Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier, who teaches politics at Occidental College, is the author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Recent Articles

Good Jobs, Healthy Cities

Eight steps city governments can take to promote good jobs.

(Flickr)
Traditionally, most city officials concerned with fostering development have focused on economic growth, allowing private investors and developers to dictate the terms. Even those sympathetic to social justice have worried that efforts to raise wages or regulate business practices would only scare away private capital, increase unemployment, and undermine a city's tax base. Developers have relentlessly exploited those fears -- which turn out to be misplaced. Lately, more and more city governments, prodded by local activists, have been using their gatekeeper powers to successfully promote growth with equity, starting with wages. The movement began in the early 1990s in Baltimore, where a community-labor coalition called BUILD mobilized a successful grass-roots campaign to pass the nation's first "living wage" law in 1994, requiring companies with municipal contracts and subsidies to pay employees decently. Since then, more than 100 cities have followed suit. The living-wage movement's...

Why We Need EFCA

Despite its paltry membership, the U.S. labor movement remains the nation's most potent force for progressive change and the most effective vehicle for electing Democrats.

Three weeks before the November election, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story that asked, "Will Gun-Toting, Churchgoing White Guys Pull the Lever for Obama?" When the polls closed, the question was answered: Nationwide, white men, white women, working-class whites, white gun owners, and white weekly churchgoers supported McCain by wide margins. But a significant number of whites in each category broke ranks and voted for Obama -- enough to help him win key battleground states and the presidency. Exit polls conducted by Guy Molyneux, a survey expert with Peter D. Hart Research, explain why. Molyneux surveyed 1,487 members of AFL-CIO unions -- about half in battleground states -- and compared the results with all voters. What he discovered is nothing short of astounding. Fifty-seven percent of white men favored McCain, but 57 percent of white male union members favored Obama. White gun owners cast 68 percent of their votes for McCain, but 54 percent of white gun owners who are...

Does Obama Really Have a Race Problem?

There is no doubt that working-class whites harbor resentments against blacks. But wealthy whites are more likely than working-class whites to use the race card in the voting booth.

One of the persistent mantras of this election season is that Barack Obama's skin color may cost him the Democratic nomination (or the White House), because of racism among working-class white voters. According to conventional wisdom, white workers faced with growing economic insecurity -- blue-collar employees in manufacturing and construction, pink-collar employees in office and retail sectors -- vent their frustrations on blacks, whom they view as competing for their jobs or living off of government social programs funded by whites' hard-earned tax dollars. When those white workers get to the voting booth, their anger translates into an unwillingness to vote for black candidates. Obama confronted this paradox in his speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday. "Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze -- a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting...

Why He Was In Memphis

Most Americans today know that Reverand Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, but fewer know why he was there. King went to Memphis to support African American garbage workers, who were on strike to protest unsafe conditions, abusive white supervisors, and low wages -- and to gain recognition for their union. Their picket signs relayed a simple but profound message: "I Am A Man." If he were still alive, King would surely be working with unions, clergy, and community groups to raise the federal minimum wage, enact local living wage laws, expand health insurance to all Americans, and help America's working poor -- hotel workers, janitors, security guards, hospital employees, grocery workers, farmworkers, and others -- unionize for better working and living conditions. Today we view King as something of a saint, his birthday a national holiday, and his name adorning schools and street signs. But in his day, the establishment considered King a dangerous...

Livable Los Angeles

In 2000, a group of environmentalists and housing advocates founded Livable Places to promote new housing construction in neighborhoods with good transit as an antidote to continuing sprawl. With more than 150 nonprofits building affordable housing in Southern California, Livable Places is unique in its dual strategy of both advocating and developing housing using a smart-growth model. Livable Places both talks the talk and walks the walk. One of its developments, Olive Court, with 58 new residences for owner-occupants currently under construction, is located one block from a light rail station in Long Beach. Another, Fuller Lofts, where a 1920s industrial building is being recycled into 102 condominiums, is just three blocks from a light rail station in Los Angeles. Both have great bus service and are close to downtown jobs. Livable neighborhoods mean communities that are safer and pleasant for people to walk. At Olive Court, Livable Places has placed the parking at the rear, with...

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