Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dan Livingston Accepts Merrilee Milstein Award from Working Families Party

Labor Attorney Dan Livingston received the first Merrilee Milstein Award from the Working Families Party on Friday, May 15, 2009. The award was presented by Local 32-BJ political action director Art Perry. Dan Livingston's remarks follow:

It’s an honor to receive an award along with Bob Madore, Clark King and Rosa DeLauro. It’s a particular honor to receive the first Merrilee Milstein Award. I want to thank the Working Families party for tonight and for all of their fine work, thank my family and friends for joining us tonight, especially my son Ethan, who is representing his brother Kyle and my significant other Jennifer, and my colleagues at the world’s longest named law firm, Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn and Kelly.

Many of you know that my Dad was a long time union president, who as a result had contact with lots of people with high titles – politicians, corporate leaders, judges, international union officials. He always told me that the highest title you could give anyone was organizer, and the highest compliment was “great organizer.” A great organizer is someone who no matter what other title is added to their name is a leader who brings people together in ways that help them change the world. Merrilee Milstein was a great organizer. She had a lot of very important jobs and titles throughout her lifetime, but in each of those jobs it was her skills and dedication as organizer that allowed her to make such a difference. She died on June 9th, the same day as my other comrade and law partner for 1/4 of a century Ruth Pulda, also a tremendous activist leader and organizer. So if there is an afterlife, at least three things have changed since June 9th: Heaven is now a worker-run commune, the women are now in charge, and there’s free Starbucks coffee. Ruth and Merrilee had a lot in common…..

Turning to what’s not exactly heaven on earth, I want to talk a little about the response of all of us to today’s economic crisis and what it means to our short-term and long term futures. You all know that state workers recently ratified an agreement that provides big savings to the state budget, and job security for state employees. I appreciate being given credit for my work on that agreement, but the real credit goes to the union leaders and union members who stuck together in their common interest, and who fought for, supported and voted for the agreement. What is fascinating about that agreement is that it passed more than 4 to 1 in bargaining units that had unit contracts, meaning that many many senior workers voted for it who were at no risk of layoff. They voted for it in solidarity with their more junior brothers and sisters who were at risk, but they also voted for it because it was the right thing to do as part of a broader struggle for a fairer budget -- one based on raising revenue from the rich and big corporations, and on preserving public services. In other words, they wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And the fact that such a diverse group of working people saw it this way, I think points to the opportunities for change that are presented by the combination of the current economic crisis and the political changes in Washington and throughout the country.

I believe that nearly 4 decades of wage stagnation, combined with the terrible pain of the current economic crisis, and the election of an African-American president who ran on a platform of change has recreated a demand for real change not seen since the 60’s and before that the 30’s.

Looks what’s on the national agenda: National health care -- the recognition that health care is a human right, not a privilege; the Employee Free Choice Act – the recognition that a democratic society must provide a real voice for working families; a national energy and environmental policy premised on green jobs and sustainable growth rather than simply pollution and profits. A foreign policy not based on lies and preemptive strikes. Even on our state side, it’s only the obstinacy of our current governor and the hesitancy of a few legislators which has slowed us from passing the first comprehensive universal healthcare plan in the nation.

However, all of these changes, while necessary, are not sufficient for the long-term triumph of the free and just society we all envision. To triumph over the pain of the current crisis and the downward trend of 40 years requires us to organize on a scale not seen since the 30s and to make changes broader, deeper, and much more inclusive – including real equality for groups still far behind in the 30’s, like women, African-Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and so many others . That triumph requires three more things: Courage – a commodity that is seldom lacking on the left; humility, a commodity that can be in much shorter supply; and faith.
Courage, because we need to be willing to say what Merrilee would have said, and what thousands of progressive leaders have said before us. A just society must be organized in a way to put people and their democratic rights first, and markets and their economic needs second. If we get called socialists, or communists, or dirty pinko freaks for saying that, then so be it. The economy, the market, is the creation and should be the tool of human beings, not the other way around. We need the courage to speak up and fight for real lasting change.

Humility, because we must admit that the precise road to and the details of the just society is something we must learn, not something we can preach. I’ve had the privilege of working with the staff and Board of the Universal Healthcare Foundation on Sustinet, our state’s universal health care plan, and I know how hard it is to carry out the vision of healthcare as a universal right and not a privilege, and to overcome entrenched market forces just around that issue. How much harder to apply that vision to all the other necessities of life, housing, and education, a safe, nurturing, and truly non-discriminatory community, and to think in terms that go not just state wide, but national and international. All of us learned on picket lines “No justice, no peace.” This is just as true, but much more ominous in the international context. Together we need to have the humility to help figure it out, what a just and civilized 21st century really looks like, how we can play our small part in making it real.

And faith. The fanatical faith of the right in the market as the solution for all ills has been exposed as the lunacy it is. We need to replace it with the faith that underlies all true democratic systems -- a faith that human beings can be organized and empowered in ways that allow them to make good and just decisions about their own lives and the lives of their communities. If we allow ourselves to share the right’s cynicism about the abilities and motivations of everyday people, we will never make lasting democratic change.

I do know this. If Merrilee were here, her excitement and energy at the possibilities of our new world would be unbounded. She would help us all envision a just future, and find the real life paths that would take us there. Thank you for the honor of accepting this award in her name. Now let’s do what she would ask us to do: go, fight, and win.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Town Hall Meeting with Dodd Favors Not-for-profit Healthcare

by Joelle Fishman

DERBY, CT -- In search of a solution to the health care crisis, several hundred people jammed into the Griffin Hospital auditorium Saturday for a town hall meeting with Senator Chris Dodd, Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Obama health director Nancy-Ann DeParle. The meeting was called as legislation in Congress is on a fast track, with the issue of a public choice at the center of the debate, and the sentiment was strong for a public health care system.

Congressional staff members brought microphones through the audience for the question and answer session. "The legislation is being crafted now," said DeParle. "That is why we are traveling the country to listen to you."

DeLauro put the meeting into the context of the economic crisis. "In the economic chaos," she said, "14,000 people are losing their coverage every day."

Dodd said that he is committed to developing a bill that is affordable and universal with quality care and an emphasis on prevention.

Judith Stein, who founded the Center for Medicare Advocacy in 1986, was one of several healthcare experts invited by Dodd. She summed up the majority sentiment in the room when she said, "we should learn the lessons Medicare can teach." She recalled that in 1965 when Medicare was founded, the public / private debate took place. As a public system she said, Medicare provides affordable, universal, quality access to basic healthcare.

Stein asked the elected officials to "consider Mediare for All," charging the Bush administration with bankrupting Medicare by privatization with Medicare Advantage and Part D. "The public is desperate for a public plan," she exclaimed. "Please don't do something if it does not include a public plan."

A group of Yale medical students wearing their white hospital coats expressed support for HR 676, the Medicare for All single payer bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers. One of the students who said she is committed to practice family medicine among the underserved declared, "I don't want an insurance company standing between me and my patient." She appealed for a representative in Congress to "speak for us," receiving an enthusiastic applause in contrast to the silence that greeted the Aetna representative who had spoken earlier in support of universal coverage to be paid by the individual or government subsidy. Many realized that the insurance giant opposes a public option in favor of a plan in which they would enjoy more profits.

The meeting was not unanimous however. Several speakers opposed any government intervention at all. When one man decried the proposal for a public option as "rationed health care," echoing Republican attack ads, Rosa DeLauro intervened

"I am a cancer survivor," she said recalling her younger years. "I was lucky that my family could afford to get me the care I needed. But so many others could not." Speaking passionately to loud applause she asserted, "what we have now is rationed care. We don't want rationed care. We want care for everyone. That's what this is all about."

The meeting began on a rocky note. When Dodd came to the podium first one and then another audience member who had traveled to the meeting from out of state began shouting that the event was rigged and single payer was not going to be included. The apparent attempt to prevent the meeting from proceeding failed as the rest of the audience shouted "sit down."

Once the meeting got started, a woman who had driven across the state to get there was recognized. She told the story of her family business closing due to the economic crisis and the family being confronted with an unaffordable $2000 a month health care bill. "I understand why the single payer people are upset," she remarked to applause, "and I believe the public option is part of that process."

As the two hour session proceeded Dodd walked down the aisle to respond, indicating the strong opposition to health care reform from Republicans and some conservative Democrats in Congress. "Just having a public option is a big fight," he said. "As members of Congress, Rosa and I have the best coverage of all. We should take that Federal Benefit Plan and give it to everyone."

As the ranking Democrat under Senator Kennedy on the Health and Education Committee, Dodd is in a key position. "I want to hear from you," said Dodd. "We cannot continue as present, the system is broken. We will continue doing this to keep the door open."

Nancy-Ann DeParle observed that while the majority of the room was for single payer or a public option, there were different views. "This is a microcosm of the country," she said, "and we have a difficult job." She said universal care for all Americans "must get done this year."

Legislation that would pool existing government health plans to lower costs to municipalities, and legislation that would provide a public option are now under consideration in the Connecticut General Assembly, and State Representative Chris Donovan, Speaker of the House, urged support. "We're working to make sure we're ready to move when the federal government says 'here's what we've got.'"

Reprinted from the People's Weekly World daily on-line edition, May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Union Contract at Yale based on History of Struggle

by Joelle Fishman

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Four thousand six hundred union workers at Yale University here won a major victory last month. At a joint press conference with Local 35 service and maintenance workers and Local 34 clerical and technical workers, the university announced an early contract agreement including job security and expansion of union representation. President Richard Levin admitted the university’s poor labor relations policy was hurting the institution and had to change.

Yale, with its multi-billion-dollar endowment, has been notorious for arrogant anti-labor policies. The recent settlement breaks with a tradition of conflict at Yale marked by repeated strikes dating back to the 1960s. The resulting contracts, won through the struggle and sacrifice of two generations of workers, provide some of the best wages and benefits in the area.

Power of mobilization

At packed ratification meetings in April, union members were amazed and excited that their strength over many years had finally averted a strike this time.

A contract settlement of this scope “could only be done with hundreds of workers involved over many years,” said Unite Here national leader John Wilhelm, who started his union career 40 years ago with Yale’s Local 35.

“It is astonishing and a credit at a time when the country is in a mess economically because of a combination of greed and a period of disastrous leadership. I hope the country and the labor movement takes a look at this,” he said.

The last strike in 2003 ended with a multi-year contract and the formation of a “best practices” structure which required managers to take into account suggestions and ideas from the workers in their department.

Along with departmental best practices committees came a top level policy board that brought together union and administration officials for early negotiations in anticipation of the scheduled January 2010 contract expiration date.

Over the course of a year, the unions held meetings in all the departments and units across the university. A multi-media presentation revealed the gains that the workers and their unions had won, but also showed Yale’s financial position and plans for expansion into a new West Campus. The unions would be marginalized if they were excluded from new facilities. Three thousand workers signed a petition pledging support for the union’s positive role on campus.

The presentations created such a buzz on campus that top administrators asked to see it. Local 34 president Laura Smith said, “We invited them and we even served popcorn.” It became a critical point in negotiations, demonstrating that the union was in touch with its members and that the members were engaged.

In the midst of the devastating economic crisis, the workers were able to negotiate contract language that ties the growth of the university to the growth of the unions. New campuses and new buildings are to include union workers, breaking the current subcontracting pattern, especially significant for Local 35. At a time when Yale has announced layoffs to reduce expenses, Local 34 won strong provisions that will allow laid off workers to stay on the payroll and maintain benefits for up to 18 months, along with strong language giving laid off workers preference for new job openings.

Workers maintained free family health care, and gained improvements in coverage for dependents and prescription drugs through the Yale Health Plan.

In return, the union accepted limited pay increases for the first year of the three-year contract, and a smaller vacation package for new hires.

The wildest cheers and applause went up when it was announced that workers already retired will get substantial increases in their pensions. A highlight of the last strike was a sit-in at Yale’s benefits office by a group of retirees who could not afford to live on the token amount they were getting. The sit-in resulted in improved pension benefits going forward, but those already retired had been left out.

Local 34 members also cheered the support and solidarity they have enjoyed from their sisters and brothers in Local 35.

Hospital-university connection

The bargaining strength of workers at the university is also intertwined with the workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who have been struggling for years to expand union representation from the dietary unit to include the entire workforce.

A year and a half ago, the hospital’s anti-union administration violated a neutrality agreement, for which it was fined a record $2 million. But the fine was essentially a slap on the wrist for the hospital because the union, which filed cards signed by a majority of the 2,000 workers after years of organizing, was not recognized.

Several worker-organizers from the hospital traveled to Washington in March to lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act in hopes that the rights of the workers can prevail with a more fair labor law.

A movement for change

The victory at Yale University comes in the midst of the movement for change and the election of President Barack Obama. Busloads of Yale union members campaigned for Obama in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and many became more active in mobilizing for the new contract, and have taken leadership positions in the union.

The press conference announcing the Yale contract settlement emphasized the cooperation and good will between labor and management.

But the real significance lies, as Wilhelm said, in the long history of involvement by the unions’ memberships, their solidarity with each other and with other workers trying to organize, with the New Haven community, and with workers everywhere through support for immigrant rights and political activity. This history, which has placed the Yale unions as part of a vital progressive movement, tilted the balance of forces in favor of a good contract settlement. The new contract puts the unions in a good position for further gains based on continued involvement and activism of the membership.

Joelle Fishman (joelle.fishman chairs the Communist Party USA Political Action Commission and is also chair of the Connecticut Communist Party.

Reprinted from People's Weekly World May 21, 2009 (

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spirited May Day Rally Raises Worker Activism and Funds

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- International workers' solidarity was in the air at the People's Weekly World May Day rally, "No Cuts - No Layoffs - Tax the Rich," on Sunday, May 5. The jammed hall greeted a powerpoint photo presentation of workers confronting the economic crisis on every continent followed by a panel discussion by Connecticut union leaders.

Tomasina Denny and Willie Tart told of their experience in Washington DC lobbying for the Employee Free Choice Act. As workers at Yale New Haven Hospital they have had first hand experience of willful violation of labor law by a major employer intent on disallowing union representation.

Blair Bertaccini was an election observer in El Salvador last month when the pro-worker FMLN candidates won after years of struggle. Bill Shortell, a labor council president, was one of several union leaders from the US to witness the formation of the first labor confederation in Iraq. Workers from countries around the world gathered for an international conference on the occasion.

A highlight of the afternoon was presentation of Newsmaker Awards. Jerome Hauser, president of UE Local 22-888 public works union in New Haven described how the members came together and decided to forgo an upcoming pay increase in order to make sure that no jobs were eliminated. They won a two year guarantee of no layoffs. Hauser said that as a city worker, he would not be willing to remove furniture to evict a co-worker who had lost his job, emphasizing that we are all a paycheck away from homelessness.

Professor Felipe Flores and his students from the Hispanic Club
at Naugatuck Valley Community College accepted the award for saving a soup kitchen from closing in the dead of winter. He said that no one should need to go to a soup kitchen for food but many people can't make ends meet these days. The young people won admiration from everyone present for taking a stand, going to the Governor's office and when there was no response finding volunteers from their own college.

Tom Swan, accepting the award on behalf of Health Care for America Now in Connecticut emphasized that a health care plan will be passed in the next five months and urged participation in the struggle in Washington to achieve a strong public choice component, being vigorously opposed by the insurance industry, Republicans and some Democrats. He warned that the 2010 elections could be recaptured by the extreme right wing if a strong health care bill is not passed and invited those present to come to Washington DC on June 25 for a rally and lobby day. Condolences were sent to John Olsen, president of the CT AFL-CIO and co-chair of HCAN whose father died the day before.

Frank Panzarella got the multi-racial crowd of young and old singing union songs, and over a delicious home made dinner petitions for the Employee Free Choice Act and to tax the rich were signed, and letters were written to Senators Dodd and Lieberman to support a public health care program.

The event and two May Day greetings raised over $3,000 for the People's Weekly World fund drive. Many subscribers turned in all or part of their annual pledges. Nearly $1500 was raised in the name of stalwart People's Weekly World distributor Jack Lucas who died last month.

All photos by Henry Lowendorf

Reprinted from People's Weekly World daily on-line edition 5/8/09

Thursday, May 7, 2009

May Day Celebration, New Haven Peoples Center

Here are some photos from the No Cuts - No Layoffs - Tax the Rich!
No Cortes - No Despidos - Impuestos a los Ricos rally on May 5.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy May Day 2009

Happy May Day to working people everywhere from the Communist Party USA!

May First is celebrated as International Workers' Day around the globe, but was born here in the United States in the struggle for the eight-hour workday. For many years, May Day was not celebrated in the country of its birth as it was internationally, but in recent years May Day has been reborn.

Larger and larger sections of the labor movement and the immigrant rights movement in the United States have embraced May Day as a day of struggle for workers rights and of celebration of the contribution of all workers: men and women, gay and straight, every race, language, religion or nationality.

We join with all struggling people around the world in celebrating May Day and continuing the fight for a better world.

Below are links to articles on the history and origins of May Day, thoughts on the workers movement today and more.

Born in the USA
Reclaiming the May Day tradition: "Through unity we find our strength"
Labor on the road to unity
Haymarket landmark finally established
Historical Interpretation: Haymarket Square, May 4,1886

Reprinted from Communist Party USA May 1, 2009