We Need Political Climate Change
By Roger Toussaint
President Local 100
Rabbi Feinberg, Ed Ott and all the organizers of this
event. Thank you all for your support in these difficult
I want to
talk about climate change. Some of you just had two full
days on climate change at the North American Labor
Assembly on Climate Change. Is there anything else to
say? Especially from someone who is not a climate
I want to
talk about changing the political climate.
I have been asked to frame the discussion and then the
panel jumps in. Here’s a 5-point proposition for our
political climate is very important.
2. The current political climate makes any
progressive change almost impossible.
3. We are entering a period where the political
climate can and will change.
4. Which way it changes – good or bad -- is up to us.
5. So the big question is: What do the groups
represented here tonight have to do to change the
political climate in a progressive direction.
That’s our task.
knows something about message development. 17 months
ago, right before our last contract expired, TWU Local
100 put ads in newspapers and issued public statements.
Our message was simple.
Transit work is difficult, dangerous, vitally important
• Transit workers deserve respect and consideration
for the work we do.
• Safety for riders and transit workers is our top
• If we are hard nosed negotiators, it is because we
have been to too many funerals.
line is not a paraphrase or summary. It is a direct
quote from full page ads in December, 2005. “We
have been to too many funerals.”
response from government and the media was swift and
furious. We were denounced in the press for holding the
city hostage. We were called greedy, overpaid, even
lazy. We were told we should be thankful we had a job
with any benefits. Editorials in the NY Post
and Daily News called for my arrest and
jailing. Imagine that.
was not reporting the news. It was trying to
create the political climate we had to work in.
Let me add that the press was as rabid or more in 2002.
Then the Post said I was leading a
also editorials about transit workers in the Daily
News and Post this past week. Let me
briefly quote from them:
is Job One in any environment. Transit workers find
themselves in particularly dangerous circumstances all
the time; the need for care is that much more acute.”
from Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post. Here’s another, and here
from the NY Daily News, an editorial titled “The
tracks of our tears.”
The sad, sorry truth is
that most of us pay little attention to the men and
women who keep this city running. Like the transit
workers out there in the dark, dank tunnels where the
subway trains come screaming through. We take both - the
trains and the workers - for granted. Although the
former would not be there for us if the latter were not
there also, laboring under dangerous conditions.
take the risks for granted, or do not understand the
perils that come with the job. But this past week, our
collective conscience was shaken by the deaths of two of
Meanwhile, workaday New York - all the busy people
rushing to-and-fro - should take a moment to acknowledge
those who labor underground, unsung and unheralded. They
deserve our thanks. And Franklin and Boggs and their
grieving families deserve our prayers.
said, the political climate can change. Local 100 did
not hire a new PR firm to get these editorials. We paid
a much higher price. There is an old IWW song: “We Have
Fed You All For A Thousand Years.” Here is the refrain:
blood be the price of all your wealth
Good God we have paid in full
workers have paid in full to keep New York moving.
change is coming. I think we are in one of those
historic periods where what we do in the next year or
two will determine the way people live for the next
generation or two. It’s one of those periods where the
stakes are higher than usual.
future of American health care will be
• The future of immigration.
• Transportation policy, and all that
• The environment.
• The nature of work and retirement.
• War and peace for the whole world.
whatever term you want. Watershed. Paradigm shift. Or
listen to Sam Cooke:
a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come
be hopeful or fearful? I say both. Clearly there is
hope. If we had this meeting a year ago, with Bush and a
solid Republican Congress, the future would seem
impossibly bleak. Today it is less so.
change is not good change.
time things shifted for a generation was 1980, with
Ronald Reagan. We are still living under that change.
What do we
need to make the change a good change?
|• We need
stronger alliances between labor and other
• We need stronger alliances between
union labor and the rest of labor.
• And we need to forthrightly confront
the big cultural roadblocks that block the
one is about the public good. We have had 25 years of
denigration of the very idea that there is something
called the public good. Government has to push it
forward. Society has to pay for it.
Republican presidential debate last week was at the
Ronald Reagan library. It belonged there. Reagan
unleashed the open assault on the public good. The
candidates fell all over themselves trying to show who
was the most Reagan-like. Who would keep starving the
public sphere and push all wealth into the marketplace.
I used to
think that the only public good the right wing accepted
was the military. But today they even send our children
and neighbors and co-workers into battle without armor.
And then de-fund the VA hospitals when they come home
We need a
full scale cultural counter-attack on this front.
market can NOT provide health care for all.
• The market can NOT provide efficient,
affordable, accessible mass transit.
• The market can NOT make the environment
things the market can do. It can provide 300 TV channels
and a fancier cell phone every few months. And if
progressive public policy decisions are ever made, the
market can try to make a buck off of them.
won’t provide equality, or decency. It won’t ensure
dignity in our old age, though it will try to profit if
society goes that route. We need to change the culture
that worships the market and rebuild a sense of the
public good, the common good.
this will require taking a deep breath and wading back
into the battle over taxes. I offer as a proposition for
debate: low taxes are an indication of a society going
the wrong way.
Let me say
a few words about New York City. A few weeks ago Mayor
Bloomberg unveiled his big “Plan NYC 2030” to develop a
more sustainable New York over the next generation. This
time I did not tell the Mayor to shut up.
1. He was
talking about a big public initiative. It’s
2. And much of the content made sense.
Playgrounds and green space throughout the
city, a sound water supply, a superior mass
transit system, and even congestion pricing
for lower Manhattan.
But I have
to raise the same questions I raised yesterday at the
Climate Change conference. We are all for a greener New
York, but a greener New York for whom? Who should do the
sacrificing? And whose children get to benefit? It’s not
just about generations. It is also about class and race.
picture tells a story. Examine the photos accompanying
the 157 glossy page Plan. You will see lower Manhattan,
you will see Midtown Manhattan, and you will see Central
Park. Not the South Bronx. Not East New York. Not
Jamaica. Now read the text. You will see references to
improving conditions in every borough and in every
neighborhood of New York City. There is a mixed message
here. Might I even say class perspectives are being
out on congestion pricing because we see it as part of
the mix for making NYC more livable and more viable in
the future. Congestion pricing must be coupled with
expansion of our mass transit system, with reducing
transit fares, and with restoring the City’s dwindling
funding for mass transit.
this is not about making lower Manhattan a more
comfortable place for bankers and lawyers to work, live
and play. It is about making mass transit effective,
accessible, affordable for working New Yorkers. It is a
matter of class. But in New York matters of class often
turn out to be matters of race as well.
Look at a
map of childhood asthma in New York. The South Bronx
jumps out at you, as do other minority neighborhoods.
Bloomberg’s plan notes that 15,000 diesel-fueled trucks
work the Hunts Point Market every day. That’s true. But
the trucks did not get there by themselves. They did not
even get pushed there by the by the doings of the
invisible hand of the market. NYC put them there. NYC
poisoned the children of the South Bronx through
conscious planning decisions.
We did not
invest in mass transit. Instead we shut the ports. We
shut down the rail lines. And the Cross Bronx became a
trucking route. Childhood asthma in the South Bronx is
not an accident. It is not the result of unplanned
growth. It is the consequence of policy decisions pushed
by big money and enacted by government. Policies soaked
through with environmental racism.
I might take that over what has happened since: the
total abandonment of public policy, planning and
investment. It is a good thing that Mayor Bloomberg has
reopened the possibility of government action in the
public interest. It’s up to us to make sure that the
policies are good one.
specific example that might illuminate our challenge.
For the better part of a generation, government has
reduced its commitment to mass transit. City and State
contributions have gone down, and down again. They even
cut back subsidies to the MTA for transportation for
school children. And at the same time, they cut taxes
for the rich over and over. The MTA borrowed to make up
the difference. Now interest to the banks on bonds is a
calls for more mass transit. But he left out more money
from the City and State. He talked of using the
congestion pricing revenues, but not increasing the City
and State share. He left out progressive taxation. And
he left out fare reductions as a pull to accompany the
congestion pricing push. He left all this out. We better
Why do I
focus so much on public policy? Ask Dick Cheney.
Standing on Ronald Reagan’s intellectual shoulders, he
said that conservation is a matter of individual
decisions, not public policy. Our children are taught
that if each of us does our part, we can make the world
Turning off the lights and riding a bike to work will
not solve the problem. We better reestablish the
legitimacy of the social sphere and public policy
decisions. We better reestablish the proper role of
issue of American political culture that needs a climate
change. I also think we need a major campaign that
re-values honest work. We are losing that fight.
America idolizes investment income.
can raise a family on, healthcare, and pensions have
become “unsustainable entitlements”. We are accused of
dragging down the economy. Our benefits must be
actually say “unsustainable entitlements.” That’s from
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Unsustainable!
funds are not called unsustainable. They don’t think the
war in Iraq is unsustainable. Good jobs and Social
Security and Medicare are called unsustainable, over and
over. This from the very people who say that spewing
carbon based pollution has nothing to do with global
pensions and health benefits are not just issues for
labor negotiations. They are cultural markers that
signify how society values work. Inside labor, we have
many members who think their taxes are too high because
public sector pensions are too high. Even in the public
sector. I think this is a culture war we have to get
into if we want to keep our alliances and our ranks
of sustainability includes jobs you can raise a family
on, jobs with health care for your family and a pension
at the end. Our notion of sustainability includes parks
and playgrounds, but also affordable housing and schools
that work. Our notion of sustainability includes an
effective, accessible and affordable mass transit system
– and good, union jobs operating that system. Our notion
of sustainability means making life livable for working
people, for our children, and for our children’s
lawyers and bankers come along for the ride, well, we
can deal with that. But we are not giving up our seats
we have to take a complex approach to the proposals that
are out there. We will weigh seriously any proposal that
can contribute to making life in New York more
will also insist upon attaching the conditions necessary
to meet our answer to the question “sustainable for
whom?” For working people, that’s who.
out saying that these next months will set the terms for
a generation. On health care. Immigration.
Transportation. The environment. Work and retirement.
War and peace. And that we need alliances. Let me start
the discussion with my comrades with an observation on
alliances and some questions.
|• Labor is
• Labor is a key partner in any plan for
• If we go down, we all lose.
• So our partners have to be much more
than just tolerant of labor. You have to be
affirmatively and strongly PRO-LABOR.
• If you (our partners in the
environmental and other movements) need a
strong labor movement, you have to help us
more than you do.
So let me
offer some questions to the panelists.
kind of alliances do we need to win?
• What do you need from us?
• What do you bring to the table?
• What’s holding us back?
We have to collectively
come up with the right answers or our children will hold
us to account. Thank you.
posted 19 May 2007
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* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 13 February 2012