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Making a New Deal

By Kevin Robinson in News on Apr 5, 2007 3:30PM

2007_4_frank_lumpkin.jpgIn the latest round of skirmishes over power in this city, aldermanic candidates have seen the labor movement in Chicago flex it's muscle. In the 21st Ward, incumbent alderman Howard Brookins is being challenged by Leroy Jones, a community activist and member of SEIU Local 73 and UFCW Local 881 member Toni Foulkes is running against Felicia Simmons-Stovall for an open seat in the 15th Ward. In fact, this election cycle, more than any other in recent memory has been a lesson in the political power of organized labor, with high-profile candidates Pat Dowell (3rd) and Joann Thompson (16th), benefiting from the backing of Chicago unions. (It hasn't been all bread and roses, however, as not all unions are in agreement, splitting their support most notably in the 32nd and 50th Wards). And let's not forget Madeline Haithcock, who accepted a $1500 campaign contribution from the owners of the Congress Hotel, which has been locked in a bitter struggle with the hotel workers union for several years now. ("She is no better than a scab," Lars Negstad told the Sun-Times.) UNITE HERE has spent a lot of political action money smearing her name in the 2nd Ward in retaliation.

Mayor Daley hasn't been stayed out of the pissing match either, appearing with Shirley Coleman Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a city-subsidized Englewood residential development built by non-union workers, where she implied that unions are racist (something she has explicitly said in the past, telling the press "I'm accusing them of economic racism.") Many aldermen, both sitting and challenged, who have had to contend with the wrath of labor unions have accused unions of shutting minority workers out of job opportunities in the city. And while it is certainly true that the building trades unions have historically set high barriers to entry for workers that aren't white, the reaction to this of aldermen like Dorothy Tillman, Shirley Coleman, and Madeline Haithcock is equally shocking. "We can't send people to find a job in the unions so how dare they try to come into Englewood?" Coleman told the Tribune. "We are going to keep it affordable, and we would not be able to keep it affordable if it was all union."

In their rush to judgment (and re-election) it seems that aldermen like Coleman, Haithcock, Tillman, and George Cardenas (12th), (who told the Tribune that large donations from unions have become "one of the most outrageous things in terms of campaign finance.... People are concerned about the corruption of our democracy") have forgotten that the movement they condemn with blanket statements is the same one that fought for many of the civil rights that we take for granted today. Admittedly the construction unions are not well known for being progressive and color-blind. But the same economic policies that Daley and these aldermen are promoting in (and therefore around) the city, make it even harder for working families, especially households headed by women and people of color, to get by in the city. Rather than try and force the hand of the construction unions, exchanging lucrative development projects for easier access to union cards, they have taken the route of division and race-baiting. If the wards that are represented by these aldermen are so hard up for economic development, shouldn't their elected leaders be doing everything they can to bring residents the best job opportunities, with the highest wages and benefits possible? Now that good manufacturing jobs have been chased out of Chicago, and what's left of the manufacturing base is composed of shitty $9-an-hour non-union jobs in the suburbs, they drink the Kool-Aid of false choice that Daley and his big-business cronies are selling, telling ward residents with few good job options they can work at Wal-Mart, or remain unemployed. Let's hope that the winds of economic progress prevail on April 17.