Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His email is hmeyerson@prospect.org

Recent Articles

Janitorial Justice

Americans may have divided over the war in Iraq this spring, but one thing that brought them together was their health coverage. It was shrinking. From state to state and sector to sector, job-based health insurance either covered less or cost more or -- the insurance companies were loath to force a choice on us -- both. One group managed to evade this bonding national experience, however: the janitors who clean the high-rise office buildings in America's downtowns. I know this sounds preposterous. Many janitors are immigrants, and many are here without legal status. They have no apparent power. Many don't speak English. So how is it that this spring, while the two-thirds of Americans who have health coverage were being told they would have to pay more to keep it, the janitors were getting their coverage upgraded? If this runs counter to everything you know about power in America, you probably have forgotten about unions. At minimum, you have forgotten about unions that organize so...

The Indispensable Advocate

Varsha Patel works in the stockroom at the Cintas industrial laundry plant in Piscataway, N.J., sorting dirty uniforms as they come in for cleaning. For eight hours she remains standing as she separates the damaged cloths from the merely dirty; at the end of the day, she says, "My hands, feet and legs are sore." For this she is paid a princely $7.94 an hour. Varsha Patel (not her real name) has worked for Cintas, America's largest uniform rental company, since 1997, and it has not been the happiest of associations. Six months ago, her co-workers who hang clothing on racks positioned well above their heads had to hang 1,700 uniforms a day. Now they have to hang 2,000. And if she or her fellow workers take more than six sick days in a year, they'll be summarily fired. The work force at Piscataway isn't notably young; most of the plant's 145 production workers are women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, almost all of whom make between $6.50 and $9 an hour. Many, like Varsha Patel, are...

Past Tense

The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party convenes here today at a national conference sponsored by the liberal Campaign for America's Future. The gathering comes not a moment too soon, not only because the party's progressive base needs to assert and renew its principles, but also because it has come under assault lately from its intra-party adversaries. In a recent memo addressed to "Leading Democrats," Al From and Bruce Reed, the leaders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, have all but read the party's activists out of the human race. Purporting to dispel some noxious myths about the Democrats, they write, "Real Democrats are real people, not activist elites." When exactly party activists ceased to be real people they do not specify. It's easier to identify when the DLC began to demonize the Democrats' foot soldiers: That began in 1985, in the wake of Walter Mondale's overwhelming defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan. That the Democrats needed some midcourse...

Civil Unions

For a moment there, it almost looked as if the Democrats were getting their act together. Leaders of the key Democratic constituency groups have begun meeting to develop a strategy and the wherewithal for winning the battleground states in the 2004 presidential election. On May 8 the president of Emily's List, Ellen Malcolm, hosted a gathering of the heads of various environmental, pro-choice, civil rights and labor organizations to look at how they could have the greatest impact in next year's race. (The gathering was a tribute, in its way, to the regular meetings of conservative leaders hosted by anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist.) The centerpiece of the May 8 meeting was a presentation by Steve Rosenthal, until recently director of the AFL-CIO's political program and now director of the labor-backed Partnership for America's Families. The Partnership is one of myriad so-called 527s -- the tax code designation for organizations that are springing up now that campaign reform has banned...

Union Army?

Europe wants an army. Tony Blair wants a European rapid deployment force that can work through NATO in concert with the United States to build "one polar power" that spans the Atlantic. Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and the leaders of Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg -- the continent's leading critics of the war with Iraq -- want a rapid deployment force to be the military arm of a distinct European Union (EU) foreign and security policy. They want to get that force up and running by next year, and to establish a headquarters for the command in Belgium. But Belgium, as the Bush administration has noted with some asperity, is already home to the headquarters of NATO. To both the State and Defense departments, the idea of plunking an alternative to NATO just down the block from our own alliance must seem more devilish French mischief. Europe's desire for a continental strike force, however, antedates its current rift with the United States. It derives in part from Europe's shame at...

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