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Because Women’s Lives Matter

Pro Katha Pollitt“Pro, Reclaiming Abortion Rights,” a just-published book by Katha Pollitt, could just as easily have been called “Because Women’s Lives Matter,” adopting the phrase used in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting. Framing reproductive rights as a Civil Right must be asserted if we are to successfully combat the increasing prohibitions against not only abortion but even birth control.

“Pro” is also a book about civil rights for women who choose to have children. This task – so crucial to the survival of humanity – is horribly maligned by our economic and political policies that make parenting extremely difficult if not impossible for many poor women and/or women who want to also fulfill their lives with careers outside the home.

Pollitt spends many pages in the book describing women’s rights to raise children in a society that truly values motherhood with equal pay laws, child care subsidies, access to health care and education, family planning guidance, and respect for the work women do in and out of the home.

“Pro” is an unapologetic and well-researched book about the right of a woman to make reproductive choices based on her unique needs, which is precisely the compromise made when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v Wade. This basic right for the sex of our species that gets impregnated from the widely practiced sex act underlies all other rights that women have. If she can’t control her body, how can she ever control her wages, her career, her family, or any other aspect of her life?

However, this fundamental right of women to lead their own lives is exactly what so offends the patriarchy that still largely governs public and private life on this planet.

See, the anti-choice movement is not about protecting life; it is about controlling women’s lives. More specifically, disallowing her to have reproductive freedom keeps her in a position of lesser power in society and in the home. As one woman stated in a Playboy interview published in 1970 before Roe v Wade, “I feel like I don’t have to be declared nutty to make up for the fact that my diaphragm didn’t work. I refuse to go through this humiliating process.”

At that time, before the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, some women in some circumstances in some states could still have a legal abortion. She had to prove she was mentally unstable to a court. Or she had to have enough money to get an illegal abortion at a provider willing to skirt the law at the right price. Or have access to any of the women’s support network that existed to enable a woman to not have to give birth because she conceived.

Legalization of abortion has little effect on the number of abortions women have. In fact one million American women had abortions each year before Roe. The same number of women have abortions today, but under the safety of legality. Furthermore it is safer for a woman to abort than to carry the fetus to full term. Only .6 in 100,000 women die as a result of abortions- compared to 8.8 women per 100,000 who die of child birth. This liability is the reason why most health insurance plans covered abortion before it became an issue with the Affordable Care Act. According to the National Institutes of Health “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth.”

The decision to bear a child is among the most significant decisions women make. And since women, who by nature and evolution, are the sex that are equipped to do this, it must be women who are enabled to make a decision as a personal choice. As Pollitt puts in her crucial book, let women decide. Women’s right to decide for themselves when and if having a child is good for her and her family is, according to Pollitt, “a positive social good.”

Tracy Leone
Iowa Federation of Labor

Symposium On Wealth Disparity In America

David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston

Yours truly will speak on the role of unions in decreasing inequality at this forum: November 22nd, 9:00 AM – 1:30 PM at Augustana College: If you are in the Quad Cities Saturday, join us for this event:

“Symposium on the Impact of Wealth Disparity on America.”  Moderated by Morning News Anchor Emily Scarlett (TV4) and featuring Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, Keynote Speaker. Break-out sessions with Augustana College Dean Dr. Pareena Lawrence, Rev. Dwight Ford, Dr. Christopher Whitt, Mayor Bill Gluba, Dr. Keri Manning with other thought-leaders from the greater QCA community.

11:00 AM: Concurrent Break-out sessions

Topics include:

– Political and Governmental Elements of Wealth Disparity: Government has long been seen as playing an integral role in alleviating poverty. Political efforts have had different effects on government over time.

– Poverty on the Community Level: What is the “big picture” in the QCA

– Poverty Issues in K – 12 Education: How do our schools deal with poverty? What are they seeing?

– Long Term Inter-Generational Poverty: What is it’s grip on our society? What do we need to do to break that grip?

– The Economy: What is the impact of wealth disparity on business? On the Gross Domestic Product? On the overall direction of the economy?

– Poverty Consciousness: What is the psychology and sociology of wealth disparity? What is the relationship with the legal system?

12:30 – 1:30 PM: Roundtable/Closing Discussion


Who is David Cay Johnston?

He’s a prolific Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author writing for Newsweek, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Common Dreams, Democracy Now, The National Memo and several tax journals. He wrote for the New York Times for over 13 years along with the Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the LA Times. He’s a regular contributor on many of MSNBC’s programs. Among his books are:

 – Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality (2014)
The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind (2012)
Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill (2007)
Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super-Rich–and Cheat Everybody Else (2003)
Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business (1992)


Don’t Be Fooled By Joni Ernst

joni ernst the perfect Koch investment
To watch the onslaught of television advertising for Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst is to be taken for an idiot.

Her handlers have packaged her simultaneously as the conservative mom next door, or as the courageous veteran, or as the flannel wearing farmer who doesn’t reel at the smell of pig shit, depending on which thirty-second commercial you get treated to as you watch your TV shows.  The artifice is so superficially applied that, as one union voter expressed, “I’m tired of Joni Ernst’s Hallmark card moments.”

Unfortunately, the general public does not get the kind of political education the average union member gets which helps union members navigate through the constant stream of televised propaganda. According to a Rasmussen poll in September, “Over one-third of likely U.S. voters remain unaware which political party controls the House of Representatives and which has a majority in the Senate.”

If one-third of likely voters do not know enough about politics to understand the balance of power, what of the 58% of registered voters who are unlikely to vote in the midterm election next week? I’m speaking of the millions of US citizens who will wake up next Tuesday, go to work, or school, or remain unemployed, or serve in the military, or do whatever people do as they fail to engage in the political process that they, in other contexts, laud over and beat their chests to defend (“USA! USA! …blah blah blah…).

The mainstream television media is only incrementally better than the thirty second ad in helping the public understand the issues so they can become actual practitioners of Democracy. What CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, Fox, et all should be doing with their hour long programs is delving into the issues with the point of creating a deeper analysis of how the candidate’s policies affect your life. Instead they are vehicles for careerist “journalists” to drive up ratings and the value of their own contracts with the networks.  They treat the election as simply a high-stakes competition, a surrogate to Monday Night Football (Tuesday Night Vote Olympics!). It’s all about being a winner! The concern is macho on a macro level.

The talk show hosts and their guests cite polls, they use the word “policy” without actually discussing the policy. They talk about change, status quo, and the play-by-play completion for control. It’s all dehumanized analytics.

The Ernst campaign is carefully maintaining control to not let the thin veneer crack over this perception of Joni as the Iowa Everywoman. Her debate performances have proven her as someone who sticks tight to her talking points. Ernst answered substantive questions with repeated incantations of generic platitudes: “Let’s make life better for hardworking Americans!”

Last week Joni Ernst surprised no one when she declined interviews with The Des Moines Register, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and other newspapers around the state. Why on earth would she expose herself to the last vestige of professional journalists who still exist at local newspapers (compared to those who smile with dead eyes reading a teleprompter to a camera)?

However, there is an agenda, and one even more conservative than Iowa’s senior Republican U.S. Senator, Chuck Grassley’s. Though Grassley supports the other ridiculous presumption that corporations are people, he has never proposed something akin to Joni’s personhood amendment.  The personhood amendment may sound innocuous (Joni plays it down by saying it’s simply an affirmation of life, “I’m always going to promote life – except, of course, when she is soldiering ).  But the personhood amendment is a Taliban-esque concept. One that would reduce women to nothing more than child-bearers. For anyone who has read Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, you understand the slippery slope such an Amendment would unleash on women’s rights.

Ernst has also proposed the nonsensical concept that states need not recognize federal laws.   In Joni-land, Iowa might as well be Somalia, not having to answer to any outside entity.

Ernst’s proposals to privatize Social Security is another classic example of playing a shell game with voters. She claims she won’t privatize or raise the retirement age for current seniors (read “likely voters”), only for those future seniors, those young people out there who are currently facing unemployment, underemployment and reduction in opportunities not seen since the parents of this current generation of seniors.  [You can read the text of her statement made in the Republican primary debate at Politifact or see for yourself in the debate video aired by KCCI].

Oh, it’s clever, all right. Worth every dime the Koch brothers have invested in it. But for Iowa voters, it is indeed one of the biggest heists the state has ever seen.

Tracy Leone
Iowa Federation of Labor

Iowans Say “Run Bernie Run!”

Standing room only crowd at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaking event in Davenport, Iowa Sunday. Crowd welcomes him by yelling, “Run, Bernie, run.”


bernie sanders in davenport

What Did You Learn At Work Today?

What Did You Learn at Work TodayWhat did you learn at work today?
By Helena Worthen
Reviewed by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News

We all learn something new. We learn from school, family and friends, and much of what we learn is on the job. That can not only mean job skills, but also learning human personalities, workplace issues and basic job justice.

Though few in number, some universities, like the University of Illinois, have labor education programs. The professors and scholars there work for and with workers, sometimes on direct job issues, sometimes on union training.

Helena Worthen, in What did you learn at work today?” takes her years of labor education and slimmed them down, seeking to understand how we learn on the job and in the union hall.

Unless you are a teacher, most Americans don’t think about learning styles or philosophies. Worthen covers four different analyses of how we learn and applies them to everyday situations.

She then does case studies of workers she’s been involved with: striking AFSCME care workers in Effingham, Illinois, inner-city pre-apprenticeship trainees, garment workers, trade apprentices, power plant technicians and teachers. Through each case, she documents on how workers’ empowerment and involvement changed not only their work lives, but them personally.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is how children view their working parents. Worthen served as a scholarship judge for AFSCME and read hundreds of essays on “What does AFSCME do for my family?” We often forget how observant children are of family dynamics, how job security or insecurity impacts the family and how much pride they take in their parents and their work. The Labor Movement is missing a great opportunity by not including union families and their children in activities, as these essay writers are often very insightful on how the union maintains their family unit.

Ultimately, a union is about workers developing power to better their conditions. Knowledge is power. How we gain and maintain worker knowledge is the great lesson of this book.

‘Sixteen Tons’ Captures Coal Field Life

corley book coverSixteen Tons
by Kevin Corley
Hardball Press

Reviewed by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News, Bloomington, Illinois
Posted with permission

Coal miners were once referred to as the “shock troops of labor,” hardened union members who were often shot at and not afraid to shoot back.

Coal was the fuel of 19th and early 20th century economic expansion. The work was dangerous and poorly paid. Coal miners, often in isolated rural communities, fought hard to build a strong union.  There are battle grounds and disasters that still echo today– Virden, Cherry, Ludlow, Matewan, Herrin and numerous others.

Central and southern Illinois was a critical building block to the United Mine Workers’ success.  Drawing all these stories together yet still making them vivid and real is a challenge for any writers.  Retired Christian County high school teacher Kevin Corley has successfully done that in his new novel, Sixteen Tons.

Historical figures like Mother Jones and Matewan’s Sheriff Sid Hatfield appear, but Corley has woven together a diverse cast of characters– Italian immigrants, West Virginia miners, African-Americans and native born.

Together they do what families do– mature, get married and raise families.

Coal field hard realities continually interrupt their lives. There are mine disasters and grieving widows. There is World War I and the mass flu epidemic that followed. There are miners from central Illinois volunteering to help other miners, bringing them to Colorado, Kentucky and West Virginia to aid strikers.

Finally, the Illinois coal fields erupts in a war– not between the miners and the coal companies, but miner against miner, as union members dissatisfied with their national organization start their own union.

High stakes battles could easily overshadow character in a novel this far-ranging. Corley effectively creates individuals who are not cardboard cut-outs, but real workers with varied viewpoints. The women are just as vivid, showing families debating their risks and next move.

As a teacher, Corley soaked up stories of the Illinois coal fields, translating them into a readable novel of a recent past that should not be forgotten.

The Impact Of Money On Democracy: Panel Discussion

AlecThe Impact of Money on Democracy

A Panel Discussion on McCutcheon and Citizens United Supreme Court Decisions

Rogalski Center, St. Ambrose University
518 W. Locust St., Davenport, IA

Thursday, MAY 29th:
7PM – 9PM


Moderated by Jim Mertens, WQAD

Davenport, Iowa, May 16, 2014 – Quad City Coalition for Democracy announces it will host a forum to discuss how recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance are affecting politics in America.

Sixteen states, including Illinois, have formally demanded that Congress take action to amend the US Constitution to undo the US Supreme Court’s decisions in McCutcheon and Citizens United. Close to 600 towns, villages, cities and counties have also made the ask. During the first weeks of March in New Hampshire, forty-seven town meetings called for a constitutional amendment.

In early April, thirteen Wisconsin communities voted overwhelmingly to call on their elected representatives to begin the amendment process. The US Senate will vote this year on a proposed constitutional amendment.

Is money the equivalent to free speech? Do corporations and unions have same rights as natural born citizens? How have these decisions affected politics in our community, especially in places like Coralville where an uninvited outside group spend thousands to affect the outcome of its 2013 City Council Election?

These and other questions will be addressed by our panel of speakers. We hope you will join us for what’s sure to be an engaging discussion on the hottest topic of our time: money in politics.


Ed Broders, President, Iowa ACLU

Christopher Whitt, Political Science, Dept., Augustana College

Maggie Tinsman, Policy Analyst, 18 year member Iowa Senate

Ken Sagar, President, Iowa Federation of Labor, AFLCIO

Ian Russell, Partner, Lane & Waterman LLP



Labor Images From World War II Alive In Railroaders


Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography, edited by John Gruber
Center for Railroad Art & Photography
Railroaders exhibit, Chicago History Museum, through August 2015

By Mike Matejka, Grand Prairie Union News

High quality art and photography books abound – but when was the last time you saw one featuring workers?

World War II railroad workers are the focus in Railroaders, produced by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.  An accompanying exhibit is on display at the Chicago History Museum through August 2015.  More exhibit details are at

During the grim, early days of World War II, photographers were sent out to portray a determined nation, supporting its soldiers overseas.  Incredibly vital were the nation’s railroads – before Interstate highways and with gas and rubber rationing, almost everything and everyone moved on steel rails.   The railroads were in constant motion and facilities, workers and equipment strained for the war effort.

The Office of War Information dispatched photographer Jack Delano, who previously had photographed migrant farm workers in North Carolina, to portray the railroads.  In 1942-43, Delano shot over 2,500 black and white negatives and 250 color transparencies.  There were some pictures of locomotives and stations, but most featured every day workers.

The photographic portraits here are an incredible testament to hard work.  In switch yards, locomotive cabs, roundhouses and cabooses, Delano found his workers, covered in soot and grime, their faces lined from years of outdoor labor.   There is dignity in every photograph and together these images are an American patchwork quilt – immigrants and native born, male and female, multi-racial.

For five years the Center searched for descendants of the photographed workers.  Through families, this book has recreated a life story: where these workers were born, what railroad they worked for, their union affiliation, their children and their homes.   Many 1940s photographs are matched with a contemporary family photo by Delano’s son Pablo.

The exhibit is worth a trip to the Chicago History Museum.  The book, with its stunning photographs and worker stories, can be read and re-read again.  The book is beautifully crafted and extremely high quality.  Most rare in this day and age, the book is printed in the U.S.A. in a union shop.

railroad worker

Average working people go to work daily and their labor creates and sustains our world.  One’s job is not one’s life, but work helps define us.   This book beautifully captures hard-working 1940s Americans and then constructs their story.   Working people reading this will find themselves and their families, no matter their trade or occupation, reflected in this outstanding photographic voyage.

The photos in the book are public domain, having been taken under US Government auspices during World War II.  To find a photo from this series, go to the Library of Congress website under Jack Delano and you’ll find many at


Labor Update: South Slope Lack Of Transparency A Growing Concern

transparencyThe transparency of the South Slope Cooperative Board of Directors has become a growing concern.

South Slope’s current CEO and Board of Directors have refused to respond to member (that means customers!) requests for basic information about 2014 Board nomination and election processes, annual meeting dates, and financial reports. Not only is this against the cooperative’s by-laws, it also limits customers’ ability to advocate for the services they deserve.

South Slope Cooperative by-laws require the Board to schedule an annual meeting of members for the purpose of electing Directors, passing on reports for the previous fiscal year and membership vote on other business of the cooperative. None of these requirements are being met.

The Cooperative’s Board of Directors is increasingly operating in the shadows. Why does this matter? When decisions are made behind closed doors, it’s bad for customers, bad for workers, and bad for competition in southeast Iowa.

Please sign the petition and add your name to the growing list of supporters for a transparent Board of Directors.

Labor Update: The Looting Of Art And Pensions

A portion of the north wall of Rivera's murals in the DIA
When Detroit became the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy last year, it triggered a process by which all the city’s assets would be thrown out on the lawn like a foreclosed home whose contents would be pilfered through by neighbors and strangers alike for their potential value.

And as the objects that made the house a home are reassessed in this new shameful context, what was once considered essential – priceless, in fact – is now valued at pennies on the dollar to expedite the financial settlement so everyone can quickly move on.

Such is the context for the extraordinarily painful negotiations taking place in Detroit right now as the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection has become the city’s main bargaining chip for the billions of dollars in unfunded debt on pension and health benefits owed to current and future retirees. The publicly-owned collection includes Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” Rodin’s “The Thinker,” a self-portrait by Van Gogh, and Diego Rivera’s masterpiece mural depicting Detroit’s since-collapsed auto industry – more than 66,000 pieces altogether.

If accomplished, this will be the largest liquidation of public art in US history, and the most recent looting of art since Iraq’s Museum was vanquished in 2003.

Stealing art during moments of crisis is nothing new. In fact it’s the norm. This was sentimentally portrayed recently in George Clooney’s film, Monuments Men, in which a troop of loveable art historians are commissioned to protect and recover stolen art from the Nazis in the waning months of WWII.

But like any good art depicting a historic event, Monuments Men should have been a commentary on the present – a kind of plea to human conscience the way Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was during the McCarthy Era. But it wasn’t.

Instead, Monuments Men was a pat on the back to the Good Americans for beating the Bad Nazis and Bad Russians. There was no subtext to help us understand the looting of both the public worker’s pensions and the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection taking place today by bankruptcy judges, lawyers, hedge fund managers, investment bankers.

It contained no metaphor for Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s unelected City Manager who was appointed by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder under the state’s controversial Emergency Manager law. “Everything is on the table,” Orr has repeatedly said regarding the negotiations.

To his credit, Governor Snyder has proposed a “Grand Bargain” that would maintain the art in the museum under the management of a private foundation and prevent its liquidation. However, creditors have accused Christies Auction House of low-balling the value of the art in the $816 settlement that would monumentally underfund the pension obligations.

And the discussion of salvaging the art at the expense of workers’ pensions has caught the ire of union leaders fighting to protect workers’ pensions. “The elevation of the city’s art above our hard-earned pensions and health care is unfair, offensive and elitist,” said Jeff Pegg, president of the Detroit Firefighters Association, reading from a statement signed by four labor leaders representing the public sector workers.  “We appreciate the city’s art collection. But, stated bluntly: Art is a luxury. It’s not essential, like food and health care.”

So, in steps Financial Guaranty Insurance Company last Wednesday, which has asked the bankruptcy judge to force the city to instead sell all the Detroit Institute of Arts’ property (building included) to corporate buyout firms including Catalyst Acquisitions and Bell Capital Partners.

These negotiations are completely unprecedented, so it’s easy to forget that the monetization and liquidation of public art to ensure pensioners a dignified retirement is a most sublime corruption. We are expected to believe that the only option is to sell this art to fund constitutionally protected retirements.

Perhaps the acrimony caused by these insane negotiations will bog it down in so much red tape that people come to their senses and realize this entire bankruptcy is illegal, immoral, that the sale of the art that belongs to the people of Detroit is blocked?

Perhaps Congress will propose a federal bailout for the workers’ pensions, similar to the one they passed in 2008 to bail out the very banks who are now clamoring to get their hands on their very own Van Gogh?

Or perhaps Clooney will make another movie before he heads back to Darfur that more artfully depicts a public and cultural crisis of catastrophic dimensions?