Monday, April 7, 2014

A National Approach for Making the Minimum Wage a Living Wage

A National Approach for Making the Minimum Wage a Living Wage

Join Us for a 2-Hour Conference Call Discussion

Sunday, April 27, 2014

8-10pm ET / 7-9pm CT / 6-8pm MT / 5-7pm PT

Telephone Call-in: 857-232-0157 • Access Code: 353711


Cindy Sheehan, California Peace & Freedom Party
Gubernatorial Candidate

Lena Buggs, Minnesota Green Party, State House District 65-A Legislative Candidate

Alan Maki, Director of Organizing, Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

Theresa Sanchez, Union Steward, Local #1, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union

Frank “Pancho” Valdez, retired trade unionist, Green Party activist

Curtis Buckanaga, Asst. to District III Rep. for Leech Lake, Ojibwe Reservation

Bill Leumer, former President IAM Local 565, Labor Fightback Network Steering Committee member

Mel Rothenberg, founding member of Chicago Political Economy Group, co-author of "A Permanent Jobs Program for the U.S.: Economic Restructuring to Meet Human Needs."

Devon Nola
, Justice Party of New York

Each panelist will give a 5-minute presentation during the first hour. The second hour will be open to discussion with Q&A between callers and panelists.

Sponsored by:

Uniting People for Peace, Equality, Full Employment, Universal Healthcare and Environmental Protection

Contact info:

Tel: (203) 402-8745




A bold livable wage policy must be viewed as a “keystone” fiscal mechanism that will trigger subsequent structural changes in the U.S. economic system to achieve an equitable distribution of wealth and income for all members of our society.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Salt of the Earth

New Mexican miners commemorate "Salt of the Earth"

GRANT COUNTY, N.M. - "Where is Anita Torrez?" growled the sheriff's deputy at the young pregnant woman sitting at a table stuffing envelopes inside the union hall's doorway.

"I really have no idea," answered Anita Torrez with a good show of calm. The deputy had come on the sheriff's orders to round up those on a "wanted list" of union wives. The frustrated deputy finally went on his way and the women laughed heartily. But it didn't take away the fear.

More than 60 years later, Torrez is still iron-willed but soft-spoken, so she is reluctant to talk about herself and didn't tell that story when she spoke on Mar. 15 at the University of Western New Mexico on a panel titled "From Women's Auxiliary to Women of Steel." But she did eagerly share it with family and comrades over a plate of carne asada, beans, rice, and plate-sized flour tortillas. The meal preceded the panel and was prepared by brothers from a steelworker local in nearby Tucson using a portable grill outside the same local hall where Torrez outwitted the sheriff's deputy.

The confrontation took place in 1951 during a miners strike here. The strike was marked by government and company intimidation and violence and a new role for women. The story of the courage of the women led to the making of a unique movie, "Salt of the Earth" whose 60th anniversary was commemorated last weekend..

The movie depicts how wives, sisters, and mothers from miner families stepped up with women supporters from surrounding communities to take over the miners' picket line after the Empire Zinc Company's lawyers got a judge to issue an injunction barring the striking miners from picketing. Both management and the workers knew that it was only a strong picket line that could keep strikebreakers from defeating the strike; the purpose of such Taft Hartley injunctions was to defeat strikes.

Torrez shared more details. The sheriff deputized 25 thugs whose wages were paid by Empire Zinc. There was no semblance of impartiality: they cursed and beat, tear gassed, arrested, and even ran over the pickets - men, women, and children.

"Bob Hollowwa had warned me that they would probably be coming for me so I was ready," she related. Hollowwa, a grizzly-bear-sized foundry worker was an organizer from the International Mine Mill and Smelters Workers Union who had come to help out the strike. Off the frontlines, Hollowwa was a gentle and intelligent organizer, and a master of strike tactics. He was a veteran of Mine Mill, as the union was known. Mine Mill was the successor of the militant Western Federation of Miners. It was a rank and file controlled union in the tradition of the IWW, representing "hard rock miners" in the mountain states of Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Bob was there to share the lessons from a lifetime of struggle. A member of the Communist Party, which had been the backbone of Mine Mill, Hollowwa paid special attention to young comrades Anita Torrez and her husband Lorenzo, as well as to Virginia and Juan Chacon. Organizers Clint and Virginia Jencks were also part of the group that included the two young couples and many more at their club meetings. There they discussed how to build unity and solidarity for the union and community.

In a 2003 interview, Lorenzo Torrez explained joining the Party at the height of the Red Scare: "Anita and I joined the Party just when McCarthyism was strongest. Many others got scared and tried to hide. But there's no hiding place."

Knowing the sheriff was out to arrest Torrez, Hollowwa advised her not to go home, so, she recalled with a laugh, she and Lorenzo just drove around till late into the night .

Hadn't lived there long

The young couple hadn't lived in the mining town too long. They both grew up in a tiny village in a rural part of this county along the Gila River. After Lorenzo returned from a stint in the army, they married in 1948. He got a job at the Empire Zinc mine in nearby Hanover, one of a cluster of towns including Bayard, Hurley, Fierro, Vanadium and Santa Rita, built around copper, zinc, and lead mines and smelters. The miners were unionized, but their bargaining position suffered because each mine had its own contract, and each expired at a different time. The various mines were owned by some of America's richest companies: Asarco, Kennecott, and U.S. Smelting, Mining, and Refining Company.

Empire Zinc mine had one of the smallest work forces, and its workforce was almost entirely Mexican American, according to retired miner and local historian Terry Humble. Wages there were 15 cents an hour lower than at the other mines, there was no paid lunch, no paid vacation, and workers did not get the same "collar to collar pay." Workers in the other mines got paid from the time they arrived to work at the mine "collar." At Empire Zinc, you didn't get paid for lunch even though you spent that half hour underground in the mine. Safety conditions also suffered. And there was neither equality nor dignity when it came to company housing for the Chicano workers' families. Unlike the homes of the Anglo miners, those of the Chicanos had neither indoor plumbing nor hot water.

Mine Mill had been working on a strategy for equality and to increase bargaining power by bringing together the scattered work forces of the various mines, aligning their contract expiration dates, and ending discrimination. Mine Mill was a progressive union, and its leadership consciously worked to build understanding that the differential was hurting all the miners. They brought the locals together and the other miners agreed to support the Empire Zinc strikers. The strikers knew they would face a tough battle, but many were recently returned World War II veterans and they were determined to be treated with dignity.

"I knew nothing about unions, and lo and behold, we went on strike!" Torrez told the panel at UWNM. Strikers had no paychecks and could no longer buy groceries at the company store in Hurley. But sacks of rice and beans came in by the truckload along with donations to the strike fund from workers across the country in a campaign organized by Mine Mill which put all its resources into the struggle. "If it hadn't been for them, we would have lost ," Torrez said.

Then, eight months into the strike came the Taft Hartley injunction. "There were meetings, more meetings, discussions, and more meetings," recalled Torrez. "The idea came up for women to take over," she continued. Technically, it was Empire Zinc employees, the miners, who were covered by the injunction, but not the women. "Some men said no," Torrez continued. "But the women raised their hands."

At first many of the men resisted the idea of the women standing in for them on the picket lines. It was dangerous and an affront to their position as head of the household. But the injunction left no alternative. It was the insistence of a few very strong women that turned the tide, Anita said. "They said 'Are you going to give up? This will be the end of it.'" She recalled. Then, "as word spread out, more and more women wanted to go. They said 'I want to go if my sister could go.'" And so the movement spread.

As for herself, Torrez recalled, "Lorenzo didn't object to me being there, but he didn't go so far as to do anything to make it possible for me to go either. Anita Torrez pointed out that at that time she had a 1 year old at home. "It was up to me to figure it out. Because Lorenzo wanted to spend every minute of the day at the picket line."

The women continued the picket line for another seven months, 'till Empire Zinc finally came to an agreement with the union. Torrez described the struggle to the audience at the UWNM. "We were striking against discrimination. For dignity." And "for socialism," she added.

The workers did not win paid vacations or lunch, but they got a 50 cent an hour pay raise. Not a total victory, but a step toward it.

Went on to become president

Juan Chacon went on to become a long time president of Local 890. Lorenzo Torrez served as chair of the local's grievance committee for a decade. After a shutdown in the 60s, he was laid off from Empire Zinc and even though he had years of experience as a highly skilled mine mechanic, no other mine would hire him.

The Torrez family left New Mexico in the early 70s for Lorenzo to head the Communist Party's Chicano Liberation commission based in Los Angeles. He then served 30 years as chair of the party's Arizona district until his passing in 2012. In Tucson Lorenzo and Anita Torrez helped found the Salt of the Earth Labor College. He authored several pamphlets including: Short History of Chicano Workers, Part 1 and Part 2; "Juan Chacon," and Sindicalismo Hacia Adelante. Anita worked for 18 years in a garment factory in Tucson where she chaired the shop committee of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

Despite its dramatic and timely story, few Americans have seen "Salt of the Earth." Made by blacklisted Hollywood producers with a cast of of miners and their families in addition to renowned Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, the movie itself was blacklisted and banned from American theaters for decades.

It wasn't coincidental that the impetus for the 60th anniversary celebration came from the union that now represents the Sheriff's Department employees, according to American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 18 Communications Director Miles Conway. The union members, upon learning of the dastardly role played by deputies during the strike, were eager to put themselves on the better side of history, Conway explained.

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE, the union representing movie projectionists, also wholeheartedly pitched in. They wanted to atone, said their president Jon Hendry, for the role that union played, succumbing to anti-communism, in suppressing the film. Hendry, who is also head of the New Mexico AFL-CIO, recalled how the FBI successfully pressured the union to order its members to refuse to screen the movie.

AFSCME and IATSE joined with the Steelworkers Union, into which Mine Mill merged in the late 50's, in sponsoring the weekend's activities. Hundreds of Grant County residents attended, including many veterans of the strike and film making and their proud descendants.

Organizers of the event put together a caravan of buses to visit some of the film's locations. The first stop, Hurley, brought to mind images of the Jim Crow South. Representative Rudy Martinez, from New Mexico's 39th legislative district described the situation in the 1950s. Mexicans lived on the north side of the railroad tracks, he said, Anglos on the south. The only connection was an underpass beneath the railroad tracks, and access to that tunnel was controlled by a security guard at the north entrance. Schools were segregated. Next to the south side exit of the tunnel stood the company store. In town, Chicano children were barred from the swimming pool and bowling alley. The theater had separate seating, "The Anglos had comfortable theater seats, but Chicanos had to sit on wooden benches," Martinez said. This mirrored the workplace division in Hurley, where Chicanos and Anglos were assigned separate facilities to shower and change after leaving the mine.

The crowd also heard from the Grant County Sheriff, Raul Villanueva. He was eager to distance himself from his villainous predecessor. In those days "they were on management's side," he told the People's World. "Now we try to work things out." That change didn't come about without struggle. In 1965, Steve Aguirre, a worker at Kennecott Copper, was elected the first Latino sheriff of Grant County, It was Juan Chacon who urged me to run," he told the People's World. "Juan was president of Local 890, and they helped get me elected."

Steelworkers District 12 Director Robert LaVenture, another panelist at the WNMU program, connected the New Mexico miners' history to the present moment. "We're in for one hell of a fight with Asarco," he predicted. That anti-union, multi-national mining company, with more than 1000 workers in an open pit mine in nearby Tucson, is now owned by Grupo Mexico and is expected to fiercely oppose Steelworkers in upcoming contract negotiations early this summer.

Responding to Anita Torrez's presentation, LaVenture pointed out that workers today face the same kind of struggles, "voter suppression, discrimination against people of color." He continued, "If supporting Salt of the Earth means you're considered a socialist or a communist, I guess I'm a goddamn communist!" he said defiantly.

"What have we learned?" concluded Anita. "Women have the right to have their place. We are as strong as men. We need cooperation, we need unity. And we are brothers and sisters. We look out for each other. We want to be equal."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

From the Greaves School in Ireland

Anyone interested in working class struggles will appreciate these videos from Ireland. U.S. trade unionist from New York makes presentation on the 2nd video from the top:

A message to policians...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Minimum Wage

Dan Lemon; your arguments about the Minimum Wage don't hold water.

First of all, your concern about small business. Here are the facts:

1. Not one single small business has ever gone out of business because they couldn't afford to pay their employees real living wages. Minnesota State Senator Tom Bakk made the exact same argument you are making. I asked him to provide proof... he can't provide such proof.

2. The reasons small businesses don't survive are many but here are the main reasons:

a. They can't compete with monopoly price fixing of the huge corporations.

b. Small business partners cheat and embezzle from one another causing the business to collapse.

c. High rents and mortgages.

d. High utility bills.

e. High legal expenses.

f. High insurance premiums.

I can document all of this based on actual reasons small business people have provided through bankruptcy proceedings and the records of the Small Business administration, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Association of Manufacturers and other trade groups.

In all of my research on why small businesses fail, I have not found one single documented case where wages are the reason for failure.

If you have such documentation by way of spread sheets or other financial records bring this documentation forward to prove your point.

The bottom line when talking about wages is that each and every worker doing a job the employer requires to be done is ENTITLED to a real living wage which means a wage that is tied to actual "cost-of-living" factors.

I don't understand why you or anyone else would take the position that any worker is entitled to any less in return for her/his labor... be it a casino worker or someone working in a convenience store or at Wal-mart or Target or McDonald's or Burger King?

If politicians or anyone else are sincerely worried that small business will suffer from the government imposing a real living wage on all employers, the solution is really quite simple.

Just exclude small businesses from Minimum Wage legislation--- allow the employer to do the work themselves or hire their spouses, grandmas and grandpas and their children to work for whatever wages they want to pay them.

Now, we have crooked and corrupt tribal politicians like Carri Jones and crooked and corrupt state and federal politicians all being bribed by corporations to keep the Minimum Wage down... paying workers a real living wage will not put any casino out of business nor will it put Wal-mart or McDonalds out of business... what will happen is their profit margins will be slightly less. These businesses are reaping super-profits from paying workers poverty wages.

Leech Lake just raised the Minimum Wage to $10.25 an hour which is now the highest legislated Minimum Wage in the United States. But, what is $10.25 compared to the profits being made by the rich white mobsters who own each and every slot machine on the floors of Leech Lake's three casinos?

Link to Leech Lake increase of Minimum Wage:

Carri Jones has the gall to talk about poverty when she is only raising the Minimum Wage to one more pathetic miserly poverty wage.

What causes poverty? Poverty wages. Pay a worker poverty wages and their family is going to live in poverty. Any school child understands this--- the understanding is probably a little better if the child is going to school hungry and dressed in rags.

The energy monopolies raised the price of propane this winter. Now wages have to be increased so people can pay their propane bills. Certainly no one can claim wages are in any way responsible for propane going from $1.45 a gallon last summer to over $4.00 a gallon this winter.

Fact: most wages have been going down.

Go to the grocery store--- everything is going up in price.

Been robbed at the gas pumps lately?

Paid an electric bill lately?

Wages going down--- prices going up; your argument holds no water.

Why does Carri Jones refuse to disclose what the "take" is, the cream being skimmed off the top, by the mobsters who own the slot machines and table games and the interest rates being paid to the "investors" who put up the funds to build these casinos?

How come everyone is entitled to profits but workers are not entitled to real living wages based on what it cost them to live?

Why does Carri Jones refuse to sit down and discuss wages and working conditions and engage in discussion about a union contract?

I would be willing to sit down and discuss all of this with Carri Jones in a public forum at any time and place of her choosing.

And, by the way; what price are casino workers paying for working in these loud, noisy smoke-filled casinos? Does their health amount to anything to these corrupt creeps like Carri Jones or Archie "the come back kid" LaRose?

Casino workers get poverty wages and ill health, lousy, substandard housing--- ever taken a ride out to see how John McCarthy lives? Here is his address. Go out and see how this wealthy, rich white guy who heads up the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association lives as a result of forcing casino workers into poverty:

8925 Cove Dr NE, Bemidji, MN 56601

By the way... if you or anyone else wants to engage me in a public debate on this Minimum Wage issue, just let me know the time and place and I will be there.

By the way, why does Leech Lake gaming fire casino workers for discussing wages and working conditions? This doesn't seem too much like democracy to me.

And why does Leech Lake continue this disgraceful "At-Will Hiring and Firing" practice?

Let's get wages up there where they really should be for all workers everywhere.

You say worker's wages should be tied to profits... I assume this means you support wages for casino workers employed in the Indian Gaming Industry being around $80.00 to $90.00 an hour? Come on Carri Jones... bring out the books so everyone can see how much is being made by whom in this gaming industry.

Alan L. Maki, Director of Organizing, Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Minnesota workers get the old "bait and swich" from the Dumb Donkeys and their coalition partners.

This Democratic Party front group set up by the AFL-CIO, Working America, sent out this letter (see below).

Please read it very closely.

In my opinion there is something very demented and perverse about this letter.

These Dumb Donkeys are living for a week on the current Federal Minimum wage of $7.25 instead of trying to live on the $9.50 an hour they are proposing.

This is very typical of the way these Democrats operate.

Why wouldn't they try living on their pathetic miserly proposed poverty wage of $9.50 an hour? Wouldn't this be the real test since EVERYONE already knows no one can live on $7.25?

Quite frankly, no one can even live on $15.00 an hour without maxing out a few credit cards until they have to declare bankruptcy.

We have gone from hearing these politicians and their front groups talking about "Elect us if you want the Minimum Wage to be a living wage" to "American needs a raise" to "$9.50 will help" to what the Democrats in the Minnesota State Senate propose instead of $9.50--- "$7.75 is better than $7.25."

These dishonest morons know full well their Democratic counterparts in the Minnesota State Senate are proposing to reach a "compromise" at $7.75--- and furthermore, they are well aware that Mark Dayton has met with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce (more commonly referred to as the "Minnesota DFL Business Caucus because Democrats don't like people to know they work behind closed doors with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to give working people the shaft). Dayton and this "DFL Business Caucus" have agreed the Minimum Wage should not be raised over $8.00 an hour.

Of course this "liberal" billionaire Governor Dayton whose inherited wealth was, and is, being derived almost exclusively from the super-exploitation of Minimum Wage workers who are more often then not subjected to the double-whammy of not just poverty wages but wage theft.

Come on, really; did these Minnesota State legislators have "to spread the word about how hard it really is to live on $7.25 an hour?"

Don't they really have to "prove" that a human being can live on their proposed $9.50 an hour?

Slick as shit the way they pulled off this bait (a living wage) with this switch (another poverty wage). Saying one thing to get votes; doing another thing to keep the corporate bribes coming.

Bait and switch is illegal in the retail world; not in the world of politics.

Anyways, read this letter for yourself...


We've learned a lot this past week.

Because of our participants across the state, we've helped to spread the word about how hard it really is to live on $7.25 an hour.

We walked through some of the biggest hurdles minimum wage earners have to face, and had real conversations with workers across Minnesota about why a raise is important to them.

We've gotten close, and we need you to act now. Will you contact your state lawmakers now?

Alan, no one should have to skip a meal just to afford bus fare to work. Raising the wage to $9.50 is a start that will help thousands of Minnesota workers.

Can you do one final thing and make sure HR 92 passes the Senate?

It's been a great week, so thank you for participating. For taking action, following along online and engaging with the Challenge in all the ways that you did.

We can do this.

Thanks for all that you do,

Bree Halverson
State Director, Working Minnesota

P.S. Check out all of the photos and blog posts from the week.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Minnesota state employees have their standard of living slashed.

Rank-and-file AFSCME workers in Minnesota say: We don't want Eliot Seide and his toothless, management-loving paper union

Minnesota's billionaire "liberal" "pro-labor" governor, Mark Dayton, has ordered working hours for thousands of state employees reduced by up to 20% while bringing in lower-paid new hires to do the jobs of the members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees with no objections from the District Director, Eliot Seide, or his side-kick, Eric Lehto. Why no opposition from Shar Knutson, President of the Minnesota AFL-CIO or her side-kick Mark Froemke.

What is going on here? State employees are losing 20% of their pay--- their standard of living slashed--- and these union "leaders" sit in silence doing nothing?

No wonder this leaflet is being distributed by a rank-and-file organization made up of AFSCME members who are pissed off:

We don't want Eliot Seide and his toothless, management-loving paper union

Our Dues - Our Union.


Our rights.

Our Livelihoods.

Building a rank and file caucus for a democratic, fighting, militant, united union.

Brothers and Sisters,

With every new contract we have had our rights and our livelihoods decimated. Only a paper union with leaders taking our dues while doing nothing to represent us would have allowed this to happen.

This isn't Eliot Seide's union. This is our union. Let Eliot Seide go into the business world to build his fortune instead of building his fortune on our backs, off our unresolved grievances and problems.

Eliot Seide negotiated a concession contract with a Democratic governor.

The wage increases are far off-set with the rising prices we pay for groceries, home mortgages and rents, home and car insurance, gas, electricity, home heating fuels, child care and college tuition for our children. Our co-pays for healthcare have increased. This is going backwards, not forwards.

Our pensions are at risk.

We get no support or help from union leaders as unfair and unpaid disciplinary suspensions mount. Grievances have become a hassle. Arbitration has become too costly. What do our dues pay for?

One by one we are being picked off and fired as we gain seniority with increased pay levels.

Our union has shamefully endorsed a Minimum Wage for other workers based on what the Chamber of Commerce wants instead of the living wage morality, human decency, justice and solidarity requires.

We have a union leadership covering its betrayals with glowing hypocritical statements of admiration to real leaders like Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela as a cover for refusing to stand and fight the injustices of the present.

We ask you to build a caucus of OUR AFSCME in your AFSCME local and in your workplace. Together we can get our AFSCME back on course. This is OUR union. OUR dues.

We need an active and involved membership. We need to understand self-serving power in our union and the power of management concede nothing without struggle. Our union was built in struggle. Our union will survive in struggle fighting for our rights, for safe workplaces and for our livelihoods.

Forward together. Together In Struggle. Together in Solidarity. OUR AFSCME the voice of the rank-and-file