Archive: Labor

Why Eritreans Are Such Fierce Warriors

FREE Read: My short story that was named a finalist in the Glimmer Train Press Spring 2012 Fiction Open

Sometimes when the parking lot is full, Jimmy-Z will stretch out on the old divan where he can see every corner of the lot, forty cars packed two-by-two east and west in each of four horizontal rows, horizontal if you face the lot head-on from L Street across from the headquarters of the uniformed Secret Service, with thirty additional cars in two vertical rows of fifteen each headed north out the back of the lot, vertical if you stand looking into their headlights with the Greencourt Health Club and Spa in back of your right elbow and the Green Door, a gay bar and nightclub, behind your left. Not an inch of asphalt spared. (More)

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Thank God for SuperPacs

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: I told you I wasn’t writing anything about the looney Republican primaries. But then Newt finished up in Florida charging Obama with defunding Kosher meals for Jewish nursing home patients, Mitt was moved to sing “America the Beautiful” obscenely off-key, and we may have finally discovered a sure-fire way of curing the maldistribution of wealth in our country.

Honestly, Newt Gingrich could screw up a free lunch — you give him a free bowl of grits and he chokes on it.  And Mitt Romney? (More)

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Labor Day Revisited

I waited until this morning to post my Labor Day column, just so I could see if anyone else was writing that America’s labor movement is alive and well and doing good things for working families.  It seems I have an exclusive. (More)

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August 28, 2011

Obama: Nibbling the Nibbler

There they were again, this time in a Washington Post article by Dana Milbank.  Two little words — “patent reform” — that speak tomes about President Obama’s approach to job creation. The President surfaced the proposal in a speech two weeks ago and since then it has been imbedded in every White House press release on jobs. In the Milbank article, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka derides it as the kind of thing “he thinks others will immediately accept” and goes on to include it as one of “those little nibbly things around the edge that aren’t going to make a difference and aren’t going to solve the problem.”  Milbank agrees, calling Obama “The Great Nibbler.” 

 Mr. President, Milbank and Trumka are being far too kind, chipping around the perimeter of the problem themselves. Truth is, the words “patent reform” trivialize the suffering of the jobless and make you sound like, well, a nitwit.

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August 1, 2011

Snagging Barack Obama

July was the hottest month on record for Washington, DC, jointly caused, in my opinion, by global warming meeting up with rancid hot air bubbling up from the bowels of the United States Capitol  and the White House.  As a result, retro forces won out over progressive voices in the debt ceiling debate with a solution that cuts vital programs without raising taxes on the rich.  Now it’s up to us to turn up the heat on the new Congressional “Super Committee” being created to add additional cuts and/or revenue increases by the end of November.  We have to convince President Obama to join us.  If he doesn’t, we should take him on in the primaries next year. (More)

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May 3, 2011

John Sweeney on Rerum Novarum

AFL-CIO President Emeritus John J. Sweeney delivered a speech written by yours truly at Catholic University America on May 2, 2011 in celebration of Rerum Novarum, the revolutionary  encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII 120 years ago this week.  In it, he shares the story of his own development as a Catholic lay leader, tells how Rerum Novarum impacted his family and the lives of millions of immigrant workers, and challenges the Church to renew its unequivocal support for the freedom of workers to join and form unions.  (More)

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February 15, 2011

Tips for the Egyptian Junta

Yo, Generals!  If you want to head off the Moslem Brotherhood and at the same time ease the rolling tide of rebellion by industrial workers, police officers, ambulance drivers, reporters, academics and Allah knows who else, then here’s a gargantuan tip: issue a new “Emergency Order” establishing a decent minimum wage, providing healthcare for all, and guaranteeing the right of workers to join unions. (More)

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January 31, 2011

Labor’s Big Role in Cairo

When Egyptian protest leaders this morning called for a “million man march” tomorrow in Cairo and an “indefinite general strike,” they not only raised the bar in their challenge to the Mubarak government, they tied their movement back to its deepest roots, a struggle in which more than two million workers have staged an estimated 2,000 strikes since 2004, most of them in the country’s textile industry.  Their gains have been incremental, but their willingness to risk their jobs and their lives to defy authority paved the way for the “spontaneous” demonstrations that erupted on January 25th in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and in dozens of countries around the world. (More)

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January 25, 2011

I’m OK, You Stink

From a speech I gave on Monday to the Made in America Conference in Las Vegas:

People often ask what I mean by “From the Left Bank.” Well, if you’re paddling downstream on the river, the left bank is Washington, D.C., and that means I’m coming from a liberal viewpoint — you know,  big government good, civil rights good, labor unions good. On the other hand, if you’re paddling upstream on the Potomac, the left bank is Arlington, Virginia, and that could mean that sometimes, although not very often, I’m coming from a conservative viewpoint  — small town values, God and country. There are those of course who are paddling neither upstream nor downstream. Take President Obama, for instance. He seems to be always paddling around in circles, so it’s hard to tell exactly where he’s coming from. (More)

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December 1, 2010

Waking John Sweeney

I’ve long felt wakes were wasted on the dead, especially if the deceased was a mule-stubborn Irisher.  So when I heard that President Obama is gonna give a Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Sweeney, I decided my friend and guidepost shouldn’t have to wait until his big toe is in the Styx to hear what people really think of him.  So every day until December 1st, I’ll be posting a Sweeney Story and inviting any and all to add comments, reflections, and stories to this blog, or send longer pieces to me at

Here’s another Sweeney/Teamster story.  I get a call one night from a woman lawyer in NYC whom I don’t know.  She invokes the name of a highly-trusted mutual friend and asks if I’ll make a trip up at my own expense to meet with a prospective client whose name she can’t divulge.  Since the mutual friend still has Polaroids of me being initiated into the Junior Chamber of Commerce (I thought it was a good idea at the time, but have since regretted my decision), I say yes and the next morning I catch the 7 A.M. Metroliner, as it was then called, and speed through a driving snowstorm to the Big Apple, as it is still called.  Who is this female barrister and why has she contacted me?  Who is this mystery client, and will he/she/it have money for a cash advance?  What the hell, I think, all of my clients are mysteries and none of the them pay up front, and some don’t even pay in back.

 The lawyer’s office is next door to the Port Authority bus terminal, so it’s only a short walk from Penn Station in the driving snowstorm, which by now has turned into a driven drizzle.  She cracks opens the ancient walnut-paneled door to her office, looks to see if anyone is behind me, then let’s me slip inside.  As I shake the drizzle from my ancient trench coat, she identifies herself as Susan Davis, a labor lawyer, a handsome young woman, certainly not glamorous in a movie-star sense, but handsome, wearing a black skirt, black blouse, black stockings and black shoes.  Her reception area contains one steel desk and two steel chairs.  I conclude this will not be a transaction involving any meaningful  amount of cash.

 Ms. Davis escorts me into a small conference room equipped with a steel conference table and steel conference chairs.  I wait, not long, but long enough to create an edge of anticipation.  A trickle of sweat runs down my armpit.  The door opens and a slender, dark-eyed man in a nondescript black suit enters.  I surmise he is the executive assistant to my prospective client.  He extends his hand and introduces himself, “I’m Ron Carey and I’m running for president of the Teamsters Union.”

Get out I say to myself and then to him.  We sit and talk for a few minutes, sharing who-do-we-knows and I tell him I know John Sweeney and he says yes, he knows, and then says he wants me to run his campaign for president of the Teamsters union, and I say get out again to myself and then to him.  Being a quick study, I say yes, but tell him I have to check in with John Sweeney, who at the time is my only non-mysterious client.

Back in DC, I call Sweeney and tell him what has happened and ask him if I should take the job. I tell him Ron Carey says he knows him, and Sweeney says yes, he’s met Carey, but he doesn’t think he has much of a chance at winning, just a UPS driver from a NYC local.  I say that doesn’t really matter to me, since I specialize in losing elections, and I ask again if I should sign on with Carey.  Sweeney says let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.

Two weeks later, I haven’t heard back from Sweeney and Susan Davis has called me twice.  I call Sweeney and ask him if he thinks I should take on the Carey campaign.  He grows silent and I can visualize him scratching his chin as he says let me get back to you on that.

 Another week goes by and Susan Davis calls and then Ron Carey calls and is very nice but says what’s up and I tell him I’m waiting for Sweeney to get back to me and he says I should call Sweeney again and then get back to him, meaning him, Ron Carey.  I call Sweeney back and tell him I need to give Carey an answer.  Sweeney grows silent and I say, let me put it this way, will you fire me of I take on Carey’s case?  Sweeney grows silent again, and then says I will if I have to.

So I turn down Carey and tell him he needs a field general and not a campaign manager and I give him Eddie Burke’s phone number.  Carey wins without me.  Go figure.

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