Tag Archives: Solidarity

Labor Notes: Which Side Are You On?

Good morning!  To update my last post, the Chicago Teachers Union — some 26,000 teachers and support staff — has gone out on strike today.  They are striking for themselves — for previously promised raises and decent health coverage, against being overworked by longer hours and larger class sizes — and also for their students — for “elective” courses such as art and gym and music, and for educational support such as librarians and social workers.  You’d bet that mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children and the children of the Chicago School Board members attend schools that have all that and more.  All of Chicago’s public school students certainly deserve the same.   (Rahm, by the way, should be ashamed of himself.  His mother, a union organizer, is probably rolling in her grave.)

If you are in Chicago, join a picket!  Some handy person has mapped them all out, but I hear you can’t swing a cat in Chicago this morning without hitting some striking teachers.  If you don’t have the time, but maybe have some financial resources, donate to the strike fund.  Or stop by a picket with coffee and snacks.  I’m sure the teachers will appreciate it.  Also, as my fellow people’s librarian from Chicago, Rachel Allshiny, herself an unemployed teacher, notes on Twitter (follow her: @allshiny), “My parents raised me to never cross a picket line. But for some of these kids it’s the only way they’ll get breakfast.”  And lunch, for that matter.  Emptier schools will make for a more effective strike, so if you have folks in your neighborhood who need childcare, or kids who take free or reduced price meals at school, step up and help out.  If supporters could take in children for weeks and months during the Lawrence textile mill strike a hundred years ago, you can surely make a couple sandwiches.

Here in NYC, we’ll be gathering at Union Square at 5pm this evening for a show of solidarity.  (And inspiration?  A girl can dream.)

Along with the start of the school year, it’s also the start of football season.  I love football!  If you google hard enough, you might be able to find pictures of yours truly at age 12 in pads and jersey and with a ponytail hanging out the back of a helmet. (As a side note, I especially love the Green Bay Packers, which is the only community-owned pro sports team in the US.   And the only one to release all its financial information every year.  And it’s against NFL rules for other teams to organize like this.)  But if you’ve been watching pre-season games or this weekend’s season openers, you may have noticed that the calls were less than stellar.  The NFL’s regular referees are locked out, a tactic I’ve previously written about that is being used by owners against workers with more and more frequency.  In their place, the league has hired scabs up from Div II & III college ball, high schools, and sundry other leagues.  (It just kills me that Shannon Eastin, the first woman to ref in the NFL, is a scab.)

There’s a lot to be said about this — how meeting all the refs’ demands would cost the league very little money, how the replacements’ collective lack of experience may endanger the players of a sport that has been paying increasing attention to long-term dangers of concussions and other impact injuries.  Other people have spilled a lot of ink over all that.  I’ll just say that I won’t be watching any games, and neither should you, until the refs’ demands are met and the lockout is over.  If any NFL players happen to be reading, especially any Packers, or from teams in other old union towns — I’m looking at you, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, and Pittsburgh Steelers — I suggest you get on the right side of history and start vociferously supporting your referees.

Here in New York we had an important victory just last week.  On the Upper East Side, Hot and Crusty fired and locked out a couple dozen workers after they unionized and won improvements in wages and working conditions.  Rather than not being a jerk, the owner closed up shop.  Workers and allies occupied the place until the cops showed up and arrested a few people.  Then they started picketing, running a cafe on the sidewalk, and holding a tough line against half-assed offers.  As of now, workers’ demands have all been met, and Hot and Crusty is scheduled to reopen; let’s all keep an eye on this — the picket will continue until the owner follows through.

Last, but not least, some of New York City’s car wash employees are getting organized.  Like the Hot and Crusty employees, many car wash workers are immigrants, often undocumented, which makes it easier for owners to exploit them, through fear of la migra.  Let’s be ready to step up and lend some solidarity as these workers, too, start demanding their rights and dignity.

ETA: In international news, more and more miners, now more than 40,000, are striking in South Africa.

ETA: As of Wednesday, 9/12, teachers in Lake Forest, Ill., a suburb to the north of Chicago, and not part of the Chicago school system, have also gone out on strike.  It sounds like they’re having a rough time of it, so any support from folks out that way would be appreciated, I’m sure.  Lake Forest has a very different demographic profile from Chicago, being very white and very wealthy.  With a median household income about three times that of the national average, residents should probably STFU about teachers wanting to be well-compensated for the valuable work they do.

 

ETA: It’s still Wednesday, and I’ve got more labor news!  Workers at a warehouse in Mira Loma, California, that subcontracts with Walmart — and we all know how shitty Walmart’s labor record is — have walked off, after Walmart wouldn’t even come to the table to discuss wages, working conditions, and retaliation for previous organization attempts.  In coming days they will be walking the 50 miles to Los Angeles to take up the issue with Walmart’s executives.

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Filed under Education, Jaime, Solidarity

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, or, Hunger Strikes: Historically, Globally, Here & Now

British and American suffragettes did it in the early 20th century, with Marion Wallace Dunlop leading off in Britain 1909 and Alice Paul a few years later in the U.S.  Many were force-fed while in prison.  They considered force-feeding to be torture, and some died of it.

Gandhi and others did it as part of the Indian movement for independence from Britain.

Irish republicans did it, too, throughout the 20th century.  Like the suffragettes, they were subject to force-feeding, and some died of it, while others died of starvation.

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners had been at it for weeks this spring, in response to being indefinitely detained without charges or trial under the Israeli government’s policy of “administrative detention” (to which NYC’s own stop & frisk policies targeting young men of color could be considered a little brother), as well as the conditions under which they are held.  The first two strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, stopped eating on February 27, with at least 1500 more later joining.  Just last Monday, as the longest strikers were close to death, Israel conceded to some of the strikers’ demands, and almost all the strikers have lifted their strikes.

This Tuesday prisoners at the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia refused their first meal.  They are striking in response to inhumane conditions and treatment inside the prison.  “Phil Wilayto, of the Richmond Defenders, said “The most important thing about the prisoners’ demands is that Red Onion need only follow their own regulations with regard to meals, medical care, sanitation, grievance procedures, and humane treatment of prisoners. In order to press these demands the prisoners have to take the extreme step of risking their health and even lives.””  There have been several hunger strikes in the U.S. in recent years, such as those by prisoners in Georgia, Ohio, and California.

And last night I saw that my buddy Jack has begun a medication and hunger strike here in New York.

Trinity Church, located on Broadway at Wall St. in Manhattan, dates from the late 17th century — it received a charter from the King of England in 1697.  The current building was consecrated in 1846.  It is an Episcopal church.  It owns a shit-ton of very valuable land in Manhattan, and since its inception has been frequented by wealthy and influential locals.  Like all religious institutions in the U.S., it is tax-exempt, in exchange for being supposedly non-political and due to the separation of church and state, which usually seems to all boil down to nothing more than not explicitly endorsing political candidates.  (If we’re demanding a restructuring of tax law in the U.S., changing that exempt status is one of my demands, let me tell you.)  As is also common among religious institutions, especially large, wealthy ones, they give a lot of lip service to serving humanity, but when presented with the nitty-gritty of it tend to balk.

Back in December, OWS attempted to occupy Duarte Square, a vacant, gravel covered lot on Canal Street that is owned by Trinity Church.  It was well-publicized beforehand, as were attempts to negotiate with Trinity for use of the space without interference by the NYPD.  It didn’t work, on both counts.  Several hundred people showed up, but so did the cops.  After folks went over the fence, about 50 were arrested and charged with trespassing.  The most iconic images from that day are of George Packard, a retired Episcopal bishop (yes, same branch of Protestant Christianity as Trinity), in his scarlet robes climbing over the fence and subsequently being arrested.  (He was also arrested on May 1 at 55 Water Street at the end of our May Day activities.)  It is now nearly six months later, and those folks are going to trial on June 11.

In response to the complete shit-fuckery of a church charging members of an economic justice (among other things) movement with trespassing on an empty lot, Jack is going on a medication and hunger strike.  Jack is 57.  We’ve done a bunch of jail support work together.  He helps keep some of the other middle-aged white men in line.  Pertinent to his strike, he is HIV+.  He won’t be taking medication or eating until Trinity drops all charges.  (He is an occupier, though, so cigarettes and coffee are still in!)  Today is day 5 of his medication strike and day 2 of his hunger strike.  I’m sure Trinity has heard by now, but you might want to contact them in support of Jack and in support of our comrades who will shortly be in court.

Video statement from Jack that I can’t get off of Facebook [halp?]

 

 

ETA: 5/30/12.  Via Facebook, Jack asks, “[P]lease send Rector Cooper, jcopper@trinitywallstreet.org, an email in support of my medication/hunger strike. Today is the 11th day I have been without my lifesaving medications and the 7th day without food and necessary nutrition. I am deadly serious about this strike…”

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Filed under #D17, Direct Action, Friends of the Library, Jaime, Solidarity, Video

Art & Labor

This is how I feel about labor lockouts.

So, one of the four versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream — pastel on board, and the only one still in private hands — sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s (including buyer’s commission) here in New York on Wednesday, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction.  (Some people think there’s better things to spend that much money on, even in the art world.  I’d probably buy a bunch of lesser-known Impressionists and a shit-ton of Italian Art Nouveau everything.)

I have so much to say about this!

I take a professional interest, as this is my industry.  I’m an art librarian, and, as the stalkers, fanboys, and government info-mining creepers know, I work at a small art auction house. (Don’t judge, a girl’s gotta pay her student loans, and, anyway, my boss doesn’t mind if I take occasional time off to occupy shit.)  As such, I like to keep tabs on the art market (current thoughts — only really cheap and really expensive stuff sell around here; the destruction of a comfy middle to upper-middle class with a good outlook on the economy has also destroyed that large middle part of the arts & antiques market).  I also am really onboard with organizing labor around industries, rather than trades or workplaces.  To paraphrase Utah Philips, if the pilots, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants all organized together, we’d own the airline by now.  An injury to one, and all that.  In that light, the Sotheby’s art handlers’ problems are my problems, too, even though I’m a librarian rather than an art handler and I work at a different house.

For those who’ve missed it, the art handlers at Sotheby’s, Teamsters from Local 814, have been locked out for nine months — since last August 1.  A lockout is like the opposite of a strike — it’s what owners and managers can do to workers during a labor dispute; they literally or figuratively lock workers out of their places of employment, hoping that the economic coercion will force workers to concede.  In the meantime, companies will hire temporary workers [i.e. scabs] to keep the place running.  It can be a crapshoot for the owners, as it costs more than business as usual; Sotheby’s will almost certainly lose money this year compared to if the Teamsters had had their contract.  Historically speaking, lockouts haven’t been particularly common in recent decades, up until the last few years.  If you ask me, it’s one sign that the oligarchs aren’t looking at this all from a merely fiscal perspective, but are also using whatever tools they have to fight class wars, increase income and wealth inequality, and basically be a bunch of jerks because they don’t quite recognize the rest of us as real people in the same way they are.  Even if it costs them money to do so.

In 2011, Sotheby’s set records for sales and earnings.  And this, at a time when those of us who work — if we can find work — for a living are having a harder and harder time making ends meet.  It is unconscionable that a company doing so well should want to pay its skilled laborer less; it is the very definition of economic exploitation when someone other than those who perform labor profits from it.  The Sotheby’s art handlers — and their families —  lost their health insurance at the beginning of the year.  They are currently receiving $400 unemployment plus $200 a week from the union.  To paraphrase Utah again (I feel like I do that a lot), the issues are wages, hours, and conditions, of course.  The union wants a contract — decent pay, benefits, the ability to organize — and Sotheby’s wants to replace skilled union workers with low-wage, non-union workers, with no benefits and no collective bargaining rights.  Same shit as always.

Aside from picketing at Sotheby’s, the Teamsters, along with OWS folks and other allies, have been targeting their campaign on people and institutions who sell through the auction house.  I went to an action at MoMA in late February.  Two of the museum’s curators approached me — I had just come from work, and so I suppose I was speaking their bespectacled and elbow-patched visual language — and I got the chance to explain it to them, after telling them that I’m an art librarian and an auction house employee myself.  I hope I did my part in bridging the gap between the curators and the handlers; I think I surprised the curators a little, being from their intellectual world, but standing with the Teamsters and the Occupation.  It’s kind of a perverse glee, but that’s one of my great pleasures at the Occupation, sometimes looking all proper and getting approached by non-occupiers who think I’m part of their in-group, and then surprising them by laying some uncomfortable facts and well-thought-out theory on them.  Unfortunately I missed the demonstration outside the sale at Sotheby’s on Wednesday evening, as I was (once again) at Manhattan central booking to retrieve some of the 95 or so comrades who’d been arrested at Tuesday’s May Day actions.  The May Day arrestees included three of our librarians, who’d been grabbed off the sidewalk for nothing more than carrying the black flag and being recognizable as occupiers.  Which is messed up, but less messed up than, say, Shawn’s experience.

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Filed under Art, Jaime

Operation Book Bomb Tucson!

Illustration by Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt

As many of you may have already heard The People’s Library in solidarity with Occupy Tucson recently launched an action called Operation Book Bomb Tucson. In response to the disgraceful decision of the Tucson Unified School District to end the ten-year old Mexican-American Studies program, and to ban books from the school curriculum The People’s Library is holding a series of teach-ins/book drives to support the Mexican-American community both in Tucson and throughout the U.S. We are collecting copies of the seven banned texts as well as Spanish language books, books on Mexican history, and books on Latino culture to ship out to the students and teachers of Tucson. We want to let the Mexican-American community know that we are not indifferent to their struggles, and to let the Tucson Unified School District know that a threat to educational freedom somewhere is a threat to educational freedom everywhere. Here is how you can help us.

We have received some generous donations of books from publishers throughout the U.S. including Arte Público Press, NYU Press, and The Southwest Organizing Project. Follow these links and you can ship us copies of the seven banned books to add to our book bomb. We want to ship as many copies of them as we can out to the students and teachers of Tucson. The first two books listed can be purchased at 50% off thanks to the good people at Arte Público.  Just let them know you are purchasing books for Operation Book Bomb Tucson! We encourage you to support publishers and your local independent bookstores with your purchases, but if you need to shop elsewhere online, we’ve also provided some links to Powell’s Books. Click the links below to purchase any of the titles below.

Message to Aztlán by Rodolfo Gonzales

Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by F. Arturo Rosales

Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic

500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures by Elizabeth Martinez

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Rethinking Columbus by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña from Powell’s Books

All books can be shipped to:

The UPS Store
Re: Occupy Wall Street
Attn: The People’s Library/Operation Tucson
118A Fulton St. #205
New York, NY 10038

Additionally we will be holding book donation drives and teach-ins here in New York City. Our first book donation event will be held at the next Occupy Town Square on Sunday, February 26 in Tompkins Square Park from 11AM to 5PM.

Our second event will be held at Word Up Community Bookshop, 4157 Broadway @ 176th St  in Washington Heights on Thursday, March 1, from 7PM-9PM featuring special guest speaker Chris Hedges. Please bring any books to these two events that you would like to donate to Operation Book Bomb Tucson. Keep those books coming and we will update you on our progress here. Thank you for supporting us and for supporting educational freedom everywhere.

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Filed under Announcements, Direct Action, Donations, Education, Frances, Free Speech, Literature, OccupyTucson

Join Us: Jan. 24th at 4pm at The Red Cube!!! [change: 3pm]

Tomorrow, January 24th 2012, the People’s Library requests everyone in solidarity with the library to join us at the Red Cube at 4pm [note: has been changed to 3pm]. As many of you know, since the raid we’ve had quite a few encounters with NYPD and Brookfield Security resulting in the seizure of more books. It’s an outrage that books are being seized by the people in power and tomorrow at 4pm we are hoping you will join us and help us voice our outrage. We will require your participation for about an hour, and be sure to wear your walking shoes as we will be taking a little field trip… Join us as we fight against censorship and the seizure of books, and fight for the dissemination of knowledge and free literature. Please spread the word to all that are in solidarity with the People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street – Meet at the Red Cube at 4pm [changed to 3pm] SHARP! January 24th 2012 at 4pm! [changed to 3pm]

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Filed under Announcements, Direct Action