LIZ LEADS LABOR!

AFL-CIO President Elizabeth Shuler

By Patty Friend and Jason Sibert

The labor movement recently lost one of our heroes – American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka. Trumka meant a lot to us because he was a great man and a great trade unionist who advocated for many progressive ideas. As we mourn his passing, we are however buoyed by the election of Liz Shuler, the first woman president of the Federation.

She’s dedicated to organizing the unorganized, which is radical for someone coming out of the building trades. Trumka supported organizing the unorganized, but his presidency coincided with a conservative congress and four years of President Donald Trump and a conservative National Labor Relations board that rarely met or supported workers. Since President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1965, women in America have made tremendous strides, and Shuler is the latest success story.

Her father was an electrical lineman for Portland General Electric and her mother was a secretary for the same company. While in college, Shuler worked summers for GE and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 1992 and was active in the state Democratic Party. Her first job was as a union organizer, one of a small group of women organizers at the time, for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 125. She worked on a campaign to organize clerical workers – mostly women – at PG & E. She became a lobbyist for the IBEW in 1997, representing the union before the Oregon Legislature. One of her chief accomplishments for the union was the defeat of a bill (promoted by Enron) to deregulate Oregon’s electricity market, a terrible anti-union bill. 

Shuler also served on the State of Oregon Management-Labor Advisory Committee on Workers’ Compensation and was appointed an IBEW delegate to the Northwest Oregon Central Labor Council. In 1998, she led the AFL-CIO’s successful effort to defeat California Proposition 226, which would have denied dues check-off to public employees belonging to unions and required all union members in the state to annually give their assent before any portion of their dues could be used for political purposes, another terrible anti-union bill – this kind of legislation has been promoted by Republicans and the right-wing all over the United States. She defeated a bill that was designed to destroy the labor movement and its political power.

After the California effort, Shuler was appointed an IBEW international representative and moved to Washington D.C., where she worked in the IBEW’s Political/Legislative Affairs Department. She was appointed executive assistant to IBEW President Edwin Hill in June 2004, making her the highest-ranking woman in the union’s history, an extremely powerful position. Shuler supervised and coordinated 11 of the IBEW’s departments, including its education, research, political/legislative affairs, public relations, and workplace safety divisions.

Shuler said she intends to spend much of her term reaching out to workers under the age of 35 and using new media to reach out to workers, their families, and union supporters. Organizing the unorganized entails providing new opportunities for the labor movement to engage with workers in the new economy (eg: the gig economy). She also said she would work with the AFL-CIO’s affiliates to balance the federation’s budget, which was running a deficit and whose liabilities exceeded its assets by $2.3 million in 2008.

The story of women in the union movement is a long one, particularly in apparel manufacturing, social services, and hotel and restaurant workers. The International Lady Garment Workers Union, led at one time by social democrat David Dubinsky, was founded in 1900 and had a primarily female membership. The ILGWU merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, at one time led by social democrat Sidney Hillman, in the 1990 to form UNITE, and UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Workers Union to form UNITE HERE in 2004. The ACTWU was formed in a revolt against the American Federation of Labor’s United Garment Workers.

More recently, the Service Employees International Union was run by women. The Coalition of Labor Union Women was founded in 1974 and supported by George Meaney, Lane Kirkland, Tom Donahue, and a majority of the AFL-CIO’s executive board who also supported the organizing of women into the unions and endorsed women in leadership positions throughout the movement.  The CLUW supported and worked for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as well as other progressive legislation. It’s a big deal for a woman like Shuler to emerge from the more conservative building trades. There’s been a lot of progress over the years when it comes to women in these unions.  This is a great day for women trade unionists and a great day for the American labor movement. We predict it will prove to be a great day for the Democratic Party and Americans all over. Congrats to President Shuler – and to us.  

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

Editor’s Note: A Happy Labor Day to all AND a Happy Rosh Hashonah – Jewish New Year 5782 – to our Jewish members, subscribers and friends. A rare occasion for both holidays to occur on the same day!

REST IN POWER, RICHARD TRUMKA!

DO RIGHT BY OUR VETERANS!

By Michael Mottern

It was said to me at the Westside Buffalo New York VFW post where I received my hunting license by the instructors that we remember, above all else, hunter safety at all times and thank our veterans. Because if it wasn’t for them, I would not have the privilege of hunting public lands or freely backpacking around Europe. I get it, veterans have made a large sacrifice for us. But we were also told not to dress or act like militiamen or just shoot at anything. “Maybe you would like to take out your camera and snap a picture of your trophy animal instead…”

At that time in 1996 the NRA was not as taboo or the bankrupted organization that stands today. This is why Social Democrats USA recently passed a resolution for environmentalism, Food Justice and Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection. Expanding inclusiveness of the SD USA’s large tent of 99 percenters! This includes veterans rights and conservation.

Before 9/11, I believed the military and even conservatives were in limbo about where the military was going and who can their families rally behind for in support? Since then, there has been a sore feeling due to the continuous,endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (hopefully ended with today’s announced pullout), with the veterans at Walter Reed Hospital being really let down when it comes to their rights as well as their social benefits. Veterans overwhelmingly are the 99% that Occupy Wall Street was talking about and the 47% that the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign, for instance, was disparaging. 

America has been outraged and disgusted at the way this country treats its veterans coming back from war and in the mental health community. We can say for certain that nobody cares more about or provide more money in Congress for Veterans Affairs than socialist senator Bernie Sanders; money for benefits like eyeglasses, dental care, hearing aids, mental health therapy and crisis services He understands that better facilities at VA hospitals would be more appreciated then longer deployments and a back door draft!

This isn’t the only time when service members and veterans men and women were screwed over by the government when it came to social welfare. In Buffalo New York in 1919, unemployed soldiers and sailors took to the streets demanding full employment and siding with the Buffalo Soviet before the police kicked out every protester from Niagara Square, most of whom were former and unemployed disgruntled Army personnel. 

In 1932, Congress during the Great Depression cut off extra bonuses for homeless  World War 1 veterans camping out in Washington DC – the Bonus Army. Instead of giving them coffee and sandwiches, President Herbert Hoover with the help of army officer George Patton expelled, shot and beat thousands of Bonus Marchers and killed and wounded several others. Patton would later say it was the lowest point of his career. In fact, these events were so contentious that the common people were in full support of the veterans and the nation’s politics were ripe for revolt!

It shows you if you leave your veterans behind, the government will eventually have to pay the piper.

Michael Mottern is First Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA.

ENDORSEMENT: DENNIS KUCINICH FOR MAYOR

By Jason Sibert

It’s hard to find anyone in American politics who has kept to his convictions more than Dennis Kucinich. He reentered public life recently with an announcement of a run for mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.  Kucinich has a long career in public service. He grew up in Cleveland, the son of a truck driver father and a homemaker mother. Kucinich started his political career with a run for Cleveland city council in 1967 which he lost. He won a seat on the council in 1969 and was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977.  

His tenure as mayor (1977-1979) was considered one of the most tumultuous in the history of the city.  He was the youngest mayor in the history of big city mayors, earning him the name “boy mayor.” During his time in office, Kucinich refused to sell the city’s publicly owned utility, Municipal Light. The Cleveland Mafia plotted to assassinate him in a contract killing, but the plot fell apart when he was hospitalized and missed the Columbus Day Parade. The Cleveland Trust Company, a bank, required the city’s debts to be paid in full, forcing the city into default. The company made the announcement after the news broke that the mayor would not sell the utility. Kucinich was defeated by George Voinovich in his reelection bid in 1979. In 1998, the Cleveland City Council honored him for having the “courage and foresight” to stand up to the banks. Municipal Light saved the city $185 million between 1985 and 1995. Kucinich’s stand for city-owned utilities should be considered a stand for social democracy, or what might be called “sewer socialism.”  

Kucinich later served as an Ohio state senator (1995-1997) and United States Congressman (1997-2013). He’s voiced support for single-payer healthcare and a federal Department of Peace over the years. Kucinich is running for mayor on the establishment of a Cleveland Civic Peace Department which will identify hot spots in the city and intervene before the outbreak of violence.  This Civic Peace Department will create new policies which address crime, both in prevention and rehabilitation, establish and coordinate new community-based violence prevention programs and conflict resolution strategies. The candidate for mayor also wants to work on drug addiction by decriminalizing nonviolent drug crimes and making battling addiction a priority. Social Democrats USA gives an enthusiastic endorsement to Kucinich in his run for mayor.  

In other election news in the state of Ohio, Nina Turner ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the state’s 11th Congressional district. She was defeated by centrist Shontel Brown who was backed by the Democratic establishment, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Turner built a national profile working on Bernie Sanders’ campaigns for president in 2016 and 2020 and was backed by members of “the squad.”  Turner served on the Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio Senate. She stood for Medicare for all, criminal justice reform, expanded public education, the Green New Deal, affordable housing, and a living wage.

She began the race with a 30-point lead in the polls and her opponent has been under investigation for ethics violations. With all that plus the energy of the progressive movement behind her, why did Nina Turner lose? First, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ryan Grim pointed out, this was an open primary, so Republicans could vote – and apparently did – for the more conservative Shontel Brown  Secondly, the Young Turks, a progressive talk show, said in a recent broadcast that big money interests moved in an gave Brown an advantage, which I don’t doubt is the truth. Of course, this is a case in point on why we need campaign finance reform, a key point in Sanders’ runs for the presidency. Progressives have shown their ability to organize in recent years in certain political races. However, perhaps we need to organize more!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project .

IN MEMORIAM: MARGO HALL-O’KANE

By Patty Friend

Margo Hall-O’Kane, beloved wife, daughter, sister, cousin and friend passed away on May 3, 2021. She died peacefully, in her sleep. The profound nature of her loss – to her family, friends and community to which she gave her heart, soul and amazing energy – is indescribable.

Margo was a member of SDUSA back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. She worked then for the AFL-CIO’s Department of Organizing, and before that for the Seafarers International Union (SIU) – her father’s and brother’s union. During all of that time, over the course of 30 years, she worked on union and other political organizing campaigns, from Maine to Texas, Detroit, NYC and more. She was also a labor lobbyist,  mentored many younger women in the movement, and trained a whole generation of organizers.

She was one of the great organizers. Not only was she a hard worker, skilled professional and loyal, generous spirit, she was a natural-born leader. Her energy and warmth lit up the room, along with her contagious laugh. She had a mind like a steel trap. We met in 1986 when I worked for the NYC Central Labor Council and she was with the SIU.

With all her virtues, she had a wicked temper. You did not want to be on the wrong side of her anger, where she would ‘lay you out in lavender’ as she would say. But she rarely carried a grudged or stayed angry for long. She was demanding of those she loved and motivated them to do their best. People of all ages were crazy about her, At her funeral were senior citizens, teenagers and everybody in between. One of her youngest friends, a 9-year-old boy, said, “I really loved her…my life will never be the same.”

Margo and her brother Max grew up in a Labor home. Her father was Paul Hull, the President and amazing leader of the SIU, and their mother, Rose, was an organizer in her own right. The entire family gave their hearts and souls to the American Labor Movement and the Democratic Party. Many of our older members will remember hearing about or even attending Frontlash training conferences at Piney Point, the SIU’s training institute, and have fond memories spending time with Paul Hull. In 1996, she married Raymond O’Kane, a dedicated trade unionist who worked as the Human Resources Director of the Consortium for Worker Education in NYC, where he made an invaluable contribution to staff and workers throughout New York.

After she retired from the AFL-CIO, she became a full-time resident at Smallwood, a lovely hamlet in the Catskills. As a community activist there, she devoted her time to helping battered women and abused and homeless animals. In addition ,she helped raise funds to the local fire department. As one woman from Smallwood said to me, “Smallwood has suffered a deep loss.”

Margo lived with an enormous amount of pain all over her body, and apart from her doctors, no one knew how debilitating and destructive her chronic pain was. She didn’t want to be a ‘complainer’ or let the pain defeat her. Eventually, something did defeat her: cancer. It started as a ‘freckle’ in her left eye, which traveled to her liver and lungs, and then everywhere else. Fortunately, in the end she had hospice care at home. Raymond, helped by her medical professionals and great friend Stephanie Donahue (whose husband and in-laws also died of cancer), was with her all the way. And the rest of us got to be with her every day until she passed.

In the last four months of her life, she was as sharp and as aware as she ever had been during her organizing career. It was not easy loving her or being loved by her, but it was so rich.  All of us who knew her and loved her were better off for having her in our lives.  She has passed away, but she will always be with us, because a spirit like hers is just too big, too robust and too loving to die.

Sleep well, my dear sister and comrade and enjoy your future. And as I always said to her, “I love you forever.”

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

ANNOUNCEMENT: CONVENTION!!

Social Democrats USA is holding its national convention in Buffalo, New York on Friday September 24 through Sunday 26, 2021.

LOCATION: EUGENE V. DEBS HALL, 483 Peckham Street, Buffalo, NY 14206

INVITED GUEST SPEAKER: INDIA WALTON, DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR MAYOR.

HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE, COMRADES!!

More details to follow…