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A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Faith without deeds?

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, March 23, 24 or 25

This Saturday is Annunciation, when Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans and other Christians mark the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she’d conceive and give birth to Jesus: hope rewarded.

Yet, as I was saying the Rosary while walking the dog at dawn, hopelessness struck me. From human behavior – mine, too – it's hard to believe most people truly believe in God. That increasingly seems true, whether Christian or other faiths, Trump fan or Clinton voter, politician or Teamster, senior or adolescent, rural or urban, male or female, transgender or those who revile them ...

We just don't “walk the walk,” and often don't even try. There’s mercy for failed attempts, but attempting is key, I believe.

Friend Dennis McCowan said, “As a PK [Preacher’s Kid], I grew up in the church and witnessed both the good and the bad (hypocrisy). Today, I find the fundamentalist and evangelical movements only preach, do not practice. Most do not know or understand Scripture ... only using select passages to support their selfish, greedy rhetoric. This is more political and corporate than theological.”

How did this happen? And how do we believe? Apostles heard the Word first-hand, of course, so everyone else relies on Something Else: a moving experience, perhaps, or what we read or what we see in others.

“Despite the lack of worldly proof,” writes Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, “we sense in a very deep way that it is true.”

There’s free will, so I feel that I choose to believe, and to accept the mysteries. But doubt persists (especially with what we see) and hopelessness.

A Lenten reading from writer Melissa Gillie says, “We keep resisting God even after we are convinced that His way is the best way.”

So: There are “Believers.” But it’s not the same as when we believe nurturing kids is good or taking laptops into the shower is bad; not even like believing in gravity so things fall and the Moon landing happened, so humanity is capable of great things.

It’s believing love is real, too.

Great examples of love are in the Beatitudes, a favorite, but there’s also the Book of James, a nice blend of reassurance and scold. From James’ second chapter: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? … Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead … A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

It might be summed up as “Talk’s cheap. What are you doing?” In today’s saber-rattling on the one hand and abandoning the needy on the other, I’m teetering on spiritual despondency. Some would say individuals don't need government to do good works, which is true. However, people working together can usually achieve things more efficiently, whether through a civic organization or government. There's a grace in such mutual efforts, whether it's a Mass or a barn-raising.

This isn’t exactly a crisis of faith for me, but it's troubling.

Author Patrick Reardon (“Faith Stripped to Its Essence”), writes, “Faith is a mystery. Faith gives meaning as well as a moral and ethical framework to our lives. [But] action is faith made visible. We are called to stand up for our faith and to do whatever possible to ease suffering.”

Then guilt can occur, and there’s the sense of being in “Wayne’s World,” crying, “We’re not worthy!” Tithing and donating food and clothes, and even participating in a mission to Haiti seem as inadequate as negative attitudes against the poor, elderly, foreigners, etc. seem inappropriate.

Can we do more? Of course.

Shall we do something? Hopefully.

[PICTURED: Poster art from Pinterest.]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Government moves to suppress dissent

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 20, 21 or 22

In recent months, President Trump issued an executive order and Republican lawmakers in 19 states starting considering legislation to curb demonstrations in what civil liberties experts call “an attack on protest rights.” If passed, such measures could affect lawful picket lines by unionists, Tea Partiers, conservationists or anti-abortion crusaders as well as mass marches about other issues.

The executive order would “develop strategies led by the Department of Justice … to further enhance the protection and safety of federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers.” However, it actually aims at Americans protesting at Standing Rock, or over police shootings of unarmed people, or about Trump’s travel ban. In that sense, it’s similar to the notorious COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover used against African-American and anti-war activists in the 1960s, according to attorney Flint Taylor, who represented the families of Peorian Mark Clark and Chicagoan Fred Hampton in the Black Panthers’ killings by police.

“This order is designed to criminalize and quash dissent,” Taylor said. “The next target after those who practice civil disobedience may well be the millions who have been taking to the streets.”

Meanwhile, some states’ legislators would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who hit protesters with their vehicles, and, in Arizona, seize assets from people participating in protests that result in property damage or violence.

In a related development, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) this month demanded current FBI Director James Comey explain why the FBI is treating some people protesting the Dakota Access pipeline like terrorists.

“I am concerned that the reported questioning of political activities by one of the FBI’s terrorism task forces threatens to chill constitutionally protected conduct and speech,” Franken wrote.

Dissent is the nation’s heritage, of course, and the First Amendment still protects – for now – the rights to assemble and to push for a redress of grievances as well as freedom to worship, freedom of the press and free speech.

Nevertheless, Arizona Republicans claimed people are being paid to riot, and lawmakers want to give police power to arrest anyone involved in a peaceful demonstration that “turns bad” — even before anything happens. (By the way, there’s no evidence for assertions like “paid protestors,” much less allegations such as demonstrators throwing feces at police, according to Traci Yoder, National Lawyers Guild Director of Research and Education.)

Arizona State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro (D-Green Valley) said, “I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard.”

Besides Arizona, states where such measures have been introduced are Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.

None of the proposed legislation has passed, and critics from civil liberties activists to Democratic lawmakers say such laws would be unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has gone out of its way on multiple occasions to point out that streets, sidewalks and public parks are places where [First Amendment] protections are at their most robust,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Rowland told the Washington Post.

It’s not the first time legislatures have tried to muzzle public protests.

“Laws designed to limit or outlaw labor organizing or limit labor rights were common in the late 19th/early 20th century,” said Rowland, who added that after the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation decision, legislators in the Deep South introduced similar bills outlawing Civil Rights organizations, limiting the rights of assembly, and so on, “all in an effort to make Civil Rights organizing more difficult,” Rowland said.

Arizona State Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Phoenix), said that everything that constitutes rioting already is a crime, ranging from inciting to riot, assault and criminal damage to property, and individuals responsible can be prosecuted.

Still, labor and other activists must monitor the trend in order to protect Americans’ right to take action.

“As civil and human rights advocates face the challenges of the new administration, it is imperative to not be demoralized or frightened into ceding the streets in the face of legislative attempts to curb mass protest,” said Yoder. “We must instead continue to organize and to keep a close watch on these bills as they emerge in state and federal legislatures, and to push back at every level.”

[PICTURED: Photo from ACLU.]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Remembering the ‘radical’ Martin Luther King

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, March 16, 17 or 18

The month of March was pivotal for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That month in 1957, he visited Ghana; in 1959 India; in 1964 he met Malcolm X; in 1965 he participated in marches at Selma; in 1968 he led a protest for Memphis sanitation workers, a dispute he supported until his assassination there days later.

So March is an opportune time to appreciate King’s final book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”

Following his May 16, 1967, anti-war speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” the King finished his fifth and last book. In its 50th anniversary, it shows a departure from more than a decade of King’s focusing almost exclusively on race relations.

“America is the richest and most powerful nation in the world,” he said. “There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen, whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer.”

When the book was published five decades ago, about 2 million African-American workers were members of labor unions, King noted. (Today, there are 2.1 million African-American unionists, according to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.) King saw the link and the opportunity. Praising unions like the United Auto Workers, and people such as A. Philip Randolph (longtime leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), King said, “Most unions have mutual interests with us; both can profit in the relationship.

“The labor movement, especially in its earlier days, was one of the few great institutions where a degree of hospitality and mobility was available to Negroes,” he wrote. “When the rest of the nation accepted rank discrimination and prejudice as ordinary and usual – like the rain, to be deplored but accepted as part of Nature – trade unions, particularly the CIO, leveled all barriers to equal membership.

“Negroes, who are almost wholly a working people, cannot be casual toward the union movement,” King continued. “We will find millions of allies who in serving themselves also support us, and on such sound foundations unity and mutual trust and tangible accomplishment will flourish.

“There are undeniably points of friction,” he conceded, “for example, in certain housing and education questions. But the severity of the abrasions is minimized by the more commanding need for cohesion in union organizations.”

“Where Do We Go from Here” clarified that poverty in the United States and worldwide is not caused solely by racism and discrimination. There are millions of poor whites in the United States, King noted – more poor whites than poor blacks.

“If America doesn’t use her vast resource of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she, too, is going to Hell,” King said. “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.”

King was almost wistful as he reflected on a sense of solidarity he’d experienced with a broad coalition of partners.

“After the march to Montgomery, there was a delay at the airport and several thousand demonstrators waited more than five hours, crowding together on the seats, the floors and the stairways of the terminal building,” he wrote. “As I stood with them and saw white and Negro, nuns and priests, ministers and rabbis, labor organizers, lawyers, doctors, housemaids and shop workers brimming with vitality and enjoying a rare comradeship, I knew I was seeing a microcosm of the mankind of the future in this moment of luminous and genuine brotherhood.”

King saw such grassroots unity as preferable – and more effective – than traditional politicking.

“The future of the deep structural changes we seek will not be found in the decaying political machines,” he wrote. “We deceive ourselves if we envision the same combination backing structural changes in the society. [Instead,] it lies in new alliances of Negroes, Puerto Ricans, labor, liberals, certain church and middle-class elements.

“A true alliance is based upon some self-interest of each component group and a common interest into which they merge,” he said. “Equality with whites will not solve the problems with either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a world stricken by poverty and in a universe doomed to extinction by war.”

And he extended an invitation to a new approach to achieve a better world.

“When we have our march, you need to be there,” King said. “You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

If gov’t dislikes ‘tax avoidance,’ change the law

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 13, 14 or 15

In the classic movie “Casablanca,” French Captain Louis Renault is ordered by occupying Nazis to close down Rick’s CafĂ© Americain and contrives an excuse, saying, “I'm shocked – shocked – to find that gambling is going on in here!” as a dealer hands the collaborator his own winnings.

The federal government seems similarly hypocritical as the Senate and a host of agencies look at Caterpillar and hundreds of other multinational corporations based in the United States when they exploit laws and loopholes approved by Congress.

Caterpillar failed to pay taxes on billions of dollars of profits brought home mostly from a Swiss subsidiary, CSARL, thereby failing to follow U.S. financial reporting rules and tax laws, according to a report commissioned by the federal government disclosed by the New York Times last week. That might explain the March 2 raid on Cat’s World Headquarters in Peoria, plus offices in East Peoria and Morton, where agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Commerce Department took part.

However, the practice isn’t unusual. About $2.5 trillion has been held offshore in about 10,000 tax-haven subsidiaries by more than 350 of Fortune-500 companies, according to another report, “Offshore Shell Games 2016,” from the Public Interest Research Group, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, and Citizens for Tax Justice. Companies such as Apple and General Motors, Proctor & Gamble and Wal-Mart did so, as well as 33 companies based in Illinois, including Allstate, ADM, Boeing, Exelon, McDonald’s, Motorola Solutions, Navistar, Sears Holdings, State Farm and Walgreens, says the 58-page report, which notes that among Illinois companies, Cat has the third highest amount of profits held offshore.

Cat has held $17 billion in 69 tax-haven subsidiaries in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Panama and Singapore as well as Switzerland, “Offshore Shell Games 2016” reports.

The government’s interest in Cat’s situation dates to 2014, when a U.S. Senate subcommittee concluded that it cut some $2.4 billion in taxes over about 13 years. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the corporation’s auditor, reportedly helped set up the process in 1999, when almost $8 billion in profits started being moved overseas, writes Dartmouth College accounting professor Leslie Robinson in the government report.

There’s a disconnect when it’s standard practice for multinational corporations to operate differently that individuals or smaller companies.

“Corporate lobbyists and their congressional allies have riddled the U.S. tax code with loopholes and exceptions that enable tax attorneys and corporate accountants to book U.S. earned profits to subsidiaries located in offshore tax haven countries with minimal or no taxes,” “Offshore Shell Games 2016” states.

U.S. companies owe corporate income taxes at a rate of 35 percent on profits earned around the world. However, they’re permitted to defer taxes owed on profits generated offshore until they bring those earnings back to the States, known as repatriation. Once they do, they generally owe federal income taxes, with credit for any income taxes they paid overseas.

“Many U.S. companies game this system by using loopholes that allow them to disguise profits earned in the U.S. as ‘foreign’ profits earned by subsidiaries in a tax haven,” the independent report says.

Cat’s defended the strategy as lawful, but the IRS is already seeking $2 billion in taxes and penalties, which Cat is appealing, and no charges have been filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois.

But inside the company, some objected to the practice. Daniel Schlicksup in 2009 filed suit and accused Caterpillar of breaking the law and misleading stockholders. (The case was reportedly settled out of court.) And last month, shareholder Judy Pill sued, accusing Cat of violating its “fiduciary duties.”

Lawyers say corporations’ fiduciary responsibilities include Obedience to officers and directors’ duties, Loyalty to the corporation and its shareholder, Diligence in acting in the interests of the corporation, Disclosure to shareholders, officers and directors, and Fair dealing in good faith and honesty.

Robinson’s report says Cat engaged in tax and accounting fraud.

“I believe that the company’s noncompliance with these rules was deliberate and primarily with the intention of maintaining a higher share price,” she writes. “These actions were fraudulent rather than negligent.”

Congress could restores fairness by ending incentives to shift profits and jobs offshore, increasing transparency, and closing loopholes.

“Corporate tax avoidance is not inevitable,” the independent report says. “Congress could act tomorrow. By failing to take action, our elected officials tacitly approve the fact that when corporations don’t pay what they owe, ordinary Americans inevitably must make up the difference.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Don’t whine. Organize

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, March 9, 10 or 11

In 1915, songwriter and itinerant worker Joe Hill was a 36-year-old labor activist condemned to die for a murder after a controversial trial in which his credible alibi wasn’t even introduced, when he sent a telegram to union leader Bill Haywood saying, “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize.”

Over the decades, that’s been shortened to “Don’t mourn. Organize!” (Hill followed that telegram with another wire asking Haywood to “have my body hauled to the state line to be buried. I don't want to be found dead in Utah.”)

Ironically today, people who need to organize the most may feel indifferent or overwhelmed by a perceived complexity, and such apathy or ignorance can prove to be self-defeating no matter what’s tried.

So it’s good news to see the feisty Labor Notes – a 37-year-old media and organizing project based in Detroit – launch a free, online course to help overcome the “I don’t know and I don’t care” mindset that holds people back. Titled “Beating Apathy,” the informative program couldn’t be timelier when anti-worker sentiment in the country grows like a tumor, and when anti-union forces control all three branches of the federal government.

Personally, I didn’t realize my own ignorance and intimidation until years after my first run-in with an employer who broke labor law. I was a “bag boy” in a supermarket in the mid-1960s when a fellow employee was getting preferential treatment that forced the rest of us to work harder, longer, in less safe circumstances and for less money than our peer. So several bag boys, cashiers and other grocery workers – not unionized – met, listed a few complaints we had about working conditions and hours, and approached one of the store’s co-owners.

I was nervous but outwardly calm, sharing our concerns. We had no demands or even suggestions; we figured he would listen and respond with ideas.

He did. He nodded and then fired us all.

I’d never heard of the National Labor Relations Board, the United Food & Commercial Workers union, or what – years later – I learned was Americans’ right to engage in “concerted activity.”

The National Labor Relations Board says, “Protected concerted activity gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away. These rights were written into the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act and have been upheld in numerous decisions by appellate courts and by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

I was in a college study group when I ran across the concept and reacted like Johnny Carson, musing, “I did not KNOW that.”

A decade or so later, after bargaining contracts and becoming a full-time union rep in San Diego, such ignorance was obvious in a membership meeting during a protracted stalemate with a newspaper owner. During a discussion about expanding the bargaining unit from the newsroom and distribution department into advertising, a sympathetic salesman said, “You get a good contract and we’ll organize.”

A veteran copy editor stood and quieted the room.

“Wait,” she said. “You’ve got it backward. We have to organize first. THEN we can negotiate a contract.”

Thanks to Labor Notes, organizing becomes not just understandable but achievable, showing how to fight back where you work and win. A step-by-step guide to building power on the job, “Beating Apathy” covers dozens of tips from Labor Notes’ popular book, “Secrets of a Successful Organizer,” using real-life examples, practical suggestions, and hands-on exercises to help apply the insights and know-how of generations of organizers.

Its eight downloadable lessons teach how to identify issues in your workplace, build campaigns to address them, anticipate management’s tricks and traps, and inspire co-workers to stand together despite fear.

Specifically, the eight lessons are: “How to Get Unstuck” (Do you ever feel like your co-workers don't care?); “How An Organizer Talks ... and Listens” (It all starts with one-on-one conversations); “Assemble Your Dream Team” (To build power you must understand who does what where); “Choose Your Battles” (What makes a good issue to organize around?); “Swing into Action” (Start pushing management to address your goal); “Expect The Unexpected” (How will you cope with backlash and roadblocks?); “Always Be Organizing” (Keep it going beyond a single campaign); and “Putting It All Together” (A real-life case study brings together the secrets).

To start, register online at http://labornotes.org/beatingapathy, after which three lessons will be sent to you, followed by a new lesson every week.

Information can yield awareness and advances, and you’ll never know if you don’t try.

[PICTURED: Illustration from Labor Notes.]

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Fight division with empathy

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 6, 7 or 8

Amid divisive chatter – “enemies!” “America first!!” “fake news!!!” – Americans maybe more than ever need empathy. Empathy is necessary so political and personal decisions are based on facts instead of what we might prefer – for the good of families, communities, societies, the planet and the time ahead.

Empathy is generally understood to be openness to the Other and more, when people identify with, understand and share others’ situations, to “sense the hurt or the pleasure of another,” as psychologist Carl Rogers said, “as if [you] are hurt or pleased.” In the 17th century, philosopher Thomas Hobbes warned of a society “of every man, against every man” and suggested that government might be an effective limit on the impulses of sometimes self-centered humans. A century later, economist Adam Smith was more optimistic, saying that civilization benefits from self-control if people empathize with each other.

Empathy is critical: feeling others’ needs, pains and joys helps individuals and societies hold together, and it helps victims get by and species survive. Empathy can mean disagreements shared in respectful ways, outright teamwork, or discoveries about Others no longer held apart. We may empathize with needy neighbors and struggling co-workers, but also frazzled managers and even a spoiled former rich kid drifting from bullying to authoritarianism. We can care about our fellow citizens, whether victims or villains, participants or witnesses, taxpayers or immigrants, “us” and “them” – Others.

Psychologist William McDougall in the early 1900s said humans’ capacity to empathize is not learned but hard-wired into us. More recently, primatologist Frans de Waal wrote that our distress at the sight of another’s pain is “an impulse over which we exert no control: It grabs us instantaneously, like a reflex.”

We instinctively empathize and feel common ground, in sports or church, with Kiwanis or the VFW, in checkout lines or union meetings. But empathy needs nurturing.

Why? Some see a decline of empathy. Progressive evangelical Christian Jim Wallis in Sojourners said, “Our country has developed a very large empathy deficit [and] the unprecedented toxicity of the rhetoric that came from Donald Trump emboldened many of his supporters to become vile and even violent.”

Further, a University of Michigan study showed that young adults today are not as empathetic as previous generations. Sara Konrath, a researcher at Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, said, "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

The reasons could be the volume and types of data flooding our senses. Konrath said, "The average American now is exposed to three times as much non-work-related information.” Add a hyper-competitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success – arguably promoted by celebrity reality shows – and the results work against empathizing with Others.

A decline in empathy may also include an unconscious acceptance of “social Darwinism,” a cutthroat economic version of naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection that “only the strongest survive,” so … anything goes. Summarized by physician Wes Ulm in Democracy magazine, social Darwinism can reward unscrupulous behavior, equate profits to created wealth, stifle criticism and creativity, treat people like commodities, and promote the short-term over the long-term.

However, Ulm echoes McDougall: “In recent years, work in both the biological and social sciences has indicated that traits like compassion and empathy are elemental to the wiring of animal nervous systems. Our [Social Darwinism] system’s zero-sum adversarialism has reached a disastrous endpoint, suffocated by ideological polarization, fruitless partisan bickering, and the iron grip of moneyed interests.”

Remaining indifferent permits wickedness to flourish, according to British novelist J.K. Rowling.

“Those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters,” said the author of the Harry Potter books. “For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.”

Without empathy, even the well-meaning and well-informed can be cut off from each other, and people are reduced too closely to Hobbes’ dark vision, “where every man is enemy to every man. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture, no knowledge, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

With empathy, there can be civil resistance, progress and a better life.

“Empathy can only be accomplished through the forging of authentic relationships between people of different races, classes, gender, sexual orientations and political views,” Wallis said.

[PICTURED: Graphic from psychology.BINUS university.ac.id]

Sunday, March 5, 2017

After kick-in-the-pants election, labor leader shares concerns, hope

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, March 2, 3 or 4

Stuart Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, representing more than 60,000 workers, and like most labor leaders he’s worried about the future under the new administration.

Unlike too many unionists, however, he’s also hopeful, seeing action, not fear, as the best response.

“I’m concerned that the people around Trump – in his Cabinet, and people within Congress – are going to look at this as an opportunity to remove the labor movement from the political playing field, by trying to decimate us in different ways,” he said in an interview this winter with Hamilton Nolan for The Concourse online magazine, “I don’t know whether or not they will do national ‘Right to Work,’ but there are many other things they can do relating to certifications of unions in workplaces, rolling back workers’ rights, trying to handcuff our ability to operate.”

RWDSU president since 1998, Appelbaum also is a vice-president of the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and of the AFL-CIO. Worldwide, he’s head of the Union Network International Global Commerce (representing 160 unions and 4 million workers) and is an officer with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations. In the broader progressive community, Appelbaum is president of the Jewish Labor Committee, a board member of the Latino Victory Project, and a member of the Democratic National Committee, where he formerly served as Chief House Counsel.

Action is needed on the job and in politics, he said.

“We need to organize, and we also need to find electoral solutions to problems as well,” he said. “We also need to organize people who are already organized within unions. People are often members of a union and don’t feel a real connection to the union. When people organize each other, that’s when we’re going to be able to protect and advance what we’ve achieved over the years. I think that people are now asking themselves questions that they weren’t asking before – it was extraordinary to see the turnout at [the Women’s marches].

“The American labor movement needs to re-envision itself,” he said. “The most successful movements have been when they’ve come up from the ground.”

Further, Appelbuam is upbeat about the possibilities.

“I’m optimistic that we have more of an opportunity now than we ever had before to explain to people why they need to come together. What happened in the election is maybe a kick in the [pants] – that we need to start doing things that we always should have been doing. We took it for granted that people were members of a union, and maybe we didn’t do as much to involve people. We’re one of the largest unions in Alabama. Why? Because we’re very much involved in the workplaces, and with the people, and we’re constantly there. And people understand what’s at stake.

“There are laws that are hostile to unions that are going to become more hostile in this new environment,” he conceded. “Resources are limited. But I think we have new ways of communicating with people, and I think we can overcome those obstacles. We need to really speak out in an affirmative way about why collective action is important.”

Appelbaum stressed that political activism is key to resisting.

“What the Democratic Party needs to do is exactly what the labor movement needs to do, which is to see itself as less of an institution and more of a movement. The party right now is just seen as something that is not relevant to people’s lives. We have to articulate what our vision is for the future. It doesn’t just mean specific policy initiatives, but how it is that we see society coming together. We have to talk about the rights of all people to be treated with dignity and justice and respect.

“This country needs to belong to all,” he continued. “It needs to be inclusive. And that’s not the case right now. We talk about this nation being polarized, but mostly we’re polarized economically. I believe that there has to be a sense that you can’t just be for justice in certain cases without being for justice everywhere.

“The Bernie Sanders campaign – how could that not create optimism for the future?” he said. “Bernie’s message was the right message. Bernie’s message is the message going forward.”

And hearing messages must lead to taking action.

“Speak up,” he said. “The people who marched [after Trump’s Inauguration] spoke up. President Obama told us what we have to do – he told us that we have to become organizers ourselves.”

[PICTURED: Retail union leader Stuart Appelbaum, center, addresses a New York rally for fair wages. Photo from local338.org.]

Thursday, March 2, 2017

D.C. trying to reward and punish religions

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Feb. 27, 28 or March 1

The origin of “topsy-turvy” may be unclear, but it must be where Washington’s current regime was hatched.

As Christianity’s Lenten season starts this week – with devotion to self-denial, repentance and giving – the chaotic actions spewing from the new administration call for discernment, too.

In the New Testament, Matthew 25 quotes Jesus as saying, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

The administration’s upside-down answers involve cutting food stamps for the needy, weakening EPA protections for clean water, building a wall and banning refugees fleeing war and their homes, slashing programs for the poor and seniors, and imprisoning more through “broken-window” and “stop-and-frisk” policies.

With religions, the White House is trying some political sleight-of-hand. However, supposed concerns about religious freedoms are revealed as misdirection when church sanctuary programs are attacked.

The President is offering churches an olive branch, a chance to endorse candidates while keeping their tax breaks. That’s as lousy an idea as Big Banks “socializing” losses but privatizing profits. Still, the White House is promising to repeal a 62-year-old law, a bipartisan measure sponsored by then-Democratic Sen. Lyndon Johnson and signed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. It forbids tax-exempt groups, including churches, from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office” in order to enjoy tax breaks.

The law doesn’t outlaw their free speech. For decades, it’s prohibited charitable groups from financially benefiting from tax breaks if they engage in candidates’ races. It’s merely enforced the bargain the groups made when they applied for tax-exempt status: They get special treatment if they remain neutral on elections; if not, they’re treated like commercial organizations.

Churches and their leaders have always been free to publish election guides, register voters, hold forums for candidates to campaign, and give sermons about subjects important to their faiths, from abortion to travel bans.

If the law’s repealed, churches could turn into Political Action Committees with sacraments, using a colossal loophole to take unrestricted amounts of money from people who’d get tax write-offs even though funds could go to candidates. That compels all taxpayers to underwrite a small group’s politicking.

Besides worsening campaign spending, it’s unpopular: 8 in 10 Americans oppose a repeal, according to a September poll by Lifeway Research, a Nashville religious survey firm – and so do some churches. Amanda Tyler, director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, told the New York Times that repealing the law “would usher our partisan divisions into the pews.”

The draft of the “Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedoms” exempts churches or religious individuals from following laws if they claim some moral objection, a change comparable to a Mississippi law struck down for violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection and Establishment clauses. Meanwhile, last week’s Oval Office increased the threat of deportation, so churches, synagogues and mosques are trying to adjust to rising fears from immigrants and about a government crackdown on sanctuaries.

Historians trace the sanctuary idea to ancient times, when fugitives or even criminals were given immunity if they retreated to churches. It continued in Great Britain and the western hemisphere and got renewed use in the 1980s, when refugees fled Central American wars. People seeking sanctuary are protected but isolated inside, almost a friendly imprisonment.

This isn’t something just happening in California. In Illinois, a Unitarian Universalist ministry at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus, a Methodist church in Humboldt Park and a Presbyterian church in Chicago have sanctuary programs, as do the cities of Chicago, Hoffman Estates and Oak Park. Also declaring their spaces sanctuaries are libraries in Cambridge, Mass., and 23 counties in Iowa.

Some federal authorities say they won’t raid churches, based on a 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo instructing agents to avoid places of worship (along with hospitals and schools.) Nevertheless, sanctuary activists are worried their shelters or protections might have to become like 19th century abolitionists’ Underground Railroad.

It’s uncertain whether the offer of defying laws based on religious conscience will apply to sanctuaries, too.
Regardless, it’s certain that the inside-out approach is as unhinged as the Mad Hatter’s un-birthday tea party in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Or any Tea Party that has a Mad Hatter and March Hare at the table.

[PICTURED: Denver church leaders from Methodists to Mennonites, Baptists to Catholics, Unitarians to Jews are providing sanctuary to those in need. Photo from the UU Church of Cheyenne, Wyo.]