In times of crisis, we must remind ourselves of our bedrock principles. For the labor movement, this means working class solidarity. Solidarity with all working people — all wage earning folk. Not just solidarity with workers that look like you, or talk like you, or attend the same church, or come from the same place. Working class solidarity is the only true source of strength the labor movement has ever had. Without it, you don’t have a labor movement, you’ve got some other thing, a guild or professional association, a fraternal organization, but not a movement.
The solidarity of labor will be severely tested in coming years, with a new president who has proven to be uniquely skilled at exploiting an updated set of economic and cultural wedge issues. And while many working class voters chose Trump, they will soon find they’ve also got an unbound Paul Ryan, who has an aggressive legislative agenda ready to roll through the house, with only the filibuster to stop most of it in the senate.
As Common Ground adjusts to this new period in American history, working class solidarity will remain the lens through which we observe, read and report the news. When something is good for all working families, we will say so; when it benefits workers at the expense of others, pitting us against each other, we’ll say so as well.
These are the issues foremost on our mind:
We cannot improve conditions for working families in America by getting rid of a few million of us. There is no explosion of unauthorized immigration in the US -- the Pew Research Center estimates the number peaked in 2007 and has remained fairly stable since. Pew also estimates that in 2014 two thirds of the unauthorized immigrants in the US had been here at least 10 years. The size of the undocumented population in Rhode Island is estimated to be about the same as the population of Johnston — 30,000 people. We cannot round up and deport so many Rhode Islanders without tearing our communities apart.
If we want to put working class Rhode Islanders on solid footing, we need to organize more workplaces to be represented by unions. Over the past year and a half Common Ground has reported on a series of organizing victories with immigrant workers joining Rhode Island unions like UFCW Local 328 and LiUNA, with the help of community groups like Fuerza Laboral in Central Falls and Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in New Bedford, Massachusetts (please see part 1 of our interview of Fuerza Laboral’s Executive Director Heiny Maldonado in this issue). This is a population that understands they are being mistreated and are ready to be organized. If the labor movement sticks with them, they will stick with us.
One major issue will be how much the federal government may try to compel other parts of government, business and other parts of the community to act as immigration agents and involuntarily betray our undocumented neighbors. That’s what conversations about “sanctuary cities” and the like are really about, whether or not teachers, police, social workers and others will be required to collect and report information to federal immigration agents about the people we are dedicated to serving. There could be no clearer example of a policy designed to break solidarity, and it is something we must resist.
Conversely, while any weakening Medicare’s guarantee of health care for the elderly would be a huge blow to all of us, Paul Ryan’s proposal to phase out the current Medicare system is an issue that could unify the largest coalition against congressional Republicans and split them from the White House. Even Chuck Schumer, recalling the damage done to George W. Bush’s second term by his attempt to privatize Social Security, seems to recognize that this is the best opportunity for Democrats to disrupt the Republican agenda and is spoiling for a fight.
If Ryan and congressional Republicans raise this issue, it will be a fight we can win but must not lose. It will also be the best opportunity to build a new broad movement against cuts to all social services, including Medicaid and Social Security. We will need all hands on deck.
Trade and Outsourcing
In retrospect it is surprising that it took over 20 years after the passage of NAFTA for a Republican presidential candidate to use trade to drive a decisive wedge between their Democratic opponent and Rust Belt voters. It finally happened.
This is one area where we must truly wait and see what comes next. Pence’s deal to give Carrier tax breaks in return for retaining a portion of their manufacturing jobs in Indiana is business as usual in the US, aside from the implied threat that a President Trump might try to punish their parent company by taking away government contracts in the future.
We do have to remember that the manufacturing jobs many remember fondly were good jobs because they were union jobs. There is nothing about working in a factory that guarantees good wages and benefits or safe and respectful working conditions.
There are a lot of fights ahead, on many fronts. We don’t know what is going to dominate the news over the next four years. Religious, ethnic, and other identity groups are justifiably focusing on protecting their members. Women, the elderly, environmentalists and yes, labor unions, all have to first look to their particular concerns.
It is nearly certain that America’s already patched and leaking social safety net will face steep cuts, and as always, the poor are least equipped to fight back. We cannot forget them.
Common Ground in Opposition
Common Ground was born during the Obama administration, and thus we have always had a steady supply of low-key political coverage like “Friendly Labor Secretary has a pleasant visit to Pawtucket” or “Small changes to labor regulations yield positive results” or “Paul Ryan’s granny-starving agenda not going anywhere.” Those days will soon be over.
Progressives in Rhode Island and really across the world are in the middle of a collective gut check, hopefully starting by taking account of the resources we have at our disposal and considering if there are any we are under-utilizing. Not many states have a monthly print newspaper aimed at working families and labor; Rhode Island is lucky in this respect.
The hardest part about putting this paper together is simply getting unions and community groups to let us know what they’ve got going on. Send us an email or give us a call, and we’ll try to cover your event or tell your story. If we can’t make it, send us your pictures and write something yourself, or we will try to set up an interview.
In the next eight years, we all need to be ready to show up for each other — Common Ground will be there.