Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SEC January Speakers' Series/Webcast - Mapping the Social Economy: Three Views

David Lasby of Imagine Canada will discuss the recently completed mapping of Ontario's social economy that combines nonprofits, co-operatives, credit unions, and other community organizations.

Using data taken from the first-ever census of Ontario co-ops, credit unions and caisses populaires, Mark Ventry from the Ontario Co-operative Association will discuss the social and economic impact of the province's co-op sector, what census information surprised On Co-op, and what the data confirmed.

Sherida Ryan of OISE/University of Toronto will discuss Ontario organizations that meet the broad definition applied to social economy enterprises and that rely on internet-based technology to achieve their organizational objectives, their similarities to traditional social economy enterprises, use of information technology and their understanding of an online social economy enterprise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2007, noon - 1:30 pm
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto
Room 12-199, 12th floor, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto
This event will be simultaneously webcast (see our website for details).

For more information, see

Monday, November 26, 2007

This Holiday Season, Buy Union

Union members, college students, and all kinds of folks are doing the right thing by deciding to wear clothing made under decent conditions, in union shops instead of sweatshops. Click on the links below to find union-made, sweat-free suppliers.

Visit to buy items from artwork to chocolate, from books and clothing to clocks, computers, and vacation packages.

While you're planning your holiday trips, please visit our Union Hotel Guide ( and stay in UNITE HERE hotels across North America.

At Justice Clothing we don't think fashion should hurt. Justice Clothing's mission is to support democratic principles, workers' rights and economic sustainability through the sale and distribution of goods manufactured by workers protected by collective bargaining agreements.

Monday, November 19, 2007

UN Says Market Privatizations Would Be the Worst Scenario for the Environment

By Herv Kempf
Le Monde

Saturday 27 October 2007

The planet's ecological future directly depends on the political choices that will be exercised: this observation had never before been clearly spotlighted by a United Nations decision-making body. Now it's done: the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) asserts in a thick report, the so-called "GEO 4", published Thursday October 25, that generalized privatization of resources and services would be the worst scenario from an environmental perspective.

That's the conclusion of an original approach to possible futures that a group of international experts has been conducting the last two years: it models each scenario as a function of the type of policies put into place. The point of departure for this modeling effort is the major ecological crisis, which the planet is already experiencing.

By actualizing the description through numerous sources, the UNEP report synthesizes changes in climate, biodiversity, soils' health, water resources ... It highlights the shrinkage in available resources per inhabitant, with the available earth surface for each human being going from 7.91 hectares in 1900 to 2.02 hectares in 2005.

The rapidity of the phenomenon is emphasized: the breadth and the composition of terrestrial ecosystems that "are being modified by populations at an unprecedented speed." The experts insist on the concept of a threshold: "The cumulative effects of the continuous changes in the environment may reach thresholds that will manifest themselves as abrupt and irreversible changes." This idea of "tipping points" is applicable not only to climate change, but also to the phenomena of desertification, drops in water tables, collapse of ecosystems, etc.

Tipping Points

The continuation of present trajectories inescapably leads to these tipping points, the UNEP indicates. That's where the work with models comes in. The experts have defined four scenarios, according to the type of policy that is followed. In the first model, the State takes a back seat to the private sector; unlimited trade develops; natural goods areprivatized. The second scenario is based on a centralized intervention that aims to balance high economic growth with an effort to limit its
environmental and social impacts.

A third route would be to favor security to respond to civil disorders and external threats: a significant effort would then be devoted to security. Finally, the fourth option is one in which society chooses environmental sustainability and equity, with citizens playing an active role.

Modeling allows the influence on the environment of each one of these scenarios to be measured in terms of energy consumption, polluting emissions, the type of agricultural activity, water extractions and numerous other parameters.

The last scenario (sustainability) appears preferable from a social and ecological point of view, while the first scenario (privatization), although it assures the strongest growth, also manifests an environmental impact deemed unbearable, all while generating ever-greater social inequalities. In that case, "the environment and society rapidly reach, even cross over the tipping point."

The scenarios that are less bad for the environment are not exempt from flaws, however: the second scenario, which favors a strong policy intervention, may generate bureaucracy; the fourth, which emphasizes sustainability, demands that much time be devoted to cooperation among actors. And they do not guarantee a carefree future: in all these cases, "climate change and the loss of biodiversity will remain significant challenges."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Canada's Rich Not Contributing Fair Share in Taxes: CCPA Study


TORONTO – More than a decade's worth of tax cuts have disproportionately lined the pockets of Canada's most affluent families, says a new tax study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The study finds the top 1 percent of families in 2005 paid a lower total tax rate than the bottom 10 percent of families.

"Canada's tax system now fails a basic test of fairness," says Marc Lee, senior economist with the CCPA's B.C. office and author of the study. "Tax cuts have contributed to a slow and steady shift to a less progressive tax system in Canada."

The study, which is the first comprehensive review of tax changes at all levels of government in Canada within the past 15 years, finds the system is delivering larger tax savings for high income families. This reinforces the growing gap in market incomes between high income families and the rest of Canadians.

"Most Canadians will be surprised by these findings because they believe we have a progressive tax system – but looking at all taxes combined, that's no longer the case."

The study, Eroding Tax Fairness: Tax Incidence in Canada, 1990 to 2005, is available at

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LABOUR DAY SEPTEMBER 2007: Reviving the Labour Movement Through Reviving Class Solidarity

by Socialist Project Labour Committee

As Canada and Ontario's labour movement marches in this year's Labour Day Parade it does so with something to celebrate: an increase in the provincial minimum wage. That victory, all the more significant for victories being so rare in recent times, was partial – amongst other things it is only being phased in over three years – but all victories for working people are partial. Why this achievement merits special celebration is that:

  1. It materially matters for hundreds of thousands of workers.
  2. It demonstrated the exciting possibilities of creating spaces through which immigrant workers and youth could express their frustrations and mobilize to improve their conditions.
  3. It opened a new door through which the unionized labour movement – in various stages of crisis since the Days of Action – might be revived: supporting the struggles of non-union workers because it is both the morally right thing to do and because it contributes to uniting and building the working class as a potential social force agent.

What next?

That victory poses a number of questions. First what will the labour movement now do to build on this momentum? One option is to move on to fight for improvements in other standards (such as paid time off). Another is to raise the ante and get unionization itself more clearly on the agenda. New minimum standards are themselves an opportunity to do so because in many cases, these minimum standards are not enforced. And so there is a powerful opening for the need for a union just to get what the law allegedly guarantees you. A further campaign might be to take on the 'temp agencies' – parasites that live off the back of workers – and restore this function to public agencies providing a social service.

Second, having experienced the potentials of collective action at the community level, how can the labour movement strengthen these capacities? One step is internal: if we really want to make some organizing breakthroughs, we will have to overcome our sectionalism (divisions over who 'gets' new members) and develop an effective degree of cooperation that puts workers and the movement first. Another is external to formal unionism: there are groups like the Workers Action Center in Toronto that currently provide services to non-union workers (and have been long-time activists in the struggle for raising the minimum wage); they should be encouraged and supported in expanding their work.

What about the people on welfare?

A third question relates to the shameful conditions of those members of the working class who, for various reasons, are currently not in the workforce or only marginally attached and who consequently depend on welfare. Welfare rates are today 40% lower in purchasing power than they were when the Conservative government launched its own version of the 'War on Poverty' in the mid-90s (and they were hardly overgenerous before then). This too must be of fundamental concern to all working people simply because of the injustice it exposes in how we treat those with disabilities, single mothers trying to raise a family on their own (poverty rates are stunningly higher for women and 280,000 Ontario children live in families who rely on social assistance), and workers who have been laid off (such as those now benefiting from the higher minimum wage but at risk of not getting full-year employment or seeing rising housing prices and the lack of affordable housing eroding any gain they thought they made). Furthermore, the low standards brought on by unemployment represent pressures to stay at any job, no matter how poor the pay and conditions and no matter how sick you might be. And this can't help but increase pressures on standards for other workers.

A coalition of anti-poverty and related groups is planning a protest this fall (September 26) to profile their plight as the Ontario election takes place. Their goal is to 'raise the rates' (bring the $10 minimum wage forward and return welfare and disability rates to their former levels with a 40% increase), build affordable and accessible housing, and access without fear to government services for non-status immigrants. This coalition – Toronto Anti-Poverty (TAP) – is committed to continuing that struggle after the election. For organized labour, the question is where do we stand? Will we identify the fight against poverty as not just a matter of charity, but a dimension of solidarity against all the manifestations of exploitation and injustice working people experience?

We have no alternative

It is crucial, in all our struggles, to recognize that we are not simply fighting against 'bad policies', but something deeper. Governments seem to have concluded that capitalism in its present phase can only reach and maintain the profits it needs by: a) limiting 'diversions' to those not in the labour market and therefore not contributing to profits; and b) keeping those in the labour market insecure and fragmented from each other – insecure about their jobs, increasingly cut off from essential services, and struggling to survive on their own rather than collectively. This will not be fundamentally changed unless we can mobilize in a way that scares them the way they have worked so hard to scare us. Real change will only come if we reject their cramped and debilitating vision of what is possible and develop the solidarity, structures and capacities to move towards an alternative vision. Their own mantra of 'there is no alternative' within capitalism is essentially an admission that capitalism has itself become a barrier to human progress and that we 'have no alternative' but to challenge capitalism itself. •

This article was originally published in The Bullet, a Socialist Project e-bulletin.

Friday, September 7, 2007

TORONTO STAR: Public historically cool to faith-based funding

Doug Hart and D.W. Livingstone
September 06, 2007

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's new position on funding all faith-based schools is a poor fit with public opinion.

In 20 years of polling, we have never found more than a minority in favour of any extension of public funding to private schools.

Moreover, the views of this minority do not privilege faith-based schools but prefer funding extended to all private or independent schools meeting provincial standards.

Since 1984, the OISE Survey of Educational Issues has asked Ontarians every two years about extending public funding beyond the current public and Catholic systems. In 10 separate surveys over this period, support for funding religious schools has only once reached 10 per cent (in 1992) and has usually languished at between 4 per cent and 7 per cent. In contrast, support for extending funding to all private schools has fluctuated between 17 per cent and 27 per cent.

In 2004, the last year for which specific data are available (a different question was used in our soon-to-be released 2007 survey), 7 per cent favoured government funding of religious schools but 20 per cent wanted financial support extended to all private schools. This strongly suggests that among the minority who favour extended funding, the key issue is parental choice, not equity among faith communities. (In 2000, in the wake of the United Nations Human Rights Committee finding that Ontario's policy of funding Catholic schools but not other denominational schools was discriminatory under international human rights provisions, we asked people their preference if they were forced to choose between funding schools for all religious groups or no
religious groups, including Catholics. Forced to choose on this basis, the public split down the middle: 46 per cent to fund all religious schools, 47 per cent to fund none.)

Overall, willingness to extend funding at all to private schools has been and remains a distinct minority position. Between 1984 and 2004, support has fluctuated between 25 per cent and 35 per cent. Most Ontarians continue to support either a single public system or the status quo of public and Catholic systems.

The split between these options has fluctuated over time but neither option alone has ever come close to commanding majority support.

Since full funding was extended to Catholic schools by the Conservative government in 1984, around 40 per cent have supported this option. Support for funding a single public school system, with Catholic schools converted into it or losing their public funding, has hovered around 30 per cent.

Our 2007 survey uses a more general question (suitable for the national survey conducted with the Canadian Education Association this year) asking whether only currently funded public schools or all public and private schools should receive funding. In Ontario, we find 58 per cent in favour of currently funded public schools and 39 per cent willing to extend funding to all public and private schools.

The Conservative party proposal is in line with public thinking in making acceptance of the provincial curriculum, province-wide testing and teachers certified by the Ontario College of Teachers necessary conditions for public funding.

There is widespread unanimity on these conditions among all political parties and the general public. In 2002, when the issue was tax credits for parents of private school students, the OISE
survey asked whether the public agreed or disagreed that to be eligible for the tax credit system private schools should have to accept each of those three conditions. The overwhelming
majority (around 80 per cent) agreed that all three should be conditions for eligibility.

The whole issue of which schools should be funded is caught in a long-term gridlock as far as public support is concerned. There is no consensus on any basic option – a single public system, the status quo or extending funding to all private schools.

Hence, there is no net public pressure for change. The current Conservative policy to fund faith-based private schools charts a course through a political landscape at odds with most public opinion on the issue.

If politicians are going over this ground again, they might pause to check that their maps take account of the landscape as the electorate actually sees it.

Finally, while strong views on each of these options surely will be expressed in the current election, it should be kept in mind that whatever their views on extended school funding, Ontarians show similarly strong support for greater government funding of elementary and secondary education, and a willingness to accept higher taxes to improve public education.

In groups of all religious persuasions there is a similar acceptance of the need to improve the resource base for public schools.

Doug Hart and D.W. Livingstone are authors of Public Attitudes Towards Education on Ontario 2007: the 16th OISE/UT Survey.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

TORONTO STAR: Textbooks economical with words about co-ops

Jack Quarter, Daniel Schugurensky, Erica McCollum and Laurie Mook
Sep 5, 2007

A recent study conducted through the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto raises questions about the narrow focus of business and economics textbooks in Ontario's high schools.

The research by professor Daniel Schugurensky and MA student Erica McCollum of OISE/ University of Toronto, examined the contents of 22 business textbooks containing 11,375 pages currently used in Ontario high schools.

In general, these textbooks had very little about non-profits and co-operatives.

When all of the materials referring to co-operatives were totalled, they amounted to 35 pages, or 0.3 per cent of the 11,375 pages in the 22 books.

For non-profits, this amounted to 107 pages, or 0.9 per cent of the total pages. In other words, there is not a lot about these types of organizations within the business texts used in Ontario high schools.

A similar study in 1995 (by professor Jack Quarter and then PhD student Alison Davidson also of OISE/UT), upon which the current study was based, had strikingly similar findings.

Not much has changed in the past 12 years with regard to the treatment of co-operatives and non-profits in business textbooks in Ontario.

Do these types of organizations have a place in business textbooks and business programs?

Arguably, these organizations are not in the mainstream of the business world, but they do have a significant impact upon the economy. A survey of the non-profit sector undertaken by Statistics Canada in 2003 (the National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations) found that there were 161,000 incorporated non-profits in Canada, about half of which had charitable status registrations.

The same survey estimated that non-profits had revenues of $112 billion, employ 2 million people (54 per cent full-time), and have a volunteer labour force estimated to be another 1 million full-time equivalent jobs (about 2 billion hours).

The stereotype of non-profits is that their revenues are unearned (donations and grants), but the Statistics Canada survey indicates that 35 per cent is earned through the marketplace; in fact, there are a significant number of non-profits that compete successfully in the market with private sector firms (for example, the YMCAs).

Likewise, the stereotype of co-operatives as small and economically insignificant is belied by the data. For instance, the Co-operatives Secretariat, a federal government agency, reported that in 2003 approximately 9,200 co-operatives brought in $35.8 billion of revenues and employed around 155,000.

Agriculture co-operatives, although having declined in importance due to the demutualization of some of the largest ones, were still marketing and processing a large share of farmers' production, notably in poultry, dairy and hogs. Two co-operatives are among the top 12 corporations in the food and beverage-manufacturing sector in Canada.

Moreover, eight non-financial co-operatives are among the top 500 corporations in Canada; two of these are among the top 100 corporations.

Le Mouvement des caisses Desjardins, the umbrella organization for credit unions/caisses populaires in francophone Canada, is the largest employer in Quebec and, with a workforce of more than 39,000, is the sixth largest financial institution in Canada with assets of $118 billion in 2005.

These organizations, a group that we classify as part of the social economy, provide flexible, sustainable and innovative approaches to achieving social and economic objectives.

Although they are not the mainstream of the economy, they employ and train people, create economic growth, provide social support, foster community development, and have valuable assets.

Furthermore, they mobilize large numbers of volunteers who contribute to these organizations but whose contributions are typically ignored in conventional accounting.

These organizations are critical to our diverse Canadian landscape, yet the business and economics textbooks of our high-school students and future leaders are strikingly silent about them.

Our research has focused upon the approved textbooks in Ontario's high school business and economics courses.

We haven't reviewed the major business programs in universities, but we know the terrain there is also relatively barren. Something is missing!

Jack Quarter and Laurie Mook are co-directors of the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto; Daniel Schugurensky is director of the collaborative graduate program in community development at the University of Toronto, and Erica McCollum is completing her MA at OISE/UT.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Immigrant nonunion workers in a Chicago factory: Victory on the picket line

August 17, 2007

LEE SUSTAR and ORLANDO SEPULDEVA report on a victorious strike by immigrant workers in Chicago who walked out over threats to terminate them based on immigration status--and the implications of this struggle for the labor and immigrant rights movement.

THE REMARKABLE struggle of immigrant strikers at South Chicago’s Cygnus Corp., a nonunion soap factory, ended August 10 as improbably as it began two weeks earlier--with dozens of workers jammed into a temporary staffing agency’s office, voting on the spot to accept the agency’s offer to send more than 100 back into the plant without penalty--and with the threat of termination withdrawn.

The Mexican immigrant workers prevailed over a plant management backed up by its parent company, Marietta Corp., a large manufacturer of private-label soaps and detergents for huge retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreens. Marietta, in turn, is controlled by Ares Management, a private equity firm worth $16 billion.

Striking Cygnus therefore meant striking Corporate America, a struggle with impossibly long odds.

Nevertheless, there was no hesitation when workers decided to strike over management’s plan to terminate anyone whose immigration status couldn’t be verified by August 10.

Cygnus had used Social Security “no-match” letters--notification from the government that the Social Security numbers on file don’t match those given by employees--to threaten the jobs of Cygnus’ few permanent workers.

For their part, the temps were told that the company was switching to a new agency, and workers would have to reverify their status. Similar threats loom for immigrant workers across the U.S., as the government implements new rules in which no-match letters can be used as grounds for termination of employment, or worse.

Already, employers across the U.S. have begun using no-match letters as a pretext to fire workers. Cygnus management no doubt felt it could do the same, having long kept workers toiling for minimum wage or a bit more, and with no benefits.

Instead, the company faced a near-total strike, spirited picket lines and growing solidarity, including a promise of support from organized labor. A strikebreaking operation fizzled, and more and more trucks left the Cygnus plant without loads. The handful of people still working inside the plant passed word to strikers about plummeting production.

So nearly two weeks after provoking the walkout, management invited permanent employees in for four hours of negotiations that ended in an offer: Would they come back to work for the old rates of pay, with all threats of termination withdrawn?

The workers didn’t say yes. After all, they weren’t in negotiations for themselves, but as the chosen representatives of all the strikers. They told Cygnus boss John White that they’d get back to him once they reported to the rest of the workers.

Manuel, a permanent employee, proposed a meeting in a nearby public park to discuss the deal. There, Edith, a permanent employee and strike leader, put it this way: “There are no permanent and temporary workers--we are all workers.”

Martín Unzueta, the organizer of the Chicago Workers Collaborative and an adviser to the workers, proposed a solution: showing up the following morning at 7:30 a.m. at the temp agency, Total Staffing, to demand the same deal as the permanent employees had received. The workers would return to work together--or not at all.

It turned out that the temp agency, Total Staffing, had prepared a letter offering individuals the opportunity to return to work at Cygnus. But for the temp workers--who comprised 110 out of the 118 workers in the plant, even though many had been on the job for years--the deal wasn’t quite done. It had to be voted on first.

As they made a unanimous show of hands in the office on Chicago’s South Side, all a flustered Total Staffing manager could do was order reporters and solidarity activists to get out. The manager didn’t dare ask the permanent Cygnus employees to leave, however. They remained to discuss the offer with the temps, vote on it, and, afterward, exchanged congratulations.

One striker, Julia, explained how unity among the Cygnus workers and solidarity from others led to victory. “We went on strike, you could say, with our eyes shut, but now we know that there are people who we can count on,” she said. “Y que los demás no piensen que no se puede, porque si se puede--let no one think that it can’t be done, because it can be done.”

As Ignacio, a temp worker who’d been working in the plant for 11 months, put it, “One of the lessons is that unity makes us strong. Even if we were simple employees, we made a big company tremble and move. This victory is for us workers, but also for all the working class and for all the community groups that were here supporting us.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN FACT, community support for Cygnus workers first took shape more than a year before the strike, when they made contact with young immigrant rights activists in the South East Chicago Committee for Immigrant Rights (SECCIR).
One SECCIR activist, Olga Bautista, had worked in the accounting department at Cygnus in 2004. Two years later, she passed out leaflets in the parking lot to build support for the March 10, 2006, mass immigrant rights march that sparked a wave of similar mobilizations across the U.S.

One of Cygnus’ permanent employees, Edith, took a flyer and asked for suggestions on how to deal with the no-match letters that the company had received a few months earlier. Bautista put her in touch with Unzueta of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, which focuses on immigrant workers’ rights.

Unzueta contacted the company and informed them that the no-match letters were not intended to indicate immigration status, and required no action on their part. Management let the issue drop.

Cygnus workers, meanwhile, began organizing. Many attended the March 10 protest, and almost all of them turned out for the follow-up protest on May Day 2006, as Edith negotiated with management to give workers the day off in exchange for a Saturday workday to make up for lost production. “We even had a bus pick them up at the plant to take them to the march,” Bautista recalled.

Over the next few months, workers discussed problems in the plant--not just low wages, but unsafe working conditions. According to one worker, management issues only gloves, but not masks or work boots, to workers who mix chemicals to manufacture detergents and soaps.

The unlabeled storage tanks outside the plant contain many toxic chemicals, which often spill out of vats and create noxious fumes and slippery floors. According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, six workers were taken to hospitals last December 18 after a hazardous material got on their skin.

Smaller-scale accidents are routine, a worker told reporters on the picket line. He pointed to chemical burns not only on his forearms, but his chest and stomach, where acid had burned through his street clothes. “They have the masks, but they don’t give them out,” he said. Another worker complained that only one person in management in the plant was authorized to call an ambulance in case of emergencies.

Another simmering grievance was racism and discrimination. Workers in the plant complain that Mexicans were treated badly by management and had to endure open racist abuse. One woman was demoted from a supervisory position because she couldn’t speak English; her pay was cut.

So as this year’s May Day protest approached, the mood at Cygnus was different. Workers were more confident, and they began asking for a raise. Management took a tougher line, saying no to any negotiated time off for workers to attend the march this year.

A few weeks later, Cygnus’ new human resources manager, Mary Ann Vasquez, told permanent employees that they would have to clear up the no-match letters. At the same time, she informed temporary workers that they’d have to switch from Total Staffing to a different temp agency, Staffmark, and verify their immigration status in doing so.

Anyone who failed to comply would be terminated by the August 10 deadline. The workers’ response: an indefinite strike.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE CYGNUS plant is an unlikely place to become a focal point of labor solidarity. Never unionized, it is located literally at the southern edge of the Chicago city limits, sandwiched between two highly active freight railroad lines that regularly back up local traffic.

Semi-trucks loaded with freight and cartage haulers on their way to nearby landfills are often forced to wait 20 or 30 minutes for trains to pass. When they’re finally able to roll, the drivers, well behind schedule, hit the accelerator hard, kicking up great clouds of dust as they rumble past the plant without a glance.

But on July 30, it all looked different. Surprised drivers looked down on an improvised picket line, with homemade signs and chants. Many waved and honked to show their support.

Each day after, the picket line was better organized--a schedule worked out, donated food and drinks distributed, a bullhorn to amplify chants. Activists from a number of organizations walked the line--including the Chicago Workers Collaborative, SECCIR, the Juan Diego Community Center, the International Socialist Organization and individual immigrant rights activists.

The owner of the house next door to the plant, himself a Mexican immigrant and factory worker, allowed workers taking a break from the sun-scorched picket line to sit on his shaded front steps, store their supplies and use his bathroom.

Strikers soon produced a leaflet explaining to drivers who were delivering to Cygnus that a strike was on, and asking them not to cross the picket line.

One nonunion driver, an African American, felt compelled to make his delivery. But he later came to walk the line and pledge his support, identifying the immigrant rights movement with the civil rights struggles of decades past. His presence had a visible impact on strikers, especially since Cygnus management had played the race card by hiring African Americans as strikebreakers.

In more than a few cases, however, Teamster drivers caught sight of the picket line, took a leaflet and drove on without making deliveries, to the cheers of strikers and their supporters.

And on August 1, the second workday of the strike, organized labor appeared on the picket line itself in the form of four business representatives from International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 8. The union had gotten a call about the strike from Ramón Becerra, an official of the Chicago Federation of Labor, who is also a leader in the Chicago chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Becerra learned of the strike from Jorge Mújica, a journalist, labor organizer and leading figure in Chicago’s March 10 Movement, the coalition central to the area’s mass immigrant rights marches. Mújica, like Unzueta, had become an adviser to the strikers and moved to enlist union support.

The difficulty was that District 8 had no Spanish speakers on staff. But with Mújica interpreting, union business representative Karl Sarpolis made it clear that the union supported the workers. “We know how these companies discriminate against minorities,” he said, leaving behind a petition to join the union. When he returned two days later, 90 workers had signed up.

In a picket-line meeting, the workers elected a provisional bargaining committee in case the union was successful in getting management to negotiate, and decided to hold a meeting with the union the following Saturday, August 4, at the Juan Diego center on the East Side.

Some 60 workers turned out to meet with IAM District 8’s directing business representative Carl Gallman, along with Sarpolis and Armando Arreola, a business rep from IAM Local 701 and a native Spanish speaker who had been sent by his local president, Bill Davis, to provide additional support.

Gallman, a veteran of the IAM’s glory days in the 1970s, recognized what was in front of him: a roomful of determined, militant strikers. The union was willing to try to organize the plant--permanent and temporary workers alike, he said. “We’re going to help you, whether or not you join the union,” he declared.

The union officials and the workers had independently come to the same conclusion: First, negotiate to get everyone back to work, and leave wages and conditions for later. After Gallman and the other IAM officials left, Mújica chaired the meeting, as workers discussed how to improve picket lines and organize support.

Even though these mostly minimum-wage workers had gone a week without wages, and of course had no strike benefits, no one complained. The highly focused discussion was all about how to take the struggle forward. Afterward, solidarity activists began to say out loud what they had barely begun to think: The strike could actually win.

The victory, as it turned out, was not the result of organized labor’s support. The following Monday, the IAM’s Gallman called Cygnus to speak to management and claim the right to represent the workers. While this certainly added to the pressure on management, his message wasn’t returned, and matters went no further.

The Democratic presidential debates in Chicago, sponsored by the AFL-CIO, offered an additional chance to enlist labor support. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka took a copy of the fundraising letter, expressed sympathy and said the federation’s organizing department should follow up. Linda Chavez-Thompson, the federation’s executive vice-president, said the same. Local Chicago labor leaders also showed interest.

In the end, however, the workers won without much material support from unions, where the organizing machinery is often rusty and, even in the best cases, takes time to gear up.

A notable exception was United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881, which pledged $500. In hindsight, solidarity committee members realized they should have taken up a collection directly from the 17,000 union members who attended the AFL-CIO-sponsored debates.

But while labor was slow to move, the workers’ own organization developed daily.

Two days after meeting with the IAM, several workers rallied alongside Dunkin Donunts workers fired after receiving no-match letters; that evening, 30 turned out to meet with labor lawyer Chris Williams, who provides legal resources to the Chicago Workers Collaborative.

On August 8, workers’ morale got a boost when the Chicago Tribune made their struggle the top story on its front page, adding to widespread coverage in the Spanish media. A delegation from the Juan Diego community center managed to get into the plant to demand negotiations with workers, succeeding where a previous attempt failed.

That same day, several workers joined dozens of supporters at a fundraiser organized by the Cygnus Workers Solidarity Committee, which had itself formed four days earlier. More than $1,300 was raised, including the UFCW donation--money that was quickly turned into bags of groceries for hard-pressed strikers’ families.

Just as notable, though, was the character of the event itself, which linked immigrant rights and labor activists in an evening filled with music and interspersed with emotional speeches by strikers and supporters. Performers included Chuy Negrete, a well-known singer; the dance group Azteca Nahuil; and Iván Resendiz, a young classical guitarist. The event ran late as the crowd sang folk songs from the Mexican Revolution and the labor movement.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THAT SAME evening, the workers’ chosen negotiators sat down for several hours with a representative from Cygnus’ parent company, Marietta Corp.
Edith, the strike activist, said he presented himself as a neutral arbitrator prepared to settle the dispute. But Edith and the rest of the workers didn’t buy it. They said they would negotiate only in the presence of their attorney, Chris Williams.

At a picket line meeting the following day, the workers reiterated their demands: Everyone would come back to work, or no one. No agreements would be made in the bargaining sessions. Workers would vote together on whether to accept any management offer.

“That’s the Mexican tradition,” explained Jorge Mújica. “A negotiating committee is not a signing committee. When there’s a strike, workers declare themselves to be in permanent assembly,” voting on whether or not to accept management’s offer.

Although none of the leading strike activists had any experience in unions in the U.S. or Mexico, workers were acting in that tradition. “Everyone has an uncle, a brother, a cousin who has done this,” Mújica said.

As the ensuing four-hour negotiations wore on, it became clear that management was ready to throw in the towel. Loading docks were vacant, trucks left the gates empty, and a huge spill of dishwashing soap washed out into the parking lot, a mess that would cost at least a couple of hours of production, according to the workers.

The scabbing operation had descended into farce, with high-school aged youths swarming around a beleaguered Cygnus manager trying to sort out assignments during the afternoon shift change. Pallets loaded with dish soap had been dropped at crazy angles just inside the plant entrance, well away from the loading dock.

Security guards, who days earlier had blustered about arresting strike supporters, wandered about listlessly, ignoring two reporters who roamed the employee parking lot.

Management capitulated, and Total Staffing fell into line. The only outstanding issue at press time was the status of a supervisor who had joined workers on the picket line.

Even so, workers had won a victory with far-reaching implications for both the immigrant rights movement and the unions. “The labor movement has a lot to learn from these workers, because the labor movement can’t be strong if it sets immigrant workers aside,” said Martín Unzueta, who has met dozens of workers in recent years who want to organize, but can’t find a union to follow up. “The immigrant workers are ready to be organized.”

Like Unzueta, Jorge Mújica thinks the Cygnus victory can inspire further advances. “People remembered how to fight,” he said. “We’re used to having street demonstrations in Mexico all the time. But when people get here, they live hidden, very silent lives.

“But this whole process, from March 10 last year to May Day this year, is about showing that you can fight. It was after May Day this year that they asked for a pay raise. This wouldn’t have happened without the marches. If the workers hadn’t participated once or twice, they wouldn’t have gone on strike.”

Edith, the strike leader who organized workers to participate in the marches, said the struggle for better wages and conditions would continue. “I’m happy because while we started with fear, now we realize that we can do lots of things if we’re united,” she said. “If [the issue of the temporary workers] didn’t get resolved, we would have continued the strike, but with the help of everybody, because we have no union.

“The workers have to realize that they don’t have to be afraid, because here we taught them that unity is the way forward.”

Shaun Harkin contributed to this report.


What you can do

Cygnus workers are still in need of financial support after surviving their walkout without strike benefits. Make out checks or money orders to the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (with “Cygnus workers” in the memo line), and send to: Cygnus Workers Solidarity Committee, c/o Chicago Workers Collaborative, P.O. Box 08048, Chicago, IL 60608. Call 773-653-3664 for more information.

From Socialist Worker Online -

Friday, July 6, 2007

Study: Gaining and losing literacy skills over the life course (1994-2003)

Many Canadians experience a significant loss of literacy skills during adulthood, and this loss appears to be concentrated in adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds, according to a new study.

The study, based on findings from the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the 2003 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, examined how Canada's stock of literacy skills evolved during the nine-year period between the two surveys.

It showed that literacy is not a static commodity acquired in youth and maintained throughout life.

The results provided compelling evidence that, on average, some groups of people lose literacy skills after the period of formal schooling, but the amount of skill loss differs considerably from group to group.

The loss of literacy skills in Canada appears to be a gradual process that begins at the age of about 25, peaks at around 40, and tapers off during late middle age (55).

For example, adults aged 40 in 1994 had average scores on the IALS literacy test of about 288. When this test was implemented nine years later, those who were aged 49 had average scores of about 275.

A skill loss of about 13 points over the nine year period is roughly equivalent to the average increase in literacy skills associated with half a year of additional schooling.

Taking into account that the loss of literacy skills appeared to be lesser for young and late middle age adults, the study estimated that on average, most Canadian adults experience a skill loss over their lifetime of about one grade level.

Several factors can reduce the magnitude of losses, according to the study. For example, exposure to education appears to have a positive impact on keeping literacy skills. Individuals with a university degree had average scores that were about 30 points higher than those of secondary school graduates.

The level of general reading at work also had a positive impact, as did employment.

Individuals who read frequently, and choose a wider range of materials, scored higher than those who did not read as frequently. Individuals who were employed scored about 12 points higher than those who were not in the labour force. This finding suggests that the prevailing level of economic and social demand for skill use has an impact on skill maintenance.

The study also examined differences among the provinces in their average levels of literacy and their skill loss. Provinces and regions varied substantially in their average levels of literacy skills.

A small proportion of these disparities is attributable to differences in the demographic age and sex distributions of the provinces. But even when these were taken into account, there remained considerable variation.

The study results hold several important messages for policy makers, and suggest that the magnitude of literacy skill loss is high when judged in educational terms, for it eliminates literacy acquisition that took months, or even years, to acquire on average.

In addition, given the relationship of literacy skills to individual economic and social outcomes, and to macro-economic performance, it is reasonable to assume that the economy pays a price for literacy skill loss.

Finally, the probability of whether a group will gain or lose literacy skills appears to depend on a variety of factors over which both individuals and governments can exert some degree of control.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4406.

This article is from The Daily, Statistics Canada's official release bulletin. You can access the full text and charts of this article at:

The report "Gaining and losing literacy skills over the lifecourse", as part of the International Adult Literacy Survey Series (89-552-MWE2007016, free), is now available from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-4441;, Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Academic Integrity under Attack in Western Canada

The Alberta Disadvantage in Higher Education

In the western Canadian province of Alberta an attack is gathering force on the most fundamental principles essential to the academic viability of universities. This attack has implications that go far beyond the jurisdiction most stereotypically associated with cowboy culture and the lucrative vastness of this province’s oil and gas resources.

To read more:


by Labour Committee, Socialist Project

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), spurred on by initiatives from the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), United Steelworkers (USW) and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), has moved to place Canada’s devastating loss of manufacturing jobs on the national agenda.

Judging from the CAW, where the campaign has, by spring 2007, been more developed, the enthusiastic membership response seems to have breathed some new life and hope into the union. It is clear that a good many local leaders, disheartened with the never-ending demands of concessions and frustrated with waiting for the next corporate threat or devastating announcement, have been anxious for such fightback campaigns.

But will the campaigns deliver?

Read more:

The Socialist Project seeks to bring together individual workers and intellectuals, as well as groups and movements, who share an anti-capitalist orientation. Our intent is to offer some hopefully constructive ideas, and contribute to an open discussion with labour activists about how we can move ahead.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Supreme Court Recognizes Labour Rights


In a judgment rendered June 8, the Supreme Court of Canada has reversed itself and recognized that freedom of association includes the right to collective bargaining.

by Duncan Cameron

Fundamental labour rights, pursued historically, and recognized under international conventions, must be respected in Canada, according to the highest court in the land. In a judgment rendered June 8, the Supreme Court of Canada has reversed itself and recognized that freedom of association includes the right to collective bargaining. Collective bargaining complements and promotes the values expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms according to this major judgment recognizing the role of trade unions cannot be repressed “in a free and democratic society.”

The Supreme Court decision struck down key provisions of Bill 29, introduced five years ago by the Gordon Campbell Liberals as part of a plan to contract out and privatize B.C. health services. The decision not only overturns lower court judgments, more importantly it rewrites its own Supreme Court jurisprudence on key issues of labour rights.

The Canadian labour movement can now look forward to a brighter future in pursuing collective bargaining rights on fundamental workplace issues; this landmark Supreme Court reinterpretation recognizing labour rights can be drawn upon to bring employers to the negotiating table. The Court states that collective bargaining is necessary for workers “to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work.”

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is explicit. “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: a) freedom of conscience and religion; b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and d) freedom of association.”

However, in an important trilogy of labour cases decided by the Supreme Court in 1987, five years after the adoption of the Charter, freedom of association was severely limited. Justices argued that through association, individuals could protect their rights as individuals, but did not gain any additional rights i.e. the right to bargain collectively.

Choosing its words carefully, last week the Surpreme Court overruled the labour trilogy exclusion of collective bargaining as a necessary part of freedom of association: “None of the reasons provided by the majorities in those cases survive scrutiny.”

The justices cite the testimony of an acting Liberal minister of justice on the impact of the then-proposed Charter who said the right of association included the right to collective bargaining and that is was not made explicit in the draft Charter for fear of weakening other rights of association such as those for community groups.

The majority decision, six justices concurring, and one partially dissenting, provides an historical overview of the development of industrial relations in Canada that draws upon the work of labour historians, labour law specialists and government commissions to outline the context for the explicit recognition by the Supreme Court of labour rights to collective bargaining as a fundamental freedom.

While the Hospital Employees' Union, and the British Columbia Government Employees Union can celebrate a victory for all Canadian workers, the (mostly) women who lost salaries, benefits, severance pay and jobs through layoffs were not offered remedies by the court decision. Instead the B.C. government has one year to make illegal sections of its legislation comply with the court ruling.

This ruling has a legacy: it will imprint on the legal system at every level and each jurisdiction the recognition of labour rights as fundamental rights. According to the court: “Human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy are among the values that underlie the Charter … All of these values are complemented and indeed, promoted, by the protection of collective bargaining in s. 2(d) of the Charter.”

Contrary to the charge of judicial activism leveled by the B.C. government against the Supreme Court, its judgment creates no new rights. In its ruling, the court points to collective bargaining as predating the establishment of particular labour relations regimes in Canada, and existing well before the Charter recognized the fundamental right to association.

The court acknowledges what was won through strikes, and related struggles — a legally enforceable right for unions to bargain collectively with private employers. The court cites legal scholars Judy Fudge and Harry Glasbeek: the union right to bargain was recognized by the federal government in wartime, by order-in-council PC 1003, and subsequently incorporated into provincial legislation. The Court refers to an article by CUPE research officer John Calvert to illustrate that only in the 1970s were collective bargaining rights extended to cover public sector workers.

The Court notes that though labour organizations first appear in Canada at the end of the 18th century: “From the beginning, the law was used as a tool to limit workers’ rights to unionize.” This judgment recognizes that labour rights are part of the values protected by the Charter; that Canada has signed international conventions and has thus recognized labour rights under international law; that historically collective bargaining is integral to the right to association; and, finally, that the Supreme Court itself was wrong not to admit that the guarantee of freedom of association extends to collective bargaining.

Section one of the Charter: “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Governments wanting to deny labour rights have argued they could be reasonably limited under the law. Since the Supreme Court decision recognizes labour rights as a part of a free and democratic society, from now on restrictions on collective bargaining on workplace issues will be most difficult for lower courts to justify.

Duncan Cameron is associate publisher of He writes from Vancouver.

Original Article

Full text of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the Health Services case:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Voice Your Choice in the Corporate Hall of Shame 2007!

Which of these corporations are the most abusive, manipulative and harmful? You decide.

Vote for the three nominees that deserve to be inducted this year—or use your votes to write in another corporate candidate. You can even post comments about why these corporations should be inducted. We’ll announce the three new inductees in June, so check back then, but vote now and spread the word to other voters.

Corporate Hall of Shame

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day Alert: Only Global Unions Can Stop the Race to the Bottom

By Stephen Lerner, AlterNet

Posted on May 1, 2007

Editor's note: Stephen Lerner is a veteran union organizer with the Service Employees' International Union (SEIU) who headed the Justice for Janitors campaign. This is adapted from an article that originally appeared in the winter 2007 issue of the New Labor Forum.

At no time in history has there been a greater urgency or opportunity to form real global unions whose goal is to organize tens of millions of workers to win economic and social justice by counterbalancing global corporations on the world stage even as the power of the state declines.

Global labor solidarity, as currently practiced, is failing and will continue to fail in the face of the growing power of global corporations and the declining power of the state. Instead, global unions need to be formed whose purpose is to unite workers to negotiate global agreements with global corporations. The property services sector, which includes janitors and security officers, has many of the critical characteristics and immediate conditions needed to organize a true global union, and provides an important, but not unique, model of how a global union is possible. Globalization is creating change at an even faster pace than during industrialization. We need to understand how it is reshaping workers' lives and power around the globe, so that instead of being swept away by globalization, we can harness it to transform ourselves and the world. To win real power, workers and their unions need to build a movement defined not by what we are against, but by what we are for: a movement inspired by hope for a better world and a plan to achieve it. Anything else puts unions at risk of becoming as irrelevant as those who opposed industrialization in the hope of defending artisans and small craftsman.

Understanding globalization: the world is tilting

The world is tilting away from workers and unions and the traditional ways they've fought for and won justice -- away from the power of national governments, national unions, national solutions and government institutions developed to facilitate and regulate globalization. It is tilting toward global trade, giant global corporations, global solutions, and toward Asia, especially China and India. We can no longer depend on influencing bureaucratic global institutions, like the ILO, or fighting the entities that ultimately are accountable to or controlled by global corporations, like the WTO. Workers and their unions need to use their still-formidable power to counter the power of global corporations before the world tilts so far that unions are washed away, impoverishing workers who currently have unions and trapping workers who don't in ever-deeper poverty. The power equation needs to be balanced before democratic rule and institutions are destroyed.

Tilting toward global corporations

Since the formation of early global companies, like the English East India Co. (1600) and the Dutch East India Co. (1602), multinationals have spread around the world. In 1600 there were 500 global corporations. In 1914, there were 3,000; in 1992, 30,400; and by 2000, the total number of global corporations had ballooned to 63,000. Today, they are bigger and more powerful than ever before and no longer allegiant to the country in which they were born or are now headquartered.

As multinationals have grown, wealth and capital have become increasingly concentrated. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 52 are not nations -- they are global corporations (see here for data). The problem isn't that corporations operate in more than one country -- it is that multinational corporations are so powerful that they increasingly dominate what happens in whole countries, hemispheres and the entire globe.

Tilting away from the state

For 150 years, trade unionists and progressives have viewed influencing and trying to gain control of the state as central to any strategy of winning a more just society. National governments still have enormous influence, but their power is diminishing every day.

As corporations grow in power, the state will find it increasingly difficult to mediate their behavior to protect workers and their unions. The state must be pressured now to act as a vehicle that can assist unions in gaining the ability to deal directly with multinational corporations both in their own countries and across the globe. This is a crucial distinction. Instead of depending on national governments to control global corporations, as states become weaker and corporations stronger, we need to pursue a strategy that anticipates the continued decline of state power and works to rebuild workers' strength today so we can deal independently and directly with global corporations in the future. We need to do so quickly, while states still have some power to regulate corporate behavior.

Tilting away from national unions

As global corporations grow and state power declines, national unions are shrinking in membership and power. Union density is down across the globe. From 1970 to 2000, 17 out of 20 countries surveyed by the OECD had experienced a decline in union density. Though many of these countries experienced an increase during the 1970s and 1980s, density declined in the 1990s. While the specifics and timing are different in each country, what is remarkable over the last 30 years is how similar the story and the results are. No country, no matter how strong its labor movement or progressive its history, is immune from these global trends. Density is starting to decline in Scandinavia, South Africa, Brazil, and South Korea, countries that until recently had stable or growing labor movements. In France, general strikes and mass worker and student mobilizations have slowed the rollback of workers' rights, but these are defensive strikes desperately trying to maintain standards that workers in surrounding countries are losing.

In country after country, unions began declining from their peak at first slowly, and then more and more quickly. As density declined, so has the ability to protect both collective bargaining and legislative gains.

The antidote to global corporations: global unions

Why aren't there global unions? For 150 years much of the argument for global unions has been abstract, theoretical and ideological. The simple argument was: Capitalism is global, therefore worker organizations should be too.

However, even though capitalism was global, the reality was most employers weren't. Theoretically, workers were stronger if united worldwide, but the day-to-day reality of unionized workers enabled them to win in developed and some developing countries through organizing and bargaining and using the power of governments to help them. Unionized workers saw workers in other countries as potential competition for their jobs rather than their allies. There was not an immediate, compelling reason or pressure to go beyond national boundaries. It is an ironic twist of history that globalization is itself creating the greatest opportunity to organize global unions among the poorest and least-skilled workers employed in the historically least organized sectors of the world economy, which are increasingly dominated by giant corporations. Even as manufacturing and mobile jobs, aided by new technology, are being shifted and dispersed around the globe, the infrastructure of the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate) and the jobs needed to support it are increasingly concentrated in some 40 global cities.

These economic hubs directly depend on these service jobs, dramatically increasing the potential power of these workers. It is among the most invisible and seemingly powerless workers that we can build a global movement, reinvigorate trade unions, and face global corporations with genuinely countervailing power sufficiently strong to ensure that workers have the chance to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. This is not to argue that global unions can't be formed in manufacturing or other sectors characterized by mobile jobs, but instead to say that at this time in history the opportunity is greatest in service jobs based in cities that are driving the world economy.

Starting in property services

As sociologist Saskia Sassen has pointed out, the increasing scope and complexity of the global economy leads multinational corporations to massive growth in the demand for services (legal, accounting, insurance, real estate, etc.) by firms in all industries. These service firms tend to gather in 40 to 50 "global" cities. In some ways, these global cities act as "engine rooms" for multinational corporations, or as Sassen puts it, they are the "sites for concrete operations of the global economies." The concentration of service firms also leads to a massive disparity in wealth in these cities, an increase in the number of blue-collar jobs, such as janitors, mechanics and security officers, and an increase in the numbers of immigrants and minorities. As Sassen states, we can think of these cities "as one key place where the contradictions of the internationalization of capital either come to rest or to conflict." Ironically, the poorest and least skilled workers employed by global corporations in these cities may be in the best position to challenge growing corporate dominance.

Companies that clean, secure, and maintain commercial, residential and other properties around the globe comprise an industry that annually grosses more than $170 billion, and multinational property services companies directly employ more than 3 million workers.

Property Services allows us to organize in a global industry that offers unique opportunities to build off the strengths of both existing unions and movements for justice in the world as part of a new movement for global fairness and equality. The 3 million workers directly employed by property service multinational corporations can provide the platform to strengthen and expand existing unions and to organize and establish new unions in cities and countries where they don't exist. Strengthened by agreements with global multinationals, national unions can expand their unions, uniting workers employed by smaller local employers as part of a broader strategy of uniting a majority of property services workers on a national and global level.

The plan: a new global union movement

Global unions should be true international unions rather than unions that operate in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and call themselves internationals. They must organize workers and negotiate contracts to raise living and working standards across the globe. They need to focus on organizing and negotiating agreements with global companies, while they support and help organize companies and workers within national borders. They must be global unions that grow to amass real power, so they are not relegated to making policy suggestions, but have the strength to negotiate with the entities that set the rules under which global corporations operate.

There were tremendous obstacles to birthing national unions within one country: battles over leadership, balancing local versus national interests, protecting democracy locally while making decisions and governing nationally. And so will it be in forming global unions. Nationalism is growing in some countries, and unions from the United States are viewed with suspicion because of their past ties to the CIA. National unions worry about loss of autonomy. These issues and many more create greater obstacles to forming global unions than workers faced in forming national unions.

The world economy has changed and is integrating globally. To have a meaningful role in the 21st century, we must create true global unions whose vision, goals, purpose and governance combine national interests in the same way that national unions were formed in the 20th century. The global unions that result must be capable of coordinating, directing and transferring power and resources to counter the power of global corporations. Experience makes it abundantly clear that this isn't possible by just federating national unions whose primary mission, resource allocation and internal political identity are limited to one country. Global corporations don't subordinate their interest to individual countries and neither can workers. Either through the transformation of existing institutions or by creating new ones, workers need unions that unite them globally to increase their power, instead of fighting global corporations from a position of weakness and with limited coordination on a country-by-country basis.

In addition, the mission and goals of global unions cannot be limited to just economic improvements. To unite hundreds of millions of workers and build support for global unionism, global unions must be part of a campaign to protect and expand democracy in the face of worldwide megacorporations. Global unions must be seen as and be part of global campaigns for economic and social justice. Their mission and role is nothing less than to replace the declining power of the state with global unions as the equal and counterbalance to global corporations on the world stage. And the time to start is now.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Colleges Go Light on Women's Pay Inequity

Run Date: 04/23/07

By Hannah Seligson
WeNews correspondent

Some female college grads may be in for a rude awakening. Although they have enjoyed some key measures of parity with men while on campus, new data show they can expect to earn less than male counterparts immediately after graduation.

(WOMENSENEWS)--College women on the brink of graduation this spring may be in for a rude awakening.

While they have enjoyed majority status on campus and graduate with higher grade point averages than their male classmates, young women still conspicuously lag in one crucial area: income earnings immediately after graduation.

The American Association of University Women, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, released a report today that finds that one year after college graduation, women make 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. As women's age increases they fall further behind men. Ten years out of school, women earn 69 percent of what their male peers do.

"We controlled for everything that could have had an effect on earnings," Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women, told Women's eNews. "And we still found a wage gap among a demographic that you'd expect there to be very little difference with, given, for the most part, that they don't have caregiving obligations. But surprisingly, and unfortunately, we find that women already earn less; even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts."

Researchers analyzed data of a nationally representative sample of over 19,000 male and female college graduates under the age of 35 and looked at two groups to measure the wage gap over time and to assess the most recent data on college graduates.

The first group received bachelor's degrees in 1992-1993 and was interviewed in 1994, one year after receiving their degrees, and in 2003, a decade after graduation.

The second group earned degrees in 1999-2000 and was interviewed in 2001, one year after receiving their degrees.

The study found that those who received their degrees in 1992-1993 and those who received degrees in 1999-2000 did not have any significant difference in their earnings one year out of school, revealing that the wage gap has remained stagnant over time.

There have been multiple data collection studies to document the gender wage gap by both government agencies and research entities in recent decades; because they vary in methodology and sampling, studies report subtle differences in measuring the gap.

Lack of Campus Interest

Jenni Daniels, 22, a coordinator for student programs at Tulane University in New Orleans and a 2006 Tulane graduate, says the findings are in sync with a ack of interest in the gender wage gap at her school.

"Students just don't often show up to career programs. It's kind of a hard sell," says Daniels. "These women haven't dealt with pay inequity yet, so it seems far removed from their reality."

Daniels says work-force preparation for women often plays second fiddle to issues such as sexual assault and body image. "Those issues feel more immediate to students than careers, in the sense that everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped," she says. "How they feel about their bodies is also what these young women are thinking about. Eating disorders are rampant on college campuses."

Lauren Magnuson, 20, a senior at Tulane, says she can't remember a course or conference on campus that has focus on the professional woman. "The majority of speakers who come to campus to talk about careers are men."

Overlooked by Women's Studies

Ann Mari May, a visiting professor of economics at Middlebury College in Vermont, says pay equity is an important topic for young women. "It's estimated that a woman will lose $420,000 over the first 20 years of her career by not negotiating on her first salary."

May says campus interest in pay equity can be subdued because women's studies departments often skirt the subject. "Women's studies departments have lost touch with many day-to-day concerns for women, such as pay equity. It's why feminist economics is still a somewhat marginalized topic."

Kassidy Johnson, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Arlington, Va., group dedicated to women's social, political and economic equality, is in touch with dozens of colleges in the South. She agrees that campus programming for women focuses more heavily on sexual assault, emergency contraception and global women's issues.

However, Johnson says interest in pay equity was apparent at the group's recent national leadership meeting for younger women. "Young women want to know how to ask for a raise and negotiate their salary," she says.

University Group Funds 11 Schools

The American Association of University Women, for its part, is pushing women's workplace programming on a few campuses this year.

The group, which has 500 college and university partners nationwide,launched in 2005 a grant-giving program, called Education as the Gateway to Women's Economic Security, to help implement campus-based programs along annual themes.

This year it awarded grants of $5,000 each to 11 colleges to use in a variety of programs that fit the theme of planning for an economically secure future.

Students at the University of Guam in Mangilao, with the support of faculty advisors, are studying how woman-friendly their university is. Roger State University in Claremore, Okla., is offering conferences on nontraditional careers and workshops on salary negotiation and financial management. Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia sponsored a series of events, including an art competition and exhibit, roundtable discussions and a "Women and Work" film festival.

At Middlebury, students used the grant for a three-day symposium in March about women's economic security. Emily Theriault, 22, a senior and one of the co-organizers of the symposium, says it was the first time career issues were raised in such a visible forum in her four years on campus.

"We have been taught to think that because we've gone to a good college that we'll get jobs that pay well," Theriault said. "I've seen some research about Middlebury College graduates, however, and it found that over the past 10 years the majority of high-paying fields--such as finance and consulting--are dominated by male graduates and the women are entering fields that don't pay as well."

Hannah Seligson is a freelance writer based in New York. Her book, "New Girl on the Job," will be published by Citadel Press in June.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

For more information:

American Association of University Women Study
Behind the Pay Gap:

Feminist Campus:

Women Don't Ask
Negotiation and the Gender Divide:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Feminism at Work

Published on Solidarity (
Feminism at Work
Created 03/03/2007 - 11:50am
Author(s):Lynne Williams

Story Body:
AS FEMINISTS WE often focus our attention on the effects gender inequality has on women. And while this inequality still exists and requires our unwavering attention, as socialist feminists we also focus on the effect this inequality has on our ability to organize a class conscious movement, where our differences do not impede our ability to act collectively against capital.

I have been a committed feminist since early in life, but these politics were reinvigorated when I began working as a technician in a predominantly male workplace. Being a feminist in theory is much different than being a feminist when some guy is shaking the 18-foot extension ladder you are working on; it requires a different relationship to your goals.

In my early years, though I did face real material struggles, my feminism was largely ideological, for me it took place in arguments and was often about being right. In my work as a rank-and-file activist, my socialist feminism has become more defined and concrete. It is about building solidarity among my coworkers which is not only “right” but also actively builds the kind of solidarity it takes to enforce and reproduce socialist-feminist politics.

It means, for example, confronting the ladder shaker but also building a network of fellow activists who simultaneously confront the ladder shaker and make it impossible for other ladder shakers to do their thing without answering to the collective.

Approaching organizing in the workplace this way is an essentially socialist-feminist strategy: 1) understanding that gender does not only happen when sexism or heterosexism happens but in every moment that adherence to gender roles trumps class solidarity; 2) understanding gender and the ways it is used to organize society and the work we do; 3) understanding that gender is not only about liberal demands for individual equality but also about radically redefining the potential for individuals to be fully liberated; 4) understanding the centrality of our gender roles to developing radical class consciousness, leadership and movement; 5) finally, it is about including the tradition of socialist feminists’ insights and politics into our strategies as organizers.

1. Gender does not only happen when sexism or heterosexism happens.
Gender is not only an issue at work for queers and women. We need to be explicit about this in order to keep every discussion from being only about individual people’s struggles (which are real and deserve attention) to also include the politics and culture of the workplace as a whole.

Gender As Health Risk

One way that gender affects all workers explicitly at my job is around workplace safety issues. In an almost entirely male workplace, organizing around workplace safety involves having a complicated understanding of gender politics and a specific set of skills for navigating them.
Specifically, the guys I work with will often not work safe unless there is another issue at stake. We will do job actions which rely on enforcing safety regulations only if somebody is suspended for something else, being off the job for example. Safety issues on their own, and not as a strategy for slowing productivity, are ignored. Working safe is essentially for “wimps.”

This “macho” attitude persists while safety issues at work are huge. I work in manholes, where the safety issues range from risk of immediate injury to longterm health risks from exposure to dusts and gases. My co-workers essentially police each others’ masculinity and effectively enforce management’s approach to on the job injuries, claiming they are always the employees’ fault.

Management actively denies what union activists know, that the hazards exist at work because of how work is organized, that workers themselves do not create these hazards. Nonetheless management successfully claims that we’re not careful enough while climbing rusty ladders, lifting 300-pound manhole covers, or driving trucks without working turn signals. Hyper- masculine workplace culture affirms management’s claims.

My co-workers say injured workers aren’t strong enough or smart enough to navigate these hazards. Consequently the union membership has no active demands or positions around safety. All of the union’s gains regarding safety equipment and procedures have basically become a nuisance or seen as compromising masculinity.

Management makes safety equipment available for liability reasons and uses safety violations as a way to discipline workers. In my workplace safety, previously a union victory, has become a tool of management.

Because of this dominant workplace culture, organizing for more effective and widespread safety measures at work is also organizing against some of this staunchly hetero-normative masculine behavior. Convincing people that “unsafe for one is unsafe for all” does not compromise their individual worth, only management’s increasing productivity demands.

Organizing with the goal of redefining what is valued on the shop floor, not hypermasculinity but collective engagement in class struggle, is essentially a socialist-feminist project: a project that strengthens the collective power of all workers, regardless of gender identity, by undoing the centrality of those individual gender identities to how we work, how we relate to the union, how we define the union, and ultimately to what we think is possible in the world.

What we as socialist feminists believe is that it is possible, necessary, to live a life in which you are not constantly struggling to meet the standards of oppressive gender roles, and that individual struggle must not interfere with our collective project of building working class power.

Gender, Social Organization and Liberation

2. Gender is used to organize society.
Understanding gender roles plays such a central role to organizing in my workplace because hypermasculinity is such a big part of the dominant culture there. In reality, there is actually extreme variety in gender and sexuality, and every worker’s relationship to those identities gets lost in this dominant culture.

Though I want to recognize and understand this workplace culture, I do not want to essentialize any aspect of gender or sexuality. Some of the people I work with are not as macho; there are some women, there are macho women, there are serious union activists who derive their macho pride from yelling at the boss and not from working unsafely, and there are much more passive characters, etc.

I am trying to say that the diversity of the working class, which is truly infinite, is not made apparent by the dominant cultures in our workplaces and our unions. These cultures are often a response to how work is organized, which is not by the class, or to how union life is organized, which is not often enough by the class. Therefore, gradually chipping away at the homogenous and destructive force of patriarchy and homophobia in these places makes the way for real and lasting change.

The more and more we organize together and have each others’ backs at work around safety issues, the more the very terms of how to be a successful “guy” at work change. This strategy also makes more space for people who are not “guys.” The more successes we have as a shop, the more solidarity there is.

After months of organizing with this socialist-feminist understanding at the core, my whole shop is getting closer to working safely for our own sake. Increasingly, there is not as much to prove as before, and what was perceived as a defense of gender is not as necessary.

What we are now defending is our collective rights to a safe workplace, reclaiming that tool from management. We have had only some success with this at my shop, but the amount of convincing it takes to get people on board has decreased drastically, which is a sign that solidarity has increased.

3. Gender is about radically redefining the potential for liberation.

Some of the success of the feminist movement has been the creation of rules for behavior and legal recourse for people who encounter discrimination and hostility on the job. These rules are valuable and are the consequence of a very real and brave fight by people of color, queers and women on the job.

Without a politicized union membership, however, these rules do not get integrated into the core of what solidarity looks like. And without anti-racist, feminist and queer organizing in the workplace, there is not the collective commitment to confront these violations of union solidarity. Management, afraid of lawsuits, essentially enforces these rules around sexism, homophobia and racism.

It is our job as activists, especially in the workplace, not to allow these victories of the movement to be turned into the very things that undo our movement. We need to redefine the terms of what it means to be union, what it means to be human. It is our job to intervene effectively in all of these manifestations of racism, sexism and homophobia on the job. It is also our job to do this in a way that builds solidarity and doesn’t simply scold offending union members, which is precisely how management undoes our solidarity.

This is the difference between a socialist- feminist approach to building a collective that can demand and enforce the rights of all union members, and a liberal approach to simply safeguarding individual rights.

A socialist-feminist approach is not only more effective in terms of building lasting structures and relationships to preserve the essence of feminist, queer and anti-racist demands, but it makes more sense. It creates situations where we are asking people to step up and have each others’ backs, not to step down and get out of the way because they just don’t get it. It demands that people be their best for the sake of their coworkers, for the sake of the union. It builds relationships and responsibility to the collective.When building one-on-one relationships, which are the building blocks of bigger organizing, socialist-feminist politics is decidedly different from liberal politics and it makes a difference when you’re talking with people on the job.

People hate “liberals” — partly due to racism and sexism and homophobia and seeing liberals as representing minorities only — but I think all of that masks the fact that people really hate liberalism because it has failed to change the world in ways that make a difference for the class.

Liberal politics depend on the class for support but work in opposition to the class, privileging individual mobility and individual citizenship. Radicalism places all of these individual struggles in the context of how capitalism alienates us from each other and ourselves. People “get” radicalism because radicalism accounts for all of people’s struggles under capitalism. They want to support each other and be supported — “an injury to one is an injury to all” — and if we don’t support each other we’re all more vulnerable.

Placing workplace struggles in this context is a radical project. Understanding how gender plays a role in alienating people from each other and themselves is a socialist-feminist project. Socialist feminism is also an approach to organizing because it understands the role gender plays in developing the class conscious of workers as well as understanding the personal as political. And this is radical.

There’s a personal and emotional connection that people have to feel to trust each other, to take risks on the job, to undo the privileges of whiteness, maleness, heteronormativity, being a productive worker — organizing is fundamentally building trust, about caring for and about each other, about creating a place where the class takes care of each other for common struggles against all of the effects of capitalism.

These personal politics play out while organizing around workplace issues and in informal social interactions away from work. Occasionally people go out, drink, open up to each other, and we as human beings who struggle with the ways capitalism organizes our lives on and off the job share our stories with each other about our needs for respect and care, our needs to respect and care.

We don’t necessarily build on these conversations upon returning to work the next day. But we share an understanding that we are in this together because of our struggles, not in spite of them, and challenging each other to be fuller people is part of our project as a class.

In all of this formal and informal conversation, issues of gender, sexuality, race, the war, how we organize our personal lives, relationships and work are constant. Being a socialist feminist helps to understand what people say, and why they say it.

When people talk about stuff they want to assert the value of the choices they have made in life, the sacrifices that they’ve made. And people are brilliant, insightful, creative and sincerely trying to understand this mess capitalism has made of our lives. They are interested in engaging with and arguing about all of these issues and desire for these struggles to be taken seriously.
As radicals, as socialist feminists, we do take all of these personal struggles seriously. It is at the core of what we believe. The effects of capitalism on our identities and how we organize our lives are sometimes traumatic.

We do not reduce our politics to only these personal struggles, but we incorporate them into our understanding of the world and our approach to organizing. This is appealing to people. This is socialist feminism.

Becoming Organizers

4. Our gender roles are central to developing radical class consciousness.
If this can be seen as one of our goals in the workplace, and in the world, we need to approach it as activists. We need to earn the respect and trust of our coworkers, our community. This is no small task. Our approach to being good organizers is also derived from our socialist feminist tradition. We integrate our understanding of the centrality of our gender roles in developing political consciousness with our methods for building democratic movements. Individual identities are fragmented under capitalism, there are unrealistic standards for living under this gendered order, and the wholeness of our humanity takes a backseat to surviving under capitalism.

I experienced this myself when I started at my job. I kept looking for opportunities to talk to other workers as a worker about the contract, the wages, working conditions, union, and management, but instead found people most interested in personal life — theirs and mine.
I mistakenly thought this focus on being workplace activists, focusing on what material demands we had in common, had to happen at the expense of my other identities, which were not heteronormative and therefore, I mistakenly thought, were distracting from our commonality as workers. I was struggling with how to integrate my sexuality and gender identity with my identity as a workplace activist. I was worried about making my sexuality an issue, but people seemed to be more fixated on obsessing about their own sexuality and gender than about mine.

The people I worked with were, in a funny way, more socialist feminist than I was, integrating their work and after work lives, being moved completely by both experiences. They challenged me to do the same, to be myself comfortably. Coming out ended up making me closer to people, not more alienated as I wrongly suspected. I was challenged by my coworkers and my broader politics to understand the workplace as being about more than work, as being about our whole experience in life.

One of the ways my socialist-feminist politics played a role in how I handled coming out at work is that I started out understanding that everyone has experience as a gendered and sexual person — and everyone in some way or another struggles with these identities, and with insecurities. So I didn’t see myself as unique or different from the straight men I worked with in that way. It also forced me into the unfamiliar place of knowing myself to be the “one” in “an injury to one is an injury to all” and the less familiar place of allowing the “all” to be my coworkers.

When I realized that being more of who I am on the job was the key to being able to establish trust and solidarity, it brought me back to my socialist-feminist politics in a way. As an activist, I took what I perceived as a risk to let people know more about myself. Coworkers respected this honesty and saw it as respectful, and together we effectively established a deep trust. This interpersonal politics is part of our socialist- feminist understanding of what is political, but also a socialist-feminist strategy for organizing.

Understanding that we are all in all of our struggles together, a socialist-feminist organizing approach, led me to be a more effective organizer around those workplace issues I had initially focused on and continue to work on, now with the benefit the trust and support of my coworkers. This support goes both ways and contributes to the developing of leaders and activists on the shop floor. When I intervene on somebody’s behalf, they intervene on mine. We tap each other for support, and stand together on the shop floor.

Integrating a broader understanding of what moves people, a socialist-feminist strategy for organizing, leads to developing a culture where individuals are more willing to take risks as activists around shop floor issues, ranging from the way work is organized, safety issues, discrimination, the humiliation of being constantly managed, denied bathroom breaks, and the unbelievably long list of things that workers struggle around every minute of the day at work.

Building trust and developing relationships is necessary for organizing around workplace issues. But this process does not only happen because of “typical” issues. Our broader struggles under capitalism contribute to our ability and interest in fighting, to developing a consciousness that sees all of our personal struggles as connected, to see how these struggles affect all of our fights. Socialist feminism provides us with the political framework for organizing towards this goal.

5. The tradition of socialist feminism is included in our strategies as organizers.There has been a lot of focus on socialist-feminist process in building socialist organization. And I do think it is important to be explicit about this as a political process and decision. But I also do not want to overlook the fact that socialist feminist process is good organizing: listening more than talking, caring as a task and a goal, seeing consciousness as a kind of process in which everyone is equally responsible and engaged.

Socialism has a tradition; socialist feminism is part of that tradition. In my time as a rank-and-file activist I have learned so much about what moves me and my coworkers, how to effectively organize collective action, how deep and broad the range of things we struggle with under capitalism, as workers in our lives and at work. And I have also learned how enormously lucky I am to be aware of this larger tradition of struggle and thought.

Sometimes we assume that people’s lack of interest or commitment to these traditions is deliberate. I have learned that people are unaware of these traditions. The left has not been widely present in the workplace for a long time. Some labor leaders see the middle class as our goal, and while demanding more of the share of wealth we produce is not a horrible goal, we know as radicals it doesn’t touch the sheer inhumanity of capitalism.

Sharing this tradition and the lessons of these politics is an important part of organizing, sharing the potential for a different world, a different world that is informed by all of our insights into the failure of capitalism as a way of organizing life. And going about it in a way that understands people’s alienation from the processes of struggle itself is more effective organizing. At least it has been for me in modest shop floor activities. Building bigger more lasting organization with this foundation is a longer-term project.

There are many more opportunities to learn from this socialist-feminist approach to organizing because capital is constantly reorganizing our lives and work in ways that further alienate us from ourselves, each other and the very process of political change. For all the above reasons, I think a socialist-feminist process is the most effective way to build the power and collectivity needed by the class. And for the reasons above, I think the workplace is an important place to implement this strategy.

Only conscience resistance will effectively undo the institutionalization of gender roles and the obstacles they create for building-class conscious movements. Gender roles are institutionalized and interfere with building collective struggles, interfere with collective goals and identities. Socialist feminist process and goals are aimed at developing this conscious resistance.


AS FEMINISTS WE often focus our attention on the effects gender inequality has on women. And while this inequality still exists and requires our unwavering attention, as socialist feminists we also focus on the effect this inequality has on our ability to organize a class conscious movement, where our differences do not impede our ability to act collectively against capital.

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