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Can We See Beyond Black & White?
by James Berger | Oct 2, 2013 12:09 pm
Posted to: Opinion, Campaign 2013
James Berger, a senior lecturer in American Studies at Yale and a member of New Haven Rising who is volunteering for Toni Harp’s mayoral campaign, submitted this opinion piece. Harp is the Democratic candidate in the general election; she is running against independent candidate Justin Elicker.
The city of New Haven is divided–by race, class, education, profession, cultural and political assumptions. OK, I guess this insight doesn’t qualify as a news flash given the results of the Democratic mayoral primary of September 10. Justin Elicker’s vote totals in some predominantly African American wards scraped down close to levels of statistical margin-of-error while the white, educated, professional classes of Westville and East Rock voted overwhelmingly either for Justin or for Henry Fernandez. And the certainty each group of voters felt in the rightness of its candidate was equally powerful. How, thought the white, professional classes, could any rational, informed person support Toni Harp–that supposedly compromised, out-of-touch epitome of traditional politics—when such obviously superior candidates like Justin and Henry were available? Conversely, for most African American voters, supporting Toni was a no-brainer. How could anyone with any real feeling for the city’s social and economic conditions vote for that apparently callow, inexperienced young man who clearly had no idea how life was lived in neighborhoods between East Rock and Westville?
Whatever reasoned justifications we give our electoral preferences, the politics of New Haven right now are politics of identity. For most of us, it seems, our chosen candidates appear as idealized versions of ourselves. They’re just like us, only a little better, a little smarter, maybe a little younger (or, in Toni’s case maybe a little older and wiser). We support candidates who understand where we’re coming from, see the world and the city the way we do, appreciate our struggles and aspirations, and have struggled in the same ways – whether that means finding a way out of poverty or succeeding in grad school. Kermit Carolina’s endorsement of Elicker does not, I think, change this dynamic
This identity politics is understandable, but not beneficial. It means that Toni Harp’s many years of important work for New Haven are denigrated. Whether one votes for her or not, it has to be acknowledged that just about anything significant regarding health care, education, or jobs in New Haven has been funded (in many cases initiated) thanks to her leadership. You may not like her house or her late husband’s business practices, but her genuine competence, effectiveness, and leadership in the state senate are incontrovertible. Likewise, Justin Elicker’s ideas on how post-industrial cities with poor schools, poverty, and inadequate tax bases can be run more efficiently and fairly should be listened to. They are not, as some detractors say, just wonkish fantasies of saving the city by improving its websites and painting more bike paths.
There is one group, one demographic in New Haven, however, that is not tied up in the politics of identity. That group is the unions and their offshoots and allies in the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE), New Haven Rising, and other sympathizers. Unions, especially the Yale unions (locals 34 and 35 of UNITE-HERE) have become a touchstone for political debate during this election cycle. Criticisms of Harp have often cited her relations with the unions and their endorsements of her, and we have seen in the past months (as we saw two years ago when union backed candidates won a majority of the Board of Aldermen) a great deal of vigorous union-bashing. But it has to be recognized that this coalition, this nascent “movement” whose strongest link right now is the unions, is the only real cross-race, cross-class organization in town. A meeting or a rally of any of these groupings shows what New Haven looks like and, for me at least, it’s truly inspiring. It’s a picture of what a genuine democracy might be if we can figure out how to get there: people from all races, classes, and neighborhoods getting together to establish their political priorities and work to get the power to achieve them. Such a coalition will not get everything right; but they’re working hard to figure out the process of democracy. That really may be the most important thing happening in this election, no matter who gets elected.
And let me briefly address some of these anti-union sentiments. The tendency of liberals in New Haven to disparage unions stirs up a strange melange of ideological reflexes. The disparagement always begins, “I’m not against unions,” and then, typically, recites a list of grandparents and other ancestors who were union members. The New Haven liberal union-bashers support unions in China, in Ukraine, in Wisconsin and Ohio – pretty much anywhere but here in the city where they live. What makes people uncomfortable, evidently, is that the unions here actually succeed some of the time and have some actual power, in contrast to the fortunes of the labor movement elsewhere in the country. To support the unions in New Haven means to abandon your nostalgia for the failures of labor and get into the fight to create more success. And the whole suburban union complaint is a red herring. The fury against UNITE-HERE does not, in reality, point toward Hamden or Branford; it points toward Newhallville, the Hill, and Fair Haven. Local 34 and 35’s struggles for the past 20 years to raise wages and benefits have helped produced a modicum of prosperity and political voice for an African American middle class in this city.
Toni Harp has expressed a commitment to helping this process continue. Based on these expressions of commitment and on what she’s done for New Haven as a legislator, the various groups in the union coalition gave her their endorsements.
But what about these statements she’s been coming up with since the primary? She suggests defunding the Living Cities Initiative (LCI). She thinks maybe the Democracy Fund is a waste of money. It turns out her four largest campaign contributions are bundles assembled by companies hoping to get contracts with the city. Toni says there’s no play for the pay; all the contribution will get them is a meeting. And I’m thinking, does Toni really have no recognition of the destructive role that large corporate, business, and PAC (political action committee) contributions have played in transforming American democracy into an oligarchy based on wealth? Does she not grasp the meaning of the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court? These are not – at least as reported—positions that her supporters signed on for. A lot of us worked a lot of hours, knocked on a lot of doors trying to persuade people that Toni will be a good mayor. We had some questions.
So, on a recent evening, a small group of us Westville supporters met with Toni and we asked her about these statements. Here’s what I gathered: Toni’s comment on LCI aimed at suggesting a consolidation of several agencies that inspect buildings. There might indeed be a way of saving the city money by reducing redundancies. At the same time, people must know whom to call when there’s a problem. Perhaps LCI should be that place. Point is, this is not the slumlord’s mom trying to eliminate regulation of substandard housing. Regarding the Democracy Fund, Toni’s criticism was that it was incomplete. A candidate can opt either for funding for the primary or for the general election. Thus, a candidate might use the fund in the primary to establish himself as a viable candidate, and then take all sorts of funding in the general. (Justin is not doing this, by the way, but it would be possible to do). Toni pointed out that as a state senator she helped draft and pass the state’s version of public campaign funding, which is more complete. She is, in fact, quite aware of the impact the Citizens United decision is having on our democracy – that it’s a very bad one that, for one thing, makes campaign finance legislation extremely difficult and subverts what she worked hard to create in Connecticut. Regarding the contributions from businesses to her mayoral campaign, she said that, look, the office of mayor is the culmination of her political career. She’s not like (incumbent Mayor) John DeStefano using the office as springboard for something higher. Mayor of New Haven is it for her; she doesn’t need to cultivate donors for another race and doesn’t need to do favors for anyone. And I would point out further that Toni has been in politics for a long time, and no doubt a lot of people have given to her campaigns–and never has there been any suggestion that she’s arranged contracts or other favors in exchange for these contributions. None. If there were, I’m sure they’d have surfaced by now.
Am I entirely satisfied on these matters? Perhaps not entirely, but close enough. I’m still on her side, and feel I can work for her and with her. I can’t see into the future. As they say in the financial industry, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. But Toni’s past performance gives me confidence.
And let me make a final point about campaign finance that indicates once more the racial and class divides in this election. For us relatively affluent, slightly wonkish, grad-school educated, Nation-reading Westville folks (and yes, I do love stereotypes; don’t expect an apology), campaign finance/corporate oligarchy issues are absolutely central to our political analyses. But for the poor and working class, largely African American voters who are Toni’s base, these issues of transparency and campaign money are not so prominent. The important issues are jobs and the lack of them, youth programs, public safety, and schools. I participated in the canvassing over the past six years or so in which we found out what people in the poorer neighborhoods wanted their political leaders to work on. The kind of good-government, transparency, election reform issues that are Justin’s strength weren’t on the list.
It seems these race and class divides prevent us from even talking about the same topics. Yet, in reality, the problems of urban poverty, crime, inadequate schools and youth programs, are not separate from the problems of corporate oligarchy and corrupt elections. When wealthy interests increasingly control our media and electoral systems, our cities and their poor and working classes suffer first and most. Both Toni’s and Justin’s supporters need to learn to make this connection more emphatically and imagine ways to fight both battles at once. Even our union-based movement, I’d say, has not yet learned to work with this double vocabulary effectively. Back in the days when people could still speak a Marxist language, there was a way to connect the personal and community consequences of class oppression with the larger political-economic structures that enabled it. Today, we’ve got to figure out a new language. Both Justin and Toni are providing parts of it. New Haven Rising and the unions are trying to create some other pieces.
Whoever is elected mayor will need to draw on the knowledge and experience of the other side. Both Toni and Justin have real strengths; both exceed by far the caricatures their critics have drawn of them. And both have limitations. We’re not electing a savior, fortunately, just a mayor. And we, the people of New Haven–poor, rich, working, unemployed, with different educations and professional experiences, speaking different languages (literally and figuratively)–would do well to keep trying to figure out how to make a cross-race, cross-class, citywide movement for social justice in all its definitions come into being. Toni Harp and Justin Elicker don’t know everything. That much the campaign has made clear. The people, as we learn ourselves, will have to try to teach them.
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Oh yeah Jim i remember the good old days when “we could still speak the marxist language”. Mao’s cultural revolution that sentenced millions to death because they thought independently. That was a hoot. Although my favorite piece of marxist nostalgia was Joe Stalin’s slaughter of tens of millions of artists, authors, and free thinkers. The defeat of marxism was one of the crowning achievements in the 20th century, and you rue the loss of these good old days. I must say its pretty offensive, yet quite telling: the yale unions you so blindly support are determined to shout down any dissent, any free thinking, any challenge to their particular brand of orthodoxy. Familiar?
This article may have rang true a decade or two ago, but its conclusions are now badly out of date.
1) The African-American middle class and “working class” has moved. It now lives primarily in the suburbs (often, Hamden).
2) Other than Westville, our city is increasingly home to low-wage immigrants, migrants, young adults, and the poor. The size of these groups have more than doubled. Very few of them are in a union. The average age in the city is 29. This group is not served when the suburbs are in control of local policy.
3) Under the watch of Harp and DeStefano, the suburbs have had complete control of New Haven over the past 20 years. In recent campaigns, DeStefano pulled in even fewer donations from among city residents than Harp has this year. The results are predictable. Entry level wage jobs that benefit people in lower income neighborhoods have been slashed. Youth jobs were decimated. Roads widened. Workers in Newhallville and the Hill now mostly work in suburban retail jobs - not at Yale or at the city - or are unemployed. Excluding the wealthy neighborhoods in the city, Yale and city jobs are mostly held by Hamden residents now.
4) The idea that CCNE’s “job pipeline” makes up for any of this - or even puts any dent in it at all - is one of the biggest misrepresentations of the current governing coalition. But it makes for great press conferences and wine and cheese receptions with Yale.
Bottom line, CCNE and New Haven Rising are openly and transparently about suburban union control. Typically, this means control by White persons, but the election is not an issue of race or the “working class.” The debate is now about local control, the elimination of widespread corruption that lines the pockets of suburban contractors with hundreds of millions of dollars, and about which policies will most benefit the city’s poor residents and immigrants. One candidate’s funding comes from the city, the other’s comes from Hamden fundraisers.
As someone who supports the other candidate, let me just say this was pretty good.
I thought some of us in the NHI Commentariat with dogmatic, but no, this is dogma pretending to be a well reasoned arguement.
As far as the african american community.This is the problem.
How Ghetto Politics Has Outlived the Ghetto, and Still Holds All Of Us Back
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 12:20 — Bruce A. Dixon
The class of cultural, business and political hacks who pass themselves off as “black leaders” never tire of celebrating the sixties. But they have nothing to say about the seventies, eighties or nineties when the prison state and drug war engulfed the black lower classes and the gains of the New Deal and Great Society rolled back, all during their watch. They’re ghetto politicians, and ghetto politics have failed.
Bruce A. Dixon
Our people have to become registered voters, but we first have to get a better understand of politics. We go into politics in a gullible way, an emotional way. When politics is cold blooded and heartless, we must first learn the science of politics, and we should not take sides with either party. We should not sell ourselves to either party——MALCOLM X (from his lecture at Harvard Law School , 1964)
Although popular Negro leaders are now emerging, most of them are still selected by white leadership, elevated to positions, supplied with resources and inevitably subjected to white control. The masses of Negros are suspicious toward this manufactured leader. We have to create leaders that have virtues that we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles that we can applaud. We have to refuse crumbs from the big city machine, and demand a fair share of the loaf—-DR. KING (from his book called, a Testament of Hope)
I had a long comment written up but honestly I think that mstratton and anonymous summed it up perfectly.
Interesting read, nicely done. One comment:
“But for the poor and working class, largely African American voters who are Toni’s base, these issues of transparency and campaign money are not so prominent. The important issues are jobs and the lack of them…”
—I think you’ve got this wrong. I strongly believe that the issue of transparency and campaign money have a direct impact on job creation. When the city has a reputation of favoritism, pay-to-play, and high cost of doing business, it discourages new businesses from wanting to come to New Haven. Think about it, New Haven has so much to offer with its location between NY and Boston, on the second largest harbor in New England, at the intersection of two major highways, with great train service, anchored by at least 5 quality universities including the 3rd highest ranked University in the country, good restaurants, parks, etc. New businesses should be chomping at the bit to move here! How many large new businesses have moved here the past 10 years? I think New Haven’s high taxes, high cost of business, and pay-to-play politics is a major reason we aren’t attracting more businesses, particularly the types of businesses that provide good wages and don’t require high levels of education (such as manufacturing).
“But it has to be recognized that this coalition, this nascent “movement” whose strongest link right now is the unions, is the only real cross-race, cross-class organization in town.”
—One could argue they show solidarity because they are incentivized by their pocketbooks. This would explain why they are so passionate about political power. The unions evaluated each candidate and determined that Harp is the one who will give them whatever they want. If the unions control the board of alders, and the mayor’s office, what happens when it’s time for the city to negotiate pensions with the unions? or when the city does business with Yale (Yale unions being large Harp supporters)?
I know Harp says she won’t make decisions based on who endorsed her or who gave her large donations. And I know the unions are saying their interests revolve around education, jobs, etc, not personal gain. But it’s hard for me to believe both those scenarios won’t have any impact. Especially when we have another solid choice in Elicker who is not tied to special interests or big businesses.
Unions are great in context of what they were designed for: to represent workers in negotiating contracts with their large employers. However I don’t like that they are making such a concerted effort to take control of city government so that they can serve themselves. It’s nothing to do with what they do as unions that I object to. I wouldn’t want ANY singular special interest to have such control of local government.
Why is union aligned Jim Berger allowed (a second time) to do an obfuscating propaganda piece for Toni Harp?
Examples of his not-so subtle bias are throughout?
“white, educated, professional classes of Westville and East Rock voted overwhelmingly either for Justin or for Henry Fernandez” while “African American wards scraped down close to levels of statistical margin-of-error (for Justin)”. So Jim, the white voters were racist and the black voters were mathematical?
“There is one group, one demographic in New Haven, however, that is not tied up in the politics of identity. That group is the unions and their offshoots” Except Jim, that Harps campaign, highlighted by her anemic debate performance, shows that identity is all they’ve got.
“the whole suburban union complaint is a red herring” Really Jim?, Even though a majority of their members as well as a majority of Harp donations are from outsiders; suburbanites?
“She suggests defunding the Living Cities Initiative (LCI)” and “At the same time, people must know whom to call when there’s a problem. Perhaps LCI should be that place.” Surrogate backpedalling Jim?
“Regarding the contributions from businesses to her mayoral campaign, she … doesn’t need to do favors for anyone.” Does that make it OK Jim? If Harp isn’t obliged to outsiders, shouldn’t she refuse their money out of principal?
@mstratton: Accusing Jim Berger of sharing the ideology and rhetorical style of Joseph Stalin or Mao, especially based on this article, is inexplicable. Tying Jim and New Haven Rising to the slaughter of tens of millions, on the other hand, is pure crank.
1) Are African-American working/middle class that you identified moving to Hamden the same suburbanites who you claim dominate our politics? Please clarify.
2) How are the “suburbs” in control of local policy? Please be specific.
3) Please explain how city policies controlled by suburbanites from Hamden or elsewhere have resulted in the decimation of the job base of this city, a trend that have been experienced by cities almost uniformly across the United States and is often explained by structural problems well outside the control of City Hall. Please explain if you think it is also a problem that good union jobs have been decimated and the wealth and income gap are worse then they’ve ever been. And then please explain your theory of why unions, or particular unions, are to blame for the situation. I can think of some ways that they could be, but what precisely is your theory?
4) Please fill me in on why you believe that labor union politics have replaced the legacy of white supremacy, segregation, and class power as the prime mover in placing “White Persons” in positions of authority in New Haven.
5) Please explain to me why a higher proportion of donations from city residents results in more “local control” than a higher proportion of votes from city residents. I’m with you on campaign finance generally and the Democracy Fund particularly, but I don’t understand clearly your position on whether ballots cast are an indicia of an adequate amount of local control, or if there is some process apart from voting which you count as more democratic.
I’ve never seen so many stereotypes and so much disinformation in one piece. I’ll just pick one that jumps out at me, the class-divide.
If Yale Unions/New Haven Rising are all so concerned with the class divide in New Haven, that’s great. We need the help. But I don’t take them seriously. The existence of this coalition is dependent on Yale University, they are not sustainable operations or grass-roots organizing efforts. They would not exist if not for Yale. Yale is the wealthiest institution in the city, by far. So, how does this fix the class divide, to depend on a wealthy benefactor for organizational & financial benefit. Not sustainable.
Those of us who are truly concerned with the class divide are busy creating alternative modes of economy and building the small/local business network, we’re not lining up for jobs at wealthy corporations, and manipulating the strength of their workforce. Those unions are absolutely necessary, if anyone has not read the history of Local 34 and 35 please do. They provide good jobs for hard-working individuals and they have corrected the local class divide historically. But, what really bothers me is that the newer membership does not even know this history and they definitely don’t know about their Unions’ political activities in New Haven. So, the very first premise, that a coalition amongst the workers themselves already exists, is an outright lie. Don’t believe me, poll the members!
Jim Berger’s comments are on the money. The union bashers are small town versions of Wisconsin’s Scott Walker: kill the unions because they represent the biggest organized impediment to the 1% having not just 95% of the income growth, but 100%. The Yale unions made enormous gains for Yale workers, including those not in the unions. They did so not only because they are well organized and united but also because the New Haven community supported their struggles.
Those who disparage the Jobs Pipeline and New Haven Works make the point that they are insufficient for the vast number of poorly employed or unemployed New Haveners. Of course they are insufficient. We need a national policy to create jobs on a scale not seen since the WPA and CCC.
For those who say the African American working and “middle class” do not live in New Haven, I invite you to canvass Westville Wards 27, 28 and 29. Facts on the ground say different.
If the DeStefano administration was responsible for ignoring the needs so many New Haveners, why do you blame those who for all intents and purposes have retired DeStefano?
And I repeat Berger’s challenge: If you have any evidence that Toni Harp has favored suburbanites over urban, has curried favors with campaign funders, or favored the rich over the poor - please come forth with it.
Similarly, provide evidence that the unions that are supporting Harp and that support the current majority on the Board of Alders are doing so to help not the residents of New Haven, the community of New Haven, but rather those who don’t live here.
Otherwise your words are just bitter name calling.
As far as Berger’s reference to Marx’s language, the Occupy Wall Streeters updated it: We are the 99%. The 1% have brought us, the richest and most powerful country in the world, financial crisis, foreclosures, joblessness, infrastructure decay, austerity, environmental devastation, endless wars.
We are the 99%. Millennial yes, defeated no.
There are two points that I wish to raise in response, Jim. In 2 comments with deference to the NHI word limit.
1) re: The 34/35 worship: I have been a recipient and observer of their solicitations and GESO’s failed unionizing efforts. I would use one word to describe the union organizers I encountered: Bullies. We saw that again during the recent aldermanic primary as covered in the Yale Daily News.
In the case of GESO, the bullies got the democratic smack down thanks to a broad grassroots movement among graduate students who preferred not to be bullied and intimidated.
What shocked me the most about Proto’s unions was the way they organized AGAINSTa simple democratic secret ballot vote regarding unionization with GESO and then again with the hospital. Bob Proto and CCNE didn’t want a vote - it was abhorrent to them precisely because it didn’t fit their tactic of bullying and intimidation. These observations turned me off to Mr. Proto and his goons at CCNE for good. I learned that this particular group of organizers was anti-democratic and cynically looking for power. It was sad for me, Jim as yes I am one of the people you describe as coming from a union family, etc. etc. I am a union sympathizer but only insofar as the means to the end remains democratic and about uplifting people rather than an anti-democratic power grab. The alternative to democratic leftist movements in history is well described by mstratton, despite JBA’s protest to the contrary. It is not hyperbole, JBA, it’s history, and it has been lived by friends of mine. Red China Blues comes to mind, but perhaps a trip to ShaoShan and a conversation with an elderly person in China who lived through the Cultural Revolution would be more educational for you about the problem of leftists who choose to eschew democracy for the sake of their own abstract notion of “the people”.
2) Re: Toni Harp and your meeting with a small group of Westville supporters:
Gosh, Jim, I wish I had been invited. I’ve been trying to meet with Toni for a while now to no avail. I went to a neighborhood block party on her street. Sergio Rodriguez was there. Our future alderman Daryl Brackeen was there. The local Ecuadorean consul showed up. Even the Caseus Cheese Truck came. But no Toni. A friend of mine tried to volunteer for her campaign…. twice. They didn’t even give her a call back. Jim, maybe if a person has union bona fides like you or has given a large contributions like a few city contractors, it’s possible to get an audience with the Senator. But as for an engaged citizen living in her neighborhood, we can’t get in the door to see Toni. Again Jim, Just like Bob Proto and GESO and CCNE, Toni Harp’s campaign is undemocratic and simply about power – running over Sergio Rodriguez for the sake of a ballot placement – not calling back constituents – admitting to pay-to-play – denying responsibility for family tax evasion from which she has so richly benefited.
I hope, Jim, that if reality confronts you and you should one day realize that your romance for a broad labor coalition conflicts in this city with your (presumed) desire for democracy and a clean government of by and for the people of New Haven, you will side with the people of New Haven. Justin Elicker is a clean politician who stands on the side of the people of New Haven, not as an abstraction, but as people. His campaign could use your help. Justin doesn’t have Bob Proto’s powerful machine to call on, and he refuses as a matter of basic principle to go to the city contractor ATM. I am sure he would welcome such a devoted and passionate person such as yourself to volunteer, donate, or most importantly vote for him. In either case, I can guarantee you he is truer to your principles than Toni Harp ever will be.
Can We See Beyond Black & White?
The question should be can we see Beyond this.
These so called union bashers aren’t trying to kill unions; they’re trying to prevent less than one percent of New Havens population (aided by a significant financially interested block of outsiders) from using their collective bargaining unit as a tool to take over New Havens government.
Strategic political power and democracy are two different things. This isn’t right; never was.
In this period when the gap between the super rich and everyone else has widened to the biggest bulge since 1928; when corporate profits are at record highs; when unemployment is so high and almost all Americans are struggling to get by, I thank God for the work of unions. They’re not perfect, for sure, but they are one of the last lines of defense against the runaway greed and corporatist policies that are devastating average Americans. The Kochs, the Scott Walkers, even the John DeStefano of a couple years back, scapegoat unions because they know if the unions buckle, all workers will be easy pickings.
This was a very eloquent piece, and I enjoyed reading it; that said, it was entirely unconvincing. I teach freshman composition, and as well-written as this is I wouldn’t have given it above a B+. Why? Because it’s nothing but a string of assertions backed up by meager-at-best evidence.
For example: “And the whole suburban union complaint is a red herring. The fury against UNITE-HERE does not, in reality, point toward Hamden or Branford; it points toward Newhallville, the Hill, and Fair Haven. Local 34 and 35’s struggles for the past 20 years to raise wages and benefits have helped produced a modicum of prosperity and political voice for an African American middle class in this city.”
This is a compelling claim, but it’s just that - a claim. Where is the evidence supporting the fact that the hyperbolically-described “fury” actually points toward the poor neighborhoods of New Haven? Most of the actual statistics I’ve seen on this matter have suggested the opposite, that the majority of Unite Here members actually live in the suburbs. Exactly what percentage needs to reside within the city limits for the complain to remain a red herring, in Berger’s eyes?
And as long as we’re talking about logical fallacies, Berger makes excellent use of a strawman when he compares the liberal critics of the Yale unions to such hateful figures as the GOP reactionaries in Wisconsin. As other commenters have pointed out, it’s possible to support a union’s actual union activities (i.e., bargaining collectively with an employer for improved wages and benefits) while also strongly opposing that union’s attempt to take over the government of an entire city.
Given Berger’s willingness to make assertions without evidence, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he was perfectly willing to take Harp at her word when she simply told him not to worry about all the seriously problematic things she’s said.
Forgive me for preferring evidence, and a candidate who cares about its importance.
Woosterbill: That’s a very good critique of this piece, though it sounds like you face a serious grade inflation problem.
I thought that Berger’s underhanded swipe at “bike lanes and websites” was highly revealing of Harp’s approach to campaigning. The comment itself was not surprising, given Harp’s debate comments about needing to expand the number of highways and parking lots in Downtown New Haven. But it’s astonishing that Harp and Berger don’t seem to understand that tens of thousands of residents in our city are actually too poor to afford a car, and that thousands of these residents bike to work every day, rain or shine (even though they might prefer to drive in a large White Chrysler to a $200/month garage if their employers paid them more). Is this because they both live in the suburban section of Westville, or are they just oblivious to how most city residents live? Similarly, are they just used to reading the newspaper every morning, or are they oblivious to the fact that most people in our city now use smartphones and websites to get information?
Jim"s movement is suburban. In ward 19, which is 50-50 rich v. poor, african american residents overwhelmingly voted for the non union candidate—that happened to be me this year (but it could have been anyone sincerely interested in building strong communities). I spent my summer on porches throughout newhallville. Those residents mainly see no value to the Yale 34-35 power play and canvassers who come from Guilford, Stratford, wallingford, etc. They do see value in people and candidates who know and love the city. The effort by Yale 34-35 to denigrate people like me with comments like “he is a rich white lawyer who doesn’t care about you” just didn’t resonate. New Haveners are smarter than that and it will not be long before 34-35 loses its grip on power (should they continue to try to polarize the city). I have compassion for guys like Jim because they desperately want to idealize what superficially looks so hopeful. In the end however its just Proto and Mills trying to build a power base—pretty unattractive and dangerous stuff. Go Elicker and the independent voices that love New Haven.
I’m curious how mstratton knows that African American residents of Ward 19 “overwhelmingly voted for the non-union candidate”. According to 2010 US Census data for Tract 1418, which corresponds roughly with the ward, approximately 10% of 19’s residents are African American. Further, if you consider a family income of $75,000 as the line between rich and poor, then he is almost right about the “50-50 rich v. poor” thing. But $75,000 is a lot for most families in New Haven. The Census data show that 17% of families in the area have a total income of more than $200,000 (compared with 4 percent city-wide) and 29% have a total family income of less than $35,000 compared to 39% city-wide). Poverty does exist in the ward: 13% of families live below the poverty level and these families are suffering. I learned that as I too spent summer evenings on porches on Sheffield Ave, in East Rock, and on Prospect Street. People like me were “denigrated” with comments like she’s a fundraiser who spends her days raising money for Yale’s endowment…She’s a union lackey who can’t think for herself. Interesting, too, that my opponent concluded that I should not run in the general election, yet he supports Elicker’s bid to do so. Not apples to apples, but still somewhat hypocritical. For the record, I am not a fundraiser. I’m an administrative assistant. Canvassers for my campaign were all volunteers who live and/or work in New Haven and who, like me, care deeply about this city. I raised and spent about $1,700. mstratton’s campaign spent over $10,000 of his own money. With his most recent comments on Mr. Berger’s article, mstratton compares the union of which I am a proud member (and for which he at one point offered to be a “soldier”), to a Stalinist death squad. That sounds pretty polarizing to me.
#moegard - Heck of a graceful concession speech to the voice of the people.
Seriously, though, regarding Yale 34/35/Proto, I appreciate your emotion from mstratton’s comparison of them to anti-democratic leftist movements of days past.
The problem for you and Jim is that the thing you surely must agree with given established history is that Yale34/35/Proto believe in democratic TACTICS only to the extent that they may result in more power for Yale34/35/Proto. Secret ballots are only good in their eyes when they think they will win them. When they lose (or might lose), democracy becomes expendable for the sake of some abstract notion of “the people”.
mstratton is right on. Yale34/35/Proto have a very dangerous ideology of power that we’ve seen several times before from both right and left in the 20th century.
@moegard - “Canvassers for my campaign were all volunteers who live and/OR WORK in New Haven”
This is a subtle but important point to me. The fact you do have canvassers that only work - and don’t live - in New Haven is upsetting to me as a taxpayer. What would motivate a person to go out and canvass in a town they don’t live in?!
The only plausible explanation I can come up with is they are part of this union movement who wants to control New Haven government for their own interests. I’m a resident and taxpayer in New Haven. I work in Bristol, CT. It has NEVER crossed my mind to go and canvass or otherwise get involved in Bristol politics. How that town is run is up to the people who live there!
How many of the Harp canvassers are also from out of town?!
Scot: Agree. Harp/CCNE are undermining our local democracy. From what I’ve heard, about 80-90% of the Harp/Gardner etc canvassers are from out town. It would be good to know the exact figure.
Wow - 80-90%! Who knew there were so many Stalinists from Guilford available on weekends? Must not have kids. Oh, I forgot, the one-child policy! Devious, devious CCNE.
Thanks to everyone for their comments–however aggravated or aggravating. Political debate
takes many forms. I think none of us here really expects that we will persuade each other, but it’s good to have all our positions expressed as clearly as we’re able.
First, thanks to James and Henry for the backup and valuable points. And thanks to Madcap for his generous comment.
@/WoosterBill: as someone who’s taught a good number of freshman comp sections, I’m not sure what grade I’d give my essay. Its main problem is that it tries to be several essays at once. But reg. the question of evidence of the unions’ character and intentions, I’d say, “by their fruits ye shall know them…” What they’re working on is spreading prosperity broadly across the city. Many clerical workers live outside NH– but certainly not in mansions in Guileford. Physical plant and dining hall workers live mostly in NH. But CCNE et.al. are not spending time or resources outside NH.
@Scot and others on why unions don’t just keep their activities in the workplace: The original union idea was social and economic justice for everyone. They were conceived as mass movements of workers whose visions included their whole communities. Only since the 1950s and the Taft-Hartley law have the broader social-political aims of the movement been more and more restricted. The value and brilliance of UNITE-HERE’s work in NH has been to revive the labor movement’s original social-political identity. Some writers here believe the unions in NH are just power-mad or evil. I work with them and I just don’t see it. If that’s my blindness, well, what can I do. I see what I see.
@anon, reg. bike lanes and websites… I think you didn’t read carefully what I wrote. I said that Justin’s positions COULD NOT be reduced to just bike lanes and websites–that they have real substance. That’s what I think and wrote, so we agree on that.
@Mike Stratton on Marxist language– too big a topic! We should talk sometime. I read a very entertaining book this summer by Terry Eagleton called “Why Marx was Right”! It was not a bestseller.
Finally, @ Robn, as to why Jim Berger was permitted to publish this, his second, little whatever-it-is in NHI, my sense is that Paul B. would be very open to a supporter of another candidate contributing something– as long as it’s thoughtful, calm, and doesn’t insult people. That’s what I was going for. Just saying some things I thought needed to be said and that I hadn’t read yet in this venue.
Jim, I doubt you’re blind. I suspect you are 1) romantic but 2) educable with perhaps a healthy peppering of resentment at Yale.
So I would encourage you to ask some tough questions about Yale34/35/Proto’s past positions regarding their stance on secret ballots in democratic elections. You will no doubt get lots of reasons why secret ballots for workers are not the best way for workers to express their voice. I admit the ballot box isn’t the perfect or only way, but it is the least imperfect of all the methods I’ve seen. If you believe in democracy as such, I think you’ll need to find a new romance beyond this group of folks.
Dear Westville Citizen, I think what you’re referring to is the “card check” method of establishing a union at a workplace. When 51% of workers sign on to the union, then there’s a union. This is an alternative to a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sanctioned election. Two points need to be made here. First, when the National Labor Relations Act (aka the Wagner Act) was passed in 1935, the card check method was deemed just as acceptable as an election; so there is historical precedent. Second, the NLRB election procedures have become utterly compromised and ineffective. Employers have every opportunity to pressure workers to vote against the union–including firing union supporters—while preventing union organizers from speaking with workers. If a workplace votes for unionization, the company can hold up implementation with lawsuits that drag on for years–and again, fire union sympathizers. Many of these practices are illegal, but large companies are willing to pay the fines as just a cost of doing business. Companies are also willing and able to hire expensive legal assistance in their union-prevention efforts. For these reasons, card check is seen as a more effective and, indeed, a fairer and more democratic form of creating a union. It may seem to you counterintuitive, but it’s true. And let’s remember, forming a union is part of our first amendment right to free association. So, if the NLRB were actually on the ball and able to administer a fair election, that would be great. But it’s not. At this point, card check is often a better indicator of whether workers want to unionize. So, going for card check is not a sign of opposition to democracy—quite the reverse.
With all due respect, Mr. Berger, that’s an incredibly one-sided (and short-sighted) presentation of the issue.
It’s telling that you say card check is necessary in order to prevent “pressure” against unionization, and yet you completely ignore the fact that forcing an employee to make his or her position regarding unionization public makes him or her a target for pressure and intimidation from both sides. If you don’t think pro-unionization forces can pressure workers, then you’re either willfully blind or hopelessly deluded by your partisan position.
You talk about freedom to associate, and yet your preferred style of association isn’t based on free choice but on peer pressure.
It’s also quite telling that your argument against the secret ballot relies heavily on horror stories of illegal anti-union action. The obvious answer to the problem of illegal acts by employers is to enforce the law and punish the wrongdoers, not to take away the secret ballot. If you’re worried about employers punishing workers for unionizing, why do you want to prevent workers from making their desire to unionize in a safe, anonymous way? How can an employer punish an employee for supporting unionization if that support is made in the privacy of a voting booth? I agree with you that NLRB elections are poorly administered, but the answer to that is to improve the election procedures - not to eliminate the anonymity of the secret ballot.
The only reason I can see to support card check is if you believe so strongly in the importance of unions that you don’t care about the democratic right of workers freely to choose unionization (or non-unionization!) for themselves. I respect that this is your opinion, but I think there’s something wrong when being pro-labor means being anti-worker.