politics is to want something

torsdag, september 28, 2006

news press workers victorious!

Some good news for a change! By an overwhelming majority, Santa Barbara News Press newsroom workers voted for representation by the Teamsters' Graphic Communication Conference.

This is a great victory for workers who have been threatened and harrassed by their independently owned newspaper, and is the latest event in a saga which has been covered by everyone from the New York Times to Vanity Fair to the British Guardian. A few articles are linked below:

San Francisco Gate

Santa Barbara Independent

A Journalism Blog

Los Angeles Times

The added importance locally is that the News Press is a consistantly anti-union voice in the community, railing against the living wage and singling out political contributions by public employee unions while ignoring corporate donations to candidates they like. The newspaper, of course, has editorialized against their own employees' drive for recognition, spreading what can only be described as propaganda against unions in general and the Teamsters specifically.

The union has done a good job of reaching out to the community, enlisting the help of environmental, social justice and labor organizations in encouraging supporters to cancel subscriptions. We've all been rooting for the reporters, and everyone who cares about quality journalism and workplace rights have reason to celebrate.


onsdag, september 20, 2006

is the democratic party posssible pt 3: labor to the rescue

Can Labor Save the Party’s A**?

It is a good day. The announcement that key unions will be resurrecting the Alliance for a Better California in a full campaign to unseat Gov. Schwarzenegger is indeed welcome news. It comes at a time in which understandable disappointment is brewing over the Democratic Party’s seeming inability to mount a viable campaign for it’s Gubernatorial candidate. Once again, it seems that the burden for electing a Democrat to high office will fall on the working families of California’s labor movement. While the Party may well do a similar independent expenditure in the campaign, it is likely to be paltry compared to Alliance’s.
We should all be saying “thanks.”

The fact is that Phil Angelides is a good candidate. What he lacks in relative star power, he more than makes up for in substance and commitment to Democratic values and sensible, winnable policy change. I don’t want to throw salt on anyone’s wounds by criticizing his campaign, though there is much to complain about. The point, however, is that the campaigns of individual candidates shouldn’t matter nearly as much as they do. There should be a grassroots apparatus which surrounds and supports such campaigns. That’s hard to do given campaign finance law, and may become even harder should the otherwise noble Proposition 89 pass.

However, the problem is not just the vagaries of post-McCain-Feingold campaigning. There is an unfortunate lack of will among some leaders of the Party, particularly elected officials who put their own careers ahead of the goals of the Party and the needs of their constituents. A more partisan and dynamic Democratic Party could help to translate last year’s decisive victory against Arnold into a triumphant campaign to replace him. Alas.

Enter labor. Labor is often the subject of accusations, from both our enemies and some of our erstwhile friends, that unions are anachronistic “special interests”. However, the decision by the Alliance to jump into the campaign demonstrates that unions, like other social movement elements of the Democratic coalition, respond to the real needs and interests of their base. That’s what makes them a vital part of our democracy. The analysis presented by Political Scientist Bruce Cain in yesterday’s Chronicle is right on the money:

"If you go after Arnold and he wins, you're giving him more reason to go after you when the election is over," said Bruce Cain, political scientist at UC Berkeley. "But if you don't go after Arnold now, you still have the risk that he will do another 180-degree turn on you after the election. "My guess is that labor probably doesn't think they have a choice -- they've got to go all out for Phil and not trust Arnold."

Labor knows what so many Democrats can’t seem to grasp: Arnold is not a friend. He may have played nice these past few months, but the real Arnold will be back.

It’s not just the Alliance that will be working to stave off that return. County Central Labor Councils and locals of unions not active in the Alliance have already started contacting their members and mobilizing their troops to walk precincts and make phone calls. We won’t be able to rely on many of the Party’s mucky-mucks, and there is no doubt that Arnold will outspend Phil. What we do have, however, are thousands of union members who will join those grassroots Democrats who, despite it all, believe that Arnold is worth beating and can be beaten.

Eat that, Susan Kennedy.

tirsdag, september 19, 2006

will the swedish model hold?

The answer to my own wonky question is "yes". Sunday's electoral victory by the right-wing "Alliance" of four parties was a defeat for the valliant but tired Social Democratic Party. It was not a defeat for Social Democracy. Still, it's not a good thing. While the new majority is somewhat slim (7 seats), it will likely survive a full term. They'll do some damage, on integration questions, on macro-economics, labor rights and probably foreign policy.

However, their victory required a major concession: the acceptance of the basic governing tenants of Social Democracy. In fact, the conservative Moderate Party, the dominant player in the Alliance, campaigned, Blair style, as "the New Moderates". Their move to the center brought in middle and working class votes that would not have been theres had they stuck to their traditional neoliberal talking points.

Nonetheless, even though the mandate is small at the national level, it was a mandate. In fact, at the local level, (local and national elections were held simultaneously) the Moderates took control of scores of city and regional governments, including Stockholm and Gothenburg. While the Social Democrats did perform better than was expected several months ago, the Moderates' surge in popularity was decisive.

There were interesting trends among the smaller parties, as well. Neither the Social Democrats nor the Moderates will ever recieve enough votes to govern absolutely. The Social Democrats rely on the "toleration" of the sometimes quixotic Greens and the Left Party. Neither minor party is allowed into the Government, so it is not technically a Coalition. While the Greens perennially make noise of breaking with the Social Democrats, they always end up listening to their base and voting in a minority Social Democratic government. The Left Party can also be a pain in the ass. Shortly after the last election, their popular and quite strategic was forced to resign due to a personal tax scandal. Her replacement, from the paleoleft faction of the party, decided to announce last year that he was, in fact, a "Communist." Then he recanted, becoming the only thing worse than a Communist in Swedish politics: a disloyal, dishonest Communist. Their vote was down considerably this time around.

In Sweden, Right Wing governments are always true coalitions, led most times by the Moderates, but with government ministers from the other so-called "bourgeois" parties: the liberal People's Party, the agrarian Center Party and the Christian Democrats. The People's Party has also participated in governments of the left, and include a healthy faction of left-leaning "social liberals" (these folks are probably the closest to our Democratic Party in Sweden). In the last elections, the liberals did very well by moving to the right on immigration and integration questions. It was a craven move, but it paid off. For the first time, it seemed that the People's Party would be the new leading party of the right. This year, they got caught spying on the Social Democrats. They lost a lot of ground.

It was the Moderate Party who were back in the forefront, and their leader, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is the new Prime Minister. Right wing governments don't usually last long in Sweden. Generally they try too hard, and over-extend their mandate. The fact that they are always coalitions makes them even more unstable: the Christian and agrarian vote won't let them go after the Welfare State too aggressively and the liberals demand radical moves on social issues. Not an easy recipe for a coherent strategy for governance.

But this new "Alliance" seems a bit more disciplined and truly eager to govern. They have resonated the same themes on the campaign trail, they've stuck to the script, and they seem to have hammered out key turf issues well in advance. Most importantly, they've campaigned as centrists, as modernizers, as having accepted the basic Swedish lay of the land. They are, in that sense, akin to our own Governor here in California. We know that he has proven much more difficult to beat, even though his agenda is usupported by the majority of Californians. He's a "moderate" Republican. Nonetheless, he continues to sneak right wing policies quietly past the goalie. Beware these "moderates", old or new.

The Social Democrats and the rest of the Swedish left needs to do some serious thinking whilst sitting in opposition. It's possible that this bunch can't be counted on to simply lose the next election for us. The next one will have to be won.

Here are the results, via our friends at The Daily:

Percentage vote on the left, Riksdag seats on the right, change in brackets.

Left Party 5.8% (-2.5%) 22 (-8)
Social Democrats 35.2% (-4.8%) 130 (-14)
Greens 5.2% (+0.6%) 19 (+2)

Total Left bloc 46.2% (-6.7%) 171 (-20)

Centre Party 7.9% (+1.7%) 29 (+7)
Liberal Party 7.5% (-5.9%) 28 (-20)
Christian Democrats 6.6% (-2.5%) 24 (-9)
Moderate Party 26.1% (+10.9%) 97 (+42)

Total Bourgeois bloc 48.1% (+4.2%) 178 (+20)

Others 5.7% (+2.6%) 0 (-)


lørdag, september 09, 2006

europolitics round up


Well, there's just a few days to go until Swedish parliamentary elections. The two party blocs are still polling neck in neck, with the left (made up of the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens) slightly ahead. The good guys' fortunes were recently improved when it was revealed that the Liberal Party (on the Right in Sweden) had been hacking into the Social Democrats' private network to get info on campaign tactics and schedules. It's good to see that all parts of the American campaign toolbag is being exported, including Richard Nixon's contributions.

Critics are calling the scandal "Leijonborggate" after charismatic Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonborg. Confusingly, the word also means "Lejonborg Street", but I guess the "-gate" suffix is now universal. What is most striking is that somehow Swedes are angry about such shenanigans, while American voters are bored by evidence that an entire election has been blatantly stolen. Twice. Oh well.

Great Britain (And Northern Ireland)

Accross the North Sea in Britain, pressure is mounting for Tony Blair to step down. As previously reported, the heir apparent is still Gordon Brown. Blair has now said that he will step down within a year, though that's not good enough for some on the Labour back bench or among some of the membership. Read more about it, and other goings on in the UK over at The Daily.

In other British news, former US President Martin Sheen has entered the Freshman class at Glasgow University. He'll be studying Literature, Philosophy and Oceanography.

Federal Republic of Germany
In a move hinted at by Ben in a comment on my last post, German automaker Volkswagen is pressing workers to accept longer hours without pay increases. I always like to read sentances like this one:

"Although Volkswagen's cars are proving popular and sales are very strong, its profit margins are being squeezed by high production costs, particularly in its west German heartlands."

So, here in the US, we are being asked to accept drastic pay cuts (as much as 70%) because of lagging sales, while in Germany, amid high sales, we are being asked to work harder and longer. Gotta love market logic.


mandag, september 04, 2006

labor day essay: buy american!

It’s labor day, the traditional start of the fall election cycle. While most of Santa Barbara’s progressive political community looks at today’s holiday as the two-months-to-go mark for the November midterm election, I’m thinking about the state of the nation’s unions. Despite many positive developments and an increasing commitment to new organizing, it would be foolhardy to argue that workers are in anything but a tough situation in 21st century America. The bulk of new and innovative organizing will doubtless be centered in the growing service sector. However, there are still millions of industrial and manufacturing jobs out there to be organized.
Those jobs are under constant threat from the forces we generally refer to as globalization. Millions of jobs have been scrapped throughout the country, not only in the so-called Rust Belt of the Midwest, but also here in California, throughout the South and Northeast, the cradle of American industry. This is a crisis not only for workers and their families who are thrown to the market wolves, but also for the nation as a whole. On this labor day, we should reflect on how important it is to make things in America.
There are many people and organizations in a community like Santa Barbara who are part of the growing movement toward organic, sustainable and locally-grown food. That’s a good thing. From the perspective of public health as well as ecological sanity, buying locally, when possible, is an important principle. Getting people to make a connection between their favorite produce and our dependence on fossil fuels is an important lesson. We shouldn’t stop at food, however. We are driving cars made from metal forged in China, minerals mined in Africa and assembled in pieces from Korea, Mexico and Japan. The same is true of our ipods, cell phones, computers and other hallmarks of the “new” “clean” economy. In fact, they are very, very dirty products.
Basing our economy on debt-fueled consumption, real estate, and a low-wage service sector invites a massive crash. It won’t be felt equally throughout American society, but where it is felt, it will be disastrous. In many respects, the consistent and horrific decline of our urban centers is a harbinger of a deiundustrialized America. Communities like Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago and Newark have been destroyed by the loss of manufacturing jobs. When this happens in the context of racialized patterns of opportunity, the results are easy to see.
The art of balancing trade policies which aid the development of poor countries while supporting a domestic industrial base is a difficult one- but it will never be achieved so long as our policy makers, and consumers, fail to see the importance of a domestic manufacturing base. Consumer preferences alone aren’t going to solve the problem, but they can go a long way. Consider again the case of organic produce.
Wal-Mart, a company that got its start stocking made-in-the-USA products and now leads the retail industry in plunder and devastation, has announced plans to step up its marketing of organic food. While this is a mixed blessing for organic food advocates, it demonstrates that rising demand has effected the behavior of a major U.S. corporation. It would be great if, in addition to shopping for local squash, progressive shoppers would also buy cars, electronics and washing-machines made in the United States.
Of course, organic buying also shows the limitations of consumer-based social action. Organic farms are not generally better than their pesticide-using counterparts when it comes to labor standards. In fact, many workers trade exposure to pesticides for increasingly intensive labor. There are attempts underway to find ways of labeling food as worker-friendly. Of course, as with anything from toasters to tomatoes, there is no better label than the union label.

Happy labor day!