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Train, Organize, Win! Unionizing the Ferndale Library with DSA’s Help

By Mary Grahame Hunter and Anthony D.

In December 2023 workers at the Ferndale Library wrapped up a year-long struggle to win their union and then a first contract. The union drive was organized and led by Detroit DSA member and library worker Mary Grahame Hunter. Our chapter provided support in many ways throughout. We recount the year-long campaign timeline with insights on unionizing library workers and winning a first contract (written by Mary Grahame) as well as lessons learned from the DSA solidarity campaign (written by Anthony).

Mary Grahame addresses DSA members and fellow library workers at the union election victory party at Swords Into Plowshares in Detroit in February 2023

Timeline

December 5, 2022: Around 20 library workers went public with their campaign to unionize with the Newspaper Guild of Detroit. Their reasons included better pay, an overhaul of their paid-time-off system, and job security so they could continue doing the job they love. Mary Grahame had learned critical workplace organizing skills in our chapter’s Organizing 101 classes (the six-week Night School we held in May/June 2020) and immediately put them to use. When the campaign was ready to go public and needed community support, she knew she could count on Detroit DSA members to show up in solidarity and met with members of the Labor Working Group to strategize about a solidarity campaign.

December 10: Detroit DSA members discovered that the Ferndale Library Board, composed of seven elected members, planned to hold an emergency meeting prior to their regularly scheduled meeting December 15. It had only a closed-door session on the agenda, presumably to discuss their response to the union drive. Detroit DSA members attended and made public comments before being kicked out for the closed-door session, telling the board they needed to voluntarily recognize the union.

December 15: The Board held its regular monthly meeting and could have voted on whether to voluntarily recognize the union. Detroit DSA members and other supporters spoke during public comment demanding that they do so. Despite a majority of workers signing on to the union effort, and an upswell of community support for the workers at this meeting and the previous board meeting, the Board instead voted to hire a union-busting law firm to fight their workers. They never held a vote on whether to voluntarily recognize the union.

February 2, 2023: The workers won their union with 90% voting in favor of joining the Newspaper Guild of Detroit. Soon after, DSA helped them throw a party to celebrate and get ready to fight for their first contract. In March, they started bargaining sessions.

June 4: A local hate group went into the Ferndale Library and removed all the books on their youth Pride displays. Detroit DSA mobilized folks to show up to the Library Board meeting on June 15 to voice support for library workers and the queer community, demand that management take action to protect the workers from hate groups, and pressure them to reach an agreement with the union on a contract (see the talking points we used here and watch Ferndale Library workers Aby, Simon, and Mary Grahame speak during that meeting). The Library Board did not take any concrete actions to protect workers despite an avalanche of public comments from both library workers and community supporters urging them to do so.

At the beginning of the workers’ organizing campaign, four Black women worked at the Ferndale Library. By mid-2023, all four had either been bullied out of their jobs by the then-Library Director (she resigned in January 2024) or had to quit in search of better working conditions and pay.

October: The union bargaining team had been in numerous bargaining sessions with management to negotiate both the non-economic and economic demands of their first contract. While they had made progress on the non-economic demands, they expected a lot of pushback once they started to discuss economics. Detroit DSA turned out members and supporters to the October 12 and November 16 Library Board meetings to yet again pressure them to meet the workers’ demands.

November 7, 2023 (Election Day): DSA members held a “read-in” at the library during polling hours where we wore red and/or union swag to show support for the workers’ union and taped posters that read “we support Ferndale library workers” to our laptops and seat backs.

December: A year after going public with their union, the workers reached a tentative agreement on a first contract. It was unanimously ratified by members and passed by the Board at its December meeting.

Unionizing and winning a contract (Mary Grahame)

The first step in organizing the Ferndale Library was using the basic building block we covered in DSA’s Organizing 101: talk to your coworkers. I broached organizing a union in one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with several coworkers I was close to, some of whom had brought up the subject of unions before. Everyone I initially spoke to was interested, so once there were four of us (a de facto Organizing Committee), I reached out to DSA for advice on what to do next. A member of the Labor Working Group and I had coffee a few days later to go over what steps I had already taken and map out what needed to happen next.

The Organizing Committee made a plan for who would speak to whom from which department, and in what order, to see how many people we could likely get on board before going public with the union. It was an easier campaign than most, for several reasons. We’re a small workplace with one location, so it was easy to talk to the majority of our colleagues within a short amount of time. Additionally, many of them were already favorably disposed toward unions by virtue of coming from union families or having been in unions before. The most difficult part of these conversations was finding the time and space to have them in a small building with few spaces for private discussions.

At the same time, our DSA contact put us in touch with Stevie Blanchard, the Union Administrator for the Newspaper Guild (TNG) of Detroit, and I met with her to see if our unit would be a good fit to join the TNG local. While we did investigate other union affiliations (there is no specialized union for library workers the way there is for some other professions), the size and responsiveness of the Guild were a great match for the size of our bargaining unit, which hovers between 20 and 30 people.

Stevie met with the Organizing Committee and set us up with a link for unit members to sign digital union cards. Once we had 75% of our unit’s signed cards in hand, the union went public and we petitioned the Library Board for voluntary recognition, as described above. Despite not receiving it, we won our union election with 90%. The party that DSA threw to celebrate meant the absolute world to the Organizing Committee and to other bargaining unit members.

The Organizing Committee had regular meetings with DSA members to discuss community support, mostly through DSA presence at Library Board meetings and participation in public comment. Regardless of the reaction of the Library Board, the presence of so many people speaking in unanimous favor of the union and support for the workers did wonderful things for worker morale throughout the election and bargaining process. The union effort was covered in MetroTimes, Oakland County Times, WDET, and The New Republic.

While bargaining a first contract ultimately moved forward on a reasonable timeline, our then-Library Director (who has since left) appeared to take the process personally, which led to a lot of tension in the workplace, particularly for those on the Negotiating Committee. Talking it all over with DSA comrades certainly helped keep my spirits up, and continued community presence in the library at board meetings and an all-day read-in helped lighten the atmosphere for workers as negotiations continued. The fact that many DSA members now attend library programs and continue to participate in board meetings and library life is a sterling example of how labor solidarity leads to stronger community ties.

Our contract is now in place. In addition to the standard benefits of union membership–the right to union representation when disciplined, no longer being at-will employees–we achieved a better wage schedule, an overhaul of the paid-time-off system, faster vacation accrual based on length of employment, paid lunches for full-time staff, guaranteed breaks for part-time staff, and a cost-of-living payment tied to library funding levels instead of the whims of the board.

DSA’s solidarity campaign (Anthony)

Once Mary Grahame reached out to DSA, we immediately got to work building a solidarity campaign that could bring together both Ferndale residents and DSA members living in Ferndale and the surrounding cities. Detroit DSA has a high concentration of members in Ferndale and throughout our outreach to them it became obvious that socialists love libraries and were excited to participate. Many members that we contacted used the library frequently, were regular attendees at its book clubs, and even knew some of the workers.

DSA members from the Labor Working Group and Communications Committee met regularly with some of the library workers, including Mary Grahame, to both guide them in having productive organizing conversations with their coworkers and to strategize on how to build community support. These meetings were essential for taking guidance from the workers to ensure that the direction on what support was needed was coming directly from them. Collectively, we were able to generate a number of different ways to draw in more support .

To help get the word out on the ground, we designed and printed posters that read “We Support Ferndale Library Workers” and distributed them to the library workers and DSA members living in Ferndale to give to neighbors and local businesses to display in their windows. We intended to make it obvious to the Library Board that the entire city was behind the workers and hoped that they were frequently encountering the signs as they moved around the city. This effort created an easy opportunity for DSA members in Ferndale to talk to other residents about the campaign. While we never found the right opportunity to do it, we initially planned to pair up DSA members with library workers to canvass businesses and neighbors together to build deeper relationships between DSA, the workers, and Ferndale residents.

To help get the word out on social media, our Communications Committee made a video about why Ferndale library workers are so essential to the community. DSA members helped to write talking points for supporters to use in public comments at the monthly Library Board meetings. On a day when we knew many people would be in the library, we organized a “read-in” in which supporters hung out in red union gear and with “We Support Ferndale Library Workers” signs taped to their laptops or chairs.

We hope that this type of labor solidarity campaign can be replicated as more DSA members organize their workplaces. DSA — and close ally organization Labor Notes, by extension — should act as a home for workers to be trained on workplace organizing. Along the way, Detroit DSA members with workplace organizing experience can provide mentorship. Once workers are ready to go public with their union drive, they can call on DSA to help organize community support. By working together, organized workers and DSA members can build relationships that start to merge the socialist and labor movements and lead to collective organizing work beyond the workplace.

The Detroit Socialist is produced and run by members of Detroit DSA’s Newspaper Collective. Interested in becoming a member of Detroit DSA? Go to metrodetroitdsa.com/join to become a member. Send a copy of the dues receipt to: membership@metrodetroitdsa.com in order to get plugged in to our activities!


Train, Organize, Win! Unionizing the Ferndale Library with DSA’s Help was originally published in The Detroit Socialist on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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OPEIU Local 39 Objects to Layoffs at America’s Credit Unions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 29, 2024

MADISON, WI – America’s Credit Unions (formerly “Credit Union National Association, Inc.”) has informed the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 39 of its intent to eliminate lay off up to 30% of the workforce at its headquarters in Madison. America’s Credit Unions is the result of the merger between Madison’s CUNA and its primary competitor, National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU).

The Company filed a notice with the Department of Workforce Development on January 12, 2024, cc’ing City of Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway: “This is a difficult decision, and we appreciate any assistance you may provide to our employees in this difficult period with their job search and transition.”

America’s Credit Unions refused to meet or provide any details to OPEIU 39, the employees’ Union, until April. At a second meeting in May, the Company announced that it had completed a reorganization, and that position eliminations and layoffs were “imminent”. OPEIU 39 has been committed to maintaining quality jobs in the community.

Jillian Crubel, a Conference Specialist and union member, said, “Trying to understand how layoffs will impact us has been exhausting. Union-represented employees have been asking management for information about layoffs for months. The organization has been purposely withholding while at the same time putting a target on the union’s back.”

Executive Vice President Jill Tomalin explained the reduction was necessary in anticipation of a shortfall of up to $12 million. “They’re making cuts to workers while their tax returns show that they’re paying CEO Jim Nussle over $2.5 million,” said Andy Sernatinger, Business Representative for OPEIU 39. “They could keep everyone employed and Nussle would still be a millionaire.”

America’s Credit Unions has retained attorneys from Littler Mendelson, a law firm specializing in “union avoidance”. Littler is renowned for representing companies like Starbucks and Amazon, who face scores of unfair labor practice complaints in front of the National Labor Relations Board. Littler charges clients up to $1000/hour for its services.

Sarah Shepler, Chief Steward for the Union, added, “For months, we have sought to engage America’s Credit Unions in meaningful dialogue regarding the announced 25-30% reduction in the workforce. Despite our repeated attempts, America’s Credit Unions has persistently refused to provide critical documents requested through information requests and has continually avoided scheduling necessary meetings. It signifies a stark departure from the cultural equality that CUNA had diligently established over the years.”

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FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Andrew Sernatinger – Business Representative, OPEIU 39 asernatinger@opeiu39.org | 608-572-7947

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Chicago DSA is Defending the Right to Protest Genocide at the DNC

Chicago DSA (CDSA) won a successful campaign this spring to defend the chapter’s endorsed alderperson Byron Sigcho-Lopez from censure after he spoke at an anti-war protest that featured the burning of an American flag. CDSA leadership spoke with Democratic Left about the action’s wider political context in Chicago, how the chapter mobilized their support, and the chapter’s preparations to “welcome” the Democratic National Convention this August.

Byron Sigcho-Lopez addresses a Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) rally in 2019 | Charles Edward Miller, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Byron Sigcho-Lopez addresses a Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) rally in 2019 | Charles Edward Miller, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Free Speech and Failed Censure

On March 22, socialist alderperson Byron Sincho-Lopez spoke outside Chicago City Hall at a protest against the Gazan genocide and upcoming Democratic National Convention. Behind Enemy Lines, an anti-imperialist organization, led the protest and invited a veteran to burn an American flag in dissent. 

The veteran, former Marine Zachary Kam, burned an American flag that he had brought home from the occupation of Afghanistan. At the protest, Kam spoke about his action to the crowd: “Let this burn in memory of Aaron Bushnell. Let it burn because whatever values it might have stood before are clearly absent in this country now.” 

After the protest, the council’s right wing stoked social media outrage with sensationalist news coverage, both local and national. “It was an attack on free speech. If it didn’t stop, they would do this to all the other alders,” CDSA Co-Chair, Elena G. said.

Despite the right’s supposed rejection of “cancel culture,” these council members reveled in manufacturing outrage for their own political advantage. “What we hear today are the puppets of the ruling class that are trying to create political theater,” Sigcho-Lopez said in an interview with television station ABC-7

“I want to make sure that we all understand the dangerous precedent this can set for everyone in this body and for our city in this incredibly polarized climate. We cannot pick and choose who gets to speak, or what is the comment of the remarks,” said Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, another CDSA endorsed socialist alder.

Hundreds of Chicagoans came to Ald. Sigcho-Lopez’s defense, submitting public comments online and in person, defending the freedom to protest. Over 500 comments were submitted for public comment in support of Sigcho-Lopez, 200 from CDSA members and 300 more from people unaffiliated with the chapter. 

On April 1 the motion to censure failed overwhelmingly, 16-29. All six of CDSA endorsed alders rejected the motion with support from to liberal leaning councilmembers. Even Ald. Chris Taliaferro, the alderperson, veteran, and retired police officer who led the press conferences against Sigcho-Lopez, voted no on the motion after an Easter Sunday sit down.

Despite the controversy, the right wing censure campaign failed by all metrics.

A semi-circle with dots representing each seat on the Chicago City Council, including six red seats held by DSA alderpeople, 23 pink seats that voted against censure, and 16 grey seats who supported censure.

 

Counting to 25: Chicago’s 2024 Political Context

Sigcho-Lopez’s censure highlights the major divisions within Chicago’s city politics as well as the underhanded strategies the city’s right-wing block employs to shore up their position. 

The alderman represents Ward 25 on the Lower West Side, including the majority Latino neighborhood of Pilsen. With its vibrant arts district and affordable rent, Pilsen is a contested gentrification frontier for real estate developers. 

Sigcho-Lopez won his seat in 2019. Before this, he was the Executive Director for Pilsen Alliance, an organization that fights for affordable housing, renters and housing rights. Before his council campaign, Sigcho-Lopez organized the DSA chapters involved in a campaign to “Lift the Ban” on rent control in the Illinois statehouse. 

There is no clear majority on Chicago’s city council, but Sigcho-Lopez holds a key position on the city’s Housing Committee. After Brandon Johnson’s mayoral election in 2023, Sigcho-Lopez was appointed chair of the committee. 

“The Right hoped a PR crisis could maneuver somebody out of an important position on the body, seeking to replace him with someone who would rubber stamp for landlords and developers,” CDSA Co-Chair, Sveta S. said. “This was a cynical maneuver on behalf of the alders by those most opposed to progressive and socialist policy.” 

The alders who voted to censure Sigcho-Lopez and remove his chairship also voted against police accountability and funding mental health initiatives and came out against a ballot measure to tax real estate sales and a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

The censure also highlights how the genocide in Gaza has affected the city’s politics. In January, the Chicago City Council passed a ceasefire motion with a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Brandon Johnson. Chicago is the most populous city to thus far pass a ceasefire motion. 

“I think a few years ago, the news cycle that would have played out about [the censure] would have been shocking. Even if flag burning is a protected right of free speech. But after six months of US funded genocide, I don’t think it got the shock that they were anticipating,” Sveta S. said.

As the campaign to censure shows, one socialist elected can use their seat to champion mass politics and civic freedoms. And this scares right-wing reactionaries. Sigcho-Lopez has called meetings with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), the organization responsible for publicly owned housing in Chicago, to ensure CHA is using resources to maintain public housing and not profiting from selling city owned lots. He’s also calling for permanent housing for asylum seekers and improved living conditions at shelters. His district is home to the largest shelter for asylum seekers in Chicago.

Socialists in Office Committee

CDSA’s Socialist in Office Committee (SIO) was central to mobilizing support for Ald. Sigcho-Lopez. Chapter co-chairs first brought the campaign to the CDSA Executive Committee, the chapter’s 17-person elected body representing each of the chapter’s four branches. It quickly passed an online vote and organizers got to work.

Campaign organizers created a toolkit that asked chapter members to sign a petition, submit public comments and voice their support for Sigcho-Lopez on social media. The toolkit contextualized socialists’ historic commitment to free speech: “Socialists fought and died for basic free speech rights. We won’t go back to a time when passing out socialist fliers was illegal.” 

“I think this is a good reminder of why we’re doing this work,” Sveta S. said. “We’re housing the relationships with socialist electeds within the chapter, in a committee accountable to membership, not just personal relationships with people who know candidates or worked on their campaign. I think that’s what it’s going to take to build a proto-party.”

The chapter started their SIO committee about a year ago. Before this, the chapter tried tasking the work to the electoral committee, members on the executive committee, and the chapter co-chairs. All of these structures fell short. 

“Past relationships relied on more individuals than a collective group,” said Sarah C-R, who acts as CDSA’s South Side branch Socialist in Office representative and liaison to Ald. Sigcho-Lopez. “People were isolated in their communication, it was whatever that person was doing.”

With the formalized committee, clearer, collective channels of communication emerged. Sarah C-R meets with Sigcho-Lopez’s office every other week; the elected explains what’s going on in their ward, while the chapter liaison explains what’s going on in the chapter. The liaison is then tasked with reporting back to their branches. 

The full SIO committee convenes every other month and all the chapter’s elected representatives are invited to attend. “Some electeds tell us that we’re the organization that communicates the most of any organization that endorses them,” Sarah C-R said. 

The Looming Shadow of 1968

Rows of helmeted police advance on protesters.
Chicago police and protesters of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1968.

This municipal censure controversy occurred in anticipation of Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the likely conflict over the limits of free speech and protest it will spark. The DNC will take place in Chicago on August 19-22, and mainstream media has already begun comparing the 2024 Democratic Convention to the 1968 Democratic Convention. The 1968 convention saw protests against an unpopular war and an unpopular Democratic candidate, something the 2024 convention will likely repeat. 

To minimize disruption, the DNC is organizing protest zones far out of reach of the actual DNC location and activists are suing for their right to free assembly at the convention. “They’re trying to push people into Grant Park,” said Sarah C-R. Chicago’s lakefront Grant Park is six miles away from the United Center, which will host the convention.

Protesters are demanding the right to assemble within “sight and sound” of the convention.

“The progressive mayoral administration has denied their right to protest within sight and sound using the excuse that there aren’t public safety resources to facilitate a protest,” Sveta S. said. “It’s insidious, not an outright denial of free speech or protest, but making protests less inconvenient for the Democratic party.” 

This conflict over the right to protest directly further highlights the clear divide between DSA as a socialist organization and Mayor Johnson as a progressive politician. Johnson has deliberately distanced himself from DSA and socialism in general. “He never asked for DSA endorsement,” Sarah C-R said. “The chapter never considered it until some members brought a proposal. During the debate, people from [Johnson’s] campaign contacted people in DSA asking them not to pass it, as he is not a socialist. He never claimed to be a socialist nor a member.”

In contrast, Sigcho-Lopez’s speech at the Behind Enemy Lines rally, for which the failed censure attempt was levied, affirmed protesters’ right to assemble at the convention. He states, “We are going to call people to march on the DNC with or without permits. Because that’s what we need to do.”

CDSA is organizing in anticipation of the upcoming convention. At their March general meeting, the chapter passed a resolution to “Welcome the DNC.” This chartered the creation of a DNC Working Group, tasked with promoting the national “For Our Rights” platform, championing the demands of “Money For People, Not Wars,” Palestinian solidarity, a Green New Deal for public schools and the slogan “Workers Deserve More.” These demands will form the basis of a platform propagated through street canvassing and public-transit tabling. 

The chapter will join a broader coalition to march on the DNC and affirm the right to protest in sight and sound of the convention. Funds were allocated for legal observer and street medic training, empowering members to stay safe.

The chapter leadership also welcomes DSA members traveling to Chicago for the convention. Elena G. explained, “There will be socialist socials and solidarity housing. We know there’s going to be DSA members who want to take to the streets in protests.” 

The chapter anticipates the presence of elected officials such as Sigcho-Lopez at the protest, which might slow police repression but is not a guarantee. “The electeds plan on coming and attending and marching with us, and they’re able to reach their constituents and spread our message further.” Sarah C-R said. However, she was not confident this would protect protesters from police brutality because, she said, “I lived through 2020.”

With only four months until the convention , the Chicago chapter is busy preparing the socialist response to Biden’s second convention. They encourage chapters across the country to pass a resolution to protest the DNC, use the For Our Rights campaign platform to provide an alternative to the Democrats, build strong relationships with endorsed electeds through SIO structures, and use their constitutionally protected right to free speech and assembly by protesting the US war machine and the morally bankrupt Democratic party.

Sigcho-Lopez put it clearly in his floor speech. “I make no apologies for standing for First Amendment rights. I think some of my colleagues need to have, maybe, a lesson of what First Amendment rights mean.”

The post Chicago DSA is Defending the Right to Protest Genocide at the DNC appeared first on Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

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Drop the Charges!

Four community members were arrested while peacefully protesting US support of Israel’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. Please donate to help cover the legal fees of fighting these bogus charges. And please sign the petition to drop the charges!

On Wednesday, May 15, the Grand Rapids DSA participated in Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids’ protest against the ongoing genocide in Palestine and the US  government’s gross complicity in it. Our peaceful protest was interrupted by a completely disproportionate police response. After only 5 minutes of marching, a fleet of police cars was tailing the protesters and blaring their horns and sirens.

The GRPD continued to follow the march to where it ended at Monument Park. Then officers moved in to arrest people at random. They arrested 3 members of Palestine Solidarity GR and 1 member of GRDSA for protesting peacefully and filming the police. The protest moved to the Kent County Jail where they were held for more than 4 hours before finally being released on bond. We did nothing wrong at our protest against genocide but they are still facing bogus misdemeanor charges.

Protester holding sign that reads, "Never again is now. Speak out against genocide."

In the West Bank, settler-conquerors and their IDF backers bulldoze and burn Palestinian communities in a creeping, decades-long conquest. The vast majority of Gaza, a city of 2 million human beings, lies in ruins. Netanyahu and his armies are determined to flatten what’s left so that the refugees of this war can be forced out in a grand act of ethnic cleansing.

Meanwhile there is a movement in our country with the express goal of outlawing all protests against these crimes and our complicity in them under threat of arrest and police brutality. It started in the colleges and now it’s in our city streets. It’s more important now than ever to fight back against the apartheid policies of Israel and our growing police state before it’s too late. We’ll continue protesting with our comrades in Palestine Solidarity GR and anyone else horrified by the state of the world today should do the same. We will not be silenced by intimidation.

The post Drop the Charges! appeared first on Grand Rapids Democratic Socialists of America.

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The RPM Difference: Stories Through the Years

For over five and half years and 220+ episodes, we here at Revolutions Per Minute have brought the voices of activists and organizers fighting for a better world to the listeners of WBAI. Tonight, we dig into the show’s archives to hear some of those interviews through the years. Each of the interviews you will hear tonight, in their own ways, exemplify the different dimensions of our show, the members of our collective, and showcase the perspectives that you won’t hear anywhere else. Ultimately, this is a show about the RPM difference.  

 

Segments Used from Past Episodes:  

1- PSC and New Deal for CUNY

2- Build Public Renewables Act

3- Kansas DSA and Protecting Abortion Rights

4- The Bronx Fires

5- Palestinian Solidarity in the UAW

 

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Fineberg Tenants Union Holds Rally, Demands to Bargain, as Rents Rise

By Liam MacLean

BOSTON — Tenants and supporters gathered on Saturday outside of an apartment building in Allston-Brighton to protest the refusal of their landlord, Fineberg Management, to engage in collective bargaining with the tenants.  

“We are standing up together because individually, divided, the best we can do is beg. But together, we collectively bargain,” said Dan Albright of the Fineberg Tenants Union (FTU) and DSA.

The protest was organized by the FTU with support from the Greater Boston Tenant Union (GBTU) and called attention to the continuous and arbitrary rent increases imposed by Fineberg on an annual basis. 

“What’s happening to our community is death by a thousand cuts,” continued Dan, noting how the consistent increase of rents by smaller increments is forcing working class residents out of Allston-Brighton. 

Fineberg has recently increased the rent across its properties by around 5% according to FTU, following last year’s increase of around 10-20% according to Dan. As a result of these increases, around 150 Fineberg renters organized with the FTU presented Fineberg Management with a request to bargain, which Fineberg has so far ignored according to FTU. 

Tenants Zak Brustman and Isabella Nuño also noted that Fineberg Management, like many Boston area landlords, have consistently provided units in a state of disrepair, including a rotted kitchen floor and blocked fire escapes.

“When we moved into our apartment, we found that… the kitchen sink had been leaking for so long that it had rusted through the cabinet below it and the floor beneath was rotting and waterlogged, and that access to the fire escape was blocked by metal bars that had been placed over the window,” Zak said. They added that “when someone from maintenance came to fix the issue, he had been instructed by management to cover the rotten and rusted hole with a piece of plastic, to hide the issue, instead of fixing the leak itself.”

Mary, another speaker at the rally, recounted her experiences with another big landlord: Alpha Management. She spoke of living in an apartment with rotten floorboards and how she was later forced to leave in retaliation for attempting to organize tenants in her building.

The protest also had speakers from Boston DSA, City Life/Vida Urbana, and Mass Struggle. All expressed hope that through organizing, tenants would be able to exercise their collective power and rein in high rents and poor living conditions. 

Rental costs are an issue throughout Boston, which has become some of the most expensive in the United States. Even Allston-Brighton, which remains one of the cheapest neighborhoods in Boston, has seen a huge leap in rental costs over the last 10 years. This is even as many tenants continue to complain of major housing code violations that are ignored by the landlord, even when the tenant reaches out to request repairs. 

GBTU has focused much of its work on attempts to build tenant power from below, primarily by creating bargaining units that are capable of collective action against landlords with demands such as necessary repairs or lower rents. The organization grew out of pushes for an eviction moratorium during COVID and has since shifted focus to fighting poor conditions and high rents.

This organizing is often done against enormous odds. Unlike labor organizing, which won some protections during the 20th century, tenants unions have comparatively minimal legal recourse. In one case in 2022, which was ultimately dismissed, a Boston landlord attempted to sue a Tufts student journalist for libel over an article covering a tenant union protest.

The vast majority of existing tenant protection treats the tenant as an individual in a contract with the landlord. That means that it covers individual incidents, such as seized security deposits or major code violations — though often even these cases never get reported as tenants are often afraid of retaliation. Issues related to tenant collective bargaining have almost no legal protection however, meaning that while occasionally a single tenant is able to successfully bring their landlord to justice, on the larger scale there is very little opportunity for tenants to flex their collective power and challenge the property owning classes in major ways. Through organizing and collective bargaining, this power imbalance can be flipped around.

A limited rent control measure from Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has largely stalled in the state legislature. And even i Democrats were to pass this home rule petition,it only caps rent increases at around 10% annually, while doing nothing to address already out-o-control current prices. Wu’s other programs, including more affordable units in new buildings and expanded public housing may help, but have yet to bear much fruit. In either case, they fail to challenge the fundamental issue at the heart of Boston’s housing crisis: as long as homes are a vector for profit-making, these issues will continue. 

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Public Funds, Private Profits: How Grand Rapids is Building a New Soccer Stadium

It looks like Grand Rapids is getting a new soccer stadium. At least that’s the plan of Grand Action 2.0, a city development group helmed by DeVos, a Van Andel, and a president at 5/3 Bank. This new stadium, which will have the capacity for up to 8,500 visitors, will be funded mainly through public funds and a tax hike, with the vague promise that it will pay for itself some time in the next 30 years. 

The stadium will be built on a 7 acre plot of land just outside of downtown in West Grand Rapids. With that much space, the city could build around 1,000 much needed housing units, but with the addition of a stadium that number is reduced by half. Grand Action 2.0 is claiming that their stadium will “unlock the potential for 500 to 550 future housing units in the immediate area.” This allows them to present the false idea that the construction of this new housing is conditioned on whether the stadium gets built. All this, in the midst of Grand Rapids’ clear housing crisis with a need for 14,106 housing units by 2027, is a risky move.

Concept art for proposed soccer stadium

The most important thing to note about this project is that a large percentage of its cost will be covered by public funds, around 65%, or 115 million dollars for the stadium alone. As of right now, it is unclear how much of the stadium’s net revenue will go directly to replenishing those funds, if any at all. 

Future neighbors of the soccer stadium have also brought up concerns of noise, traffic, parking and a spike in housing costs. So far very little has been done to address these concerns, seemingly showing a further lack of planning from the City Commission and Grand Action 2.0.

One of our core ideals is using our common resources to guarantee the Right to Housing, but the way Grand Action 2.0 has structured this deal is very concerning. Grand Action is very careful throughout their literature to refer to the new apartment units only as potential new housing. Public funds footing so much of the bill proves that at any point our government could fund the construction of social housing, but it chooses not to. 

A new soccer stadium that supports local and youth soccer would be a fantastic addition to the community. We just hope that the city will keep in mind that, right now, affordable housing and keeping public funds for public projects are the actual priorities, and should come before a new soccer stadium drawn up at the whim of billionaires.

The post Public Funds, Private Profits: How Grand Rapids is Building a New Soccer Stadium appeared first on Grand Rapids Democratic Socialists of America.

the logo of Grand Rapids DSA

College Encampments Seek Divestment from Israel’s Genocide of Palestine

Students around the United States have shown incredible principles in the face of genuine threats to their current and future livelihoods. Grand Rapids Democratic Socialists of America fully support their efforts to demand that their schools divest from the profiteering of the ongoing genocide in Palestine.

Police in riot gear stand in front of the sign that reads "Encampment for Gaza! Divest Now!"
photo by Josiah Walker

This last month we’ve seen the next stage of development of the pro-Palestine protests in the form of student encampments on college campuses. Columbia University sparked the movement on April 17th, but it quickly spread across the coast then to the rest of the U.S., including two encampments in Michigan; one at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (which was brutally broken up last week) and the other at Michigan State University in East Lansing (which shut down on May 2nd). The protests have immediately brought backlash from the police and some members of the public, totaling 2,200 arrests in the United States. Others have been quick to note its striking resemblance to the student protests against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, and against the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

One university, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, a trade school in Arcata, California, managed to grow their protest large enough to occupy two of the campus buildings. They held this ground for days before the police swarmed early in the morning to catch them off-guard. The working class background of the students undoubtedly factored into their more militant and successful tactics – the broader American left could benefit greatly from paying close attention to what worked at the Cal Humboldt occupation.

Columbia, UT Texas, and UCLA also had violent police crackdowns, explicitly violating their first amendment right to protest. The police put students in direct danger; one officer even fired their gun at Columbia. In response Joe Biden said “dissent must never lead to disorder,” which is an openly fascist statement to make. Disorder becomes necessary when the “order” is what needs to be changed. Of course, Joe Biden would never renounce the disorder necessitated by the American Revolution.

MLK said it best in his letters from Birmingham Jail: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’

On Saturday, May 4th at the University of Michigan, student protestors interrupted the commencement ceremony. The Guardian covers this in detail – we thought this was a particularly salient point:

Israel has […] destroyed every university in Gaza, in addition to killing at least 5,479 students, 261 teachers and 95 university professors, according to the UN, which has condemned Israel’s actions as “scholasticide”.

Also at the University of Michigan, on May 15th, thirty masked protestors left fake corpses outside the house of the chair of the university’s governing board (Associated Press covers this). Their encampment on the Diag is still up.

One college, Evergreen State College, has had school officials actually reach an agreement with the student protestors. However, when we take a closer look, the agreement is of course vague enough for a university administrator to feel comfortable with – they’ve promised to “work towards divesting from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinian territories,” with no real timeline. The school is notable for being the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, an American activist who was killed in 2003 in Rafah by the Israel Defense Forces. Time will tell if Evergreen State College actually divests. If you would like an exhaustive list of universities that have made compromises with students, you can check that out here.

If you would like to donate to the cause, please consider giving aid to evacuating Palestinians, or to medical aid like Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). Second, if you would like to donate to the student activists, consider doing so here, though do note that bail funds tend to get an overwhelming amount of support. No arrests have been made at the Michigan encampments, so check to see you’re giving to someone who needs the aid.

Where do we go from here? If these protests don’t achieve their goals, what are the movement’s next steps? How can the working class gain the power it needs to demand a ceasefire in Gaza from the ruling class? If you’re interested in answering questions like these, please consider attending a meeting at the Grand Rapids DSA, we’d love to talk to you about how you can get involved.

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