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September US Prison Strikes vs Slave Labor

Posted by randyshannon on August 10, 2016

“A Call to Action Against Slavery”—We’re About to See the Largest Prison Strikes in US History

attica

August 9th, 2016

On September 9, a series of coordinated work stoppages and hunger strikes will take place at prisons across the country. Organized by a coalition of prisoner rights, labor, and racial justice groups, the strikes will include prisoners from at least 20 states—making this the largest effort to organize incarcerated people in US history.

The actions will represent a powerful, long-awaited blow against the status quo in what has become the most incarcerated nation on earth. A challenge to mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex in general, the strikes will focus specifically on the widespread exploitation of incarcerated workers—what the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) describes as “a call to action against slavery in America.”

The chosen date will mark 45 years since the Attica prison uprising (pictured above), the bloodiest and most notoriousUS prison conflict. The 1971 rebellion—which involved 1,300 prisoners and lasted five days—and the state’s brutal response claimed the lives of dozens of prisoners and guards. The events left a lasting scar, but have inspired a new generation among today’s much larger incarcerated population.

Tomorrow (August 10), information campaigns, speaking events, and solidarity demonstrations will take place in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, California and elsewhere.

The organizing coalition includes The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), Free Alabama Movement (FAM), Free Virginia Movement, Free Ohio Movement, Free Mississippi Movement, New Underground Railroad Movement (CA), Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement (FICPFM), and IWOC—which has chapters across the country and with which I’ve been involved for several years.

FICPFM has scheduled a national conference September 9-10 to coincide with the main strikes, which have also been endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild.

These widespread and coordinated actions haven’t happened overnight; they’re the result of years of struggle by people on both sides of the prison walls. Significantly, it’s incarcerated people who are taking the reins in organizing the strikes this time around—despite intimidation by the state.

If history is an indicator, the state will do all it can to limit media coverage. So organizers inside and outside are organizing communication via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The “revolution” may not be televised, but these strikes will be accessible in real-time via social media, despite prison officials’ efforts to keep them hidden.

 

Leaning on History and Technology

Organizing incarcerated people on such a large scale is unprecedented for a reason. As recently as 2009, during my two-year stay with the Georgia Department of Corrections, simply talking about unions was unthinkable for fear of retaliation and isolation.

Now, not only are incarcerated workers in Georgia and across the country talking about fighting back against an unjust system—they’re actually doing it.

Many of us involved with organizing this wave of strikes weren’t even born when Attica happened. But we do have the twin resources of plenty of history to learn from and modern communications—especially mobile phones and social media—to lean on as we seek to shape resistance.

Attica happened at a time when, like today, racial tensions and conflict between police and people of color and poor people were high. In 1971, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were fresh in the public mind, and the government was systematically targeting and eliminating leaders of more militant groups like the Black Panthers.

Three months before the Attica Uprising, President Richard Nixon had declared his War on Drugs. The combined US state and federal prison population then hovered below 200,000 people.

Through the Reagan and Clinton years—which ramped up the drug war and introduced mandatory minimum sentencing—until today, that number ballooned to over 1.5 million. In total, over 2.2 million people now behind bars—in jail, prison,immigration detention, or youth detention—on any given day.

This makes the United States the world’s number one prison state and massively raises the stakes for organized resistance. Millions of people’s lives and freedom are on the line.

 

Earlier Uprisings and the Long March to Reform

The few improvements we’ve seen to the US incarceration system have been painfully slow in coming—and they frequently occur only after resistance from inside or public pressure from outside, like the 2009 Rockefeller drug law reforms

The Attica uprising led to sweeping changes in New York’s penal system, but many of the particpants’ grievances remain problems today. The demands of recent prison strikers strongly echo Attica’s Manifesto of Demands and the earlierdemands of inmates at Folsom in California: basic medical care; fair pay for work; an end to abuse and brutality by prison staff; fair decisions by parole boards; sanitary living conditions; and adequate and nutritious meals.

One of the clearest, and least known, examples of prison workers striking to improve conditions came from North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) in 1975, four years after Attica. Incarcerated women there staged a sit-in strike against conditions at the state’s only prison laundry facility.

Their nonviolent protest was met with force by prison guards, who corralled them into a gymnasium and assaulted them. The women fought back, triggering the state to send in 100 guards from other prisons to quell the uprising. The prison resumed normal operations four days after the strike began, but the prison laundry was closed shortly after the incident. [1. & 2.]

The NCCIW strike, the Attica Uprising, and the Lucasville, Ohio prison rebellion of 1993—the only major prison uprising in the US to be resolved peacefully— provide vital lessons for prisoners and their allies on the outside.

Siddique Abdullah Hassan, who participated in the Lucasville uprising and remains incarcerated, was recently interviewed by IWOC members. He expressed the need for solid support from the outside during prisoner resistance:

“[I]t is a sad commentary on our part, meaning both those people behind enemy lines and on the outside who are activists. When people step up to the plate and fight in a righteous cause, I think that we should not leave those people for dead.”

 

2010: A Flashpoint in Georgia

The wave of hunger strikes and work stoppages that have built up to the September 9 coalition began in December 2010, when inmates at six Georgia prisons refused to report for meals and work assignments.

Since almost all the work that allows Georgia’s prison system to function comes from unpaid inmate labor—cooking meals, maintaining facilities, picking up trash, repairing storm damage, and doing other work for county government that would otherwise be filled by members of the community (many incarcerated workers work alongside workers from the free world), even building new prisons and handling administrative tasks for prison officials—the strike made an immediate and lasting impact.

The strikers’ demands were simple and familiar. So was the State’s response. The Georgia Department of Corrections reacted by shutting off water and electricity to the strikers’ living quarters. Most of them quickly succumbed to these harsh measures, but a handful dug in and continue to resist.

The state retaliated against 37 inmates who were identified as organizers with extreme isolation and punishment.

Prison guards at Smith State Prison in South Georgia were captured on film brutally beating Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson with hammers [caution: graphic violence]. In what prisoners say is a long-running practice, the two men were isolated from public view and denied visits from family members and legal counsel until their wounds healed.

Three Georgia corrections officers were convicted in 2014 for an earlier beating, but justice continues to elude Jackson, Stevenson and their families. The Georgia Department of Corrections responded to the beatings by asking Google to censor the YouTube video.

Four of the original Georgia strikers, now under close security, staged another hunger strike in 2015. This time their only demand was that their security level be reconsidered, per state policy.

 

The Rising Tide

The Southeast, which incarcerates more of its residents than any other US region, has been a focal point of prison organizing.

Inspired by the actions of their Georgia neighbors, incarcerated workers and supporters in Alabama began organizing work stoppages and hunger strikes of their own under the banner Free Alabama Movement (FAM). Since its inception, FAM has organized for a flurry of work stoppages and minor uprisings at St. Clair, Holman and Staton Correctional Facilities in 2014, 2015 and earlier this year.

FAM organizers explain in this YouTube video why they’re organizing incarcerated workers:

“They [Alabama Dept. of Corrections] not gonna make this man go to school if he needs a GED. They’re not gonna make him get a skill or trade. They’re not gonna make him do the things that will help him be successful when [he] gets back to the streets. They gonna make him work for them and provide free labor. And that’s where Free Alabama Movement comes in.”

FAM developed a manifesto called “Let the Crops Rot in the Fields,” which lays out a framework that’s spread to prisons across the country. Instead of relying on support from the outside or passive actions like hunger strikes, incarcerated workers are utilizing the most powerful tool they have: their labor.

Incarcerated workers are paid pennies an hour—or not at all in Georgia and Texas—for often-backbreaking labor that keeps prisons operating and benefits the state and, increasingly, private corporations.

If they refuse or are unable to work, inmates say they’re subject to punishment, including “isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.”

FAM is also working within the system to enact legislation geared toward improving conditions for incarcerated people in Alabama. They recently presented the Alabama Freedom Bill, which would expand access to education, rehabilitation, and reentry services—services which are already supposed to exist on paper, but rarely do in practice.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a formerly incarcerated person whose organization, The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), was a critical player in the early resistance in Georgia and Alabama, says: “They created the School-to-Prison Pipeline, we want to flip that and organize a Re-entry Pipeline.”

Considering the barriers to employment, education and housing created by a criminal record, reentry services are vital, yet the state rarely gives them priority—if they provide them at all.

 

An Alternative to the Silence of Mainstream Unions 

At a time of high tension, this coalition finds itself at a critical intersection of racial, structural and economic oppression.

Mainstream unions have been largely silent on the issue of inmate labor. In fact, major unions like American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the Teamsters represent corrections officers and police across the country—placing them in direct conflict with prison workers and the most marginalized people in our society.

These unions frequently fight to keep prisons open, even when their members are guaranteed work elsewhere. This effectively puts them in the same boat as private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, whose contracts often contain quotas which require a certain percentage of beds remain filled.

IWOC currently counts about 1,000 incarcerated members, a number which continues to grow as September 9 approaches. This  makes it the largest area of organizing within Industrial Workers of the World—a labor union controlled directly by workers which operates outside the mainstream union model.

Most, though not all incarcerated people have committed crimes—or at least, what are considered “crimes” under our current system. But they often do so out of necessity, sometimes to support drug problems where treatment or harm reduction services don’t exist and, too often, to support families or just survive in a system which discriminates by race, gender, sexuality and economic status, and robs anyone with a criminal record of opportunities.

Incarcerated workers are still workers, regardless of criminal records. Other than by ending or massively reducing incarceration itself, it is only by building connections between workers behind bars and in the free world that will we begin to reform a system that feeds on human suffering.

 

A Canary in the Coal Mine

September 9 could be the most powerful call in over a generation to reform—or dismantle—a system that IWOC organizer and Ohio prisoner Sean Swain calls a “third world colony” within the US and a “canary in the coal mine.” Conditions in prison today foreshadow what workers on the outside might face in the future, because the oppression inside is merely an amplified version of the oppression faced by poor people everywhere. In this way and others, this issue impacts allworking people, not just those living in prison.

Most incarcerated people will be released one day. Do we want people who are bitter, humiliated, lacking work skills and education, desperate just to put food on the table and at great risk of reoffending living next door?

Or do we want people who can work, who have ties to their communities, have maintained relationships with loved ones, and who have a vested interest in helping build stronger, more socially and economically just communities when they return home?

If we succeed in making the US pay attention to the events of September 9, it might just help the country decide which of those paths to pursue.


References:

1. The New York Times, “Women Inmates Battle Guards in North Carolina,” June 17, 1975.

2. Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South, “On the 1975 Revolt at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women,” Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford


Jeremy Galloway is harm reduction coordinator at Families for Sensible Drug Policy, program director at Southeast Harm Reduction Project, co-founder of Georgia Overdose Prevention, and a state-certified peer recovery specialist. He lives in North Georgia with his wife and three cats. He writes and speaks regionally about drug policy reform, harm reduction, his experiences, and the importance of including the voices of directly impacted people in policy decisions. His last article for The Influence was “Let’s Abandon the Assumption That If You’ve Been Addicted to a Drug, Total Abstinence Is Essential.”

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Labor Mourns Death of Philando Castile

Posted by randyshannon on July 16, 2016

PhilandoAFL-CIO, Teamsters mourn shooting death of Philando Castile

July 7, 2016
ST. PAUL

The Minnesota AFL-CIO(link is external) and Teamsters Local 320(link is external) have issued statements mourning the shooting death of Philando Castile, who was killed Wednesday night after his car was stopped by police in Falcon Heights.

Castile was a member of Local 320 since 2002 and worked as a nutrition services supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.

“The 11,000 members of Teamsters Local 320 are saddened and grieving the loss of Teamster brother Philando Castile,” Local 320 said in a statement. “This is a tragedy on every level and all Teamsters are encouraged to keep the Castile family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer Brian Aldes said, “Last night, Teamsters Local 320 lost a union brother and my deepest condolences are with his family in their time of grief.”

Teamsters Local 320 President Sami Gabriel said, “I have known Philando ‘Phil’ Castile since he joined the Teamsters back in 2002 and he was an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”

The union also said that, while it represents law enforcement personnel in some jurisdictions in Minnesota, it did not represent the officer involved in the shooting.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy issued the following statement:

“Words cannot even begin to describe what Philando Castile’s family and friends must be going through right now. Minnesota’s labor movement grieves for the loss of yet another young African-American man.

“While our thoughts and prayers are with Philando’s family and friends, we know that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.

“We need to begin by giving state and federal authorities time to do their jobs, conduct impartial investigations, and let due process take its course.

“However, we must acknowledge that a double standard exists for African-American men when interacting with law enforcement. Whether the bias is intentional or not, too many African-American men find themselves on the receiving end of deadly force.

“There are no quick and easy solutions to this all too familiar incident. These are complex problems that will require tough conversations and decisions.

“Minnesota’s labor movement remains committed to helping address the racial inequalities, in both the economic and criminal justice systems, that continue to persist in our state and nation.”

The Minnesota AFL-CIO is the state labor federation made up of more than 1,000 affiliate unions, representing more than 300,000 working people throughout Minnesota.

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‘Protect Your Drinking Water’–A County-Wide Public Form in Ambridge, April 20

Posted by carldavidson on April 12, 2016

AmbRes-SWPP.Apr20.Forum-photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIGILANT CITIZENS URGED TO ATTEND PUBLIC FORUM

TO PROTECT DRINKING WATER SOURCE

OF EIGHT LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES

Ambridge, Pa.—Timely is the word for “Protect Your Drinking Water,” a public forum to be held in Ambridge, Pa. on April 20, 2016. Starting at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of Ambridge High School at 909 Duss Ave., vigilant citizens from Ambridge, Baden, Bell Acres, Economy, Edgeworth, Harmony, Leet, and Leetsdale will learn how they can help protect the source of their drinking water from potential contaminants.

An Associated Press-GfK Poll conducted online in February, 2016 showed that only about half of Americans are very confident in the safety of what’s flowing from their tap. And the same poll showed more than half of Americans believing that the problems in Flint, Mich., are a sign of widespread problems in the U.S.

Unlike Flint, a closer-to-home crisis in Coudersport, Pa., at 200 miles away, and previous water-quality problems in Beaver Falls, at 16 miles away, have shown that safe drinking water starts way before it gets to the kitchen faucet: it starts at the source. And that source for customers of the Ambridge and Edgeworth Water Authorities is a unique rural watershed, the Service Creek Watershed and Ambridge Reservoir.

At the forum, explaining how local residents can work together to protect this precious water source will be the job of three water-quality experts: Don Muir, Source Water Protection Plan Specialist, Pennsylvania Rural Water Association; Daniel S. Fisher, Hydrogeologist, Wetstone Solutions, LLC; and Dr. John Stolz, Duquesne Center for Environmental Research and Education.

These speakers will also field questions on why the Ambridge Reservoir, as the source of local drinking water, needs protection now more than ever. Read the rest of this entry »

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UnCommon Grounds Gets Grant for Downtown Aliquippa Park

Posted by carldavidson on February 26, 2016

Herb Bailey, minister director of Uncommon Ground Café, examines site for new park.

By David Taube
Beaver County Times

ALIQUIPPA, Feb 26, 2016 -  — A longstanding proposal to create a community park next to Uncommon Grounds Cafe could finally become a reality.

City officials are reviewing a way to help the cafe take over vacant property next to the building on Franklin Avenue. The cafe’s ministry director, Herb Bailey, said the site could have a splash pad, basketball court and music performance area that includes a covered stage.

“This plan for the park has been in place for about nine years, and so this is the culmination of a dream,” Bailey said. “It’s really exciting to finally … be at the cusp of groundbreaking.”

An agreement would involve the city handing property and responsibility over to the cafe’s parent organization, Church Army USA, a ministry affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America.

Uncommon Grounds Cafe serves food, but its leading objective is to serve people. The cafe is run by evangelists and volunteers who seek to transform the community through a Christian message and outreaches.

When Bailey started with the cafe a few years ago, proposed designs envisioned a park next to the cafe. But the project never got past a phase of proposed renderings.

Bailey said he put together a grant and last year received an award notice that a $60,000 federal Community Development Block Grant through the Community Development Program of Beaver County would help the project.

But Bailey said other factors were at play, such as Dwan Walker being elected mayor in 2011. He said the mayor is “excited to write new stories for the community.”

Grading and other work could begin this year, and phases of the project could be finished by 2019 or earlier.

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Donna Smith, Single Payer Activist, is new Executive Director of PDA

Posted by randyshannon on January 18, 2016

DonnaSmithandJohnConyers
Photo: Donna Smith with Rep. John Conyers, author of HR 676

by Randy Shannon

Treasurer, PA 12th C.D. Chapter, PDA

As a long-time activist in Progressive Democrats of America and the leader of the PDA Economic and Social Justice Team, I want to welcome Donna Smith as PDA’s new Executive Director. Donna Smith has been a national leader in the fight for Medicare for All and a long time member of PDA. She was featured in Michael Moore’s film Sicko.

Thanks to Conor Boylan for his work helping PDA through the transition from the tragic loss of our founder Tim Carpenter.

Tim Carpenter‘s last big project for PDA was to organize a national petition drive to convince Bernie Sanders to run for President. Tim’s vision is now a reality, and it is one of Tim’s greatest successes. PDA is helping build the grass roots movement that can produce a President Sanders.

Bernie has made Medicare for All a central element of his campaign for President. Who better than Donna Smith, shown here with Rep. John Conyers, author of HR 676 – Medicare for All, to lead PDA to help elect Bernie Sanders President and finally win the battle for Medicare for All.

Read the Medicare for All bill – HR 676.

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UAW Wins Election at VW Chattanooga

Posted by randyshannon on December 7, 2015

VWChattanoogaWorkers

BY BERNIE WOODALL

December 4, 2015
Reuters
The United Auto Workers union won its first organizing vote at a foreign-owned auto assembly plant in the U.S. South on Friday, in a groundbreaking victory after decades of failed attempts.

About 71 percent of skilled trades workers who cast ballots at Volkswagen AG’s (VOWG_p.DE) factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted to join the UAW, according to the company and the union. The skilled trades workers account for about 11 percent of the 1,450 hourly employees at the plant.

If the UAW victory, as expected, survives an appeal by Volkswagen to the National Labor Relations Board, the 164 skilled trades workers will be the first foreign-owned auto assembly plant workers to gain collective bargaining rights in the southern United States. While the unit of skilled trades workers who maintain the assembly machinery are a fraction of the hourly work force, observers said the victory was significant and could serve as a launching pad for the union’s efforts to organize other foreign-owned plants in the south.

“It gives the UAW a significant new tool in trying to organize the foreign automakers in the south. Symbolically, it’s going to be huge,” said Dennis Cuneo, a former automotive executive who has dealt with the UAW in past organizing campaigns. Gary Casteel, UAW secretary-treasurer and head of the union’s organizing efforts, downplayed the significance of the vote and its influence on the UAW’s attempts to organize workers at southern plants including those owned by Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) and Daimler AG’s (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz.

“To the overall grand plan of the UAW it’s probably not monumental, but to those workers, it’s a big deal,” Casteel said in an interview on Friday.

Casteel, and Chattanooga UAW Local 42 President Mike Cantrell, in a separate interview on Thursday, said the election was a result of the “frustration” of skilled trades workers not having collective bargaining rights for wages and benefits. “Every case has to be built on the circumstances” at each plant, Casteel said. “We are not filing on Nissan or Mercedes tomorrow, but if our evaluation proved that there was a unit that was ready and strong enough to have an election, certainly we would explore it.”

The union narrowly lost a February 2014 ballot in which all of the Chattanooga plant’s hourly workers were eligible to vote.

During that vote, Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, whose hometown is Chattanooga, said, “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Aliquippa’s Uncommon Grounds: More Than Just a Cafe

Posted by carldavidson on December 7, 2015

uncommon-grounds-cafe

By Lauren Walker

Your Beaver County

People don’t just visit Uncommon Grounds Cafe in Aliquippa for the food. But, let me tell you, the food is delicious.

Panini’s made with fresh cut bread, homemade soups, made-to-order breakfasts, fresh desserts baked daily, plus a variety of drinks – hot and cold, coffee and tea, milkshakes and smoothies. And then there are the daily specials – pulled pork, chili, lasagna, ribs, mac n cheese…did I mention its all homemade?

Food this good can’t be this cheap. But it is, because the food isn’t the point.

A Place to be Heard

The main point of the Cafe, the reason it opened its doors in 2001, was to serve people.

Uncommon Grounds Cafe is a cooperative venture of the local people of Aliquippa and local churches working together to provide a safe place for anyone and everyone. A place to be heard, to be known, to be appreciated and accepted.

It’s so much more than a place to grab a quick meal or drink. It’s a ministry. It’s a place where the lonely, the outcast, the hurting can come together and find a friend who will listen. It’s a place where people of all ages and races can walk through the doors, create together, and change Aliquippa.

Changing Aliquippa

Aliquippa, like so many other towns along the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, was an ideal location for industry. When Pittsburgh was emerging as a major steel making hub in the late 1800s, Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp. sought to expand downriver and purchased a huge lot of land along the banks of the Ohio River to build one of the largest integrated steel mills in the world.

Thousands of immigrants flooded into Aliquippa to find jobs and the area experienced an era of prosperity – businesses lined Franklin Avenue, housing developments where built all over the area, generations of families were living in Aliquippa and life was good.

But like all good things, the era of big steel came to an end. Like many towns in Pennsylvania and throughout the Rust Belt, Aliquippa went into a depression. J&L was gone. As were the stores on Franklin Avenue. With nowhere to work, many families packed up and left to begin life elsewhere.

For many years some would say Aliquippa lost its hope and its creativity.

Then John Stanley, a Church Army officer from Australia, moved to Aliquippa. He purchased an old store front and with the help of many volunteers from local churches, remodeled the old building into a cafe.

Meet Herb Bailey

After 14 years of service in Aliquippa, Stanley felt called to return home and left the Cafe in the hands of current Ministry Director, Herb Bailey. Bailey, along with Operations Director Scott Branderhorst and many volunteers, continue the work what Stanley started.

“We are a place of respite for the weary neighbor, a place of encouragement for the local entrepreneur who dreams of being their own business owner, a place where people that want to give back whether it is court-mandated or soul-mandated and are allowed to engage others in a safe environment. We are a hub of opportunity and a bastion of hope, joining others who also are looking for hope. We hope to offer dignity in a way that says we recognize that no matter your story, you are precious in the site of God,” said Bailey.

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Progressive Democrats to Meet on Social Security

Posted by carldavidson on July 24, 2015

Breakfast-Flyer-150801

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PA Gov. Battles Republicans for Education Budget

Posted by randyshannon on July 21, 2015

Wolf, Pa. GOP to resume meetings as budget stalemate hits three weeks

Progressive Democrats and Union members rally for taxing drillers and funding schools in Beaver, PA on 7/20/15

Progressive Democrats and Union members rally for taxing drillers and funding schools in Beaver, PA on 7/20/15

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has returned to Harrisburg as Gov. Tom Wolf and top Republican lawmakers were set to resume face-to-face meetings to discuss a three-week-old budget stalemate.

No major votes were expected today.

The Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature are sparring over competing budget proposals. Mr. Wolf is seeking a multibillion-dollar tax increase to deliver a record funding boost to schools and wipe out a long-term deficit that’s damaged Pennsylvania’s creditworthiness.

Republicans passed a zero-tax increase budget with a smaller boost for education, but Mr. Wolf vetoed it, saying it didn’t meet his goals and used gimmickry to balance.

The stalemate has left the state government without full spending authority. That includes payments to schools and nonprofits and county agencies that help administer Pennsylvania’s social-services safety net.

During a regularly scheduled appearance at KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh today, Mr. Wolf said that bad state budgeting is costing taxpayers about $170 million a year.

Mr. Wolf said state government is paying a premium of about 1 percent interest on $17 billion in debt. He linked the extra borrowing cost to five credit downgrades that Pennsylvania has received in the past three years.

“This isn’t just Democrat Tom Wolf talking, this is people outside looking at us and right now we’re paying a premium of about 1 percent on our debt, that’s $17 billion,” Wolf said. “That adds up to about $170 million a year we’re all paying. It’s not going to education. It’s not going to roads and bridges. It’s going to the pockets of people who have bought our bonds because we don’t have a good budget.”

In the meantime, Republicans are complaining about a $750,000 ad campaign by an affiliate of the Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Governors Association that is targeting them in the showdown. The affiliate, America Works USA, has not disclosed the source of the money.

Mr. Wolf and Republicans are sparring over competing budget proposals during the stalemate, which has left the state government without full spending authority. That includes payments to schools and nonprofits and county agencies that help administer Pennsylvania’s social services safety net.

Mr. Wolf is seeking a multibillion-dollar tax increase to deliver a record funding boost to schools and wipe out a long-term deficit that’s damaged Pennsylvania’s creditworthiness. Republicans passed a zero-tax increase budget with a smaller boost for education, but Wolf vetoed it, saying it didn’t meet his goals and used gimmickry to balance.

Mr. Wolf, a first-time officeholder who became governor in January, told KDKA-AM he believes that Republicans are probably doing “some testing of me as a new governor, which I think is designed to see if I’m really serious about standing up for what I believe and what I think the people of Pennsylvania want.”

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Sanders Draws Roars and Cheers from Union Retirees

Posted by carldavidson on July 11, 2015

By Mark Gruenberg
People’s World

July 10 2015 – WASHINGTON (PAI) – Hundreds of retirees, in D.C. for the legislative-political conference of the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA), gave a warm welcome to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., who is challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. They began with chants of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” and interrupted his speech with several long – and unprompted-standing ovations.

The enthusiasm of the ARA delegates is important: The union-backed organization has 4.3 million members in every congressional district nationwide. And those retired unionists in turn represent the consistently largest and most-active political constituency in the U.S. – Democratic, Independent or Republican – the elderly.

ARA delegates gave Sanders — a down-the-line supporter of unions, workers and their rights, the elderly, Social Security and Medicare — thunderous applause as he reiterated those stands. After his speech, delegates spent their afternoon lobbying for those causes, too.

Sanders knew what the crowd wanted, which is what he has preached for his 24-year career in Congress and what he gave to the ARA on July 9: An active endorsement of their goals. He and the delegates are led by protecting and expanding Social Security – by scrapping the wage cap on income taxed to provide for benefits and using that money to pay more to beneficiaries. The American people want that, too, Sanders declared.

“Because of the ARA and other groups like it and because of the trade union movement, there was a poll two weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, where 61 percent of the people said ‘lift the caps,’ while 20 percent opposed,” he added, to cheers.

“But the struggle is not only to extend and expand Social Security,” he said. “It’s to have Medicare for all” – he specified it should be a single-payer government-run health plan – “and a national standard of living with dignity, raising the minimum wage to be a living wage, and to have pay equity for woman workers.” (Continued)

Read the rest of this entry »

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