One of the strikers we are currently supporting sent the following to explain why he is dedicated to pushing through for dignity and respect in his workplace:
"I've been living and working southwest of a large Midwestern city. Nearly every available job opportunity at all the temp agencies I applied to were within the warehousing industry and - with the holiday season approaching - one of the first jobs available was at the Walmart warehouse loading and unloading freight. Working in a warehouse doing hard manual labor for $10 an hour with no steady hours puts workers in a precarious situation - basic living expenses such as rent & utilities, gas, food, car maintenance pile up and my co-workers and I never know how many hours we're going to get on our next shift. Sometimes I'll get a call the night before telling me the department I work in has been shut down for the entire weekend. Breathing in the air in the dusty trailers made me sick with congestion after each shift. You can only do back-breaking work with no health insurance for so long, which is why the companies are often able to get away with it - the staffing companies at the warehouses treat their employees like they're disposable and when one employee can't take it any more, they find someone else to take his or her place.
These circumstances are exactly why we needed to organize our co-workers and fight back to win improvements. People move from job to job at warehouses in the area with no benefits and no security is no way to make a living. We started a petition and asked our co-workers to sign it demanding basic improvements with respect to our working conditions: job security, respect, consistent work schedules, safety improvements, and an end to discrimination and retaliation. We delivered the petition and faced retaliation.
We need support to be able to take these kinds of risks if we're going to make any changes. We can't continue this race to the bottom and continuing to organize for improvements now will show people that you can fight back and win at work, leading the way for unionization. But unionization isn't the end goal. Even with a union, it is important to continue to engage members, push for a more democratic union, and hold the elected leaders accountable to the interests of the members. An organized workforce in WalMart paves the way for raising industry standards in retail and warehousing, but that doesn't mean we want to see more Walmarts in neighborhoods in every city and town in the country just to have an organized workforce.
I don't want to win further environmental and economic degradation through unionization of the world's largest employer and the potential push by a union with the intention of growing membership through the company's expansion. I do want to win through an organized workforce, the opportunity to have protection against the employer's intimidation and retaliation that we are currently experiencing and an adequate recourse of action. Looking beyond the shop floor, a unionized and organized workforce also holds potential to improve standards in other countries - from baggers working exclusively for tips at Walmart retail stores in Mexico to the conditions of the factories in China.
Organizing within our globalized economy holds huge potential for improving the lives of millions of people across the globe, but this opportunity must be taken with the right intentions."
A diverse cast of media, academic, political and legal figures and truth-speakers unite in the video to sound the alarm over unconstitutional government surveillance. The full list, in order of appearance, includes:
Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School
Thomas Drake and Daniel Choi will also speak at the rally, which begins with a march from Columbus Circle to the Capitol Reflecting Pool at 12 p.m. EST on Saturday, Oct. 26. StopWatching.us will also deliver more than 500,000 signatures opposing the NSA’s mass surveillance to Congress. The coalition is calling for a full Congressional investigation of America’s surveillance programs, reform to federal surveillance law, and accountability from officials responsible for hiding this surveillance from lawmakers and the public.
editor's note: Tonight at 7PM, the group ‘Brazilian Support NYC’ will hold a rally in Union Square in coordination with a General Strike called in Brazil by several major Unions that same day. Outraged at the brutality shown by the Military Police in various cities in Brazil during the most recent massive protests since early June, the group will focus their message against repression and will connect to local struggles, having the rally in solidarity with Ramarley’s Call, a group that works to bring justice to the Graham and other families who have lost their loved ones at the hands of a brutal and racist New York Police Department. At 7:30 pm there will be a joint speak-out together with the families of victims of the NYPD, to connect between global and local struggles against police brutality: from NYC to Brazil: No More Police Brutality!
Although not isolated from the uprisings that have been taking place
around the world, the protests that have been taking place in Brazil are
not merely a reflection of the global mood. In addition to the battles
in the streets, there is a contest of stories taking place. Various
forces across a diverse political landscape are locked in their attempts
to manipulate and transform the narrative of this historic upheaval in
their own image.
As is now very known, the spark that led to the protests was the
increase of 20 cents in Brazilian reals on public transportation fares
in São Paulo and other cities. The group that led the demonstrations
from the beginning was the Free Fare Movement, known as MPL. It was
formed after the World Social Forum in 2005, in the city of Porto
Alegre. MPL defines itself as an horizontal, autonomous, nonviolent and
non-partisan organization with a clear agenda: free and decent public
transportation. In response to the most recent hike, starting on June 6,
thousands responded to MPL’s calls and barricaded highways and avenues.
The marches were met with extreme brutality. A paramilitary police force
used tear gas, rubber bullets and other so-called “non-lethal weapons”
against peaceful protesters. There were hundreds of arrests. Over the
course of one week, several more marches were organized, and their size
grew. The repression from police escalated, and so did the protesters’
response. Buses, train stations and banks were looted. The numbers on
the streets only increased, and the scope of political dissent expanded
from just transportation to a much wider range of issues.
Meanwhile, the mass media played a role in trying to diminish the
significance of the protests. “There is maybe the influence from the
struggle in Turkey, where the fight is just and important,” political
commentator Arnaldo Jabor said on national TV. “But this revolted middle
class here isn’t worth even 20 cents.” Protesters were called “vandals”
and “barbarians.” The São Paulo newspaper Folha published an editorial
on June 13 claiming that “the few protesters that have something in
their heads besides their hoodies justify the looting as a response to
the supposed police violence.” But that night, Giuliana Vallone, a young
reporter from the same newspaper, was shot in the eye with a rubber
bullet by a military police officer. A photo of her injured face spread
around the world.
As the protesters gained support from a large part of the population, a
change came over the discourse of the Brazilian media. Jabor apologized
publicly, saying that he actually wanted to see the youth in the
streets. One day, the news was deeming the protesters vandals, and the
next they became heroes. Pundits began calling on the youth to go to the
streets wearing white, to ask for peace, and to fight for a “better
country” and against “corruption.” Many activists blame this media
endorsement for the increasingly nationalistic tone that subsequently
came over the protests.
On June 17 there was a nationwide demonstration. Each city had its own
way of participating. Demands relating to a variety of issues were on
display, from transportation to education to the expense of preparing
for the World Cup. But the overall tone was a very nationalist one.
People were singing Brazil’s national anthem in the streets, and the
country’s flag was everywhere.
In the capital city of Brasília, demonstrators take to the roof of the
National Congress on June 17 during the largest mass demonstration in
“The march felt like a celebration of a World Cup victory,” wrote
blogger, activist and sociologist Marilia Moschovich on the website
Medium. “Ironic, right?”
It began to appear as if the demonstrations had been steered by the
establishment media and its language of “corruption” as a nationalist
uprising against the current president, Dilma Roussef, and her left-wing
Worker’s Party. The next day was especially confusing for the leftists
who had worked to organize the movement in the first place.
“Everything is so weird,” wrote Moschovich.
Despite the proliferation of agendas, MPL was clear about its aims from
the beginning. Pedro Brandão, one of MPL’s organizers, said the morning
of June 18, “We will keep pushing to revoke the hike. That’s what we
went to the streets for.” He added, “Once we achieve the revocation of
the hike, we will be an example of how autonomous, horizontal movements
can achieve concrete victories with clear demands.”
Sure enough, by the end of the day, the fare hikes in São Paulo and Rio
de Janeiro had been cancelled.
The next day, MPL went to the streets of São Paulo to celebrate its
victory, but protests continued across the majority of the country.
Narratives became confusing as initially non-partisan messages were
replaced with opposition to one party or another. Left-wing partisans
were attacked by members of the extreme right and neo-Nazi groups. While
the mainstream media kept pushing the conversation against corruption,
blaming the Worker’s Party for all the country’s problems, some began to
fear for a mobilization of the extreme right and even the possibility of
a military coup.
As more time passes, however, no such coup seems likely. Moschovich
wrote, “In the current moment, I think it is more likely to have a
public opinion coup that will support authoritarian conservative
politics within a democratic state.”
Countering that narrative, in turn, Brazil’s government took steps to
address more of the protesters’ demands that it wanted to highlight.
President Dilma proposed that all oil revenue should go to education and
health care; this proposal has already undergone many changes, however,
and it is still being debated by the legislature.
“The giant woke up” has been the slogan used by media. And, like the
2011 uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, there was enough unity about
demands to compel prompt action from those in power. But the question
remains of how the breadth of discontent in Brazil will be channelled by
those in the streets and those with access to the media.
University of São Paulo professor Pablo Ortellado believes that the
strategy of concrete demands should continue to guide the narrative.
“The comrades from the popular committees against the World Cup need to
find the ‘20 cents’ of their campaigns,” he wrote on his Facebook page,
“so that we can articulate the struggle throughout the country on a
strategy of effective achievements.”
What is happening in Turkey with the #occupygezi protests? Why should we care? We should care because, above all else, our grievances are connected through the violence brought when people stand up to say no to the initiatives of big business, planned behind closed doors and without our consent. The story that follows is a first hand account of the current struggle on the street in Turkey.
"Well, we are just filling light bulbs with paint," said my friend, a cafe owner in Cihangir, the SoHo of Istanbul. Speaking to me on the phone, she sounded as relaxed as if she was baking an apple pie. "You know," she continued, "the only way to stop a TOMA is to throw paint on its window so that the vehicle loses orientation."
My friend, who was completely uninterested in politics until six days ago, had never been in conflict with the police before. Now, like hundreds of thousands of others in Turkey, she has become a warrior with goggles around her neck, an oxygen mask on her face and an anti-acid solution bottle in her hand. As we have all learned, this the essential kit to fight the effects of tear gas. As for TOMA, that is the vehicle-mounted water cannon. To paralyze it, you either have to put a wet towel in its exhaust pipe or burn something under its engine or you and a dozen others can push it over. This kind of battle-info is circulating all over Turkey at the moment. It is like a civil war between the police and the people. Yet nobody expected this when, six days ago, a group of protesters organized a sit-in at Istanbul's Gezi Park to protect trees that were to be cut down for the government's urban redevelopment project.
Then, there is the fear. This kind of thing is hard to report in a prominent newspaper. That is perhaps why the international media have not reported that the fear of government and the Prime Minister has been growing even among non-political people. You can easily hear your grocery shop man saying "I think my phone is tapped." The mainstream media has not covered it, but we have read reports on social media about people being arrested for making jokes about the government. That is perhaps why for the past two days every wall in Taksim Square is full of curses against the Prime Minister. The public is enjoying the death of the "cruel father figure" with the most sexist curses I have ever seen in my life. And I have seen some. But there is a more important component to the protests.
Killing the fear
As a writer and a journalist I followed the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings. As I wrote at the time, Arab people killed their fear and I saw how it transformed them from silent crowds to peoples who believe in themselves. This is what has been happening in the last six days in Turkey. Teenage girls standing in front of TOMAs, kids throwing tear gas capsules back to the police, rich lawyers throwing stones at the cops, football fans rescuing rival fans from police, the ultra-nationalists struggling arm in arm with Kurdish activists... these were all scenes I witnessed. Those who wanted to kill each other last week became - no exaggeration - comrades on the streets. People not only overcame their fear of authority but they also killed the fear of the "other". One more important point: the generation that has taken to the streets was born after the 1980 military coup that fiercely depoliticized the public. The general who led the 1980 coup once said: "We will create a generation without ideology." So this generation was - until last week.
"So this is the media that we've been hearing the news from over the last twenty years?" That was the question asked by one young man on Twitter, as he watched a television journalist keep silent while the Prime Minister branded protesters "a bunch of looters". The young man has been on the streets peacefully protesting for the last six days, so now he has many suspicions about what's been happening in his country all this time. Maybe the Kurdish people are not "terrorists". Perhaps the journalists thrown in prison were not plotting a "coup" against the government. All those jailed trade unionists may not be members of a "terrorist organization" after all. All those university students in prison, were they innocent like he is? Questions multiply.
As I write, Istanbul, Ankara - Turkey's capital - Izmir and Adana are burning. Massive police violence is taking place. And in my middle class Istanbul neighbourhood, like many others, people are banging on their frying pans to protest. People are exchanging information about safe places to take shelter from police, the telephone numbers of doctors and lawyers. In Taksim Square, on the building of Atatürk Cultural Center, some people are hanging a huge banner. There are only two words on it: "Don't surrender!"