Ben Field is Chief of Staff at the South Bay Labor Council.

50 Years After the March on Washington, Labor Still Leading MLK’s Dream

Ben Field

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, we must ask ourselves, how far have we come? We have worked hard and achieved some important victories, but the honest answer is: not far enough.

Racial inequality persists, and yet across the nation voting rights are under attack. Income inequality is on the rise, and yet state and national government balk. It is a frustrating time to be a progressive.We feel the spirit of Martin Luther King watching with disappointment.

Pension Issues Point out Conservative Hypocrisy

One of the most important property rights issues in recent history has arisen around the country, but conservatives are not taking up the cause. The issue is whether state and local governments can renege on contractual obligations to pay pension benefits earned by public employees when those governments run into financial problems.

To be clear, the issue is not whether state and local governments can change pension benefits for new employees, but whether they can retroactively change benefits for current employees and retirees. In San Jose, for instance, the Mayor and his allies are proposing a measure to lower the cap on the cost of living adjustment for current retirees. Under the plan, the average City retiree, who survives on a meager City pension, could see her fixed income dwindle to the poverty level in a matter of years.

Why Some Politicians Like Bad News

A couple months ago, it came to light that the city of San Jose was overestimating pension costs for the coming fiscal year by more than $50 million.  Last week, a report by City Manager Debra Figone revealed that the reserve set aside for next year’s budget shortfall had grown to $22 million, which reduces the deficit to just $3 million, but she and Mayor Chuck Reed continue to represent the shortfall as $25 million. Then on Wednesday, NBC Bay Area investigative reporters showed that the Mayor and others had overstated the city’s projected pension costs by $250 million.

The Rebirth of Economic Justice

Is it time for a great coming together of the movement for racial justice and the movement for economic justice? During the Civil Rights era, the political agenda of the Left began to divide. Young, liberal activists and people of color gravitated toward a racial justice agenda while more traditional Democrats clung to a New Deal agenda focused on economic justice. As the racial justice agenda became dominant, the economic justice agenda lost support. We may now be at a historical turning point because of growing concern about economic inequality.

The chasm between rich and poor has surpassed race and immigration as the most important source of societal tension. According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, two thirds of Americans believe there are “strong conflicts” between the rich and poor. That number has increased 50 percent since the 2009 survey.

Cannibalism on the Left

in the online newsletter Counterpunch, “long time unionist” Alberto Ruiz attacks the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity Center, whose mission is to strengthen unions in countries like Colombia, as an “imperialist organization.” Pointing to a half dozen WikiLeaks cables that document meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Ruiz claims that Solidarity Center staff are working to undermine the very unions they are supposed to support.

After reading the WikiLeaks cables, a very different picture emerges. The reality is that Solidarity Center staff meet with Embassy officials in order to draw U.S. government attention to the dangers facing unionists in Colombia. There have been 2,837 murders of union members since 1986. The murderers are paramilitary assassins, who avoid prosecution 96% of the time. Colombia is the most dangerous country to be a unionist. That is exactly why the Solidarity Center is active there.