Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SCSU food service workers take on Chartwells

Food service workers at Southern Connecticut State University's dining locations are not giving in to contract negotiation proposals by Chartwells Schools Dining Services to lower health insurance, pension and life insurance benefits.

Chants of "No Contract! No Peace!"spread throughout the campus last Saturday on a sunny fall afternoon as Unite Here Local 217 members from Chartwells locations around the state marched and rallied together with students and community allies.

For several weeks the union members have been holding job actions to get their message out. Workers at SCSU's Connecticut Hall and Michael Adanti Student Center dining areas have been wearing "No Contract, No Peace?" union pins which get conversations started with students. The members of Unite Here Local 217 have walked off the food services lines and joined together for a quick solidarity chant before returning to their work stations.

Long-time Local 217 shop steward Nicholas McDonald explained "We're fighting for a fair contract. These are things we stand firmly on and fought hard to maintain. We are not allowing the company to take them from us," said McDonald. "We want decent jobs above the poverty level."

The workers, mostly African American, live in the New Haven area where SCSU is located, and have families and who might be in jeopardy of being laid off or losing their jobs and benefits.

"We are just using our First Amendment rights to march, rally, and do small demonstrations on the job site peacefully until our voices are heard and we have a better contract," said McDonald.

He added, "This is just one of many tools we use to show the company and university the strong bond and comradeship   among workers and unions alike. We are a part of the Southern Connecticut State University community, and we want to be recognized as such."

In addition to SCSU, Local 217 food service workers throughout the state are in contract negotiations with Chartwells. The workers have reached out to clergy, politicians, community organizations and other unions for solidarity and to apply pressure from the outside.

At Saturday's rally the SCSU food service workers were joined in the fight by their Unite Here Local 217 union brothers and sisters from the University Of Hartford, Eastern Connecticut State University, Trinity College, Electric Boat, Weslyan University, cafeteria workers at New Haven Public Schools, and New Haven Rising.

The crowd started out enthusiastically chanting "We are the union, the mighty, mighty union" in front of the Connecticut Hall dining facility and then marched to the University's bridge carrying a union banner "SCSU Food Service Workers United." They took pictures and encouraged cars driving by to honk their horns. After marching back to Connecticut Hall, they entered the cafeteria to confront Chartwells resident district manager Juan Dominguez.

The workers let Dominguez and Chartwells know that all the union food service workers are united and willing to fight for what they have. The workers sent a strong message that they are not giving in or moving backwards and they want decent contacts benefits and wages that keep providing vital jobs and lives for their families.

Unite Here Local 217 members at Trinity College, University Of Hartford, and Fairfield University are all currently in contract negotiations with Chartwells Dining Services, and are all in full support of each other during the fight for a fair contact. A series of upcoming actions have been announced. On September 29 there will be delegations at each campus. Public actions will be held at Trinity on October 8, at University of Hartford on October 15 and at Fairfield University on October 22.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Women's Capoeira Weekend Fuses Art and Struggle

Community residents, children, youth and families were introduced to the Afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira in New Haven during an unprecedented women's weekend with Brazilian Mestra Tisza Coelho. Tisza, one of the first women ever to become a Capoeira Master, traveled from Bahia, Brazil to teach at the event organized by Lisa Bergmann, the first female professora in her studio, to honor women and mothers.
Bergmann and Master Efraim Silva, who has been teaching and leading Capoeira Academy for 27 years, kicked off the weekend with a crowded community class open for all to attend.
The youth and community members who crowded into the studio on a hot night enjoyed the interactive class and learning another culture.
The weekend's theme, "O Rio De Vida", Portuguese for "River Of Life," highlighted the expansion of Capoeira to women, showing that women who become mothers do not have to stop their Capoeira training and can also be great leaders.

The opening session began with a prayer to honor two Orishas, or Gods from the African Yoruba tradition that represent life, the earth,and the spirit. Honored were Oshun-Goddess of rivers, lakes, fertility, and Yemanja-the high mother Goddess, mother of all Orishas. 
In respect for the Orishas, participants signed a petition asking President Obama to stop the pipeline production and in support of the demands of the Standing Sioux Tribe to protect fresh water and sacred lands. Before the weekend was over, the President had halted construction for further investigation.
Capoeira's roots originate in Angola and the Congo, combining dance, acrobatics, and music.  The art form was developed in Brazil by enslaved West Africans who practiced the dance-like art form as training to escape to freedom. Capoeira is known for its quick and complex moves, using power, speed, and leverage for a wide variety of kicks, spins, and highly mobile techniques. 
Bergmann uses the art form to encourage everyone of all genders and ages. She started practicing 14 years ago when she fell in love with the music and the "Roda" or "Circle", where people play Capoeira. Today Capoeira is celebrated world-wide for it's mixture of dance, self-defense, and music.
Tisza began Capoeira in 1981 in Brazil. She started teaching in 1987, and then moved to Europe in 1991 where she taught and performed in many countries. In 1994 she came to the United States where she taught and lived in Boston and New York for several years.
Mestre Tisza is one of the few of the first generation of Capoeira women in Brazil to which she has dedicated her whole life. She is an inspiration to Capoeristas around the world. Her amazing 15 year-old-daughter Dora Flor, also an incredible Capoeirista, helped lead the women's weekend.

Participants in the weekend also learned from featured guest Janete Silva, a dancer, choreographer, performer and educator from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Silva's technique is a fusion of Capoeira and dance.
Capoeira is an art form for struggle and social justice and liberation from slavery. A word commonly used in Capoeira is "camara" which means comrade.
"Let's take the energy from this event and use it to commit to social justice in our present day. That's what Capoeira is about," Bergmann told the participants as the weekend concluded. "We have present day struggles that we must commit to continue the same way the struggle to end slavery was fought in Brazil."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New Union Leaders Emerge at Social Justice Academy

 Graduation was emotional for the dozen members of SEIU 32 BJ at the completion of the Social Justice Academy organized by their union and held at the New Haven Peoples Center.

The security guards and building cleaners set aside one Saturday each month to learn how to become stronger leaders in their workplaces. They discussed the causes and solutions to economic and racial inequality, the Fight for $15, immigrant rights, and the elections.

One worker said the sessions changed her life and gave her a renewed commitment to her union. Another called on all the participants to share their knowledge among their co-workers and develop many new leaders for worker rights.

A major theme was that all workers have a common concerns and needs, irregardless of country of origin or background.

Member Juan Aparicio prepared his remarks. An excerpt follows:

"Behind every social struggle  there are visionary people organizing, leading and seeking strategies to achieve  better objectives in favor of  the workers  and their community. A long time ago the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said:
 "I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.” (Mount Vernon, Iowa, Oct. 15, 1962)

"Today following his teaching I say:
"Dear brother Martin Luther King, in our SEIU 32 BJ, we are fighting to get rid of that hatred and that fear among us. Yes, my brother Dr. Martin Luther King, in our union (32 BJ) we can communicate with each other and we are not separated from each other anymore because we know that together we are stronger.
"Today when this seminar is done, the soul of the Reverend Martin Luther King and the souls of many other social activists are with us. Their legacy strengthens our spirits and raises our consciousness to higher levels in order to continue our fight for our community.  They showed us the path that we have to follow and we will achieve their legacy."

Rev Barber Brings Moral High Ground Call to Action to Connecticut

A thousand union and community leaders from across the state rallied in New Britain with the DUE Justice Coalition to Take Back Connecticut. Rev. Dr. William Barber, founder of the national Moral Monday movement delivered a passionate call to action.

"Do we have the courage to build a democracy that has a heart and cares for everyone?" asked Barber.

Quoting Martin Luther King's 1967 Riverside Church speech "Time to Break the Silence," Barber called for a "radical revolution of values," saying "I am worried about a country that puts more money to weapons of war than to the war against poverty."

Repeating the refrain "America has a heart problem," Barber decried tax cuts and bailouts for the rich, police killings of black youth, and championed the need for universal healthcare and much more.

In a scathing assessment of Donald Trump, Barber called out the Republican presidential candidate for using "dog whistle politics," fanning the flames of racism. Barber declared, "working poor black and white people ought to be on the same side."

"We need a movement with power," he concluded to cheers and a standing ovation. " We need a movement with courage. We need a movement with understanding of love and justice that cares for the soul and heart of this democracy....Clear away the racism and hatred. Bring our heart back to life."

Four days later as part of the national Moral High Ground Day of Action initiated by Barber, Connecticut clergy, union and social justice leaders gathered at the state capitol one of 30 such actions around the country. They challenged elected leaders to support a moral policy agenda including living wages, union rights, racial justice and healthcare for all.

More than two dozen clergy from various faiths including Islam, Christianity and Judaism spoke and read a declaration while workers and community members gave testimony.

Anticipating a difficult debate around the state budget, the group presented demands including an end to police brutality; full employment and living wages; affordable, quality housing; an end to the school to prison pipeline; the abolition of mass incarceration; environmental justice; health and mental health equity; and greater voter access and protection of voting rights.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Newhall Block Party Combines Fun and Organizing

On a humid Saturday afternoon in Newhallville you could find a group of three young men standing at an information table with literature about the Connecticut Communist Party, voter registration forms, People's World newsletters and cards to sign up to get headlines by e-mail.

Also on the table was a petition and information to support 16 year old New Havener Aymir Holland who is preparing for trial for allegedly assaulting a celebrated 79-year old Yale professor as he walked home from work. Like Holland's family, local activists from across the city including this group of young men, insist Aymir is innocent. They promised to fight for justice to secure Holland's freedom. He is being tried as an adult and faces a possible 61 year sentence.

"This Is a young man like myself, who we feel is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit, and that's something we're passionate about, rallying behind and supporting, making sure he receives the proper justice he deserves" said 18 year old New Elm City Dream /YCL member Hassan.

He talked so passionately about himself as he, Mahasa and new friend Matty, talked to a small groups of youths and residents who were walking throughout the block-party all day. They informed everyone about the importance of voting in this year's presidential election, and encouraging others to register to vote. They also talked about the role and benefits of the New Elm City Dream / YCL.

Longtime members of the New Elm City Dream /YCL, Mahasa and Hassan are engaged in everything from door knocking to get residents to vote, to active participation in the struggles of the young people and working class Americans in their long-term fight for change throughout their city and communities daily.

"Getting our peers involved is something that's key, giving them the vital information they need to succeed and fight for change is our mission" Mahasa said so passionately as he talked to a small group of neighborhood kids and residents who curiously looked through the table at People's World newsletters while asking questions about voter registration at the same time.

This made longtime Newhall resident Charles Thompson so proud as he described,"It's good to see our future generations out here doing something positive and productive with themselves instead of dealing with the streets and crime. It shows all our youth are not bad in our communities and it makes me so proud".

The event is organized annually by Patricia Highsmith, who is block watch captain. Participants joined in wishing her happy birthday and appreciating her daily efforts to make her community and the world a better place to live.