM
    Legislative Coffee at the Clinton Chamber Office, 721 S. 2nd Street, Clinton
    Friday, February 3, 8:00 – 9:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Senator Amy Sinclair and Representative Joel Fry at Farm Bureau, 212 South Franklin Street, Corydon, IA
    Saturday, February 4: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. McConkey at Edward F. Owen Memorial Library, 1120 Willow Dr., Carter Lake, IA 51510
    Friday, February 3: 9:30 – 11:30 AM
    Listening post with Rep. Winckler at Greatest Grains, 1600 N. Harrison St., Davenport, IA 52803
    Saturday, February 4: 9:00 – 10:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Salmon at Community Room, 100 Washington St., Denver, IA 50622
    Saturday, February 4: 10:00 – 11:30 AM
    Legislative coffee with Sen. Allen and Rep. Nunn at the Altoona HyVee: Hy-Vee Club Room, 108 8th St., SW, Altoona, IA 50009
    Every Monday morning: 8:00 AM – 10:30 AM
    Marti’s Monday Morning Coffee at Grounds for Celebration, 2645 Beaver Ave, Des Moines, IA 50310
    Saturday, February 4: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Sen. Boulton and Rep. Olson at Pleasant Hill Public Library, 515 Maple Dr., Pleasant Hill, IA 50327
    Saturday, February 4: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
    Legislative Coffee with Sen. Hart at the DeWitt Community Center, Small Room, 512 10th Street, Dewitt
    Saturday, February 4: 9:30 AM
    Dubuque Federation of Labor “Cracker Barrel” Legislative Forum at Diamond Joe Casino, 301 Bell Street
    Saturday, February 4: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Salmon at Dunkerton City Library, 203 E. Tower St., Dunkerton, IA 50626
    Saturday, February 4: 10:30 – 11:30 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Deyoe at the Public Library, 1202 10th St., Eldora, IA 50627
    Thursday, February 2: 7:00 PM
    Listening post with Senator Hogg at Johnson’s Restaurant, 916 High St., NE, Elkader, IA 52043
    Saturday, February 4: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Baudler at Opera House, 154 Public Square, Greenfield, IA 50849
    Saturday, February 4: 9 a.m.
    Legislative Forum with Grinnell Area Legislators at First Presbyterian Church, 1025 5th Ave, Grinnell
    Saturday, February 4: 8:00 – 9:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Baudler at Farm Bureau Meeting Room, 203 N. 4th St., Guthrie Center, IA 50115
    Saturday, February 4: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Sen. Garrett at Warren County Administrative Building, 301 N. Buxton, Indianola, IA 50125
  • LEON
    Friday, February 3, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
    Legislative forum with Senator Amy Sinclair and Rep. Joel Fry at Leon Community Center, 203 Northeast 2nd Street, Leon, IA
    Friday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
    Legislative forum with Sen. Zumbach and Rep. Hein at Farm Bureau, 115 East Delaware Street, Manchester, IA
    Saturday, February 4: 9:00 – 10:30 AM
    Legislative forum with Sen. Dvorsky, Rep. Kerr, and Rep. Carlson at Muscatine Community College, 154 Colorado St, Muscatine, IA 52761
    Saturday, February 4: 8:00 – 9:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Wills at Ocheyedan Senior Center, 845 Main St., Ocheydean, IA 51354
    Saturday, February 4: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
    Legislative forum at Onawa Public Library, 707 Iowa Ave., Onawa, IA 51040
    Friday, February 3, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
    Legislative forum with Senator Amy Sinclair and Rep. Joel Fry at Lakeside Casino, 777 Casino Drive, Osceola, IA
    Saturday, February 4: 9:30 – 10:30 AM
    Legislative forum with Sen. Chelgren, Sen. Rozenboom, Rep. Gaskill, and Rep. Sheets at Bridgeview Center, 102 Church St., Ottumwa, IA 52501
    Saturday, February 4: 8:00 – 9:30 AM
    Legislative coffee with Rep. Breckenridge at Prairie City Library, 100 E. 5th St., Prairie City, IA 50228
    Saturday, February 4: 8:00 – 10:00 AM
    Eggs and Issues with Sen. Johnson and Rep. Wills at Forster Community Center, 404 Main St., Rock Rapids, IA 51246
    Saturday, February 4: 1:00 – 2:00 PM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Deyoe (Chair of House Labor Committee) at Chamber of Commerce, 524 Broad St., Story City, IA 50248
    Saturday, Feb 4: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
    Legislative forum with Rep. Kerr at Wapello Corner Market, 340 N. 2nd St., Wapello, IA 52653
    Friday, February 3: 8:00 – 9:00 AM
    Legislative forum with Sen. Kinney, Rep. Maxwell, and Rep. Klein at City Hall, Community Room, 308 S. Barnes St., What Cheer, IA 50268

Didn’t find yours?   Click here to find ALL upcoming legislative forums by zip code.

The Saga In Muscatine Continues

After months of hearsay, Muscatine City Council plans to proceed with its rumored threat to remove Mayor Diana Broderson from office on yet to be revealed charges at the Thursday City Council meeting.

The Mayor has not received the substance of those charges as yet, and first learned of the charges when Thursday’s city council agenda was publicly posted on the City of Muscatine’s website.

Over the summer, the council passed an ordinance that stripped the Mayor of her appointment powers (read about that here:

While state code permits city councils the right to establish appointment duties for most city board and commissions, the Mayor questioned the legality of removing the mayor’s power to do so for the Civil Service Commission – the body that ultimately decides the eligibility of individuals to serve as Police and Fire Chief. Section 400 of the Iowa State Code details the rules governing Boards and Commission, and Section 400.1 relates to the appointment of civil service commissioners. Because the language seemed to indicate that this is a power granted only to the Mayor, Senator Taylor was asked to make an inquiry with the Iowa Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. See their response, issue in October, here:

The AG’s office’s response, “…no, there is no authority for city officials of a city having a population of eight thousand or over and having a pad fire department or a pad police department to diverge from the requirement of section 400.1,” seemed to substantiate the Mayor’s suspicions, so the Mayor forwarded the letter to the Muscatine County Attorney’s office requesting it take action to declare that part of the ordinance invalid.

But in December the County Attorney responded, declining to proceed with any sort of prosecution against city council the attorney or city attorney. See the letter here

Which takes us to the present moment, one month later, when the council will remove the mayor from office. This requires a 2/3 vote of the council, and given past vote counts in this ongoing saga between the mayor and council, the city manager has the votes he needs to get this accomplished. But at what cost? Across the nation, we are experience a cynicism when it comes to government that is a direct threat to the very institutions of democracy itself. Removing a mayor from office is an extreme act usually reserved for only the most egregious of offenses, felony crimes or other criminal behavior.

At this point, such a move seems politically motivated, and plays into the cynicism the public feels toward government. It is a sad day indeed.


Alan R. Ostergren County Attorney
420 E. Third Street Muscatine, Iowa 52761-4104
Phone: (563) 263-0382 Fax: (563) 263-4944

Assistant County Attorneys: Korie L. Shippee Oubonh P. White Dan Williamson Joan Black

December 21, 2016

Hon. Diana Broderson Mayor, City of Muscatine
via email to:

Dear Mayor Broderson:

This letter will be a follow-up to our conversation last week concerning the potential for criminal charges due to a recent amendment to City of Muscatine ordinances implementing provisions of Iowa Code Chapter 400. I have reviewed the letter you provided me from the Iowa Attorney General’s office to a state senator dated October 13, 2016. I have also examined the relevant changes to the ordinance.

Iowa Code § 400.30 provides:

The provisions of this chapter shall be strictly carried out by each person or body having powers or duties thereunder, and any act or failure to act tending to avoid or defeat the purposes of such provisions is hereby prohibited and shall be a simple misdemeanor.

There are no Iowa court cases which have construed this provision. It is not drafted in the normal manner for a criminal statute. It is difficult to determine the scope of the law and it would appear to be potentially applied to a vast range of conduct – particularly in criminalizing the failure to act and using the phrase “tending to avoid or defeat.” I have serious concerns as to whether it would be possible to prosecute anyone for a violation of this law because of the vague and broad way it is drafted.

I should also point out that the purpose of Chapter 400 is to protect municipal employees, not the mayor. An employee who has discipline upheld by an improperly-constituted commission might have a basis to challenge the action due to the change in the appointment process. This does not mean that the change would constitute a crime.

The attorney general’s letter does not undermine this view. The letter refers to the criminal law provision in section 400.30 to support its statutory analysis. I think this reference is appropriate, but it is not the same as a conclusion that a prosecution under these circumstances would be feasible. The letter simply notes the existence of the criminal provision as evidence that a court would likely view the remaining provisions of Chapter 400 in a strict and literal manner. It should also be noted that the letter is dated several months after the city council voted on the amendments to the ordinance.

I therefore find that there is no basis to proceed with any sort of criminal prosecution against city council members, the city attorney, or the city administrator.

Very truly yours,
Alan R. Ostergren
Muscatine County Attorney

Iowa Democrats Include Climate Mobilization Language In Party Platform

Listen live Mondays at 11 am

When I spoke at the Rockefeller Fund Conference on Pipelines and Eminent Domain last week, I emphasized that if we’re going to argue against the abuse of eminent domain for a pipeline, we truly have to get to know the landowners and tribes who sit in a pipeline company’s crosshairs. (Read the full text of my speech here.)

I also spoke about how in Iowa we are down to the wire in our fight against the Bakken Pipeline. Over 400 people have signed the Pledge of Resistance, and I encouraged attendees at the conference (and I encourage you!) to read the Pledge, consider signing it, and share it with others.

Looking beyond this pipeline battle, I reminded people that Donald Trump’s stand on eminent domain could hurt him badly in the general election. I believe Trump can be beat on eminent domain in swing states like Iowa. And I believe this battle against the abuse of eminent domain is a fight that is at the very heart of our identity as Americans. This is about freedom. This is about liberty. This is about people’s right to happiness and prosperity through the responsible use of their land and property, without fear of some big, powerful corporation, working hand-in-hand with corrupt government officials, taking what is not theirs simply to satisfy their lust for money and power.

On that argument, Trump can be beat. And oh, while in Atlanta, our crew of fearless pipeline fighters paid Mr. Trump a visit, and our action was covered by . . . um . . . Alex Jones. See what you think, and forgive me for being distracted by the guy with the “F*** Trump” t-shirt.

Closer to home, major kudos to April Burch for convincing delegates at the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) convention to include The Climate Mobilization‘s language in the Party Platform. In her speech in favor of changing the IDP platform plank from “We support Renewable Energy Standard Requirements (40% by 2020; 50% by 2030; 100% by 2050)” to “We support Renewable Energy Standard requirements of 100% by 2025,” April said:

“While it appears that the majority of Iowa democrats support the idea of reducing carbon emissions to 350 parts per million (ppm) alongside Bill McKibben of, we cannot and will not even approach scaling back to 350 ppm in our lifetimes unless we immediately fight for the most aggressive climate change measures imaginable.

“This requires the Iowa Democratic Party to send the strongest message possible that we are serious about averting the climate crisis. The Climate Mobilization pledge to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2025 allows us to soundly reject new fossil fuel infrastructure projects like the Bakken Pipeline as well as the horrors of bomb trains, catastrophic oil spills, and fracking.

“Please vote to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2025 for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

The change passed on a voice vote! Way to go, April!

Listen to the Fallon Forum:
– Live Mondays, 11:00-12:00 noon CT on La Reina KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines, IA)
– Outside of central Iowa, listen live here: FALLON FORUM LIVE-STREAM
KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames, IA)
– KICI.LP 105.3 FM (Iowa City, IA)
WHIV 102.3 FM (New Orleans, LA)
KPIP-LP, 94.7 FM (Fayette, MO)


Ed Fallon

Take Back Muscatine To Picket City Council Over Proposed Code Changes

Muscatine bridgeTake Muscatine Back to hold informational picket before city council meeting

June 20, 2016, Muscatine, IA – Take Back Muscatine, local citizens group, will hold an informational picket at 6PM before the June 23rd, 2016 Muscatine City Council meeting to demonstrate their concerns over proposed code changes that would strip the Mayor of appointment powers for city commissions as well as the fire and police chief (see current city code 1-11-2).

Informational Picket
Thursday, June 23 at 6PM
Muscatine City Hall 215 Sycamore St.

On June 23rd, the Muscatine City Council will hear a proposal for the city council to strip the Mayor of her ability to appoint anyone to boards and commissions as well as remove her power to appoint the city fire and police chief, with council approval.

Since the Mayor has taken office, many of her commission appointment have been denied by the council. As well, her request that the council open its meetings with an invocation delivered by the diverse faith and secular communities in Muscatine was also voted down by the council.

We at Take Muscatine Back see the council’s actions as not in the spirit of good government, based on shared powers, checks and balances. We ask that the residents of Muscatine who wish to have a continued voice in their government, as well as checks and balances, to come to the next city council meeting on June 23rd at 7pm. We will hold an informational picket in front of City Hall starting at 6PM.

If you are unable to make it, please call your councilman and ask them what is the reason for stripping the mayor of power, when just last year, they already updated the city charter. If the mayor’s appointment powers were not an issue then, why is it an issue now? We feel that the city council’s actions have nothing to do with good governance, but only with isolating a democratically elected mayor with whom they do not agree.

Under our Manager-Council form of government, the Mayor has traditionally had limited the power to name the fire department chief and police chief, and to make appointments to boards and commissions, with council approval, and preside at council meetings or break a tie (rare in a city with an odd number of council members).

We have not seen the proposed changes, as they will be shared at Thursday’s Special Session. But, we are also concerned that the public won’t be given ample opportunity to scrutinize the proposed changes before the council moves into a closed session to possibly vote on this matter (see agenda below).

The public, so far, is being left in the dark about why these changes are needed after more than 100 years of our charter. We ask the good people of Muscatine to join us on Thursday to seek answers.



1. Call to Order/Roll Call
2. Review and Discussion of City Attorney’s Opinion on Proposed Amendments to City Code
3. City Attorney Update
4. Request to enter Closed Session per Iowa Code 21.5.1.c to discuss strategy with Counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation
5. Request to enter Closed Session per Iowa Code 21.5.1.c to discuss strategy with Counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation
7. Adjournment


Take Muscatine Back

When Diana Broderson decided last year to run for Mayor Muscatine, she thought that her many years in the community and working in family programs at the YMCA would bring a unique perspective to the city, one mainly focused on reducing poverty and on creating a family-focused community. As it turned out, the majority of voters agreed. Mayor Broderson won by eight points over the incumbent mayor, garnering more votes than anyone else on the ballot in the City.

But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. While the special charter form of government had reduced the powers of the mayor considerably, assigning most matters to the city administrator and council members, the mayor still does have the power to make appointments to commissions and to the city fire and police chief, with council approval, as well as preside over meetings, and to veto.

And since assuming office, Mayor Broderson has attempted to use those limited powers to make the city more inclusive. She proposed to have an invocation delivered at the start of the city council meetings, to be delivered by a member of the faith or secular community. It was her way to invite the public into the council chambers every week, rotating among different faith communities and secular voices so both the council could better know the diversity of the city, as well as so community leaders could participate in government. This proposal did not pass.
She then nominated a few people to serve on city commissions. It was her desire to bring new voices to the table, get better diversity among commission members. In no way could any of her commission appointments change the power dynamic on these commissions as he or she would be one vote among 4-5 others. However, the new commissioner would bring a different perspective and enrich the conversation.

Regardless of the Mayor’s intention, the city council has killed most of the mayor’s appointments saying they people were unqualified or that their association with striking workers somehow was not good. They accused her of appointing only Democrats or union members (not true). One council member suggested that a woman the mayor recommended for Power and Water would be better suited to Library Board or the Art Center. They accused the Mayor of being partisan in a “non partisan arena” and that she will earn respect if she “stop playing politics”. They made their recommendations for whom they thought were better suited, a CFO for instance.

In the six months since elected office, Mayor Broderson has only been able to get two council appointments approved by council.

I decided to do my own analysis of the composition of the commissions to see if indeed they are imbalanced. I make no promise my findings are completely accurate, but even if they are only ballpark, what I found is very imbalanced Below is a list of the commissioners’ names. I looked up their party identification, union status, and gender. I asked people in the community about the racial demographic to get a sense of that, important especially given that Muscatine has a large and growing Latino population (around 12%).

These are my rudimentary initial findings:
86 Commissioners total
28 are women (with 6 of those serving on multiple commissions); 58 are men, none are Latino or African American (if this is wrong, my apologies, please correct the record),40 are Republicans, 19 are Democrats, 19 are independents, and 4, I could not find data.

Age was more difficult to establish, though it is safe to say that few are younger than 35 years of age
It is clear that the Mayor’s intention to diversify the commissions would be long overdue. It would also appear that despite the council’s accusation that the mayor is acting in a partisan manner, the overwhelming representation of Republicans on commissions (in a city that is pretty evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and Independents) demonstrates that this accusation is more appropriately made at the past council and mayor.

Ultimately, the council would not stand for any attempt to democratize the city, so at their last meeting they voted to ask the city attoney to draft language that would strip the mayor of her remaining powers to make appointments.

They council is going to consider the code changes at this Thursday’s meeting (see press release below). The community group, Take Muscatine Back, is organizing an information picket beofe the meeting to call attendtion to the proposed code changes.

If you are available, please show your support for the Mayor. It’s not just the citizens group who noticed the apparent obstructionism of the council. The Muscatine Journal itself ran the following editorial cartoon. It’s really funny, and not funny at all.

City of Muscatine Council and Commissioners

City Council and Mayor
Broderson – Democrat
Fitzgerald – Democrat
Rehwaldt – Republican
Spread – Republican
Bynum – Republican
Harvey – Republican
Natvig – Republican
Saucedo – Independent

Civil Service Commission
Dan Olson – Republican
Christina Kelly – Independent
Brandy Olson – Independent, but she voted in the 2014 Republican primary. She is also staff attorney for Muscatine Power and Water – I view that as a conflict of interest for her to be both counsel and commissioner.

Planning and Zoning Commission
Larry Wolf – Republican
John Sayles – Republican
Jodi Hansen – Democrat
Rochelle Conway – Democrat
3 vacancies

Muscatine Power and Water Board:
Steven Bradford – Republican, General Counsel of HNI
Susan Eversmeyer – Republican Co-owner, river rehabilitation.
Warren Heidbreder – Republican
Tracy McGinnis – Republican, VP Retail Banking, Central State Bank
Doyle Tubandt – Republican, President Kent Corporation

Airport Advisory Commission
Bill Leddy – Independent
Jerry Page – unregistered
Scott Natvig – Republican
Stacy Lewis – Republican
Steven Bradford – Republican

Electrical Licensing Advisory Board
Cliff Lanfier – unregistered
Steve Lemke – no data
Nick Nietzel – Republican
Tim Reed – unregistered
Joseph Hagerty – Republican

Art Center Board of Trustees
Kelly Rushford – Independent
Susan Freers – Republican
Rochele Conway – Democrat
Jon Moravec – Republican
Brian Wright – Democrat
Clair Penner – Democrat
Mary Shihadeh – Democrat
Melissa Snydacker – Democrat
James Burr – Independent

Historic Preservation Commission
Mark LaRette – Republican
Kyleigh Johnson – Democrat
Michael Maharry – Democrat
Paul Carroll – Republican
Rochelle Conway – Democrat (service on 3 boards)

Housing Advisory and Appeals Board
Alan Rusher – unregistered
Ed Hogan – Independent
Sam Curry – Democrat
Kyle Eller – Republican
Mike Allenbaugh – Republican

Administrative Review Panel
Nancy Lueck – Republican
Brett Talkington – Independent
Tina Boldt – Republican

Library Board of Trustees
Jane Daufeldt – Republican
Jon Moravec – Republican
Krista Regennitter – Democrat
Diana Gradert – Republican
Nancy Dew – Independent
Bret Olson – Independent
Travis Sheets – Republican
Peggy Gordon – Independent
Dr. Jarod Johnson – Independent

New Construction Appeal and Advisory
Rich Jones – Staff
Jim Noble Jr – Republican
Tom Bankhead – Democrat

Plumbers board of examiners
Joseph Hagerty – Republican
Phil Fitzerald – Democrat
Tim Kelly – unregistered
Ken Rogers – staff
Rich Jones – staff

Recreation Advisory Commission
Kim Warren – Democrat
Tim Riley – no data
Dana Kraft – Democrat
Greg Harper- Republican
Janell Kassel – Independent
Al Wagner-Democrat
Bradley Bark – Independent

Transportation Advisory Commission
Tom Curry – Independent
Pat Hagens- Republican
Tricia Honeyman- No data
Therese Finney – Independent
Kathy Moore – Independent

Water, Electric & Communication Trustees
Tracy McGinnis – Republican
Susan Eversmeyer – Republican
Warren Heidbreder – Republican
Doyle Tubandt – Republican
Steve Bradford – Republican

Zoning Board of Adjustment
Larry Wolf – Republican
Rochelle Conway – Democrat
Jodi Hansen – Democrat
Seth Munier – Independent

Convention and Visitors Board
Peg Heither – Republican
Greg Jenkins – Republican
Tina Boldt – Republican
Robert Bahn – Republican
Beth Johnson – Independent
Tony Lonconsole – no data
Mary Wildermuth – Republican

iowa afl-cio

Women’s Global Leadership Program – Part 2

womens global leadership programWomen’s Global Leadership Program – Part 2  – Click here to read Part 1

In March, I had the privilege to participate in the first-ever AFLCIO Women’s Global Leadership Program alongside nearly fifty other women from a broad spectrum of trade unions across the US. It was an eye opening and inspiring experience that few know takes place each year. The program I participated in ran parallel to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and participants in both events were able to join together in side panel discussions about issues relating to women’s empowerment, economic status, exploitation, access to potable water and medical care, and human trafficking. This article examines the Economic Status of Women.

No Such Thing as “Gender Neutral”

The UNCSW side panels also examined supposedly gender neutral monetary policies imposed by the IMF and WTO for disproportionately hurting women. In exchange for credit or bailouts the World Bank and other lenders exact “austerity” programs that cut vital programs like health care, welfare benefits, child care credits, and education – programs that women rely on for survival. While deregulation and lowered taxes starve government of funds for public services like public transportation and education that harm the entire population, many women are employed by these sectors. As they are cut, women also lose a source of decent work.

This scenario is not only being imposed on developing nations; it has also become the mainstay of public policy in the US, touted by both Democrat and Republican parties. We have seen draconian education cuts in Chicago shuttering schools in mainly black communities. College grants are simply unavailable or are so precarious that universities no longer offer them for incoming students. Nutrition programs are also being cut for younger children which lessens their ability to do well even in the K-12 system. Many cities have privatized their public transportation and established private charter schools, further diminishing good job opportunities for women workers and services as profits are exacted by the contractor middlemen which have replaced the unionized workforce. You can’t read your morning paper without one or another story on budget cuts.

Just this morning, my local paper reported that the county would cut jobs resulting in the end of six programs, including one that monitors lead levels in children’s blood and another program that provides breast and cervical cancer screening for poor women. This despite the widespread knowledge that early screening not only is better for overall health outcomes it is also a way for the state to avoid expensive delayed treatments.

Unfortunately, these kinds of arguments do little to dissuade the proponents of the neoliberal consensus and austerity in the US. Neoliberal models are based on the myth that there simply is not enough resources in the world, therefore some must do with less. In reality, they have created a level of global inequality that no previous king, czar, emperor, or industrialist has ever accomplished. Voltaire, who had said, “The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor,” would be amazed at how universally accepted the once ironic dictum has become.

The Informal Economy

Another significant barrier to the advancement of women, however, is women’s unpaid work. When we think about work, typically it is work outside the home, with the traditional boss-employee relationship that involves clocking in and out of each shift, and then getting a paycheck with taxes and other deductions taken out at the end of the week. Unpaid work, “labor that is done without direct form of compensation – includes child and elder are and household tasks, anything from cleaning and cooking to gathering basic resources like firewood and water” is dominated by women around the globe, and is not recognized as work in a neoliberal system.

Cultural norms prevail, regardless if you’re in Europe, Asia, the Americas or Africa, that dictate that mothers are primarily responsible for unpaid work like child care. Women do the cooking and cleaning, the running of errands, and care for the elders. There are exceptions of course, but because this has been seen as normal for so long, we ignore the implications of such a system. These gender norms still prevail even as more women, out of necessity or by choice, work outside the home in addition to the unpaid work in the home. The AFLCIO report points out the effects this has on women’s economic opportunities:

“The heavy and disproportionate burden of unpaid work inhibits women’s literal and figurative mobility, forecloses opportunities and reflects a deeply entrenched structural advantage enjoyed by men that transcends cultures. When women spend more hours on unpaid work, they necessarily have less time and flexibility available for market work education or leisure activities.”

Because this work is not acknowledged in the home, when it gets done by women outside the home and for others outside the family, it is devalued and remains among the lowest paid professions. Careers like nursing assistants, domestic workers like housekeepers and nannies, and home health care workers remain low-wage with very little benefits or protections. In fact, most domestic work was excluded when the National Labor Relations Act was passed and it has very little of the job protections most of us take for granted like minimum wage and overtime pay.

Despite what we all know and see to be true about the importance of unpaid work, countries do not measure or account for this in things like GDP. So for instance, even though women and girls collect water needed for nearly ¾ of households in sub-Saharan Africa, this essential task is ignored by economists as having any economic impact. It’s ridiculous when you think of it.

To undo thousands of years of cultural assumptions is no easy task. But it is possible if we first recognize unpaid work as work, then begin to measure its value in economic models and establish policies to alleviate the burden it puts on women. One way this cultural is changing is in Norway where new parents are entitled to a total of nine months paid leave, “three that can be taken by both parents together, three for each parent that are nontransferable, thus incentivizing greater parental responsibility for early child care.” Such policies have the ability to transform perceptions about what we have historically considered “women’s work”, so that women have access to greater economic fulfillment while men also get to break cultural norms and actually partake more fully in the work – and joys – of nurturing children.

Women as Labor Leaders

Another topic of discussion was the need to expand women’s participation in organized labor. Already the labor movement recognizes that the only place a woman is guaranteed equal pay for equal work is in her union. Women who are not union members earn 30% less than their union counterparts. But as unions lose power in the US, largely caused by Republican attacks against unions across the country, this outlet for women to achieve equality is diminishing in the US.

Women now comprise 44% of the US workforce, however very few women have access to union jobs outside the public sector since the service sector has proven difficult to organize under US labor law. Expanding access to collective bargaining to domestic workers, service sector workers, and other professions dominated by women is crucial to turning around this trend and increasing women’s economic and political power.

Still, even where there are unions, women remain woefully underrepresented in union leadership, occupying just 20% of top leadership positions. This not only limits the input women can have in bargaining, it also excludes issues important to women from union’s legislative priorities. Women’s leadership in unions is critical to promoting issues like raising the minimum wage, increasing access to affordable child care, and expanding access to paid medical leave.

Dangers of Co-Option

Each year, the UNCSW establishes Sustainable Development Goals on broad issues like ending violence against women or more efforts to fight human trafficking. These goals are indeed important, but they are just one part of the larger struggle for women’s equality, especially the need to support global labor unions in their efforts to organize women workers so they have a strong bargaining position against the global corporations.

Governments are known to thump their chest and exaggerate their achievements on Sustainable Development Goals, so it is the task of the women coming to the UNCSW to hold those governments accountable in holding up those commitments, even if they sometimes have to shame them to do so. UN ambassadors won’t speak about how women in their countries who have migrated from villages to work in the city factories have to sleep in shifts as they share their bed with other workers. During UN General Assembly, you won’t hear the plight of many of the women without access to shelter due to costs or unavailability who have to sleep in the streets and are more at risk of being raped. But at the side panels, the women who have traveled across the globe at great expense do talk about how women must bear their children with no fathers and who then wander the streets unattended as their mothers must continue to work in the factories.

Ambassadors are also unlikely to share the testimony of a person like Kalpona Akter, a Bangladeshi garment worker and union organizer who was only twelve years old when she went to work in the factory after her father had died. Working in grueling conditions, Kalpoona reported she earned as little as $6 a month for working as much as 450 hours. By the time she was a young adult she had enough. When the company refused the workers their overtime pay started to organize with her fellow workers and they went on strike. The company responded by locking up some of the strikers in a room at the factory. Not even the government, but the company owners kept them prisoner. Finally, they fired her.

Yet Kalpona won’t be diminished. She says the company made a mistake. She went from being an organizer in a plant with 1000 workers to being organizer of millions of workers across her country by founding the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. Since 80% of members of Bangladesh’s Parliament, are themselves profiting from the garment industry, it is unlikely they will be leaders to labor reforms, which is why it is so important that voices like Kalpona’s get the recognition and amplification at the UN Side Panels.

The grassroots networks at the UN Side Panels also issue “Shadow” reports that delve deeper than the government reports. Many of these shadow reports become the basis for the discussions at the side panels. The buildings where they take place are much less well-kept than the UN itself, with old drafty windows, crowded slow elevators, and sad potted plants. There is not coffee or snack for attendees. In fact, there are not even enough chairs in the rooms for the many people who come from all over the world to participate. The overflow crowd sits on the floor along the sides and back of the rooms. The most popular panels have people snaking out the doorway stretching their heads around the corner and above the crowd to try to see the speakers deliver their reports.

Some of the women who come here must fundraise throughout the year to afford the trip. Despite the many obstacles, women still come because this is the largest single event in the world where their concerns are the primary focus. And some of the women have expressed that they are worried that this, the largest meeting of women in the world, where they come and interact and build power and raise awareness, is under threat of being co-opted by neoliberal consensus that is overtaking the UN itself. This year’s UNCSW marked the inaugural meeting of the first-ever “High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment” co-chaired by the CEO IKEA Switzerland and Costa Rican President Luis Solis. It is composed of leaders from the IMF, World Bank, UN Women, other government and NGO leaders, and one token representative from the International Labor Organization.

The worry is that such a panel will further diminish the role of organized labor as a means for empowering women, instead focusing on neoliberal investment models.

While any additional concern for women’s empowerment is good, the fear is that the panel will place more efforts on business-centered efforts to create more women entrepreneurs, ignoring the direct immediate impact that strengthening women’s union organizing effect would have on working class women. “Imagine the potential economic impact it would have if the millions of potential female entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders, who are right now being airbrushed out of the picture, had the opportunity to choose their own path?” gushed Justine Greening, British MP and Conservative Party member who was appointed to the panel. No doubt we celebrate women owned businesses, however, if they operate under traditional neoliberal economic models, how will this have benefited the majority of women impoverished by such systems?

While we talk about inequality, inequality gets worse
Recent history has made it abundantly clear that economic growth at any costs is devastating to women as well as the environment. The neoliberal consensus for development as being the solution to all the world’s woes is an abject failure. If we are ever to truly empower women, to start, we need to stop governments and corporations from interfering in our rights as workers, our rights as trade unionists, and our rights to collectively bargain. Instead, we continue to witness increasing impediments to organizing, all over the world.

Women don’t need another microloan. They need full rights as workers. Both in the US an abroad. None of us can properly engage in bargaining unless we understand how the supply chain works. If we do not have a new analysis of the intersectionality of gender, race and corporate power dynamics, then we cannot build effective strategies.

If the Women’s Global Leadership Program is something your union or organization would like to participate in next year, please contact the AFLCIO to learn more, and please contact your own union’s international leadership to encourage that the first year of this program isn’t its only year.

The report makes the following recommendations for achieving sustainable economic empowerment for women workers further detailed here:

 – Fully implement international frameworks regarding gender and economic and social rights
– Design macroeconomic policy to mobilize the maximum possible level of resources to realize women’s      economic rights and to reduce gender inequality
– Invest in physical and social infrastructure, particularly women’s human capital
– Reform trade and development policy to emphasize long-term growth and accountable business practices
– Address structural barriers to decent work and equal participation in the labor market
– Protect worker and community organizing


Women’s Global Leadership Program

womens global leadership programWomen’s Global Leadership Program – Part 1

In March, I had the privilege to participate in the first-ever AFLCIO Women’s Global Leadership Program alongside nearly fifty other women from a broad spectrum of trade unions across the US. It was an eye opening and inspiring experience that few know takes place each year. The program I participated in ran parallel to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and participants in both events were able to join together in side panel discussions about issues relating to women’s empowerment, economic status, exploitation, access to potable water and medical care, and human trafficking. The following article examines the Economic Status of Women.

Every year in March, global leaders and their ambassadors along with 3rd World village women converge on New York City to participate in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. And despite the fact that few know this takes place, March 2016 was its 60th year.

Many of the official meetings take place on the UN Campus, which is dominated by a gigantic skyscraper, towering above the food trucks and polluted East River, inching toward the clouds and skirted by the ubiquitous array of the flags of the world that only fly when the UN is in session. Inside, where you need a special badge to gain access, diplomats and agency heads discuss their version of our truth.

But on those days when the flag poles stand bare, women from non-governmental agencies continue to meet across the street at the UN Church Building and other less-stunning locations to provide another side of the story of the status of women. And this year, for the first time, the AFLCIO hosted a Women’s Global Leadership Program to run parallel with the UNCSW, bringing together fifty women from unions in the US to participate in side panels and discussions about the conditions for women workers. Outside the steel UN security gates, watched by cameras and guards brandishing military grade weaponry, we women gathered to tell our own story. And it is far more intricate than any spreadsheet could convey.

Often, US workers will tout a sort-of Monroe Doctrine in economics with “Buy American” themes as an answer to our economic woes. Trump is succeeding quite well among US workers hit hard by the economy by vilifying China and Mexico for “taking our jobs away.” However, by ignoring the mechanics of the global supply chain and by lacking global worker solidarity, we remain disempowered to improve working conditions around the globe as well as fail to stop the deteriorating conditions for US workers.

The Global Leadership Program focused on how to understand the intersectionality of worker rights along the global supply chain, how our organizations work with international labor groups to counteract the detrimental impacts of globalization.

While AFLCIO unions exist in the US to represent the interests of US workers, and the International Trade Union Confederation similarly represents trade unionists globally, the International Labor Organization brings together governments, employers and workers to set global labor standards. The ILO emerged after the horrors of World War I based on the premise that a lasting peace can only be achieved if it is based on economic justice. The ILO has established the following as its fundamental labor rights:

– No Child Labor
– No Discrimination
– No Forced Labor
– Freedom of Association
– Collective Bargaining Rights

Unfortunately, the US has only ratified two of these ILO rights, the provisions against child labor and forced labor. While the US Congress has established laws like the National Labor Relations Act to provide for labor protections, the fact that the US has not ratified the other ILO Conventions means it has not promised the world that it wouldn’t take these away – with the exception of slavery and child labor.

In addition to the fundamental rights, the ILO has also established four Governance Conventions, of which the US has only ratified one; 177 Technical Conventions, of which the US has only ratified 11. In comparison, the nation of Uganda has ratified all of the fundamental conventions, and three out of the four governance conventions. Uganda joins countries like Turkey, Tunisia, Argentina, and dozens of others that have ratified more labor rights than the US. In comparison, the US is more similar to Afghanistan in the labor rights it has ratified and pledged to guarantee to its citizens.

Transforming Women’s Work

In conjunction with the UNCSW, the AFLCIO, working with the Solidarity Center and Rutgers University Center for Women’s Global Leadership, also released a report in March, “Transforming Women’s Work.” Although the report acknowledges the strides women have made over the past thirty years in gender equality, it exposes how the neoliberal consensus for economic development causes harm to women.

Neoliberal Trade policies, like NAFTA, GATT, CAFTA, the Permanent National Trade Policy with China, KORUS, and now the TPP and TIPP currently under consideration, are built on gender inequality and further tilt power away from workers in their focus on increasing profits and productivity (GDP) above all other concerns.

The agreements make it easier for foreign-based corporations and hedge funds to invest in low-wage countries while doing little to nothing to establish safety standards, job protections, decent wages and benefits, or address environmental protections. While “women are good for economic growth,” said a representative from Action Aid, “economic growth is not always good for women.”

Women in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam who had previously lived in extreme poverty with few wage earning opportunities are moving into paid work in factories making clothing for Western consumption. But because of the absence of a labor movement or other wage guarantees or safe working protections, the AFLCIO report found that “a recent analysis of apparel-exporting countries found wages for garment workers fell in real terms between 2001 and 2011.”

One of the most well-known examples of how trade policies harm women specifically is the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, when a nine-story garment factory making clothing for Benetton, Walmart, JC Penny, The Children’s Place, and other western retailers collapsed killing 1,134 and injuring thousands more. Many of the dead bodies remain missing, unable to be unearthed from the debris. The dead were from the ranks of the 4 million who work in Bangladeshi apparel industry, 80% of whom are women.

After the disaster, due to international pressure, the minimum wage was raised from $38 per month to $68. Additionally, minimal safety measures and building inspections and remediation were implemented by three international watchdog groups, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and one National Tripartite Plan for Fire a Structural Integrity. But two of the agreements to allow inspection will expire in 2018, while thousands of factories have yet to be inspected.

As the Rana Plaza disaster recedes deeper into the past the world will lose focus on industry practices there, and in the absence of a robust labor movement or trade policies that protect workers all along the supply chain, it will only be a matter of time before another tragedy occurs.

Despite the international outrage and mourning, the deaths of thousands of women in Rana Plaza did little to damage the garment industry in Bangladesh. Clothing exports jumped 16 percent, to $23.9 billion, in the year following Rana Plaza, and are now at $30 billion and expected to grow.

The worker organizers at UNCSW reminded western women that though we may be inclined to simply boycott clothing made in their countries, the women in Bangladesh and Vietnam want and need the work, just as western women do, as paid work can help ease their poverty. Rather, they point out, we need to change the terms by which women in the 3rd World are brought into the economy and actively participate with campaigns that work with governments, trade unions, buyers, brands, and stores in our home countries, especially those affiliated with the International Labor Organization.

Next: Part 2 – No Such Thing As Gender Neutral

Quad Cities Coalition for Worker Justice Holds Rally at Brandt Construction

workersBrandt Construction asks NLRB to postpone hearing while company owner vacations in Italy

Dakota Upshaw has been on strike against Milan, Illinois-based Brandt Construction Company since last July. He had been working for Brandt’s subcontractor Hybrand in Muscatine for a few years and finally decided that he had to speak out about the dangerous conditions he and his coworkers were facing.

Upshaw said he saw multiple incidents where the company’s refusal to follow safety measures resulted in worker injuries, including one who suffered a compound fracture when his harness got caught on a leer of a skid loader.
Brandt also did not provide water for workers on hot summer days, according to Upshaw, and workers were forced to work during lightening storms. Other allegations include not providing safety harnesses for workers who were working on rooftops more than 30 feet high, not paying into workers’ retirement plans, and terminating an unlicensed driver who refused to drive illegally when ordered so by the foreman. The mistreatment went even so far as verbal and physical abuse from the foremen, according to statements by Upshaw and other striking workers.

The workers have repeatedly asked to meet with company officials to discuss dangerous conditions, low wages, and lack of affordable health insurance, but so far, Brandt Construction Company owner, Terry Brandt, has refused to sit down with the workers or with members of the clergy to discuss their concerns. Instead, Brandt Construction has terminated all the striking workers.

Dakota Upshaw, along with other striking workers, filed a complaint against Brandt Construction with the National Labor Relations Board for wrongful termination, and the NLRB agrees that there is enough evidence to hold a hearing on the charges.

However, months into the strike, Upshaw and other striking workers will have to wait a little longer to have their day in court. Terry Brandt’s lawyer has filed a motion for extension of hearing date because, according to the filed motion, “Terrence Brandt is leaving on vacation on May 19, 2016, to Milan, Italy and then on to Rome, Italy and will be back in the office on Monday Jun 6, 2016.”

So while justice is delayed for these workers, the company owner gets to go on a summer excursion overseas.
Workers had been bringing their concerns to city councils that take bids from Brandt Construction, including Colona, Rock Island, Muscatine, Davenport, Galesburg, and others. Their message is clear: do not use taxpayers money to hire contractors who put workers’ lives at risk.

They also held another rally on Wednesday, March 30th to call attention to their cause and to once again ask Terry, “Will you meet with us?”

Tracy Leone: 309-738-3196
Organizer – Iowa Federation of Labor

My Last And Only Trump Blog

not trumpWatching Trump on the Stump last Saturday at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, was a bit, shall I say, boring? I attended the event intending to get video footage of Trump or his supporters and was expecting to be bowled over by the rabid bigotry among the crowd. But it wasn’t like that. It was more like a bad television production of a right-wing populist political rally.

The tickets were free, but you had to go online, give your name and email address to get a pass to enter, that was either emailed or uploaded to your cell phone. And they did have people checking for this at the event entry.

Fifteen hundred people attended. Mostly white. Range of age, old and young, mostly working class. To get to the Expo Center for Trump’s event, you had to walk through the fairgrounds past vendors selling buttons that read “make America great again” or “say no to Monica’s ex-boyfriend’s wife” with a picture of Hillary. The vendors were very poor. I wondered if they were part of the apparatus or were scavenging on the crowds, selling unauthorized merchandise the way Trump himself played unauthorized music of Adele, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to the crowd as it waited over an hour for his speech to begin.

TSA security stood at the entrance of the Expo Center. President Obama had stumped in the very same fairgrounds four years ago, but that was a sunny summer afternoon, under an oak tree where a stage and riser were placed for best possible camera footage. Trump’s event was indoors, on a December afternoon, in a building where last summer people brought their cattle and hogs to be viewed and judged. No more hay at this event, but the cattle gates were up, separating special ticket holders from the rest, directing the crowd to the front of the room by the stage. The back half of the building remained empty, hollow, echoey. I saw a woman there, Pentecostal, Methodist? Wearing a skirt, tending to four clinging children, with her hair tied up.

To get in past the TSA, we had to go through a metal detector and get scanned by an agent with a wand. Other agents searched through our purses, bags and jackets with plastic gloved hands. Secret Service Agents scattered throughout, watched with suspicion and boredom. There were big black SUVs parked on the perimeter.

Inside, the media were set up on a riser in the middle of the space, bright hot lights aimed at the stage for the money shot.

The sound system echoed and reverberated, drowning out your thoughts with rock music.
Then when the speeches started, the echoes made it hard to hear what was said. The crowd behind the stage on the riser was well selected, with young people in the front row holding Trump signs. Women, men, still, very white.

When Trump called out to the veterans in the room only a few cheered back. They obviously know better than to waste time at a Trump rally. Trump bandies them about like a stage prop. Just about everything at that event felt like a prop, myself included.

Trump spoke incoherently jumping from topic to topic with no segues. He could barely complete his sentences, interrupting himself over and over again to stress a point – usually the point being that he was right and others just followed his lead.

He said he would build a wall bigger than the Great Wall of China. Then he repeated his debut scandal by reminding everyone of the illegal immigrant from Mexico who raped an American woman in California. There was one young man in the crowd who put a Trump sticker on his arm at the shoulder like a badge. For a moment, with his fair skin, hair, and shirt, I couldn’t help but see the American version of a Hitler Youth. He was with 2-3 of his buddies who had clipped miniature American flags to hang down their backs like mini capes.

The woman in front of me wore a Bears sweatshirt. On a riser to the right people were handed Trump signs. A white male in his late 20s with a cell phone camera led them to shout pro-Trump chants which he caught on camera. None of these chants caught on with the rest of the crowd. After 1-2 minutes, the sound died out.

When Trump finally appeared the crowd cheered and waved signs. Trump waved back, nodded glowingly at the crowd, pursed his lips as the music roared, thanked the crowd for loving him.
Paying attention to Trump feeds his beast. Trump wants coverage, and the media want ratings, so this cycle repeats itself on station after station, headline grabbing headline, social media echoing the echoes until you get to a point where the only point is outrage.

Not a single policy is suggested beyond the impractical. Let’s build a wall one foot higher than the Great Wall of China. Let’s register all Muslims, ignore the Constitution. Let’s call out the media as liars as we lie repeatedly about everything anything. Let’s say we will put the smartest people in charge, in charge of what, doesn’t matter.

Why? Because politicians are dumb. They are stupid, Trump says, “chicken shits.”

The military leadership – they don’t know what they’re doing. They should carpet bomb the place. All of it. Just blow ISIS to bits.

And China, man China. They pulled a good one on us. They coerce and force us to import all their stuff.

He doesn’t mention trade deals, or currency manipulation, or anything that makes a shoe made on the other side of the globe cheaper than one made in your own city. That’s too much detail for Trump and his supporters. Never mind the Walmarts and Targets that sell the Chinese stuff they enthusiastically buy because they all want to make or save a buck.

It’s a really bad reality TV show, “Welcome Back, Fascism.” But the crowd mostly is not fascists. At least, not yet. Trump is a fascist. Clearly, definitively. Surely some hooters and hollerers in the crowd were fascists, the ones who cheered, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” smiling and laughing with the cheer, nodding to their fellow fascists near their fists pounding the thin air. But many were as dumbstruck as I. What’s going on here? It’s a big production, with bright lights, camera crews, handlers, and would-be important people taking that important call in the middle of the crowd, in their dark suits and shiny shoes, fashionable ensembles.

Trump tells the crowd CNN is the worst of the lying media. The crowd cheers. Then Trump quotes a CNN poll putting him 30 points up, and again the crowd cheers.

As has been the pattern in this six month power trip, Trump never directly deals with his opponents’ policies or offers answers to the woes of Middle America. Instead he insults Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and his Republican rivals either by brushing them off as inconsequential, or “stupid,” “dumb,” and “disgusting,” not as smart as him. He gets a laugh when he mentions Hillary’s pant suits.

So the question remains, what will happen with Trump’s campaign? I think it is easy and wishful to say his brand will eventually go away. But we’ve seen this show before. The excellent 2009 film “Videocracy” documents Berlusconi’s media driven rise to power in Italy, driven not only by Berlusconi’s celebrity, but mainly due to his decades long monopoly of the media, and hence, the message. You will find many parallels to the Trump machine. Like Americans, Italians are obsessed with celebrity. And the more scandalous, the higher the ratings. As the coverage blankets cable, social media, the airwaves, and newspaper headlines, Trump’s own ratings rise.

Let’s start by starving the beast, which is why this will be my last and only Trump Blog.

Flagging In Meaning

1923664_21240999712_6212_n(Editor’s Note: These photos were published in early 2002 in the 911 issue of Hasta Cuando, a Spanish-English punk political magazine out of Pilsen, Chicago. They are by an extraordinary Chicago artist, teacher and musician, Rebecca Wolfram and reflect her response to the shallow and zealous patriotism after the destruction of the World Trade Center and bombing of the Pentagon.).

I usually loathe flags and symbols in general. Symbolic gestures are a lazy way to avoid substantial meaningful change. Focusing on symbolism is an intellectually dishonest way to ignore substantive argument. Not looking at a thing for what it is, but what it represents oppressively denies subjective experience.

And so, this 4th of July Holiday weekend, I’m sure most of us will have seen the store shelves and picnics festooned with US flag napkins, paper plates, table cloths, bikinis, beach towels, and parades lined in red, white and blue. People die for the flag, kill for the flag. But as Arund1923664_21240784712_2070_nhati Roy explained, “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds & then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”

But it’s been quite an eventful flag waving couple of weeks.

Rainbow Gay Pride Flags flutter in parades and across social media screens around the world after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.

1923664_21240994712_5799_nAfter the brutal racist murder of members of a prayer group at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the Confederate Flag has now descended from atop flagpoles in front of National Monuments and State Legislatures. Even historic revisionists white folk are losing their ability to deny its violent, racists origins – people have the google to dispel their racist idiotic claims.

1923664_21240799712_2478_nFinally, the ISIS flag suffered a brilliant shaming at the Gay Pride Parade in London when artist Paul Coombs marched with his parody of the ISIS flag, substituting the caliphate propaganda with inscriptions of dildos and butt plugs. Coombs explained, “It [the ISIS flag] has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression. If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.” Glaringly, Coombs flag was also key to exposing CNN’s shoddy journalism when it spread the panicky story that the flag was actually ISIS in the parade, rather than just a dildo afficianado making a political st1923664_21240989712_5131_natement.

These series of events reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s anti-war, anti-nationalist lyric from, Games without Frontiers, “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue. They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu.” The lyric references extremist leaders prevailing in 20th Century, meanwhile peaceful democratic people remain sans patria…

1923664_21240774712_1698_nAnd as with all flags, ours are signifiers a very real raging fire that like the prairie fire’s smoldering, are signs of renewal as much as destruction.

And though the Gay Pride flag waves magnificently across parades 1923664_21240764712_1357_nand facebook statuses, it is a bittersweet victory. We can rightfully claim victory in the marriage equality ruling, yet it still remain legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual status. You can marry, but not work. You can marry, but you can’t shop in my store.

The Confederate Flag, long a symbol of white pride, of a hateful sublime oppression that remained to oppress African Americans in spite of and in backlash to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, is being taken down. As I write this, the seventh Black Church has been burned since the Mother Emanuel AME massacre.

As we w1923664_21240754712_1138_natch horrified at the carnage of ISIS, we remain un-elucidated about the murderous regimes that created this grassroots tyranny.

We are all subjected to this Treachery of Images.  Our work is to unravel the threads of all those flags, and use them to knit together a humanistic meaning and society.


Book Review: The Devil Is Here In These Hills

mineworkersGiven Iowa’s early labor organizing among mineworkers, led by John L. Lewis, who went on to head the United Mine Workers and found the Congress of Industrial Organizations, this book review illustrates the struggles posed by this dangerous profession.

Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News

Book Review:

The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2331-2 $28.00

Stereotypes abound about Appalachian people, “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” as rough clothed, rough fighting, straight shooting and inter-marrying tribal Americans, lost in deep eastern valleys.

Stereotypes are never fair and the determined labor battles that West Virginia coal miners fought receive their comprehensive due in James Green’s latest gift to labor history, The Devil Is Here In These Hills.

As the 20th century began, coal mining reached higher levels in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, as deep seams of high quality fuel were exploited on an industrial scale. Not only were native Appalachians recruited to work the mines, so were Italian immigrants and African-Americans. Soon forging common bonds, these workers struggled from the 1900s until the 1930s to win union recognition and security.

Isolated in coal camps where the companies controlled the town, housing and stores, paying the workers often in company-issued currency, the miners soon found themselves in debt, their safety and dignity disregarded.

Again and again these workers rose up, only to face Baldwin-Felts detectives, court injunctions, state militias and federal troops. Blood ran freely and the miners quickly learned to arm themselves and fight back, though the odds were stacked against them.

Famous characters show up to rally the workers – the “Miners’ Angel,” Mary “Mother” Jones, with her characteristic salty language, boldly marched into company towns. Sid Hatfield, scion of the famous feuding families and sheriff of Matewan, West Virginia, became a miners’ hero after he faced off against Baldwin-Felts agents, only to be assassinated on the courthouse steps in Welch, West Virginia.

Green thoroughly details the culminating battles that Hatfield’s death helped trigger, the 1920-21 Mine Wars, including the Battle of Blair Mountain, where thousands of armed miners skirmished for three days with company guards and sheriffs. The U.S. Army Air Force had its first and only foray against American civilians during this episode and Federal troops finally disarmed the miners. To their dismay, the miners soon learned that only they were being disarmed, not the coal companies nor the Baldwin-Felts agents.

The term “redneck” is often linked to these battles, as the miners wore red kerchiefs and the company white, to distinguish their separate sides.

Beat down but never surrendering, when the 1930s Roosevelt Administration legalized union organization, West Virginia miners quickly joined the United Mine Workers and not only won better conditions, but democracy in their own communities, freed from the company store and company house.

Too often working people and their efforts for a voice and dignity get lost; particularly rural workers are stereotyped. Green breaks through this to show a multi-ethnic workers’ community, united in seeking democracy, not only in politics, but also on the job, and bravely willing to shed blood to win it.