Employment and Survival in Urban America

A Town Meeting on Economic Insecurity


This is an article that I wrote for New Ground 45, March – April, 1996. It played a small role in the 2008 election. Why? Barack Obama. You may recall that right-wing blogs and propaganda media began a campaign to label Obama a “socialist” that year, that he was someone who had worked closely with Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. This article (among a few other articles in New Ground related to the New Party) was proof. It was also argued that this (and Bill Ayers) demonstrated that Obama owed his political career to DSA. While these points were floated as trial balloons as early as May, the campaign was not unleashed until after Labor Day in September.

The timing was perfect: It was just in time for the dramatic start of the Great Recession. Especially since many of the web postings included links to the New Ground article. Thank you for referring folks to DSA right when capitalism was going through a major dysfunction! It generated considerable traffic.

Here’s what I know about the meeting itself. It was the University of Chicago Young Democratic Socialists (then referred to as the “Youth Section”) that organized the meeting. It was part of a national DSA agitation on the topic of economic insecurity. The UofC YDS brought on board the University of Chicago Democratic club. Just who invited any particular speaker I really don’t know. It would be more reasonable to assume the University Democrats were responsible for both Obama and Preckwinkle, but I don’t actually know. Chicago DSA endorsed the event as a matter of doing publicity.

Obama did not need anyone’s help in 2008. After he knocked Alice Palmer (the incumbent and his former employer) off the primary ballot, there was no primary contest. In the November general election, there was no one on the Republican ballot line. He walked into office.

A Town Meeting on Economic Insecurity:

Employment and Survival in Urban America

by Bob Roman

Over three hundred people attended the first of two Town Meetings on Economic Insecurity on February 25 in Ida Noyes Hall at the University of Chicago. Entitled “Employment and Survival in Urban America”, the meeting was sponsored by the UofC DSA Youth Section, Chicago DSA and University Democrats. The panelists were Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman of Chicago’s 4th Ward; Barack Obama, candidate for the 13th Illinois Senate District; Professor William Julius Wilson, Center for the Study of Urban Inequality at the University of Chicago; Professor Michael Dawson, University of Chicago; and Professor Joseph Schwartz, Temple University and a member of DSA’s National Political Committee.

The meeting demonstrated that economic insecurity is an issue not exclusive to Buchanan Republicans. It is a vital issue for the left as well. More than that, it illustrated that, unlike the Right, the democratic left has a number of potential solutions that go beyond mere demagoguery.

Alderman Preckwinkle began the discussion by observing that the Chicago City Council rarely takes up the great issues facing the city even when it is presented with legislation dealing with these issues. Hearings are not held. Legislation rarely makes it out of committee.

As examples, she used Alderman Joe Moore’s (49th) Privatization Ordinance which was introduced last year and the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance which will be formally introduced in the Council very soon.

The Privatization Ordinance (see January – February, 1995, New Ground, page 1) was a modest effort to regulate the manner in which city services were privatized. It would have made the process accountable and made sure savings were not accomplished at the expense of employees. The measure was consigned to oblivion in committee. While a majority of the Council “supported” the ordinance, an attempt to release it from committee failed for lack of votes.

The Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance (see January – February, 1996, New Ground, page 10) is a more ambitious attempt to require city contractors to pay a minimum living wage. The measure will be formally introduced into the Council in April or May. Alderman Preckwinkle was not optimistic about its prospects although the presence of the Democratic National Convention may provide some opportunities for better leverage.

Barack Obama observed that Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in the 1960s wasn’t simply about civil rights but demanded jobs as well. Now the issue is again coming to the front, but he wished the issue was on the Democratic agenda not just on Buchanan’s.

One of the themes that has emerged in Barack Obama’s campaign is “what does it take to create productive communities”, not just consumptive communities. It is an issue that joins some of the best instincts of the conservatives with the better instincts of the left. He felt the state government has three constructive roles to play.

The first is “human capital development”. By this he meant public education, welfare reform, and a “workforce preparation strategy”. Public education requires equality in funding. It’s not that money is the only solution to public education’s problems but it’s a start toward a solution. The current proposals for welfare reform are intended to eliminate welfare but it’s also true that the status quo is not tenable. A true welfare system would provide for medical care, child care and job training. While Barack Obama did not use this term, it sounded very much like the “social wage” approach used by many social democratic labor parties. By “workforce preparation strategy”, Barack Obama simply meant a coordinated, purposeful program of job training instead of the ad hoc, fragmented approach used by the State of Illinois today.

The state government can also play a role in redistribution, the allocation of wages and jobs. As Barack Obama noted, when someone gets paid $10 million to eliminate 4,000 jobs, the voters in his district know this is an issue of power not economics. The government can use as tools labor law reform, public works and contracts.

Finally, Illinois needs an industrial strategy. How do we create more jobs for everyone? Illinois has no strategy for encouraging high wage, high productivity jobs.

Professor Wilson’s presentation was based on his forthcoming book, When Work Disappears: the World of the New Urban Poor. William Julius Wilson began by demanding that the left not be intimidated by the Contract on America and how it has limited the terms of the debate. What we need, he asserted, was a jobs policy based roughly on the New Deal’s WPA. The work would concentrate on badly needed infrastructure maintenance and improvement. It would be a universal program; the jobs would be available to everyone, “including Donald Trump” if he chose to do some useful work for a change. These would be new jobs. State and local government would not be allowed to subsidize their own budgets the way they did with CETA in the 1970s.

Professor Dawson spoke on how critical the issues facing this country have become. Not only have the problems themselves become severe, but the politics resulting from them have become a danger to freedom and democracy.

DSA member Joe Schwartz brought the presentations to a rousing close. He observed that any politics of the democratic left needs to confront racism. There is no way we can finesse the issue by simply organizing around universal programs; we need to build a new politics of social solidarity. He concluded by pointing out that all of the proposals given tonight, even the most modest, will be red-baited. We must grow up and be forthright about how social democracy / democratic socialism has made the life of working people better the world over.

Which is exactly our point.

Illinois Was a War Zone

The great Staley lockout of the 1990s

Chicago Democratic Socialists of America has always had labor support as one of its priorities. I’m a charter member and I was involved in much of it. During the 1990s, we were very much involved in supporting one of the monumental strikes in Illinois at that time: Local 837’s campaign to win an equitable contract from A.E. Staley company in Decatur.

Local 837 was a part of the Amalgamated Industrial Workers Union, a small splinter off of a CIO union (the UAW if I remember rightly), and the conflict probably precipitated its merger into the United Paperworkers International Union. They then merged with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers that then merged with the United Steel Workers. A.E. Staley was taken over by the British firm of Lyle & Tate.

The strike ended pretty much in a stand-off. Which is to say that the union members eventually agreed to a contract that was not much better than the original offer. But they did get a union contract.

The strike leadership had been willing to keep the fight going, but the national leadership apparently felt that course would end with no union at all. This difference in judgment left a good bit of bitterness as the local leadership felt the national had intervened in the local behind their backs to organize support for a settlement.

I wrote the five articles below for Chicago DSA’s newsletter, New Ground:

From New Ground 31, September, 1993:


Solidarity Committee Formed with DSA Participation

by Bob Roman

On August 4th, 150 people gathered outside the State of Illinois Center in Chicago to demand that the 760 locked-out employees of the A.E. Staley Company in Decatur receive unemployment compensation. The A.E. Staley Company locked out the workers on June 27th in response to a well organized in-plant/corporate campaign conducted by Allied Industrial Workers Local 837. The employees had been working without a contract for some months prior to the lockout. The demonstration was organized by the ad hoc Staley Workers Solidarity Committee.

Working without a contract is like walking a high wire without a net. But AIW Local 837 was well aware that workers in our country no longer have the right to strike. When the Staley Company refused to negotiate in good faith, the union refused to be provoked into striking. Instead, they organized an in-plant campaign. The campaign consisted of “working to rules”, spontaneous worker demonstrations, visible expressions of support (buttons, tee shirts, etc). But the union realized that to be effective, the conflict had to be expanded. They also embarked upon a corporate campaign to isolate the A.E. Staley Company from the interlocking network of corporate boards in which most major companies participate.

The campaign was effective. Staley directors were dropped from the corporate boards of local banks. Production at the plant dropped. Local press coverage, not noted for any sympathy with unions, became increasingly favorable. And the workers themselves responded with enthusiasm. At a meeting last year attended by 720 of the 760 workers, the workers voted to assess themselves $100 a month to fund the campaign. The vote was nearly unanimous.

The A.E. Staley Company did not sit still. In addition to the usual firings and other personnel actions, the company brought in the notorious union-busting Chicago law firm of Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather and Geraldson. Finally they locked the workers out.

Labor relations at the A.E. Staley Company were never perfect, but the situation did not become grim, if not deadly, until the company was bought out by the British conglomerate Tate & Lyle in 1988. The first thing to suffer was occupational health and safety. There have been several spectacular dust fires. Several employees have suffered permanent injury from exposure to toxic chemicals. And finally, in 1990, an employee named Jim Beals was suffocated by Propylene Oxide. OSHA finally took action and in 1991 assessed a fine of $1.6 million. This is the 12th largest fine ever imposed by OSHA.

The latest news from the lockout has been both good and bad. The locked out workers are now receiving unemployment compensation; however, the workers had been judged ineligible because negotiations were taking place. These talks were not serious — the jargon is “surface bargaining”. But meetings were taking place. Staley has apparently withdrawn their objections and has been making every effort to get the plant back in production without the locked out workers. The implications are ominous.

The Staley Workers Solidarity Committee was organized in July in response to the union’s ongoing outreach effort. The initial meeting brought together 80 people who listened to a delegation from AIW Local 837 and contributed over $900 to the union’s campaign. In addition to the kick-off rally and the August demonstration, the Committee is planning to have a delegation in Chicago’s Labor Day parade and a delegation in Decatur’s Labor Day parade. Another rally is tentatively planned for later in September. The Committee plans to target another of Staley’s corporate interconnections: State Farm Insurance. And a boycott is being organized against Domino Sugar and Western Sugar: two Tate and Lyle subsidiaries. If you would like to assist in these projects, contact the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee at (312) 549-3147 or (312) 738-6060. West Suburban DSA has obtained a copy of the strike video. If your group would like to show the video at a meeting, contact Paul Lenart at (708) 910-7454.

From New Ground 32, January – February, 1994:

Labor Notes

by Bob Roman

It’s old news now, but you may not have heard: the Allied Industrial Workers have merged with the United Paperworkers International Union. The former Allied Industrial Workers is now the UPIU’s Industrial Division, headquartered at the UPIU’s national office in Nashville, Tennessee. The additional 50,000 AIW members makes the Paperworkers the 13th largest union in the United States.

This should be good news to the locked out Staley workers who are represented by AIW Local 837. There has not been a great deal of movement lately in this conflict, but the corporate campaign continues. The current targets include some of the Staley company’s major customers. The union is asking other unions, organizations and individuals to write to the CEO’s of the largest customers expressing support for the locked out Staley workers and urging the company to cease using Staley supplied products. You should direct your letters to the following:

Mr. Paul H. Smucker
Chairman of the Executive Committee
J.M. Smucker Company
Strawberry Lane
Orrville, OH 44667

Mr. John McDonough
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Miller’s Brewing Company
3939 W. Highland Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53201

Mr. Richard D. Condie
President and Chief Executive Officer
Brach Candy
1 Tower Lane
Villa Park, IL 60181

Be sure to make a copy of your letter and pass it along to the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee, ILGWU, 323 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607.

By the time you read this, the second preliminary organizing meeting of Chicago Jobs with Justice will have taken place. Jobs with Justice is the AFL-CIO’s “semi-official” community coalition organization. It has been in business here in Chicago for a couple years now, and Chicago DSA has participated in Jobs with Justice campaigns, but it has largely been a modest, marginal group, representing mostly small unions, such as UE or the ILGWU. The reason is that responsibility for sponsoring Jobs with Justice is divvied-up among the major participating unions at the national level. No one has been willing to take responsibility for Chicago.

This pattern is changing, mainly because someone with a great deal of credibility and respect in the labor movement has taken an interest in the organization: the Honorable Charles Hayes, former Congressman from the 1st Congressional District. Charles Hayes’ commitment to Jobs with Justice has resulted in commitments of support from several of Chicago’s major industrial unions.

From New Ground 41, July – August, 1995

News from the War Zone

by Bob Roman

The labor movement marked the second anniversary of the Staley lock out with a weekend of activity in Decatur on June 24 and 25.

A march and a rally were held on Sunday, June 25. Some 4,000 people attended the rally at the Decatur Civic Center where Jesse Jackson was the keynote speaker. The march and rally were in support of the locked out Staley workers and the striking UAW Caterpillar workers. The Bridgestone-Firestone workers ended their year long strike to avoid having the union de-certified. About 200 of them have accepted back by Bridgestone-Firestone.

The rally was also used, in effect, as a campaign stop for the two opposing slates in the upcoming national AFL-CIO elections. Among the speakers were Tom Donahue, who is running for AFL-CIO President with the support of the current retiring President, Lane Kirkland, and Richard Trumpka of the United Mine Workers who is running on the opposition slate for Donahue’s old position, Secretary Treasurer. Others on the platform included Gerald McEntee (AFSCME), Wayne Glenn (UPIU), Lenore Miller (retail and wholesale employees), Robert Wages (OCAW), and James Hatfield (glass workers).

While this year’s march and rally appears to have been about the size of last year’s, the organizers hope that it may be more significant for the labor movement as a whole. On Saturday, June 24, a Labor Conference on “Rebuilding the Movement” was held at the UPIU Local 7837 hall in Decatur. Some 170 labor activists from 22 states attended the all day conference. They passed resolutions directed at the AFL-CIO’s convention in late October. Among the resolutions passed were some proposals for structural changes in the AFL-CIO; a proposal for a media program that includes establishing a weekly radio and TV cable program and transforming the AFL-CIO News into a popular weekly; and a resolution in support of a labor party.

In the meantime, the fight between UPIU Local 7837 and A.E. Staley company continues. Negotiations, of a sort, are in progress. The Local 7837 bargaining committee asked for the company’s current “best” offer some months ago. The company has been in no hurry to bring it to the table though they may have gotten to it by the time you read this. Consequently, it’s vital that people of good will continue to support Local 7837’s cola campaign. There are two things you can do. The first is quick and easy. Simply sign and send the enclosed postcard. Pepsi and Coca Cola are about half of A.E. Staley’s corn sweetener business. You can also get involved in the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee’s regular campaign of weekend leafleting around places that sell Pepsi. If you have time to help out, call Joe Isobacker at (312) 486-6357 or (312) 996-9030.

From New Ground 42, September – October, 1995

Keep Those Cards and Letters….

by Bob Roman

Having rejected the A. E. Staley Company’s current “best” offer by 57 to 43 percent, the locked out members of UPIU Local 7837 must anticipate the on coming winter with mixed emotions. But as the shadows lengthen toward autumn, the struggle continues in diverse arenas.

In state government, the union is asking that the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Community Affairs remove the Staley Company’s exemption from a variety of state taxes. These exemptions had been granted on the condition that Staley maintain some 1,600 full time jobs at the Decatur facility.

On the Federal level, the Staley company is becoming increasingly entangled the Archer Daniel Midland antitrust investigation, including being sued by Pepsi for damages from price fixing.

But most of the visible activity centers around the campaign pressuring Pepsi (and others) to cease purchasing Staley corn sweetener. Activists around the country have been targeting Pepsi sponsored summer events as excellent opportunities to spread the word, including the August 27th opening of Navy Pier, as well as leafleting and picketing Pepsi – owned companies like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried. You can help by sending the enclosed postcard. If you’ve already sent it, send it again. Or call Pepsi at (800) 433-2652.

From New Ground 44, January – February, 1996

Staley Lockout Nearing an End?

by Bob Roman

As New Ground goes to press, some significant developments have been happening in the two and a half year lock out of the A.E. Staley Company workers. There is a chance that the lockout may be over soon.

On Monday and Tuesday, December 11 and 12, UPIU Local 7837 conducted its regular leadership election. Incumbent President David Watts was defeated, 249 to 200, by former bargaining committee chairman James D. Shinall. This is generally reported as a victory by a faction of the union rather more willing to settle on the company’s terms.

On Wednesday, December 13, the A.E. Staley Company presented the union bargaining committee with a new offer. This is indeed speedy work for the company. The last time the union membership directed the bargaining committee to request a best offer from the company, it took the company months to bring an offer to the table. The new offer seems to be a calculated test of the union’s resolve, although ignorance of union civics is also possible: The new leadership does not take office until January.

On Wednesday evening, the lame duck union board rejected the offer, saying it was little different from the other offers rejected by the union. The outgoing local president, David Watts, said the new proposal had more acceptable language regarding grievance and arbitration but still contained work shifts of 12 hours and other provisions that would cut union jobs. President-elect James Shinall pledged to support David Watts until the leadership changes in January.

UPIU President Wayne Glen could overrule the local decision and refer the contract to a vote. The common gossip has it that the contract offer would be accepted by the membership if it came to a vote. At press time, there was no word of any decision.


I was not the only one writing about the Staley strike for New Ground. Also worth reading are Kurt Anderson’s “We should just go in there and take over the whole plant ourselves” in New Ground 35 and Michael Sacco’s “Thousands ‘Take’ the Streets: Baffle Cops” in New Ground 37.

The Staley lockout / strike was not the only major strike in downstate Illinois in the mid-1990s. For a good account of that time, see Three Strikes by Stephen Franklin, Guilford Press, 2001. This is no longer in Guilford’s catalog, so you’ll have to rely on your local public library or the 2nd hand market, eg Amazon, eBay, etc.


Accountably Private

Back in 1994, Alderman Joe Moore surprised everyone by introducing an ordinance that would have regulated privatization of Chicago government, basically by requiring a public exercise of due diligence. The Alderman hadn’t done his own due diligence by discussing the issue with potential allies… such as the Chicago Federation of Labor though it’s not clear that the leadership back then would have been any more enthusiastic. The leadership back then was willing to fight but only when unions’ interests were directly threatened, which is to say not very often.

The ordinance did pick up co-sponsors but it was assigned to committee and never heard of again.

It was a brilliant bit of public policy, though, and I covered the ordinance in New Ground 38, January — February, 1995 issue. Begging your pardon for the somewhat overwrought first paragraph. The actual text of the ordinance is of particular interest and may still be worth pursuing.

Accountably Private

by Robert Roman

George Orwell should have written a sequel to 1984, entitled 1994. In this Brave Newt World (to bring hallucinogenic Huxley into the metaphor), the idea that private enterprise is inherently more cost effective or efficient has become an article of political correctness, to be believed regardless of any evidence pro or con and without reference as to how this effectiveness or efficiency might be achieved. It helps, of course, that all the pigs at this particular trough are potential campaign contributors. In 1994, we face the next step in the commodification of politics. The first step was the destruction of political parties and the rise of a free-enterprise style politics. The next is the mad auction of public capital (or was that the first step, in the book 1884?). Now we have the auction of government itself. The final step could be a form of industrial feudalism.

In truth, there may be instances when privately contracted services would be more effective than the same services provided through municipal government. And there may be ways of doing this in a way that promotes democracy and community development. But there has not been any good tool available for municipal government to effect such a change in a rational, informed manner. The whole topic has been left open to the entrepreneurs of political cant and kickback.

The Privatization Accountability Ordinance, introduced by Chicago’s 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore in November of 1994, is an attempt to bring some rationality and accountability to the process.

First of all, the municipal departments seeking to privatize a government function must undertake a cost effectiveness study, using a uniform set of criteria. In a statement released upon introduction of the ordinance, Alderman Moore pointed out:

“…in most cases we simply don’t know if privatization has really cut costs or improved service delivery because there are no objective standards in place to measure its effectiveness. The City simply does not publicize any cost effectiveness studies it may undertake nor does it publicly document the contract costs.

“There is also no evidence that the City even considers factors other than direct costs when determining whether to privatize a city service. For example, we don’t know if the City takes into account the hidden costs, such as the expense of monitoring contracts and the cost of contractors using city equipment. We don’t know if the City factors in future price increases. And we don’t know if the city examines the economic impact job loss and lower salaries and benefits have on city employees and the further effect this has had on the economic health of our neighborhoods.”

The ordinance further requires that the cost effectiveness study demonstrate a minimum savings of 10%. The contracts issued must comply with applicable anti-discrimination and affirmative action requirements and the Shakman decree against patronage hiring. The ordinance requires that contractors pay wages and benefits at a rate and level not less than that provided to City employees performing comparable tasks. The savings must come from organizational efficiency and not out of the pockets of the employees.

The ordinance also includes requirements regarding contractor eligibility, the necessity for Annual Performance Reports, assistance for displaced city employees, and city council review of proposed and existing privatization initiatives.

Not surprisingly, the Privatization Accountability Ordinance has received the endorsement of organized labor in Chicago. Following the initiative of AFSCME Council 31, the Chicago Federation of Labor endorsed the ordinance. President Michael Burton had been quoted earlier as commenting that while the ordinance was good, labor would have liked to have had input into the formation of the proposal. Nonetheless, the CFL has already begun lobbying Mayor Daley and the City Council to take action on the ordinance.

The stone requires help to start rolling. The ordinance was committed to the care of the City Council Committee on the Budget and Government Operations, chaired by Lorraine Dixon of the Eighth Ward. No hearings have yet been scheduled. While it may be unreasonable to expect any serious consideration from the City Council prior to the elections, now is the time that the Aldermen and their challengers are most vulnerable to pressure on the issue.

The Chicago DSA Executive Committee has also endorsed the Privatization Accountability Ordinance, and we urge you to make your opinions known, not just to your Alderman but to all candidates running for the City Council in your ward. If it happens that you are not sure which ward you reside in, the address label will have (for home address) your ward and precinct on the top line, i.e. “WP/O: 4927”.


Section 1. Chapter 2-92 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by adding new sections 2-29-590 through 2-92-690 as follows:

2-92-590 Title and Purpose

This section shall be known and may be cited as the “Privatization Accountability Ordinance”. It is the purpose of this section and the policy of the City to ensure that the residents of the City receive high quality public services at the lowest possible cost, with due regard for the taxpayers of the City and the needs of both public and private sector workers.

2-92-600 Definitions

Whenever used in sections 2-92-590 through 2-92-690 the following words and phrases shall have the following meanings:

“Privatization” means a contract between a City department and a person or firm in the private sector, regardless of whether the person or firm is a for-profit entity or a non-for-profit entity, for any function performed by personnel employed by a city department on the effective date of this ordinance.

“Displace” shall mean the layoff, demotion, bumping, involuntary transfer to a new class, title, or location, time based reductions, reductions in customary hours of work, wages or benefits of any City employee.

“Cost-effectiveness study” shall mean an analysis conducted in accordance with the standard methodology of the Office of Budget and Management comparing the projected cost of delivering the service under the proposed contract to the cost of delivering the service in-house. The analysis shall include in the projected cost of the proposed contract of inspection, supervision and monitoring. The analysis shall exclude from the cost of delivering the service in-house all overhead costs unless such costs are attributable sole to such service.

2-92-610 Privatization Requirements

Privatization of City services is permissible to achieve cost savings when all of the following conditions are met:

(a) The contracting department must prepare a detailed statement of the services proposed to be privatized and undertake a cost-effectiveness study prior to the award of any contract. Such study shall include, but not be limited to, documentation of all contract costs for each service, the total number and qualifications of all personnel to be retained under the proposed contract, and the nature and cost of the fringe benefits and compensation rates to be provided to such personnel. All cost analyses and documentation thereof shall be public documents available for public inspection and shall be filed with the contracting department, the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations, and the Department of Purchases, Contracts and Supplies.
(b) The projected cost savings for a privatization initiative must exceed ten percent of the cost of delivering the service with City employees.
(c) The contract must be awarded through a publicized, competitive bidding process.
(d) The contract must include specific provisions setting forth the qualifications required of the staff performing the work under the contract and assurances that staff will be hired in accordance with applicable anti-discrimination and affirmative action requirements and the Shakman decree prohibitions against hiring and firing employees on the basis of political beliefs or activities.
(e) The contract must provide that the contractor shall not pay wages and benefits at a rate and level lower than that provided to City employees performing comparable tasks.
(f) The contract must provide that fifty percent of all contract work hours shall be performed by bona fide City of Chicago residents.
(g) The potential economic advantage of the privatization initiative must outweigh the public’s interest in having a particular function performed directly by City government.

2-92-620 Privatization Permitted

Privatization initiatives also shall be permissible when any of the following conditions are met:

(a) The services contracted are not available or cannot be performed satisfactorily by City employees, or are of such a highly specialized or technical nature that the necessary expert knowledge, experience, and ability are not available in the City workforce.
(b) The services are incidental to a contract for the purchase or lease of real or personal property, including but not limited to, agreements to service or maintain leased or rented office equipment or computers.
(c) A private contractor is necessary to protect against a conflict of interest or to ensure independent and unbiased findings in circumstances where an outside perspective is clearly needed.
(d) A private contractor can provide equipment, materials, facilities, or support services that cannot feasibly be provided by the City in the location where the service is to be performed.
(e) The services are of such an urgent, temporary, or occasional nature that they cannot adequately be performed by City employees.

2-92-630 Eligibility of Contractors

All contractors submitted bids must submit an eligibility report to the department overseeing the privatization contract, the Department of Purchasing, Contracts and Supplies and the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations. Such reports shall include, but not be limited to,

(a) documentation of compliance with Federal, State and City labor, anti-discrimination, affirmative action, unemployment, occupational safety and health, environmental protection and workers’ compensation laws;
(b) quarterly payroll records listing the name, address, Social Security number, hours worked, hourly wages paid and fringe benefits paid for each employee for the last two years;
(c) the union status and representation for each employee for the last two years;
(d) the ethnic, racial and gender make-up of its workforce for the last two years; and
(e) a list of the political contributions of the contractor and its principals for the last four years.

Such reports shall be public documents available for public inspection.

2-92-640 Annual Performance Reports

All contractors awarded a procurement pursuant to sections 2-92-610 and 2-92-620 of this ordinance shall submit annual performance reports to the department overseeing the contract, the Department of Purchases, Contracts and Supplies, and the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations. Such performance reports shall include but not be limited to,

(a) documentation of compliance with Federal, State and City labor, anti-discrimination, affirmative action, unemployment, occupational safety and health, environmental protection and workers’ compensation laws;
(b) payroll records listing the name, address, Social Security number, hours worked, hourly wage paid and fringe benefits paid for each employee;
(c) the union status and representation for each employee;
(d) the ethnic, racial and gender make-up of the workforce; and
(e) a list of the political contributions of the contractor and its principals for the last year.

Such reports shall be public documents available for public inspection.

2-92-650 Withholding Reimbursement

Where privatization initiatives are funded pursuant to sections 2-92-610 and 2-92-620 of this ordinance, the Department of Purchases, Contracts and Supplies shall include a withholding clause in the privatization contract providing the City with the authority to withhold reimbursement if the contractor fails to comply with sections 2-92-640 of this chapter.

2-92-660 Assistance for Displaced City Employees

Where privatization initiatives are funded pursuant to sections 2-92-610 and 2-92-620 of this ordinance, the department overseeing the privatization contract shall prepare and implement a plan of assistance for City employees who will be displaced as a result of the contract. Such plan of assistance shall include efforts, including training if necessary, to place displaced City employees in a comparable position within that agency or any other City agency. The plan of assistance shall include notification to the City of Chicago Department of Personnel at least three months prior to letting the contract. Such notification shall include all supporting documentation and analyses in support of the privatization initiative and a copy of the contract. The Department of Personnel shall within five business days of receipt of such notification, forward notice and all supporting documentation provided in this section to all duly certified collective bargaining representatives who represent City employees who may be displaced by such contract.

2-92-670 City Council Review of Proposed Privatization Initiatives

Any City department proposing to execute a contract pursuant to sections 2-92-610 and 2-92-620 of this ordinance shall notify the chairman of the City Council Committee on the Budget and Government Operations of its intention. The chairman of the Committee on the Budget and Government Operations shall thereupon call a meeting of the committee for a date not more than thirty days thereafter, at which meeting representatives of the City department shall explain the reasons for privatizing the city service. All organizations that represent City employees who perform the work to be contracted, and any person or organization which has filed with the committee a request for notice, shall be contacted by the Committee upon receipt of this notice so that they may be given an opportunity to appear before the Committee to comment on the proposed contract. The City department submitting the proposed contract shall provide committee members seven days before the meeting all data and other information relevant to the proposed contract and the application of the standards and criteria set forth in sections 2-92-610 through 2-92-640. No contract shall be executed until thirty days after the adjournment of the aforesaid meeting.

2-92-680 City Council Review of Existing Privatization Initiatives

The City Council Committee on the Budget and Government Operations shall conduct annual hearings on all contracts executed pursuant to sections 2-92-610 and 2-92-620. The City department overseeing the privatization initiative shall provide to all committee members seven days before the hearings all data and other information relevant to the privatization initiative and the application of the standards and criteria set forth in section 2-92-610 through 2-92-650, including, but not limited to, data setting forth the cost-effectiveness of the privatization initiative.

2-92-690 Severability

If any provision, clause, sentence or paragraph of sections 2-92-590 through 2-92-680 or the application thereof shall be held invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such invalidity shall not affect the other provisions of this ordinance which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this ordinance are declared to be severable.

Section 2. This ordinance shall be in full force and effect after its passage and approval.

“Party at Ground Zero”

with apologies to Fishbone

Note: the 1994 mid-term election was a disaster for liberal / left politics, especially in Congress. The article below was my attempt to come to grips with the consequences. It was originally published in the November — December, 1994, issue of New Ground.

Party at Ground Zero

by Bob Roman

It’s hard to be current in a bi-monthly publication, and the recent elections happened right before the deadline for New Ground, but we couldn’t let the recent conflagration pass without comment. Unfortunately, the days of “scientific socialism” are past. No longer can an accurate assessment of the objective material conditions in the context of dialectical materialism turn every Jimmy Higgins into an instant Kevin Philips. Whither America? Your guess is as good as mine.

The election results were worse than we generally expected. It was considered possible that the Republicans would gain control of both the House and the Senate, but it wasn’t considered likely. It happened. The Single Payer initiative in California lost and the anti-immigrant initiative passed. The Republican sweep extended even to the state level, with Democratic governors and legislators exploding in flame like so many bone dry pines.

Yet the democratic left did not do too badly. Bernie Sanders squeaked back into the House. DSA members Ron Dellums (72%) and Major Owens (89%) were reelected.

The Democratic incumbents who were defeated tended to be the more conservative and centerist members of Congress. The ironies are manifest. We have a somewhat more liberal Democratic Congressional delegation being led by a somewhat more conservative president. No one is happy with the situation; no one wants to be identified as a Democrat — not even Bill Clinton?

“And the World Will Turn to Floating Vapor Soon”

So now we’re back to fighting defensive battles. There’ll be no more discussion about what kind of national health plan to have, at best we’ll tinker with insurance reform- maybe. Bid a sad farewell to labor law reform, reproductive rights, a better Supreme Court, public education, civil rights….

So what kind of bulwark can we expect Clinton to be? He won’t be much of one, I think. Clinton was already in favor of a balanced budget amendment and a line-item veto. His welfare reform package differed only in degree from the Republican proposal. On other issues he is as likely to roll over and ask for a belly rub as he is to show his teeth with a veto.

Luckily, the President is not the only option. The Republicans did not sleep through high school civics class. They remembered that the Federal government was designed specifically to provide a minority veto to the desires of the majority. They have very professionally demonstrated the utility of such a strategy for the past two years. If at least some of the Democrats in Congress are willing, there will be plenty of opportunities for bomb throwing and sabotage.

The obstructionist strategy does have some pitfalls for the left that it did not have for the right. Destroying the ability of the majority to govern fits the conservative shibboleth of governmental incompetence just fine, and we need to be wise about just how such a strategy is implemented

Third party politics will continue to be problematic. Certainly there’s going to be a great deal of activist enthusiasm for the various third party projects on the left. Even Clinton doesn’t seem to want to be identified as a Democrat. You’ll notice that when he accepted “responsibility” for the electoral débâcle, he did not include his role as head of the Democratic Party. But the natural tendency for the organizations clustered around the Democratic Party will be to circle the wagons rather than experiment.

Don’t dismiss the possibility of a third party or independent campaigns, though. The unruly rabble of organizations and players that’s called the “Democratic Party” could split — in either direction, particularly if the electorate demonstrated an enthusiasm for the idea. Unfortunately, most of the grass roots enthusiasm for such a project is to our right. Not that a split is our balm in gilead. If it were to happen, the last of this century would remain Republican, but it could open up some longer term possibilities.

It’s more likely that we will continue to see an erosion of the relevance of party labels. Party loyalty, above the county level of government, has not been a major feature of U.S. politics for a long time. The next few years should see it drop to a new low and an increasing number of elected officials running independent, non-party campaigns.


Stanley Aronowitz accused DSA of being only concerned about “what we’re going to do on Monday”. All right, I confess: What are we going to do on Monday? I wish I knew. Though in general terms, coalition politics will be the name of the game. It is vital that as broad a coalition as possible be mobilized to demonstrate that the “contract on America” is not acceptable. Time is critical; the Congressional conservatives will try to move very quickly. We must be there to say no!

A forest fire burns off a lot of dead wood, allowing a renewal of the forest. It’s our task to get in there and go to seed. And grow.

“This is not a charade!”

It’s a Hard Rain That’s Gonna Fall

Racine County has been in the news lately in connection with the great Foxconn give-away, or rip-off if you prefer. Back in 1991, though, the city of Racine was the location of a rather nasty strike at Rainfair. The mostly female workforce stayed out, braved “permanent replacements” and eventually successfully settled the strike.

It might be just another nasty, forgettable episode in the long history of class conflict in America, but rumor on the street was that Management’s aggressive stance was not entirely a result of the company’s circumstances but rather that Wisconsin’s business community had decided it was time to tame the union movement. If you take the long view, this strike may have been the start a long process culminating in Governor Scott Walker and his ilk.

The two articles below were published in the Winter, 1991, and the Spring, 1992, issues of New Ground.

It’s a Hard Rain That’s Gonna Fall

by Bob Roman

A small civil war is simmering just across the Wisconsin border in Racine. It is there that the 136 members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 187 have been on strike against Rainfair, a manufacturer of rain gear. The mostly female employees of Rainfair have been on strike since June 20, after the company provoked a strike by presenting a final offer demanding unreasonable concessions from their workers. The average wage of Rainfair workers was $6.60 an hour. The company demanded an increase in employee co-payment of health insurance to over $100 a month, the elimination of two paid holidays, and the scheduling of weekend work without overtime pay. Since the strike has begun, Rainfair has hired 72 scabs as “permanent replacements”. The strike is widely seen as the opening move in a statewide campaign against organized labor.

Labor has good reason to be worried about this skirmish. Racine is a small industrial town with a population of some 80,000 just south of Milwaukee. It’s a union town, but it’s also a company town. The economy is dominated by Johnson and Johnson. Rainfair is owned by Craig Leipold, a relation to the Johnson family by marriage. While Racine is the Johnson family’s home turf, the family’s influence extends far beyond the town’s borders. In Wisconsin in particular, the family is part of a network of interlocking directorates among a wide variety of corporations. The word on the street is that the Johnson family has been pushing a “get tough on unions” line in the corporate boardrooms that they inhabit. The IAM and UAW have contract negotiations coming up next year with some of these companies.

It’s not just the union bureaucracies that are worried. The membership is worried and angry too. There’s been no problem in recruiting support for the Rainfair workers from the rank and file of other unions. For example, one day recently some 500 members from the Communication Workers of America showed up at the plant gate, surprising pickets, police, and scabs alike. The police, of course, regarded the event as a “riot” and the company lawyers are attempting to use it as justification for an injuction limiting picket line activities, but the unions do have difficulty in telling their members to be non-violent. It’s becoming dangerous to be a scab in Racine.

These “permanent replacements” were the occasion for a march and rally in Racine on Saturday, October 5th. The demonstration was organized to support the Rainfair strikers but also to demand the override of Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson’s veto of Wisconsin legislation which banned “permanent replacements”. A small, hastily recruited delegation from Chicago DSA attended the rally.

The rally was coordinated by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Some 700 people attended the rally, representing an impressive list of unions: AFGE, AFSCME, CWA, IAM, IBT, USWA, and UAW to name just a few of the more obvious. Eleven speakers exhorted the crowd to support the strikers and to lobby both state and federal legislators on anti-scab legislation. Some speakers were very good and some were not, but it didn’t seem to matter. The crowd’s spirit seemed to carry each speaker regardless of ability.

But two speakers deserve special mention. One was Jane Brosseau, who represented the Racine chapter of the National Organization for Women. She began by stating that she was talking to the women of the labor movement and the female strikers at Rainfair. This was an immediate turn-off for much of the crowd. In particular, the small but vocal delegation from the Teamsters was not at all impressed, and began talking loudly amongst themselves. But they didn’t talk for long, because they quickly perceived that Brosseau’s message was a union message: that the fight at Rainfair was important because it was a fight for equality; the women were not working for “pin money” but to support their families. By the end of her speech, Brosseau had earned the crowd’s enthusiastic approval. The other speaker of note was Illinois’ own Congressman Charles Hayes. Despite all the militant talk and demands for justice, it was Congressman Hayes who brought upt the idea of class conflict. He did it deftly, without jargon; the crowd knew exactly what he was talking about and they approved.

It’s hard to convey the spirit of the rally. Mostly it was a feeling of intense togetherness with an edge of nervous worry and anger. But there was something more. Frank Klein, a staffer with the ILGWU, observed that the labor movement is something of a counter-culture in America. The sociologist in me wants to substitute “subculture” in this observation, yet there is a romance to the movement that is instantly obvious to an aging hippie. On the final chorus of “Solidairity Forever”, the low drizzly clouds finally and decisively broke. The rally was flooded with sunlight. It may not have been Woodstock, but it sure felt like it.

Return to Rainfair: Solidarity Works

by Bob Roman

The ILGWU strike against Rainfair, reported in the last issue of New Ground, was settled on December 20. All the striking workers returned to work with a 20 cent per hour raise and a limited health insurance co-payment. The settlement is being credited to labor solidarity.

While the strike took nearly six months, the settlement reached would probably have been acceptable to the employees had it been offered to them within the first few weeks of the strike. It was only the bloody-minded anti-union attitude of the Rainfair company that kept the conflict going. It was this hostility set against an underpaid, mostly female work force represented by a small union that made the strike a perfect metaphor for the state of labor today. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the AFL-CIO started to mobilize its resources in support of the strikers.

One has to wonder at the stupidity of the Rainfair company. Most of its product is used by police, firemen, letter carriers and the building trades. Faced with the prospect of a labor boycott, Rainfair’s distributors made it very plain to the company that its goods were not worth the hassle: If a boycott developed, the wholesalers were not going to continue distributing Rainfair products. Faced with this prospect, Rainfair’s effort at union-busting collapsed, even to the point of returning production shifted elsewhere to the Kenosha plant and bringing back all the strikers. The only face the company saved was the retention of at least some of the “permanent” replacements.

The scabs do not seem to have a long life expectancy. This is not because the ILGWU is particularly interesting in running them out of the plant but rather the circumstances of work at the plant. Some of the scabs were only interested in earning Christmas money and not much interested in continuing to work past the holiday. Others had become accustomed to the lenient working conditions during the strike and were not at all prepared for the strict workplace discipline that is normal to the plant. And finally, while the “market place” does not highly value the work of the employees, it is not an unskilled occupation. These “new” employees just do not have the skill necessary to keep up with the older employees.

The strike has also had beneficial consequences outside the ILGWU. At least one Wisconsin employer, U.S. Can, has begun contract negotiations early specifically to avoid a strike. What was intended as the opening move in a campaign to break organized labor has ended in something of a retreat.

At the same time, solidarity often seems to be given more lip service than concrete application. It is true that at least part of the Rainfair victory is due to Capital’s ill-considered choice of a battleground: a company whose product is used mostly by unionized employees at the workplace and whose plant is located in a solidly union town. But rightly or wrongly, many other unions have been considerably less aggressive in soliciting outside help. It’s worth asking to what extent this is a considered judgement based on the “objective” political situation and to what extent it is that solidarity is a lesson that must be continually relearned.