F-Word: Hell in Hamburg? Stories from the G20.

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It could have been worse. The G20 Summit could have gone swimmingly. 

The tear gas, water cannon and masses of riot police that met protestors at the G20 in Germany cast an unsettling pall over the meeting, that’s for sure. But the stated goal of the G20 was supposed to be “Shaping an interconnected world”. What if they had? 

Money media love to tell history as soap opera. In this season, they are reporting endlessly on the supposed clash between Donald Trump  and Angela Merkel.

In the real world, that boils down to a choice between bullying by a macho spoiled-boy brat, or Merkel’s faux market-driven kind.  99.9999 percent of the world have no dog in that fight; and even less interest in those two bullies connecting. 

Want US/European unity? Reporters on the G20 should have asked the Lampedusa refugees what they think. They’ve been languishing in Hamburg since the US and NATO bombed Libya. Their country destroyed, hundreds of them were forced to flee, first to Italy, then to Germany, where they’ve been told to find work, but denied the permits to do any such thing. So much for Atlantic interconnection. So much for a European Union.   

I was in Hamburg for a night just ahead of the G20 meeting, and one organizer explained pretty convincingly that the main reason Hamburg was picked for the Summit was to pay the populace back for voting against Angela Merkel’s bid to have them host the Olympics. 

In a grand swipe against Free Speech, almost the entire city was declared a “protest-free” zone. Still, hundreds of thousands of protesters showed up anyway. 

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LF Excerpts: Cathy Albisa and Sabino Milian: Employees and ICE Collude Against Workers

"This week on the show, Cathy Albisa and Sabino Milian discuss the targeting of activists in immigration sweeps. Those ICE raids aren't that random they say."

Laura Flanders: This is a great example of you can make progress even in these times, but I'm struck by the fact that most of the stories that I'm hearing of progress and innovative organizing are coming, as Sabino said, from fairly small organizations, grassroots groups, communities in organization, not so much from big labor. What's going on?


Cathy Albisa: Oh. Big labor is definitely under attack and has been for many years and you can only imagine that it's intensifying. It certainly doesn't help grow big labor that so much of our workforce is almost impossible to organize and unionize through formal channels, so the Worker Center Movement has stepped in to fill that void, right? To work side by side with big labor and shape the landscape. What I think happens with the work center movement is you basically have a group of workers who are the most marginalized workers in this country.


I'll give you some examples. In Vermont, just a little example, in Vermont, it's not unusual for a worker not to have an eight hour break in a 24 hour period. You'll have to sleep in three hour chunks. These things are standard in the business, and so workers are willing to step up because they have, at this point, so little to lose. For example, we were speaking to workers in Chicago and workers organizing in the temp sector in different parts of the country. When the administration came into power, we said, "What are you concerned about? What additional types of oppression do you fear might come down the pipe?" The answer was devastating. They said, "You know what? We don't even know what they could throw at us next. They've thrown everything at us." This was even before Trump came into power.


We started saying, "Well, what about deportations and raids?" They said, "Well, we're already suffering this." What about retaliation? "Well, we're already suffering that." Everything from stolen wages to violence to sexual harassment. This group of workers has every reason to want to stand up and push back as hard as possible, and it is a very multicultural movement, so we're bringing organizing strategies from all over the world.


Laura Flanders: That's the last part I wanted to ask you about, and that is the global nature of this. Where do the workers that are brand worker members come from in terms of the world? Where are your members from?


Sabino Milian: From Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras...lots of countries.

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What Does it Mean to Raise the Floor?

 


"In this particular moment, where we see that union density is on the decline, and we see that this culture of fear is permeating every workplace, we need organization that can hold space for the trauma that workers are experiencing and we need organizations to have the kind of slack that's required to test new membership models and to test new organizing campaigns..."

- Sophia Zaman, Executive Director of the Raise the Floor Alliance on this week's show.

 

A united voice, Raise the Floor Alliance was founded by eight Chicago area worker centers. Worker centers help organize and provide support to communities of low wage workers who are not already members of a collective bargaining organization or have been legally excluded from coverage by U.S. labor laws.

The mission of Raise the Floor Alliance (RTF) is to ensure that low-wage workers have access to quality jobs and are empowered to uphold and improve workplace standards. RTF achieves its mission by providing research, communications and legal support for efforts to win public and private policy changes that raise the floor for all workers. Both an alliance and a support center, RTF brings area worker centers together into a collective voice for economic policies that foster permanent, full-time family-supporting work.

Read more about Raise the Floor Alliance here.

 

 

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The Labour Manifesto: For the Many, Not the Few

Laura's commentary this week highlighted the manifesto of the Labour Party in the U.K. which laid out what the party meant by the campaign slogan "for the many not the few." On the heels of this manifesto, the Labour Party managed to close a stunning 24 point deficit and demonstrated that an unapologetically left program resonates with the people.

Read a selection from the manifesto below.

 

"CREATING AN ECONOMY THAT WORKS FOR ALL

We will measure our economic success not by the number of billionaires, but by the ability of our people to live richer lives.

Labour understands that the creation of wealth is a collective endeavour between workers, entrepreneurs, investors and government. Each contributes and each must share fairly in the rewards.

This manifesto sets out Labour’s plan to upgrade our economy and rewrite the rules of a rigged system, so that our economy really works for the many, and not only the few. Britain is the only major developed economy where earnings have fallen even as growth has returned after the financial crisis. Most working people in Britain today are earning less, after inflation, than they did ten years ago. Too many of us are in low-paid and insecure work. Too many of us fear our children will not enjoy the same opportunities that we have.

 

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F-Word: Progressive Power Shifts Will Happen From The Bottom Up

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The twisted turns of the Trump/Comey  spectacle could keep us mesmerized for months but they better not, and that’s because while the drama playing out in DC is enough to turn one’s stomach, what threatens the average American far more immediately is happening as usual, in the states.

Drowned out by the Donald din, old school conservatism is quietly going about its business, building power, investing in infrastructure and shifting policy and opinion to the Right.

Top-down media aren’t just railed against by the rest of us for pledge-drive reasons (and have you paid yours yet?), they’re problematic because they live, eat and play at the top of the power heap, and change, as every good change maker, knows, works from the bottom up be it from the right or left.

To invert a phrase of Michelle Obama’s, when they go high we ought to go low. As in local.  All the most significant policy reversals of the last forty years have started in the states. Think about reproductive choice, affirmative action, welfare repeal. Those rollbacks haven’t happened by accident. And nor did civil rights.

 

 

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Can Trump's Base Survive? Working America Surveys Ohio.

Mainstream media keep telling us that Trump voters are sticking by their man, but are they really? And what do so-called swing voters actually want? Working America, the community organizing affiliate of the AFL-CIO, took to the streets and sidewalks of central Ohio earlier this year to find out. Matt Morrison, deputy director of Working America, is here with me to share the findings of the front porch focus group report and what lessons progressives can take from it into the 2018 election.

Laura Flanders:So, the front porch focus group. Why the name?

Matt Morrison:When we came up with the methodology, we wanted to understand is this a survey? Is it a poll? Is it a focus group? And we were just brainstorming and we realized what we're really doing is having extensive conversations with a large enough number of voters that we can draw inferences about what the trends are amongst different segments. But it ultimately isn't intended to be representative, but it's certainly intended to be informative.

Laura Flanders:Well, you talked to a lot of people. I mean, how many? Who? Why? Where?

Matt Morrison:We talked to, what? 976 voters for this particular project and this is one of a series of the front porch focus group series that we've done dating back to early 2016. Why we do this work? We know that by getting face-to-face with people, you can get not just the top lines of what the support levels are, but you can understand why they're supporting the candidates, the positions, the issues that are animating them.

Laura Flanders:So, that's why you didn't just call them up or send them an email survey?

Matt Morrison:Absolutely. We know that if I go and knock on your door, one out of three are gonna open that door and have a conversation with you. You're gonna really get a chance to listen to them and you don't have to work from a script. You have to work from what the human being is telling you. Are they busy? Do they have dinner on the stove? Do they really want you to come and sit down and have a smoke with them on the front porch?

Laura Flanders:I've raised money in my college years for the 9to5 organization of Working Women, and found just what you said. People will talk to you if you're standing on their doorstep. They'll even give you money. What did you find? What insights came out of doing all this kind of very labor-intensive work?

Matt Morrison:Well, for us, the lesson really learned from this is always listen more than you talk. And from that, we were able to hear a few clear insights. Number one, while Trump voters are by and large continuing to stick by him, they're very movable. What some 80% of the swing voters we spoke to, who are Trump voters to begin with, said, yes, they still approve of the job he's doing, but if you introduce real information that connects with their lives, like his tax policies, his workplace safety plans, more than half of them start to express doubts.

Laura Flanders:Give us a little bit more depth on that. Explain.

Matt Morrison:Sure. One of the examples comes from Delaware Township. This is about 50 miles north of Columbus. A fellow by the name of Jim was coming home ... he's a construction worker ... when our canvasser, Soren, approached him to talk about the front porch focus group project and we asked Jim a whole series of questions, one of which was, "Had you heard about Trump's proposal to roll back workplace safety regulations?" That got Jim thinking, "Hey, I got hurt on the job about 20 years ago. That's not what he promised." And, ultimately, the more we can introduce information that isn't so worked over ... that is tell people something they don't know, as opposed to telling them what they know is wrong ... the more we can introduce a different way of thinking.

Laura Flanders:We had a chance to talk with Soren, actually. He's one of your field organizers in Ohio. Here's some of what he had to say.

 

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Can the European Left Save Itself?

Can social movements keep the social when they take over power and government? The example of Syriza, the Greek Progressive Alliance has lessons to teach progressives. The Movement for Black Lives is a case in point. Should it ever run candidates? If not, what? Joining me this week, Irish author and scholar, Helena Sheehan and Natalie Jeffers, one of the organizers behind Black Lives Matter in the UK. We'll also take a look at Stop and Frisk, UK style, and have a few words on right-wing bread and Trumpian circuses. This is The Laura Flanders Show, a place where the people who say it can't be done take a backseat to the people who are doing it.

Laura Flanders:At the cutting edge of both the austerity crisis and the alternative, the rise of the Greek Left Alliance, Syriza, a few years ago sparked progressive excitement around the world. "What if? What if social movements on the left could successfully move into government?" That bubble burst not long after Syriza actually took office. The next tremor to shake Europe came from the other direction with the momentous vote on Brexit, the vote in the UK to leave the European Common Market. Since then, elections have come and gone. More loom this summer. What is to be made of it all? Especially when it comes to that sticky question of the relationship between social movements and government and, dare I say, power.

I'm joined today by Helena Sheehan, author of a new book, The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left, and Natalie Jeffers, an organizer with Black Lives Matter UK and founder of Matters of the Earth, an education and design collective. Welcome both. Glad to have you.

Helena Sheehan:Thank you Laura.

Natalie Jeffers:Thank you.

Laura Flanders:Let's start with the book, Helena. You call Greece a crucible. A crucible of what? What draw your interest to it?

Helena Sheehan:I felt that during the crisis, Syriza represented all the forces in motion at a really high energy level in confrontation with each other. As you said, it was the cutting edge both of the crisis and of a possible alternative to the crisis.

Laura Flanders:I think I got it from you in the book.

Helena Sheehan:Yes. That's what attracted me, and also the nature of Syriza itself attracted me because I felt it represented a best possible synthesis of the forces of the old left and the new social movements.

Laura Flanders:We'll get more into that, but take us back just a minute. We're going back to a period where austerity had been raging for a while. In your country, or adopted country, of Ireland there was an austerity scenario that people were said to be not resisting all that much. Greece was held up as the great alternative of resistance. You say it's not that simple.

Helena Sheehan:No, definitely not. It was not true that Irish people didn't protest and weren't resisting. That makes me furious that so many people were saying and thinking that, but at the same time, we looked to Greece and there was a higher level of resistance that we did envy. We wished that we could have brought our level of protest to that level. The level of protest has been there from the beginning of the crisis, and it's been very steadily rising. Even now when it's crashed in Greece, it's still rising in Ireland.

Laura Flanders:What was your impression of all of this, watching from the UK, Natalie?

Natalie Jeffers:We had an immense amount of respect, as always, for the social movements that are happening within Ireland and inside of Greece. I think Syriza was deeply inspirational for how that informal social movement power can actually penetrate the formal realms of power.

 

 

 

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Debt that Lasts Forever: Can't Cash in on Credit

Production or prediction? Healthy risk taking or dangerous betting? What are the implications of a society based along the lines of Wall Street? This week author, Ivan Ascher and Strike Debt activist Pam Brown join me, and we hear from Mandy Cabot on why she turned down a $100 million buyout deal for her company, Dansko Shoes. It's all coming up on The Laura Flanders Show, the place where the people who say it can't be done take a backseat to the people who are doing it.

Laura Flanders:When Marx looked out at what produced profit in his day, he saw grinding factories producing things. If he'd gone back further, he might have been struck most by agriculture. Today, what dominates is Wall Street, finance, and not just investing and trading, but betting. That is risk and credit. We call it playing the market, but it's not really playing when you're gambling with people's needs like college and housing and pensions. We discovered that in 2008 when the market crashed.

We have gone from a production-based economy to a prediction based one. It's affecting every aspect of our lives says today's guest. Ivan Ascher is the author of a new book called Portfolio Society, which looks at the 21st century risk-based economy. Joining him is Pam Brown, returning guest, writer and organizer with Rolling Jubilee that was born out of Occupy Student Debt. She's also a host on WBI Radio. Welcome both. Glad to have you. Obvious question, what is the Portfolio Society, Ivan?

Ivan Ascher:It's a phrase I actually borrow or lift from someone else, Gerald Davis, who is a sociologist at Michigan, who uses it to describe basically capitalist societies that are dominated by finance?

Laura Flanders:Is that new? There's always been markets or there have been for years.

Ivan Ascher:That part is not new. What I think is new is the fact that it's taken such a dominant place in organizing our lives and also as a source or a site of profit making. Not just profit making. As you said, a disproportionate amount of money now gets made in the financial world, but it also just governs our relations or shapes our relations in ways that it didn't before.

Laura Flanders:I'd love you to elaborate a little bit on that. In what ways does being a risk and credit-based society affect our relations with one another?

Ivan Ascher:In the 19th century, in the industrial area, people spoke of a Bourgeois society or a civil society. The Portfolio Society I understand to be the contemporary version of this. We're still organized around exchange and production, but on top of this we have these financial markets that increasingly encroach or shape the way in which we produce and buy and sell things. A simple example would be the use of credit cards when you go to the market. You no longer use cash, but certainly if you buy anything online, your transaction is mediated by credit cards, which means all kinds of things in the way that people have access to markets and the way in which we have to produce ourselves is a certain kind of subject. Somebody who is credit worthy, somebody whose probability of default can be measured.

Laura Flanders:This gets to some of the work that you do and have done over years, Pam. When you hear about a credit-relation-based society, what bells go off in your head?

 

 

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F-Word: Zombie Malls and Zombie Economics

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“Creative destruction at its best,” that’s what Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi called the multi-billion dollar crisis that’s hitting US retail.

At issue is the crash and burn of US shopping malls. After a two decades of boom, malls are closing all over the country. As the New York Times reported in May, as many retail workers have been laid off since October, as work in the entire American coal industry, almost 89,000.

“While painful for those in the middle of it, this is how we grow and wealth is created,” the man from Moody’s told The Times.

That’s the standard economists’ and stock brokers’ line. Markets work magic, trends come and go, people miraculously wise up, adapt, and “the economy” comes out ahead in the end. That’s the way economists report the news.

But let’s take a closer look. The US has many more malls per head of population, than any other place on earth. Each of us has, 23.5 square feet of retail space, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia — our next closest competitors in the malls-per-person race.

With malls come paved earth, in the US over a million square miles of it, usually coated in black or gray concrete, heating, drying, and secreting waste into the soil and water beneath.

Shut an anchor store in a mall, as Sears and Macy’s and JC Penney’s have in the hundreds, and typically the whole mall empties, leaving masses of people out of work, mostly with skills like stocking and clerking that are rapidly getting automated, and whole swaths of the landscape sweating under impervious macadam. The paving leads to water run-off, more frequent flooding, increased acidity etc

Is change like this painful for those in the middle of it? You bet it is. But those human and environmental costs don’t have to be just the way things are, as per the economists’ brush-off.

Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is political: 89,000 miners have built enough power to make their layoffs costly, not just to them, but to society. Retail workers on the other hand, are disproportionately female, of color, immigrant and older or young. They haven't built the same power as miners yet.

Do we actually, in this country, leave change to the market, by getting government out of it? No. We don’t leave business owners to bear the cost of dislocation, retraining and pollution. We the people cover those, so-called “externality costs”, just as our taxes usually pay for the roads, electrification, and sewerage that made it possible to build the mall in the first place. We’ve decided those costs, just like the clean up won’t be born by private corporation, but the public corpus.

So do things have to be this way? You tell me. The rest of the world’s not facing this same mass of defunct, zombie malls, because, frankly, they and their governments made different decisions. Zombie malls are our problem. And Zombie economics.

 

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New Economy Models: A Victory for the Commons

Laura Flanders: A new world based on community and collaboration is closer than you think. We can steward resources together. In fact, millions of people are doing just that and not in the history books. This week, David Bollier, activist, co-founder of The Commons Strategy Group, explains what it means to think like a commoner. And two activists engaged in Commons projects right now, talk about two very distinct, but complementary strategies. One digital in Barcelona, the other rural in Mozambique. It's all coming up on the Laura Flanders show, the place where the people who say it can't be done take a back seat to the ones who are doing it.

Laura Flanders: So David, thanks for joining us. It's great to have you with us.

David Bollier: Great to be here.

Laura Flanders: The first time I said the "commons," that I was going to be talking to you about The Commons ... a friend of mine said, "Isn't that old, ancient history?" You've heard that before.

David Bollier: I've heard it all the time. People think it's either associated with a strip mall, the such and such commons, or English history. In fact, it's a very contemporary phenomena, and I would even go further, it's part of human history. We've always been cooperators. It's what we're hardwired to do. The whole idea of homo-economic is that we're utility maximizing, selfish, materialistic creatures, is an aberration in history. What's happening is I think we're rediscovering a lot of these roots of humanity, partly through the Internet, which has encouraged and facilitated sharing and collaboration and shown how artificial property rights are. So it's opening up a new exploration of both the economy as well as our inner lives.

Laura Flanders: What about the tragedy of The Commons? If you went through an economic school any time in the last 40 years, you would've heard about the tragedy of The Commons.

David Bollier: This is kind of both a fable and a smear of collective action by a famous biologist of the late 60s, Garrett Hardin, who wrote an essay by that title, "The Tragedy of the Commons." And he said, "Imagine you have a pasture where you can put any number of cattle or sheep on, it will result in the overgrazing and ruination of The Commons, and it will be a tragedy." Really, what he was describing was more akin to the tragedy of the market, where there's no community, no rules, no punishment for violators. A commons is a managed system, where social community gets together and says, "We're gonna manage this resource sustainably for the future," and in fact, empirically, that happens all around the world throughout history.

Laura Flanders: We've had Peter Linebaugh on the show, the historian of The Commons, and he talks about common-ing as a verb. In fact, he says you can't have commons without common-ing, that it's an active engagement of people.

David Bollier: This is one reason economists like to ignore, because how do you put activities and practices into a spreadsheet? They like precise quantitative mathematical models and predictions. They don't like to acknowledge that the economy is socially embedded, that we actually have a role in co-creating the economy. And The Commons is about giving a vehicle and mechanisms and governance for managing our own economy. Not to meet maximum profit or financial speculation, but to meet every day needs. And that, too, is somewhat seen as beneath the grand aspirations of economics.

Laura Flanders: You talk about self-provision-ing. How is that different from subsistence? Or is it?

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