Volume 20, Number 12
Winter Soldier Campaign
Iraq veterans against the war -- Ivaw
Eighty and Still Protesting
Nut House Econ
Behind Burma's Repression
Nukes Are Back
Eleanor J. Bader
2 Book Reviews
U.S. & Eygpt
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With only 8 employees and 1,900 members, the Restaurant Opportunity Center-New York (ROC- NY) is David to the Goliath of the restaurant industry and all of its commensurate associations and legal teams. ROC-NY is a workers center, a non-union organizing body for workers, doing some of the most groundbreaking work within labor circles. Originally founded in April 2002 to assist workers left jobless after the destruction of Windows on the World, a World Trade Center restaurant, ROC-NY has grown beyond that simple mandate and become a training center, an organizing resource, and restaurateur.
ROC-NY encourages anyone working within the restaurant industry that has a complaint about wage and hour violations by their employers to contact them. Because of this open door policy, ROC-NY has organized workers in restaurants throughout the city, assisting them in advocating for improvements in their working conditions and adherence to labor law. “We go after the highest profile restaurants,” says Saru Jayaraman, co-director of ROC-NY. One high profile campaign against the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group was won through litigation, protest, and press attention. At its resolution Smith & Wollensky agreed to pay ROC-NY members more than $100,000 and to abide by state wage law.
Like most other workers centers ROC-NY is a non-profit organization that survives on grant money and “some small amount of dues,” according to Jayaraman. Nonetheless, they have managed to grow and are now expanding into other cities, New Orleans among them (Jayaraman declined to name the others). And their work is spinning off into areas well beyond what is typical of labor organizing.
In 2006 ROC-NY opened Colors, a cooperatively-owned restaurant in trendy Astor Place. All Colors employees are also co-owners; they receive profit sharing with a base salary well above the industry standard. In addition to providing dignified work to members, Colors provides the restaurant industry with a good example to follow, according to Jayaraman. In addition to serving diners, the restaurant is used as a training school during the day for members/employees seeking to move into different facets of the restaurant industry.
When ROC-NY members decided to start a cooperative restaurant there was no domestic example that operated on a scale they were planning, so Jayaraman traveled to India to research the workings of the world’s largest cooperative restaurant. In the end this example, and funding from an Italian co-op, started Colors which is now celebrating its first anniversary.
In addition to Colors, ROC-NY conducts research on the restaurant industry, documenting working conditions and wages. They function as a hiring hall for members by distributing material about open positions at other establishments. They teach classes on labor rights, English as a second language, computer skills, and facets of the restaurant industry like baking, bartending, or waiting tables, exhibiting vision far beyond the contract maintenance and collective bargaining typically associated with labor organizations.
Workers centers are designed for people who work in the service sector or other hard to organize sectors of the workforce. Typically, they are not based in particular work sites, instead focusing on entire industries or defining themselves by ethnic groups or geographic areas. They include groups like the Garment Workers Center in Los Angeles, Young Workers United in San Francisco, and the the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. Most focus on industries typified by low wages and/or high turnover and do not shy away from difficult fights for contracts or financial benefits.
Workers centers use radically different tactics from those of labor unions. They don’t negotiate contracts between workers and employers. Many do not charge dues to members. Instead, they invest heavily in political education and are open to any aggrieved worker, unlike unions who only assist members in unionized workplaces.
Organized restaurant workers in NYC—photo from rocny.org
They can do this because they are governed by different rules than unions. Though workers centers organize heavily within workplaces, many also function as a community organization, using this connection as a pool of support.
In order for a union to gain a foothold in any workplace they need a majority of workers to vote for them. Workers centers, because they do not engage in collective bargaining, do not need a majority of workers, just an active minority, allowing them greater flexibility, which is necessary in workplaces where employees may not stay long enough for a formal election. In addition to high turnover, there are other factors that confound traditional labor unions when they try to organize in some industries, such as rampant subcontracting, immigration status, and legal barriers.
The California apparel industry, worth more than $24 billion per year, is a case in point. The industry employs 100,000 garment workers who are forced to work an estimated 52 hours a week for $3.28 an hour. This group of workers are primarily immigrants and 87 percent of them speak a language other than English. The average LA garment worker is paid by the piece for work completed, with no benefits or sick time. A Department of Labor Survey in 2000 found that two of every three Los Angeles garment shops did not comply with wage and hour laws. These workers are in desperate need of representation, but only 1 percent of them are union members. Major unions have tried to organize this industry, with little success. UNITE established a Garment Workers Justice Center in the 1990s, but chose to move on years later to focus on other aspects of the garment industry.
Garment workers are difficult to organize because employers often threaten to close shop if they are faced with an organizing drive. Workers are intimidated by their employers, unaware of their rights, and cannot risk their jobs to join a union campaign that may or may not be effective. Moving into this space between need and impediment is the Garment Workers Center (GWC) that assists garment workers who file claims against employers that violate wage and hour and health and safety laws. GWC also organizes boycotts and takes large employers to court on behalf of their members.
The GWC is a small organization with six employees and a budget of $380,000 per year, none of which comes from unions or dues. They get their funding entirely through grants and non-profit foundations. The GWC has had some success. They launched a campaign against Forever 21, a high priced retailer. The campaign was settled in December 2004 in favor of the claimants. They also run a series of monthly educational workshops on wage and hour laws and health and safety regulations.
Garment workers and other workers in the service sector are difficult to organize because of their marginalization, quick turnover, and the active resistance of their employers. But some workers are barred from organizing by the law itself. Taxi drivers are a prime example. Repeated National Labor Relations Board rulings have held that taxi drivers are legally considered independent contractors, even if they work for the same employer day in and day out on a schedule set by the employer. This designation prohibits them from engaging in collective bargaining or joining a union.
In 1998, in a bid to better their circumstances, several organizers from the Communities Against Anti-Asian Violence spun off the organization’s Lease Drivers Coalition to become its own organization—the Taxi Workers Alliance (TWA). Nine years later the group represents about one-fourth of New York City’s 26,000 taxi drivers, who begin every day more than $100 in debt after paying their medallion fee. On average, they make $26,000- $33,000 per year for 60-70 hours of work a week.
The TWA struggles to improve drivers’ pay and to fight against ethnic discrimination and harassment from police departments. There are now TWAs in 19 cities. They have won some groundbreaking victories, like establishing a living wage standard for NYC drivers and fighting off increased insurance premiums demanded by New York’s City government.
TWA made the headlines in 1998 when they led a successful strike against taxi regulation changes proposed by then Mayor Guiliani. The strike brought New York to a halt and a follow-up protest worried Guiliani enough that he ordered the NYPD to stop it—a move that a federal judge later declared a violation of cab drivers’ First Amendment rights.
Garment workers protest a clothing store in LA—photo from garmentworkercenter.org
A second strike in September 2007, in response to Mayor Bloom- berg’s mandate requiring GPS tracking for all NYC cabs, brought thousands of cabs off the streets in protest. TWA successfully fought to raise the cab fare by 11 percent, effective December 2006.
With the growth of the workers center movement came the need for coordinating structures and national networks developed to fill that need: Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a Chicago-based group aiming to strengthen ties between the religious community and labor organizations, founded a workers center network in 2004; and The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (ND- LON), a Los Angeles-based group founded in 2001. In August 2007, a third national network was born when ROC-NY founded ROC-United, a network designed to coordinate new ROC chapters.
Parallels have been made between the growth of the workers center and the growth of the service sector. Both expanded dramatically during the 1990s—the service sector increased by 19 million jobs and now accounts for about three-quarters of GDP. The number of workers centers grew from 25 to around 140 in that same time period.
Vanessa Tait, author of Poor Workers’ Unions: Rebuilding Labor Unions from Below, points to a number of factors to explain the growth of workers centers. These include immigration patterns, access to grant money for non-traditional labor organizing, the growth of the service sector, and union disinterest in organizing so called “hard to organize workers.” Tait sees the roots of the current workers center phenomenon going back to the beginnings of the labor movement. Then, unions functioned in much the way workers centers function now—with an emphasis on community involvement and a holistic approach to engaging people. She also points to successful civil rights struggles for fair hiring practices that were not associated with unions, examples of unemployed worker organizing, and groups like Maryland’s Freedom Union that operated in the mid-1960s organizing workers who were openly shunned by unions. For her it’s not a new development, it’s on a continuum.
“The labor movement had failed to adapt,” according to Tait and “people had to find ways to organize.” This relationship is very clear in some cases. Tait’s book documents several examples of union ambivalence spawning new organizations. In one of these, Chinese workers scattered among several restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown approached the Hotel Restaurant and Bartenders Union, Local 69 for help organizing. Local 69 was ambivalent and the campaign to organize was run mostly by the workers themselves. Once a contract was in place the workers found that its provisions were not enforced by Local 69 and, after several disappointments, the Chinese Staff and Worker’s Association was formed as an independent union and took over representation from Local 69.
Over the last several years connections have developed between workers centers, the AFL-CIO, and Change To Win. In San Francisco the central labor council gave Young Workers United their Labor-Community Action Award in the summer of 2007; they say that they consider the group practically members. ROC-NY was founded after UNITE-HERE asked co-director Saru Jayaraman to form a group to assist Windows on the World workers because they didn’t have the capacity. The two groups remain closely aligned. And both NDLON and IWJ have ongoing contact with local labor councils and the AFL-CIO.
These slowly developing connections were codified in 2006 when the AFL-CIO passed a resolution allowing labor councils to affiliate with workers centers. The first to do this was the New York City Labor Council, which affiliated with the Taxi Workers Alliance. The groundbreaking deal gives the TWA access to one million union members in the labor council and resources like the Consortium for Worker Education, a council-run school. It gives the council 7,000 more members who have shown themselves to be creative, capable of organizing, and willing to strike.
A Philadelphia member of the Taxi Workers Alliance during a 24-hour protest and strike in May—photo from phillyimc.org
The resolution allowing this alliance to happen was negotiated between the AFL-CIO and NDLON. The deal was the first concrete step taken by either the AFL-CIO or Change To Win toward a lasting relationship with this growing sector of the labor movement. This is an imminently necessary step given that major labor represents only 6 percent of low-wage workers, a fact that played a part in the fracturing of the AFL-CIO in 2005.
Since affiliating, Edward Ott, executive director of the NYC Central Labor Council, says that the Taxi Workers Alliance has become very active in political council meetings. For their part, the labor council supported the TWA during their last strike in September 2007. Ott adds that he and the labor council are less interested in making the TWA the most active member of the council and more interested in supporting their organizing. With 46,000 taxi licenses in NYC and 25,000 drivers on the road on any given day, “they’ve taken on quite a task,” Ott says.
Colin Asher is a freelance journalist.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.