As fast food workers protest in cities around the country calling for higher pay and an increase in the federal minimum wage, former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich gives context to the conditions leading some workers to walk off the job and join the picket line. In this video from the activist group Low Pay Is Not OK, Reich says higher pay could actually boost the bottom line at chains like McDonald’s and encourages all Americans to support the movement. (Be sure to check out the cranky dollar clad “Ronald McDonald” at the end.)
Today, Reich also wrote about Obama’s speech on Wednesday addressing inequality in America on his blog, which we are publishing here with his permission.
One Answer to Low-Wage Work: Redistributing the Gains
The president’s speech yesterday on inequality avoided the “R” word. No politician wants to mention “redistribution” because it conjures up images of worthy “makers” forced to hand over hard-earned income to undeserving “takers.” MORE
Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in New York, as part of a national protest, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities are part of push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Workers at fast food restaurants around the country went on strike Thursday demanding higher pay and better working conditions. Their primary demand is an increase in their base hourly wages to $15 an hour.
Here are 12 things you should know about Thursday’s action. MORE
Sergio Salinas, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 6, right, applauds with others at a news conference at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where supporters of a $15 minimum wage declared victory Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Something is happening. It’s beginning to look as if the fight for a livable minimum wage might – just might – alter our political future.
Makes sense, when you think about it. The minimum wage struggle is occurring at the intersection of powerful forces. It’s taking place at a time of growing economic inequality, the erosion of working people’s rights and the globalization of an economic oligarchy whose scope of power is unprecedented in modern times.
And now it appears to be applying an old maxim from the early days of the environmental movement: Think globally, act locally. MORE
Ice cream isn’t the only thing worth screaming about — although it’s right up there at the top of our list. Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, has taken his frustration with the corruption of money in politics and channeled it into an ingenious campaign for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Since he left his job as CEO of the Vermont-based ice cream company in 1996, Cohen has taken his marketing know-how into progressive politics and in 2012 began Stamp Stampede — the manufacture and sale (at cost) of rubber stamps to be used on paper currency — all perfectly legal — to spread the word to rid government and politics of outside corporate and anonymous cash. There’s a wide assortment of stamps — “Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians” reads one message, “The System Isn’t Broken, It’s Fixed” is another.
“Every stamped bill will be seen by an average of 875 people,” Cohen claims “and will help grow the movement to #GetMoneyOut of politics. Stamp 5 bills a day for a year and that’s a million eyeballs.”
We’re already making big waves. So far, 16 states and over 500 municipalities have passed ballot initiatives calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment that says: 1) Money is not free speech and 2) Corporations are not people. Over 150 congressmen and President Obama say they would support an amendment. 80 percent of Americans – Democrats and Republicans – think there is too much money in politics. But change won’t happen if we sit back and let other people do the dirty work.
Dozens of DC Students took to the streets earlier in November to protest the poor working conditions of Wendy's farmworkers. (DC Fair Food/Beth Geglia)
The tomato pickers of the farms in Florida have raised the torch of accountability for over a decade now, successfully challenging behemoth food conglomerates in a self-determining struggle for their own welfare.
Where there were once rampant human rights abuses, economic exploitation and a culture of fear peddled by infectious ignorance, there is now the legally binding Fair Food Program (FFP), “an initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by… corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct.” Designed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — a vanguard group representing the voices of Florida’s tomato pickers — the FFP establishes ongoing audits by an independent council to ensure that the farms supplying tomatoes to the FFP’s corporate signees are upholding these labor standards.
So far, every fast food corporation that sources its tomatoes from Florida’s farms has signed onto the plan except for Wendy’s. MORE
In 2010, a group of hackers known as LulzSec gave us a peek into the shadowy world of corporate espionage. The group released 175,000 emails it obtained from a private security firm called HBGary Federal.
The hack revealed, among other things, that Bank of America (BofA) had grown concerned about a promise that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in 2009 to release a trove of sensitive documents that Assange claimed could “take down” the bank. BofA went into crisis-control mode, setting up a “war room” to handle the fallout from the expected release (which, as it turned out, never came).
It also approached the Justice Department, which referred the mega-bank to a K-Street lobbying firm, which introduced BofA executives to a group of private security firms called Team Themis.
Peter Ludlow, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote in The New York Times that the group offered, among other services, a “common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”
Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald… because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.
Team Themis considered falsifying documents and feeding them to Greenwald in order to discredit his reporting. They also pitched the Chamber of Commerce with a plan to infiltrate Chamber Watch, a progressive group that opposes the CoC’s anti-regulatory agenda. They suggested creating “two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.”
When the story broke, Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce rushed to distance themselves from the plans and HBGary claimed that they had never gotten past the planning stage. But the leaked emails briefly shined a light on the murky, largely unregulated world of corporate spying – an industry that watchdogs say has grown exponentially since the 9/11 attacks.
Last week, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Corporate Policy Center issued a report titled, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations,” which detailed a number of revelations of corporate espionage operations against non-profit activist groups. Moyers & Company spoke to the report’s author, Corporate Policy Center Director Gary Ruskin, last week. MORE
Young girls protest in front of the Polish Ministry of Economy in Warsaw, Monday Nov. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
I’m sitting here in a convergence space in downtown Warsaw, about a mile or so from the National Stadium, where for the last two weeks negotiators from around the world have failed to make any significant progress in the latest round of UN Climate Talks.
This is where the real work of solving climate change is happening: in a rundown, old building in Warsaw.
It’s getting into the evening, and most of the activists here have been going full tilt for the last two weeks of talks, but the room is still abuzz with activity.
Next to me, Evelyn Araripe, an activist and journalist here with the Brazilian group Viração, is working on a recap of the day’s events. Across the room, a group of young people with Friends of the Earth are planning their activities for the coming days. Downstairs, people are plotting out different ideas for videos and interviews they want to conduct tomorrow. MORE
Apocalyptic climate change is upon us. For shorthand, let’s call it a slow-motion apocalypse to distinguish it from an intergalactic attack out of the blue or a suddenly surging Genesis-style flood.
Slow-motion, however, is not no-motion. In fits and starts, speeding up and slowing down, turning risks into clumps of extreme fact, one catastrophe after another — even if there can be no 100 percent certitude about the origin of each one — the planetary future careens toward the unlivable. That future is, it seems, arriving ahead of schedule, though erratically enough that most people — in the lucky, prosperous countries at any rate — can still imagine the planet conducting something close to business as usual.
To those who pay attention, of course, the recent bursts of extreme weather are not “remote “or “abstract,” nor matters to be deferred until later in the century while we worry about more immediate problems. The coming dystopian landscape is all too real and it is already right here for many millions. (Think: the Philippines, the Maldives Islands, drowned New Orleans, the New York City subways, Far Rockaway, the Jersey Shore, the parched Southwest, the parched and then flooded Midwest and other food belts, the Western forests that these days are regularly engulfed in “record” flames, and so on.) A child born in the United States this year stands a reasonable chance of living into the next century when everything, from available arable land and food resources to life on our disappearing seacoasts, will have changed, changed utterly. MORE
This article first appeared in The Institute for Policy Studies’ Too Much newsletter.
Brady Dougan, CEO of Credit Suisse. (AP Photo/Keystone, Steffen Schmidt)
Something astounding is happening in Switzerland. For the first time ever, voters in a modern developed nation are going to be voting on whether to create what amounts to a “maximum wage.”
The vote will come Sunday, November 24, on a ballot initiative that bans any Swiss corporate executive compensation that runs over 12 times worker pay.
In effect, under this “1:12 Initiative for Fair Pay,” no Swiss company would be able to pay its top executives more in a month than the company’s lowest-paid workers make in a year.
Swiss 1:12 activists Cédric Wermuth and Mattea Meyer. Photo Credit: Too Much
Swiss corporations currently compensate their top execs more generously than any other nation in continental Europe. At pharmaceutical giant Roche, CEO pay runs 236 times the firm’s lowest wage. At Nestle, the divide spreads 188 times. MORE
Anti-union conservatives are worried that if the UAW successfully organizes Volkwagen's Tennessee plant, it will create a domino effect in the South. Here, protesters lift a sign supporting a UAW organizing campaign at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (Photo from United Auto Workers on Facebook)
After Volkswagen issued a letter in September saying the company would not oppose an attempt by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize its 1,600-worker Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was flabbergasted.
“For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker, who campaigned heavily for the plant’s construction during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, told the Associated Press. “They will become the object of many business school studies — and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways — if they inflict this wound.”
Corker isn’t the only right-winger out to halt UAW’s campaign. In the absence of any overt anti-union offensive by Volkswagen, conservative political operatives worried about the UAW getting a foothold in the South have stepped into the fray.
Leaked documents obtained by In These Times, as well as interviews with a veteran anti-union consultant, indicate that a conservative group, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, appears to be pumping hundred of thousands of dollars into media and grassroots organizing in an effort to stop the union drive. In addition, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation helped four anti-union workers in October file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Volkswagen was forcing a union on them.
“Everyone is definitely looking at this fight,” the anti-union consultant, Martin (not his real name), told In These Times. “This is the union fight going on right now and everybody [in the anti-union world] is looking to play their part and get compensated for playing their part.” MORE
In a protest this summer, abortion rights supporters rallied on the floor of the State Capitol rotunda in Austin, Texas. The restrictive new law went into effect on Friday. (AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa, File)
Last week, an appeals court lifted an injunction on Texas’ exceedingly restrictive abortion law, which forces abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This requirement — which went into effect when the injunction was lifted Friday — may close a third of the state’s clinics, according to research carried out by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. On Monday, attorneys for providers asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the injunction. I spoke with Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund in North Texas about the law, how Texas women are faring and what we can all do to help.
Jessica Valenti: Can you explain a bit about what TEA Fund does, for our readers who may not be familiar with abortion access funds?
Merritt Tierce: TEA Fund provides financial assistance to low-income women who want an abortion and can’t afford it. Our clients are usually referred to us by one of the clinics we work with — I used to say one of the “dozen or so” clinics we work with, but now it’s basically down to three, plus one in New Mexico and one in Louisiana. Our volunteers conduct a brief intake interview to assess the caller’s need and situation. If the caller meets our eligibility requirements, we will commit an amount between $25 and $400. We never cover more than half the cost of the procedure, and our average grant right now is about $150. The money is paid to the clinic after the procedure is performed (we’re billed just like any other vendor). We are a small 501 (c) (3) nonprofit with an annual budget of about $200,000. We are usually able to help about 1,000 women annually, but have never been able to meet the need. We could easily commit $10,000 each week, and right now we commit only $3500.
Valenti: Late last week an appeals court upheld a Texas law that widely restricts abortion access — one third of the state’s clinics could close as a result. How prepared was the TEA Fund and other reproductive justice organizations? Have you been girding yourself for this kind of loss?
Tierce: We have all been preparing for the law to go into effect since the end of July. Clinics have been working overtime to try to get [hospital admitting] privileges for their physicians. TheTexas Policy Evaluation Project has done phenomenal work compiling the data to predict the impact the closures would have on the state. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood have been coaching all of us to remember this is a long game. The fury and momentum we all felt coming out of this summer has to be sustained, and converted into concrete actions and votes.
Several new organizations have been created since the 2013 legislative session ended, and we are working with the new groups and our longtime allies the Lilith Fund [a reproductive equity group that assists women exercise their right to abortion] and Jane’s Due Process [a nonprofit that provides legal representation to pregnant minors] to ensure that we support one another’s efforts as efficiently as possible. We have also all increased our fundraising, knowing that not only would we be facing calls from more people, but that each person who needs financial assistance would need more after the law went into effect.
Valenti: What are you hearing from the women you work with? Are they already feeling the impact of the law?
Tierce: There have been a variety of responses from fear to anger. Many have had to reschedule their appointments at a different clinic. That means the people who scraped together the $100 for the sonogram will have to pay for it again, and wait 24 hours again, because of Texas’ sonogram law: The provider who performs the abortion must administer the sonogram. So if you go to a different clinic, there’s nothing the clinic can legally do to see you without starting all over. The rescheduling itself means that some women will be unable to afford the abortion because the cost will increase as the pregnancy advances.
My sense is that most of these women did not know much about what has been going on in the Texas legislature. It’s important to acknowledge that simply being able to pay attention to the news is a luxury many people don’t have, especially people who are struggling to find food, shelter, employment or healthcare, or people who are trying to escape intimate partner violence. What’s so infuriating about these laws is that the people who have the least ability to fight back are the very people the laws affect most severely.
Valenti: What can people expect to see in terms of the law’s impact over the next few months?
Tierce: More women will try to have an abortion outside of the healthcare system. The use of Cytotec (misoprostol) will increase, especially in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, where it is more easily available (and where there is now no access to abortion). Inevitably some women will harm themselves as a direct result of the clinic closures. Many women will continue unwanted pregnancies because they have no other options. Because of the shame and stigma that surround abortion, we may not hear these stories in detail; however we know that, historically, this is what happens when abortion access is restricted.
We can also expect to see the fight continue and intensify, as a result of the severe body blow this law has dealt. We were angry; now we are nuclear.
Valenti: Almost every anti-choice talking point I’ve read about this law mentions that restrictions on abortion are meant to “protect women.” What’s your response to that?
What I see in the state’s argument and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling is an obvious prejudice toward women who seek abortion for any reason, and consequent decisions that exploit the legal limits of “undue burden” to push on the meaning of “undue.” I see a really Calvinist sadism in the perspective that any woman who wants an abortion for any reason must bear whatever burden there is to be borne en route to that abortion. The burden is, in truth, her punishment from the state.
It’s insane to me — and I mean truly insane — that they have made any headway at all with the idea of “protecting women,” because abortion is safer than not only most medical procedures but a ton of other things people do every day. The only climate that could have allowed this preposterous cloak of an angle is widespread ignorance about abortion that allows the taboo to remain intact.
Valenti: What’s next for Texas reproductive justice activists in the short and long term?
Tierce: We are working to establish a statewide practical support network, to help people get to the remaining clinics by assisting with transportation and lodging costs and arrangements. Texas is an enormous state with limited public transportation, especially from the rural areas that have been hit hardest by clinic closures, so this is the key focus for all of us right now. Long-term our focus will be to elect pro-choice leaders who can begin to restore access to reproductive healthcare. Another area of primary importance is educating the public about abortion, so that everyone is on the same page about what it really is. Basic abortion realities have to be common knowledge, or we will continue to be vulnerable to these attacks.
Valenti: What can people who don’t live in Texas to do help, besides donating to groups like the TEA Fund? (Though they should certainly do that as well!)
We definitely do need the money! But we also implore people to recognize that this situation is not solely the result of extreme conservatives having their way within an extremely conservative state. It is just as much a result of political complacency and/or neutrality among an immense population of Texans who actually do support reproductive rights, just as a majority of Americans do. But silent support of justice and freedom doesn’t cut it.
If people who aren’t necessarily activists or writers or politicians had been more “out” about abortion, it could have been normalized over the past forty years. The stigma could have been broken down and abortion could have been assimilated into the mainstream practice of healthcare, where it belongs. Instead we legalized abortion but let it remain taboo, and that’s exactly what has given the religious right room to work in. The only way to make abortion acceptable and keep it legal is to learn about it and talk about it—and I specifically mean in everyday conversation.
That should include not only the tragic, compelling stories of people who were raped, or fetal anomalies, or maternal health issues, but the story that is in fact the most common abortion story: the first-trimester procedure chosen by someone who just doesn’t want to have a baby right now. The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.
Fewer than one percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks, so even if people do feel tremendous sympathy for those cases, it’s remote. It is too easy for people to shut out experiences that seem too foreign, and statistically it isn’t likely that a woman who needs an abortion will be able to identify with any of the experiences she has seen in the media.
To my mind that is itself a tragedy, because if a woman gets to a place in her own life where she needs an abortion, she should know that abortion is common. She should know that abortion is extremely safe. She should know that it won’t affect her ability to have children later. She should know that many of the women she knows have had abortions. Instead she walks into the clinic and she doesn’t know any of these basic realities and she feels very alone.
Jessica Valenti is the author of Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness. She has also written three other books on feminism and is editor of the award-winning anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and the founder of Feministing.com Follow her on Twitter @JessicaValenti.
Sustainability activist Annie Leonard is known for her short, animated “Story of” films. In 2007, she made The Story of Stuff, looking at the excessive consumerism our economic system encourages, and its harmful consequences. Then, last year, she made The Story of Change , examining what it will take to break away from this system.
Leonard frames our economy as a game with a dubious path to “winning.” “It’s as if we’re getting better and better at playing the wrong game,” she says. The end goal, at the moment, is “more:” more things, a larger GDP. Leonard proposes changing the game to one where the goal is “better.”
Jennifer Epps-Addison (with bullhorn) leads a march of striking fast-food and retail workers and community supporters in Milwaukee on August 29, 2013, a nationwide day of strikes in more than 60 cities across the country.
Historian and author Peter Dreier recently sat down with Bill to discuss the new generation of activists agitating for progress as our political infrastructure remains gridlocked. At BillMoyers.com, Dreier profiled 19 who he sees as leaders on the front lines of today’s social movements. We reached out to viewers on Facebook, Twitter and BillMoyers.com and asked for nominations of local activists you admire to round out Dreier’s list. We’re grateful for the hundreds of responses we received. One person in particular stood out — Jennifer Epps-Addison — so we’ve named her our 20th activist to watch. MORE
Environmental activists carry colorful signs as they march through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh targeting fracking, coal, nuclear power and the dangers of climate change on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Journalist Naomi Klein writes in Britain’s New Statesman magazine that scientists often use softer language than they should when presenting their findings about the inevitability of climate change and the destruction it will bring. But now some scientists are raising their voices and taking action, demanding dramatic changes in the cultural and economic systems that are to blame for our fossil fuel dependency.
Klein starts with a talk by one UC-San Diego researcher, Brad Werner, who presented a talk at a American Geophysical Union conference last year entitled: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism.”
“When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the ‘are we f**ked’ question,” Klein writes, “Werner set the jargon aside and replied, ‘More or less.’”
There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”. MORE
Natasha Bowens describes herself as a “young, brown female who likes to farm.” And while she didn’t grow up doing it, she’s now dedicated her career to creating a network of other people of color in farming and food justice.
Like many people Bowens became an activist in college, and focused her early career working on the 2008 elections, and on health policy for the Center for American Progress. Along this path she began connecting the dots between politics, social justice, the environment, health and food and was inspired to start farming. But the more she got involved, the more she began to notice a lack of people of color heading farming or food justice initiatives.
“I saw this disparity. I thought food justice movements were being led by communities of color. They were leading movements on the ground but they were then being taken over,” she says. “There are organizations that are supposedly supporting communities of color, but their funding is not going to communities of color.”
In 2010 she began a blog titled Brown.Girl.Farming, and soon after started working on The Color of Food, a multimedia project that gathers stories of people of color leading farming and food justice initiatives in their hometowns. Bowens traveled across the country, doing interviews and taking photographs, and is set to publish a book in the spring. Based on what she learned in her travels she also developed the Color of Food map — which charts farms and food justice initiatives owned or operated by people of color. Anyone in the world can add to the map. There are already 272 organizations featured on this list.