SDUSA Statement on the Current Gun Madness

Social Democrats USA is not only for the complete abandonment of all military grade firearms. We are also for universal background checks and the reintroduction of the assault weapons ban. However, since special licenses and collectors permits can be given to people who collect World War II and Korean War weaponry, it should be up to mental health professionals and law enforcement to weed out people who are not professional gun owners, with discretion given to gun shop owners not to sell.

We also support a nation-wide red flag law, modeled after the law that recently passed the NYS Legislature and signed by Governor Kathy Hochul. This bill authorizes specified healthcare professionals,  police and district attorneys to apply extreme risk protection orders if there is probable cause that a person poses a threat.

For more information, consult these organizations:

The Brady Campaign: https://www.bradyunited.org/

Everytown For Gun Safety: https://www.everytown.org/

Giffords — https://giffords.org/

Grandparents for Gun Safety — https://grandparentsforgunsafety.org/

Moms Demand Action — momsdemandaction.org

John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence solutions — https://publichealth.jhu.edu/departments/health-policy-and-management/research-and-practice/center-for-gun-violence-solutions

Sandy Hook Promise — https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/

States United to Prevent Gun Violence: https://supgv.org/

CAN THE BARISTAS BEAT THE BULLIES?

By Jason Sibert

Like all major metropolitan areas in the United States, coffee lovers enjoy their Starbucks brew at outlets in the city and in the surrounding suburbs.  And this means baristas in the Gateway City where I live are joining the highly publicized efforts to form unions in their respective stores.

“The union drive in Buffalo (New York) is what inspired me and the rest of the organizing committee to look at what was going on in our store and how things were run,” said Starbucks Shift Supervisor Calvin Scones who works at the Kings Highway and Chippewa Starbucks store in St. Louis.  “A lot of us held leftist politics and were pro-union already. It was a very easy decision to make.” Scones describes the local effort as “100 percent organic and in the store.” He also said the baristas were heading in a union direction before reaching out to Starbucks Workers United, an organization leading the nationwide effort to organize baristas. Nationwide, over 50 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize.

Scones said issues involving long-time baristas, promised pay raises, racial discrimination, and the lack of action over faulty equipment make the job of an employee tough. He also said Starbucks’ pay does not provide a comfortable living. “The wage versus work gap, the amount of work they are having us do, especially the shift supervisor staff,” he said on working conditions. “Everyone on our organizing committee is a current shift supervisor or former shift supervisor that turned into a normal barista.” The shift supervisor said that he hopes a union will bring proper staffing and better equipment to his workplace. He said he “loves working,” but that he couldn’t do it “without the proper equipment.”

“Recently we’ve had a flux of over hiring,” said Natural Bridge Road Starbucks Trainer Alexia Smith. “It’s to water down sentiment in the stores. Basically, we’re trying to get people to have enough hours so they can have a living wage and provide for themselves. Right now, we have people that sometimes work four hours a paycheck, and if they’re lucky four hours a week. There’s been severe hour cuts and flooding the stores. The thing that got us talking about it was when Buffalo unionized.”  

Stores in Buffalo, New York voted to go union in December and January. The tactic of sending several employees to a Starbucks store to water down the union vote is being employed in the organizing drive, said reports. Smith supports a son on a Starbucks paycheck. “It’s hard, when I started, I was getting full time hours,” Smith said on raising a child. “I was getting overtime, too. We got a new store manager and the stuff in New York (Buffalo) started happening. Lately, it’s been a struggle. I must go to food pantries. I’ve been trying to take care of my son. I want to make sure he’s healthy mentally and physically. I’ve been scraping by to make sure he’s well fed while I’m struggling myself.”

Like Scones, Smith said the effort started with employees concluding that a union was desirable. Then the Buffalo example pushed them over the edge. This led to Bridgeton employees contacting Starbucks Workers United (SBWU). Smith hopes to see a future at Starbucks with an equalized playing field. He sees an unequal distribution of power between workers and high management. “We want to be able to negotiate what we think is a fair, living wage and our benefits,” said Smith. Seniority, things like that, and we want people to have livable hours, instead of only working four hours a paycheck. It started out as something to where we can support ourselves, and it looks like it’s getting really big.” Smith said there are 200 stores that are attempting to organize.  

Hampton and Wise Starbucks Shift Supervisor Riley Staack, like Smith, said it’s hard to survive on a Starbucks paycheck. “It’s not a livable wage,” Staack said. “An increased wage would be part of the reason for unionizing in our store. It’s not the sole factor, but it is a part of it.” She feels the company needs a little workplace democracy, feeling it would bring about better working conditions. “Forming a true partnership and a seat at the table in the company we work for,” the shift supervisor said on the power relations at her work. “I don’t think working conditions have to be inherently horrible to seek out unionizing. I grew up in a union household. So, I saw the good it did for my family and so have a lot of the other workers.”

Staack mentioned solid hours and more workplace safety as a goal in the drive. She said that she was not protected against customers who didn’t want to follow masking rules during the Covid-19 pandemic when working at a location other than her home store, but this wasn’t the only concern in terms of safety. “Our store shut down for a day because of a customer interaction when a customer became mad about something and became hostile and threw drinks back through the windows,” Staack said.  “They left and came back and made threats against one of the workers and showed back up with ski masks. So, the store went into lockdown.”  Staack heard the story from another employee but didn’t work on the shift. She said that management said that employees weren’t allowed to discuss the issue. “I would like to see a workplace that is more directly worker led, where we have more of a say in the day-to-day operations that we carry out.” She added that the employees are the most impacted by the workplace and not shareholders or chief executive officers “who make 9,000 dollars a minute.”

Management has been cold to employees since the organizing drive started. “Management has become more standoffish,” said Staack. “We had a good working relationship with management, but once we felt we needed to unionize they became more standoffish and borderline hostile. They didn’t speak to any of the workers in the store for maybe the first three or four days after we filed.” The shift supervisor said employees are starting to see “listening sessions” with management and district management. “They’re speaking to us two-on-one on why unions are so bad,” Staack said.

SBWU organizer Mariana Orrego has been working on the campaign since the early months of 2022. “The campaign has always been hot,” Orrego said.  “We’ve always been busy with the number of stores that have reached out wanting to begin the process of unionization. Starbucks workers have been the ones contacting us! They reach out to sbworkersunited@gmail.com and the rest is history…” She referred to the Starbucks workers involved in the campaign as “active” and “go getters.” “They’re aware of the predatory practices from their employer and are not easily persuaded,” Orrego said. “Whatever veil was in front of them has been lifted since the campaign and they truly see things for how they are. They’re strong, they’re optimistic, they’re organized. And they have such strong wills.” 

The union organizer can speak of the worker-led nature of the movement. “As SBWU has mentioned before, this campaign is truly partner-run,” she said. “Workers call the shots, they decide what actions they want to take, they’re the ones designing their city/regional logos, they’re the ones in the bargaining sessions up in Buffalo. They’re the ones doing the active role of organizing their workplace and having the conversations to do so. At Workers United, we support whatever actions they want to take, with guidance and education, of course.” 

The work of SBWU demonstrates a countervailing power at work in our economy. “Well, change has already occurred,” Orrego said. “Thanks to the unionizing efforts of these baristas, CEO Howard Schultz announced a rollout plan of new enhancements and benefits that total $1 billion. Workers know that this is because of their push to organize. They know they won this. And they now know that Starbucks always had money to pay them more, and they certainly can give them more. So, what do we expect? As workers continue to organize, file unfair labor practices, and strike, the hope is that it will inspire the surrounding stores to join the movement as well. Union-busting may occur in these surrounding areas as more stores push to file for an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) election, but workers aren’t scared nor intimidated. They’re empowered and they’ve been more than ready to take on their schoolyard bully.” 

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

CAROLYN IN THE CITY!

By Susan Stevens

Click on the below link to a video from Spectrum News, a local Rochester, NY TV station, featuring one of our members, Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman, who was elected to the Monroe County Legislature last year.

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/rochester/public-safety/2022/04/20/advocates-rally-for-passage-of-elder-parole-reform-in-rochester?s=09#

We at SDUSA are thrilled to share a glimpse into the compassion-powered labor of our endorsee Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman, elected in November of 2021 to serve District 25 on the Monroe County Legislature. In the linked video, Carolyn is standing with her fellow parole justice advocates, pushing for elder parole reform, so that inmates 55 and older who’ve been incarcerated for at least 15 years can have their cases reviewed by the parole board, and be considered for release.

Also a restorative justice advocate, Carolyn rightly points out that our criminal justice system does not center victims — does not ask victims (in her words), “What do you need for this to be made right?” We progressives are often maligned as “weak on crime” because of the mistaken assumption that fear of punishment is the basis for law-abiding behavior.

In contrast, as a new mother, I learned from attachment-parenting proponent Dr. William Sears that a person who grows up immersed in love has a built-in sense of total rightness within themselves, and between themselves and those around them. When something happens to knock that sense of rightness off-kilter, they know enough about how it feels to be in right relationship with the world, that their immediate instinct is to take the steps that bring things back into alignment. People who grow up in various situations of generational lack have a human right, at any age, to experience that center of love, joy and peace that connects all of humanity. They have a right to learn empathy by being the object of intense empathy flowing toward them.

They also have the right — as do those who were victims of their previous behaviors born out of their sense of wrongness or dirtiness, and who wish to be contacted — to a time of coming together for listening and restitution. Victims who wish to, have a right to tell those who’ve wronged them how they’ve been impacted, and what the perpetrators can do to alleviate their pain. Our justice system should be a help in restoring right relations between people, and not a hindrance.

Monroe County and all of us are blessed to have Carolyn working to make this a reality!

Susan Stevens is the Chair of the Kansas City, Kansas chapter of Social Democrats USA.

ENDORSEMENT: ALEXANDRA HUNT FOR CONGRESS

By Sheldon Ranz

In what could turn out to be a historic election for people emerging from marginalized communities, feminist public health researcher Alexandra Hunt declared her candidacy a few months ago for the Democratic Congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s third Congressional district (mostly Philadelphia) currently held by two-term incumbent Dwight Evans.

Raised in Rochester, NY by her two teacher parents, she attended college at the University of Virginia, where she made ends meet both as a server and as a stripper at a gentleman’s club. Her stance as an unapologetic former sex worker has garnered her national attention and the occasional lurid headline. Holding down both of those jobs gave her a unique perspective on the range of working-class life. After graduation, she found her calling in public health and moved to Philadelphia, where she now resides. She has been using her specialization in public health as a springboard from which to make connections with, and be active in, a host of other quality-of-life issues such as housing access and criminal justice reform.

A one-time supporter of incumbent Evans, she felt betrayed by his failure to keep his word to fight for universal health care; indeed, he voted against Medicare For All in Congress. Evans has been a supporter of the charter school movement that has further entrenched school segregation. With that in mind, and having formulated her own positive vision for the voters of her district, she threw her hat into the ring.

Hunt is an unabashed progressive with strong social democratic values. The expansion of democracy into every corner of our public life is a connecting thread that informs her take on virtually every issue of her platform. Her expertise on public health led her to come up with detailed proposals on managing the Covid crisis. She is a staunch proponent of a Green New Deal, Medicare For All, a wealth tax, demilitarizing the police, net neutrality and sex work decriminalization, among other concerns. During her Zoom chat with our National Executive Committee (NEC), she clarified that she supports BDS toward Israel as well as Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s bill to penalize Israel financially for violating the human rights of Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories. She shares Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s opposition to US military aid to Ukraine due to her belief that a sizable chunk of that aid is going to neo-Nazis.

The NEC voted unanimously to endorse her. Philadelphians will be well served by her heart and fierce dedication to the working class and the marginalized!

On the Issues: https://www.alexandramhunt.com/issues/

Donate to the campaign: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/alexandra-hunt-for-congress-website

Sheldon Ranz is Director of Special Projects for Social Democrats USA and the editor of Socialist Currents.

FOR Military Aid to Ukraine: A Dissent From SDUSA’s Ukraine Resolution

By Patty Friend, Jason Sibert and Rick D’Loss

Editor’s Note: SDUSA condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on March 16. However, the resolution was not unanimously approved.

While we agree with the text of our March 16th resolution per se, we oppose it as organizational policy because it failed to call on the United States to provide Ukraine with military aid – i.e., material and ammunition along with transport vehicles and armored ambulances, etc.  Therefore, we voted to oppose the resolution passed at our March National Executive Committee meeting. 

Russia’s war – a clear violation of the United Nations’ Charter – is the most vicious ever perpetrated on a sovereign state since World War II, as stated by Oona Hathaway in her article “International Law Goes to War in Ukraine” (Foreign Affairs, March 15). The longer the war goes on, the worse the crimes are, as we’ve seen the targeting of civilians. The counterweight to this lawbreaking is the crushing sanctions by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, and many other countries of the world. Of course, those sanctions are a method of supporting the violation of the UN Charter, although the UN is largely helpless because Russia has veto power on the Security Council. The sanctions are an example of soft power (non-military) being used to enforce the idea of international law.  International law extends beyond the sanctions, according to Hathaway: “contemporary international law demands that states respond to violations not with war but with what Scott Shapiro and I have termed “outcasting”—that is, sanctions that exclude a state that has broken the law from the benefits of global cooperation. In this case, outcasting involves not just economic sanctions but also barring Russian athletes from participating in international sporting events, banning Russian airplanes from European and U.S. airspace, and curtailing Russian media outlets’ access to European audiences.”

Airstrikes and shelling by Russia have devastated civilian infrastructure across large swaths of the country, including schools and hospitals. The World Health Organization said it had confirmed more than 64 attacks on health-care facilities, patients, and medical workers during the nearly two-month-old war, killing thousands of people and wounding countless others. “Health systems, facilities and health workers are not — and should never be — a target,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference.

The Russians have destroyed theaters, restaurants, food storage depots, and much, much more.  They have made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of civilians to escape, and for those who have tried to escape the cities such as Mariupol, many have been kidnapped by the Russians and forced to resettle in Russia, with many interned them in filtration camps, reminiscent of concentration camps. Others are bombed and gunned down outright. For those Ukrainians who have no other way to escape the dystopian nightmare in which they are barely living, there is no heat, no food and no water.

Putin’s soldiers have laid landmines all over cities and towns and villages and neighborhoods. They have raped women and girls and left them to die in the streets.  They refuse to allow civilians “humanity zones” so they could bury their dead; the dead fester and rot and carry diseases.  They have stolen Ukrainians’ food and medicine and have not allowed aid workers to get to the people who need them.  This sort of behavior shouldn’t surprise us: in Chechnya, for instance, Putin had Grozny bombed into oblivion, terrorizing the civilian population for almost nine years and establishing his puppet regime there. 

This war is not only unnecessary, unprovoked, and illegal but its justification is based in ethnicity. Putin’s propaganda promotes a set of ideas about the Ukrainians, concluding that they must be exterminated, that they do not deserve to exist unless they are part of Russia, or they are subsumed by Russia.  Putin’s propaganda is now attacking the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization as if we are evil incarnate. 

Putin analysts who are completely familiar with his writings and his speeches tell us that he wants to reestablish the Russian Empire, at least a Greater Russia with Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova as his first ring of satellites.  (As an additional motive, Putin covets the large oil deposit in southeast Ukraine, second in size in Europe only to Norway, according to world-wide energy experts.  Putin cannot tolerate Ukraine as an economic or political competitor.) Many who analyze him say that he will not stop at these countries and will need to go after Poland and/or the Baltics and/or the Balkans.  In other words, he will ultimately go after one of the NATO countries that used to be part of the Soviet bloc.  All of this will cause a cold war and arms race which will cost the West every penny that we would need to spend on climate change, peace initiatives, affordable housing, refugee resettlement, education and training, neighborhood revitalization, or fighting the next pandemic.  We have the chance to stop all that madness, and it won’t even cost one American boot on the ground.  We don’t have to do the fighting, but we must arm the Ukrainians so that they can do the job for themselves, and their freedom, and for us.

Congress passed a $13.6 billion defense spending package that includes $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. The U.S. must continue to stand behind Ukraine in its fight for freedom. It will strike a blow to Putin if he loses his fight to take the country into his sphere of influence. A loss could turn the tide of world politics. In addition to the need to halt Putin’s malicious ambitions, there are other reasons why Ukraine must get arms. First, it produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s wheat supply and other food stuffs.  If it cannot harvest its crops, people all over the globe will go hungry (even more than they already have) and more people will die. Second, from the standpoint of ‘power and principle’ (to borrow a term from Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski), the Ukrainians have been our allies, as the county fought with our country and NATO in Afghanistan.  The U.S. should not continue to abandon its allies, like it abandoned the Kurds in Syria. Allies are a method we use to confront our adversaries, a way of increasing our power.

Humanitarian aid is a wonderful thing, but we need a military presence to secure that aid. We’ve already seen how the Russians agree to allow humanitarian zones or corridors one minute, and then once the civilians start moving in their cars, the Russians start bombing them or shooting at them.  So much so that the people of Mariupol refuse to take the bait assuming that the Russians are simply lying to them and setting them up for annihilation, abduction, or forced relocation in Russia.

The non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations working in Ukraine  (such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Central Kitchen and many more)  need a great deal of help: thousands of armored ambulances and/or thousands upon thousands of tons of food stuffs, hundreds of thousands of blankets, pillows sheets, towels, millions of pounds of toilet paper, bars of soap and detergent, sanitary supplies, not to mention band aids, and garbage bags. Moving all these supplies takes convoys of trucks and railroad cars, and all must be protected from the Russians.

Some of our comrades are afraid that if we arm the Ukrainians as they need us to do, then we run the risk of arms falling into “the wrong hands” e.g., the Ukrainian neo-Nazis.  Are we afraid that the neo-Nazis will get fighter jets?  Are we afraid that the neo-Nazis will get Abram tanks?  What would they get from the West (and be able to use in some future war) that they could not buy off the black market? We have no clear count as to how many neo-Nazis are fighting in Ukraine, and no one has determined that anything they may have done (wear Nazi uniforms and SS insignias) are equal to the atrocious acts of the Russians.

Many feel that given all the horrendous mistakes that the US and NATO have made since World War II from Viet Nam to Iraq and Afghanistan, and smaller wars or military adventures such as Lebanon or Grenada, we should not and cannot provide arms and munitions to the Ukrainians.  But why should the Ukrainians lose their freedom (and all that that implies) and their country because the US has been such a bad actor on the world stage in the past?  While we heartily agree that the Dulles Brothers, George Shultz, the Bushes (father and son}, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremmer, Dick Cheney and others probably committed war crimes or at least profited off our wars, that can not absolve Putin from his war crimes and unspeakable acts, and it is no reason to assign the Ukrainian people to live in Putin’s totalitarian wasteland for as long as he might live.

If Ukraine survives, it will obviously have to be rebuilt from scratch. It will need a modern-day Marshall Plan and the US cannot and should not bear the total cost of that, rather Putin and his oligarchs should be made to pay along with the West. The motto of Social Democrats USA is pro-labor and pro-democracy. For this reason, our organization should support aid to Ukraine, both military and non-military. Perhaps a social-democratic movement will emerge in the country much like the mixed economies of Europe after 1945!

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

Rick D’Loss is an At-Large member of the National Executive Committee.