Harold Meyerson

Raising the Minimum is the Bare Minimum

AP Images/Kris Tripplaar
In 1995, when John Sweeney ran the first and as-yet-only insurgent campaign for the presidency of the AFL-CIO, his platform took the form of a book entitled America Needs a Raise. If that title rang true in 1995, it clangs with deafening authority today. Which leads us to the only problem with the current campaigns to raise the minimum wage: It’s not just workers at the low end of the wage scale who need a raise. It’s not just the work of the bottom 9 percent of labor force that is undervalued. It’s the work of the bottom 90 percent. Conservatives who oppose raising the minimum wage argue that we need to address the decline of the family and the failure of the schools if we are to arrest the income decline at the bottom of the economic ladder. But how then to explain the income stagnation of those who are, say, on the 85 th rung of a 100-rung ladder? How does the decline of the family explain why all gains in productivity now go to the richest 10 percent of Americans only? And are...

The Penultimate Watergate Baby

georgemiller.house.gov
The 1974 midterm elections, held in the wake of Watergate, were a Democratic landslide. The party increased its strength in the House of Representatives by more than 50 new members, many from suburban districts that had previously elected Republicans. The Watergate Babies, as the new members were called, were a different breed of Democrat than the veterans who represented more urban districts. They were not only more liberal on cultural issues and more committed to environmental causes than many more senior Democrats, but many of them were also less committed to the kind of bread-and-butter New Deal economic policies with which the party had been identified. In 1974, Jerry Brown was first elected governor of California preaching that the nation had entered an “era of limits,” by which he meant, limits to social spending. Gary Hart was first elected senator from Colorado, disparaging the politics of old labor Democrats. Today, just two Watergate babies remain in Congress, both from...

Dan Cantor's Machine

Timothy Devine
Timothy Devine E lection night, New York City, November 5, 2013. Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, the candidate for both the Democratic and Working Families parties, is racking up a huge victory after running on a platform that calls for raising taxes on the rich and raising wages for workers. Shunning the usual Manhattan-hotel bash, de Blasio has decided to celebrate in a Brooklyn armory, where his supporters have gathered to mark the end of the Michael Bloomberg era and, they hope, the birth of a national movement for a more egalitarian economy. In one corner of the packed armory, Dan Cantor is talking with old friends and young activists who either work for him or used to—two groups that, combined, probably include about half the people in the hall. Cantor, who is 58 years old and of medium height, is wearing a black suit and tie but exhibits a touch of the willful schlumpiness that comes naturally to certain New York Jewish males. His most prominent features are a white streak...

What Divides Democrats

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
AP Images/Paul Sakuma N ew York–area voters had the opportunity this fall to cast their ballot for one of two Democrats who are divided by more than the Hudson River. Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, whom New Jersey’s electors sent to the U.S. Senate in October, and Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, personify two distinct futures for the Democratic Party. Booker is a corporate Democrat—more precisely, a Wall Street and Silicon Valley Democrat—who praises the beneficent rich as sources of charitable giving and policy ideas that can lift the poor. De Blasio is an anti-corporate Democrat who condemns big business and the financial sector for using their wealth to rig the economy in their favor and at everyone else’s expense. The divide between Booker and de Blasio matters because it defines the most fundamental fault line within the Democratic Party. Not so long ago, the Democrats generally agreed with one another on economics—hence the New Deal and Great...

Reviving the Los Angeles River

One hundred years ago next week, the water came to Los Angeles. On November 5, 1913, civic dignitaries gathered at the north end of the arid, undeveloped San Fernando Valley for the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a marvel of both engineering and chicanery. Five years in the making, the aqueduct pumped the water out of the Owens River Valley (to which the spring runoff from the melting snows of the Sierra Nevada descended) and carried it over 223 miles of mainly desert to the L.A. suburb. Raising his voice to be heard over the noise of both the crowd and the water cascading downhill, the project’s chief engineer, William Mulholland, proclaimed with epic succinctness: “There it is—take it!” And the city did. When the project was first announced in 1905, with the city council’s recommendation of a $25 million bond measure that L.A. voters subsequently authorized, no one argued that Los Angeles didn’t have enough water to meet its current needs. The 1900 census had turned up a mere...

Dissent Magazine Turns 60

In early 1953, a number of democratic socialist intellectuals gathered in literary critic Irving Howe’s living room to discuss the formation of a new political journal. McCarthyism was at its height in the United States, while Joseph Stalin still ruled over the Soviet Union. Howe and his guests knew what they wanted their new journal to be: A quarterly publication of ideas, criticism, and reporting from around the world—from de-colonialized New Delhi, from New York housing projects and Michigan auto plants—that illuminated and excoriated both the structural inequalities endemic to capitalism and the self-perpetuating tyranny baked into communism. The journal’s political perspective was clear: Capitalist economies and polities needed to be democratized and socialized so that human potential could flourish; communist totalitarian regimes needed to be democratized and socialized so that, well, human potential could flourish. At the same time, the magazine would eschew the turgid rhetoric...

Mining for Victory

AP Images/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Stephanie S. Cordle
The story of the United Mine Workers of America is the story of the American labor movement as a whole. The Mine Workers were once the single most important union in the United States: the union that broke from a stodgy labor federation in 1935 to devote its resources to organizing the nation’s factories, the union that built such dynamos as the United Auto Workers and the Steelworkers; the union that sunk so much money into Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign that FDR didn’t raise a peep when striking auto workers occupied General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, factories and didn’t come out until GM had recognized their union; the union that had the strength and cojones to strike during World War II’s strike ban; the union that transformed industrial America. Today, with membership shrunk to perhaps just 10 percent of their peak strength numbers, the Mine Workers, like the labor movement generally, have a past that quite outshines their present. Their retirees outnumber their current...

Two-Faced: The Democratic Party's Divergent Future

AP Images/Tina Fineberg
M ichael Bloomberg has declined to endorse anyone in the race to succeed him as New York’s mayor. Neither Democrat Bill de Blasio, whose entire campaign is a critique of Bloomberg’s tenure in office, nor Republican Joseph Lhota, who is trailing de Blasio by a mind-boggling 50 points and who has been heard disparaging Bloomberg to boot, has endeared himself to the billionaire mayor. But Bloomberg has not been without other local endorsement options—just not for mayor. Earlier this week, hizzoner’s spokesman said that Bloomberg would endorse Newark Mayor Cory Booker in his bid to win New Jersey’s U.S. senate seat later this month. (The date of the special election is October 16 th .) The New York Times has reported that Bloomberg’s PAC will spend $1 million on ads to boost Democrat Booker in his surprisingly close race against Tea Party Republican Steve Lonegan. The most recent poll, from Quinnipiac, shows Booker leading Lonegan by 12 points—the same margin as last month, but down...

De-Kochifying the Dance

AP Images/Javier Galeano
The three buildings arrayed around the central fountain at New York’s Lincoln Center are, north to south, Avery Fisher Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, and the David H. Koch Theater. Avery Fisher was a radio and sound reproduction technologist who amassed a fortune from his hi-fi ventures in the mid-20 th century, and donated a vast sum of money to the New York Philharmonic, which today performs in his eponymous auditorium. The Metropolitan Opera is the Metropolitan Opera. And David Koch is the same David Koch who is financing the destruction of the United States as we know it. Owned by the City of New York, the Koch Theater is home to the New York City Ballet; it hosts visiting dance companies as well. It was known as the New York State Theater—its construction was funded by the state’s government—from its opening in 1964 until 2008, when David Koch made a ten-year, $100 million pledge to fund the theater’s renovation and its operating and maintenance expenses. The question before...

Proof the Left Coast Is the Best Coast?

AP Images/Reed Saxon
The AFL-CIO held its national convention in California last week, and it turns out it couldn’t have picked a better time to be there. For it was last week that California really began to deliver on the promise of the labor-Latino alliance. On Thursday, with the legislature rushing to meet its targeted adjournment date on Friday, it passed a bill raising the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8 to $10—the highest in the nation. It passed a bill permitting undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. Governor Jerry Brown has committed to sign both bills. It also passed a bill mandating overtime pay for domestic workers, and, for good measure, outlawed the sale of rifles with detachable magazines and required owners of such rifles to register them with the state. And perhaps just as remarkably, on Thursday, 15 Republican members of the state legislature announced their support for federal immigration reform, including legalization of the undocumented. None of these victories were...

Trumka's Ploy

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
The AFL-CIO Convention concluded Wednesday, having made some major structural changes in the way labor will operate—though nowhere near so major as the changes that the Federation’s top leader was advocating in the weeks leading up to the convention. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka iterated and reiterated that labor would no longer limit its members to those who had successfully convinced their employers to recognize their union. With employers able to flout labor law with impunity, illegally firing workers who sought to organize and refusing to sign contracts with those whose unions had won recognition elections, the number of workers who actually emerge with a contract grows smaller with each passing year. So the Federation’s unions would welcome workers who had tried to organize their workplace but didn’t prevail. It would welcome workers such as cab drivers, who were misclassified as independent contractors and legally proscribed from forming a union, though they were actually...

Upper East Side Snubs de Blasio

The most impressive aspect of Bill de Blasio’s victory in yesterday’s Democratic primary for the post of New York’s mayor is its breadth. He ran first in all the boroughs, carried parts of the city ‘s most African American neighborhoods in Harlem and Brooklyn, despite the presence of a prominent African American candidate in the race (William Thompson, who may yet squeak into a run-off depending on the count of the outstanding ballots), and romped through such white liberal strongholds as Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, and Park Slope. The New York Times website has a precinct-by-precinct map of how the candidates did. What’s particularly striking is that de Blasio ran either first or second in what was effectively a five-candidate field in every one of the city’s neighborhoods—with one exception. The exception was Manhattan’s Upper East Side, or more precisely, the precincts that encompassed Fifth, Madison, and Park Avenues and their side streets between 59th Street and,...

Unions—Not Just for Middle-Aged White Guys Anymore

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
During the floor debate yesterday on a resolution expanding the AFL-CIO’s commitment to take the workers excluded from labor law’s protections into its ranks—domestic workers, taxi drivers, day laborers, and the like—one delegate to the union’s quadrennial convention likened the proceedings to the 1935 AFL convention, when a sizable group of unionists wanted the Federation to expand its ranks to include factory workers. The more conservative Federation leaders, including its president, William Green, believed that unions should represent only workers in skilled trades—carpenters, masons, plumbers, and so on. But John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers and Sidney Hillman of the Clothing Workers believed that there were millions of factory workers who would flock to unions if given the chance. Lewis and Hillman’s motion to organize factory workers was put to a vote and lost. They were not happy. Indeed, Lewis decked Big Bill Hutchinson, the president of the Carpenters, and stormed out—to form...

Labor Goes Community

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
“Community is the new density,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said yesterday, just moments before the labor federation’s quadrennial convention was gaveled to order in Los Angeles. For those who follow labor-speak, the remark was both an acknowledgement of American labor’s crisis, and a guide to the strategy with which it hopes to recover. For unions, and more fundamentally for workers, density is power. In a market with considerable union density, wages and benefits are high—or at least higher than they are in a nonunion market. In the three cities with the highest density of unionized hotel workers, for instance—New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas—housekeepers make upwards of $20 an hour. In a city where just half the big hotels are unionized—Los Angeles, say—their wage is close to $13 or $14 an hour. In a city in which no hotels are unionized, as in the case in most of the South and Southwest, housekeepers make barely more than the legal minimum. But more and more...

How To Get Single-Payer Health Care, and More!

Based on Congressional Republicans’ apparently overwhelming opposition to President Obama’s proposal to strike Syrian military facilities in retaliation for the government’s use of chemical weapons, a new way to enact progressive legislation in the United States has become apparent. When he returns from Russia, the president should announce he is scrapping Obamacare and calling on Congress to outlaw all forms of public and private health insurance. Congressional Republicans will respond by extending Medicare to all. The president should call on Congress to repeal the 1938 legislation establishing the minimum wage. Congressional Republicans will respond by raising the wage to $15-an-hour. The president should call on Congress to outlaw unions. Congressional Republicans will respond by favoring card-check in union elections. The president should call on Congress to halve the federal government’s budget across the board, effective immediately. Congressional Republicans will respond by...

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