As I was writing this blog post on Sunday morning, news came from the Associated Press about the real human cost of our Black Fridays:
“DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multi-story garment factory just outside of Bangladesh’s capital, an official said Sunday. Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe. Bangladesh’s garment factories make clothes for brands including Wal-Mart, JC Penney, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour and Tesco.”
Walmart stocks up on products manufactured under deadly sweatshop conditions. It organizes Black Friday sales knowing they can touch off riots in their stores. Then Walmart sends security guards and police after peaceful demonstrators who only seek justice in the global workplace. Who said irony is dead?
I didn’t hear of any Black Friday shopper nastiness in Chicagoland, but there were a number of peaceful demonstrations against Walmart and other retailers who exploit and abuse their own employees and supply chain workers around the world.
My Black Friday began at around 4:30 am with a drive from my home in Oak Park to Bedford Park, a suburb south of Midway Airport. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) had rented a hotel meeting room there as a staging area for Walmart protestors, plus buses to carry them to several Chicagoland Walmart stores and eventually to downtown to support food and retail workers there.
It was dark and deserted within the complex of hotels, but when I found the yellow school buses, I knew I was in the right place. Once in the lobby, a UFCW staffer saw me and guided me to their meeting room where staff people were already giving away lime-green Our Walmart tee shirts, buttons and signs. About 30 people were there drinking coffee and munching on donuts.
Filed under: Society & Economy, U.S. Politics, Unions, Workplace
“I make $10.50 an hour, which is not a living wage here in Chicago, but due to the new victory which we won…in a year I’ll be making a living wage. This is a huge victory not only for me but for my family and my coworkers and their families as well. I will be able to move my kids into a safe neighborhood and with the new contract I will be able to afford health insurance.”—Tamekah Shivers, O’Hare Airport concessions worker who recently gained a union contract
O’Hare Airport is a confusing crowded warren of human activity. Even Chicago natives get lost in O’Hare, an airport that always seems to be under construction somewhere. Fortunately there is an abundance of small shops where harried travelers may find refreshments and reading material to lower their stress levels. The same is true at Chicago’s much smaller and more human-sized Midway Airport.
Filed under: Me Stuff, Race, Society & Economy, Unions, Workplace
“The CTU is teaching the USA a lesson in working class love and solidarity. It’s a transformational moment for the membership of the CTU and its allies. How can they transform the horn honks, the raised fists, the friendly waves and the kind words of encouragement into a political force to be reckoned with?”
It was of course, more than a Chicago teachers’ strike; it was a city-wide working class protest. Parents and concerned community members walked the picket lines. Workers of all types who passed in their trucks, buses, taxis and passenger cars joined in with honking, friendly waves and fist raising.
There was serious carb-loading and elevated caffeine levels for days as strike sympathizers brought muffins, cookies, donuts, pop and coffee to picket lines. Labor professor Steve Ashby organized a scheme (originally used in the Madison uprising) where strike supporters called in pizza orders to help feed the legions of volunteers who came to the Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) Strike HQ in the Teamsters hall on the West Side.
In response the mayor and his allies launched an expensive propaganda campaign against the strike that even the best efforts of the CTU and its allies could never match in its reach and scope. TV and radio ads blasting the union were all over the air waves. The local corporate owned news media was almost uniformly hostile. The national media was no better.
Their money was wasted in Chicago’s working class neighborhoods. Chicagoans backed the teachers by a substantial majority. As CTU president Karen Lewis put it,“Let’s be clear — this fight is for the very soul of public education, not just only Chicago but everywhere.”
Filed under: Global Economy & Politics, Society & Economy, Unions, Workplace
The chants rang out across Vincennes Ave in the Chatham neighborhood of South Side Chicago:
“1-2-3-4 No one should be working poor!
5-6-7-8 Come on Walmart, play it straight!
We’re working families
What do we do?
Stand up! Fight back!
There ain’t no power,
Like the power of the people,
Cuz the power of the people won’t stop!”
Striking teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) had joined Warehouse Workers for Justice(WWJ) at a rally aimed at Walmart to protest its employee abuses and the dumping of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts. It was the afternoon of Tuesday September 18, only a few hours before the CTU House of Delegates ended the teachers strike. I had come to the rally with a CTU retiree.
Inspired by the labor-community alliance that the CTU had built in its strike and by a strike of Walmart warehouse workers in California, the Illinois warehouse workers led by WWJ went on strike against Roadlink Workforce Solutions. Roadlink is a subcontractor at the vast Walmart distribution center located in Elwood IL near Joliet, south of Chicago. The Joliet region is now a major distribution point in the big box store supply chain. WWJ is a project of the United Electrical Workers (UE), the legendary progressive union which can trace it’s history back to the factory occupations of the Great Depression. Read more
For many students, back to school means more than scoping out a schedule and greeting old friends. It means saying hello to their favorite veteran teachers, even if they are not taking a class with them. You know the teachers I mean, the ones that your older brothers and sisters said that you just HAD to get. Maybe your parents or your aunts, uncles, and cousins had them too. Greeting a favorite veteran teacher is a recognition of how deep the teacher-student bond can be.
I thought about this as I marched beside the Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) float down the broad expanse of Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago’s Bud Billiken Back to School Parade. Spectators along the parade route gave us an enthusiastic response, often breaking into chants of “Teachers! Teachers!” There were about 125 CTU members and friends who marched in the parade, clad in the now familiar red T-shirts favored by the union and its allies. This year’s return to school is clouded with uncertainty because of the possibility of a teachers strike. The CTU is defending public education against a massive corporate privatization attack led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Chicago Teachers Union members and friends with the CTU float