Nel's New Day

February 25, 2014

People Changing the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:19 PM

Three years this month, protesters from Wisconsin started the highly visible pushback against legislative efforts destroy all public-employee unions. Newly elected GOP governor Scott Walker’s attempt to eradicate most actions of all public-employee unions except law enforcement and firefighters led to massive protests at the state capitol. Thousands of people stayed there 24/7 for months with signs describing their distress at Walker’s determination to give all the state’s power and wealth to corporations and the rich. My partner’s all-time favorite sign came in a pair: a man’s sign stating, “Support Walker” and his sister’s sign with an arrow pointing to her brother and stating, “I’m with stupid.”

Wisconsin farmers held a “tractorcade,” a parade to support these unions. The state failed to reinstate the unions’ power although neighboring Ohio failed to erase public-employee unions after a ballot initiative gave the power back to the middle class.

This month, VW workers in Chattanooga (TN) voted against unionizing after state and federal officials threatened to remove financial incentives from the plant if employees formed a union. Labor relations experts believe that Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) comments about these incentives before the vote could be against federal labor law, yet he continues to repeat the threats.

The South may have lost any other VW plants. The German “co-determination” model mandates that all large German companies have works councils connecting employees to management. After the U.S. vote, the head of Volkswagen’s works council told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the automaker would hesitate to expand in the U.S. South. Bernd Osterloh added that they would be unlikely to build “another plant in the right-to-work South.” He blamed conservative lawmakers for influencing the vote through misleading VW employees, an “unfair labor practice.”

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) announced that she doesn’t want to give people jobs in factories where employees can belong to unions:

“South Carolina is glad to have non-union jobs from BMW, Michelin and Boeing, but don’t expect any factories from Ford, General Motors, Chrysler or other companies with unionized work forces.”

Haley claims that companies in South Carolina take care of their employees, but workers in the state rank 44th out of 50 states for income.

Protesting continues. The Wisconsin Uprising was followed by international protests against the effects of an unjust economy and increased poverty from austerity and lower taxes for the wealthy. After the Middle East Arab Spring and European Indignado movements came Occupy, beginning on Wall Street before it spread around the planet.

One of Occupy’s issues was shifting political power from the wealthy to the public with programs that benefit communities in the need for shelter, food, education, healthcare, and income. Launched last week, It’s Our Economy plans to advance the growing movement for economic democracy.

During the 20th century, U.S. government used public funding to establish infrastructure such as roads and communication devices; protection of land, water, and air; knowledge and technology; etc. Conservative leadership changed this increasing success into stagnation with large numbers of people dropping out of the labor, record poverty and lowered incomes, and the divide between the few  rich and the rest of the people. Lawmakers continually cut the social safety net and refuse to re-build the infrastructure and economy while costs of food, shelter, healthcare, and energy grow at a faster pace than inflation.

It’s Our Economy uses five human rights principles as the foundation for healthy institutions:

  • Universality: Everyone must be afforded human rights.
  • Equity: Everyone is entitled to the same access to services and public goods.
  • Accountability: Human rights should be enforced through mechanisms.
  • Transparency: Government institutions must be open and provide the public with information on the decision-making processes.
  • Participation: People need to be empowered to participate in the decision-making process.

In communities with “buy local” programs, local businesses grow three times as fast as in other communities and report a 75-percent increase in customer traffic. The average food in the United States is likely to have traveled 2,000 miles before being eaten. Two programs to change that:

  • Our Harvest: Developed from a 2009 agreement between the United Steelworkers and the Mondragon Co-op, this provides local foods and good jobs in union co-operatives.
  • CropMobster: Local farmers, producers and food purveyors with excess food to sell or donate have an instant-alert service with communities in need. In the participating dozen counties, including the greater San Francisco Bay area, over 4,000 participants and hundreds of farmers and small food businesses have saved over 300,000 pounds of food in one year.

Ongoing disasters show the high risk in maintaining enough drinking water: the West Virginia chemical spill, the North Carolina coal slurry spills, and the fracking and broken pipelines in a number of states, to name a few.

After one small chemical company destroyed usable water for over 16 percent of the people in the state, however, the majority of the West Virginia’s residents now say they would vote for a candidate who wants stronger environmental regulations and has no ties to the coal industry even if the state loses jobs. Seventy percent of those responding to the poll are afraid that more disasters will occur without stronger protections.

People are working on alternatives to the bipartisan push, led by President Obama, to support big oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy without cutting back to a carbon-free, nuclear-free economy. In South Dakota, over 80 landowners have dedicated almost 20,000 acres to building the largest wind farm in the state that can increase South Dakota’s wind energy output by 50 percent. More people are employed by solar energy companies than by oil and coal combined.

The push for a raise in the minimum wage is already being echoed by some corporations. In addition, the growing movement for worker-owned cooperatives allows employees to share the wealth traditionally sent on to huge corporations that pay their CEOs exorbitant salaries and conceal their earnings in tax-free shelters. WinCo now operates 93 employee-owned stores in seven states with almost 15,000 employees who have a health plan with dental and vision as well as a pension plan. Its low prices make WinCo a growing competitor for Walmart with its bad wages, healthcare, and employee policies.

Other businesses are redefining corporate charters, adding the purpose of providing public benefits rather than profits to investors. Twenty states plus the District of Columbia allow companies to legally register as benefit corporations; 16 more states are considering legislation to allow this practice. Delaware, home to half the U.S. corporations and two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, has a B Corp. law to protect these companies from lawsuits by shareholders for not maximizing profit. The law also gives shareholders the right to sue the corporation for failing to optimize its social mission.

More changes can be found at PopularResistance.org and ItsOurEconomy.us

With its philosophy that people should not be enslaved to big banks, StrikeDebt is organizing a nationwide debt resistance. One project is to buy debts for pennies on the dollar and then abolish the debt rather than collect it. Thus far, they have raised $701,317 that has erased $14,734,569.87 of debt.

The project, known as the Rolling Jubilee, comes from Jewish, Christian, and Islam traditions. A jubilee is an event in which all debts are canceled and everyone in bondage is set free. Iceland held a jubilee—although not in that name—when the country canceled a percentage of mortgage debt in 2008 rather than bailing out the banks. As StrikeDebt wrote, it’s a “bailout of the 99% by the 99%.”

Also on the StrikeDebt website is a manual for those in debt with extremely concrete and specific suggestions on solutions.

Recently the alternative media on the internet and its readership forced more transparency surrounding the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that would have given huge corporations even more power. The “fast track” method that would have passed TPP quickly and in secretly has now stalled, and participants are forced to reveal some of their machinations.

Human rights, local community involvement, transparency, equity, living wages—these are important parts of a democratic society.

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