DSA at the People’s Summit

by Charles Austin

If you arrived at McCormick Place early on June 9 for the People’s Summit, you might be forgiven for assuming it was a DSA only affair. I got in line to grab my badge around 10 a.m. and just about everybody waiting with me was a DSA member. This wasn’t too surprising, since our trainings began hours before official People’s Summit events, but it set a certain tone for DSA’s high visibility all weekend.

In line, DSAers from Iowa and Tennessee recounted their separate experiences of attending the 2016 DNC as delegates for Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Before hearing their stories, I had failed to appreciate (or at least, failed to put individual faces to) the transformative disillusionment attendees felt at the convention. Sanders’ DNC delegates witnessed a chaotic, divisive mess on the ground, only to see a manicured and stage-managed alternate reality broadcast on TV. This, I suppose, is how politics often feels, and sure, the disorder at the 2016 convention wasn’t on the magnitude of the notorious 1968 DNC, but I still get the impression that it’s galvanized this generation of activists in a profound way.

After registration we settled in for the DSA exclusive part of the day’s programming. This included practice for elevator pitches, regional breakouts to discuss how issues overlap or differ between chapters, and a panel featuring Jacobin’s Bhaskar Sunkara and other DSA notables.

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DSA’s David Duhalde leads a breakout session about coalition building.

Maybe it goes without saying, but meeting DSAers from Austin, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Lincoln, NE, and beyond reassured me that most comrades came to the People’s Summit with a nuanced understanding of the issues in their own communities and a solid sense of what needs to be done. The day’s trainings left members with actionable takeaways about coalition building, about handling growing pains in new chapters, and in some way these trainings were revelatory, but it felt even more revelatory to realize just how capable DSA members already are to take on the challenges their communities face. It’s sort of a vindication of DSA’s bottom-up approach to see so many capable people from across the country in one place.

And the simple sense that there’s something all of us can do feels charged and consequential at this moment. It’s telling that people aren’t flocking to ClintonCon 2k17 or whatever. In fact, the closest thing there is to a ClintonCon, the Center for American Progress’s invite-only conference, was held last month as a closed-door affair reserved for elite Democratic faithful looking to coronate future party leaders (in attendance: Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand; not in attendance: you and me).

But I guess it’s unfair to say the CAP event was invite-only; you and I had the opportunity to throw down $1,000 for the privilege of attending the after party. And to be fair, we’d gladly reciprocate the offer. The DSA after party at the In These Times office was free, but John Podesta would have been welcome to hand off $1,000 for a PBR or two.

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The DSA after party. Not pictured: David Brock and John Podesta shotgunning Natty Ice wearing togas made out of bed sheets.

Of course, this inclusionary approach is exactly what sets the People’s Summit in stark contrast to the CAP — and indeed sets apart the burgeoning Sanders-inspired left movement from establishment liberals in general. So far as these conferences are concerned, the medium is the message.

A People’s Summit panel on Saturday, titled “Down-Ballot Revolutionaries,” drove this point home, serving as the antidote to exclusionary CAP-style electoral politics. Newly elected South Fulton, GA, City Councilman khalid kamau spelled out in concrete terms exactly how he put his winning campaign together. In a PowerPoint presentation he walked the crowd through building a campaign on a budget (you don’t need a campaign manager; if you pay one person, make it a field organizer), fundraising (a generous portion of his $26,000 budget came by way of small Our Revolution donations), and voter activation (DSA put together a robust nationwide phone-banking operation for his campaign).

The panel’s message was that any of us could run for office, and the presence of so many newly elected officials in the room — from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maine — made it feel not just possible but probable that others of us would soon follow in their footsteps.

That evening as Sanders’ speech neared, a different demographic, something like a Bernie Fan Club, stirred from hibernation. This subset of the Summit talks a stranger’s ear off about its volumes of Sanders-inspired poetry. It rambles about the Sanders musicals it has penned.

Its chief political concern is the “Draft Bernie” campaign, a quixotic attempt to drag Sanders kicking and screaming into starting a new party he doesn’t want to start. Its strategy is this: take a politician whose message places the issues above the candidate, and draft him into a cult-of-personality campaign that places the candidate above the issues.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that the starry-eyed Draft Bernie bunch tried its damnedest to disrupt his speech with shouted, pouty interjections. The people whose entire platform hinges on drafting one guy don’t realize that it’s in their best interest not to irritate that guy.

But I guess the power of democracy will sort this out. Maybe I’m wrong and The Bernie Party or whatever will conquer the U.S. House next year and win like 250 seats. They brought the feel of a comic-book convention to a political summit, and maybe they’ll bring it to Capitol Hill next.

After Bernie’s speech, a bunch of celebrities read excerpts of Howard Zinn. Naturally this was the cue for a few dozen DSAers to ditch the rest of the proceedings for drinks.

Sunday morning, Thomas Frank hosted a panel of activists as a sort of convention denouement over breakfast. In part this centered on the authenticity of grassroots movements. Frank recounted being present at the first-ever Tea Party rally in D.C., an astroturf campaign if there ever was one, populated by industry lobbyists and Grover Norquist types from the start. This was contrasted against Linda Sarsour’s account of the January 21 Women’s March, which, for all its initial internal struggles, stands as an authentic ground-up achievement, inclusive and stirring, the kind of thing soft-drink ads want to co-opt.

I caught a bit of this discussion before my volunteer shift at the DSA table. The two-hour shift sprawled out to three or four hours simply because a revolving door of DSAers kept the table bustling and entertaining. As the Summit wound down most booths thinned out, but DSA’s was a hive of activity.

This strikes me as a non-trivial part of DSA’s appeal.

We’re building an organization at the same time that we’re forming a community. The buzz of members caused non-members to gravitate over too, one reason that a healthy number of new comrades enlisted that weekend. And by capitalist standards we had a great weekend: When I left, only one DSA t-shirt and a single poster remained unsold. By our own standards, though, the scope of our success will be measured by how much the movement has spread its message by next year’s People’s Summit, and by how effectively we can bring real change through actions on the ground.

Look. The shadow cast over American life by President Trump’s buffoonish, discolored countenance was unthinkable just a few years ago. But so was The People’s Summit. Our moment’s inescapable politics of the deplorable breathes new potential into Michael Harrington’s “left wing of the possible.” There’s a spark here. So the misery of austerity, of oligarchy, of capitalism goes on pretty much unabated for the moment, but the promise of the People’s Summit is that the seeds of the grassroots are sprouting already, in khalid kamau’s city council seat, in Larry Krasner’s bid for Philadelphia DA, in every person inspired to take action after the summit.

The promise of DSA, then, is that a pragmatic socialism can bring working people radical self-empowerment through democracy and collective action, not tomorrow but today, not when beltway power brokers say so but when we seize power for ourselves. It was nice to breathe that in for three days.


Taxing Sin or Bringing the Poor to HEAL?

by Leonard Pierce

The Illinois Public Health Institute’s Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity is currently backing House Bill 2667, known as the HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Act. The bill would impose a tax of a penny per ounce on soda and other sugary drinks, including powders, syrups, and beverages sold at retail level. The tax would be imposed on distributors, and the majority of funds would be earmarked for the Illinois Wellness Fund.

On the surface, this sounds like a win all around; distributors of unhealthful beverages have to pay more, and a blow is struck against what is indisputably a leading cause of obesity and diabetes. That’s one reason the HEAL Act is so popular with liberals, and is attracting a wide range of sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Of course, any time Republicans and Democrats agree on something, that’s cause to be suspicious; it usually means the working class is about to get it in the neck. And, unfortunately, the HEAL Act is no exception.

So-called “soda taxes” are picking up steam across the country as states and municipalities look for ways to make up public health revenue lost to tax cuts and austerity measures. They tend to be extremely regressive – that is, they impact the poor, who cannot afford to pay them, much more than they do the rich. While the HEAL Act places the tax burden on distributors, they’re likely to pass the cost on to consumers. The money raised will be supervised by an advisory council, the make-up of which is unclear, as is its answerability to the public. It exempts fruit juices, many of which have as many sugar calories as sodas, and its wording makes it unclear if it will impact coffee drinks – sugar bombs favored by the wealthier classes, and almost always let off the hook by such legislation.

Aside from these loopholes, and the regressive nature of such ‘sin taxes’ (of which Illinois already has far too many), there is also an element of moral scolding in bills like the HEAL Act. They suggest that the health problems of the poor are caused by their failure to make ‘good choices’, rather than that they tend to be forced into bad choices by poverty, deprivation, and a lack of better options. Working people eat and drink what is affordable, and programs that force them to pay more for soda and junk food just punish them for taking the path of least resistance to their economic realities.

Of course, as socialists, we must also consider the fact that legislation like the HEAL Act also fails to address the root causes of the ills they claim to want to cure. Poor people don’t get addicted to soda because of some inherent vice; they get addicted to it because it’s literally addictive, and because it’s cheap, readily available everywhere, and forced into their consciousness non-stop by advertising. Big corporations get rich off the poor getting hooked on sugary drinks, and now we want to make the poor pay for it? Why not tax the soda companies themselves, or better yet, place a general tax on the manufacture of sugar?

We know the answer to that: money. Soda corporations are exactly the kinds of big business that both Democrats and Republicans are beholden to, and our politicians will do anything to avoid offending them. In fact, we give them tax breaks at every opportunity. This is the same reason we don’t just tax sugar: the federal government massively subsidizes the sugar industry, deepening the problem of addiction and disease in order to protect private profit. Any sensible approach to the health outcomes caused by sugary drinks would begin with making the rich who benefit from their manufacture start paying their fair share of taxes, and end with the establishment of universal health care rather than funneling more money into a dysfunctional for-profit system that already fails millions of people in Illinois and elsewhere.

HB 2667 is currently sine die in the House, meaning it is not scheduled for further action. It may die there. But such measures, combining as they do regressive taxation, moral scolding, and austerity politics, are increasingly popular as state governments pretend to be broke rather than stuck having to scrape by without all the revenue that would come from fair taxation of corporations and the rich. If it manages to resurface, the DSA should oppose it, as we should all such calls to make the poor pay for the consequences forced on them by the rich.

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Confront McDonald’s!
On May 23, Fight for 15 is having its biggest action on McDonald’s ever, here in Chicago.

McD’s just doubled its CEO pay to $15 million & is spending hundreds of millions on a new HQ in the city. But it hasn’t changed how it treats its workers. They’re still struggling to survive, still sexually harassed, & still getting wages stolen.

McDonald’s way of doing business is holding EVERYONE back. it’s hurting us all. McDonald’s low wages cost taxpayers more than $1 billion a year, because more than half of us are forced to rely on public assistance to support our families.

We are marching because this not only worker’s issue, but this is an immigrant, racial, women, LGBTQ, and environmental issue. When we beat McDonald’s, we will all win. That’s why you need to join us: Tuesday, May 23, 4 PM at Daley Plaza, Washington & Dearborn in Chicago then onward to the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s at 600 N. Clark.

The Forgotten Story of the Radium Girls….
At Buzzfeed, Kate Moore writes:

With war declared, hundreds of working-class women flocked to the studio where they were employed to paint watches and military dials with the new element radium, which had been discovered by Marie Curie a little less than 20 years before. Dial painting was “the elite job for the poor working girls”; it paid more than three times the average factory job, and those lucky enough to land a position ranked in the top 5% of female workers nationally, giving the women financial freedom in a time of burgeoning female empowerment. Many of them were teenagers, with small hands perfect for the artistic work, and they spread the message of their new job’s appeal through their friend and family networks; often, whole sets of siblings worked alongside each other in the studio.

Radium’s luminosity was part of its allure, and the dial painters soon became known as the “ghost girls” — because by the time they finished their shifts, they themselves would glow in the dark. They made the most of the perk, wearing their good dresses to the plant so they’d shine in the dance halls at night, and even painting radium onto their teeth for a smile that would knock their suitors dead.


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Beyond the “L”

At Southside Weekly, Daniel Kay Hertz writes:

Chicago is a city with a long, sordid history of using geography as a weapon. Segregation — between neighborhoods, sides of the city, the city and the suburbs — has been used to privilege some people over others, and to keep resources like jobs, schools, and other amenities away from the unwelcome: often low-income people and people of color.

The generations of transportation and development policy that treated people without cars as an afterthought, or elements to be actively discouraged, are simply another part of the weaponization of geography. It created a two-tiered transportation system that forced even many of those living in poverty to spend thousands of dollars to buy and maintain a car, or lose hours a day on increasingly disinvested transit services. Those who are physically unable to drive were left out no matter their financial situation.


Replace NAFTA

by Tom Broderick

The people united will never be defeated! Good chant, but also a clear reflection of the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Negotiated in secret by hundreds of corporate advisers it went down in flames thanks to the power of the people. The TPP threatened environmental laws, health and safety regulations and public interest policies. The TPP sought to limit food safety inspections on imported foods. Countries that signed the agreement could simply declare that their food safety inspections were on par with ours. The TPP would have gutted Buy American / Buy Local procurement policies which keeps our tax dollars invested in our communities. The TPP would have expanded corporate power with special investor rights and allowed tribunals of corporate lawyers to adjudicate lawsuits brought by trans-national corporations against U.S. taxpayers. These tribunals are known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Complaints would be filed and settled completely outside the U.S. judicial system and would not be subject to appeal.

Chicago DSA pushed hard to defeat the TPP. Green Party Presidential candidate, Jill Stein and Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump came out loud and strong against the TPP. With pressure from Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was dragged into the TPP fray more or less against her will, finally declaring she was against it. Of the four major candidates, only the Libertarian Presidential candidate, Gary Johnson supported signing the agreement.

As a candidate, the donald pledged he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to make it “much better” for working Americans. NAFTA is a trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. The donald said “NAFTA has been a catastrophe for our country; it’s been a catastrophe for our workers and our jobs and companies.” The White House web site said the donald “will withdraw from NAFTA if the U.S. doesn’t get a better deal.” This is something he could do. He could simply pull the United States out of NAFTA.

Chicago DSA and West Suburban Illinois DSA are working with Public Citizen, gathering post cards calling on the donald to replace NAFTA. The cards demand that the donald “replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with a deal benefiting working people in all three countries, not just the multinational corporations. This means ending the NAFTA investor protections and the ban on Buy American/Buy Local procurement that promote job-offshoring, removing investor-state dispute settlement, and requiring that food imports meet U.S. safety rules. A new deal must only go into effect if countries enact and enforce strong labor, wage and environmental standards. Nothing to make NAFTA even worse, like monopoly protections for Big Pharma can be included.”

Although claiming he intended to “drain the swamp,” the donald has appointed very dubious characters to the Departments of Commerce and Trade as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lightizer is referred to as a skeptic of free trade deals, but represented a business controlled by the Chinese government in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. taxpayers in 1991. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, was described by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) as “practically a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat who has no interest in anyone but himself.” As a billionaire investor in a car parts company, he sent U.S. jobs to Mexico, taking advantage of NAFTA rules. He is also an investor in a Chinese government backed company.

Two former Goldman Sachs big wigs in the donald’s administration are Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director, Gary Cohn. Mnuchin was “part of the cadre of corporate raiders that brought our economy to its knees” according to Senator Scott Menendez (D. NJ) during Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing. Senator Ron Wyden (D. OR) referred to Mnuchin as “the foreclosure king” during the same hearing. Former President of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn has suggested a very watered down reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act might be appropriate. According to The American Prospect, Cohn’s version would allow for increased banking deregulation. Something near and dear to any Goldman Sachs bankster heart. Scott Pruitt, a self described “leading advocate aginst the EPA’s activist agenda” is now heading that Agency He has repeatedly sued the EPA.

Although yet to be confirmed, the donald’s choice to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture is Sunny Perdue. Before he was elected Governor of Georgia, he made a great deal of money peddling fertilizer. As Governor of Georgia he signed a bill blocking local communities from enacting regulations against animal cruelty, for worker safety and against pollution at factory farms in Georgia. Georgia is the home of many large industrial farms. Quite a mash-up of the pro-investment moneybag folk.

After the Congressional recess, the donald and his pack of pirates are likely to begin the process of renegotiating NAFTA. That would begin with a letter notifying the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee stating that the donald wants to begin renegotiating NAFTA. Both committees would have to agree to renegotiation. It will be our responsibility to make trouble for the well-heeled one-percenters who don’t give a rat’s ass for democracy, workers’ rights, and the health of people and planet. No top secret negotiations allowed. Let the leaks spring forth.

More from DSA:

Not This NAFTA (1993)

Renegotiate NAFTA (2008)

Fair Trade Not Free Trade from the New Ground archives

Remembering Harold Washington

In These Times reposted an article they published back in 1983, on the occasion of Washington’s election as Mayor of Chicago. The article mentions, in passing, DSA’s involvement in the election. It begins:

CHICAGO—“We were slow to move from the protest movement into politics,” Harold Washington said just after he won the Chicago Democratic mayoral primary in February. “We were lulled to sleep thinking that passing a few laws was enough. But we’ve got to be involved in the mainstream political activity. That’s what’s happening here in Chicago,” he added. “And that’s the lesson that’s going out across the country.”

This “coming into political maturity” of minority groups that, as Washington says, once thought simple street protests were enough took a giant leap forward on April 12 when a sizable majority of Hispanic voters and enough left and liberal whites joined the overwhelming majority of blacks to give Chicago its first black mayor.


At Monthly Review Online, Michael Hoover provided a retrospective, where he judged:

It is, perhaps, unfair to have expected the institutionalization of populist policies and programs in such a short period of time. And long-term change might not have occurred even if Washington had lived longer. Reliance upon individual leaders does not address how urban growth policymaking and the competitive character of global cities respond to the dictates of capital markets. Thus, proactive restructuring without popular mobilization will surely result in business as usual. Neither an episodic “politics of the streets” nor an incremental “politics of the suites” can by themselves overcome the conventional way of doing things. A convergence of the two is necessary to both combat political stasis and to develop an enduring progressive politics.


Your editor doesn’t pretend familiarity with all of Washington’s biographies, but generally DSA gets mentioned in passing. Our involvement in that election was rather more than peripheral: One of Washington’s first stops outside the Black community was DSA. His victory had rather mixed consequences for the organization. This is something that deserves a more extended examination.

Wage Theft Must End

by Tom Broderick

From 2013 through 2016, the Chicago City Council enacted three new employment laws. In 2013, the Wage Theft Ordinance was passed. The Minimum Wage Ordinance was passed in 2015 and in 2016, the Council enacted the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance.

Who is minding the store on this legislation? In Chicago, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) is supposed to protect workers’ rights. The Department’s web site states: “The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection licenses, regulates and empowers Chicago businesses to grow and succeed as well as, receives and processes consumer complaints.”

Faith – Labor – Action is the motto of ARISE Chicago. The group’s mission is to end workplace abuse. ARISE Chicago announced their campaign to have the City of Chicago create a Chicago Office of Labor Standards (COoLS) at a press conference at Roosevelt University on Thursday, February 23rd. It appears that ARISE is calling for the COoLS to be under the Dept. of BACP and take responsibility for enforcing Chicago’s employment laws.

Data obtained by The Chicago Reporter through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that between July, 2015, when the Chicago minimum wage law took effect, and December, 2016, the Dept. of BACP received 454 complaints about violations regarding the minimum wage. Of those, 112 complaints led to investigations, just shy of 25%. Workers are required to submit affidavits attesting to violations. The Dept. of BACP forwards a copy of the complaint and the affidavit to the employer: A recipe for employer retaliation against the worker.

While 51 workers recovered wages totaling $82,000 according to The Chicago Reporter, not a single fine was assessed to any Chicago business, even though the law states that businesses shall be subject to fines of $500 to $1,000 per day. Nor has the business license been revoked for any company found in violation of the ordinance: Not a successful track record of enforcement.

In her opening remarks, Reverend C. J. Hawking (Executive Director of ARISE Chicago) welcomed us as a “congregation of believers.” She said we gathered in the spirit of Jane Addams (who along with Ellen Gates Starr opened the settlement house known as Hull House for arriving European immigrants in 1889) and Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to head any U. S. Cabinet position – the Department of Labor. Rev. Hawking continued “We rise up against the current political climate of hostility toward workers and unions.”

She was followed by Maria Leon, a restaurant worker who spoke of how her former employer regularly refused to disperse tips that had been added to restaurant bills that were paid with a credit card. After repeatedly asking for the tips that restaurant patrons had charged, she was fired. Tips, whether paid in cash or charged have been earned by the worker. Tips are not donations to the bottom line of those who manage or own restaurants. The denial of earned tips is wage theft and the firing is illegal.

Janice Fine, PhD, Professor of Labor Studies at Rutgers University took to the podium and said that municipalities, large and small, have established Offices of Labor Standards with enforcement capabilities. She stated that Chicago could join San Francisco, Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, Minneapolis and Austin, Texas in working to shore up workers’ rights. As a major center for the economy in the mid-west Chicago could lead the way in regional support for promoting and enhancing the rights of workers.

Local enforcement of existing laws/policies must be handled by local governmental agencies working in collaboration with worker centers. Workers are often hesitant to go to governmental agencies for fear of being reported to their employers. Workers may not even understand that they have rights as workers. Worker centers are well known to low-wage workers. These centers provide support to workers and that builds trust among the workers and with the centers. The centers can be a bridge between the workers and the governmental agency tasked with enforcement.

According to Dr. Fine, workers will know which industries or segments of industries regularly violate the rights of workers: wage theft, including “working off the clock,” overtime pay, minimum wage payment and the theft of tips as well as accrued sick leave pay violations. Industries with a record of violations could be taxed a percentage of profit to finance the Office of Labor Standards.

According to a University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) report published in 2009 (The Breakdown of Workplace Protections in the Low-Wage Labor Market), nearly half of the sampled low-wage workers experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week. The average worker lost $50 out of their weekly earnings of $322. That’s a 16% loss in earnings. The report extrapolated that low-wage workers in Chicago and suburban Cook County lose more than $7.3 million per week as a result of employment and labor law violations. Not only do the workers lose, but the taxing bodies also lose. Wage theft cheats workers, families and communities.

Four members of the Chicago City Council took part in the press conference. Council member Ameya Pawar (47th Ward) said he is in fear of the current federal administration. He is concerned that at the federal level as well as the state level, there is no concern for the rights of every day working people. The creation of a Chicago Office of Labor Standards is about decency and human rights. The Office must have enforcement capabilities to protect and safeguard justice for the working people of Chicago.

Ameya Pawar has announced his candidacy to become the next Governor of Illinois. Pawar is not just another rich white guy running for re-election or election to the Governorship of Illinois, he has staked out a clear position as to which side he is on when it comes to the 99%.

Council member George Cardenas (12th Ward) was introduced as Chair of the Latino caucus. He said he is product of his neighborhood and that his family suffered workplace problems. “The Latino community is hard hit by wage theft.” Cardenas called for establishing a regulatory framework to protect workers.

Council member Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th Ward) was introduced as a member of the Latino and the Progressive caucuses. He added “and a proud member of the Gay and Lesbian caucus.” He spoke of being approached by ARISE Chicago to help a worker facing wage theft in his ward. “We need stronger citywide enforcement, connected to community groups on the ground . . . Chicago won’t have the first Office of Labor Standards, but working with experts, groups on the ground and workers, we can have the best Office of Labor Standards.” Carlos Rosa will be the keynote speaker at the Chicago DSA Debs-Thomas-Harrington Dinner on Friday, May 19, 2017 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago Hotel.

Council member John Arena (45th Ward) was also introduced as a member of the Progressive caucus. Along with Rev. Hawking and Adam Kader who directs the ARISE Chicago Worker Center Program, Arena visited with some of the staff in the Seattle Office of Labor Standards to understand how their program operated. He said “it’s important to bake in” enforcement mechanisms covering workers under Chicago’s employment laws. He said he met with Samantha Fields, Commissioner of the Dept. of BACP and feels she is open to understanding what the COoLS would do.

Robert Reiter is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). He said that the labor movement is greater than organized labor and that local protection for worker standards is necessary. On a national level, the current administration is looking to roll back labor standards, so local offices like the proposed Chicago COoLS would be critical in protecting workers. If employers are allowed to steal workers wages, “we need a way to get that money back.” The City Council has passed important employment laws. The next logical step is to create a Chicago Office of Labor Standards.”

The final speaker was Sophia Zaman, the Executive Director of Raise the Floor Alliance, a collaborative effort to amplify the voice of workers. Raise the Floor Alliance was launched in December, 2015. The founding members are ARISE Chicago, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Chicago Community & Worker Rights, Chicago Workers Collaborative, Latino Union of Chicago, Restaurant Opportunities Center, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Workers Center for Racial Justice. Ms. Zaman indicated Raise The Floor Alliance would be in a strong position to bridge the gap between workers and the Chicago Office of Labor Standards.

What can Chicago DSA do to promote the creation of a robust Chicago Office of Labor Standards? If you live in Chicago, contact your elected city council member. Tell them that labor laws recently passed by the Chicago City Council need to be vigorously enforced. Advise them that workplace violations will continue unless the city creates a strong Chicago Office of Labor Standards that is fully funded and dedicated to enforcing Chicago’s employment laws.