Part One of a two-part interview
I stole DeMaurice Smith. That is, I grabbed 20 minutes with the executive director of the NFL Players Association, between poses in front of the step-and-repeat and shaking hands with enthusiastic dinner guests. Smith and the association were honorees at the December 8, LAANE City of Justice Awards Dinner, along with Culture Clash and the main guest of honor, Madeline Janis, at the Beverly Hilton. Later, Smith gave a rousing speech to a packed ballroom without looking at a single note. Just sayin’.
I wanted to know more about the guy I saw on TV during the first half of 2011 who brought all of the football players into a huddle — not to call out plays on the field, but to talk organizing strategy and give pep talks on contract negotiations.
Here’s an issue custom made for the Occupy movement: the billions of dollars spent every year by local and state government on tax breaks and subsidies meant to attract businesses. Occupiers outraged about bank bailouts should check out the new study, Money for Something, by Good Jobs First, which finds that government largesse often comes with no strings attached in terms of job creation or job quality.
The report seems to have struck a chord with a newly responsive press, which has been given license by the Occupy movement to, however belatedly, shine a spotlight on the myriad ways in which corporate America has rigged our political system to their advantage. Check out the excellent New York Times piece on this important expose.
T’is the season of the full mailbox. Every day when I pick up our mail, the box is stuffed with requests for donations. My wife Susan and I get them from everyone – from CARE to the Salvation Army to cancer research to the Red Cross. We get them just like you do because this is the time of year when people think about giving to others – and tax deductions only count if you make that donation before December 31.
Poring over some demographic materials a few years back, I realized that Susan and I are among the top three percent of givers in Southern California. I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could a low-paid Methodist minister give away enough money each year to be in the upper echelon of generosity? Especially with all the wealth in Los Angeles.
Turns out, it wasn’t hard at all. We practice the ancient religious tradition of tithing – we give away 10% of our income.
(Editor’s note: This letter first appeared on cleanandsafeports.org, coinciding with yesterday’s protests organized by the Occupy movement at ports up and down the West Coast.)
We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.
We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers. Between the five of us we have 11children and one more baby on the way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our shores for America’s stores.
For some time Merle Haggard’s lyrics about vanishing jobs and workmanship have seemed more like a lament than the pep talk they were intended to be:
I wish a Ford and a Chevy
Would still last 10 years
Like they should . . .
When a man could still work, still would.
And are the good times really over for good?
Even with some signs that industry is making a timid return to America, organized labor is struggling to influence political events. The Frying Pan spoke about this on December 8 with UNITE HERE president John Wilhelm, shortly before he introduced honoree DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association, at LAANE’s City of Justice Awards Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Wilhelm, whose union represents hospitality workers across North America,