Category Archives: Politics

It Started in Wisconsin

Source: Ben Manski, Sarah Manski, Jacobin, March 1, 2018

The rise and fall of Wisconsin’s remarkable 2011 uprising holds lessons for a post-Janus world…..

…. Journalists reporting on the implications of the impending Janus decision often note that recent experiences in Wisconsin offer a preview. In this, they’re usually referring to the impacts of anti-union legislation signed into law in Wisconsin in 2011-2012. But we think Wisconsin offers another set of lessons as well: of how a twenty-first century mass uprising by hundreds of thousands — perhaps more than a million — working people came about in one US state, and of where that unprecedented uprising faltered. ….

Will the Court Consider the Facts in Janus?

Source: Andrew Strom, On Labor blog, February 28, 2018 

Mark Janus’s lawyers are desperate to have the Court decide Janus v. AFSCME without considering any facts.  Janus is an Illinois state employee, who is represented by AFSCME Council 31.  Like all other employees in his bargaining unit, he is required to pay fair share fees to the union to cover the costs of providing representation.  Janus wants to Court to rule that these fees are unconstitutional without even considering how AFSCME spends these fees.  Janus also thinks that somehow the Court can decide that his refusal to fund union speech on workplace issues is protected by the First Amendment without overturning a series of cases holding that the grievances of public employees are not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.  In addition, Janus thinks that merely by saying so, the Court can decide that states have a compelling interest in requiring lawyers to pay bar dues to mandatory bar associations, but no similar compelling interest in requiring public employees to pay fair share fees.  Janus’s lawyers realize that the more the Court considers actual facts, the harder it is for them to win their case, so their approach has been to insist that the case can be decided without any factual record.  But, the oral argument made clear that if the Court is not prepared to simply reaffirm its forty-year old precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the only responsible move is to remand the case to develop a factual record…..

Related:
Coverage After the Janus Oral Argument
Source: Maddy Joseph, On Labor blog, February 28, 2018

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Monday in Janus.  Analyses report that, as expected, there were pointed questions for AFSCME and Illinois by Justices Alito and Kennedy; the four liberal justices took every opportunity to highlight the potential effects of overruling Abood on collective bargaining and the ability of governments to manage their workforces.  Justice Gorsuch was silent.  There is a summary on SCOTUSblog, plus another analysis there.  NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times also have solid summaries.  At the Atlantic, Garrett Epps highlights how little hard evidence there is in Janus–with no trial, there is not a developed record; and neither Janus nor the U.S. filled in those facts at argument.

The Times had a nihilistic editorial: assuming that the Court would overrule Abood, the editorial put Janus in political context.  It began with Merrick Garland and ended, “Whatever the justices decide in Mr. Janus’s case, the drama that preceded it is another reminder of the importance of every Supreme Court appointment.”…..

The Radical Roots of Janus

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, American Prospect, February 27, 2018

The attorney whose arguments were heard in the Supreme Court yesterday—a decade after his death—actually wanted all unions outlawed. …. As the Supreme Court heard the pivotal union case, Janus v. AFSCME, on Monday, an unacknowledged presence haunted its chambers: that of Sylvester Petro, who conceived the argument on which the case turns. Although he died in 2007, this ideologically driven, anti-union law professor originated the legal strategy behind this case. His radical vision illuminates Janus’s profound implications. 

Petro was the first to contend that public-sector collective bargaining was simply a form of politics, and that therefore, any effort to require government workers to pay “agency fees” to a union in return for its representational work amounted to compelled political speech that infringed on their First Amendment rights—the argument that Illinois public employee Mark Janus embraced in this case. Petro tried unsuccessfully to get the court to endorse that argument in the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the precedent Janus seeks to overturn.

Yet despite Petro’s seminal role in shaping their argument, Janus and his supporters seem intent on erasing any memory of Petro. His name is not mentioned among the voluminous citations of some two-dozen briefs supporting Janus. 

Petro’s invisibility is intentional. Those who seek to advance his vision today know that any reference to his radically anti-union views would expose their equally radical aims. ….

Learning from Fannie Lou Hamer

Source: Matthew Miles Goodrich, Dissent, October 6, 2017

…. October 6th marks the centennial of Hamer’s birth. She is remembered for her outspoken moral courage (“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” has traveled from epitaph on her gravestone to epigraph of working-class exasperation), her magnanimity, and, whenever morale waned, her impassioned renditions of the spirituals “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine.” But her own charisma might overshadow her deeper contributions to the movement. Her commitment to voter registration and her personal philanthropy as an anti-poverty worker in Mississippi later in life are well known. But by taking advantage of the crumbling political order to win enfranchisement of African-Americans within the Democratic Party, Hamer proved to be one of the most brilliant strategists of the civil rights movement. On the 100th anniversary of her birth, it’s worth examining how today’s left can learn from this overlooked part of her legacy. ….

…. Bayard Rustin described the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as the civil rights movement’s most innovative arm. Hamer and her delegates made “a conscious bid for political power” (emphasis his), jockeying for influence within the broad tent of the Democratic coalition. A strategic left today would continue the effort Hamer started. We need fewer nonprofits and more insurrections that beat down the doors of the Democratic coalition, while maintaining Hamer’s unflinching commitment to racial justice.

Though the Republican Party in 2017 holds more legislative seats than ever, its coalition is too broad and too weak to sustain. Realignment is inevitable. A left that profits from it is not. …

Argument analysis: Gorsuch stays mum on union fees

Source: Amy Howe, SCOTUSblog, February 26, 2018

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Janus v. American Federation of State, Municipal, and County Employees, a challenge by an Illinois child-support specialist to the fees that he is required to pay to the union that represents him, even though he does not belong to any union. Although this is the first trip to the Supreme Court for Mark Janus, the employee, it was the third time in four years that the justices have taken the bench to consider the issue presented by Janus’ case. After roughly an hour of sometimes testy debate in the courtroom, the outcome almost certainly hinges on the vote of the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch – who did not tip his hand, opting instead to remain silent…..

Unions are confronted with an existential threat

Source: The Economist, February 22, 2018

Mark Janus could be making history this year. On February 26th the social worker from Illinois will be sitting with his two lawyers in the hallowed setting of the Supreme Court as the justices hear one hour of oral arguments in Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which asks whether public employees like himself, who choose not to join their designated union, may still be charged a compulsory “agency fee” to support collective bargaining. Mr Janus argues that the fee violates his First Amendment right to freedom of speech, because it forces him to subsidise an organisation whose bargaining position he rejects.

The court’s ruling in the case could determine the future of the labour movement…..

Janus and fair share fees: The organizations financing the attack on unions’ ability to represent workers

Source: Celine McNicholas, Zane Mokhiber, and Marni von Wilpert, Economic Policy Institute, February 21, 2018

From the press release:
In a new paper, EPI Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas and research assistant Zane Mokhiber report that the Supreme Court case Janus v AFSCME Council 31, along with previous cases challenging unions’ right to collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers, have been financed by a small group of foundations with ties to the largest and most powerful corporate lobbies. Analyzing Internal Revenue Service documents, the authors find that several of the foundations supporting anti-union litigants share the same donors—including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, and the Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking.

Working people who choose not to join their workplace’s union, but are still covered by a collective bargaining agreement, do not pay union dues. Instead, they pay “fair share” fees to cover the basic costs that the union incurs representing them. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiffs in Janus, unions representing public-sector workers could be prohibited from collecting these fees. The authors explain that if this happens, unions will be forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources. This will lead to reduced power—at the bargaining table and in the political process….

The Geeks Who Put a Stop to Pennsylvania’s Partisan Gerrymandering

Source: Issie Lapowsky, Wired, February 20, 2018

…..Districts like Pennsylvania’s seventh don’t get drawn that way by accident. They’re designed by dint of the centuries-old practice of gerrymandering, in which the party in power carves up the electoral map to their favor. The playbook is simple: Concentrate as many of your opponents’ votes into a handful of districts as you can, a tactic known as “packing.” Then spread the remainder of those votes thinly across a whole lot of districts, known as “cracking.” If it works as intended, the opposition will win a few districts by a landslide, but never have enough votes in the rest to win the majority of seats. The age of computer-generated data splicing has made this strategy easier than ever.

Until recently, courts have only moved to stop gerrymandering based on race. But now, the law is taking a closer look at partisan gerrymandering, too. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a brand new congressional map to replace the one Kennedy testified about. The new map follows a landmark decision last month, in which the three Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices overruled a lower-court decision and found that Pennsylvania’s 2011 map did in fact violate the state constitution’s guarantee of “free and equal elections.” ….

…. According to Jacobson, given the Supreme Court of the United States already declined to stay the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, it’s unlikely they’ll take up the case. It’s already agreed to hear four other gerrymandering cases this term, which may well re-write the rules on this twisted system nationwide. ….

Members of Congress respond to more than money – sometimes

Source: Jan Leighley, Jennifer Oser, The Conversation, February 9, 2018

Does citizen activism really affect the actions of elected officials?

Despite the ubiquitous role of money in campaigns, elections and policymaking, some citizens clearly still believe in the power of protest.

In the month of December 2017 alone, an organization called The Crowd Counting Consortiumtallied 796 protests, demonstrations, strikes, marches, sit-ins and rallies,” some of them featuring thousands of people, across the country. Over the past year, the offices of many members of Congress and other elected officials have been jammed with constituents voicing their opinions on the Affordable Care Act, the immigration program called DACA, abortion and sexual harassment, among others.

But does all of this sign waving and sitting in actually influence elected officials?

As social scientists, we have long been interested in political participation and online activism. We used this knowledge to design a study that looks at whether activism changes the votes of elected officials – and whether the effect is strong enough to mitigate the power of donated money.

What we found is that citizens can make their voices heard – at least some of the time….