During the wintry months of February and March, it was easy to imagine the soaring, marble rotunda of the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, as the epicenter of a new American political earthquake. Encircled by marchers, often many thousands on weekdays and 60,000 to 100,000 (and probably more) for Saturday rallies, the Capitol came to symbolize an improbable mass public cause -- the defense of public workers' rights to join a union and bargain collectively with employers.
But can this movement be sustained? Can Wisconsin unions both defend worker rights effectively and take the offensive to expand unions and empower workers in politics and at work? And can progressive groups use the movement's energy to win both elections and progressive policy changes?
Wal-Mart casts a global shadow across the lives of hundreds of millions of people, whether or not they ever enter a Supercenter. With $405 billion in sales in the last fiscal year, Wal-Mart is so big, and so obsessively focused on cost-cutting, that its actions shape our landscape, work, income distribution, consumption patterns, transport and communication, politics and culture, and the organization of industries from retail to manufacturing, from California to China.
Ten years ago, the population of Chicago, the country's third-largest city, increased by nearly 113,000. At the time, city advocates heralded the trend as a sign of a local urban renaissance, driven partly by young, mainly white, well-educated professionals who moved to the city and stayed to start families.
Malaika Jenkins, a 36-year-old African American marketing director, recently moved from Southern California to Oak Park, a racially diverse first-ring suburb at the west edge of Chicago. It's a community where Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie-style homes mingle with grand Victorian houses and the condos and apartments that make up half of the city's housing units.
Jenkins enjoys strolling past the boutiques and bars that dot her neighborhood and seeing people of different backgrounds. "I feel comfortable. ... I like diversity," she says. "I don't want to be in some place where everyone else looks like me, but I want to see some people like me."
After a decade working for food concessions operated by the French multinational Sodexo at Ohio State University sports arenas, 58-year-old Marcia Snell decided she and her fellow workers -- including more than a dozen of her extended family members -- needed a union. And she has done more to get a union than just join and sign up her co-workers.
Up against a company that employs 380,000 workers in 80 countries, she went global, like her employer. She marched down High Street in Columbus last April with British and French union supporters, then got arrested for blocking the street. She traveled to France for the January shareholder meeting, where European unions publicly supported her cause.