Friday, December 18, 2009

Communist Party Proposal for A People’s Budget for Illinois

Illinois Needs a Second
Federal Stimulus Package

There is a hole in the Illinois State budget over $13 billion deep! Billions of dollars of cuts in human services and state jobs have been announced.

These budget cuts must be stopped! We can not balance the budget at the expense of working families.

The Communist Party calls for taxing the rich to plug the hole in the budget. We also call for a Second Federal Stimulus package to create jobs and help States and Cities. The first stimulus package saved jobs but that money is used up.

Budget Cuts Hurt Human Services:

Libraries are cutting hours and services.
Schools are cutting back on after school and key anti-violence programs.
Loss of State MAP grants for college tuition will force many students to quit college.

CTA and Metra are poised for another round of fare hikes and service cutbacks.

Disabled kids are losing services that help them function.
Help for drug abusers is being slashed.
Shelters for battered spouses are being cut or closed down.
Mental health counseling and services provided by state-funded non-profits are taking a big cut.

Thousands of prisoners are being released early from state prisons to save money. That could be a good thing if they get jobs and the counseling they need. But programs to help ex-offenders are being cut. Parole agents are being laid off. Without services, too many ex-offenders will end up back in prison.

Restore the Budget Cuts !

United we can win.

Thousands in Illinois have rallied, lobbied in Springfield, and demonstrated around the State to restore vital human services. They have formed a broad Coalition of parents, public workers’ unions, and advocates for children, consumers, the disabled, older people, the homeless and more. They deserve the support of every one who cares about the people of Illinois.

The Coalition is demanding a big increase in State taxes to stop the budget cuts and save important human services. But who should be taxed?

Tax the Rich!

Working families cannot afford to pay higher taxes. And the rich pay very little State tax in Illinois. The problem is that the Illinois Constitution limits the State Income tax to a flat rate. Minimum wage earners and corporate CEOs now pay the same rate, 3%.

Still there is a way to raise State taxes without raising the tax on families of four that earn under $70,000!

No Tax Increase on incomes under $70,000.

There is a way to raise State income tax from 3% to 5% without raising taxes for families of four earning less than $70,000 a year. Just raise the personal exemption from $2000 to $6,000 per person. Raising the exemption to $10,000 per person would prevent tax increases for families of four earning under $100,000.

Raise Corporate Tax from 4.8% to 9.6%.

Doubling the corporate income tax would bring in about $2 billion more. Closing tax loopholes would bring in much more. These higher tax rates would bring Illinois about $6 billion more. But $13 billion are needed.
The Federal Government must help us get our economy going again!

We Need a Second Federal Stimulus Package.

Many Illinois State jobs were saved by close to $5 billion from the first federal stimulus package, the Emergency& Reconstruction Act. That money has been used up. Illinois is not alone. Most states and cities are in a budget crisis. A second stimulus package, with focus on creating jobs, is urgently needed.

Communist Party of Illinois, 773-446-9930 For daily news, analysis and opinion:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Warehouse workers file wage theft lawsuit

By Pepe Lozano

Elwood, Ill. - Workers employed by a large staffing agency at a Wal-Mart warehouse here filed a class action lawsuit Dec. 10 alleging that Select-Remedy, the temp agency contracted to staff the warehouse has been shorting wages over the past several years.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, also alleges that the company did not pay time-and-a-half for overtime work.

The workers, who distribute products to stores in the Midwest, say they were paid in split checks to avoid overtime payments. They also claim they were not fully paid for hours worked, a practice known as "wage theft."

The suit, filed under the Illinois Day Labor and Temporary Services Act, targets Select-Remedy, a California-based nationwide temp agency also known as Real Time Staffing Services, Inc. The workers are being represented by the Working Hands legal clinic

In a press release Ruben Bautista, a worker and plaintiff in the suit said, "Wal-Mart is the richest company in the world, but the people who distribute their products are treated like slaves." He continued, "Our suit is against the temp agency, but we hold Wal-Mart responsible for what has happened to us. They control what happens in their warehouse."

Miguel Deniz, another worker said something was wrong when he began to notice he was getting paid fewer hours than he had worked. Deniz said the company was dividing up his work hours into short blocks to avoid both the appearance of his working more than 40 hours a week and the necessity of paying him overtime.

Speaking to a reporter with In These Times, Deniz, a 62-year old veteran day laborer said he almost always never got paid his complete hours of work.

"To avoid paying us 40 hours, they gave us six hours here, six hours there," he said. "Also, if in four days I worked 30 hours, they only paid me for 17 or 18."

Deniz adds he would work for 57 hours and only get paid for 35.

"I think it's unjust that we're not getting paid complete hours for overtime. We're being defrauded," he said during a press conference in front of a Chicago west side Wal-Mart store Dec. 10.

"It's an injustice and an abuse what they are committing against us,"
said Deniz.

Critics say the giant Centerpoint Intermodal Center in Elwood, Ill., where the Wal-Mart warehouse is located made Chicago the distribution capital of the hemisphere.

"Retailers like Wal-Mart take advantage of Chicago's position as a rail and transport hub," said Abraham Mwaura, coordinator of Warehouse Workers for Justice. "They made $3.24 billion last quarter, but they wont even pay their workers what they are owed. We can't allow this in our community."

A Wal-Mart spokesperson has reportedly said the company hired another company to manage its warehouse, which hired the temp agency. Wal-Mart says they work to comply with all labor laws and regulations and they rely on their third-party vendors to do the same.

According to Mark Meinster, board member with Warehouse Workers for Justice, Will County, where the Wal-Mart warehouse is located, has the highest concentration of temp agencies in Illinois on a per capita basis. Speaking to the Bolingbrook Sun, Meinster notes some distribution companies hire temp agencies to avoid paying benefits including health insurance, and vacation and holiday pay.

"We feel that the logistics industry in Will County needs to look at this problem and take responsibility for what's happening in this supply chain," he said. "These could be very good, blue-collar jobs. There's no reason these jobs shouldn't be paying a living wage and shouldn't be providing decent benefits for people."

Meinster points out that violations against the Wal-Mart warehouse workers are not seen everywhere. However they are prevalent in multiple warehouses given that 70 percent of the industry are temporary workers.

It's the law if you work for one employer more than 40 hours a week, they have to pay you time and a half, he said.

Chris Williams, an attorney representing the workers said Select-Remedy is primarily responsible for the alleged wage. Yet Wal-Mart and other big warehouse owners who contract with temp agencies are also ultimately at fault both legally and practically.

Big companies like Wal-Mart pit smaller temp agencies against each other to get the lowest price, he said.

They'll do whatever it takes to drive labor costs down and the only way to make a profit is to cheat the workers, he said.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Joy and inspiration mark Chicago People’s World Bash

By John Bachtell

Chicago – Enjoying great music, food and politics, a full house celebrated the 22nd Annual People’s World Banquet Dec. 6 at the Parthenon Restaurant. Several thousand dollars was raised for the PW Fund Drive from supporters who dug deep despite the hard economic times.

The attendees, a rainbow crowd of labor, community and religious activists, entered the festive room to the sounds of the jazz trio, Lovers in Arms and a running slide show of photos from struggles over the past year.

PW staff writer Pepe Lozano welcomed everyone. Oohs and aahs greeted waiters bearing the house specialty, Saganaki, or flaming cheese.

The program was emceed by Katie Jordan, president of Chicago Coalition for Labor Union Women. She said it was vital for all progressive organizations to share in solidarity and CLUW was excited to be supporting the PW. She said the PW was a unique new source whose voice was needed now more than ever.

Author and labor leader Amy Dean keynoted the event. In introducing her, CPUSA labor secretary Scott Marshall called her work visionary and innovative. Dean recounted how she learned some enduring lessons as a young organizer for the ILGWU working with Rudy Lozano and through the election of Harold Washington as Mayor of Chicago, including the kind of commitment it took to fight for worker’s rights, the need to build grassroots movements and win political power to effect real change.

She noted while electoral coalitions are one thing, governing coalitions are often another. It’s vital that labor and its allies have a say in what policies unfold once their candidates are elected. Dean said much more must be done to build up the movement to ensure the Obama agenda and progressive change is advanced in Congress.

Before the dinner Dean signed copies of her new book, “A New, New Deal: How regional activism can reshape the American Labor Movement” which she co-authored with David Reynolds.

The program was punctuated by a joyful performance of Mescolanza, a new performance group of movement veterans Terry Davis, James Thindwa, Sijisfredo Aviles and Bob Huston who hope to carry multi-cultural social justice song to the picket line, rallies and events. Tim Yeager with his accordion joined them at the end for Solidarity Forever and the International.

For their outstanding contributions to worker’s and social justice, the People’s World also bestowed the Chris Hani-Rudy Lozano award on Dean, the South Austin Coalition, Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (AFT), Campaign for Better Health Care (CBHC) and Carmen Cohn, a long time reader and supporter of the People’s World and rank and file organizer at Resurrection Hospitals.

Jonathan Vanderbrug, Health Care Justice Director for CBHC, the largest coalition of health care activists and consumers in Illinois, drew attention to the historic political juncture the nation finds itself in. He urged everyone to continue pressing his or her elected officials to pass health care reform with the public option. He said a victory was vital for future reforms including in immigration, climate change, financial reform on Wall Street and passage of EFCA.

Accepting the award on behalf of South Austin Coalition (SACCC) was community organizer Elce Redmond who is also a steering committee member of Chicago Jobs with Justice. The SACCC has a distinguished history organizing grassroots actions on the West Side of Chicago against foreclosures, for living wages and worker’s rights. Redmond urged everyone to stick together and to raise the fight for a massive public works jobs program especially for the distressed African American and Latino communities.

Several leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union joined Chicago ACTS – AFT organizers Hugo Hernandez and Thindwa. Hernandez recounted the pioneering union organizing drive of teachers at three Chicago charter schools last spring. In negotiating the new contracts, ACTS is helping close a big wage and benefit gap between teachers at public and privatized schools, and regulating workload for the first time.

The workers at Resurrection Hospitals have been fighting to join AFSCME for seven years. Many have been fired and threatened. But this hasn’t stopped Carmen Cohn, a physical therapist, from participating in the organizing campaign. Cohn described how the workers are being mistreated and just the act of organizing the union has forced some concessions from hospital management.

It was all over too soon. Attendees left the event with stomachs and hearts full.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

EPA Blocks Air Permit for BP Refinery Expansion

Apologies for being a little late in posting this press release from the National Resources Defense Council:

CHICAGO (October 19, 2009) - The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an objection to the operating permit for BP North America’s refinery in Whiting, IN that will require the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to rewrite the permit. The decision is a victory for the citizens and environmental groups who petitioned EPA to object to the permit in August 2008 on the grounds that it did not accurately account for the large increases in dangerous air pollution that would be caused by BP’s expansion of the refinery. The petition was submitted by Environmental Law & Policy Center, Hoosier Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Dunes Council, Sierra Club, Susan Eleuterio and Tom Tsourlis.

BP began a major expansion of the Whiting Refinery in 2008 in order to process dirty Canadian tar sands crude oil at the facility. The expansion would make the refinery the largest refiner of tar sands oil in the U.S. and would increase numerous traditional air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. In addition, the expansion would create approximately as much new global warming pollution as a new 300-400 megawatt coal plant, about a forty percent increase from current refinery levels.

BP’s permit application claimed the expansion would not increase pollution because the company would offset the increased emissions by shutting down some older equipment at the refinery at a later date. But the company failed to take into account many distinct sources of pollution from the refinery, including flares (the large torch-like tower structures that burn excess gases from the refining process) and “fugitive emissions” from leaks and other sources. EPA’s objection requires the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to go back and redo the permit taking these sources into account. In the case of flares, EPA also presented the option of prohibiting all new and increased flaring emissions. This is the first Title V decision from the EPA requiring that these pollution sources be addressed in refinery permits, and stands as important direction-setting for future projects.

“BP needs to come clean about what this expansion really will mean for clean air and public health.” said Meleah Geertsma, Staff Attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “It doesn’t matter whether air pollution comes out of a vent or a flare or a smokestack, it’s all part of the problem and it should all be part of the permit. Today EPA has voiced its agreement with our concerns.”

“EPA recognizes what we’ve been telling BP and the state all along -- this refinery expansion is clearly going to dump additional pollution on the surrounding communities, and the law requires BP to control it,” said Ann Alexander, Senior Attorney for the NRDC. “BP has been playing games with the numbers to try to duck that responsibility, but the jig is up."

“In a struggling economy, Indiana is right to be focused on jobs and economic development, but that growth has to be well-balanced with reducing the harm of noxious air to kids and others vulnerable to air pollution. EPA’s decision is a very positive step in ensuring that Hoosiers in Northwest Indiana share in both economic development and improved environmental quality,” says Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Candidate "loyalty oath" is stain on democracy

By John Bachtell

Candidates for office in Illinois are presented with the option to sign a so-called "loyalty oath" and submit it with their nominating petitions. I was interviewed about this by WBEZ and it appears on the station's political blog:

The "loyalty oath" is a vestige of the McCarthy period and was struck down as unconstitutional by the courts in the 1970s when the CPUSA ran a slate of candidates for state wide office. The state legislature chose to make the oath optional.

Its continued presence suggests something illegal about communists, socialists and others who hold radical views. It suggests they don't believe in democracy and should be held in suspicion as "un-American," and agents of a foreign power and that they have no right to participate in the electoral process.

Once you start suggesting a group has no rights it puts the democratic rights of all on shakey ground.

A complete break needs to be made with this kind of Cold War mentality. For it not only attempts to perpetuate myths about the CPUSA and other socialist groups, to make us illegal, illegitimate, unpatriotic, not part of the democratic process. It also distorts the democratic process for all, denying voters freedom of choice.

The fact that so many candidates willingly sign the "oath" reflects the continued power, although declining, of anti-communist fear tactics. Let us debate the power of ideas and not scare people and candidates. What happened to the "free market place" of ideas? Who's afraid to debate?

The fact is the CPUSA has been a fundamental part of the political process of the United States for 90 years. US socialist traditions stretch back to the 1840's and are deeply embedded in the fabric of our country, in the politics, culture, economics, etc. The CPUSA has made historic contributions to expansion of democracy including workers rights, the organization of the trade union movement; civil rights with involvement in the early Civil Rights movement and the Modern Day Civil Rights movement; basic social guarantees like Social Security and unemployment compensation; etc.

We have fought to not only defend the US constitution (including when it was being shredded during the McCarthy period when communists were jailed for their beliefs), and by extension the state constitution, but to expand and deepen democracy and democratic rights. In fact we have defended the constitution against some of the same right wing nuts who sign the "loyalty oath" and then support calls for curtailing democratic rights - those in the mold of Bush, Cheney, et al.

Our vision for the USA is a profoundly democratic one, radical reforms through a path of greater democracy - both economic and social: the expansion of the Bill of Rights, the curtailing of the economic power of the super wealthy and large corporations, the development of grassroots economic and social democracy, the expansion of democratic participation by taking money out of politics, the restructuring of the economy in a way that serves the overwhelming majority of people, not the elites.

How about a "loyalty oath" to defend the rights of workers, to oppose all forms of discrimination, to live free of economic and social fear in a clean environment. Now that's an oath I could sign!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Federal aid urgently needed to avoid state budget catastrophe

By John Bachtell
CHICAGO – Looming behind the 17 million jobless tsunami hitting the country is another disaster: over $180 billion in accumulated budget deficits set to devastate state governments, according to a new study by the Pew Center for the States.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says in addition, city and town governments are expected to have deficits of $100 billion over the next two years.

This threatens a calamity like the one playing out in California. Many states face horrendous cuts to education, health care, mass transit and other human service programs, skyrocketing taxes and fees, that will severely slow any economic recovery.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future notes, “And even if we avoid another downturn, the job picture will get worse. Crippling state deficits—over $260 billion over two years—will force layoffs that cost an estimated 900,000 jobs next year if nothing is done.”

Illinois is listed among the top ten states in “fiscal peril” according to the Pew report. These states are confronted with the worst combination of foreclosure rates, unemployment, state revenue losses, and budget gaps. Illinois is struggling with a staggering $13.8 billion budget gap that seems to grow by the day.

In addition the state pension system is in debt by $35 billion because the state doesn’t have the money. This has nothing to do with “lavish” public employee pensions, as Republicans, right wing and big business think tanks assert. Public employee pensions are in line with and in some cases lower than the private sector.

The Illinois state budget crisis is deepening because of growing joblessness, but has been compounded by decades of under funding of education, health care and human services. A regressive, flat, state income tax structure imposed by the state constitution, has forced the state to rely heavily on property taxes.

Earlier this year the legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn cut $2 billion in preschool, after-school and mental health and other human service programs, laid-off 2,500 state workers and left thousands of other positions unfilled. This has wreaked havoc across the state, with scores of programs curtailed and shuttered.

Illinois State Board of Education Chair Jesse Ruiz warned if the state doesn't generate new revenue for schools next year, "we fall off the cliff."

The only way out of this crisis is through public jobs creation, a massive infusion of federal money to fund education and health care and a progressive restructuring of the state tax system.

Governor Pat Quinn proposed a progressive income tax, which died in the Democratic controlled state legislature this past spring. Under intense public pressure, the state senate passed HB 174 that would raise revenues by altering the tax code. Powerful interests and a fear of raising taxes going into an election year blocked the bill from coming up the House.

The Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC), made up of some public sector unions and a broad range of human service organizations that represent and serve millions of residents has sounded the alarm about the urgency of the situation and the need for massive new revenues.

The RBC supports passage of HB 174 that raises income taxes from 3% to 5% and corporate taxes from 4.8% to 5%. The bill increases the earned income tax credit $1,000 to protect lower income families. It provides some property tax relief but imposes a sales tax on previously untaxed services.

Additionally, HB 174 also directs a greater portion of funding into a Common Schools Account, to overcome the historic inequality between school districts across the state.

While the bill does offer some protections, many working families would still have to pay higher taxes at a time their budgets are being strained with increases in taxes and fees on a local level. A family of four at the median income of $56,000 and median property taxes of $3,300 would pay $600 more in taxes.

The bill’s supporters argue Illinois taxpayers are among the lowest taxed compared to residents in surrounding states. But in a column run on the Galesburg Register Mail website, Judith Guenseth of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) notes, “Add to this the regressive nature of consumption and property taxes and the total picture means that compared to six neighboring Midwestern states, Illinois ranks second with the highest tax burden on the bottom 20 percent of Illinoisans.”

Polls show voters strongly oppose higher taxes. However broad public support could be garnered if the bill were amended to totally protect families with incomes under $200,000 and increase the taxes on the wealthy and big corporations.

Comptroller Dan Hynes has proposed maintaining a 3% rate on taxpayers below $200,000 and increasing by 3.5% to 7% taxes on incomes for the top 3% of income earners. This change would require a constitutional amendment.

The Institute for Taxation and Policy suggests combining both Quinn’s original proposal and Hynes super rich tax surcharge as the path to a progressive tax system. They also argue that taxing working families will remove additional purchasing power from the state economy, slowing the economic recovery.

If HB 174 passes it would raise about $6 billion in revenues, still leaving a gap of nearly $8 billion.

On Nov. 17, the AFL-CIO and major civil rights organizations announced a five-point plan to pull the country out of the economic crisis. In addition to calling for the government to fund the creation of 2 million public sector jobs, the plan calls for extending more federal aid to the states.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act granted $144 billion in aid to the states mainly through payments to cover Medicaid and education. This is widely regarded as one of the most effective uses of the economic stimulus money. Illinois has been able to pay Medicaid reimbursements to health providers only because it received $2.9 billion in short term aid from the Act.

The EPI calls for extending federal relief from the Act for $150 billion to state and local governments over the next 18 months.

A path out of the economic and state budget crises is needed that doesn’t place additional burdens on working families and moves in the direction of redistributing social wealth more equitably. It will take the massive might of the labor-led people’s movement, small and medium businesses, along with state, city and town governments to win.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fort Hood Victim Celebrated with Drums, Songs and Dance

by Sijisfredo Aviles

On Friday, November 13 about 100 young people, friends and family gathered to celebrate with bomba drums, dance and songs, the life of PVT Francheska "Cheka" Velez one of the thirteen victims of the Fort Hood tragedy. Cheka, the daughter of Juan Velez, a Colombian father and Eileen Velez, a Puerto Rican mother, was a member of Inner City Rhythms. Her friends described her as "full of life and goodness".

Mirelys Rodriguez, program coordinator of the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, thanked the participants who came to the "Baile de Bomba", the Bomba Dance. She told the crowd "we come here to give life to the memory of Cheka who will live in our hearts forever." She called the musicians, dancers and singers as well as the audience to celebrate the life of this young woman who had given her love and goodness to her family and friends. "Let us show our kids that there are options in life. Let us heal through this wonderful music and dance. Bomba has been a form of resistance and resilience." She added, " Cheka loved to hear bomba, so let us join and show the world that we are for life and for togetherness".

At this point Eve, who was the dance coordinator of Inner City Rhytms and her same age, called everyone to begin the festivities in honor of our "baby". Members of various bomba groups began drumming, singing and dancing to the sound and everyone joined in clapping and swaying, including children who played drums, sang and danced.

While the celebration continued, home made cup cakes, prepared by Jessica Albino were offered and water bottles were sold to establish a fund for her friends to create a mural in honor of Cheka.

After two hours of continued celebration, a period of remembrance began when the public was presented with a bomba song whose refrain stated: "Ahi esta mi nena Cheka, bailando la rica bomba, ella flota de nube en nube con su sonrisa bella" (There's my baby Cheka, dancing the rich bomba, she floats from cloud to cloud with her beautiful smile.)

Sasha Ramos, a close friend, presented a video of Cheka's life from baby hood until she joined the armed forces.

While group was remembering and celebrating, her parents were in Fort Hood waiting for the armed forces to release her body so that they could return her Monday to her friends and family in Chicago.

She was laid to rest Thursday, November19, but some who attended the burial were saying that they felt she was looking at them from heaven with that special and beautiful smile.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Health care reform equals jobs, small business owners say

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO - Hundreds of health care reform advocates, union leaders and small business owners rallied outside the Renaissance Hotel here Nov. 17, while America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) held its national Fall Forum inside.

Inside the hotel, eight small business owners from around the country held a press conference, recounting their health care horror stories. They spoke of exorbitant private health insurance costs that force them to choose between the growth of their livelihoods - including keeping and expanding jobs - and their ability to afford necessary health care for themselves and their employees. After the press conference the group joined the hundreds outside.

Kay Forbes-Smith has owned and run an international corporate communications and training firm for 20 years in Indiana. She currently offers group health insurance to her employees, paying half the premiums, but she constantly faces increasing costs that have forced some employees to opt out of the plan. The costs of health care hurt Forbes-Smith's bottom line and her business' ability to competitively attract talented employees.

"As a small business owner we want our employees to have access to healthcare," she said. "But some employees can't afford their half of the insurance premiums, putting themselves and their families at risk."

Forbes-Smith continued, "Small businesses are supposedly the backbone of our country's economy. We just want to do our part but we need significant health care reform to do that," she said.

Rick Poore has run his Nebraska screen print and embroidery business for 15 years doing business nationwide. He is unable to provide insurance to all 33 of his employees, but he still pays more than $61,000 in insurance costs between a group plan for half his full-time employees and subsidizing individual plans. The costs prevent him from investing in the growth of his business to remain competitive in his market.

"Last year I paid over $60,000 in premium costs that could have been better invested in my business," he said. "Every year our benefits seem to be eroding away."

"The current health care system we have is seriously broken and for small businesses like mine, we either have to remain competitive or offer health care to our employees," Poore added. "If it takes a strong public option to fix this problem than so be it."

It's a big lie when insurance companies say reform is a job killer, said Poore. "Health care reform is an economic stimulus and will help us get out of this recession."

Jan Wood and her husband own a martial arts business in Illinois with two part-time employees and other part-time instructors. A family member's pre-existing condition has made coverage unaffordable, thus forcing them to pay almost $24,000 out-of-pocket before their benefits kick in. Their inability to offer coverage has prevented them from hiring full-time sales employees and growing their business.

"The key to bring people out of this recession will be due to the strength of small businesses," said Wood. "Health insurance is both a physical and financial necessity and we want the option of paying a fair price for fair coverage, which will mean a healthy economy for all in this country."

Wendell Potter, ex-CEO of Cigna, joined the small business owners and spoke at the rally. Potter said there is no doubt that AHIP was in Chicago to launch a new wave of lies and fear mongering against any initiatives toward passing health care reform. They just want to make sure Wall Street stays happy rather than ensure the well-being and health of ordinary working citizens.

After a 20-year career in the health insurance industry Potter said he finally left because he did not want to be part of an effort to kill health care legislation from passing in Congress.

Big insurance wants to get lawmakers to vote against the best interests of their constituents, said Potter.

"I could not in good conscience be a part of another campaign to block reform, and I'm here to urge my colleagues to denounce the fear mongering and stop spreading lies," said Potter.

"I ask that they do what's right in their hearts for the citizens of this great country," he said. "It's not to late to turn away and do the right thing." Health care reform might not make us rich but it will let us sleep better at nigh, he added.

Activists at the rally said health care reform advocates and supporters must do whatever it takes to influence lawmakers and view this fight as the most important battle of our lifetime.

A letter on behalf of the small business owners was sent to Karen Ignagni, the president and CEO of AHIP, requesting she meet with them to hear their stories in person prior to the event. Ignagni ignored the request.

"Maybe if Ms. Ignagni heard from small business owners, she would better understand whom she and her colleagues are fighting when they lobby against good, affordable health care and the choice of a public health option," said Richard Kirsch with Health Care for America Now.

AHIP has paid millions of dollars trying to block health care reform, organizers of the event say. AHIP also released a discredited report last month that Time magazine called a "selective, dishonest analysis" and the Associated Press said "uses facts selectively" and is littered with "misleading spin."

"This is a disgrace," said Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, referring to the stories of the small business owners. "Not just today but for the last 20 years the health care system has not benefited working people," he said. "It's driven by profits and what we need to have is a strong public option so we can start to take the profit out of the formula."

Balanoff added, "This fight is not just about health care reform it's about how we are going to reform our entire economy. There has to be a recovery for working people not just for the banks or the fat cats at the top."

Co-Executive Director of Citizen Action/Illinois William McNary fired up the crowd at the end of the rally.

"We need to reaffirm the basic human value that we are responsible for ourselves but we are also responsible for each other - I am my brothers keeper and I am my sisters keeper," he said.

"Let us stand together so we can tell our children and our grandchildren one day that we fought for health care reform and won."

Now let's get to work, he said.

Residents and supporters set up anti-eviction blockade at Cabrini Green

From Chicago Independent Human Rights Council / Anti-Eviction Campaign:

CHICACO-Residents and Supporters Set up Eviction Blockade at Cabrini Green Tenants: Evictions in the midst of bank bail-outs and economic crisis are unacceptable and immoral

When the Cook County Sheriff's Department arrives to evict Cabrini Green resident Lenise Forrest and her family Tuesday morning, they will be confronted and prevented from doing so by residents and supporters from around the city. Lenise Forrest has been a resident of Cabrini Green for 19 years. She has worked in the community for 12 years, including 3 years working for Holsten Development moving residents into the new mixed-income community. Now she is about to be moved out – onto the street.

Both elderly and young women and men will put their bodies between the sheriff and Ms. Forrest's apartment and refuse to allow her and her family to be made homeless. The confrontation will mark the launching of a Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign whose message and goals are summarized as “while the rich get bailed out, we will not allow the poor to be put out.”

Ms. Forrest, who has been called a “model citizen” by Alderman Burnett, was on a payment plan under the previous management for the back rent that she owes. The new management company, however, has been unwilling to accept her payments or to recognize the payment plan, preferring to proceed with an eviction. The eviction is currently being appealed, but the Sheriff's department informed Ms. Forrest that the appeal does not affect their order to evict her and her family this Tuesday.

Drawing inspiration from the recent visit of the South African Anti-Eviction Campaign, residents of Cabrini Green and other communities have decided to form their own Anti-Eviction Campaign to stop economically-motivated evictions, especially given the current economic climate. Following the tactics of South Africa's Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign has pledged to physically block the execution of evictions in order to keep people in their homes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Workers say: Stop Bissell's dirty work

By Pepe Lozano
CHICAGO - Cindy Marble, 40, is a single mother of four who lives in Crest Hill, just southwest of here. For seven months Marble worked at the Elwood, Ill.-based Bissell Homecare warehouse in Will County. On Nov. 5, Marble and several of her co-workers were fired without any warning, after some of them had trained their replacements.

"I was fired because of my decision to go along with the union," Marble said in a phone interview Nov. 12.

On Nov. 11, Marble, her co-workers and supporters picketed in front of the warehouse to protest the firings. They carried signs that read, "Stop Bissell's dirty work."

The Bissell warehouse, managed by Maersk Logistics, opened in January this year and is part of the expanding distribution industry in Chicago's suburbs. It supplies Bissell vacuum cleaners to big box retailers including Kohl's, Wal-Mart and Target.

Marble said she and her co-workers were fired en masse after they filed legal complaints over many violations of state and federal law at the warehouse. In addition the workers notified management last month that they had decided to form a union with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).

There were a lot of unfair conditions, said Marble. The workers had no paid sick days and many of their wages were arbitrarily slashed. And none of them had any say in the matter, she said.

Marble said one of her co-workers was eight months pregnant and no provisions were made for her well-being. She was expected to lift boxes of vacuum cleaners over her head, said Marble.

"So I spoke up for her and the supervisor said she needed to bring in a doctor's note saying she couldn't lift the heavy boxes," Marble said. "It was too much for her." The pregnant woman too was eventually fired.

According to UE the warehouse has been using an unlicensed temporary employment agency, Roadlink Workforce Solutions, that has repeatedly violated many state and federal laws, including paying some workers less than minimum wage. Workers also cite racial discrimination, unpaid wages and threats of retaliation for bringing these issues to management's attention.

The workers have complained that Bissell Homecare, via their management company and temporary employment provider, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs minimum wage; the Day Labor And Temporary Services Act, a state law that regulates temporary employment agencies; the National Labor Relations Act, which governs workers' right to association and organization; and the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race.

The workers and the union say Bissell is to blame because it hired the two firms in the first place.

Bissell says none of its employees work in the warehouse. In a press release Bissell claimed it "is concerned about any allegations of improper labor practices and we have advised Maersk that Bissell expects full compliance with all appropriate legal and safety standards in the workplace." Bissell said the company is going to end its contract with Roadlink, "which is apparently at the root of the dispute that has arisen here."

Abe Mwaura, project coordinator for a workers rights group called Warehouse Workers for Justice, said the workers came to his group for help.

After the workers decided to form a union many of them received threats, he said. The day after the workers told management to recognize their union, two of the leaders were immediately fired, said Mwaura. About half of the others were later let go, he said.

Mwaura said that by the end of the month a total of 65 workers will be left without a job, after they train their replacements. As of Nov. 12, 20 of them had been let go, he said.

"It's very clear to us and the workers this was an act of retaliation for blowing the whistle on the many violations of the law," said Mwaura. "We feel very strongly all sorts of discrimination issues were going on here," he said.

Mwaura said the workers were in the process of filing for a union election and that 80 percent of the expected and fired workers were in support of forming one with UE.

"We feel that Bissell needs to beheld accountable because it's their vacuum cleaners that these workers are producing," he said. "They are joint employers and they along with the other two agencies are jointly at fault."

Bissell hired these firms, it owns the warehouse and it is jointly at fault for allowing these abuses to go on in its supply chain, said Mwaura.

"We want them to follow the law and put these people back to work. These are workers who built the wealth of this multinational company," he said. For them to take no responsibility is unacceptable, said Mwaura. Labor laws were violated, workers were fired with no warning and none of this is legal, he said.

As the holiday season approaches, Marble said she worries about her children at home.

She said she could understand that Bissell thought things were fine at the warehouse. But now that they know what's really going on, they need to be held responsible and take positive steps to correct the problem.

"Their families are not better than ours. We just want to be able to work, make decent wages and provide for our families," she said. "We want the same things they want. We're not beneath them."

Marble hopes Bissell will pressure Maersk to abide by the law and reinstate her and her co-workers.

"We just want to go back to work and be treated with respect without being harassed," said Marble. "That's all we're looking for - some justice."

Photo: Cindy Marble stands in front of the warehouse as a truck arrives to pick up vacuum cleaners. (

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Illinois graduate employees move towards strike

By Damien Mathew

CHAMPAIGN - The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been engaged in a hard fought struggle to establish adequate compensation for its members. GEO, local 6300 of the Illinois Federation of Teachers/AFT, represents nearly 2,700 teaching and graduate Assistants at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Members of GEO teach nearly a quarter of the total course load at the University and nearly half of the lower-level undergraduate courses are solely directed by graduate TAs. Yet, many graduate employees are compensated below a level that even the University considers a "living wage." The union has been in contract negotiations with the administration since April, and its members have been working without a contract since August 15th.

Demands for adequate compensation by the union have been thwarted by an administration clearly unwilling to acknowledge and compensate employees who are vital to the University's mission. In light of these frustrations, the GEO membership has voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The vote began on the evening of November 4th following a standing-room-only general membership meeting that overflowed the hall. The results of the vote were announced on the 9th, with 92% of membership voting in favor of the strike authorization. Numerous letters of support and statements of solidarity have been issued from various academic units within the University as well as from campus organizations. GEO public relations officer Peter Campbell called the results "a clear mandate to call a strike at any time." Indicating the GEO's desire to come to a reasonable settlement in contract negotiations, Campbell noted, "We've sent a letter asking the administration to meet this week. We are interested in resolving this through negotiation."

At the general membership meeting, GEO members resoundingly rejected the administration's recent proposal of a $600/ year raise for the lowest paid employees that would be realized over three years. The administration's proposal also included language that would allow the furlough of graduate employees. An earlier version of the administration's proposal had even called for "pay in kind", where housing and meal vouchers would be used as compensation rather than salaries. Such pay in kind harkens to the practice of employers issuing "company scrip" to workers, which could only be used to purchase products from the company-owned stores. GEO has proposed language that would protect the past practice of tuition waivers for graduate employees, however the administration did not include any such language in their proposal. Tuition waivers are more than simply a benefit to graduate employees. They make advanced education accessible to students who would otherwise lack the means to afford such opportunities.

The U of I administration has a history of corruption, the revelation of which has led to the recent resignations of both its president as well as the chancellor of the university system. Mysterious "discretionary funds" have been tapped for scholarships to well-connected yet mediocre students as well as for salaries for well-connected newly hired employees. Yet, at the bargaining table the administration claims that no money is available to raise the salaries of the lowest paid graduate employees to a living wage. The minimum salary for a TA or GA is $13,430, yet the U of I Office of Student Financial Aid lists a figure just over $16,000 as the minimum annual cost of living for a graduate student. "The administration is taking advantage of the economic crisis to argue that they don't have the money to provide grad employees with a living wage, and they'd be happy to use that argument for all of their lower-paid workers, but it really doesn't hold water," said Campbell. Campbell cited the latest projections for the U of I budget which is slated to increase by 1.1% from the previous year. In fact, for the 2009 fiscal year, revenues from tuition increased by 14.5%. Even in light of the recession, private donations to the university increased 2.6% and income from the university's endowment increased by 5% from the previous fiscal year. The GEO's demands for a living wage would constitute only a fraction of one percent of the total budget.

Arab American Action Network Defends Arabs and Muslims from Illinois GOP Attacks

Issued by AAAN:

The Arab American Action Network (AAAN) denounces a recent Illinois Republican Party press release attacking the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) for its longtime partnership with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). As a member of ICIRR, which works with multiethnic communities against hate and discrimination, the AAAN is deeply troubled by the baseless accusations the Illinois GOP has leveled against a fellow coalition member.

Since 2004, CAIR has been widely respected for its civil rights work by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Unlike what the Illinois GOP alleges, CAIR has time and time again condemned all forms of discrimination and violence, regardless of the perpetrator. And unlike what this smear campaign implies, Arab and Muslim organizations have worked closely with U.S. elected officials, law enforcement, and other organizations to promote peace, justice, and mutual understanding. Illinois Republicans want people to believe that CAIR was alone in rallying against the Israeli massacre of over a thousand innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza earlier this year, but the reality is that there was widespread condemnation across the globe for Israel's actions; for the Illinois GOP to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate dissent with accusations of anti-Semitism is unconscionable.

The AAAN joins its friends and colleagues at ICIRR and CAIR, calling upon the Illinois Republican Party to concern itself with real issues, especially comprehensive immigration reform, and stop engaging in misinformed and hateful attacks.

Contact Hatem Abudayyeh at 773-436-6060 for more information.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NAACP Calls for a citizen's police review board

From the Illinois NAACP:

PRESS CONTACTS: Ms. Norma Joseph, President, Rockford NAACP, 815-670-9631

Attorney Don Jackson, President, Illinois State Conference NAACP 309-637-1010637-101009) 637-1010

Rockford, IL - In response to the fatal shooting of Mark Barmore at a church daycare center by Rockford Police on August 24, 2009, Rockford Branch NAACP calls on the Rockford City Council to establish a Citizen’s Police Review Board with subpoena power and the authority to recommend sanctions of an officer for misconduct.

“We want independent credible investigations into use force incidents and accountability for law enforcement officers’ actions,” explains Norma Joseph, President Rockford Branch NAACP.

Hundreds of supporters joined NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous Oct. 3, at Kingdom Authority Church, the site where unarmed Mark Barmore was killed in a shooting by Rockford police officers two months ago. The shooting took place in a church daycare, in full view of children at the center.

“The City of Rockford should also pay for grief counseling to be provided to the preschool children who witnessed the shooting, many of whom are exhibiting signs of post traumatic stress disorder,” Joseph says.

Those gathered for the rally also demanded justice for Barmore and legislation to create Federal use-of-force standards.

“The NAACP’s Washington Bureau has asked the US Department of Justice to launch a full criminal and “pattern and practice” investigation into the Rockford police force which has experienced a rash of police shootings in the past 10 years,” says Attorney Don Jackson, President, Illinois State Conference NAACP.

“In 2007 police used force in three incidents per day, and, in 2008 police used force in 2.6 incidents per day, and, in this same two year period police tasered someone in Rockford every single day. There have been 21 incidents that involve Rockford police officers using deadly force since 1992, nine were fatal,” Joseph says.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

SK Workers Vote to End Strike and Sign Contract

From Teamsters Local 743:

Teamster members voted by a 3 to 1 margin to accept the Company’s contract proposal, which includes health insurance, and return to work.

Teamsters Local 743 union members working at SK Hand Tools had been on strike for over nine weeks due to the company’s unilateral withdrawal of the workers’ health insurance without notice.

“Because we are Teamsters and willing to fight, we’re now the only employees at SK with health insurance. This is something that all Americans should have,” stated Emilio Lunar, SK steward and strike leader.

Non-union workers at SK continue to work without health insurance.

“These brave sisters and brothers stood together on the picket line 24 hours a day and became the voice of workers in the national health care debate. Political pressure from the Governor, several U.S. Congressmen, and US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, along with the informational leafleting at Sears stores, showed SK that the Union was serious in its demands,” stated Local 743 President Richard Berg.

The strike at SK made national news as mechanics and tool dealers from around the country called the company to demand that they bargain fairly with the Union.

Local 743 President Richard Berg will be available for comments and interviews.

SK Hand Tool has been making high quality metal tools in Chicago for 88 years. SK workers have been in contract negotiations for nine months. The company has been in the Teamsters union since 1968. SK Hand Tool currently employs about 70 workers.

Teamsters Local 743 represents 11,000 workers throughout the Chicagoland area working in manufacturing, health care, clerical, food service, warehouse and maintenance industries.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As Chicago hotel walkout vote looms, Congress becomes longest strike

By John Bachtell
Chicago – “This is an embarrassing day for the city of Chicago,” declared Guadalupe Perez a striking Congress Hotel worker at an Oct. 26 action honoring the strike. “This is now the longest hotel strike in US history. For over 6 years the Congress has brought this city down. But we’ll be here for as long as it takes to get justice.”

The Congress Hotel strike officially surpassed the Frontier Hotel strike in Las Vegas that lasted 6 years, 4 months and 10 days and ended Feb. 1, 1998. Workers went on strike after the Congress unilaterally broke with the master agreement between the union and city hotels and imposed a lower wage scale.

“The torch has been passed from one group of heroic workers in our union to another group of heroes,” declared John Wilhelm, Unite Here international president, the union representing the Congress strikers.

Veteran union members of the Frontier strike brought solidarity greetings and praised the strikers for their courage. Joe Daugherty, now president of Unite Here Local 24 in Detroit, told the Congress strikers, “while it’s a long time it’s a short time in the fight for justice.”

“You never know when you will make history,” said Gloria Hernandez (pictured below) of Unite Here Local 165 in Las Vegas. “They know they can’t defeat us when we’re together. This is the only way they’ll respect us. You’re fighting for the future of Chicago and the next generation.”

As strikers, hotel workers and their supporters marked the occasion, others prepared to take a strike vote in response to demands for concessions by big hotel corporations.

Under light rain, hotel workers and their supporters took the “tour of crummy employers” down Michigan Avenue past the Hilton, Blackstone and ended at the Congress Hotel. Union contracts covering over 6000 workers at 30 downtown hotels expired on August 31. Three major hotel corporations employ most: Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood. Workers at five hotels are taking strike votes.

Hitting hard at the greed of hotel owners, Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin said, “we’re not going to settle for standing still, we won’t move back either. We’re only moving forward.”

“Malos, mucho malos, (bad ones, very bad ones)” cried the crowd in reference to the greedy hotels.

The Hilton Hotel is one of the big chains driving concessions. They are using the economic crisis to cut jobs and demand concessions in health care benefits and impose speed up. But when economic times were better they were just as stingy.

“The Hilton is not making this any easier,” said Eddie Simms, a worker at the Hilton Hotel. “Each day I feel like fighting somebody. I know what I have to do and each of us has to fight and not give up.”

Like the Boston Hyatt Hotel, the Hilton wants to subcontract out parts of their operation to lower paid workers. But shop steward Sherry Stevenson said workers are fighting any subcontracting along with the proposal for a five-year contract with no raise for the first 2 years.

The workers led by Unite Here have fought hard to raise wages and benefits in the hospitality industry in Chicago. Average housekeeper wages have risen from $8.83 an hour in 2002 to $14.60 today.

What galls the workers is the hotels are making profits even in the economic downturn. In the last three months, hotel company stocks have soared 20-30%. On Oct. 22, Starwood (which operates some of the hotels taking the strike vote) announced profits of $180 million for the first three quarters of 2009. Evidently, these profits are not big enough for greedy hotel owners, say the workers.

The protesters moved on to the Blackstone Hotel, a landmark that had been closed but was refurbished and re-opened with $47 million of taxpayer money. The hotel showed its gratitude by resisting a union organizing drive and after the union won by refusing to settle on a contract.

The Blackstone fired Renee Walker for her strong union support. “They ‘laid off’12 workers from the Room Service Department,” Walker told the People’s World. “We were the strongest union supporters. They said it was because the economy was bad. Then they had a job fair to hire our replacements and none of us were considered. We were essentially fired.”

Walker and her co-workers have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) against the Blackstone to regain their jobs. “We’re going to continue to fight,” said Walker.

Imelda Martinez embodies the connection between the Congress strike and the fight at the other hotels. Martinez has been on strike at the Congress Hotel and now works at the Sheraton Hotel as a housekeeper, where a strike vote is being taken.

“Right now, two hotels are trying to cut my benefits and my rights. Today more than ever we have to fight. We’ll continue fighting in the path of Cesar Chavez and for wage and benefit justice. I am not afraid.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

CeaseFire to Receive Common Ground Award

From Search for Common Ground:

Search for Common Ground has announced that Chicago-based group CeaseFire will receive a Common Ground Award at a ceremony to be held in Washington DC on October 29th, at the Canadian Embassy. The Common Ground Awards are presented annually to honor outstanding accomplishments in conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation, diplomacy, community building and peacebuilding.

CeaseFire is an antiviolence initiative of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention. Founded by Gary Slutkin, M.D., and based at the University of Illinois’ in the Chicago School of Public Health, CeaseFire treats gun violence as a public health problem and fights it by trying to change both individual and community behavior.

At the heart of CeaseFire’s work is high-risk conflict mediation through outreach workers and ‘violence interrupters’. These streetwise individuals are familiar with gang life, and use their connections to change the attitudes and behaviors of high-risk youth – helping to quell conflicts before they escalate to violence.

CeaseFire works with community-based organizations, local ministers, and community leaders to organize neighborhood marches, rallies, and vigils after shootings, and focuses on street-level outreach, conflict mediation and changing community norms to decrease violence.

Tio Hardiman, Director of CeaseFire Illinois, will be accepting the Common Ground Award on behalf of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention and CeaseFire.

The other 2009 Common Ground Awardees are:

* Congressman John Lewis and Elwin Wilson, for their inspirational reconciliation
after Wilson’s apology for his civil-rights era violence against Lewis.

* Coach Luma Mufleh and the Fugees Family, a soccer team and support system for
refugee boys

* Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, for his unwavering advocacy of peace between Israel and
Palestine, despite losing his three daughters to the conflict.

* Karen Armstrong, for creating the Charter for Compassion.

* Stand by Me (music video) by Playing for Change, an international musical collaboration.

* Ring the Bells (music video) by Melissa Etheridge and Salman Ahmad & Participant Media, a fusion of western rock and sufi devotional singing that calls for unity and change.

These recipients have made significant contributions to bridging divides between people and finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Former Common Ground Awardees include Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, former President Jimmy Carter, former Senator George Mitchell, Muhammad Ali, the New York Philharmonic, Sesame Workshop, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Search for Common Ground is a Washington DC based organization that works internationally to help individuals, communities and countries find nonviolent ways to deal with conflict.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Larry McGurty: a tremendous life

Lawrence “Mac” McGurty passed away Oct. 9 at the age of 93. His life encompassed the major events and movements of the last century, many that he participated in as an activist rather than an observer.

Born in l915 to Estelle Raport McGurty and Edward McGurty in Pittsburgh, Pa., Lawrence’s parents were committed to the struggle for workers’ rights in the early years of the 20th century.

When his mother died at the age of 28, and his father was in a tuberculosis sanatorium, Lawrence was raised by his grandmother and aunt. He was raised as a Catholic, but later left the faith when he became active in industrial unionism during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Lawrence McGurty joined the U.S. Army in 1940 and fought in the Pacific from 1942-1945, being awarded three Bronze Stars. It was during his years of service that he met and married Mildred Davis of Memphis, Tenn. Mildred was the sister of William “Red” Davis, who was also a great fighter unionism, civil rights and peace. Mildred shared these same values. Their daughter, Mary, was born in 1943.

After the war, the McGurty family settled in Memphis. Larry worked on the Mississippi River, as a member of the National Maritime Union until red-baiting ended his and his brother-in-law’s days there. They both continued to work for unionism and racial equality.

In 1951, Lawrence and Mildred were very active in trying to save Willie McGee, an African American man from Mississippi who was to become a victim of legal lynching for the supposed rape of a white woman.

In 1957, Lawrence appeared before HUAC (House Committee on Un American Activities) -- for the second time—hounded for his beliefs and activities. Sen. James Eastland was the head of that particular committee, and the result was that all of Lawrence’s employment opportunities in the South came to an end. At the age of 42, he moved to Chicago, enrolled in college and became a teacher. He taught for 20 years, retiring in l981.

All of those years, he continued to work for union rights and representation, forming a successful teachers’ union chapter, which is still working for the rights of its members.

He and Mildred protested actively against the Vietnam War. He was in the l968 Democratic National Convention protest in Chicago, being tear-gassed in Grant Park with his nephew, Sam Davis.

Mildred passed away in 2001 and Lawrence continued working for the same causes on his own. Their generation has paved the way for the new one, which is working to improve the lives of all Americans in education, jobs and health care.

A memorial to celebrate Lawrence McGurty’s life will be held on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Beverly Unitarian Church, 10244 S Longwood Dr., in Chicago.

[The obit was sent in by his daughter and appears in the Oct. 24 print edition of People's World.

All Americans deserve healthcare

Reprinted with permission of author:

All Americans deserve healthcare. Private insurance companies are not getting the job done. Solving this serious national problem is a legitimate function of government. It requires a public solution.

The effects can be seen locally. For example, workers who retired after 2008 and today from Hamilton Sundstrand (where I work) have no employer-funded healthcare. People who are on indefinite layoff as a result of good Sundstrand jobs being moved out of town will likely suffer the same fate. If the company continues to let the air out of the Rockford plants, more of us will join the growing ranks of the uninsured – estimated at over forty-seven million nationwide.

Surging healthcare costs are already threatening millions of families with bankruptcy and putting others at risk of losing their homes. According to a recent Harvard University study, the medical crises contributes to one-half of all home foreclosures and could put as many as 1.5 million Americans at risk of losing their homes each year.

As layoffs continue, more Americans will lose healthcare benefits. Preventative care for these people will be out of reach. Many more will then be forced to use the most expensive and least efficient venue - hospital emergency rooms.

We need a healthcare system that puts the wellbeing of our families, friends, neighbors – and the USA -- ahead of the dollar. Today, however, a triad of pharmaceutical, hospital and insurance corporations engage in the destructive practice of rationing healthcare for profits.

Take the insurance industry. Its bottom line takes precedence over availability to healthcare. Aetna CEO Ron Williams made this very clear in a July 27 conference call to analysts: “We would be willing to forgo membership growth if necessary. We have a clear bias toward profitability over growth.”

Families USA cited these statistics in March-April ’08: “... 18,000 adults nationwide died in 2000 because they did not have health insurance... 22,000 adults died in '06...

“... Uninsured Americans are sicker, uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely, and Americans between 55 and 64 are at much greater risk of premature death than their insured counterparts. This makes lack of health insurance the third leading cause of death for the near-elderly, following heart disease and cancer.”

Corporate lobbyists are sparing no expense in a mind-bending campaign to steer our legislators away from universal healthcare. They are pitting the insured against the uninsured and the healthy against the sick. They want us to believe that our own democratic form of government is a monster and that private insurance companies will treat us more fairly than any public solution. These are the same companies that get between us and our doctors – the same companies that have made a science out of using words like “pre-existing conditions” or “reasonable and customary” to cancel coverage or deny claims.

Although healthcare is a necessity not a commodity like a TV set, taking on an abusive insurance company or finding affordable insurance is neither fair nor competitive. We need a level playing field for consumers and a competitive alternative to private insurance. Only a public option, which favors healthcare delivery over profitability, can provide these critical components.

Luke 14:13 states plainly: “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.”

We are a nation of great wealth and great promise -- fully capable of providing a healthcare safety net for all Americans. The public option means one more vital choice in the marketplace. That’s why we need it.

Tim Mills

Co-chair, UAW Local 592 Community Action Program (CAP) Committee

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Radical economic and social reforms needed to exit crisis

The latest "official" unemployment reports for Illinois, now at 10.5%, once again demonstrates the need for far broader federal action to stimulate jobs creation. We join the chorus calling for a 2nd economic stimulus and for faster spending of the first federal stimulus.

Official unemployment may be at 10.5% but real unemployment is far higher. Unemployment in African American and Latino communities is over 20% and among African American youth nearly 80-90%, the backdrop to the tragic violence gripping such cities like Chicago.

Many economists believe the total number of unemployed may actually be 26 million Americans. There is no way the private corporate sector can create this many jobs and in any case jobs creation doesn't start from the top but from expanding the purchasing power of working people.

While the 1st stimulus has been a success in boosting economic growth and is projected to save or create 2-3 million jobs, it can't possibly stimulate the economy enough to make up for the remaining 24 million jobs needed.

Many economists are saying this will be a "jobless" economic recovery. Among other factors, the use of new labor saving technology has heavily impacted on the ability of US capitalism to create jobs.

Because Wall Street and Chicago board of trade capital seeks maximum profits, it has flooded over the past years into speculation and away from basic industry and manufacturing. It has tended to be concentrated in far fewer hands. Michael Moore says the top 1% of the population has accumulated wealth equal to the bottom 95%. That would mean in a place like Illinois, only 110,000 families have the wealth of the lower 10.5 million.

This is disgustingly illustrated in the announcement by Wall Street that it would pay out $150 billion in bonuses this year. Wall Street has recovered its profits while Main Street is falling into deeper crisis.

These titans of finance will not invest capital in a productive way that benefits the nation but in a way that benefits themselves. Government intervention that "redistributes" the wealth in the form of jobs creation, passage of EFCA and increase in wages and benefits, health care reform, education funding and aid to the cities and rural communities is urgently needed. These reforms constitute a curb on the power and ability of high finance and the mega transnational corporations to dispose of the nation's wealth.

Therefore a second stimulus package is desperately needed as part of a basic reform of the US economy, focusing on a "green" overhaul of the US infrastructure: building mass transit, re-insulating homes and offices, building new water treatment facilities, cleaning up brown fields and toxic waste dumps, etc.

Other radical measures needed are an immediate bailout of states and cities who are drowning in debt, being forced to slash services, moratorium on all home foreclosures, a cut in the work week with no cut in pay, extension of unemployment benefits to cover the full length of joblessness and to cover first time job seekers like youth entering the job market.

A radical restructuring of the federal and state tax codes is long overdue that corrects the theft that took place during the Reagan years. The tax burden should be restored to the wealthy and large corporations and banks.

This is only the beginning of far reaching changes needed to re-orient the US economy and society toward one that puts people before corporate and bank profits.

Friday, October 16, 2009

‘Fund the MAP, close the gap’

By Jim Dixon
People's Weekly World

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - More than 2,000 college students from across Illinois marched on the state Capitol to demand funding for more than 137,000 students whose Monetary Assistance Program grants were only funded for half the school year. A fearful governor and legislative leaders met Oct. 15 and agreed to pay the grants while stating they did not know where the money would come from in a state that has threatened layoffs of 2,500 workers.

Forty-seven percent of the grant recipients come from families with an annual household income of less than $20,000; another 30% come from families with an annual household income of $20,000 to $40,000.

In addition to serving less students this year with half as much money, there remain more than 150,000 additional financial aid applicants who also sought MAP this year and were turned down.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thousands to converge on bankers convention to demand banks stop lobbying against financial reform

From National Taxpayer Mobilization to Break Bank Greed:

Taxpayers From 20 Cities Headed to American Bankers Association Chicago Conference October 25-27

Banks Using Taxpayer Money to Spend Millions Fighting Reforms that Would Help Prevent Next Financial Crisis

Chicago, IL—In the largest taxpayer mobilization since the economic crisis began, thousands of Americans from 20 cities will converge on the American Bankers Association (ABA) conference in Chicago from October 25 to 27 to demand banks stop spending millions in taxpayer dollars to lobby against reforms that would protect Americans from the next economic crisis.

After taking $17.8 trillion in taxpayer bailouts and backstops, the ABA and the six largest banks have spent more than $35 million fighting Congressional action on financial reform. Meanwhile, ordinary Americans continue to face rising foreclosures, record unemployment, skyrocketing bank and credit card fees, and vanishing pensions and 401(k)s.

From Spokane to Syracuse, ordinary Americans who have lost their jobs, their homes, and their life savings will be boarding buses and planes to demand banks end their overreliance on greed and profits and commit to using their taxpayer bailouts and backstops to help America’s economy recover.

Read a full report on ABA’s actions to lobby against financial reform here.

National Taxpayer Mobilization to Break Bank Greed

October 25, 2009

WHAT: Taxpayers put big banks and Wall Street on trial for breaking their commitments to the American taxpayers.

WHO: Hundreds of taxpayers from across the country who’ve lost their jobs, homes, and retirement security because of the economic crisis, workers, community leaders and allies, and academics.


Hyatt Regency Chicago
151 East Wacker Drive

October 26, 2009

WHAT: Demonstrations around American Bankers Association conference highlighting continued bank greed at the expense of America’s economy.

WHO: More than 1,000 retirees, family farmers, clergy, workers, students, homeowners, and community allies.


October 27, 2009

WHAT: Taxpayer march on American Bankers Association conference to demand banks stop lobbying against needed financial reform.

WHO: More than 5,000 workers, clergy, and community allies and leaders from 20 cities.

WHERE: March begins at 10:30 AM CDT at Intersection of Wacker and Stetson.

Rally at 11:00 AM CDT at the Sheraton Hotel, 301 E. North Water St.

Visit,, or for more details.

Groups participating in the three days of mobilizations include: A New Way Forward, AFL-CIO, Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), Americans for Fairness in Lending, Americans for Financial Reform, ARISE Chicago, Brighten Park Neighborhood Council, Central Illinois Organizing Project (CIOP), Center for Community Change (CCC), Change in Terms, Change to Win, Citizen Action, Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, Communities United for Action (CUFA), Community Voices Heard (CVH), Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), Grassroots Collaborative, Green Party of Nevada, Fuerza Laboral/Power of Workers, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Jobs with Justice, Gender Just Metanoia Centers, Inc., Michigan People's Action (MPA), MoveOn, National People’s Action, Northside Action for Justice, Northside POWER, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, People Organized for West Side Renewal (POWER), PUSH Buffalo, Right to the City Alliance, Rights for All People (RAP), Roomdad Productions, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Illinois State Council, SOUL, South Austin Coalition Community Council (SACCC), Sunflower Community Action, Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN), Teach Our Children (TOC), The Grassroots Collaborate, UE, UCLA Undergraduate Students Association, Workers United, and Working In Neighborhoods (WIN)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Update on state budget cuts: situation dire and getting worse

From the poverty to opportunity blog:

This week it will be 3 months since the state of Illinois passed its budget. As the economy worsens, money dwindles and need for social services increases, the impacts of this budget has become more pronounced. Our office, working collaboratively with the Responsible Budget Coalition has been contacting human service agencies to try and accurately gauge the depths of these cuts across the state. The findings have been clear: the enactment of budget cuts have compounded an already dire situation. Budget cuts, combined with delays in payment and increased demand for services have kept human service organizations scrambling just to keep their doors open. Below we provide a small sample of how these three factors plays out at actual agencies and what they implications they may have.

For full post:

Gutierrez Outlines Core Principles for a New Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

From the office of Cong. Luis Gutierrez:

October 13, 2009

Media Contact: Rebecca Dreilinger (202) 225-8203


(Washington DC) At a rally today on the west lawn of the United States Capitol, U.S. Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) addressed a crowd of thousands who demanded change to our nation's broken immigration system. Rep. Gutierrez' address responded to a recent call from the immigration advocacy community to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Gutierrez has been actively talking to advocacy and civil rights groups, faith-based groups, labor groups and his colleagues on the Hill to identify the most essential components of such a comprehensive bill. Today he outlined some of those core principles.

In a statement, Rep. Gutierrez said:

"We simply cannot wait any longer for a bill that keeps our families together, protects our workers and allows a pathway to legalization for those who have earned it. It is time we had a workable plan making its way through Congress that recognizes the vast contributions of immigrants to this country and that honors the American Dream. I am preparing such a plan, and will introduce it in the near future. It will include the following core principles:"

Pathway to legalization for undocumented workers:

"Immigration reform will not work unless it takes a practical approach to dealing with the 12 million undocumented immigrants living, working, and raising families in the United States. We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you. But if you are here to work hard—if you are here to make a better life for your family—you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship."

"Our immigrants are hardworking, and they are up to the challenge. Give them the opportunity to earn their citizenship, and they will go through the background checks; they will pay their fair share of taxes; and they will learn English. It’s not an easy process, but it is a fair process."

Professional and effective border enforcement:

"We need professional and effective border enforcement. That means 21st century enforcement strategies that both make our nation’s physical and economic security stronger and stay true to our nation’s values. We need to require the federal government to make a real, working partnership with border communities and other stakeholders when designing and executing border enforcement policies."

Smart and humane interior enforcement:
"Inside the country, my plan will promote fair immigration proceedings, humane treatment of immigration detainees and policies that respect the tenets of community policing."

Protecting workers:
"Immigration reform will not work without a strong commitment to America’s labor force. Without it, too many employers will continue to pervert the system. We must expand the labor rights of workers and punish those dishonest employers who continue to exploit immigrants in order to undermine their honest competitors."

Verification systems:

"We must fix the current employment eligibility verification system, not only to protect Americans who are denied the right to work because of errors in the government’s databases, but also to prevent employers who would exploit the system and undermine workers’ rights. A vastly improved verification system is fundamental to reducing illegal immigration."

Family unity as a cornerstone of our immigration system:
"Family is the bedrock of our society, and immigration reform must support strong, united families and treat all immigrant families fairly and equally. Right now, our broken immigration system keeps too many American families apart for years and even decades, when they have done everything legally. We need a system predicated on family values by developing laws that better value families — a system that keeps families strong and, most importantly, keeps husbands and wives, parents and children together."

Future flows of workers:

"Our country attracts the best and brightest and the hardest workers from around the globe. That is a source of strength. But our current employment-based immigration laws are often at odds with the needs of our labor market and our economy. Many of our guest worker programs are badly broken, and they undermine workers’ rights. At the same time, our visa quotas are determined by politics, not by labor and economic need. My plan will create an employment-based visa system that is fair to workers and employers. It will ensure full labor rights for all workers, and it will create a commission to align visa numbers with actual labor market demands and economic needs, not political winds."


"Agriculture plays a fundamental role in our nation’s economy and in securing our nation's food supply. Comprehensive immigration reform must provide an agreement between labor and agribusiness that allows farm workers to access legal protections and immigration status while enabling employers to ensure a legal workforce and stabilize their businesses."


"We all want a country that is better educated, better motivated and better prepared for the future. My plan will strengthen the DREAM Act, making it quicker and easier for students who grew up in America and know no other home to fully participate in our society. Immigrants brought here as children should not be punished with fines or other means; rather, they should be fully integrated into our society as the Americans they truly are—and as quickly as possible."
Promoting immigrant integration:

"For years, state and local governments have taken the lead in helping new immigrants become new Americans. Recent arrivals face many challenges when navigating this process, yet the federal government has done little to help. I plan to recommit federal resources to promoting and assisting immigrant integration. It is about staying true to our nation’s success story of welcoming newcomers and helping them become part of the fabric of America."

"If we are to truly fix any of these critical issues, we must address all of them."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Founded in Chicago: The Young Lords turn 40

By Sijisfredo Aviles

CHICAGO — Community and political activists are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Young Lords, a national youth grassroots group that helped spur a movement for Puerto Rican and Latino community control and empowerment.

Founded in Chicago in 1969 as the Chicago Young Lords Organization (YLO), the group started as a youth gang. Yet under the leadership of a young man, Jose "Cha Cha" Jimenez, it was transformed into a community and political organization.

The Young Lords were part of a historical moment in the U.S. where youth questioned and challenged many decisions of government and experimented with alternatives to deal with issues of civil rights, racism and social justice. These were the times of the anti-Vietnam War movement, Students for Democratic Society, The Black Panther Party, and in Puerto Rico, it was the resistance against the conscription of Puerto Ricans in U.S. wars, getting the ROTC out of the college campuses, the surge of a new movement for Puerto Rican independence and its support of the Cuban Revolution and growing interest in socialism.

While in prison Jimenez read books and articles about the political and organizing ideas of civil and human rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Consequently, he became more interested in reading about Puerto Rican and Latin American struggles and history. Figures and organizations that had major influences on him were Don Pedro Albizu Campos, political and nationalist leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement and Argentinean Ernesto "Che" Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution. Jimenez mentioned Puerto Rican independence fighters Lolita Lebron, Blanca Canales and Juan Antonio Corretjer (who let Jimenez and his wife, Mary Lou Porrata, sleep at his home), along with Movimiento Pro Independencia and the Nationalist Movement.

Later, the Young Lords learned from community people, like Obed Lopez and this author, who opposed the Vietnam War draft.

Fred Hamptom, leader of the Chicago Chapter of The Black Panther, served as an advisor in helping Jimenez structure the new political organization. The survival programs of the Young Lords were modeled after the Black Panthers.

The struggles of the Chicano community of the Southwest also inspired the group. Young Lords leaders took a trip to Denver and met Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales and learned about Cesar Chavez, Reis Lopez Tijerina and the take-over of towns and police stations.

Jimenez was convinced through readings and experience that the problems in the neighborhood were political. He concluded that the real enemies of the community were the city government of then-Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley's administration. Plus, the colonial policy of U.S. government that forced Puerto Rican families to leave their country. He did not consider the gangs to be the main problem.

He convinced gang members that fighting other gangs would not lead to the changes they wanted in their neighborhoods. He worked to declare a truce with other gangs. They agreed to work to change conditions in their neighborhood and challenge the police abuse and Chicago's lack of response to impoverished conditions found in their neighborhood,

In Chicago, the unjust conditions found in the Latino and Black communities led to the 1966 spontaneous revolt in the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park. The revolt served as the impetus for the Puerto Rican community to found independent political activist organizations such as the Spanish Action Committee and the Latin American Defense Organization, and influenced the development of Young Lords Organization.

Before 1966, most Puerto Ricans participated in social clubs where people from the same towns met, celebrated family activities and holidays, listened to music, danced and played dominoes. There was a failed attempt to organize a structure to bring these groups together under El Congress Puertorriqueno. The Caballeros de San Juan, a Catholic organization led by priests and nuns, involved community members in civic affairs and its members helped to form a credit union that continues to serve the community as a subsidiary of Credit Union 1. Politically, the Democratic Party mobilized the community to come out and vote for party candidates.

The Young Lords organized and mobilized around issues that affected them immediately: police harassment; substandard housing and government urban renewal projects that moved their families from their neighborhoods to other slum and blighted areas; lack of childcare, health services, employment and educational opportunities. The Young Lords challenged the domestic policy and the political and social structures that generated such conditions. The challenge put them face to face against city government, its departments and agencies and brought the ire of Daley.

The Young Lords confronted racism, a force that demeans an individual and community through negative stereotyping. It's a force that can destroy people as well. In this case Puerto Ricans were stereotyped as being lazy, stupid and dumb, as in the phrase commonly used in the 1960s "dumb Puerto Ricans."

But the Young Lords researched and discovered Puerto Rican and Latin American heritage, culture and history. The symbols, struggles and heroes of Puerto Rican and Latin American heritage became interwoven into their call for justice, not only in their communities but also in Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America.

They also challenged U.S. imperialism in the world, especially aggression toward Cuba and Chile. Independence for Puerto Rico became an important call for mobilizing the community tying political power and self determination in urban communities with the island's independence and the struggles for social justice.

Many members of the Puerto Rican community and the Young Lords charge that J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO, an acronym for a series of covert, and often illegal projects conducted by the FBI, placed spies in the YLO to destroy it.

The legacy of the Young Lords continues to inspire youth of the need to organize at the grassroots, independently of the two major political parties. The legacy inspires many to contribute to the ongoing struggle for better social services, universal health care, workers rights, independence of Puerto Rico and an end to U.S. military aggression and corporate domination in Latin America and the world.

Photo of Jose "Cha Cha" Jimenez is used through Creative Commons,

Book Review: American Communism at its grassroots, 1928-1935

From the Platypus Affiliated Society Website:

by Ashley Weger

“It was not the economics of Communism, nor the great power of trade unions, nor the excitement of underground politics that claimed me; my attention was caught by the similarity of workers in other lands, by the possibility of uniting scattered but kindred peoples into a whole.”
— Richard Wright, Black Boy

Red Chicago: American Communism at Its Grassroots, 1928-35.

RANDI STORCH’S RED CHICAGO takes to task prevailing caricatures of American Communism during the so-called “Third Period” of the late twenties and early thirties, a period in the history of American Communism frequently criticized for its growing ideological rigidity, its organizational Stalinization, and its ultimate failure to revitalize the flagging world revolution and to check the threat of fascism. Against such views, Storch argues historians have been unfair to the early Chicago Communists, falsely constructing them either as mannequins manipulated by Soviet puppeteers, or else as heroic defenders of the city’s working class, a collection of hyper-romantic organic radicals whose every breath stood in defiance of both employers and the party itself. Storch, whose political imagination is less that of a historian than an anthropologist, attempts to resist these tendencies by uncovering the stories, personalities, and politics of Chicago’s Communists with more nuances in mind than the usual Stalinist, anti-communist, or anti-Stalinist histories. In place of the old preoccupations, Storch proposes parallel analyses of Soviet policy during the Third Period and local stories and practices of party organizers, members, and affiliates. In so doing, Storch postulates that party leaders, youth organizers, workers, and intellectuals each wished to paint the town red, albeit with different hues. Posing an inquiry as to how and why Chicago Communists’ crimsons, corals, roses, and maroons maintained their distinct character as part of a red Chicago offers an opportunity to interact with the fractures and complexities Communist politics assumed in its turn towards Stalinism.

In one sense, the combination offers insight into “the period’s broader social and political context and calls attention to the social, political, economic, and cultural forces that shaped American working-class life from the 1920s through the mid-1930s… [and explains] why and how ordinary people became radicalized” (5). Some were born into socialism, others gravitated to it from other radical traditions, and still others shared Richard Wright’s perhaps simplistic aim of joining together “the poor, the downtrodden and oppressed people all over the world” (54). The manner in which Storch’s work illuminates the variety of inspirations Chicagoans found in Communism during these years is effective in her conception of her work as a community study, but misses the mark in evaluating the political underpinning of such a Communist culture. It asks rather than assumes, “who were Chicago’s Communists? How, when, and why did they implement Third Period policy? What did they actually do in the city’s neighborhoods and industries? How did they understand the party line? When and why did they reinterpret it?” (4) However, Red Chicago cannot resist understanding Stalinism as a force somehow alien to party membership, rather than as a nuanced ideological reality that they actively participated in constructing. Perhaps, then, the use of Storch’s text lies in its psychological analysis of party members, but it does not operate as a political history.

The volume of information Storch compiles in Red Chicago is considerable. The book usefully highlights key tendencies within the Communist Party during the Third Period, and delves into considerable detail regarding recruitment, party culture, relief initiatives, radical trade unionism (and its demise), youth organizing, women’s rights, and anti-racism. In some ways, Third Period organizing appeared to take a dramatic turn to the Left, adopting a quixotic rhetoric of revolution. A microcosm of such Stalinist ultra-Left tactics is found in the dual-unionism strategy epitomized by the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL), which vilified the “moral capitalism” of organized labor under the AFL-CIO as a hazard and hindrance to working-class organizing. Under the Popular Front, the hyperbolically sectarian TUUL became passé, quickly forgotten in a rhetorical and political shift away from revolution towards unapologetic reformism, as groups previously described as “fascist” became close allies in the power shift inaugurated by the unfolding of the Second World War.

Storch claims these contradictions and paradoxes are partially products of the intense politicization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chicago was no exception, as its radical past acted as a peculiar foundation for its vein of Communism. The site of the Haymarket Riots and of the struggle against the resulting bogus prosecutions, not to mention the home of a massive eight-hour movement, Chicago was also the backdrop to the Pullman Strike, and a major center in the founding, first, of the Industrial Workers of the World and, later, of the American Communist Party. The rich history of struggle amongst anarchists, socialists, and communists for leadership of Chicago’s labor movement was clearly evident in the earliest days of the American Communist Party, when party leaders maintained contacts and friendships with “an array of activists struggling to find their own answers to the problems they saw inherent in the capitalist system” (9). Leftists of all varieties were in frequent dialogue and dispute with one another, polemicizing in parks to crowds of thousands: a political landscape almost unimaginable to modern readers, and antithetical to policies of zero collaboration.

Chicago epitomized a particular imagination of the proletariat. Brawny and bustling, built by 19th century industrial manufacturing and mass transportation, it was home to many militant workers, including thousands of highly politicized immigrants and black migrants, each of whom came to the party “with their own newspapers, cultural groups, institutions, and willingness to quarrel” (19). Of Chicago’s Communists, nearly half spoke foreign languages, and a quarter were African American; the party also included an abundant unemployed population, though this often conflicted with its organizing strategies, which were based in the labor union. It is too easy, however, to distill the Chicago party culture to a fundamental essence, a tendency Storch does not entirely escape. It was cosmopolitan and traditional; it had communities propelled towards preserving ethnic identity, and those promoting Americanization; it grappled with issues of sexism and racism in the State and within the party, with limited degrees of success. Perhaps Chicago was the muscle of the Communist Party, but it hardly resigned itself to that alone: it was home to such radical spaces as the Dill Pickle Club, Bughouse Square, and the John Reed Club, where famous intellectuals, writers, and artists such as Richard Wright and Nelson Algren debated and created works of artistic and political significance. And yet, Storch’s portrait of the city supposes that intellectuals were (and, frighteningly, perhaps forever are) outside, looking in on the proletariat, rather than existing as an integral part of working-class politics. Striving to dismantle preconceptions of the early Communist Party, Storch falls short on recognizing her own problematic reproductions of certain historical fictions.

Storch’s fascination with cultural contexts, then, sometimes comes at the expense of fully characterizing a sober evaluation of the pervasiveness of Stalinist politics, which is frequently positioned as some sort of Soviet boogeyman rather than the worldwide reality of Communist politics that it actually was. This is exemplified by her treatment of the problem Trotskyism posed within the Third Period. From Storch’s claim that Chicago’s Trotskyist sympathizers and non-conformists were “infrequently expelled, not forever severed and, sometimes, even readmitted,” one might suppose that political intolerance was only a Soviet phenomenon (95). Storch produces an unfortunate historical imagination here: While Trotskyists in the Soviet Union are condemned to exile, work camps, and extermination, their American counterparts are assumed to be benignly tolerated by party members. It is a dangerous assumption, one that proposes that American Communists were not conscious agents in the repression of political dissidence. Albeit generally more amiable than the USSR, the Chicago Communist circles were hardly a space for internal polemicizing.

There were real political commitments and allegiances based on cues taken from Moscow, so that plenty of American Communists quickly came to assume the role of Stalinist counterparts in the Soviet Union. Chicago Communists tirelessly organized, recruited, and routinely burned themselves out for the party. Take, for instance, the 2,088 demonstrations that the Chicago Communists organized or participated in during the first five years of the Depression. Beyond protesting, organizing labor, and working on reform initiatives, the Communists formed party schools, hosted community functions, and created relief networks. The repression and economic depression of the time produced a steadfast, even uncritical belief in capitalism’s imminent demise—a belief guided in equal parts by eagerness, theoretical immaturity, and a collective memory of the October Revolution. So while retention was a serious problem for recruiters, membership increased four hundred percent nationwide and five hundred percent within Chicago during the Third Period. This is expressive of a central contradiction of the Third Period: revolutionary fervor, on the one hand, and on the other a dilution of strength, with size taking precedence over sustained, ideological commitment (36). While the Popular Front attracted even greater numbers, including formerly unresponsive white-collar workers and Marxist intellectuals, its emphasis on collaborative efforts surrounding anti-fascism emerged only after fascism had already gained momentum in Europe and, even then, occurred at the expense of clear ideological stances. The embodiment of such a betrayal exists in the apology made by Communists internationally for the Hitler-Stalin Pact. As international relations became confused by the rise of the right, along with the Second World War and its aftermath, the aims and ambitions behind ultra-Left tactics appeared as a misguided dream.

If the history of the Left is one ultimately of failure, the Communists of Red Chicago prove to be no exception. And yet, we must not be disillusioned or delusional in our disappointment, but instead admit that it is only in their confusions and missteps that we can find potential. Storch’s text is a microcosmic example of why we must re-evaluate our relationship with the past. While, practically, it teaches both of methods and mechanisms successful in engaging interest about communism and of the systems, structures, and spaces that can be used as support for inquiry, it also represents a certain intellectual and political poverty, one that Storch seeks to overcome, but cannot entirely escape. Red Chicago poses a challenge that it does not fully deliver upon: to seriously consider how a Marxist understanding has (d)evolved since the Third Period through a reconfiguration of imaginations regarding the Left’s past and its participants. In the scores of narratives found in Red Chicago, no one is totally exempt from or irredeemably victim to the particularities of Stalinism and the Soviet Union; by projecting fictions of helplessness and radical subjectivity onto the past, we negate the potentiality history has to offer our present. At the same time, optimism for our political future exists only in accurately pronouncing the failings of the historic Left in terms of a regression of the possibility in actualizing Marxist intents. |P

Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009.