Living Wage Presses On

Over the last year, Progressive Montgomery/New Party has built a broad community-labor-religious coalition around an ambitious living wage campaign in the Washington, D.C., suburb. The coalition included virtually every major union in the county, the major Latino social service and advocacy groups, Rainbow Coalition, Metro Washington Archdiocese, Center for Poverty Solutions, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Jews United for Justice and other groups.

In the end, despite turning out more than 350 supporters to a public hearing, and moving literally thousands of phone calls, emails, and postcards to councilmembers, two swing councilmembers -- both of whom had made pro-living wage pledges during their election campaigns -- reneged and pushed the ordinance to a 5-3 defeat.

However, advocates won several partial victories. Under pressure from the coalition, the County Executive issued an order bringing all county employees to a living wage and proposed spending $11 million on child care, job training and transportation subsidies, and the first-ever local Earned Income Tax Credit.

The campaign also gave credibility to Progressive Montgomery, which is now perceived as a progressive force in county politics. The group also gained allies such as the Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO, which called for the resignation of the two Democratic incumbents who reneged on their promises and voted against the bill. Groups ranging from the Center for Poverty Solutions to CASA de Maryland have remarked that this experience has demonstrated to them the need to increase their organizing and advocacy work in coalition with other groups.

"Our members and allies are now even more committed than ever to building broad coalitions and doing the necessary grassroots organizing to build a progressive political vehicle that can win real power," wrote Adam Glickman, a spokesman for the New Party.

Little Rock Targets Sprawl

The Little Rock New Party is bringing together an unusual coalition of low-income community residents, unions, and environmentalists to promote "smart growth" in Arkansas' capital city. Over the last 20 years, developers have relentlessly worked to expand Little Rock to the west and build new upper-income developments. The net effect has been to redistribute city services (schools, public safety, sewer, etc) out of the predominantly low-income and working-class neighborhoods in central and eastern Little Rock and into the new neighborhoods.

"They're closing our schools, and abandoning our neighborhoods, to spend more money on fancy new developments," says New Party City Board member Johnnie Pugh. "We need to direct city services back to the low-income neighborhoods that need them most."

Through a series of public forums, direct actions, and hearings, the New Party has put urban sprawl at the top of the agenda, with almost constant news coverage. LRNP is backing a ordinance written by NP City Director Paul Kelly which would limit annexations and require impact studies for new developments.

"Little Rock has a long history of letting the developers plan the growth of the city," Kelly said. "They do that in a way that I don't think benefits the entire city, and the consequences of that are finally starting to catch up and are becoming blatantly obvious."

The Party expects sprawl to emerge as a key issue in upcoming State Legislative and City Board races, and will be recruiting and supporting pro-"smart growth" candidates in those elections.

For information on the New Party, see www.newparty.org, or call 800-200-1294.

Suppressed DC Vote Totals Released

Only 10 months after the votes were cast, a federal judge ordered the release of the results of a District of Columbia referendum in which 69 percent of voters approved the medicinal use of marijuana. The vote tally had been suppressed by Congress, which prohibited District officials from releasing the results. Congress also has prohibited the District from enacting any law that would legalize or reduce the penalties for possessing marijuana and other drugs.

NAFTA Opens Courts

Global trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement are allowing foreign workers to gain access to U.S. courts to pursue claims. In one case, the Los Angeles Times reported, the families of victims of a bus crash that killed 14 maquiladora workers in northern Mexico won $30 million in damages in August from their U.S.-based employer.

The families reached a settlement with Salant Corp., a New York-based apparel manufacturer, in an Eagle Pass, Texas, state courtroom. It was the latest in a series of claims brought in U.S. courts by workers in maquiladoras, as foreign-owned factories are called, for damages incurred in U.S.-owned plants in Mexico. Recent cases have included charges of sexual harassment, negligence leading to the murder of payroll couriers and hazardous working conditions.

The settlements available to workers in U.S. courts far exceed the liability the companies face when a Mexican court is deciding damages. In Baja California, for example, the maximum liability a company faces for a worker's wrongful death is about $3,500, said Jose M. Larroque, an attorney specializing in maquiladora law at the Tijuana office of Baker & McKenzie, according to the Times.

Conference to discuss World Economic Strategies

Corporate globalization is today a most serious threat to survival, human rights, the environment and economic justice. Activists are invited to a conference planned for Chicago Nov. 12-15 to coordinate strategy as part of the Preamble Center's World Economy Project.

The Preamble Center is hoping to create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual support for strategy discussions. Preamble is a research and organizing center based in Washington, D.C., that was founded three years ago and has worked to stop the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, supports Jubilee 2000, Jobs With Justice, living wage and anti-sweatshop campaigns.

For more information, write the World Economy Project, c/o Preamble Center, 1737 21st Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; e-mail wep@preamble.org; or phone 202-265-3263.

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