The Unfinished Business of Making the World's Women Citizens

Mar 29, 2011Allida Black

world-hand-200Recognizing Women’s History Month, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens -- and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Allida Black urges action on UN Resolution 1325, which ensures equal citi

world-hand-200Recognizing Women’s History Month, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens -- and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Allida Black urges action on UN Resolution 1325, which ensures equal citizenship for women across the globe.

The monumental elections of Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Roza Otunbayeva (Krygyzstan), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), and Prime Minister Julia Gillard (Australia) and the game-changing appointments of Dr. Michelle Bachelet as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNWomen and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State proved that women can govern, run preeminent human rights organizations, set international policy, and place women at the center of diplomacy, development, and peace.

But the question remains -- if women can be president, why can't they be citizens? Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights." Yet it took another twenty years after its signing to get the international conventions on political and civil rights and on economic, social and cultural rights -- and, in the United States, another twenty plus years for Congress to adopt legislation ensuring women's political and economic rights. It took another thirteen years for the United Nations to ratify (without the support of the United States) the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination against Women. And in 2011, the US House of Representatives and other foreign governing bodies still toy with legislation essential to women's identities, ranging from limiting access to reproductive health services and marriage to crafting sentencing guidelines that treat girls and women as felons and charges those that have abducted and abused them with misdemeanors.

In a 1946 column, written before she joined the UN Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt urged women to "call on the Governments of the world to encourage women everywhere to take a more conscious part in national and international affairs, and on women to come forward and share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in the war and resistance." More than fifty years later, at the dawn of a new century, the UN Security Council -- pressured by a well-organized international women's lobby, Hillary Clinton, and other stateswomen and embarrassed by the rampant use of rape and genital dismemberment as tools of war -- adopted Resolution 1325. It urged "Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict."

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

Now ten years later, the campaign -- indeed the struggle -- to enforce this resolution rages across the United States as much as it does across Egypt or the Congo or Afghanistan.

It is tempting to construct this resolution narrowly -- to see it as a tool of armistice rather than reconstruction, as a vehicle to protect women rather than empower them. To do so, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, would be to do what is easy rather than what is right.

UN1325 is on the front line in the campaign for women's citizenship. It is a battle to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights cannot be divorced from, or considered separately from, political and civil rights. It is the struggle to reclaim democracy promotion away from post-Cold War politics, self-interested development and the campaign against terror and place it at the heart of citizen participation.

Just as important, it is a campaign to ensure women's rights as citizens as much as it is a campaign to force governments to act responsibly to all its citizens. While equality and human dignity have no sex, policy designed without taking stock of gender differences often perpetuates discrimination.

As Eleanor Roosevelt would say, both citizens and governments must "recognize that the goal of full participation in the life and responsibilities of their countries and of the world community is a common objective" and one "which the women of the world should assist one another" in achieving.

Allida Black is a director of the Roosevelt Institute and founded the Eleanor Roosevelt Project.

Share This

Bob Herbert, Champion of Infrastructure Projects, We Hope to Hear from You Soon

Mar 29, 2011Jon Rynn

train-200As Bob Herbert leaves the Times, a letter to encourage him in continuing his advocacy for prosperity built on a green manufacturing sector.

Dear Mr. Herbert,

train-200As Bob Herbert leaves the Times, a letter to encourage him in continuing his advocacy for prosperity built on a green manufacturing sector.

Dear Mr. Herbert,

I was sad to hear that you will no longer be writing for the op-ed page of the NYTimes. Your critical perspective on the class war being waged against the middle and working class and the poor, on the waste and recklessness of our wars, and on the wrenching struggles of ordinary Americans made you an invaluable voice. But I want to suggest that even more important than those insights was your consistent attempts to point to a better future, and the path to getting there, by rebuilding our infrastructure. I hope that in your forthcoming book you make that effort a substantial part of your argument.

For instance, back in 2009 you declared that "America has to be rebuilt, modernized and re-energized -- from its water and sewer systems to its schools to the smart grid and the alternative energy sources that so many are talking about and beyond. That's where the jobs are for the long term, and that's the only route to a truly flourishing future." You went on to say that "These investments would be costly and require vision."

Well, you can't single-handedly pay for the cost, but you have started to create the vision: "Imagine... an America with rebuilt, healthy, dynamic metropolitan areas, and gleaming new port facilities, and networks of high-speed rail, an America with electric vehicles and a smart grid and energy generated by the power of the sun and wind and water and the ocean's waves. Imagine if the children of today's toddlers had access to world-class public schools all across the nation and a higher education system that is both first-rate and affordable."

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

I submit to you that the ills that you so eloquently address will not be healed without a clear vision, one based on a new, sustainable, job-creating infrastructure. Maybe the word "infrastructure" doesn't stir the soul; Rachel Maddow tries, but she seems to have a wistful look on her face, as if to say -- and she sometimes admits -- "I wish I could make the infrastructure more interesting for you." Now, to me it's fascinating, but apparently I am in the small minority. However, I think that part of the attraction of discussing high-speed rail or networks of wind farms or walkable neighborhoods is that they literally create an image in the reader's or viewer's head.

But there is an even deeper need for infrastructure renewal to which you have alluded, as when you wrote that "A long-term program to rebuild the nation's infrastructure... would create jobs and establish a sound industrial platform for 21st-century industries. The transformation to a greener economy needs to be accelerated, and most of the manufacturing associated with that newer, greener economy should take place in the United States." As I argue in my book, "Manufacturing Green Prosperity", the way to build a strong economy in the long-term is to rebuild the manufacturing sector, and the way to rebuild the manufacturing sector is to build an environmentally sustainable infrastructure. The two can be joined, hand in hand, if we create the right set of policies.

And as you point out, "Think of the returns the nation reaped from its investments in the interstate highway system, the Land Grant colleges, rural electrification, the Erie and Panama canals, the transcontinental railroad, the technology that led to the Internet, the Apollo program, the G.I. bill." The government can and must be a force for good in society -- that is, if the population has a choice of candidates who will do the right thing. You wrote of how China is moving full speed ahead, how John Kennedy used the presidency to create a vision of the future, of how first steps like an infrastructure bank can help lead to a needed turnaround.

Finally, I urge you to consider putting forth these principles as a first step in constructing a new kind of economics, as intimidating as that may sound. The ideas you are talking about are actually complementary to much of neoclassical economics, even if many economists might not see it that way. What conventional economists are not good at is what you, and others like you, are good at -- understanding the need for good jobs for everyone, the role of a modern and well-maintained infrastructure, for a manufacturing base that can provide millions of jobs, and for a government that has a constructive role to play. These should be touchstones for, as you sum up in your last column, "expand[ing] my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society." I wish you luck!

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science and is a Visiting Scholar at the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems.

Share This

How John Adams and Thomas Paine Clashed Over Economic Equality

Mar 28, 2011William Hogeland

commonsenseIn "Common Sense," Paine pushed for economic equality for ordinary Americans. Which made John Adams a bit queasy.

commonsenseIn "Common Sense," Paine pushed for economic equality for ordinary Americans. Which made John Adams a bit queasy.

Here's John Adams on Thomas Paine's famous 1776 pamphlet "Common Sense": "What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass." Then comes Paine on Adams: "John was not born for immortality."

Paine and Adams may have been alone among the founders for having literary styles adequate to their mutual disregard. "The spissitude [sic!] of the black liquor which is spread in such quantities by this writer," Adams wrote of Paine, "prevents its daubing." Paine: "Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of."

They went on and on.

The Paine-Adams antipathy wasn't just personal. Its sources lay in the founding generation's deep political divisions over economic equality. Those who don't know there was a founding political division over economic equality can thank the many historians -- including even some biographers of finance-savvy founders like Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris -- who feel more comfortable with philosophies of government, issues in constitutional law, and (if they get into economics at all) the legacies of Robert Walpole, Jacques Necker, and David Hume than with day-to-day American economic realities, and with the full range of 18th-century thinking from elite to working-class, on monetary and finance policy.

Things John Adams hated about "Common Sense" are revealing. One was the pamphlet's widespread reputation as the tipping point for America's declaration of independence from England. Adams thought that was nonsense. The only novel thing in "Common Sense," Adams believed -- and he meant it in a bad way -- wasn't what he cast as its belated, derivative call for American independence. It was what he blasted as Paine's "democratical" plan for a new kind of American government, which flew in the face of the balanced republicanism that Adams loved. That part of the pamphlet was its only important part to John Adams, but it is often ignored or glossed over in favor of celebrating what Adams thought the pamphlet never did: persuade Americans to support independence.

In proposing a new American government, Paine scoffed caustically at the whole idea of balance and the covalence among branches that we're taught to revere as exceptionally American, but were really derived from the post-Settlement English constitution. Where Adams saw checks and balances as key to liberty, Paine wanted an executive branch subordinated to a hyper-representative legislature (a single house, with no check from any elite "upper" house) and a judiciary directly elected by the people.

Most horrifying to Adams, Paine wanted citizens to have the vote regardless of property ownership. While in "Common Sense" Paine dialed back his thoughts on equality, arguing only for easy access to the franchise, in other works he promoted smashing the ancient equation that liberty-loving Whigs had always made between property and representation. Paine wanted the less propertied and -- horrors! -- even the unpropertied not only to vote in a free America, but also to hold office.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

Paine's goal in giving the lower sort and the poor access to political power was economic equality. When ordinary Americans held power, they would pass laws promoting the interests of ordinary Americans -- and obstructing, not coincidentally, the interests of finance elites. And that's just what happened in Pennsylvania beginning in 1776, when Paine's friends wrote a constitution for that state, based largely on Paine's ideas, removing the property qualification for the first meaningful time anywhere. Assemblies elected under that constitution passed anti-monopoly laws, worked to bring about government debt relief, and took away the charter of the bank founded by the high financier Robert Morris for the purpose of enriching himself and his friends.

The ideas in "Common Sense" that John Adams feared and loathed became realities in Pennsylvania. Many historians celebrating Paine's goals of liberty and independence fail to acknowledge that for Paine, those goals were inextricable from political equality for the people he spoke for: ordinary working Americans.

One of the most fascinating moments in Paine's career therefore occurred when he went to work for the high financier Robert Morris himself, writing at Morris's behest on behalf of federal taxation in the service of national unity. Paine's democratic populist friends saw Morris's taxes, and indeed Morris's wish for national unity, as a means of shoring up American wealth and pushing back the economic gains ordinary people had made in the Revolutionary period. Paine excoriated Morris for chicanery during the Revolution and helped create the economically democratic government that took away Morris's bank and made the fat cat investor accountable to public opinion. In the 1780s, sudden support for Morris's nationalist finance made Paine look like a sellout. He lost friends among his 1776 allies for equality.

But unlike many of his populist friends, Paine wanted a strong national government for America. Many economic populists of the period made the mistake of placing hopes for popular finance in antifederalism and then in the emerging "states rights" thinking of the anti-Hamilton elites. Populists had reason to feel more sympathy for state governments than for a national one: legislatures from time to time had been susceptible to the will of the less enfranchised, expressed through rioting; states had issued paper currencies and established land banks. And nationalists like Morris and Hamilton were indeed out to end all that. They wanted to make finance and monetary policy national matters, empowering suppression of debtor riots and enforcement of taxes collected for the benefit of an interstate money elite.

Paine, however, was impatient with the anti-nationalism of his fellow democrats. Skeptical of knee-jerk populism, he had high hopes for national finance. The strangest of bedfellows, Paine and Morris were working together at weird cross purposes. Paine's vision, diametrically opposed to Morris's, was like Morris's in being a national one. Along with "the madman of the Alleghenies" Herman Husband, who also saw through state-focused elites' pandering to populism and thought an egalitarian national government might be better empowered to hold greed in check, Paine's radical democracy made him an offbeat kind of Federalist. Gazing farther than most of the popular finance activists of his time, he looked for a strong national government that would amplify the democratic gains he'd helped achieve in Pennsylvania.

The United States government, in Paine's vision, would justify its national power by regulating elite finance throughout the states, promoting the interests of ordinary Americans everywhere, and increasing social equality by law. For Thomas Paine, American finance policy must dedicate itself to economic equality.

William Hogeland is the author of the narrative histories Declaration and The Whiskey Rebellion and a collection of essays, Inventing American History. He has spoken on unexpected connections between history and politics at the National Archives, the Kansas City Public Library, and various corporate and organization events. He blogs at

Share This

Wal-Mart v. Dukes and the Matter of Size

Mar 28, 2011Erica Payne

genderless-icon-144Recognizing Women’s History Month, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights.

genderless-icon-144Recognizing Women’s History Month, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Erica Payne considers tomorrow's pivotal decision that will determine the power of women -- and all Americans -- to stand up to employer abuses.

Women's History Month is a celebration of women's progress and the American piece of this epic story began in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when 25,000 mill workers took to the streets to protest for better wages. One particularly memorable account from the Bread and Roses strike involves several women who surrounded a police officer, stole his gun and then his pants and then tried to throw him in a river. The officer was saved from an icy dunking by fellow members of the force (who were colluding with the mill owners to stop these fierce women from striking). Here in the U.S., we will best honor our sisters past and present by ensuring that women's progress doesn't come to a grinding halt on March 29th in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court.

Tomorrow the Court will hear arguments in one of the most important civil rights cases in the country's history. Their decision will pave the way for further progress or stop it dead in its tracks. In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, one million employees take on the largest public corporation in the world in a case that could cost the company $1 billion. But this case is about something much bigger than $1 billion; it is about whether or not any American citizen will have the ability to try to stop illegal bias in the workplace. In David v. Goliath, the Supreme Court will decide who gets the slingshot.

The case started when seven female employees of Wal-Mart figured out the corporation was paying men more than women for comparable jobs and was promoting men more often than equally qualified women. More than 100 women presented their personal cases of illegal bias and statistical evidence showed that the preferential treatment was true across the company -- in every region and across job categories from entry level to management. As a result, District Judge Martin J. Jenkins determined -- and the Ninth Circuit agreed -- that the one million women who worked at Wal-Mart in the last decade should be treated as a "class" and as such be able to fight the world's largest corporation together, rather than one at a time. Wal-Mart, which serves about 100 million customers a week, appealed, arguing that no one could manage a group of one million people and, because of that, these women could not argue their case as a single class. How will the Court decide and what will be the results?

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

Consider this -- it is infinitely cheaper to pay off one employee (or bury her in legal fees) and to continue the illegal pay disparity than it is to pay all employees what they should have been paid all along. By limiting the ability of similar individuals to act as a group, the Court will diminish the individuals' power to challenge a bigger (and richer) wrong-doer. It is only the ability to challenge illegal bias as a group that renders the action economically viable for the plaintiffs (and yes, for the lawyers who work for them). Similarly, it is only the threat of action by a group that makes illegal bias economically un-viable for a corporation.

As it happens, in matters of law and money, size does matter.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit and agrees that "mere size does not render a case unmanageable," regular Americans will be able to challenge illegal bias in the workplace. If the Supreme Court strikes down the Ninth Circuit's decision, they won't.

Slingshot or no slingshot?

With a slingshot you have a chance against Goliath, without it you have none.

By attempting to limit the size of a class, activist conservative judges are reversing years of precedence and weakening the power of individuals to fight illegal bias in the workforce. It's worth noting that after years of discrimination, Lilly Ledbetter has not received a dime of compensation -- thanks to the Supreme Court. A recent study from Cornell Law found that in employment discrimination suits in the federal court of appeals corporations consistently do better, managing to reverse rulings 41 percent of the time compared to 9 percent for plaintiffs.

One hundred years ago, it was 25,000 mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, who fought for rightful pay and dignified working conditions. Since that time, women have become 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. They are the sole breadwinners in 34 percent of families with children; and the owners of eight million small businesses. Women currently receive 58 percent of bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of Master's degrees and 55.5 percent of Doctorates, our progress will continue. Unless the Supreme Court decides to stop it.

Tomorrow, 1,000,000 women of Wal-Mart will take their place in history, but like the strike of Bread and Roses, this fight is about much more than a single company -- or a single group of people regardless how large. This case is about an ongoing and winnable fight to secure the 'Blessing of Liberty' for all of our citizens.

After all, what is more liberating than a paycheck and the economic security that comes with it?

**This originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Erica Payne is Founder and President of The Agenda Project.

Share This

The Results Are In: FDR's Inner Thoughts

Mar 25, 2011

Thank you to all who partook in our meme! From welcoming bankers' hatred to reflecting on saving the world to deporting the Koch brothers, here are some of our favorites...and stay tuned for more.


Thank you to all who partook in our meme! From welcoming bankers' hatred to reflecting on saving the world to deporting the Koch brothers, here are some of our favorites...and stay tuned for more.









Share This

Maine Governor Paul LePage Reveals the Fears of the Right

Mar 25, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

frances-perkins-150By trying to erase progressive history, he not only shows how it threatens conservatives but urges us to keep the fight going.

frances-perkins-150By trying to erase progressive history, he not only shows how it threatens conservatives but urges us to keep the fight going.

One thing you have to say for Governor Paul LePage of Maine is that he's an honest guy. Right-wing Republicans incessantly proclaim their reverence for the American past. But the Governor has made it quite clear that, contrary to their repeated claims, conservatives do not revere the nation's history but actually fear it and believe they must act to control what people remember and know of it.

Determined to make Maine ever more inviting to business executives and their investments, LePage not only has set out -- like many another Republican governors, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin -- to weaken, if not destroy, public employee unions and workers' rights. LePage also has taken steps to "neutral[ize]" American history. He has ordered both the removal of a labor history mural from the walls of the state's Department of Labor Building and the renaming of its conference rooms so that they no longer bear those of 1960s farm-worker leader César Chavez, 1920s labor activist Rose Schneiderman, and President Franklin Roosevelt's Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (the first woman ever to hold a Cabinet-level appointment).

Three cheers for Governor LePage! Instead of denying what he's up to, he reveals all. He wants to wipe the walls of government clean of the progressive story of what has made America prosperous and ever more free, equal, and democratic. He wants a history that makes the rich and the right comfortable, happy, and ready to roll.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

Forget the blissful ignorance of Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. History, historical memory, and imagination matter and the folks on the right know it. Pursuing class war from above for more than thirty years now, conservative and corporate leaders have persistently sought to harness the past -- or their strange renditions of it -- to bolster their own pro-corporate and reactionary ambitions and schemes. Following the lead of their champion, actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan, the unrivaled master of using and abusing history, Republicans and their ilk continue to conjure up their marble images of the Founders, wrap themselves in the American flag (if not the Stars & Bars on occasion), and talk of bygone eras and their desire to restore "the America we have lost." You can find them doing so from the halls of Congress and many a statehouse, from the studios of FOX News and many an AM radio station, and from the pages of innumerable books and periodicals.

But they really do not seek to redeem the past. Rather, they want to hijack it by variously and variably fabricating it, obscuring it, and burying it in favor of a tale that denies the power of "We the people" past and present and enhances their own power and wealth forever after.

We progressives have so much to do today. But in doing it we must not fail to challenge the right regarding American experience and greatness. We must do a better job of cultivating and speaking to American historical memory and imagination. We must re-engage America's past -- to defend it, to redeem it, to make it our own.

In 1939, when the Great Depression still stalked the United States and fascism and imperialism were threatening to rule the world, Max Lerner wrote in "It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy", "The basic story in the American past, the only story ultimately worth the telling, is the story of the struggle between the creative and the frustrating elements in the American democratic adventure."

In that spirit, we must never forget the exploitation and oppression, the tragedies and injustices, and the struggles and defeats that have marked our history. But we must also remember the victories of 1776, 1865, 1920, 1935, 1945, 1965. We must hear the encouraging words and inspiring ideals: All men are created equal... Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... We the People... A new birth of freedom... Government of the people, by the people, for the people... Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear... We shall overcome. And we must honor those men and women -- in all their American diversity -- who fought those battles, spoke those words, and progressively advanced America's historic purpose and promise.

Three cheers for Governor LePage -- not just for revealing all, but also for reminding us of what we need to do, especially now with the resurgence of America's democratic impulse emanating from Wisconsin!

Propelled by the memory and legacy of those who came before us, the yearnings and aspirations we ourselves feel, and the responsibility we have to those yet to come, we can pursue not only the imperatives of recovery and reconstruction, but also that of making a freer, more equal, and more democratic America. We too can both secure the past and make history. And perhaps one day our children will recall 2011, recite the words "This is what democracy looks like," and not only return the labor mural to the walls of the state office building in Maine, but also add their own historical panels to that work.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter:

Share This

A Federal Government Shutdown Nears. Who Wins?

Mar 25, 2011Bo Cutter

Shaping the future with today’s choices.

Shaping the future with today’s choices.

Wednesday, at the monthly breakfast series for the Next American Economy project, Joe Minarik, senior VP of the CED and former chief economist for OMB, spoke on the federal budget in a tremendous session. Joe Stiglitz, who is a member of the series, joined us and was a central part of the discussion. As I have said repeatedly, we are headed toward a cliff: the right wants to jump off it; the left wants to deny it is there. I will write a couple of longer pieces, but this is solely about the impending government shutdown.

During the session, I asked Joe Minarik the odds he puts on a shutdown this year and on the side wrote down my own estimate. Joe puts the odds at 85%, I put them at 80%. The most explicit reason we put the odds this high is that the House Republican leadership -- specifically Speaker Boehner and Congressman Cantor -- have lost control of their caucus.

The Republican caucus is now largely driven by the 87 freshman members who are part of the Tea Party movement. This may be the single largest and most inexperienced group of congresspeople ever elected at the same time. It's pretty clear that they do not understand the government or the budget, but by god, they are resolved to cut it to shreds. Behind them are the Tea Party faithful. I suggest you read the commentary by Stan Collander for a sense of how it is all playing out.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

These new members are no longer happy with the two-week bite strategy the Republican House leadership has chosen and want a full year Resolution with massive cuts. The leaders would love to have a full year resolution and get this messy problem behind them but has lost control of the caucus. (Here is one reason they are having a problem: the Republican House Study Group has said -- with great confidence -- that $2 trillion can be cut from domestic appropriations, 12% of the budget, over 10 years. But they have specifically identified $200 billion -- so they want $1.8 trillion in cuts they either cannot or are afraid to identify. This is not serious government.) The new members think they will lose their primaries if they do not cut (and, remember, in our new polarized world only the primaries matter). The leaders think they will not be leaders if they do not go along. So we know how this act ends.

At the same time, the White House has little or no room to give way and is not yet willing to put together a big solution. So I think we are about at the point where a shutdown has to occur politically -- unless someone backs off. And neither side can afford to back off. The question is: who wins in the public's eyes?

Right now the polls are split essentially 50-50 in terms of where the public places the blame. President Obama is in my view far better positioned to win a battle for public opinion, but he has to decide to fight this battle. He has to mobilize the executive branch, get the NEC to start to do something, and begin to speak on this now. There are three messages: (1) debt and deficits have to come down, but in a responsible way; (2) there is a positive value to a competent government that will matter to every American; (3) the Congressional Republicans are providing an example of governance at its most irresponsible, arbitrary, and mean-spirited.

I think the President's second term depends on how he comes out of this next period.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

Share This

Bringing Rights for Domestic Workers Out of the Closet

Mar 25, 2011Eileen Boris

broom-rug-200Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with t

broom-rug-200Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Eileen Boris explores how household workers get the shaft -- and why they are fighting back.

In time for Women's History month, the White House Council on Women and Girls has issued "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being." This statistical survey, proclaimed as the first such report in fifty years, calls for "raising the visibility of women's lives, as well as thinking strategically about how to address these challenges." Notably missing is any mention of household workers, those who make it possible for other women to go out to their jobs by cleaning houses, cooking dinner, bathing children, and aiding the aged. These workers largely stand outside the law -- and the White House agenda. But their mobilization for respect and decent work challenges both the economic violence perpetuated in homes and conventional understandings of what is work and who deserves worker rights.

A half century ago, the President's Commission on the Status of Women offered a broader vision than today's Council. Kennedy-era labor feminists considered not only the bare facts of employment, but advocated moving domestic service from the personalistic realm of mistress and maid to the modern regime of labor law, recognizing it as a valuable occupation. The Women's Bureau, along with prominent organizations of black, Jewish, and Catholic women, relaunched the depression-era National Committee of Household Employment (NCHE) to improve working conditions in private households. NCHE promoted a voluntary "Code of Standards" with provisions for minimum wages, overtime, Social Security, sick leave, paid holidays, and a "professional" working relationship. It sought inclusion of private household workers in the New Deal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Under black activist Edith Barksdale-Sloan, the NCHE organized the Household Technicians of America as a national association of domestic workers dedicated to "winning good wages and benefits, raising consciousness and educating consumers of domestic services." In 1974, private household workers won minimum wage under FLSA, though the same amendments removed elder companions, today's home care workers, from the law. The reorganization of domestic employment and ebbing of social movements in the next decade stalled further improvements.

Now thousands of household workers are on the move again -- creating ethnic and community-based associations, demanding dignity and living wages from employers, and lobbying governments for rights as workers. During the last fifteen years, in California, Maryland, and New York, immigrant and U.S. born women of color have built upon the example of worker centers and engaged in grassroots organizing to form associations that reach housekeepers, nannies, and elder caregivers in individual homes. They enhanced worker empowerment through education, leadership training, and service provision. They engaged in street actions denouncing employers who withhold food as well as payment, who abuse bodies and curtail physical movement. Like the NCHE, they issued voluntary codes of conduct and standards for decent work. They have sought legal as well as political redress.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

About six years ago, coalitions in California and New York City began pushing for a "Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights." In New York, the multi-ethnic Domestic Workers United and its allies, notably Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, petitioned, marched, and lobbied the legislature. Last September, Democratic Governor David Patterson signed such a framework for greater security. The pioneering New York bill guaranteed a living wage, paid sick and vacation days, and health benefits.

Though Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure in 2006, the California Domestic Worker Coalition -- composed of grassroots organizations like Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and Mujeres Unidas y Activas in the Bay area -- has returned with a new bill. The Domestic Work Employee Equality, Fairness, and Dignity Act of 2011 (AB 889) places household workers under the state's labor code, including worker compensation, occupational health and safety, overtime, meal and rest breaks, and pay reporting. Sensitive to cultural preferences, it calls for the availability of kitchens for personal food preparation. Additionally, the bill authorizes eight hours of uninterrupted sleep for 24-hour and live-in workers, paid sick and vacation days, termination notice, and cost of living increases. In treating domestic labor like other jobs, it resembles the "Decent Work for Domestic Workers" convention set for final approval by the International Labor Organization next June, for which the National Domestic Workers Alliance has help secure U.S. support.

Workers hired by families are using the state to transform private labors into public work. But one group of household laborers remains apart -- those paid by governments to care for needy elderly and disabled people. The California proposal explicitly excludes In Home Supportive Service workers, the type of worker whose omission from federal law the Supreme Court upheld in 2007 and the Obama administration has yet to rectify through new labor regulations. Meanwhile, Republican governors, as in Wisconsin, are eliminating collective bargaining for home care workers. An irony of current struggles might be that these public employees end up with fewer rights and poorer conditions than those who labor for individual housewives.

Eileen Boris is Hull Professor and Chair, Department of Feminist Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. With Jennifer Klein, she is the author of the forthcoming Caring for America: Home Health Workers under the Shadow of the Welfare State.

Share This

Collective Bargaining Rights are Key for Workplace Equality

Mar 23, 2011Barbara Arnwine

women-and-moneyRemembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives h

women-and-moneyRemembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Barbara Arnwine explains why we've not yet entered a "post-gender" world when it comes to women's status in the workplace.

Women's History Month is a very special time to reflect upon both the particular challenges that women continue to face in the workplace and upon the new opportunities that will arise for economic equity. It's also a time is to appreciate the struggles of the Sheroes who came before us who opened the doors of opportunity.

It is up to us to recognize the significance of being women and also the importance of being a part of a broader collective that lifts the stature of everyone - male and female. We must ask ourselves, how do we both acknowledge the persistent disparities and concerns of the past while also looking to the future for continued upward mobility for all? Gender-based issues of increasing unemployment, job silos, unequal pay, sexual harassment and the "Old Boys Network" continue to haunt the American workplace and denigrate the economic status of women. And this affects everyone.

The fact is, it's not quite time for "post-gender" thinking. Take the latest unemployment figures. While we added some 192,000 jobs in February, the overall scenario for women was not rosy. The National Women's Law Center notes that over the course of the recovery, women's overall unemployment rate increased from 7.7 percent to 8 percent, while men's dropped from 9.8 percent to 8.7 percent. Even more disheartening, between July 2009 and February 2011 unemployment rates increased for single mothers (from 12.6 percent to 13 percent) and African-American women (11.8 percent to 13 percent).

Recently, we witnessed the crisis facing public workers in Wisconsin. Governor Walker's actions are of immense importance to women and stand in direct contradiction to our continued progress. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise 52 percent of state-level public sector jobs and 61 percent at the local level. The impact on state and local job cuts in the public sector will be especially devastating to women at a time when the recession has already disproportionately impacted us.

Women of color, already facing large pay gaps, are in danger of falling still further behind as bargaining rights disappear. Dr. Steven Pitts of UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education notes that black women in the public sector earn a median wage of $15.50 an hour, while the sector's median wage overall is $18.38 (white men make $21.24). This is not so surprising when you consider that African-American women comprise only 12.2 percent of labor unions. This data exemplifies the compelling need for workers to have the ability to bargain for equal rights in the workforce. The wage gap remains an important civil rights crisis for women. We have made gains in areas of education and employment, yet we know that we have not been fully acknowledged in the workplace when the paycheck arrives. This illustrates the distinction between the evolution of personal achievement and universal women's emancipation.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

Barriers still confront women in many professions and prevent us from achieving true equality. While we should appreciate the success stories, such as women's increased access to law firms, there are still challenges to overcome. The retention rate, for example, tells a bleaker story about how women fare in the legal profession. The attrition rate for white female attorneys within 55 months is 77 percent, while minority female attorneys at law firms have the highest attrition rate, at 41 percent within 28 months and 81 percent within 55 months. A Diversity and the Bar report notes that women of color often feel isolated in an "old boy's network" environment. It appears that white male attorneys share a greater opportunity for advancement, perhaps because often times those in power (white males) are connected most with people like them. While it is critical that law firms fulfill their responsibility to systemically address these barriers to women's achievement, women must also assist in advancing each other.

This year marked the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. The United Nations highlighted, as I have, that despite the gains made, much remains to be done to eliminate gender discrimination. Until these vast disparities are addressed and systematically dismantled, this country's economic viability for the future will never be fully realized. The time for a level playing field is long overdue.  As women, we must find our voices and be active in advocating for real equality in these times. And we must always look beyond the headlines to find "her" story.

Barbara Arnwine has been the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law since 1989.

Share This

From the Triangle Fire to Wisconsin, Rights for Women Workers

Mar 22, 2011Brigid OFarrell

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Brigid O'Farrell urges Republicans like Scott Walker to listen to the women following in the footsteps of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory strikers and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For Women's History Month this year, thousands of people around the country are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, flames engulfed a sweatshop just off of Washington Square, in New York City, where women's shirtwaist blouses were made. One hundred and forty-six workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian girls, were burned to death by the fire or jumped to their deaths to escape. Doors were locked and the fire ladders couldn't reach the top floors of the burning building. Women died at their sewing machines, but they didn't have the right to vote in elections. The fire was an historic turning point for the country. The movement for social justice took on new urgency. Workplace safety legislation became a reality, the union movement gained momentum, and eventually women won the right to vote.

March is a time to celebrate the progress that women have made since the Triangle Fire, but there is also reason to pause and consider the fight that continues. We need only turn to Wisconsin. Governor Walker's outright attack on unions is, indeed, a fundamental attack on working women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over half of state workers and 61% of city workers are women. Thirty-one percent of state workers and 42% of local government workers belong to unions. They earn better wages than those who are not union members and the pay gap between women and men is smaller among union members.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s most important headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

These employees are our elementary school teachers, university professors, nurses, social workers, secretaries, and administrative assistants. They are women who are critical to making our cities work and who help turn our towns into livable communities for our families. Through their unions they have secured decent wages, reasonable benefits, ways to resolve grievances, and some security for their retirement. Yet they are being criticized and their rights taken away for economic problems they didn't create.

We can learn from Eleanor Roosevelt. She believed that all workers had a right to a voice at work. Legislation and unionization were the only two ways to protect workers, and she thought joining a union was the best way for women to improve their working lives. For her, workers' rights were human rights, and it is this basic right to have a voice at work that is being lost in Wisconsin.

Eleanor Roosevelt gave careful consideration to her positions. President Roosevelt was skeptical of public-sector unions, though definitely not anti-union as some conservatives have suggested, and his wife struggled with the issue in her newspaper column "My Day" after his death. In the 1950s, as public employee unions began to organize and grow more rapidly, however, she was shocked when a city police commissioner refused to meet with a workers' grievance committee. She acknowledged budget problems, but asked if "any workers should be kept at starvation wages?"

By the late 1950s, she concluded that unionization in the public sector was necessary because employers in the public sector were little different from those in the private sector, refusing to listen to workers and treat them fairly. "Employees who are quite evidently not receiving a living wage and are dissatisfied with their conditions of work," she wrote, "would simply be slaves if they were obliged to work on without being able to reach their employers with their complaints and demand negotiation."

When teachers went on strike in New York City in 1962, shortly before her death, she wrote that there was no "method of complaint and adjustment that could take the place of collective bargaining with the ultimate possibility of a strike." She concluded that "Under the present set-up teachers have no other recourse but to strike to draw attention to their legitimate complaints." Female public employees in Wisconsin followed Roosevelt's advise and joined unions.

Governor Walker should listen to Eleanor Roosevelt. He would learn that his time might be more productively spent cooperating with the women who teach our children and care for the sick and meet the needs of the public everyday. He could learn to solicit their ideas on how to improve services and reduce costs, then negotiate solutions. Wisconsin government could be a model of a democratic workplace, rather than a leader in an effort to dismantle workers' rights. The women of Wisconsin are joining the spirit of their sisters in the Triangle Fire and they are fighting back. They need our support. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "We can't just talk, we have got to act."

Brigid O’Farrell is an independent scholar whose new book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker, Cornell University Press.

Share This