An occasional message from Peter Dreier

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
An occasional message from Peter Dreier  

End the Blacklist of Marvin Miller! -  While he was alive, the baseball establishment five times blacklisted Marvin Miller from the Hall of Fame, while the Players Assn sat on its hands. Miller’s recent death should now spur the union to mobilize a crusade to get this brilliant labor and sports pioneer the honor he clearly deserves. Kelly Candaele and I explain why in this article for the American Prospect.

Walmart's  Bangladesh Triangle Fire --  Is anyone really surprised that Walmart is complicit in the recent tragic fire at the Tazreen sweatshop in Bangladesh, where over 112 mostly young women sewing operators were needlessly burned to death, 101 years after the Triangle Fire? These insightful articles by Harold Meyerson and David Bacon explain why and how Walmart is culpable.  Please go to the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights  website and take action --  write to the Walmart CEO and his counterparts at Walt Disney, Target, and Sears to demand that they compensate the families, whose young daughters and sons were killed, with a payment of $50,000 for each person who was burned to death.

My Book Tour Comes to DC -- I will be speaking about and signing my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame,  at the Washington, D.C. bookstore Busboys & Poets in late January. I am also organizing other speaking events in the DC area that week, including one at George Washington U. More details to come. If your organization would like to sponsor a speaking gig for me while I'm in the DC area, please let me know.  Bill Moyers' interview with me last month about my book, sponsored by Demos, is available here on YouTube.
Tavis Smiley's interview with me on his PBS television show can be seen here.

Oxy students and Professor Dreier at the Walmart Protest in Paramount, CAMovement Against Walmart Gains Momentum --  (Pictured: With Oxy students at Walmart rally in Paramount, CA) The nationwide protest at Walmart's around the country on Black Friday (the big shopping day after Thanksgiving) was a huge success. The longest march begins with a single step. The struggle to organize and unionize Walmart workers has begun. It will take years, but the momentum is underway. It is key to challenging the declining living standards of America's workers ad families. I was exhilerated at the diverse turnout and enthusiasm at the rally at the Walmart in Paramount, a working class suburb outside Los angeles -- community organizinggroups, unions, clergy, students, and others.  Nine people, including several brave Walmart workers, got arrested, which was necessary to draw the attention of the cynical media.  Annette Bernhardt's fantastic article, "What Kind of Walmart Do We Want for Our Society?" explains the overall stakes in this effort to hold Walmart accountable for its abusive practices. Alan Grayson -- the lefty Florida Congressman who won a great victory on Nov. 6 -- issued a great statement about  why the battle against Walmart is so important. The world's largest employer (2.1 million employees, 1.4 million in the U.S.), Walmart pays poverty wages, provides few benefits, and is viciously anti-union.   Raising wages and working conditions will improve the lives of Walmart workers and their families, and also have dramatic ripple effects throughout the entire economy.

Lessons from "Lincoln" --  I really liked "Lincoln," but my friend Jon Wiener, the eminent historian, makes a good case  in an article in The Nation that the film distorts history, especially the role of slaves in their own emancipation. Aron Bady makes a similar critique of the film in this article, "Lincoln Against the Radicals," in Jacobin magazine.   Even so, the film provides lots of great lessons for current politics: The radical wing of the Republican Party and the "outsider" agitation from the radical abolition movement -- those who wanted to go beyond ending slavery and push for complete equality (incuding the vote) for African Americans -- kept up the pressure on Lincoln, then compromised when it was clear that winning abolition was a stepping stone to future reform. The Republicans' horse-trading (jobs and others favors for votes) that got a handful of Democrats in the House to vote for abolishing slavery was needed, but was also accompanied by Lincoln's  sense of a higher morality. Lincoln was willing to get into the trenches and personally lobby Democratic Congressmen to support the Amendment to end slavery. Lincoln sought advise from folks across the spectrum and had a Cabinet that included people to his left -- something that Obama should do as he assembles his 2nd-term cabinet.This is why films about real historical events are so interesting -- lots of food for thought.

A Progressive Manifesto -- In 1971, corporate lawyer (and later Supreme Court Justice) Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warning that liberal/progressive forces (labor, feminists, civil rights  and consumer activists, and enviros) were winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people, enacting new laws (Clean Air, OSHA, Voting Rights, etc), and undermining the free enterprise system. His memo outlined a strategy for the business establishment to take the country back. In the subsequent four decades, corporate America followed Powell's advice -- creating a conservative infrastructure with which we are all now too familiar.  Corporate America expanded its lobbying operation, poured billions into campaign donations, took over the courts,  and invested in think tanks, publications, college professorships, and other efforts. In its current (November/December) issue, The American Prospect invited more than a dozen leading thinkers and activists to write their own version of the Powell memo for today's American left.  This was written before the great electoral victories on November 6, but it lays the foundation for how progressives need to find a common strategy to move the country in a more humane and democratic direction.

Obama Won. Now Let's Change the System
Donald Cohen and I contribute to that strategy discussion in our article in the new (December 3) issue of The Nation.  We suggest that, in the wake of Obama's victory and the naiton's changing, more populist mood, progressives should do battle both on immediate issues like housing, student debt, and taxes but also push for three "mobilizing" reforms that will "change the system" to weaken the influence of the corporate plutocracy and give ordinary Americans a stronger voice in our society. These include campaign finance reform, voter reform, and labor law reform.  A longer version also appeared in Huffington Post.  Bob Kuttner's article, "A New Tougher Obama?" and Tom Hayden's article, "Obama's Legacy is Our Leverage," raises important points about how progressives should take advantage of Obama's victory.

Sainthood for Dorothy Day!! -- For years, Dorothy Day's fans have pushed to get the church to declare the fiery activist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement a saint.  Day was a controversial figure, as I discuss in my profile of her in my book.  She was a thorn in the side of the Church hierarchy, as are her followers day.  But Day  now has a new champion from an unexpected corner -- New York’s conservative archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. According to an article in the New York Times (Dec.1), Dolan "has embraced her cause with striking zeal: speaking on the anniversaries of her birth and death, distributing Dorothy Day prayer cards to parishes and even buying roughly 100 copies of her biography to give out last year as Christmas gifts to civic officials including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.  This month, at Cardinal Dolan’s recommendation, the United States Confernce of Catholic Bishop voted unanimously to move forward with her canonization cause, even though, as some of the bishops noted, she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the Communist Party."  Amazing!

There Once Was a Phony "Unionmade" Clothing Store -- Last week the AFL-CIO demanded that a men's clothing store called  Unionmade -- which also has a logo suspiciously like the historic AFL-CIO “handshake” logo -- stop its trademark infringement and unfair competition. I initially exposed this fraud on Labor Day this year in articles I wrote for the SF Chronicle and Huffington Post.   I discovered that the Unionmade store didn't sell union-made clothing!!  In its letter to the retail chain (which has stores in San Francisco, LA, and Marin County) the AFL-CIO told Unionmade to immediately stop using the logo (including not selling items showing it and removing the sign from stores and online sites) and change the store name so it “does not deceive the public into thinking that they are purchasing items that are actually made by union workers.” Thanks to the website Gawker for drawing attention to the controversy.

Academic Sweatshops --  Colleges and universities increasingly employ part-time faculty and pay them miserable per-course wages without health or other benefits.  In fact, exploited  "adjunct" faculty now teach a majority of the courses on many campuses. There's a growing number of Ph.Ds who barely subsist as "freeway flyers," teaching courses at different institutions, the academic equivalent of day laborers.  Jeff Nall's article, "Working for Change in Higher Education: The Abysmal State of Adjunct Teacher Pay,"  published in Truthout, lays out the problem and what's needed to fix it.


The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Occidental College or its employees. Occidental College is not responsible for the content of this communication.