Wal-Mart Surrounded: Community Alliances and Labor
Politics in Chicago
One vote. One City Council vote is all it took to
defeat a proposed Wal-Mart on the South Side of Chicago. Granted, a West
Side Wal-Mart was approved by the Chicago City Council in May 2004,
minutes before it rejected the South Side store. But the larger point is
this: in the midst of the current debate within the labor movement about
its future, the necessity of organizing Wal-Mart highlights the futility
of an either-or dichotomy between organizing and politics. It also
indicates the need to focus on the local level, and the ways in which
labor can successfully wield its geographic political power in long-term
comprehensive organizing campaigns.
This local focus is in addition to, not to the exclusion of, a
simultaneous national and global strategy. At the turn of the 21st
century, scholars and organizers are beginning to realize that local
political contexts and the strategic choices local political actors make
are vital to advancing workers rights and economic justice. Indeed, like
the more than two hundred local municipalities who have rejected
proposed Wal-Mart stores across the country, the Chicago City Council
had the sole power to approve Wal-Mart’s entry, and it also has the
power to regulate the conditions under which Wal-Mart will operate in
its jurisdiction. Labor’s political clout, along with political
alliances with communities of color, is instrumental in this regard, as
evidenced by successful campaigns waged in Inglewood, CA, and Chicago.
However, these kinds of labor-community alliances are fraught with
conflicts and tensions. I will discuss some of these obstacles facing
the campaign to organize Wal-Mart in Chicago, drawing out some broader
lessons and implications. How unions and community groups resolve these
tensions, specifically around issues of race, will determine how
successful we will be at organizing Wal-Mart and the entire retail
But simply excluding Wal-Mart from entering these urban markets is not a
long-term winning strategy. Government regulation—setting the terms and
conditions under which Wal-Mart and all big box retailers can operate
within city limits—is the more sustainable and achievable goal. What the
Chicago effort to organize Wal-Mart highlights is the potential leverage
provided by the institutions of local and regional government.
Community Unionism: A Strategy for Organizing in the New Economy
While the labor movement’s current focus on “the global,” and on
large-scale efforts to reverse the decline are a welcome turn from the
business-as-usual unionism of old, a number of unique organizations and
activists are already reshaping the labor movement from below. Community
unionism is a particularly ‘local’ response to the global processes that
challenge working people today. In these times of renewal, community
unionism demands the labor movement’s attention.
Since the 1970s, urban labor markets in North America have undergone
profound restructuring. Immigration, deindustrialization, and the
expansion of service sector employment have significantly altered the
urban landscape. The growth of contingent work and forms of nonstandard
employment combined with the decline of the welfare state has had a
deleterious effect on the working poor and unemployed. Furthermore,
neoliberal globalization has negatively affected the capacity of trade
unions to organize the unorganized. The rise of contingent work, or
precarious employment, challenges traditional forms of trade unionism,
and has opened the way for new initiatives, including community
The model of community unionism which is the focus of this article is
that of an autonomous community-based labor group. These community
unions may vary by tactics (legalistic, direct-action such as civil
disobedience, or lobbying); membership structure (dues collecting or
not); sources of funding (union support, individual donations, or
foundations); and their organizing geography (focus on an ethnic group
within a community, or on a community defined solely by geographical
boundaries). Many of these community unions use workers centers as the
hub of their organizational activity.
Unlike trade unions, most community unions seek to organize the
employed, unemployed, and underemployed; they press for change in the
workplace and beyond.
Trouble in Paradise: Organizing Condominium Workers in the Sunshine
Greater Miami is an important site for examining organized labor’s
future prospects in this country. In important respects, south Florida
foreshadows the future of the United States. It features a large
immigrant population, has a heavily service-oriented economy, and
displays an extremely diverse workforce. The United States will move in
the same direction in the coming years, so what unions can or cannot do
here is likely to foretell future prospects for other locations. For
that reason, attempts to revitalize the labor movement in the Miami area
can teach us a lot about how to go about this task.
Progressive unions and allies in south Florida are undertaking a variety
of measures to build power for workers and their families in the region.
Many of these consist of efforts to build up a supportive environment (a
“social justice infrastructure”) for union organizing, and for
labor-community and working-class community organizing. Thus, the last
decade has seen modestly successful efforts to win living wage
ordinances, build a local Jobs with Justice chapter, create leadership
development programs for immigrant workers, improve research capacity,
build a more unified and cohesive political presence, and create
faith-based mechanisms to support workers rights. Today, there are
institutions in place in all these areas, something relatively absent a
The appearance of a Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
“Justice for Janitors” organizing effort among condominium workers in
Miami-Dade County adds a new dimension. The newly created SEIU Local 11
began organizing efforts in this sector in March 2004. Its efforts
reveal what unions run up against as they try to organize low- wage,
service sector, primarily immigrant workers. It also illuminates the
strategic resources necessary if labor is to prevail. The ultimate
success or failure of this effort will reveal much about the prospects
for worker power in Florida, the south, and even the entire nation in
the years ahead.
Warriors for Christ: The Electoral Politics of the Religious Right
On an April morning in 2005 at World Harvest church in Canal
Winchester, Ohio, Pastor Rod Parsley declared to the four thousand
people assembled in his tabernacle, “The idea of the separation of
church and state is the biggest lie that was ever perpetrated in
America.” During the service, Pastor Parsley warned members to be
vigilant about the issue of judicial tyranny, reminding them there would
be a special service to educate them in two weeks. Former chief justice
Roy Moore of Alabama, who defied an order to remove a monument of the
Ten Commandments from the state courthouse in Alabama, would be speaking
at the same event. Standing under a banner that read “Let the
Reformation Begin,” Parsley implored the audience to pray and support a
book tour for Silent No More, in which he speaks out about Christians
entering the realm of politics. “And simply put, it’s time for us to
speak up for an America based on the foundation our fathers
established—a foundation of faith and of commitment to moral boundaries.
We’ve lost that America. But we can get it back! …Our times demand it.
Our history compels it. Our future requires it. And God is watching.”
Paisley is one of the leaders of Reformation Ohio, a plan to elect
conservative Christians to school boards and local legislatures
throughout the state by registering two million new Christian voters. He
is also a member of the nationwide Patriot Pastors movement, led by
Pastor Rick Scarborough, which urges pastors “to promote their
congregation's citizenship responsibilities in addition to their
spiritual growth.” Churches like World Harvest are the institutional
basis for a wider conservative political agenda that is increasingly
blurring the boundaries between the pulpit and the arena of partisan
At World Harvest, politics is slipped in between sermons and singing,
making the segue from the spiritual to the political appear seamless to
the predominantly young and racially mixed audience. On the church
website, it is easier to sign an online petition calling for “judicial
integrity” or register for a church-sponsored prepaid Mastercard than it
is to find out about the Sunday services for that week.
Should the Left Get Religion?
We begin by noting that there are really two questions at issue, one
cultural and one practical. The less important is the oil and water
question: Can the secular Left ever be comfortable in conversation, let
alone in active alliance, with people whose worldviews are strongly
shaped by religious belief? (And should the answer be “no,” does that
mean the secular Left is “arrogant” or beset with an “orthodoxy” of its
Although we are well aware of the simmering debate on this question, we
choose instead in this article to deal with the urgent practical matter,
the one that confronted Tocqueville and just about everyone else who has
looked closely at the stark reality that, like it or not, this is a
God-besotted country. We ourselves are believers—ordained ministers at
that—but we write here primarily as movement strategists. We offer five
theses about the relationship between movements for social justice and
communities of faith.
Iraq and the Labor Movement: The Remarkable Story of USLAW
Even as the labor movement suffers deep division over the steps it
needs to take to turn around the decades-long decline in its organized
strength, major unions on both sides of the divide, notably SEIU, CWA,
and AFSCME, have passed resolutions condemning the war in Iraq and the
continued U.S. occupation of that country. While the disagreements over
organizing strategies and structural changes in the Federation have
dominated the labor world, another profound upheaval is underway,
concerning labor’s foreign policy.
In a budget-driven retrenchment that also reflects political choices,
the AFL-CIO has disbanded its International Affairs Department and
transferred to the Solidarity Center all responsibility for organized
labor’s relations with workers and unions in other countries. While the
AFL-CIO will continue to provide some funding to the Solidarity Center,
the great majority of financial backing for labor’s international
connections will come from U.S. government grants, particularly from the
National Endowment for Democracy. With the loss of its International
Affairs Department the Federation’s leadership has abandoned the
possibility of an independent labor voice on foreign policy issues.
However, unions, central labor councils, and state federations
representing more than four million workers have passed resolutions
since 2003 opposing the war in Iraq and calling for an end to the
occupation, withdrawal of U.S. troops, and redirection of resources to
domestic social needs. Spearheading this initiative has been U.S. Labor
Against the War. The growth and influence of USLAW stand in sharp
contrast with organized labor’s role in the Vietnam era. The political
factors that account for this difference will be discussed momentarily.
But first of all, labor’s current opposition begins with the fact that
the war is an abomination that was perpetrated through lies and deceit.
Workers are offended by this as much as anyone. Almost every resolution
condemning the Iraq war starts with the observation that it was based on
lies, whether concerning WMDs or the supposed links between Saddam
Hussein and the attacks of September 11.
Social Insecurity: Wall Street Eyes Your Golden Years
If we take the financial services industry at its word, investment
managers have no stake in the creation of Social Security private
accounts. But their professed neutrality is as dubious as it is damaging
to retirees and working women and men.
On one level, controversy about private accounts revolves around the
hundreds of billions of dollars in fees that investment managers are
likely to reap from privatization. But deeper concerns relate to the
ideological thrust of the privatization plan, which is the Bush
administration’s boldest effort to kill the New Deal and the Great
Society. The creation of private accounts within Social Security has
been a goal of the ideological right for decades.
The interests of the ideologues, corporate America and Wall Street,
coincide on the creation of private accounts. However, many pension
funds have urged their money managers to promote the interests of plan
participants and beneficiaries by advocating for the protection of
Social Security, or at least by ending their direct and indirect support
for private accounts. An AFL-CIO-coordinated, labor-initiated campaign
has pressed financial services firms to stop funding organizations and
think tanks that support privatization.
The pension funds and unions involved in these debates suggest that
financial services firms risk their integrity by supporting
privatization, but at its heart the fight is about the integrity of the
Social Security system itself.
Wall Street’s Links to Social Security Privatization
On June 18, 2001, then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill spoke at a
luncheon for the newly formed Coalition for American Financial Security
(CAFS), a group established by Wall Street executives. The Coalition was
not the only pro-privatization group around, but it was poised to play a
prominent role in promoting private accounts. The Secretary’s
message—that the administration would promote the privatization of
Social Security—was tailor-made for the Coalition. Based on financial
services firms’ prior support for private accounts, the Bush
administration undoubtedly expected the Coalition to effectively
bankroll the privatization push.
Yet, the Coalition disbanded the next year, after a high-profile
coalition member, State Street Global Advisors (SSgA), pulled out
following intense pressure from clients. Unions and pension funds had
expressed their deep displeasure that SSgA, the largest custodian of
pension and mutual fund assets in the country, was so closely identified
with such a public, pro-privatization stance.
Social Security Privatized: The Case of Chile
Conservative cheerleaders for Bush hold up the so-called “Chilean
miracle” to support their arguments for social security privatization.
However, for the majority of Chilean workers, retirement remains
illusory because their coverage evaporated with the privatization.
Nearly half of all working Chileans cannot even afford to contribute to
private pension funds, because so many lack adequate earnings, working
part-time, seasonal, and temporary jobs. Women, in particular, come out
losers, scrounging for marginal work, never able to reach the
contribution level required to qualify for the government’s poverty
pension supplement. Under Chile’s system employers pay nothing towards
employee retirement accounts, and workers who manage to maintain private
accounts have no say over how their funds are invested.
The “Chilean economic miracle” exists primarily for the private
entrepreneur, financier, and professional. Only after crushing unions,
and civic and religious organizations in the 1970s, could the military
dictatorship introduce privatized retirement accounts in 1981. Needless
to say, the change passed without public discussion or political
oversight. Not deluded by the promised “benefits” of the new system, the
military and police shrewdly opted out and kept their
government-controlled “pay as you go” pensions.
Where Have All the Benefits Gone? The Crisis in Union Pension and
Health Care Plans
In recent years, falling interest rates and stock prices left defined
benefit (DB) plans with substantially fewer funds than they need to
cover all promised retirement benefits. In extreme cases, these
traditional pension plans were terminated, contributing to shortfalls at
the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which insures DB
Even when plans were not terminated, many employees, especially in
unionized plans, saw reductions in retirement and other benefits.
Companies demanded concessions from their unionized workforces, as
contributions to their pension plans increased due to severe funding
shortfalls. In addition, as long as retirement plans were well-funded,
they were allowed to transfer some of the surplus, to finance
increasingly costly retiree health insurance. With underfunding becoming
the norm for many DB plans, this transfer to retiree health insurance
was no longer possible, and retiree health insurance became harder to
maintain, hastening a decline in this benefit as well.
Not only have employers demanded concessions from their employees in
response to the underfunding crisis, but this crisis has also been used
to push for policy measures that would shift the risks from the employer
to the employee. Proposed changes to the pension plan funding rules will
likely accelerate the demise of DB plans. Changes in the retiree health
insurance realm introduced with the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) in
2003 make it easier for wealthy and healthy individuals to save for some
forms of health insurance, while not addressing the cost problems
underlying the decline in employer-sponsored retiree health insurance (ESI).
Because union workers are more likely than non-union workers to have DB
pensions and ESI, shifts towards riskier benefits would
disproportionately affect union workers.
In contrast to DB plans, defined contribution (DC) plans, such as a
401(k) plan, offer no guaranteed level of benefits, and retirement
income is uninsured. Here, the employee bears the financial risks of
saving for retirement. Typically, employees contribute a share of their
pre-tax income to an individual account, possibly matched by employer
contribution. Employees generally are responsible for making investment
choices. There has been a gradual shift from DB plans to DC plans.
The Price of Love
I knew I was a lesbian by the time I was 19 or 20, working as a
waitress at a lunch counter inside a Safeway supermarket in the town I
had come to while running from all the dead-end trailer courts of my
childhood. It was a lousy job, but the paycheck was regular. I had been
a waitress since I was thirteen; working as a car hop in the drive-in
hamburger joints that speckled the growing valleys of southern and
northern California. I had also worked sporadically as a dancer and
stripper in Las Vegas, and in the border towns between Nevada and
California, at different points during high school. But those jobs were
hard and temporary, and I learned they cost a lot to do. Costumes and
props were never included; you had to buy all of that yourself. Such
expenses quickly shrank a paycheck. So I was mostly a waitress, living
on tips and the free food I got at work.
I am a high femme lesbian. This means I’m a queer woman who can pass for
straight, like traditional, feminine, heterosexual women. But I desire
women who are butch, who sometimes pass as men. This is my need, my
erotic heart. It is also my grief. I first saw the kinds of women I
desired in the small towns I grew up in and fled. It has never been
clear to me which I was fleeing more: the harsh, bone-breaking lives
that surrounded me, or the fate of the butch and femme women I saw in
those towns. They were ridiculed, harassed, fired from their jobs,
routinely beaten up during drunken Saturday night pranks by my brothers
and cousins and all their male friends. Beating them up was a hoot for
the guys I knew, a lark; it filled time, and made them feel powerful in
the midst of social and economic circumstances that rarely offered that
assurance. It was regular, ugly, a part of how I grew up. As soon as I
could, I ran away. But it turns out to be impossible to run away far
enough to escape your own passions, needs, and desires.
So I ended up in Oakland, California, at a Safeway supermarket. It was
the 1960s. I went to demonstrations in Berkeley before heading for my
shift, arrived at work smelling like tear gas and wired by adrenalin
generated from running through the streets of that town protesting a war
I believed was criminal. And as I participated in both work and
revolution, I tried again and again to deny the creeping suspicion
inside suggesting to me that I might be queer, that everything my half
brother had screamed at me in a drunken rage might be true: I was a
dyke, a lesbian, a queer, a homo. He said what others were saying behind
my back. I left.
In this new town, I was alive with politics. I joined the union at
Safeway, joined radical political groups in the area, learned about
class and race and resistance. I used all the work, all the grand
political study, to numb my own undeniable desires for the dangerous
kind of masculine butch woman I wanted as my lover; and to numb my
growing realization about the femme, queer type of woman I feared myself
These stories are common among working-class women: your supervisor
tries to hit on you and, when you say no, he fires you. In my case, he
just couldn’t believe it when I said I wasn’t interested in sleeping
with him because I was a lesbian. I couldn’t believe I’d said it either.
It was the first time I had used the word out loud to another human
being, speaking my desire and identity publicly. I was let go the next
day. So I went to my union rep, said those words once again, and watched
as he laughed. Then he told me the union could do nothing about it; this
kind of thing wasn’t what a union was for. I wasn’t surprised.
I hadn’t even slept with a woman yet, but already I’d been fired for it!
This working life carried with it resonances of a history I already knew
Revolution and Counter-revolution in Venezuela: Assessing the Role of
There is a history of union corruption in Venezuela—overwhelmingly
within the CTV. In her book The Failure of Political Reform in
Venezuela, the British academic Julia Buxton describes it as one of the
“richest and most powerful union confederations in the world” in its
heyday. The CTV’s intimate ties with the political establishment allowed
“for the illicit enrichment of union leaders, who acquired a personal
interest for maintaining the model of [political] party control,” she
wrote. In fact, the Venezuelan state provided 90 percent of the funding
for the CTV in the 1960s and 1970s. The AFL-CIO’s ties to the CTV,
moreover, have been among its closest with any foreign labor federation.
This relationship has continued despite the CTV’s alliance with the
forces that mounted the April 2002 coup—of which the CIA had
foreknowledge—that was embraced by the Bush administration. The
AFL-CIO’s support for the CTV continued through the devastating oil
industry lockout, and the strike that followed.
There are in fact serious criticisms to be made about the Chávez
government from a trade union standpoint. Yet, by rejecting the
legitimacy of the UNT out of hand, and backing the CTV, the AFL-CIO has
lent political credibility to the conservative Venezuelan opposition.
This, in turn, has revived debate over the AFL-CIO’s involvement in U.S.
foreign policy. Indeed, a look at the AFL-CIO’s past and present in
Venezuela points to two conclusions: that the files on organized labor’s
collaboration with U.S. foreign policy should be opened, and that the
AFL-CIO’s reliance on government funds for international work should
A Rejoinder to “Revolution and Counter-revolution”
Lee Sustar draws his conclusions about the AFL-CIO’s current role in
Venezuela from unfounded premises. Regrettably, he is not alone in this
exercise, if we look at other articles accusing us of supporting the
opprobrious coup attempt of April 2002.
Sustar refers to an “AIFLD Caracas operative” cultivating a
“CTV-AIFLD-CIA connection” in the 1970s. And in the paragraph
immediately following this assertion, the author mentions the current
Solidarity Center representative for the Andean region, leaving the
impression of an unbroken historical chain linking us to what AIFLD
allegedly did in the past. Such innuendo might otherwise be defamatory
if it were not so patently ludicrous.
Although I certainly was not involved in AIFLD’s hiring practices, part
of my modest contribution to the AFL-CIO’s relations with Latin America
since 1997 has been to recommend candidates for Solidarity Center field
positions who have genuine and direct experience with the labor
movement, along with a truly progressive perspective on Inter-American
relations, free of cold war baggage. All of our current staff in Latin
America, including the representative for the Andean region, meets these
Lee Sustar Responds to Stan Gacek
Stan Gacek systematically avoids addressing the central thrust of my
article: that social polarization and class conflict in Venezuela has
led to the revival of militancy in that country’s labor movement,
expressed through the creation of the UNT.
First, let’s dispense with Gacek’s mischaracterizations of my article. I
do not argue that “the entire CTV” was behind the coup. In fact, I
wrote, “what is indisputable…is that [CTV head] Ortega joined with
FEDECAMARAS to call the strike and march that set the stage for the
coup.” And far from lining up “100 percent for Chávez,” I summarize the
reasons why trade unionists have criticized his policies.
Nowhere did I write that the Solidarity Center provided “unconditional
assistance to the CTV,” as Gacek would have it. Indeed, I cited the
Solidarity Center representative’s claim to have suspended his programs
prior to the coup. I use the word “claim,” because the Solidarity Center
has not publicly released documentation of such of a decision. If there
is “confusion” about the timing of the Solidarity Center’s Venezuela
programs, it’s because the only details accessible to the public are in
the Solidarity Center’s opaque reports to the NED, obtained through the
Freedom of Information Act.
This Sporting Life
The “American Dream” played out in Million Dollar Baby relies upon
some old assumptions about the order of social relations. Class and race
are captured in an array of images. In that sense, they are evident in
virtually every scene of the film. But they appear as basic demographic
data: Most boxers are African American or Latino. They come from poor or
immigrant working-class backgrounds. Poverty is a barrier to
achievement. Race and class, then, are circumstantial. There is little
else in the way of social commentary. Likewise, the film does not
grapple with the question of gender—though the central character is a
woman trying to compete in the male world of boxing. And the question of
sexual identity? It’s simply not an issue. Despite these evasions, the
images we see are telling. Million Dollar Baby is racially coded and
marked by stereotypes of gender, sexuality, and class.
If Scrap represents the deserving (and tolerable) Black man, Maggie is
the film’s oddball vision of white womanhood. She doesn’t fit any of the
historical or empirical criteria for that designation. She isn’t dainty
or fragile; she’s stronger than most men and more physically fit. She
isn’t cloistered in the domestic sphere; she inhabits a nether world of
hustlers and thugs; she takes violent punishment and gives it right
back. But through it all, she’s sweet, pretty, and vulnerable—she has
that innocent “girl next door” quality. And, like the ideal woman, she
seeks the protection of a strong man; then tries her damndest to please
him. Maggie carries her whiteness and her essential femininity into the
boxing ring, where they are routinely assaulted.
With one exception, Maggie’s opponents are women of color. They are
menacing and super-butch. This is not unintentional as the screenplay
Of Human Bondage
It is easy to see why Born into Brothels won the Oscar. It succeeds
as a visually engaging documentary that weaves a compelling narrative
around the problems of the poor and the socially outcast. Unfortunately,
the filmmakers’ well-meaning project of helping these children escape
life in the brothels is undermined by glossing over serious political
problems, despite its contrived Hollywood ending.
The children are exceptionally charming and it is their onscreen
eloquence and exceptional proficiency as young photographers that
captivate. The children’s photographs are interspersed throughout the
film. These images add further visual perspectives of life “as it is” in
Sonagachi. They also underscore the capacity these children have to
lyrically capture their environment, and how important it is to provide
such opportunities to every child.
Their youth and limited education belie the critical and self-aware way
the children describe each other, their families, and their own lives.
“Nobody lives as filthy as we do in our country,” says one child, Gour,
without a trace of innocence or apology, echoing the complaints of many
fellow citizens who see their country as a second-rate alternative to
Singapore. The children seem to have no illusions that they will not
spend their lives in Sonagachi or some place similar, and this comes
across in the candor with which they narrate their lives. They
understand that life is unfair and they have drawn the short end of the
proverbial stick. Yet, even while they live in a world not made by them,
they harbor dreams of being more than someone who sells liquor to johns
or “walks the line,” as prostituting is referred to.
Briski’s solution is to get the children out of Sonagachi and away from
their families, many of whom have lived there for generations. This
means getting the children into boarding schools. Her solution is not an
unreasonable one, but in the end it betrays a remarkable naiveté for
someone like Briski who has been in Sonagachi since 1997.
The Triumph of Conservatism
In November of 2000, as count after recount left the outcome of the
presidential election in doubt, I found myself in numerous conversations
with hardcore liberal Democrats, all bemoaning what a Bush presidency
would mean for our country. In one such conversation, a longtime
Democratic party activist turned to me and said, “Bush is going to be a
disaster as president. Thank God we still have Alan Greenspan to protect
us.” At that moment I realized that the Democrats, and liberalism
itself, were in big trouble, even if we won the recount in Florida.
A former disciple of libertarian icon Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan spent
much of his tenure as Federal Reserve Chair warning of the dangers of
low unemployment and rising incomes for middle- and lower-income
Americans. An outspoken opponent of even the weakest regulations for
business, and fearful that declining joblessness and higher wages would
trigger an inflation tsunami, Greenspan raised interest rates during the
first Bush administration, and triggered a recession that turned George
H.W. Bush into a one-term president. Democratic activists mistaking
Greenspan for a defender of liberal economic policies illustrates just
how far the political debate in America has moved to the right, even
during the years that a Democrat occupied the White House. As well, it
reveals the Democrats’ complete absence of any identifiable progressive
economic philosophy. (It should be noted that upon Bush’s eventual
inauguration to the White House in January 2001, Greenspan acted quickly
to dispel any misconception about his political leanings by publicly
endorsing Bush’s entire economic program, including a series of
regressive tax cuts.)
The Right Nation, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, thoroughly
describes the ascendancy of the unique phenomenon that is modern-day
American conservatism. Although the authors fail to recognize the
important role that organized labor’s decline played in helping the
Right’s rise, they otherwise capture the Right’s brilliance in building
a movement that dominates political thinking and policy-making in
America today. The book is less satisfying when it comes to discussing
the future of American political thought.
Editors of the British magazine The Economist, Micklethwait and
Wooldridge measure American conservatism against its cousins in Great
Britain and the rest of Europe, and find that nothing compares with
America’s brand of conservatism.
Corporate Triage in the Operating Room
For both Registered Nurses who are organizing their co-workers and
for union organizers who are not themselves nurses, Suzanne Gordon’s
Nursing Against the Odds will provide needed background for
understanding the working lives of nurses, the causes of what is called
the “nursing crisis,” and the union’s role in solving that crisis.
One of the central developments leading nurses to unionize in recent
years has been the hospital industry’s restructuring of nursing care.
This deskilling of nursing (reassigning patient care tasks to nursing
assistants and other less trained personnel) has now been in place for a
decade. Corporate consultants, such as Ernst and Young and American
Practices Management, were paid between $500,000 and $10,000,000 per
restructuring, out of hospital revenues, according to Gordon. As a
consequence of restructuring and deskilling, according to the firm of
Fingerhut, Granados Opinion Research, 69 percent of RNs worry that
patients are not getting the care they need.
In no way is this to say that the nursing workers on whom many tasks
have been shifted are at fault. These workers, who may have been given a
moderate salary increase (if they were unionized) and a more
“professional” job title, are being placed in untenable positions, and
are expected to do things they ought not to be doing.. For example, RNs
spend less time at the patient’s bedside noting the patient’s condition,
and they begin to unwittingly rely on the upgraded nursing assistant
(called a Certified Nursing Assistant in many hospitals) to assess
changes in the patient’s condition. CNAs are not trained to assess
patients. Therefore, a CNA might notice that a patient is pale and
sweaty and might conclude the patient’s room is too warm, and wait a
long time to report this to the nurse. If the nurse had observed this
patient, she might have concluded that the patient was having a heart
attack or was going into shock.