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One thing that I wish that President Obama had Said

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(NNPA) I was pleased that President Obama spent so much time on the matter of economic inequality and the need to raise the minimum wage in his State of the Union address. Better late than never. But there was something that he did not address that I wish that he had taken up. Stated simply, if you want to overcome economic inequality and raise wages, you need labor unions.

Yes, at one point the president did mention the term “labor leaders,” but what has been striking throughout most of his presidency is that he is neither an advocate for labor unions nor one who figures out a way to slip in the basic fact that labor unions are the single most effective route to raising the living standard of working people. This, by the way, is not a disputable point. Study after study demonstrates that unionized workers earn more in wages and benefits than do non-union workers. There is also sufficient real-life experience to know that it was through good-paying, unionized employment – whether private sector or public sector – that workers were able to earn enough to buy homes and send their children to college.

While I certainly support the president’s call for an increase in the minimum wage and his appeal to employers to voluntarily ensure that their employees are making at least $10.10/hour, such a wage is clearly insufficient. How many of us can live, these days, on $10.10/hour ($21,008 a year)? No, the answer is that the economic inequality in this country must be addressed by putting more wealth into the hands of the people who create the wealth in the first place – the people who work, who produce things, who keep this country running.

But the president should know this. Yet, year after year it is as if labor unions are an afterthought, unless he is addressing a union audience.

There is a famous quote from President Franklin Roosevelt, where he stated that were he to go to work in a factory, the first thing that he would do would be to join a labor union. I cannot imagine President Obama saying something like that, as much as I would like to hear it in one of his eloquent speeches. The bottom line, however, is that regardless of what he may think about unions, he certainly does not feel compelled to say anything approximating FDR’s words because there is little pressure on him to do so.

So, once again, it is up to us to actually write his script. And that means changing the so-called facts on the ground, and creating enough mass pressure around economic inequality; around workplace health and safety; around job discrimination; and rights at work, that the president has no choice but to publicly stand with working people in insisting on their right and necessity to join or form unions if we are to turn things around.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.

Reducing the Risk of HIV by 90 Percent

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By Phill Wilson
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) This Friday, February 7th, is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). It’s an opportunity for the nation to take a look at the AIDS epidemic in Black America from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view. Given the demographics of the AIDS epidemic in this country, this is a very important day.

The Black AIDS Institute’s Black treatment advocate networks (BTANS) are hosting Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) forums around the country (Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Ft. Lauderdale, Jackson, Little Rock, Los Angles, Minneapolis, and Oakland) to raise awareness and educate our communities about PrEP.

Here’s why Pre-exposure Prophylaxis of HIV is important to Black people: 35 years into this epidemic and with all we know about HIV, we still have alarming rates of new HIV infections in this country. Roughly 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year and 44 percent are Black. In many parts of the country, 1 in 2 Black gay men are already HIV infected – and many of them don’t know it.

Think about are you in a committed monogamous relationship? Are all your friends and family in committed monogamous relationships? If not, do you and do you think all your friends and love ones use condoms with every sexual encounter. If not, you need to know about PrEP.

PrEP is a treatment for people who are not infected with HIV (that is, they are HIV negative, or HIV-), that uses one of the antiretroviral treatments that people with HIV/AIDS use, to prevent acquisition of the HIV virus. In clinical trials, when used properly, PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring the virus by more than 90 percent. Yes, 90 percent!

If you look at the AIDS epidemic in Black communities, you would not know that that we have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in America. Most Black folks are unaware or have misinformation about the new tools that could change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic in our community and dramatically reduce their risk of HIV infection. PrEP is one of them.

Those attending the PrEP forums will learn what PrEP is, who it’s for, how you use it, and what the risks and benefits are. We will look at the possible impact of using PreP on condom usage.

Current guidelines recommend PrEP be used with condoms. But for people who have already chosen not to use condoms or are unable to use condoms on a consistent basis, using PrEP may provide some level of protection.

Given the epidemic in Black communities, we need to know everything we can possibly know about all of the potential tools available to us in order to make informed, rational decisions about which tools to use in which circumstances.

The combination of treatment as prevention – with the possibility of reducing transmission of HIV by more than 90 percent – and PrEP – with the possibility of reducing acquisition of HIV by more than 90 percent – has the promise to break the back of the HIV epidemic in our community. That’s a conversation we must have.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our forums on Friday. Check out the www.BlackAIDS.org to find the BTAN PrEP forum nearest you. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, if you want to help in the fight against AIDS in Black communities, please enter the “Drive Out AIDS raffle” at www.AIDSraffle.org for a chance to win a 2014 Kia Forte. If you enter the Drive Out AIDS raffle before Friday, February 7th, you get entered into the four day Carnival Cruise raffle for free.

Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. He can be reached by email at Phill Wilson AT BlackAIDS.org

About the Black AIDS Institute
Founded in May of 1999, the Black AIDS Institute (www.blackaids.org) is the only national HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. The Institute’s Mission is to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV. The Institute interprets public and private sector HIV policies, conducts trainings, offers technical assistance, disseminates information and provides advocacy and mobilization from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view. www.blackaids.org

Iranians Need to be at Peace talks on Syria

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(NNPA) One of the basic rules of thumb when it comes to solving a problem is that anyone who is involved in or with the problem, and especially anyone who can disrupt the outcome of a resolution, needs to be at the table in order to bring a matter to closure. It does not matter, in other words, whether you like someone or not. If a person or group is involved in or with a problem to any significant degree, they need to be involved in its resolution.

For a moment it seemed as if the United Nations and the United States understood that basic notion. In an attempt to bring to an end the Syrian civil war, Iran – the chief ally of the Assad regime in Syria – was invited to participate in the peace talks. Suddenly the U.S. responded with revulsion, suggesting that they would back away from the talks if Iran was sitting there. Elements of the Syrian opposition did likewise. The Iranians were dis-invited.

Iran is a country that has felt corned for decades. Syria has been a key ally in the region, for better or for worse. If Iran believes that they are being cut off from their ally (Syria), it is more than likely that they will do what they can to undermine the outcome of the talks.

Instead of the U.S. reacting with fury at the inclusion of Iran, the Obama administration should have reacted with glee that a major regional power with whom it has had a contentious relationship may be able to be drawn into discussions that would not only end the Syrian civil war but could improve regional relations. Instead we received bluster from this administration and their allies.

The U.S.A. is not in a position to handle an expansion of the Syrian civil war into a full regional conflict. Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor, is already unstable and on the verge of being drawn into the fray. The Arab/Persian Gulf states have been actively arming the Syrian opposition, including the arming of jihadists, in part due to their hatred of the Iranian regime. Added to this is the threat that Israel may either attack or provoke the U.S. to attack Iran as part of the on-going dispute around Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

For these reasons, Iran should be at the table. While they are clearly not an honest broker, neither, for that matter, is the U.S. They both have a dog in this race, as the saying goes. Thus, engaging all the parties and ensuring that all who can disrupt the final outcome have a real stake in a constructive outcome should be the logical path forward. Perhaps that will occur if the Obama administration hears your voice and your lack of interest in a regional conflagration.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is an internationally known racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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.

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