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Tuesday
Apr012014

While NY Times Wonders if Marx was right? The four stooges visit Vegas

April Fools Day, 2014

We are getting ready for our best Workers Unite Film Festival yet! 10 days in May of films, poetry, music and speakers on issues and stories concerning workers, their unions and their lives. Our preliminary schedule will be posted by Friday and you will be able to see how hard we are trying to inject some working class cultural themes into the general mess that is our current mass culture.

On the same day, the NY Times, (which has been disgusting of late in its whining about the website and other procedural details of the Affordable Care Act during the largest increase in Americans covered by health insurance at any one time since Medicare), wondered if Karl Marx weren’t right about the glaring inequalities of capitalism left to its own devices, the 24 hour news cycle was otherwise filled with the sick and putrid image of one Sheldon Adelson, casino owning magnate, worth over $40 billion, putting around on an electronic scooter, while Christie, Bush, Kasich, Walker and even lesser GOP hopefuls scurried alongside for a chance to blow air kisses at his rat’s nest of fake hair and kiss his withered and decaying ass.

One can dwell on the sad spectacle of “family values” acolytes hopping and skipping to the tune of this sleazy seller of unluck for a buck, but when one reads their NY Times, one sees that these GOP types already know where we are headed and just want to suck onto the .0001%er’s back long enough for one final glorious ride around the fish tank before it all goes boom. Who can blame them? For these right wing thugs, who delight in cutting back on food stamps for hungry children, restricting democracy by curtailing voting rights and hours, eliminating the American Dream, if you happen to be from a different (read brown colored skin) ethnic group of immigrants than their own Moms and Dads, for this bunch of soulless liars and con men, Sheldon Adelson, with all his massive wealth built on fooling all of the people all of the time, this is a perfect fit.

These are all the same folks who scream bloody murder when there is a suggestion of a hike in the minimum wage, much less hike to a $15 minimum wage. “How dare they?” they scream. “Don’t they know you have to have skills to earn more?” Of course referring to the lying skills most of them learned as lawyers and have used so effectively during their otherwise pedestrian political careers. As a wonderful article in Portside details today, raising the minimum wage is not just about the fight for better pay, though that is important too. They are critically about changing the current gross imbalance of power that Marx saw would happen as unfettered “free market capitalism” had more of the restrictions removed from it’s unsavory operations (as has so efficiently been done by both Democratic and Republican beneficiaries of corporate money). Raising the minimum wage to an actually livable $15 an hour would make the vast majority of that workforce – women, many of whom are single working Moms, finally part of the civil society that we project as equal every day. It is currently so far from that it is frightening.

We ought to think about why - especially during Women's History Month - those most experienced with living on a minimum wage are the women taking your order across a fast-food counter, changing your hotel linens or caring for your children. Women's history tells us something else about this issue: The long struggle for wage justice has always included women fighting, especially through unions, to change the balance of power.

To be sure, an increase is a welcome step in the fight for fairer compensation. But the recent state-level increases in the minimum wage still do not restore it to the level it reached in the late 1960s. Because its value has not kept pace with inflation while the cost of everything from groceries to housing to medical care has increased, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has eroded. And unlike 50 years ago, today's minimum wage workers are no longer teenagers. Their average age is 35; more than a third are over 40 and only 12 percent are below age 20.

Most importantly, the new laws and adjustments barely address the return of the very inequities that originally gave rise to the idea of a minimum wage a century ago. So yes, Americans now are sorely in need of a raise in the minimum wage. But that alone is not going to address the core problems of economic insecurity, inequality and economic and political disfranchisement that mark our era.

Its proponents always recognized that a wage reflected a power relationship and a measure of social worth. Lacking bargaining power, women perpetually found themselves working but poor. Today women comprise over 55 percent of minimum-wage workers; 71 percent of restaurant servers are women, tipped workers who fall outside minimum wage coverage.”

 https://portside.org/2014-03-31/womens-fight-better-pay-about-more-just-money

 http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/30/was-marx-right

 That's why the "Fight For $15" campaign among fast food workers is not just about raising the minimum wage. It's about changing the social relationships and balance of power embodied in the wage. Through opening this struggle, low-wage workers compel us to rethink again who is a "breadwinner."

As the National Consumers' League understood a century ago, workers still need a union. Unions, through collective power - collective power that has legal and ideological legitimacy - compel a more balanced sharing of the profits. Workers' organizations, at their most ambitious, also give people the space and the tools to articulate a just economic vision and build political power to get us there.

That is why the theme for our Workers Unite Film Festival this year is Income Inequality and one of our major evenings is devoted to the concept Equal Pay for Equal Work. Each of our evenings is devoted to another view of how current unfettered capitalism has made the lives of regular working folks a daily hell. And what to do about that hell.

We plan to screen some film history gems, including Salt of the Earth, on its 60th anniversary, new films, Tears In the Fabric, about Bangladeshi garment workers fighting for their rights and lives after the collapse of their factories in Rana, Made in Dagenham, about women in England fighting for equal pay against long odds. People Stand Up! about Haitian workers organizing to fight inequality in Haiti, Under The Bus, about school bus drivers fighting for their rights in NYC, Dreamworks China 2, about Chinese workers wondering how to survive building Iphones for 14 hours a day and the amazing Truth Through A Lens, about fighting to save your community from greedy developers, while also having to deal with agressive police. It is all the same battle. We are all in this together.

 We hope you will join us for at least one night of the festival and take away that there are folks, just like you, who are fed up with all the lies, the inequality, and the gross imbalance of our societies worldwide after more than a decade of the return of the Gilded Age mentality. It is time for it to stop. It is time for you and your family and friends to turn off Dancing With the Stars, Housewives of NY, and learn about why you are getting the shaft. Time to fight back.

See you in May.

 

Friday
Feb072014

UAW ABOUT TO ORGANIZE VW PLANT IN TN! (We Hope!)

February 5th, 2014

We are pleased to shake of the dust from several months of pre-planning, to go into high gear as we organize and get ready for our Third Annual Workers Unite Film Festival. It is also great news to hear that the UAW is going back into auto plants in Tennessee, a VW plant, to hold a union vote. Many on the left have pointed out that this is not a big deal because VW, which is completely unionized in Germany, refused to stand in the way of the union drive. There is also a fear on the left that UAW President Bob King, already battered by past losses, might work with VW on "workers councils" in the plant, not traditional collective bargaining. While all these issues may have vailidity, make no mistake, a union vote that gives the UAW a foothold in the anti-union South: that's a huge win for the labor movement in its current state. This will then give impetus to further union drives in the region and generally put the fear that workers can fight back, into the anti-worker minds of conservative Southern polticians. That's a good thing.

This was despite repeated attempts by local businesses and politicians, who were pulling their hair out over a large employer that was not viciously anti-union or anti-worker. But as David Kiley pointed out in an article last year on this union drive, re-branding the UAW won't be easy, especially in the South, after decades of economic collapse, and decades of anti-union right to work legislation. There will be a vote from February 12-24th, which could really help turn around the downward slide of the UAW's drive to organize in the South. Let's hope it does.

See:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kiley/can-the-uaw-transcend-its_b_1376203.html

See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/04/gop-united-auto-workers_n_3868876.html

While it is a sad commentary on where we have drifted down to in this country as far as labor organzing in heavy industry, it is still a sign of hope for a union movement that as VP Biden just said in a speech the other day, "is under a direct and concerted attack by the business community." Duh! While the union movement has known this for over 30 years at least, it is now only waking up to the need to find new effective survival strategies. This is also due to the recent successful attacks on public sector unions, a sector of the labor movement that organized labor once thought was untouchable. 

But the Koch brothers and their billionaire allies have figured out that there are plenty of modern day scabs willing to take their millions in dirty support money, to carry out the most disgusting anti-worker, anti-union legislation imaginable. So the AFL-CIO had recognized the work of many new labor groups, such as the NY Taxi Workers Alliance, the first newly inducted union since the Farmworkers Union over 45 years ago! The AFL-CIO has also recognized the growing power and influence of workers centers and non-union worker alliances, such as OUR WALMART, the groups fighting for a livable minimum wage and food chain workers around the country, from farm fields to restaurant kitchens.

Of course the moderate success of these new non-union groups has brought the wrath and attention of anti-union forces down on these new groups. There is now a high level of chatter on the right and from conservative house members about expanding the Taft Hartley obstacles to organizing further out, over any group seen to be pushing a pro-worker agenda. So funny to see these "freedom from big government" types so eager to create more government regulation over their supposed enemies - workers and their families. Sad.

Please return to our home page over the next weeks as we add all the wonderful new plans for the festival this May 9th through the 19th. We have partnered with NYC's School of Visual Arts Social Documentary Film MFA Program, to honor and highlight the work of the next generation of socially conscious filmmakers. They have some impressive stories to tell about worker's lives.

We also ask that you tell any of your creative friends, or colleagues at work, on the job, we are looking for films of every length about the daily struggles and success of workers on their jobs. We are very open to amateur efforts for our Films From The Front Lines, evening, when we screen the work of professionals and amateur filmmakers, side by side, on the big screen at Cinema Village in NYC. There are prizes too for the best efforts.

Feel free to write us or call us at any time with suggestions, films, ideas, comments. We are always looking to improve our festival and our festival is here to serve the needs, hopes and desires of workers. 

In Solidarity

Andrew

 

Wednesday
Nov272013

Happy Thanksgiving on a day when workers should choose whether they must work.

November 27th, 2013

As we gear up for another fantastic season of Workers Unite Film Festival, I just thought it was appropriate to not only wish all workers and their families a peaceful and restful day with their families, but to talk for a moment at America's descent into mad capitalist overkill.

I apologize for my absence from this blog, there have been many issues I wanted to comment on, but I was forced by a nasty bout with pneumonia to lay really low for the past six weeks. I have seen the thrill of the new Affordable Care Act turn into a messy public relations nightmare for the President and the Democratic Party. I think that as workers come to see the value of the new health care plans and sing up in larger numbers, the ACA will come to benefit the Democrats and the President. But right now we must endure the mindless shrieking of the right-wing yahoos who never wanted working people and poor people to have health care at all. Anybody who still claims that our previous system of health care was "the best in the world," is simply a liar and not in their right mind, so it is pointless to argue or listen to them. Workers Unite Film Festival has always agreed with Senator Bernie Sanders (one of our heroes!) that the single payer option, or Medicare for All, would have been a much cleaner, simpler and easier to roll out plan. Of course, with the state of polarization in our Congress and the level of misinformation about a single payer plan, the President made a deal with the devil and no surprise, the private insurance companies are not making the details of the new plans quite as attractive as the administration might have hoped for. We hope things settle down and we hope to see millions of folks who never had access to health care, gain that access in the next few months.

Being forced to lie around recuperating does lead to to much idle television viewing. While this is mostly negative, it was partially instructive as to the whole insane mania of retailers opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Eve, in fact K-Mart will apparently be open 48 hours plus between 5 AM on Thanksgiving Day and then all the way through "Black Friday." Of course there might very well be retail workers, who are paid ridiculously lousy wages, who are willing to sign on for the extra shifts in order to earn extra holiday pay and we have no quarrel with that concept. It stinks, but we understand wanting to earn extra money for the holidays. But it is clear that the lengthening of these holiday hours and the massive number of retailers now involved in this ridiculous capitalist ritual (thanks to the propaganda of corporate mass media,now almost everybody knows what Black Friday means, a day that is meaningful only to corporate owners of major chain stores; how many workers really know the meaning of May Day?) means that thousands of workers will be forced, at risk of losing their jobs, to work on a day that was supposed to be a day of rest for all to spend in a relaxed environment with their families. If you don't think this is true, look no farther than a story in the Huffington Post today about a manager of a Pizza Hut, a ten year veteran, who was fired for not forcing all his employees to work all through the holiday:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/27/pizza-hut-fired-thanksgiving_n_4350121.html

This young man worked without a problem for over ten years in this Indiana Pizza Hut. This year, whether due to the influence of striking fast food workers, or OUR Walmart strikers, he found his courage to speak up and told his superiors that he felt it was unfair to force people to work on a family holiday. He was promptly fired.

So even in the case of a manager, a manager with a good employment record, owners are unwilling to even discuss any arguments to their absolute rule over workers lives, even poorly paid workers and even on major national family holidays. Of course this is why unions and workers uniting is so important.

This how low we have now sunk in this country and we need to think long and hard about what kind of future we wish to have as workers and fellow human beings. If all the holidays are about is such rampant consumerism that people are happy to beat each other's brains out over a 6AM doorbuster electronics deal, than we have seriously gone of our track as evolving human beings. This is not only about dignity for workers and fair and honest dealings for all employees, this goes to the core of how we want to see ourselves five, ten twenty years down the road.

The current movements by the Food Chain Alliance with fast food workers to get a higher minimum wage and groups fighting back at Walmart and Target are important not only for the dignity and fight for fair wages at these establishments, but are heroic efforts by workers to talk about the race to the bottom being forced on all of us by greedy and thoughtless 1%ers here at home. These same struggles for fair wages and workplace dignity also ripple out across the world, to the collapsed and fire-ravaged factories in Bangladesh and to all workers oppressed by the endless quest for more profits by corporate behemoths at the expense of decent lives for the 99% of the rest of us.

So please, before your rush out on the Friday after Thanksgiving, think about what choices you have for that day. Think about whether you will participate in the increasing distortion of our lives by those who see us only us dollar bills waiting to flow into their bank accounts. You do have a choice. You can join Walmart or Target workers who are bravely fighting back against a corporation whose family executive board controls more wealth in this country than the bottom 42% of the whole US population. The US Federal Appeals Court just ruled that Walmart's efforts to fire workers who speak up for their rights on the job is illegal and Unamerican. We are not talking about a radical group saying this. We all know this shift towards abusing workers on holidays, abusing workers at all, is wrong. 60% of the American public thinks the whole concept of "Balck Friday" stinks. 

I hope you do too.  I hope you join a demonstration this Friday - they are all over the country, check them out online at www.ourwalmart.org.  At the very least, stay home after the big family meal, if you are lucky enough to share it together. Stay home and share some quiet family times with the different generations and friends that come together to celebrate this day as family time, loving time - a time completely separate from the dog eat dog mentality that the corporate 1% keeps trying to shove down all of our throats, as if this the only choice we have left. I assure you, it is not. The battle for our humanity is far from over.

Have a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving! More on our amazing plans for Workers Unite Film Festival 2014 next week. 

Monday
Sep022013

ON LABOR DAY 2013, WE SALUTE ALL WORKERS!!

September 2, 2013

After a long hiatus, recovering from our May festival and working on plans for an even bigger and better schedule of events for May, 2014, we are proud to salute all working men and women, all over the world, who bust their butts to make our global economies run. These workers, many organized, many fighting to organize and many still not organized, get up each day and get to jobs that are often poorly paid, where workers are treated without dignity or respect. In the recent worst case scenarios, such as in Bangladesh, workers never got to return home at all! They died due to the thoughtless greed and negligence of their exploiting employers. And still these same employers plead ignorance.

Labor Day is about celebrating all our working brothers and sisters and reminding ourselves that the fight is never over for fair wages, safe working conditions and dignity on the job. It is up to each and every one of us to pay attention to what is happening in our city, towns, states, country and to speak out for the rights of all workers fighting to be heard.

In NYC today, there will be no Labor Day Parade and many local labor folks are upset about this. This year unions are heavily involved in a particularly contentious Democratic primary for Mayor and Comptroller, that will really dictate the direction of NYC post billionaire Bloomberg. This election takes place on September 10th, so please get out and vote! WUFF feels that it was a wise decision this year to replace the one large parade with smaller events dictated by this primary schedule. There are plenty of opportunities for large demonstrations and the NYC Central Labor Council has done a great job in organizing many fine street actions. Even more importantly, the NYCCLC was recently a co-host, with the AFL-CIO in an amazing event held in the training classrooms of UNITE in Manhattan. This full day training was the first in hopefully many more sessions in teaching union organizers, key staff and associated worker center groups how to put all the tools of social media to their advantage: Facebook, Twitter, mass email programs, social media petitions, online organizing tools. This event appeared to me to be very well attended and a tremendous success. I found the sessions filled with important and timely information and the classes were arranged to allow a nice part of the day for networking and discussion between attendees.

It is just such thoughtful and successful events, though off the public radar, that will help build the future worker/labor movements. Our activists and members must be comfortable and educated in all the new technology and online tools which our corporate foes have millions of dollars to exploit.

It is only through the use and careful strategy of online and offline actions (demonstrations and public actions) that we, as worker/labor activists have a good chance to reach thousands of workers who know there is something wrong with their daily struggles, but are just not sure where to turn or how to start fighting back.

So my huge hats off to all thos responsible at the NYCCLC and the AFL-CIO training team for making such events happen.

Steven Greenhouse, the union/labor correspondent for the NY Times and author of the excellent book, The Big Squeeze, (about how workers in the US are literally being pushed out of the middle class and into poverty by greedy corporations), suggested two excellent articles for anybody who cares about the status of labor and workers organizing this Labor Day.

One is an editorial on the NY Times editorial page from August 29th, 2013, by Teresa Tritch, on the Editor's Blog. Her article points out how the whole economy would benefit from a successful fast-food worker's strike campaign: higher wages for lower wage workers translates into more dollars spent on survival by these millions of low wage workers. As Ms. Tritch points out, " Corporations benefit from the status quo. Workers don't. That's why they want a new bargain."

http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/fast-food-workers-on-strike/?_r=0 

The second article, by Jared Bernstein, zeroes in on many of the same ideas, but points out that during another banner quarter for corporate profits, wages for the vast majority of workers remained not only stagnant, but at the lowest level of increase since 1955! He goes on to say that, "something's broken when the media and economic pundits seem to devote a lot more energy to explaining why companies can't pay living wages than considering what to do about it."

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/30/the-audacity-of-the-fight-for-higher-wages/

To Bernstein, during a period of many large corporations posting historic profits, paying a more livable minimum wage to those who receive it - 88% of whom are adults! not high school students, just makes common sense.

We at Workers Unite Film Festival completely agree with these thoughts and give our strongest salute this Labor Day to those brave workers, not in unions yet, who can be fired for their actions, yet willing to work off their hard to find jobs to make their points. This is where a revitalized labor movement can develop, from masses of working folks who get that it takes solid action and commitment to fight for fair pay and dignity at work. Fast food workers are showing this, OUR Walmart workers are showing this, thousands of workers across the country are involved and fighting for their rights at this very moment. Thousands more, already organized are fighting hard to keep what they have fought so long to win, dignity and decent wages on the job.

We salute all of you! We pland to keep finding and telling your stories throughout this coming year, through our next major festival in May of 2014 and making alliances with other new media and worker film festivals all around the world who want to keep telling this story of struggle and success against the corporate exploitation that aims to beat workers down every day. History is on our side.

Happy Labor Day!!

Sunday
Jun162013

Happy Fathers Day to all the Hard-Working Dads!

June 16th, 2013

I will post a longer entry in the next week to wrap up all the exciting events at this year's Workers Unite Film Festival. It was an amazing ten days with over 46 new films screened from all over the country and all over the world about the lives and struggles of working people.

But today is a day to talk about Dads. Mine passed away far too young, but even in the short time he was here, he taught my brothers and I the power of having work you really loved. Of course he told us too about the work you had to do to help pay the rent, feed your family, meet all those monthly bills, but he hoped we might find something in our lives where we could work hard, yet see that work as part of a larger movement for something better. He was never specific about what that was, could have been writing for science magazines and talking about nuclear physics, as he did, or digging ditches, or producing crazy musicals, as his father did. He was just hopeful that as we grew into men, we might find a passion to follow into our future.

I am happy to say that though I've done my share of pay the rent jobs and make ends meet jobs, my passion has always been to fight for and tell the stories of working folks. I am thrilled I get to see so much dedication, passion and really hard work in the dozens and dozens of films we screen every season in order to find the best selection for the festival. I am honored to play even a small part in turning back the tide of the corporate mainstream media machine as it tries so hard everyday to crush any human spirit out of the culture with its endless parade of junky TV shows on Housewives of .... and films filled with violence and little else.

The films we screen at the Workers Unite Film Festival have a dedication to telling important stories and their creators are artists and writers who never expect to get rich or famous from their work. They just want to let all of you know, to let the world know, that working people count, that working people have guts and that we are all never, ever gonna give up the fight for our worker/labor rights. Not here in the USA, not in China, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, France, Italy - nowhere.

So if the one-percenters think they have us beat - they have another thing coming. Take a look at the films we screened this year, even just the prize-winners - you'll see that the power of the human spirit to fight for what is fair and just and right is unstoppable, brave beyond imagination and resourceful as all heck.

So Happy Fathers Day Dad, wherever you are - I hope you know that I did find something to work on that I not only love, but know is so true and so right, that it makes me want to work on it as many hours of the day as possible.

I wish the same for each and every one of you and rememebr that if your job is not what you'd really like to be doing? We can always use your help organizing workers just about anywhere in this fine and beautiful country.

Happy Fathers Day to all!