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Intolerable Wages Feed Strikes by Fast Food Workers

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(NNPA) The mainstream media has had difficulty understanding the eruption of strikes in the fast food industry. They have acted as if they have come out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. Neither is true.

The strikes in the fast food industry are the result of intolerable wages and working conditions faced by a workforce that has become increasingly dependent on this sector of the economy in order to survive. Today’s fast food industry is a bit different from days of old. The jobs in fast food are no longer being held exclusively by teenagers and 20-plus who are in school looking for some extra money. As the economy has reorganized and older workers have been thrown out of full-time employment, the fast food industry has become a location one step away from unemployment and homelessness for many workers of various ages.

The strikes, which were initiated by organizing conducted by a project of the Service Employees International Union, have become a front-line in the battle against the polarization of wealth in the U.S. Specifically, these are fights over the immediate necessity to raise the minimum wage. Fast food workers are generally kept at substandard wages and have to piece together various part-time jobs (much like workers in retail). They have few, if any, benefits and do not know from one day to the next whether they actually have a job that will last for any significant duration.

The fast food strikes have come to resemble the movement for the 8-hour day from the 19th century. In that case, workers undertook strikes, demonstrations and other forms of protest – including the strikes that led to the creation of May Day as “International Workers Day” – in order to demand that there be a shorter workweek with no cut in pay. Today’s fast food workers are making an analogous demand: they want a livable wage.

Fast food workers are fighting the good fight not only for themselves but for other vulnerable workers. They know that their conditions will not improve by bargaining a contract one fast food outlet at a time, but that instead there needs to be a governmental raise in the minimum wage and, frankly, there need to be industry standards to which all fast food—and retail—outlets are held. This will happen if and only if there is a continuous outpouring of public support, much of which has already occurred.

Thus, these actions are being conducted by some very courageous workers of all ages who have decided that they have had enough. They need to know that you are backing them up.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance which supports workers in the retail industry fighting for fairness. He is also 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. He can be followed on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

What Color Is Your Santa Claus?

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By Lee A. Daniels
NNPA Columnist

In case you haven’t noticed, ‘tis the season … to have another controversy illuminating America’s race-driven fault lines.

This time we can thank Fox News’ talk-show host Megyn Kelly for responding to a December 12 essay by writer Aisha Harris on Slate.com that criticized what Harris said was the outdated notion of Santa Claus as a White man.

Harris wrote of the “two different Santa Clauses” of her childhood – the White Santa of the larger American culture, and the one who existed within her family: her father, whose “skin was as dark as mine.”

Noting that “Like the holiday itself,” Santa Claus today is far removed from his religious origins and the real-life historical 4th-century Christian bishop, St. Nicholas, Harris asserted the ecumenical spirit of Santa Claus was its most important feature. She recommended that because television programs and films have made children so used to seeing animals with human characteristics and conveying human meaning, Santa Claus should be a penguin.

Kelly a few days later declared on her program she was having none of it: “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is White.” And for good measure she added that Jesus was “White,” too.

Naturally, the blogosphere and the twitterverse had a field day, with many agreeing with Harris that today’s Santa Claus isn’t a person but a symbol of kindness, compassion, and putting the happiness of others above one’s own.

That spirit was beautifully described in writer Soraya Chemaly’s poignant remembrance in Salon.com of her Christmas’ “growing up in a British colony as it went through independence,” where almost “every Santa I remember seeing … was a black man.”

“When it comes to Santa,” she wrote, “the most ‘real’ thing about him is millions of parents, often but not always mothers, who quietly work away into the wee hours, tiptoeing in darkened rooms so Santa can get everything done before daybreak. … It wasn’t until I had my own small children that I fully realized how much time, effort and thoughtfulness my mother put into making sure that Santa Claus was so amazing and that Christmas was fantastical.”

She concluded with this: “Given the way childcare is still distributed, most of the time, women and mothers are doing the invisible work that Santa relies on to get through his busy night. If there is one thing for sure, Santa will not be a small, brown woman for some time to come. This self-erasure is poignant, and not an entirely positive lesson. Given the history of the United States in particular, the darker a parent, the more poignant the erasure. However, it is a testament of the purest kind of love. The rank parsimony of insisting on Santa’s whiteness with such vehemence is an ironic way to defend the idea of selfless giving.”

Confronted with an onslaught of facts about the origins of both Santa Claus and Jesus, Kelly two days later declared she had “learned … [it is] far from settled” whether the color of Jesus’ skin was or was not White. (Actually, it is settled that the color of his skin was not White; the question is what shade of brown was Jesus.)

Kelly characterized her earlier statement about Santa as a “tongue-in-cheek,” humorous response to Aisha Harris’s essay. She then added that those criticizing her represented “the knee-jerk instinct by so many to race-bait and to assume the worst in people, especially people employed by the very powerful Fox News Channel.”

Those transparent claims aside, this season’s “Santa controversy” underscores the broader tension that has gripped American society since the civil rights victories of the 1960s erased the color line’s hard, legalized barriers.

It revolves around the same fundamental question that has always defined black-White relations in America: Where’s the “tipping point?” – that point along the spectrum from intolerance to tolerance where the dominant group’s resistance to those who are different flares.

Soraya Chemaly made just this point about Megyn Kelly’s attempt to place a Whites-only sign on two of the world’s revered icons.

“What some people are unwilling to digest,” she said, “is that while they can see themselves, or specific prioritized aspects of themselves, everywhere in culture, they obstinately deny others the exact same right. … they cannot even imagine what it is like to admire and love people who don’t look like them. People of other colors. People of other genders. People of other sexes. ”

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Shaking Hands with Raul Castro

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Bill Fletcher, Jr.(NNPA) I have had difficulty believing the uproar in right-wing circles over President Obama shaking hands with Cuba’s President Raul Castro. For goodness sakes, it was at the memorial for Nelson Mandela! Should Obama have spat in the face of Castro?

The hypocrisy of the political Right has been amazing. Comparing shaking Castro’s hand to shaking hands with Hitler? Do these folks have no sense of history? Senator McCain, who decided to enter the fray, condemned President Obama, but it was McCain who shook the hand of the late president of Libya, Qaddafi, who the USA described as being everything but a child of God. So, why did McCain not show his rear to Qaddafi?

It is this attitude of arrogance and bullying that unsettles most of the planet. The political Right believes that the U.S. should treat the rest of the world with contempt unless the world accepts our terms. The rest of the world has a different view.

If it stopped there it would be bad enough, but it gets worse. This idea of bullying helps to explain why we are much too close to war with Iran. It is from Republican and many Democratic politicians that we have suggestions that the recent agreement with Iran was too timid. As I have asked, would they rather war? The answer seems to be “yes,” they want the total surrender by the Iranians to the terms that the U.S. dictates. As it is said, that is a non-starter. But it also helps to explain why countries find it difficult to trust the intentions of this country.

This brings us back to Raul Castro. The U.S. has been working to destroy the Cuban Revolution for more than 50 years. It has orchestrated a blockade, carried out terrorist assaults, assassination attempts, as well as overtly and covertly supported Cuban exiles in terror campaigns. In the international arena that is known as aggression.

So, rather than asking the question of whether it was appropriate for President Obama to be polite and to shake the hand of President Castro, one can actually ask: Was it not exceptional that President Castro was so polite when the leader of the country that has been attempting to overthrow his administration and has permitted the existence of terrorists on its soil offered his hand?

Just asking.

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.

Young Black Republicans who deny their Blacknes

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

Last week, Joyce Jones, a columnist for BET.com wrote an article titled, “The Loneliness of the Black Republican: What attracts young African-Americans to the GOP?” Although the article was off-base on so many points – No I won’t waste my time listing them here – it got me reflecting on this younger generation of Black Republicans.

Undoubtedly, young Blacks are attracted to the GOP brand more than older Blacks. If Jones could have tapped into that phenomenon, it could have been an enlightening article. But, not surprisingly, her column ended up being your typical Black Republican-bashing.

How would she know “it’s not easy to be a young, Black Republican?” She talks about conservatism, but fails to define the term. She refers to “rising stars,” but fails to define who identify those stars or what makes them rising stars.

As for Black Republicans being lonely, a deeper explanation is in order. Many Black Republicans who are of the millennial demographic have made a conscious decision to self-isolate. Translation: They can’t possible go behind the Democratic stranglehold on Blacks and not expect to be isolated. Millennials are generally defined as those born between 1980-2000.

Tina Wells, a 30-year old and CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, a youth marketing company, was interviewed by Black Enterprise and had this to say, “The sense of entitlement that Millennials exhibit can be performance prohibitive. Their idea of paying dues is different from their parents…they have grown up in a very instant world, so how do you tell them that a job they want in six or seven months is a job they have to wait usually six or seven years to get?”

This sense of entitlement has caused many millennials to think that simply showing up is all they need to do in life. All too often, these millennials have no political curiosity about those who paved the way for them. There are about 30-40 Black Republican staffers who work for members of the House and Senate; but they have not formed an organization of like-minded people. They have shown no interest in building relations with Black operatives such as Michael Steele, Shannon Reeves, or Greg Simpkins.

How can you call yourself a Black Republican and have no knowledge of Bob Brown, Arthur Fletcher, Bill Coleman, or Kay James, to name a few? These three are living legends within the Republican Party and important trailblazers. Also, in every instance, those pioneers did not run from their community. They were staunch Republicans, but they never forgot their Black roots or to fight for the Black middle class. In other words, they knew who they were.

This year alone, I have been called by no fewer than 10 members of Congress or other political operatives about these phenomena with Black Republicans. I am asked why Black staffers are emphatic that they don’t want to be the point person for the Black community – they just want to be a staffer; as though they are mutually exclusive. It can be both and!

I would go so far as to say these Blacks thrive off of being anonymous to other Blacks. They seemingly get more satisfaction out of being known within White circles. I don’t expect a lot of my White readers to understand this dynamic; this is a dirty little secret that Blacks refuse to discuss publically.

Many of these Black Republicans will deny what I am saying, but I know them by name and from direct experience. Maybe I will wrote a book about my experiences with these Blacks in our party?

These are the type of Blacks that many Republicans are most comfortable with. They never raise any objections to anything thrown at them in private meetings relative to the Black community. They never raise a voice when some of our more extreme elements make incendiary statements towards members of our community. They never stretch out their hands to help others move up within the party. Many are devoid of any real connection to our community.

On a personal level, I have reached out to many of these millennials and find their sense of entitlement and arrogance repugnant. They have accomplished very little, but yet think they have arrived. Being a low level staffer is not an accomplishment, it is a foot in the door.

Whether Joyce Jones knows it or not, by definition, you can’t be lonely if it is by choice; you can be alone, but not lonely.

So, to all my millennial Black Republicans, stop making it an either or proposition. Embrace your party, embrace your community, and embrace your obligation to those coming behind you; but also, pay homage to those who paved the way for you.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

Colombia's Color Code

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(NNPA) I had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia for a meeting of representatives of public sector unions from the Western Hemisphere. The focus of the meeting was on issues of race and xenophobia.

One of the things that struck me in the meeting was the discussion of the situation facing the Afro-Colombian population. Descendants of slaves brought over by the Spanish, the Afro-Colombian population is on the lower rungs of the economic ladder of Colombian society. They have been subjected to racist discrimination, as well as atrocities at the hands of narco-terrorists, paramilitaries and elements of the government. Those who speak up about their conditions and take up various social justice struggles, e.g., the fight for land, are subject to death threats, attempts on their lives, or actual murder.

Colombia, like much of Latin America, has been in deep denial of race and racism, whether it is racism carried out against the indigenous population or the Afro-descendant population. One of the reasons for this is that in Latin America, the racial divide is not always as clear as it is in the U.S.A Shades of skin color are far more important in Latin America than they are here in terms of how one is treated in the larger society. Whereas a light-skinned African American in the U.S. is still recognized as an African American [Black], albeit sometimes having access to some privileges, in Latin America, the extent to which one’s skin shade is closer or farther from Europeans can make all the difference. But here is the catch: because there is so much African blood in the veins of Latin Americans, they can equally deny that there are any special problems facing those who are quite evidently of African descent. As someone once said to me in Venezuela, “…we all have African blood…” While this may sound quite revolutionary when thinking about what it would mean for White Americans to say such a thing, in Latin America it essentially means that no special attention needs to be placed on race.

There are organizations throughout Latin America of Afro-descendants that are trying to bring greater attention to the situation facing Afro-Latinos. In Brazil, there has been an explosion of Black consciousness organizations, but there have also been important developments in Venezuela, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Central America. These are efforts to watch carefully, and where possible, support. These groups are calling attention to the manner in which White supremacy developed over time in Latin America and the lasting impact on Afro-descendants and the indigenous.

In Colombia political dissent is punished quickly and brutally. Trade unionists are killed in record numbers, and so, too, are Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders. The U.S. government likes to pretend that the Colombian government is taking steps to address these crimes, but what is closer to reality is that the Colombian government has a very effective public relations campaign underway.

I would join with others in suggesting that the covers must be ripped away from this farce so that we are all made aware of the utter brutality of the Colombian system. We must also be aware of those who have had the courage to stand tall in the face of such repression in the name of human rights and social justice.

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 www.billfletcherjr.com.

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