London Fire Fuels Movement to Tackle Inequality in Britain

grenfell-tower-fire-uk

(Photo: ChiralJon / Flickr)

Just hours after a 24-story London apartment building went up in flames on June 14, Faiza Shaheen appeared on Britain’s Sky TV to connect the dots between this horrific tragedy and the city’s rank as one of the world’s most unequal.

Inequality.org co-editor Chuck Collins and I sat down with Shaheen the following day, as the death toll, now estimated at 79, continued to rise. We talked about the public anger over the fire and what she sees as the related outcry for economic and racial equity that resulted in an unexpectedly strong showing for the UK Labour Party in the country’s June 8 election. Shaheen directs the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), a London-based think tank.

Inequality.org: What’s the connection between the Grenfell Tower fire and London’s extremely high levels of inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: The neighborhood surrounding the tower has the biggest gap between rich and poor of any in the country. It’s a very wealthy area, but the people living in this particular tower were mostly working class ethnic minorities. Also, in terms of voice, you see the disparities. People living in this building had clearly spoken out about the problems with safety — you can find their blogs online. But they also said they knew nothing would be done until there’s a catastrophe. Well, now that’s happened and we need to make sure the authorities can’t just brush this away anymore.

Inequality.org: How much was the recent election about inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: I would say inequality was fundamental to understanding the narrative of this election. When it was first announced, people thought it would be about Brexit again. But the Labour Party very effectively pivoted away from that. Their language was about the elites and about the rest of us not getting salary increases and facing cuts to public services.

We’ve had these cuts for the past seven years, but people were far more aware of them in this election than in the last one. We heard about parents getting letters from their children’s teachers saying they didn’t have money because of the budget cuts and asking for donations. With the terror attacks in London and Manchester, there was a lot of talk about the culling of police officers and how that had affected community policing.

The conservatives thought we could have a conversation about being strong and stable. But as a country it’s very obvious that we’re not strong and stable right now.

Inequality.org: Didn’t Prime Minister Theresa May initially make some proposals to reduce inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: When she first became prime minister less than a year ago, she spoke in quite strong terms about inequality. But in this election she didn’t appeal to that language very much. And on some things, she reversed her position. For example, at one point she called for requiring large corporations to have worker representatives on their boards. Then later she said this could be voluntary and the “workers” could be managers. So it’s completely meaningless. Conservatives showed themselves to be very out of touch by sticking with the status quo.

Inequality.org: In the end, the Labour Party did gain 30 seats and the Conservative Party lost their majority, but Prime Minister May is still hanging on to power by pursuing a coalition with a small Northern Ireland party. Where do you see things going in the next year?

Faiza Shaheen: Most people think they’ll be going into election before the end of the five-year term because the Conservatives are really weakened. To build support, they’ll need to put more money into education and the National Health Service. They came across as quite mean in the campaign. When nurses asked ministers why they haven’t had a pay raise, they were told very dismissively that there isn’t a “magic money tree.” We’ve got nurses going to food banks. That really connects with people emotionally.

Inequality.org: Brexit negotiations began on June 19. How might this affect inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: The decision to withdraw from the European Union has already weakened the pound, making inflation worse. Because they don’t know what will happen, businesses are holding back on investments that could boost productivity. And while wages don’t always rise with productivity, this means we’re likely to continue to have stagnation in most sectors. Combined with automation and the lack of strong trade union rights, this could mean even worse inequality under Brexit.

Inequality.org: Where’s the movement energy now for tackling inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: With Labour doing so well, we feel there’s a mandate now to lift the pay cap on public service workers. We also feel May will have to abandon her plans to expand grammar schools, which are free schools that are academically selective. The evidence shows they don’t help with social mobility and they tear the school system apart. That can’t happen now.

We also think we can take advantage of the Conservative Party’s statements about addressing excessive pay at the top. They pledged to require corporations that receive public contracts to report their CEO-worker pay ratio. And even May’s weak current position on worker representation on boards gives something to push for that could affect executive pay. From the experiences in Germany and elsewhere we’ve seen that executives don’t want to talk about giving themselves bonuses with workers at the table.

Labour proposed to tax the top 5 percent much more and leave bottom 95 percent as is. That drew a lot of support but the Conservatives are very unlikely to support that.

Inequality.org: Like Bernie Sanders, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did very well among young voters. Do you think this bloc will continue to be mobilized?

Faiza Shaheen: It was amazing to see tons of people coming out to volunteer for the campaign for the first time and really passionate about what Labour was calling for, especially young people. There was an app so that you could find your nearest marginal neighborhood, where it could go one way or another, and you could just turn up and help knock on doors. But they had so many volunteers they had to turn many away.

Labour had much less money than the Conservatives, but they really won the branding war. Corbyn definitely came out as cooler. There was even #Grime4Corbyn. People made videos with grime music mixed with Corbyn speeches, which worked well to encourage turnout by young people and ethnic minorities.

We’re in a political quagmire now in terms of the makeup of parliament. In terms of the movement, people are really enthused and passionate. Horrible things keep happening but they are a reminder that we need to keep fighting. It will be really important to keep the pressure up and find ways to campaign – it might be single issues, it might be Grenfell Tower and how we get justice there. Some of it will happen naturally because people have made friends through their political work.

We’re in permanent campaign mode now.

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Building a New Movement Against Militarism

anti-war-protest

(Photo: Flickr/ Alisdare Hickson)

Donald Trump bombed a Syrian government airbase just a couple of weeks after releasing his budget plan for next year. The budget—with its call for a massive escalation in Pentagon spending, to be paid for with funds stolen from programs that fulfill urgent human needs—was met with outrage. But Trump’s illegal cruise-missile strike, ostensibly in response to a chemical-weapons attack on a Syrian town in Idlib Province, largely knocked the budget outrage off the agenda.

That’s a huge problem. As the saying goes, budgets are moral documents, and Trump showed us precisely where his morals lay when he unveiled his blueprint for federal spending. We must ask ourselves, what do our morals tell us, and how can we put those values into action?

With that mission in mind, a number of us gathered last month to discuss how we might jointly respond to Trump’s budget.

While the majority of us in the room were veterans of the U.S. antiwar movement, our meeting was designed to break out of the silos that have isolated progressive activists and weakened our movements for far too long. As Daniel May recently noted in The Nation, a modern movement to challenge US militarism must recognize and operate from the understanding that we are all in this together, that opposing war is one component of the multifaceted movement for social justice. Thus we were joined in our discussions by key leaders of many of the social movements now rising—the Movement for Black Lives, mobilizations fighting for women’s and LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, anti-Islamophobia, economic equality, immigrant and refugee rights, and more.

We met only a couple of weeks before we would mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s essential 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” where he laid out his vision for an interconnected movement against the connected “giant triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism. And so, with his words ringing in our ears, we embarked on a mission to do something different—not simply to denounce one part of the president’s budget, but to challenge together the deep immorality of that entire document.

Read the full article on The Nation’s website. 

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U.S. Anti-war, Climate Justice, Racial Justice, Women’s, Immigrant Rights, Economic Justice Movement Leaders All Oppose Trump’s $54 Billion Increase in Pentagon Budget

FOR RELEASE APRIL 4, 2017

Media Contacts:
Phyllis Bennis, pbennis@ips-dc.org, 202-309-1377
Domenica Ghanem, domenica@ips-dc.org, 202-787-5205

A coalition of leaders in the anti-war, civil rights, immigration, climate,  women’s, and faith movements have come together to denounce Donald Trump’s proposed $ 54 billion increase in the military budget.  The broad-based #No$ 54BillionforWar Campaign includes city-based resolutions against increased military spending.

We are launching this campaign on April 4th, 50 years after Martin Luther King’s profound speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence speech,” a speech that recognized the urgent need to end militarism and war. King called for a revolution of values, affirming that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The Trump administration’s budget does exactly that. It takes money from urgent social needs to feed the already-bloated Pentagon budget. It proposes to compensate for the additional $ 54 billion by slashing the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency (even threatening to shut down its already under-funded environmental justice office), the Department of Health and Human Services (slashing family planning and anti-violence-against-women programs), the State Department (thus privileging war over diplomacy), and foreign aid funds (so that the wealthiest country in human history turns its back on the world’s most desperate).

Full statement and partial list of signatories:

“Our environmental and human needs are desperate and urgent. We need to transform our economy, our politics, our policies and our priorities to reflect that reality. That means reversing the flow of our tax dollars, away from war and militarism, and towards funding human and environmental needs, and demanding support for that reversal from all our political leaders at the local, state and national levels.

We and the movements we are part of face multiple crises.  Military and climate wars are destroying lives and environments, threatening the planet and creating enormous flows of desperate refugees. Violent racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and other hatreds are rising, encouraged by the most powerful voices in Washington DC.

President Trump plans to strip $ 54 billion from human and environmental spending so as to increase already massive spending on the military. The plan raises Pentagon spending to well over 60 cents of every discretionary dollar in the U.S. budget — even as Trump himself admits that enormous military spending has left the Middle East “far worse than it was 16, 17 years ago.”  The wars have not made any of us safer.

Washington’s militarized foreign policy comes home as domestic law enforcement agencies acquire military equipment and training from the Pentagon and from military allies abroad. Impoverished communities of color see and face the power of this equipment regularly, in the on-going domestic wars on drugs and immigrants. This military-grade equipment is distributed and used by many of the same private companies that profit from mass incarceration and mass deportation.

Using just a fraction of the proposed military budget, the US could provide free, top-quality, culturally competent and equitable education from pre-school through college and ensure affordable comprehensive healthcare for all. We could provide wrap-around services for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence; replace mass incarceration with mass employment, assure clean energy and water for all residents and link our cities by new fast trains. We could double non-military U.S. foreign aid, wipe out hunger worldwide. The list of possibilities is long.

Instead, the Trump administration plans to take much of their $ 54 billion gift for the Pentagon from the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency (even threatening to shut down its already under-funded environmental justice office), the Department of Health and Human Services (slashing family planning and anti-violence-against-women programs), from the State Department (thus privileging war over diplomacy), and foreign aid (so that the wealthiest country in human history turns its back on the world’s most desperate).

Among those most desperate are the 24 million refugees who have been forced out of their homes and countries, more than at any time since World War II.  Instead of cruel Muslim bans and cuts to the already meager number of refugees allowed into the U.S., we should be welcoming far more. Alleviating the refugee crisis also means working to end, rather than escalate, the wars that create refugees, and supporting human rights defenders in their home communities.  That means more diplomacy and foreign aid, not more military spending.

With its hundreds of billions of un-audited dollars, the military remains the greatest consumer of petroleum in the United States, and one of the world’s worst polluters. The US needs new green, sustainable jobs across our economy targeted to people facing the highest rates of unemployment and low wages. Military spending results in an economic drain.  Clean energy production creates 50% more jobs than the same investment in military spending.

The U.S. military also serves as a security force protecting the extraction and transport of fossil fuels domestically and from the Middle East and other parts of the world. U.S. military force thus enables the continued assault on the planet and some of its most impoverished inhabitants by ensuring the supply of cheap fossil fuels, all while subsidizing some of the largest corporations in the world.

A December 2014 Gallup poll showed people in 65 nations considered the United States far and away the largest threat to peace in the world.  If the United States was known for providing clean drinking water, schools, medicine, and solar panels to others, instead of attacking and invading other countries, we would be far more secure and face far less global hostility.

We can do this. Reverse the flow. No walls, No War, No Warming!”

Available for interviews:
Phyllis Bennis, New Internationalism Director, Institute for Policy Studies, 202-787-5206 or cell 202-309-1377, pbennis@ips-dc.org
Basav Sen, Climate Policy Program Director, Institute for Policy Studies, 202-787-5215 or cell 202-997-0479, basav@ips-dc.org
Judith LeBlanc, Caddo Tribe, Native Organizers Alliance, 917-806-8775, judithleblanc1@gmail.com

Partial list of signatories*

Michelle Alexander – author of The New Jim Crow
Lindsey Allen – Rainforest Action Network
Olivia Alperstein – Progressive Congress
Medea Benjamin – CODEPINK
Phyllis Bennis – Institute for Policy Studies
Basav Sen – Institute for Policy Studies
John Cavanagh – Institute for Policy Studies
Regina Birchem – Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom
May Boeve – 350.org
Jaron Brown – Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Peter Buffett – American musician, composer, author and philanthropist
Leslie Cagan    – Peoples Climate Movement NY
Daniel Carrillo –  Enlace
Reece Chenault – US Labor Against the War
StaceyAnn Chin – Poet
Jamie DeMarco – Friends Committee on National Legislation
Michael Eisenscher – US Labor Against the War
Zillah Eisenstein – International Women’s Strike/US
Eve Ensler – V-Day and One Billion Rising
Jodie Evans – CODEPINK
Laura Flanders – The Laura Flanders Show
Jane Fonda – actress & activist
Jeff Furman – Ben & Jerry’s
Dan Gilman –  Veterans For Peace
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. – Princeton University
Rafael Jesús González – poet Xochipilli, Latino Men’s Circle
Stephanie Guilloud – Project South
Saru Jayaraman- Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United)
Chuck Kaufman – Alliance for Global Justice
Naomi Klein – author, This Changes Everything
Lindsay Koshgarian – National Priorities Project
Judith LeBlanc – Native Organizers Alliance
Annie Leonard – Greenpeace
Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Laureate
Kevin Martin – Peace Action and the Peace Action Education Fund
Maggie Martin – Iraq Veterans Against the War
Michael T. McPhearson –  Veterans For Peace
Stephen Miles – Win Without War
Nabil Mohammad –  Arab-American Anti-Discrimination committee
Terry O’Neill – National Organization for Women
C. Dixon Osburn- Center for Justice & Accountability
Rabbi Brant Rosen – American Friends Service Committee
Lukas Ross – Friends of the Earth
Josh Ruebner – US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
Linda Sarsour – MPower
Mab Segrest – Southerners on New Ground
John Sellers – Other 98%
Adam Shah – Jobs With Justice
Thenmozhi Soundararajan – Equality Labs
Kathy Spillar – Feminist Majority
David Swanson – World Beyond War
Mike Tidwell – Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Opal Tometi – Black Alliance for Just Immigration & Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter Network
Rebecca Vilkomerson – Jewish Voice for Peace
Alice Walker – poet and writer
Vince Warren – Center for Constitutional Rights
Cindy Wiesner – Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Robert Weissman –  Public Citizen
Kimberle Williams-Crenshaw- The African American Policy Forum
Winnie Wong – People for Bernie
Ash-Lee Woodard-Henderson – Highlander Research & Education Center
Ann Wright – Veterans for Peace
Murshed Zaheed – CREDO Mobile
*organizations for identification only

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We Can’t Predict Trump’s Foreign Policy, But We Can Mobilize a Broader Peace Movement to Protect Vulnerable Communities

racism-war-home-abroad

(Photo: Elvert Barnes / Flickr)

“The big problem we face right now, on the question of foreign policy, is that we don’t really have a clue what a Trump foreign policy will look like.,” Phyllis Bennis told FAIR on an episode of CounterSpin.

“The only thing we know for sure,” Bennis said, “is that social movements are going to be far more important than anyone else” — including who’s in Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court — “Because that’s the only way we’re going to have to change history.”

We don’t know who will be in charge or what Trump stands for, she said. Bennis noted that he’s said we’ll have better relations with Russia, we should be neutral on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that he opposes a no-fly zone in Syria.

“But there’s absolutely no reason to think that he’s going to stick to those statements. He’s made other statements completely opposed to them,” Bennis said.

For example, he’s said he would tear up the Iran nuclear deal, called for an expansion of nuclear weapons, and then disavowed those statements.

What is also very dangerous, Bennis said, is that Trump’s election and presidency helped a movement rise up around racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia that could begin to feel they have a legitimacy that they never should have had.

So our social movements that we anticipated in resistance of a Clinton administration to mobilize immediately against wars and escalation is going to have to be done in the context of a broader resistance movement, Bennis said, “where motions to build movements against wars are going to have to also be movements to defend refugees that are trying to come here as a result of those wars.”

She said we also have to “link with movements who are providing the first defense for endangered communities,” whether those be immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Arabs, women, or LGBTQ communities.

Listen to the full interview here.

The post We Can’t Predict Trump’s Foreign Policy, But We Can Mobilize a Broader Peace Movement to Protect Vulnerable Communities appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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The Future of the Food Justice Movement – Truth-Out

The Future of the Food Justice Movement
Truth-Out
Based out of Immokalee, Florida — a community of primarily Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants — the organization over the last 20 years has worked directly with field workers, farm owners and corporations to redress human rights abuses such

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Rare Wins for Tax Fairness Spark New Life Into the Movement

tax-dodgers-loop-holes

(Photo: Flickr / Michael Fleshman)

How do you generate tens of billions of dollars in new revenue without raising taxes or passing a law through Congress? Block a corporate inversion, that’s how.

This week President Obama announced new rules from the Treasury Department designed to close what he called, one of the “insidious tax loopholes out there.” The rule targets corporate inversions, a maneuver in which an American firm merges with a foreign firm without actually moving their operations overseas in order to avoid paying taxes in the United States.

As Obama put it, describing companies that invert: “They declare that they’re based somewhere else, thereby getting all the rewards of being an American company without fulfilling the responsibilities to pay their taxes the way everyone else is supposed to pay them.”

The planned merger between American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, maker of Viagra, and the Irish pharmaceutical company Allergan, maker of Botox, was the most high profile inversion to hit the news recently. Pfizer’s blatant tax dodging motives sparked serious backlash from tax fairness activists and organizations, 55 of which sent a letter on March 22 organized by Americans for Tax Fairness to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew demanding he take action. Less than a month later, he did.

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, called the move great news for American taxpayers. He said, “Treasury has taken an important step to improve the overall corporate tax system. These rules move in the right direction to level the playing field for domestic companies competing with multinationals.”

The ruling from Treasury has already had an impact. Pfizer announced on April 6 it was cancelling its $ 160 billion merger along with their $ 35 billion in estimated tax avoidance.

As is often the case, legislation from Congress is required to ensure that all of the nefarious loopholes that enable corporations tax dodging are closed. Some motivation for Congress to act also came this week in the form of 11 million documents called the Panama Papers.

The Panama Papers have dominated the global news cycle for the past week and it appears they’re just getting started. As my colleague, Chuck Collins outlined in a recent write-up in The Nation, the Panama Papers provide an inside view into the inner workings of the ultra wealthy’s finances.

Panama has long been a favored tax haven for the global elite given its low taxes, lax oversight, and hush-hush approach to coordinating with foreign authorities. While we’ve always known that the wealthy were using the country to hide their assets and shady financial dealings from public scrutiny and tax liability, this is really the first insight into just how extensive the practice is.

Thousands of people have been implicated including 12 current and former world leaders, and that’s just the first of what is expected to be many releases. Already, the Prime Minister of Iceland has stepped down due to revelations made from the Panama Papers.

One can assume that more American names will be included soon as the German newspaper responsible for the leak Süddeutsche Zeitung, has indicated.

There is only so long Congress can ignore the blatantly dishonest practice of offshore tax evasion. While many assume tax evasion on such a massive scale is criminal, current US law protects many of these activities. This hurts working families who suffer from the resulting major reduction in federal revenue and public services.

This week’s news should inspire those wishing to see a tax system that promotes fairness and prevents corporations and the ultra wealthy from gaming the system in their favor.

The post Rare Wins for Tax Fairness Spark New Life Into the Movement appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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A Flower-Farming Renaissance: America’s Slow Flower Movement – Modern Farmer


Modern Farmer
A Flower-Farming Renaissance: America's Slow Flower Movement
Modern Farmer
Finally, in 2013, a group of flower farmers led by Kasey Cronquist, the chief executive of the California Cut Flower Commission, established a “Certified American Grown” task force and commissioned a survey about the industry. Among the findings: 74

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Class and The Movement for Black Lives

In the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of change within black America, a rise in the movement for black lives, and specifically organizations like Black Lives Matter. But it’s still within that context that various trends have started to surface, trends of thought, and within those there’s this odd situation, it’s something I’ve found out. Which is that there is increased attention about what’s been described as anti-black racism, but very little attention to matters of class, very little attention to the issue of capitalism, and to some extent an ambivalence about other forms of racism that permeate your society. So we thought it’d be a good time to have a discussion about what is exactly is going on – what do we make of this and what are the implications for the future of the black freedom movement in the 21st Century.

Watch the interview on the Real News Network’s website.

The post Class and The Movement for Black Lives appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.  is the executive assistant to the national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Tom Porter was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).
Jennifer Bryant works at Right to Income and involves the development of a DC Black Workers Center.
Lawrence Grandpre is the Assistant Director for Research and Public Policy for LBS..
Netfa Freeman is the events coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Delano Grape Strike: 50th Anniversary of Historic Labor Rights Movement – Latin Post


Latin Post
Delano Grape Strike: 50th Anniversary of Historic Labor Rights Movement
Latin Post
Paul Chavez, chairman of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and son of the labor rights leader, told Latin Post about the significance of the farm workers who walked out of wine and table grape vineyards in September 1965 and how "the poorest of this nation's …
Anniversary of Delano Grape Strike honored in memoriesThe Bakersfield Californian

all 5 news articles »

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How Black Women Can Rescue the Labor Movement

young girl participates in labor movement civil rights movement

(Image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was co-authored by Marc Bayard and Kimberly Freeman Brown and was originally published in The Root.

After spending more than 25 combined years promoting the trade union movement and protecting the right to organize in the United States and around the world, we see the report “And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices, Power and Promise”—named for a poem of resilience by the late Maya Angelou—as a love letter of sorts.

First and foremost, it is a love letter to the black women in labor within its pages and to their sisters all over the nation who do not yet have unions. They are the grandmothers and mothers who sit regally in church pews each Sunday and who invisibly clean homes Monday through Saturday. They are our Southern aunts; our African, Afro-Latina and Caribbean-born sisters and cousins who work hard on the job and harder at home to make sure that their children’s dreams are less deferred than their own. And they are tried and tested labor activists who break down barriers and work to build a better economy for one another and for all workers.

The report could not be more timely, since events in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray after being in police custody have shed light on the hopelessness that can result in cities when jobs disappear and communities such as West Baltimore are left behind.

And Still I Rise” gives the 27 amazing women we interviewed and the 467 who responded to the Institute for Policy Studies’ national survey of black women in labor an opportunity to explore this question: Why has the organizing success of black women not resulted in more black women serving in leadership positions that help shape the direction of the labor movement? More important, their answers may show the labor movement a way forward.

The report is organized around three emerging themes—leadership, organizing and policy issues of concern to black labor women—and reflects the women’s unique position at the nexus of race, gender and class. More than giving a critique of what is wrong, the women offer insights into winning organizing strategies, ways to build power by linking arms with others, the value of opening opportunity to black women in nontraditional fields, and what happens when white allies use their position and power to make room for the leadership of black women to emerge.

The roles that African Americans play in their families and communities, on the job and in their unions are acts of resistance against the staggering inequality they face on a daily basis. The statistics regarding African-American wealth and wage inequality, unemployment, mass incarceration, police brutality and poverty are daunting. To cite just one, as of March 2015, the black unemployment rate (10.1 percent) was more than double the white unemployment rate (4.7 percent).

Second, this report is our love letter to the labor movement—offering sometimes tough, but always unflappable, affection. We know what some may have forgotten: that if you are concerned about the economic advancement of black women, families and communities, you must think twice before you dismiss the value and importance of the labor movement.

The fact that black women covered by collective bargaining agreements fare better than their counterparts without one makes unions worth fighting for. For black women in unions, the union advantage is significant. Black women in unions, for example, earn an average of $ 21.90 an hour, while nonunion women earn $ 17.04. In addition, more than 72 percent of women in unions have health insurance, while less than 50 percent of nonunion black women do.

Many of our years working within the labor movement have been spent convincing people—policymakers, progressive friends and disillusioned black workers—of labor’s virtue. For some, personal experiences or secondhand knowledge of racism and sexism within unions has been enough to cause them to back away. Others, especially young people, are ambivalent because they do not know people who belong to unions.

In many ways, these realities bear witness to the distance that labor still has to go in finding authentic ways to root out persistent discrimination and inequality within and to build true partnerships.

Despite the tremendous potential of widening leadership opportunities for black women, one of the biggest challenges of this project has been convincing potential supporters of the value of focusing on black women. “Why not women of color or all women?” was a common question we were asked by both progressive allies and conservative advocates over and over again. Sadly, the question reinforces an often unconscious, but deeply held and historic belief that the experiences of black women are not important enough unless attached to others.

We decided to focus on black women because we know that they are, and have always been, “the miner’s canary” for workers in America. Black women have experienced for decades many of the economic and social ills now faced by others. Making black women whole raises the floor for all women—and likely for all workers.

Groundbreaking research about the effectiveness of black women’s leadership in union organizing can now be joined with first-person narratives and a summary of the national online-survey results. The report concludes with a series of recommendations to move the ideas to action. At the top of the list is a call for greater investment in organizing more black women into unions and community organizations focused on economic justice and workers’ rights.

It will be these actions, matched with the tenacity and passion of black women for building a better world, that will fulfill the hope of Maya Angelou’s words.

The post How Black Women Can Rescue the Labor Movement appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Marc Bayard is an associate fellow and the director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies. Kimberly Freeman Brown is president of KFB Consulting LLC, a management-consulting firm that supports leading progressive leaders and advocacy and political organizations. 

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