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The front page of the L.A. Times recently had a story about some hip restaurants replacing serving staff with iPads. First of all, L.A. Times: front page above the fold? Really?
Now, let’s set aside what the latest twist in automation says about us and our social interactions with other human beings. Instead, I want to focus on the fairly obvious economic implications. With apologies to Martin Niemöller:
First, they came for the bank tellers, and I said nothing, for I was not a bank teller.
Then they came for the travel agents, and I said nothing, for I was not a travel agent.
Then they came for the supermarket cashiers, and I said nothing, for I was not a supermarket cashier.
Then they came for the food service workers,
I was recently asked to take part in a “role play” for a group of Hyatt hotel housekeepers in the basement of their union hall, in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Each had taken a leave of absence from work to talk with community leaders about conditions for room attendants in their hotels, and they needed a chance to practice. The women belong to UNITE HERE Local 11, and are part of a national campaign of housekeepers reaching out for community support of boycotts at several Hyatt properties.
Even though some of them knew me as an active supporter of hotel workers, first as a community volunteer and then as part of the LAANE staff, I agreed to play the director of an environmental organization with limited knowledge about the hotel industry. (This last part didn’t require much acting from me.)
Sometimes struggling to express themselves in English,
I’ve met more guys in the building trades that raise kids on their own than anywhere else in my life. That’s how I knew it was possible to do. I’m a single dad and I have primary custody of my son, Ayden. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the stability I got from working on the L.A. Live project.
Ayden is seven now. He just started second grade. Every day after school, I help him with his spelling and sentences. We do flashcards and memory games. I have him write down a daily paragraph from Kermit the Frog’s song, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green.”
I’ve been out-of-work as an ironworker for over a year — L.A. Live was the last long-term job I had. When I worked on the project, Ayden and I lived in Long Beach. I didn’t drive and took the Blue Line every day to the Staples Center When you work construction,
The American labor movement needs a jolt and Joe Burns’ new book, Reviving the Strike, delivers just the right shock treatment.
Debunking commonly held assumptions about labor’s inevitable decline and extinction, Burns, a veteran union lawyer, argues clearly and persuasively that worker power is still possible — but will require a dramatic shift in thinking and strategy.
Don’t expect standard academic or progressive bromides about “coalition-building,” “corporate campaigns,” “organizing-to-scale” or “social unionism.” In taking on some of the labor left’s sacred cows — living wage campaigns, worker centers, etc. — Burns praises and honors the commitment, brains and tenacity of activists. But these approaches, he suggests, lack the singular component necessary to transform power relations in the political economy. That, he contends, is the capacity to stop production.
Burns makes his case in a tightly-written narrative. After the union insurgencies of the 1930s, Congress and the courts imposed a system he calls “labor control,” one designed to disable unions’ principal and primary weapon: the strike.
Tom Morello went from playing guitar in the L.A. club band Lock Up to arena-stage stardom as a founder of Rage Against the Machine. The Harvard-educated Grammy winner’s many other music projects have included Audioslave and his current solo, accoustic incarnation called the Nightwatchman. He is the classic rebel in the rain, an all-seasons champion for the rights of the underdog, one who performs at protests from Madison to Wall Street.
On the eve of a new tour in support of his World Wide Rebel Songs LP, Morello spoke to the Frying Pan about his new comic book, protest and a certain president who, like Morello, has a Kenyan father and white mother.
What was the first thing that ever made you mad?
Well, growing up as the only black kid in my school was one thing, but as far as global events it was Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in Ireland.
Things are seldom what they seem. Sometimes the distance between what we think we see and what is actually there is the result of personal prejudices. Sometimes it’s influenced by a kind of factual gerrymandering created by official sources and reinforced by the media. Most vacationers, for example would choose Carnival-happy Brazil in a moment over drug war-scarred Mexico. Unless they knew that Mexico has only 11 homicides per 100,000 people while halcyon Brazil is a murder leader with 31 homicides per 100,000 – a fact that seldom appears on Rio brochures or on our own six o’clock news.
And so it is here in America, where our own perceptions of unemployment and poverty often clash with the facts. The official calculation for the number of people out of work puts it at a single-digit — nine percent — while in California it nips at the heels of 13 percent.
Across the country critics of the Obama administration’s multimillion-dollar support for Northern California’s Solyndra solar panel factory are railing against government stupidity. How is it possible, they ask, that federal and state governments could have invested hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a company that went belly up? Why didn’t the officials take more precautions, do more research, put in place more safeguards? How could they have been so dumb and so wasteful of precious government dollars?
But really, what the conservative Obama critics are saying is that the federal government and states such as California and Wisconsin that invested millions in the company should have had more bureaucratic red tape. Yes, that most hated of terms, “red tape” is something that could have actually prevented a huge loss of government dollars in an unwise investment.
Extreme right-wing conservative Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan said it well in an article this week on Fox.com:
A few years ago the nonprofit, nonpartisan Los Angeles Economic Roundtable released a study that got too little attention. It found that union workers in the county earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers in the same jobs. These extra wages for the 800,000 union workers—17 percent of the labor force—added $7.2 billion a year in pay. As union workers spent their wages on food, clothing and other items, their additional buying power created 64,800 jobs and $11 billion in economic output. Let me repeat: $11 billion.
Clearly unions are good for the economy. But to hear business propaganda tell it, that 11 billion is the 11th Plague, because anything that moves the country away from an imaginary, 19th-century Utopia where business held all the cards, is to be avoided — like the plague.
This winner-take-all crowd should be happy because, in many ways, America today does resemble its Gilded Age of the late 1800s —
Corporations are forever arguing that all that stands between consumers and paradise is the “lousy gummint” and its lousy regulations. “Get out of the way!” is their rallying cry. Well, we had a bit of a natural experiment this past summer, as Congress forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. (As it happens, the shutdown sprang, in part, from anti-union ideological reasons, but that’s a whole other story.)
In addition to furloughing some 4,000 FAA employees and idling tens of thousands of construction workers, the shutdown deprived the government of an estimated $30 million in ticket taxes—every day.
Some might argue that the government needs that revenue. But let’s focus on the positive: Without the taxes, ticket prices are lower for consumers, and that’s a good thing, right? Awwww, you’re adorable. A couple of airlines did pass the savings on to travelers, but according to a travel agent I spoke with (yes,
The Los Angeles Times recently carried a report on one of its polls, the key finding of which was that the electorate is unwilling to compromise.
This article was dripping with contempt for voters, who apparently prefer things like “party orthodoxy,” want to “stick to their guns,” are “hardline” and “putting their priorities above compromise.” Their “concede nothing mentality” makes it hard for either side to “come out of its ideological corner.”
The evidence for these central findings is largely from one question (No. 59), asked only of Democrats: Would they’d prefer that Obama “compromise more with Republicans” or “stand up to Republicans”?
According to the pollster’s analysis, 60 percent of Dems want Obama to stand up, while only 33 percent want him to compromise. The problem is how the analyst got there. Voters had four choices: Compromise “somewhat or much,” and “stand-up somewhat or much;” the poll analysis aggregates the “somewhat” and “much” options to get its “total standup” versus “total compromise” result.
We were met at the Hyatt Andaz loading dock with a big sign that said, Welcome Back, Andaz Employees. I crept into the entrance, a nervous wreck, still uncertain if I had been fired or replaced, but I was soon relieved to find that everyone had been let back in. We were greeted with forced smiles and boxes of multi-colored donuts.
Union members refer to each other as brothers and sisters. It may seem cultish at first, but after my experience with a seven-day strike at the Hyatt Andaz last week, it makes perfect sense. There is nothing that bonds people like walking off a job together, protesting their employer and taking no pay for a week, all in hopes of getting a better situation. We made a financial sacrifice and some of us, including myself, are pondering the first of the month with certain dread.
There is a general sense of uneasiness,
[dc]J[/dc]ohn Densmore has been famous for longer than many of us have been alive. The drummer with the seminal 1960s L.A. band The Doors, Densmore parlayed his early success into a long career – not just as a musician but as a writer, actor, dancer, producer and social activist. He’s a native Angeleno (his childhood home is now an onramp where the 405 meets the 10) who cares deeply about his city and is clearly disturbed by the country’s right-ward turn
Densmore chatted recently with The Frying Pan about politics, Jim Morrison’s legacy and the subject of his upcoming book – greed.
Okay, let’s start with a rant.
I’ve been thinking about how the eight years of the Bush era brought us back towards feudalism – we’ve been feuding a lot. And of course the gap between the rich and poor is the worst in our history and the middle class is the glue between the upper class and the working class,
Ed Padgett works as a pressman at the L.A. Times’ Olympic Boulevard printing plant – a third-generation employee who has been with the paper 39 years. He currently blogs at his site, Los Angeles Pressmens 20 Year Club. Padgett began posting messages in 1990, before the advent of the Internet, because, he says, “I was getting a bit bored.” His tedium vanished in 2008 when, after press operators voted to join the Teamsters (the first union shop on Times property since 1967), Times managers began, he said, continual attempts to fire union members on a variety of workplace rule infringements.
What’s happening at the Times these days?
They’re expecting a really bad fourth quarter. The senior vice president told us we’ve got three years more of printing the hard copy Times before they shut it down.
I’ve been an electrician since 1999. I’ve worked on many kinds of jobs, the most rewarding being a few schools I helped build from the ground up. But those jobs are rare these days. These are the toughest times I’ve seen, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up.
The recession has hit construction so hard we can hardly believe it. In the last few years, I’ve only worked about four months out of the year. I’m on the list at the union hall. There used to be enough work to keep most of us busy, but now when a job opens up there are about 80 people on the books ready to take it. I think I’m number 82, so I’m not expecting a project to come through for quite a while.
Four months a year isn’t enough to get by on.
You hear a lot of talk about measuring student performance in public schools, but it’s a little known fact that schools themselves are also graded for their performance, when their infrastructures score well on operating costs and the efficient use of resources. At the top of this honor roll are high performance facilities known as “green schools,” which are built or renovated in ways that protect the environment, improve the health of students and educators — and save money over the long run.
Upgrading schools can also create new jobs, which we need now. According to 2008 Congressional testimony, a pair of state bond cycles that spent $10 billion on California school construction generated more than 175,000 jobs — and created an additional $20 billion of economic activity in their wake. That same testimony cited similar economic spikes, suggesting that long-term benefits are a virtual given for school infrastructure investments.
When I woke up this September 11 I turned on MSNBC. It was replaying the news coverage that took place that day 10 years before. I found myself glued to the TV once again. I felt sad not only for the innocent lives lost in 2001 but also for what followed. The wars, the death of innocent civilians, the torture and the greed for oil sent our country down a very ugly path. We have been trying to find our way back ever since. Today we have to live with the impact of 9/11, but we also have to deal with the impact of reckless financial practices fueled by greed that has resulted in the Great Recession.
Most would agree that our country will never be the same as a result of what happened on 9/11. Yet it can also be argued that the current recession will equally alter “the American way of life” forever.
On the alternate Earth where some pundits live, the worst thing to ever befall Americans during the Great Depression was the New Deal. To them, federal recovery programs were wasteful extravagances that straight-jacketed men of wealth from creating jobs while inventing a nation of loafers. Some revisionist historians have even suggested that the Depression wasn’t as bad as people say it was – at least not Grapes of Wrath bad. These Depression deniers and the fairy tales they spread on talk radio and in blogs help explain why today’s political wilderness rings with the sound of falling axes as Congress merrily chops down the social programs that protect the poor, unemployed and injured.
Men and women grow old and die, but there are documents, both large and small, that loudly declare these new interpretations of the Depression to be the myths they are. One of the small but forceful records is White Collar,
Imagine your neighbor, your neighbor’s neighbor and their neighbor . . . plus the most disgusting fast-food joint you can envision (Grade C in the window), the nearest gas station, the local pet store and an auto repair shop to boot.
Now, imagine all their trash coming at you on an endless conveyor belt – faster than chocolates on I Love Lucy .
Your job: to dig in and pull out the recyclables.
Thousands of workers, often immigrant Latinas, do this all day, every day, at material recovery facilities (MRFs) across Southern California. Many of these MRFs are grim, post-apocalyptic jalopy buildings that would have been perfect as sets for Blade Runner.
The workers are called “sorters,” and they’re at the front line of a shadow industry that desperately needs to be reigned in. They sort and sort and sort .
Remember August’s “Tower Guy” story? I happened to be working at the computer that night, when I heard my wife gasp from the other room, where she was watching the evening news. “Get in here,” she called, “some guy is having a Howard Beale moment!”
Turns out that she was watching KTLA, where police had just arrested someone for climbing Channel 5’s steel tower on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood—apparently he got some 30 feet into the air before the cops got him down. Was this some sort of crazy stunt by a thrill-seeker? An attempted suicide? A promo for some new reality show? Who could know? After all, the blurb in the L.A. Times was content to conclude that “it was unclear why he began traversing the metal tower.”
Of course, the dominant narrative is that the guy must be nuts. The cops sent a Mental Evaluation Unit.
Today’s uncertainty is tomorrow’s unemployment. At least that’s the way it seems to most of us who are teens and young adults. And so far, no one’s told us different.
We are growing anxious. The job market is down. College tuition is up. More and more, it feels as though the deck is stacked against us, with government busy looking out for the unemployed of the present, neglecting the unemployed of the future, and the private sector ignoring the unemployed all together.
Beyond that, we face a decision that seems to be lose-lose. If we graduate high school — which, believe me, many of us do not — we have the choice to go to college (if we can get in) or start hunting for work (if we can get an interview). The former situation guarantees us hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt over our next few decades.