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Goodbye United Auto Workers

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(NNPA) The United Auto Workers union was once a powerful, large, proud and effective organization. It reached its prominence under Walther Reuther (1907 – 1970). His life was full of fire. He was a long-term socialist who dabbled with communism. He even spent some time in the Soviet Union and had praise for its system. His tenure with the UAW was quite positive as he transformed “wage slaves” to a well-paid group of workers with benefits that brought many to envy.

Reuther also was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He was good friends with Dr. Martin Luther King and would participate in many of King’s events, including the March on Washington in 1963. The legend died in a suspicious plane crash. There were previous attempts on his life and I figure that J. Edgar Hoover may have had something to do with it. It was during the same time the FBI messed with King, Malcolm X and others who wanted true freedom. The FBI has a 200-page investigative report on the plane crash but will not share it with the public.

The demise of Walther Reuther has had a serious impact on the UAW. The union began to flex its power without wisdom. It fought for benefits and salaries that were largesse. I lived in Detroit in the 1970s and it was common to hear auto workers bragging about their big paychecks, lunch at the designated bar, 30 years retirement plan (30 and out). Oh, they were booming.

Then came the 1980s and things started changing for the worse. Foreign auto manufacturers entered the U.S. market and created serious competition for U.S. auto makers. We were stubborn about the changes from the Clean Air Act, which has made an incredible difference for our local environment. That and the cost of gasoline threw our auto makers for an incredible spiral downward in sales and profits. We almost lost Chrysler a few times (Fiat from Italy is the principal owner now). General Motors and Ford have been on the ropes more than once also. Our auto industry has been damaged and the onerous union demands have played a role in that.

Today, the UAW is not what it once was. Since 1979, its membership has shrunk by 75 percent. There has been a boom in plant openings but these plants do not cater to the UAW. They are built in rural areas to meet the Clean Air Act requirements, usually in the South. In communities that were once impoverished gigantic auto plants have become a common thing. With these plants come numerous suppliers feeding the needs of the auto makers. With that comes new housing, restaurants, hotels, retail centers and on and on. Take little Canton, Miss. for an example. That Nissan plant hires 16,000 well paid employees and has stimulated industrial parks and an economic boom to central Mississippi. The workers are happy and they are not going to ruin their good thing.

It is not coincidental that these new plants are in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, etc. These are right-to-work states. Workers cannot be forced to join a union. The size of each of these plants is absolutely gigantic compared to the standard U.S. plants that are mostly located in the North. They are big and full of workers. These workers will never become union members. Thus, the UAW is up against the wall. One big question is can they afford to keep paying for those big retirement packages they settled on in the 1970s? Probably not.

The UAW is quite desperate right now. They have to find a way to grow membership or risk destruction. Their current president, Bob King, is staking his legacy on organizing these giant plants representing international auto makers in the South. I believe he has a big problem. He wants to change a culture and way of life in a part of this nation where the people are proud and hold a natural work ethic. How he wants to do it is “old school union” and that isn’t going to work in this high tech era. How do you convince a person to shake down his boss simply for the hustle of it and pay a part to the instigator (union dues)? They are doing fine and will not mess that up.

The strategy is two-fold. One is to organize a small group of workers and have them intimidate the other workers to vote on unionizing. This is known as the “card check scheme.” Another and more insulting method is to declare unionizing as part of the Civil Rights Movement. This has nothing to do with race, discrimination or inhumanity. They have even paid Black ministers and local civil rights organizations to protest on their behalf. The public is not going to be fooled. Detroit is officially bankrupt and Michigan is now a right-to-work state. Goodbye UAW.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

African 'Ghettos' in Israel

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(NNPA) It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The streets of South Tel Aviv were teeming with people. We first saw a very large wedding party heading towards a park. We then saw hundreds of young men hanging out, socializing, walking, and sometimes just looking for something to do. The shops were closed on this Jewish Sabbath and this multitude had time on their hands. You would not have believed that this was Tel Aviv, Israel: it looked more like a neighborhood from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia or the Sudan. Yet, here it was, in a city on the Mediterranean, a city that reminded many of my delegation of Miami Beach and Los Angeles.

What my delegation saw was only the tip of a very strange and under-addressed iceberg: significant African migration to Israel. Africans, particularly from the Horn of Africa, have been seeking asylum in Israel as they have attempted to escape wars and crushing poverty. The Israeli establishment, sitting on top of the country that likes to describe itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, has been less than sanguine about the appearance of these migrants. In fact, the migrants are frequently described as “infiltrators,” a term that suggests a military operation rather than individuals seeking asylum.

Israel has been locking up African migrants. It has refused to grant asylum to most migrants, instead interning them for indefinite periods of time. The migrants find themselves, much like migrants in other parts of the world, in a twilight zone existence, living underground in order to avoid arrest, but sought after by Israeli employers who, like so many other employers in other countries – including but not limited to the U.S. – seek low-waged, vulnerable workers.

The African migrants in Israel have been demonized in both the mainstream but most especially by leaders of hard, right-wing organizations, who see them as a threat to the demographics of Israel. With 20 percent of Israel being Palestinian (and growing), the presence of the African migrants both scares and infuriates that segment of Israel that believes that their country must be ethnically pure in order to survive.

Over the last few weeks, African migrants have been engaging in organizing and mobilizing to insist upon their human rights. If the Israeli establishment is going to ignore them, then the migrants are prepared to take their case to the United Nations. Nevertheless, someone needs to quickly address the ghetto-ization of the migrants and the desperate poverty that they are facing. As a friend of mine on our trip noted, this situation is explosive and all that needs to happen for a disaster is one problematic step by the authorities and the lid could come off of Tel Aviv.

Both the presence of the African migrants and the unresolved situation of the Palestinians (who remain oppressed by the Israeli system) challenge Israel in its fundamentals. They challenge those who suggest that a democracy can exist in an environment where efforts are being undertaken to remove an entire population, and in the meantime subject them to apartheid conditions, and where those who migrate to Israel in search of safety are met with a characterization most appropriate to alien invaders.

Truth be told, it sounds a lot less like democracy and more like ancient Greece or Rome.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He recently visited Israel and Palestine as part of a delegation of African Americans there on a fact-finding visit. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Support our Black Colleges

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(NNPA) There is a critical and long overdue discussion about the fate of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) now finally taking place around the nation. Yes, this is the time of year where annual government allocations and budgets are debated, passed or adjusted to meet both federal and state priorities. The issue of higher education and the adequate funding for all colleges and universities is one of the most important budgetary matters in 2014, given the increasing costs of higher education. But for most HBCUs, the concerns today about annual funding are far beyond routine dialogue and consultation. It is now for HBCUs a matter of survival.

Given the outstanding academic achievements and contributions of the 105 HBCUs and 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) of higher education, finances should never be an issue. I am, therefore, joining the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) in issuing a national and global urgent call for increased financial support of HBCUs and PBIs.

It is a sad reality that too many people take for granted the legacy and continued importance of these particular colleges and universities. That is why African Americans must insist on proper funding for HBCUs and PBIs. If African Americans are not more vocal in expressing support for these colleges the stage will be set for more reduced funding of these vital institutions of higher learning that have done so much to make the world a much better place.

I am always impressed with the dedication and commitment of NAFEO and its members to represent and defend the interests of our colleges and universities. NAFEO is the nation’s only 501 (c) (3), not-for-profit membership association of the presidents and chancellors of the nation’s richly diverse 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and approximately 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). NAFEO members are CEOs of 2- and 4-year public, private, land-grant, sectarian and non-sectarian, undergraduate, graduate and professional schools in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands.

HBCUs and PBIs represent 500,000 students, 53,000 faculty, and 5 million alumni worldwide. NAFEO member institutions educate disproportionate percentages of low-income students—in excess of 60 percent of the students enrolled at HBCUs are eligible for income-based Pell Grants. Because HBCUs educate disproportionate percentages of low-income students, they have designed, tested, and perfected a myriad of successful programs that increase the numbers of low-income students prepared for, entering into and graduating from HBCUs and PBIs.

At a recent meeting at the White House Skills and Education Summit, NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville challenged the summit participants to both increase the funding for HBCUs and PBIs and to see the clear strategic academic priority for strengthening HBCUs and PBIs in order to achieve President Barack Obama’s higher education goals for the nation.

Baskerville emphasized, “The ability of the nation to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of today and tomorrow depends to a great extent on our science, technological, engineering, agricultural, and mathematics (STEAM) enterprises and ability. We must train 100,000 new STEAM teachers over 10 years and create an American workforce and entrepreneurs prepared for a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. To have an America that is ‘Built to Last,’ President Obama projects that we need to increase the number of college graduates to roughly 60 percent by 2020, which equates to approximately 8 million more Americans with a 2- or 4-year college degree. To realize that goal, the nation must educate at least 2 million more African Americans with college degree by 2020 and many will be graduates of HBCUs and PBIs.”

Unfortunately at a time when there is a clear, demonstrated need for more funding for HBCUs and PBIs, the political will does not appear to be there at the local, state or national level. Therefore, it calls on us to inform all our elected officials that increased funding for our colleges and universities has to be a top priority. This is not an option — our future and the future of our nation depends on it.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at the following link: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

Robots are Replacing 'Redundant' Human Workers

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(NNPA) One of the most fascinating articles I read over the holidays was by Lydia DePillis in the Dec. 29 Washington Post (“8 ways robots stole our jobs in 2013”). The article is not long but was very pointed. Technology is expanding at a more rapid pace than most people have anticipated and with it there has come a significant loss of jobs, ranging from the stuffing of mail to the operation of farm equipment. And now the proposed Amazon flying drone.

For years we have been told that with advances in technology not only will there be the elimination of dirty and dangerous work, but that new and improved opportunities will open for those displaced. Circumstances have not quite worked out that way. Instead, some new and skilled high-tech jobs have emerged; many workers have been rendered “redundant” (un-usable) by the changing economy; and the benefits of the new technology have gone almost exclusively to the rich and the super-rich.

The importance of the DePillis article is that it reminds us that there is no automatic connection between improved technology and benefits to those who work for a living. Our standard of living does not necessarily improve with the spread of robots and other forms of computerization. If there is no direct intervention of working people and those who are supposed to be looking out for them, the cost of producing items will be reduced, and so too will be the opportunities for those who must work.

For those of us who love science fiction, we know that one of the scenarios often raised regarding the future is one where robots and computers take on all or most major tasks, making it easier and more comfortable for humanity. While this is a scenario that I would like to believe will happen, we should not assume that we are on the road toward such a future. Rather, the future seems to look more like the eternal expansion of Walmart, whereby it is easier and cheaper for companies to produce and sell items, but that the rest of us become poorer and poorer.

Rather than despair, however, it is really a moment when we need to start asking questions of government and industry. If workers are losing jobs as a result of changes in technology, and, if such changes benefit the titans of the economy, shouldn’t greater demands be placed on the corporate giants to insist that they provide for those who are displaced? Perhaps we should stop letting corporations get away with dispensing with workers in the name of increasing productivity, only to leave said workers on the side of the road to fend for themselves. The alternative is not the status quo, but rather the expansion of dead cities and abandoned zones where those no longer needed are warehoused.

That is not a future I want to see. There is no reason that it need come about.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Preserving the American Dream of Homeownership

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(NNPA) Although many economists claim the recession is over, millions of Americans are still reeling from its financial effects. In particular, communities of color continue to be disproportionately affected by billion-dollar losses in family wealth. New mortgage rules, effective this month, offer a strong foundation to begin rebuilding what has been lost. These new rules will provide protections for consumers whether they are struggling with troubled mortgages, looking to buy a home or seeking access to credit.

Summarizing the reasons for the new rules, Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently said, “Consumers want – and need – someone to stand on their side and provide safeguards against bad mortgage deals that ruin their credit, cost them their homes, and saddle them with additional problems. . . .No debt traps. No surprises. No runarounds. These are bedrock concepts backed by our new common-sense rules that take effect on January 10.”

A central part of the new rules is a new designation of a Qualified Mortgage (QM) that sets standards that apply to all lenders and covers about 95 percent of loans currently in the marketplace. QM loans are restricted from having the kind of risky features that caused the financial crisis. QM loans must be fully amortization, meaning that loan balances cannot increase as payments are made. Other key QM characteristics require that:

  • Loan terms cannot exceed 30 years;
    • Lenders are required to determine a borrower’s ability to repay the loan, reviewing consumer income and assets against debt and other obligations beyond an initial teaser rate;
    • Points and fees for the total loan amount are capped at 3 percent with an adjusted threshold for smaller loans; and
    • Lenders offering adjustable rate loans cannot use teaser rates to underwrite these loans and are to use the maximum rate during the first five years of the loan.

Another CFPB rule bans “yield-spread premiums,” the financial incentives formerly paid to brokers for steering borrowers into higher cost loans rather than those that were cheaper and for which they qualified.

It is important to note that none of these new rules affects the required amount of a mortgage down payment. Secondly, these rules apply to new mortgages applied for after the January 10 effective date.

In response to these rules, Barry Zigas, the director of housing policy for the Consumer Federation of America was swift to express his approval. “Consumers are finally going to be in an environment where their ability to repay a loan will be the fundamental determining factor about whether they will get a loan or not. This is a terrific week for Americans” concluded Zigas.

Similarly, Chris Polychron, president-elect of the National Association of Realtors, said, “These regulations will go a long way to protecting consumers from receiving loans that may be inappropriate for them and gives them some additional legal protections.. NAR supports these changes and has provided input throughout the rulemaking process.”

For borrowers with existing mortgages, as well as future borrowers, other rules will now affect mortgage servicing, i.e. how house payments are collected and managed. Loan servicers must now provide borrowers with a monthly statement that shows the interest rate, loan balance, escrow account balance and how payments are applied. Servicers cannot begin foreclosure proceedings until after 120 days of delinquency, giving borrowers time to apply for loan modifications before initiating a foreclosure process.

In response to critics of these mortgage servicing reforms, Director Cordray said, “Our rule means simply that mortgage servicers must now do their jobs . . . Over the past year, we have heard plenty from realtors around the country who are just as frustrated as consumers at poor mortgage servicing practices.”

A new web-based resource by the Center for Responsible Lending brings together fact sheets on the new rules, related analysis and testimony. For more information on these new rules visit: http://rspnsb.li/KxNeFa.

As CRL President Mike Calhoun has said, “Families across the country need an opportunity to rebuild their household balance sheets after the worst financial crisis in decades. . . .The CFPB is setting the course for a financial marketplace with greater transparency and accountability. Consumers, responsible lenders and out nation’s economy all benefit from the improved markets that result from this work.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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