August 31, 2018
You may be familiar with the union bumper-sticker: American Labor, the People who brought you the Weekend. It’s a good time to remember this historic truth and the many accomplishments of organized labor in the United States as well as in other democratic countries. It’s important too that we renew our commitment to the unfinished business of social and economic equality. The forty-hour week, workers’ compensation, overtime wages, paid vacation and sick-time, occupational health and safety standards, all these we owe to unions.
And these victories came at great cost: strikers were beaten and sometimes killed. There were assassination attempts on union leaders. Before the passage, in 1935 of the “Wagner Act” named for its sponsor, the great Sen Robert Wagner of New York, organizers could be fired with no recourse. In the United States, unions introduced generations of immigrants to civic life and promoted solidarity among newcomers. In mines and in factories, immigrants from all over the world recognized all they had in common and worked in solidarity. Unions brought dignity, too. Young women who had been persecuted in Tsarist Russia, created the ILGWU, the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. A. Philip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925, the first predominantly African-American union. Randolph influenced President Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order in 1941, banning discrimination in defense industries, and convinced President Truman to end segregation in the armed forces. Both the ILGWU and the Pullman Porters resisted fears that immigrants would take American jobs and joined Eleanor Roosevelt in urging generous refugee policies after World War II.
Recent years have seen a decline in industrial unions even though much remains to be done: the $15/hour national minimum wage, paid family leave, affordable child care, and, during this Administration, defending the right to organize, OSHA inspections, and protecting all the other progress made in the last century. We should celebrate Labor Day, conscious of both our history and our future.
Ukrainian Independence Day
Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August 24, 1991. It was my privilege to join Ukrainian Consul Denys Semenovych, local officials, and a group of proud Ukrainian-Americans for a flag raising on City Hall Plaza. Consul Semenovych, who is based in New York, spoke of his love for Boston and our revolutionary past. I spoke of my trip to Ukraine and my admiration for the people whom I met there. The newly independent state faces serious problems. Russia has occupied the Crimean Peninsula and still controls lands within Ukraine’s eastern border. Despite these challenges and provocations, the country is relatively stable and, according to U.S. Department of State Human Rights reports, both international and domestic observers judged the 2014 presidential and legislative elections free and fair. I thought, as I often do, about the two oceans that protected our democracy in its formative years.
Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants
I spent some time recently at the annual Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants summer cookout, talking with MAHT members. They all expressed worry about the future of affordable housing and federal funding for community organizing, a concern that I share deeply. It is no secret that this Administration neither understands nor appreciates the importance of housing or the essential role organizers play. Despite our shared concerns related to the current Administration, I appreciated their invitation and look forward to my continued work with them.
Upham’s Corner Adult Day Care
I visited an Adult Day Care facility, part of the Upham’s Corner Community Health Center. CHCs provide essential medical services to both urban and rural neighborhoods. Upham’s Corner provides services under the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). I met clients and staff, including two physicians who told me how much they had learned about the practice of medicine by making home visits. PACE serves not just the medical needs of the elderly but also the needs of their family caregivers. Programs like adult day care offer companionship, activities, and healthy meals to elders and precious respite time for those caring for them at home. I engaged in a lively exchange with program participants and staff. As are so many others, they were very concerned about the future of Medicaid and Medicare, as well as that of affordable housing.
Remembering Ambassador Princeton Lyman
Ambassador Princeton Lyman, a distinguished career diplomat died last week. He devoted his life to defending democracy and promoting peace. He was our Ambassador to South Africa and a friend of Nelson Mandela when apartheid ended and majority rule was achieved. He convinced U.S. policy makers that the transition could be peaceful and helped direct American influence as well as economic and political assistance to help avert civil war. He knew sub-Saharan Africa better, perhaps, than any other American diplomat: he had served as director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID) in Ethiopia and as Ambassador to Nigeria.
I was privileged to work with him when he served as Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan from 2011-2013, appointed by President Obama. The Darfur genocide and frequent Northern incursions into the South convinced many of us that the government in Khartoum ought not to control all of Sudan. A referendum confirmed the wish of the people of South Sudan to become an independent nation and the new state was proclaimed in July 2011. All did not go smoothly. Ambassador Lyman read all the factions shrewdly, and he was not afraid to deliver tough messages to warring parties, urging them to find non-violent solutions to the issues that divided them. He and I were profoundly saddened that South Sudan has not been able, in its early years, to achieve stable democracy. I was always grateful for his insight, his candor, and his intellectual and moral courage.
Behind the Curtain — More House and Trump Administration Actions You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.
- According to an August 2018 NY Times report, the CFPB will no longer supervise compliance with the Military Lending Act, other than to respond to complaints if and when they come in. Active service military members are some of those most preyed upon by unscrupulous lenders. They deserve better than lax enforcement and weak oversight. This new policy is a drastic change from the previous Administration’s attitude towards consumers and renders hollow this Administration’s professed support for the military.
- According to an August 2018 Washington Post report, ICE is arresting unsuspecting immigrants who attend meetings in government offices on their path towards legal permanent residency. We should be encouraging, not discouraging, those who are trying to obtain legal residency. I joined all 9 members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation in urging the Department of Homeland Security to immediately halt the practice.
- According to an August 27, 2018 report from Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, the Trump administration is on pace to increase its promotion of the President’s business compared to the first year of Trump in office. They documented 54 public references to Trump brands, including references inserted in the middle of completely unrelated remarks. Trump refused to divest his companies and is now using his public office to promote them.
- The Washington Post reported in early August on a lawsuit filed against the Trump Administration on behalf of children separated at the border. The judge in the case ordered the Administration to stop drugging the captive children with psychotropic medications without the knowledge and consent of their parents or without a court order. The federal district court judge, Dolly Gee, cited testimony from the children explaining how they were required to take medication every morning and night, including in some cases being forcibly injected, or threatened with indefinite detention.
What’s Up Next
The House is currently in a District Work period. The next House votes will occur on Tuesday September 4th.