Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Solidarity Against Hate

Solidarity Against Hate
New Zealanders' hate-defying symbol

The union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), believes in unity, that “all working men and women, regardless of creed, color or nationality” are eligible for membership.

That was the guiding principle of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) when it formed in 1937.

I return to that statement in times like these, times when terrorists shoot up mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 worshipers; a synagogue in the USW’s hometown of Pittsburgh, killing 11; an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine; a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six; a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 mostly young gay people.

The USW membership eligibility statement is an assertion of inclusion. All working men and women qualify. They can all join. They can all attend local union meetings at which members call each other “brother” and “sister.” This practice creates artificial, but crucial, bonds between them. This solidarity gives the group strength when facing off against massive multinational corporations and demanding decent pay and dignified working conditions.

To erode that solidarity, some billionaire hedge fund owners and multinational CEOs work to divide workers. These wealthy .01 percenters separate people by cultivating hate. Some are the same billionaire sugar daddies of alt-right hate sites like Breitbart and more conventional hate sites like Fox News. Investigative journalist Jane Meyer wrote a book about their efforts titled, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”

This hate mongering sets work-a-day people against each other. That weakens them politically. And it contributes to false-fear provoked violence.

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Wall Street Pressured GM to Close Plants

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Wall Street pressure, particularly from rich and secretive hedge funds and their managers, prompted the General Motors plant closures that will throw at least 14,000 United Auto Worker members – and countless other workers in GM’s supply chain – out of jobs, a new report says.

The report, commissioned by the Teachers (AFT) is from the non-profit Hedge Clippers campaign, an organization dedicated to investigating, exposing and reining in the hedge funders’ financial machinations.

It added the moneyed interests have been pressuring GM ever since 2013, after the “new GM” returned to profitability following the Democratic Obama administration’s rescue of GM and FiatChrysler from collapse, bankruptcy and closure due to the financier- and GOP-caused Great Recession.

The pressure has come in the form of financiers’ threatened takeovers accompanying demands that GM send profits to stockholders and stock buybacks, rather than investing to modernize its factories. The recent plant closures are just the latest symptom of company yielding to the capitalists, the report adds.

AFT commissioned the report because its members, too, will suffer from the closures. That’s because when the company closes the four plants – two in Michigan and one in Baltimore after the one in Lordstown, Ohio – tax revenues, from both personal income taxes and, more importantly, property taxes, will decline.

And property taxes provide most of the revenue for local school districts, AFT President Randi Weingarten explained. She cited Lordstown, which closed March 6, as the example. Some 1,400 workers, toiling at making the Chevy Cruze on the one remaining production line, lost their jobs. Several years ago, the plant employed 4,600 in three lines.

AFT represents Lordstown’s public school teachers. Many have relatives who were employed at the plant. “The closure could decimate the community’s tax base—Lordstown’s two schools currently receive about $800,000 a year in property tax revenue. With the plant idle, the property could be devalued, drastically affecting funding,” AFT said in a statement.

“The report exposes how GM’s decision to close Lordstown and shutter two other North American assembly plants and component factories followed a 4-year bid by hedge fund managers to squeeze company profits.” The report names the hedge funds and their five managers, who collectively raked in billions from all their deals.

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What’s the Real American Story?

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

Donald Trump has perfected the art of telling a fake story about America. The only way to counter that is to tell the real story of America.

Trump’s story is by now familiar: he alone will rescue average Americans from powerful alien forces – immigrants, foreign traders, foreign politicians and their international agreements – that have undermined the wellbeing of Americans.

These forces have been successful largely because Democrats, liberals, “socialists,” cultural elites, the Washington establishment, the media and “deep state” bureaucrats have helped them, in order to enrich themselves and boost their power. Not surprisingly, according to Trump, these forces seek to remove him from office.

What makes Trump’s story powerful to some Americans despite its utter phoniness is that it echoes the four tales Americans have been telling ourselves since before the founding of the Republic.

To combat Trump’s fake story, we need a true story based on facts, logic and history. But in order for that true story to resonate with Americans, it must also echo the same four tales.

The first tale: The Triumphant Individual. 

It’s the little guy or gal who works hard, takes risks, believes in him or herself, and eventually gains wealth, fame and honor. The tale is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that “the value of life is to improve one’s condition.” The moral: with enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in America.

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Republican congressman introduces bill to fix the injustice of college sports

Lindsay Gibbs

Lindsay Gibbs Sports Reporter, ThinkProgress

The latest opposition to the NCAA is coming from an unlikely place: The U.S. House of Representatives.

On Thursday, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act, a bill that aims to hit the NCAA where it hurts the most: in the tax code. Currently, the only compensation college athletes in this country receive for their labor comes in the form of scholarships and having educational costs covered by the university. If a student-athlete sells an autograph, promotes a lacrosse stick brand on their Instagram, or accepts a free tattoo from a fan, it counts as an NCAA violation under the current system.

But Walker’s bill would amend the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code, and remove this restriction on student-athletes using or being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness.

“We’re not asking the NCAA or the schools to spend a dime on these athletes,” Walker told ThinkProgress in a phone interview on Friday. “We’re asking for them to have the same rights to the free market that you and I have.”

It’s no coincidence that Walker is introducing this bill during March Madness — the men’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament, which begins on Tuesday, is the college sports cartel’s most egregious showcase of athlete exploitation. The television networks, sponsors, NCAA, universities, coaches, and trainers all rake in millions, while the players get no share of the haul.

This arrangement has bothered Walker for decades. He first became aware of the inequities in this system back in the early 1990s, when the University of Michigan’s Fab Five — the Wolverines’ 1991 recruiting class considered by many to be the best of all time — took the basketball world by storm, and, in many ways, changed the face of college basketball forever. While three of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard — went on to have long NBA careers, Jimmy King only spent a couple of years in the league, and Ray Jackson never made it to the pros.

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University of Tennessee will be free for low-income students starting in fall 2020

Sam Fulwood III

Sam Fulwood III Columnist, ThinkProgress

oining a small, but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities seeking to make higher education more accessible to a greater number of qualified students, the University of Tennessee announced recently it would guarantee free tuition and fees to admitted in-state residents with a family household income of less than $50,000.

The novel program — called “UT Promise” — provides a financial aid package for in-state students who enroll at one of the system’s campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, or Martin. The UT Promise covers the cost of attending classes at the selected campuses, after all other financial aid, such as Pell Grants and HOPE Scholarships, are received.

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A Bold New Idea to Boost Wages

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

The challenges are well known: Working Americans are struggling to keep up with the increasing cost of living. Unemployment is low, but wages of most Americans have remained flat. More than three-quarters of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. Most can’t afford a $500 emergency.

There’s a simple and bold solution that would cost about as much as the Trump tax cut. But instead of helping corporations and the rich, it would help millions of working and middle-class Americans by putting money directly in their pockets.

I’m talking about expanding something called the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. And although it’s been around for decades, it can be the basis of a revolutionary change in the lives of millions of people. 

As it now stands, the EITC gives thousands of dollars to the working poor, with the amount of money they receive gradually decreasing as their earnings rise until they reach a cap, which is now a little over $50,000.

It works so well because it directly boosts the incomes of people who need it the most. Cash gives people freedom and dignity— the power to decide, for example, whether to have their car repaired or buy new shoes for their kids or save for a rainy day. 

When working people have money to spend, they spend most of it in the communities they live in. This, in turn, causes businesses to hire more people to meet the demand. It’s a virtuous cycle that lessens poverty, makes the tax code fairer, and boosts the overall economy.

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Union Matters

Support the Equality Act

From the AFL-CIO

Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Jeff Merkley last week reintroduced the Equality Act in the 116th Congress. A landmark piece of civil rights legislation, the bill would extend comprehensive protections to LGBTQ working people.

Currently, private employers in 29 states can legally fire workers based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Equality Act would ensure that civil rights protections are extended equally to LGBTQ Americans.

Amending existing federal civil rights laws, it would explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, federal jury service, public accommodations and the use of federal funds.

More than 70% of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—support passing the kinds of protections found in the Equality Act.

The Equality Act’s record number of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives is 239.

 “No one’s civil rights should depend on the ZIP code they happen to be in at the moment.” —Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis

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New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All

New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All