FOOD WORKERS ARE FAST…AND FURIOUS!

By Jason Sibert

Fast food workers and their allies gathered at McDonalds on North Tucker Street in St. Louis on Jan. 15 to fight for the causes of $15/hr and union representation. The Fight For 15 organization, which fights for both, staged a strike in 15 cities around the country on that day. “(First,) I’m fighting for my family, we need to survive,” said Monique Jamison, a St. Louis fast food worker, who attended the demonstration. “There are many people in my family who work in fast food. The second is for my community, we need this union. We need someone who will be behind us. If we push forward, our voices will be heard.” 

The workers and their supporters gathered around McDonalds, where they and their cars donned signs that said “Fight for 15,” “Jobs with Justice,” “Unions for All,” “Respect Us, Protect Us, Pay Us,” and “Faith/Labor Alliance.” After the initial gathering, demonstrators drove their cars through the McDonalds parking lot for a more visible display. They also honked their horns.  

Caprice Nevils, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, attended the demonstration on behalf of the union. She spoke of the growth of the Fight for 15 movement. “Fight for 15 started for fast food workers,” she said. “As it grew, it started to include hospital and nursing home workers. We came out here in solidarity with other unions. We believe in higher wages, and we don’t want these workers to be in poverty wages.”

In front of the restaurant, a list of speakers spoke in favor of the cause. Rev. David Gerth of St. Louis Metropolitan Congregations was among the speakers. He referred to the demonstration as a “place where workers are fighting for their lives,” and he called on the crowd to ”scour out the racism and the sexism.” After Gerth, fast food workers spoke of how hard it was to survive on the low wages they were paid. Some spoke of the hardships of raising a family on their wages. Others chanted “What do we want? We want 15 an hour and a union!”

Fast food workers went on strike on Jan. 15 in memory of Martin Luther King’s birthday 92 years ago. The group, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, has a petition on its website (Tell Biden/Harris: A $15/hr minimum wage in the first 100 days! | Fight for $15) urging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to prioritize minimum wage in their first 100 days in office. The petition demands a $15/hr federal minimum wage, easier rules to join a union, a focus on racial justice, affordable health care, and holding companies accountable for “their failure to protect essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.”

Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

THE BEER BELLY PUTSCH

By Patty Friend and Jason Sibert

The American people have witnessed an attack on our democratic republic in recent days with the storming of Washington D.C. by some who believed the election was stolen for President-Elect Joe Biden via illegal voting.

Several arrests have been made and media reports indicate many of the insurgents who stormed the Capitol with the express purpose of overturning the election were members of various law enforcement units and the military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff – the most senior members of the Pentagon – issued a force-wide statement condemning the riots as a “direct assault on Congress” and confirming that Biden will be our next president. House Democrats have impeached President Trump for the second time, this time for inciting the riots. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he feels Trump committed impeachable offenses.

This anti-democratic movement isn’t monolithic. This movement has been organizing itself for almost 40 years. It includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists, QAnon believers, militia members, end-timers, and radicalized former members of law enforcement and the military. Conspiracy theories are at the heart of this movement, many of which Joseph Goebbels would be proud. These people have been radicalized by right wing media and (right wing) social media and opportunistic politicians. Where once they could be depended upon just to vote for Republicans, they have now become manipulated to overthrow the elected governments in the United States. They are armed, well- funded, and incredibly dangerous. In addition, they see themselves as being at war with Democrats and democratically elected officials.  What happened to the United States of America on January 6, 2021 is a horrifying event like nothing we’ve ever seen before. This was not just a riot gone wrong. The mob was incited by Trump and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and some Republican congresspeople. After the insurrection was quelled, 129 Republican congresspeople voted to overturn the fair and free election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Trump must be impeached and convicted, never allowed to run for office in the U.S. again, and those senators and congresspeople should resign. It has come to light that certain congresspeople provided tours to certain insurgents in the days before the event, giving them even more reason to resign or be expelled. Anyone who takes the oath of office and breaks that oath should be expelled!    

Social democrats must remember their support for the democratic republic at a time like this. We have traditionally extended democracy into the economic realm by support for social insurance, the right to unionize, affordable housing, higher minimum wages, and a slew of other economic reforms. An attack on our democratic system is, by extension, an attack on social democracy.  

This attack is a violent manifestation of an anti-democratic trend in American politics. The mere refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win is a less violent part of this trend. Even after Trump’s Presidency, this anti-democratic trend will continue. To be fair, Republicans do not have a monopoly on this trend: the legalistic chicanery employed by the Democratic caucus in the Kansas State House of Representatives to overturn the free and fair election of social democrat (and SDUSA member) Rep. Aaron Coleman is testimony to this.

Social democrats must ally themselves with pro-democracy conservatives, libertarians, moderates, and anyone else who believes in the democratic form of government. This is a battle that will be fought amongst legislators, in all forms of media, and perhaps in the streets. When it comes to the streets, this battle must be fought with non-violent demonstrations. As the fight for democracy continues, social democrats must continue their fight for people in the lower-to-middle end of the income spectrum.

A more vibrant social democracy means a more vibrant democracy for most in the population and less alienation from our political system. While the battle for democracy calls for a broad coalition, the battle for social democracy requires a partisan form or organization, as this form of organization is what elected two Democratic senators in Arizona and in Georgia. Hopefully, our republic – which has become more democratic in time- will survive and grow even more democratic in the future. However, we can’t forget the fight it will take to arrive at our desired destination.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

LOOKING BACK AT A HOLIDAY CLASSIC

By Michael Mottern

Movie Review: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an anti-capitalist 1947 holiday film for the Social Democratic Christmas spirit, made when Norman Thomas was around. Directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and a host of other well-known stars of the late 1940s. Rated G as a family drama. 

As a disabled American suffering from bipolar disorder, I don’t think there is an individual that hasn’t, in rough times, contemplated suicide. In these times, most holiday films – especially Hallmark ones – want to make us do just that, because that’s how bad these films are! Other holiday films like “A Christmas Story” or “Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas” truly capture the essence of the holidays and give us a great story – like comedy and puppetry. However, there is one holiday film in particular that is both anti-capitalist and puts me in tears every time I see it. The movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. 

One of the most critically acclaimed holiday films of all time, it made its debut after World War II and incorporates powerful drama with laughs in some scenes. It centers on the life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who is at odds with a horrible banking and real estate tycoon, Mr Potter, a rich corporate fat cat “Monopoly Man” who tries to buy up the town George lives in, Bedford Falls. After making a name for himself in the town, George realizes being on top is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Some parts of the film seem very cliched, like a bad sexist joke. There is the part when Mary, George Bailey’s wife, is referred to as an “old maid”, as if a woman librarian truly needed a man in her life to be successful. But the dominant theme emerges when George, the savior of the town, falls on rough times and is literally touched by an angel by the name of Clarence when George tries to commit suicide. (Fortunately, the tone of sorrow and despair is leavened with comedy).  

The movie’s spooky but very realistic final half hour shows George getting to finally see what the world would be like without him. The town he lives in is no longer called Bedford Falls but Pottersville, filled with speakeasies and “girls’ clubs” – not at all the town in which George hoped he would wake up. In the George Bailey saga, his wonderful life proved to be a true Christmas miracle. It exemplifies the butterfly effect that says everything in life has repercussions. The film itself inspired me to think what would the world be like without…me. How the true character of a man or woman can be tested in hard times, and how reality as bitter as today’s can make us rethink what a wonderful life we truly have.

The movie is about an hour and a half long. It is a truly remarkable film that is thought provoking and poignant, on a par with “Mr Smith goes to Washington.”  I give it five stars for being a great family drama that tried to be inclusive of women and African Americans. Given the overt racism of the Jim Crow era, that says something. Note: in the early 1990s there was a Christmas movie very similar to this one with George Bailey’s character depicted as a woman. While not as good a movie as the original, it does help us understand how characters in films, especially old classics, can switch gender roles.

Michael Mottern is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA.

DEVELOPING THE GRASSROOTS

By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

Since the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 election, the Biden cabinet has drawn much of the media’s attention.  However, if the Biden/Harris administration is going to make any real progress, the Democratic Party must build a voter base that will force the party to deliver on its promises. There are many challenges when it comes to this, one is the right-wing media infrastructure that spreads disinformation to millions. The answer is to create an alternative infrastructure to spread a social-democratic message.  

There is more progressive media than there was two decades ago. The Thom Hartmann Program and XM Radio Left, Chris Hayes on MSNBC, Real Time with Bill Maher, Background Briefing and Ian Master’s daily show on KPFK and The Young Turks are good examples of this trend. These programs are professionally produced. However, it will take much more than a few progressive programs to build a consolidated message and a larger voting base.  

Indeed, there is much work that needs to be done if we are going to build a force that can make a difference in the long run. It is worth remembering that the Roosevelt-to-Johnson Democratic Party had membership-based organizations like labor unions and farm organizations, as well as big city bosses, to communicate a message to their constituents and to rally voters to the polls. Party structures were also a lot stronger back then. Those who favor a social-democratic vision need to be proactive in releasing a message. They need to use information technology to work for a more social-democratic America. In an age of declining volunteerism, we need to be more involved in the Democratic Party and Working Families Party.  

We also need to build more powerful service sector unions (although SEIU is already at work on this one). Workers in the retail, restaurant, healthcare, and hotel/motel sector need a social-democratic message and a reason to go to the polls. What about a united message of stronger service sector unions, a higher minimum wage, expanded healthcare, affordable housing, and affordable education? Social democrats also need to run for local office and build a modern, updated version of “sewer socialism.” Quality local public services and municipal wi-fi would be a great place to start. They should develop grassroots organizations around their candidacies, always working on deep organizing. If they are liked well enough, they can run for other offices.

It’s time for the Democratic Party and AFL/CIO to develop an intern corps of youth and retirees to send thousands into Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to spread the Democratic/social-democratic message.  The Democratic Party also must make the case that the Democrats bring security and the good life to Americans while the Republicans don’t care about anyone but themselves, their power and their money. The Party’s base must hear that Republicans are using you and me for their narcissistic and evil ends – they don’t care one bit about democracy!   

The right-wing media infrastructure is funded by certain sectors of corporate America and by certain wealthy families who are not interested in America being democratic. The labor press needs to intensify its efforts like never before for a democratic America. Liberals and leftists need to commit resources, money, volunteers, social media acumen, and anything else in this struggle. We live in a country where the wide variety of media makes it possible for our citizens to invest their efforts into any reality that they wish to live in. We need to bring the reality of a social-democratic America to the people who need a more social-democratic America.  

Sociologist Lane Kenworthy’s book Social Democratic America provides a blueprint for a social-democratic America. Richard Wolff, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and even Kamala Harris have championed the social-democratic architecture that we need. We can’t let right-wing media and their insane tendencies (Quanon, anybody?) win. Will we succeed in this struggle? Only time will tell. If we fail, America will surely become a darker place.

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

SOLVING THE HOUSING CRISIS

By Jason Sibert  

The subject of housing should be at the top of the list of priorities for the incoming Biden/Harris Administration.  There is no guaranteeing that it will be a priority, despite the fact that the middle and low ends of the income spectrum are being priced out of both the buying of homes and affordable rental housing. Thousands in our cities, especially the more expensive cities, are homeless, as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York all have large homeless populations.  

Radical urban theorist Peter Marcuse, along with sociologist David Madden, penned a book called In Defense of Housing (2016) that provides a wonderful guide to the problems we currently face. The two asked us to rethink our attitude toward housing. The book makes a very important point that should worry any good social democrat: “there is no United States state where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford to rent or buy a one-bedroom dwelling.” This is particularly disturbing because the non-traded domestic service sector employs a great number of the members of the working class, and they make at or near minimum wage. The housing crisis is even worse in the most expensive parts of the country.     

The basic conflict Marcuse and Madden addressed is the struggle between the house as a mode of profit production – real estate – and the house as a home. The housing crisis came about because housing was defined as an investment that outweighs all other claims about it. In Defense of Housing covered the partial decommodification of housing in the 1930s when governments on both sides of the Atlantic invested in public housing, but in the second half of the 20th century, real estate became a global force – the main factor driving our economy. This helped build the fortunes of people like President Donald Trump. This hyper-commodification produced a lot of inequality in a time of stagnating wages.  

In Defense of Housing analyzed how the state uses four ways to reinforce hyper-commodification of housing to make housing an oppressive force. First, the state deregulates mortgage lending, ends rent control and privatizes public housing in the U.S. and the U.K. Second, the state allows financialization of housing such as banks pooling mortgages and selling them as “liquid assets.” Third, the state allows globalization of housing with foreign investors speculating in U.S. housing or buying luxury housing as an investment which were never meant to be lived in. Fourth, the state allows gentrification to increase landlords’ profits with huge rent increases. Mayors often argue that more housing will solve the housing crises, but Marcuse and Madden point out that this will not work if housing is a commodity.  

Housing has sparked activism in our country before. The New York radical immigrant labor movement starting in 1916 created 40,000 units in non-profit cooperative housing. The 1917-1920 New York rent strike terrified the city’s real estate establishment who then allowed the first eviction regulations. During the 1930s and 1940s, U.S. housing activists allied with leftist political parties and won national rent control, national building of public housing, and building maintenance.  One can see something similar brewing today in the growth of tenants’ unions around the country.  

Liberal nationalist thinker Michael Lind also gives us some wonderful ideas on the housing crisis in his story “Why This Man was Prescient (Hint: It has to do with Your Rent).” He points out that spending on rent, as a percentage of income, increases as income goes down. The rule of thumb is that one should not have to spend more than 30 percent of one’s income on rent. However, Lind points out this is not possible for the large number of people who work for low wages.  In addition to public housing, as mentioned in Marcuse and Madden’s book, low-income people are helped in another way. There are housing choice vouchers and the fact that the government gives housing developers tax credits to develop affordable housing units – the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Lind cites the bipartisan policy of pushing home ownership instead of renting, including the policy of selling houses to those with no jobs, assets, or income  

In addition, Lind advocates a housing policy that would help the middle-class and poor because universal programs that help large segments of the population are more popular – think Social Security and Medicare! A new housing policy would not discriminate between owners and renters. Lind proposes a universal federal tax credit that would help the middle-class and poor. This would keep political conservatives from pitting the middle-class against the poor in the name of the rich. This tax would be refundable like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, meaning people too poor to pay income taxes would receive checks from the federal government.  

Some form of federal regulation would be needed to keep landlords and home sellers from raising their prices to compensate for the size of the tax credit. Commissions on tax reform have often talked about replacing the current tax credit for mortgages -which helps many middle-class and upper-middle class people buy homes but do little to help the increasing number of low-income people – with a more simple tax credit. In addition, homeless shelters should be constructed for those who have no money at all.  Lind’s ideas provide some concrete steps on how to stop the commodification of housing, the goal of Madden and Marcuse.

I myself penned a story with some relevant ideas in 2013 called “Addressing Housing Affordability Using Cooperatives.”  According to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC), cooperative housing is defined as when “people join together on a democratic basis to own and control the housing or community facilities where they live.” Each month those who live in a housing cooperative pay their share of the expenses while sharing the benefits of the cooperative. According to the NAHC, 1.2 million families live in cooperative housing in the United States. I suggested the formation of a Cooperative Housing Authority, with funding from Fannie Mae, that would purchase old houses and turn them into coop housing.  Coop housing could also be built from scratch. Such housing is more affordable to working people because the profit motive is eliminated. Such housing can come in apartment form or in the form of single-family housing.  Some will question the affordability of such a proposal.

But, then again, housing is not the only area where we see hyper-commodification. The defense industry is another area where it is rampant. Defense should be about defending our country, but we cannot have a defense that deforms the society it is trying to defend.  Felix Salmon and Hans Nichols’ story “The Defense Industry Worries About Biden” tells us much about how the defense industry operates.  The story points out that the biggest defense companies – Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics – usually see revenue increases under Republican administrations and that those companies are worried that a Biden Administration will not be as generous to them as the Trump Administration.  The four defense contractors are now collectively worth $304 billion. That is down $70 billion, or 19 percent, from the February 2020 high. These companies are quite naturally pushing an agenda where they draw as much revenue as possible!  

There is little discussion in our country about what type of defense is needed or not needed. The discussion is controlled by the defense companies that provide money for political campaigns and that purchase advertising in our media. What we have is a huge military-industrial complex that produces profits for a few companies and a defense structure designed to fight the Soviet Union in a world where it does not exist. We really need to rethink the meaning of security.

Let us allow ourselves to be inspired by the literature of the New Left. The Port Huron Statement, the document created by Students for a Democratic Society, called for participatory democracy where everyone becomes engaged in issues that affect all people – in civil rights, in political accountability, in labor rights, and in nuclear disarmament. Let us be involved in a movement to bring both housing and defense back to the people!  

 Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St Louis.