TRNN’s Paul Jay and members of Maryland Working Families discuss fighting at the local level to defend the public sector and create a vision for the future
Paul Jay: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore, and we’re continuing our discussion with Maryland Working Families, which is an organization in Maryland made up of different groups that all have a progressive political agenda, they’re trying to make various kinds of policy changes, and we’ve been discussing and debating the relationship of Maryland Working Families to the Democratic Party and what’s going on in the Democratic party. Joining me at the table again, first of all, is Mark McLaurin, he’s the political director for SEIU Local 500. Also Charly Carter, she’s executive director of Maryland Working Families. Rebecca Mark is the Baltimore organizer, and Dante Bishop is the policy director for Maryland Working Families. Thank you all for joining us again. So Charly, at the end, I said, at the end of the last segment, and to give you a chance to answer, that it was the policies of Barack Obama, but the continuation of the Clinton policies, and frankly continuation of Republican policies, but you can call them perhaps “exploitation-lite” versus “exploitation-super-heavy” between the Democrats and some of the Republicans. That all that being said, the wealth disparity during the Obama years became the greatest gap in the history of the country. We know that the recovery and incomes after the 07-08 crisis, something like the top one percent received 90 percent of the income gain after the crisis, and certainly that had a lot to do. Not the only factor, but a lot to do with the election of Donald Trump, the fact that so much of the working class and poor, their life simply didn’t get better, and for many it got worse during the Obama years. That’s not to say it’s gonna get any better under the Trump years, it’s clearly a con, but that being said, if life had gotten better for people, especially in those sections of the working class, I don’t think Trump would’ve won. Charly Carter: Well, I think it’s easy to lay all the blame at the feet of President Obama, but let’s also remember- Paul Jay: I didn’t say that. I said that as a set of policies that go far beyond him, but he happened to be present at a time when the crisis was used to make even a bigger income gap and even more intense transferring of wealth from the working people to the wealthy. Charly Carter: I think also that we can say that a lot of the policies that President Obama pushed also got stalled in the Republican congress. I think, you know, after health care, that, you know, the change, the wide swing from a Democratically controlled congress to a Republican-controlled congress whose stated intent was to make sure that Barack Obama wasn’t- Paul Jay: But why did they lose control? Why did they lose that vote? Why did they lose control? Charly Carter: Well, I think, I think there’s a lot that you can impact there, some of it has to do with history, that when you have a president in the next cycle, the Congress tends to switch to the other party, I think that that’s a contributing factor. But I also think that, and let’s not forget that the financial crisis was not a creation of Barack Obama, it happened under George Bush, who got out just at the tail end at, and it was Barack Obama who at least passed some policies that kept people working and allowed people to at least hang on to what little they still had that wasn’t wiped out by Wall Street. I think if anything, what we should be looking at is these policies that have driven an over-emphasis on the success of Wall Street, and these, with the ideology that everybody had, would benefit if Wall Street benefited, and I think that one of the things Working Families pushed back on is the idea that if corporations benefit, everybody benefits. Paul Jay: And that’s taking place on the fight of, for example, poor company development where there’s a lot of tax breaks being given to the owner of Under Armor, and others, and it’s not the only one. I think general policy’s been here- Charly Carter: I think it’s the Fight for $15, it’s earned sick leave, it’s fair scheduling, I think any of those things where we are fighting for policies that will make, will create economic stability for Working Families, that there’s a trade-off, and the greater Baltimore committee would come in or the Chamber of Commerce would come in and say, “Any change that you made to increase economic stability for families would be the death knell”, to use Mark’s words, “for business, and for too long, our leaders, including Democrats, many Democrats, have followed along with our ideology that people’s pensions were invested in Wall Street’s and people’s 401Ks were invested in Wall Street when the reality is is very few Americans have pensions now, and very few Americans have 401Ks now, and so most people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and when you have policies that these stabilize those paychecks, that is really what’s at fault. That I think is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, I think that to her, that’s a missing cue that senator Hillary Clinton missed, is that most people, we live in a completely different world now. Here in Maryland, we’re trying to raise the minimum wage. Working Families led the fight to raise the minimum wage in 2014, and we successfully did that to $10.10, but even then, we knew that $10.10 was not enough. Right now, we know $15 isn’t enough, but it will get families farther than they ever could if we just left it. Paul Jay: Dante, what it seems to me, the underlying ideological political division in the Democratic party, the Sanders-Clinton forces, I don’t even think Sanders espouses, what I’m about to say, clearly enough, is whether everything is gonna be done through the private sector or there’s actually gonna be a buildout of policies through strengthening the public sector. Like when Barack Obama had his employment program, I think it was a $750 billion stimulus package, he promised everything was gonna go through the private sector outside of the funding of the local state governments that would keep teachers and policeman and such hired. But the idea of a Roosevelt-style direct federal work program, the idea of direct investment, publicly, in developing public services, infrastructure spending through the public sector. That’s been the Baltimore model. Everything’s private. It’s all about the downtown Inner Harbor, and so if you give tax deductions and giveaways, it’s all about attracting outside private investment. Well, 60 years of that policy has given chronic poverty in Baltimore, more unemployment, doesn’t that have to be challenged both within the Democratic party, and generally in the public, that there has to be some public alternatives to this ’cause that public private partnership always turns out shoveling public money into private hands, private pockets. Dante Bishop: Yeah, I think it is definitely incumbent on our leaders to be intentional about their investment and ourselves, like we need to invest in ourselves. That includes infrastructure, social services, as you say, and as we said earlier, we of course want business to flourish, but we also desperately want progress on, and enhance modernization of our workplace standards, because people should be able to work with dignity, and so what we say so often is, for American workers, a good job has just a few key defining characteristics: a fair salary, a safe work environment, health care benefits, and the ability to take time off without risk of losing your job. Paul Jay: My question is, and any of you can pick it up, is that the underlying philosophy is that you cannot talk about doing stuff through the public sector because, oh my god, it sounds like socialism. So the right hates it. But for example, a public enterprise that would renovate houses and hire local people to learn skills and reclaim housing to be low-income housing, and it also raises the issue of raising more revenue, the issue of estate tax, they used to have a millionaire’s tax in Maryland, so both on the revenue side and building out the public sector side, ’cause so far, this sort of dichotomy, yes, we want business to do well, but really, you should be nicer on these sorts of things. It’s reasonable, it’s just not getting anywhere. Charly Carter: Well, I think one of the things that people forget is that the middle class in this country was built on public sector employment, and- Paul Jay: Especially Baltimore. To a large extent, Baltimore. Charly Carter: I think much of Maryland, one of the reasons that Maryland can claim itself as the wealthiest state in the nation, is because we have so many public employees who live in this state, and most of those employees have unions, they have stability, they have pensions, they have good paying jobs. But there has been a push to privatize all of those, and there, many people will say there are a lot of factors that contribute to the thought that you want to privatize that and create private wealth, but I think that we have to look at public solutions in- to sell some of these problems and not just push it off to the private sector, there’s a one thing that we can always say, is that the very- when you look at the founding, the core organizational documents for an organization, it is to make a profit. It is not to improve the lives of citizens, it is not to improve the lives of the workforce, it is not even necessarily to create a better community or a better economy for the city in which they are founded, it is for that corporation to make a profit for its shareholders. Paul Jay: And one of the things that apparently, is not seen as short-term profitable enough, ’cause there’s almost zero effort going into it in Maryland and many other places, and Baltimore, is confronting the issue of climate change. Like, if there is a public policy driving this, and public sector driving, there’s not gonna be, especially given we have a climate change denier as president right now, and an administration that’s actually undoing, what I would say is way too modest measures that were done on the Obama administration, but at least it was something. That’s being done. Rebecca, this issue of climate change is an existential threat and barely gets talked about. Rebecca Mark: Well, I think the question is talked about with who and with what language. While climate change is obviously an issue, one of the ways that we can address it while actually addressing the needs of the people, and since it is such an existential thing, while addressing the needs of the people right now, day-to-day, is framing it in terms of environmental justice, and looking at it within the context of history, of our history of racial segregation, of our history of prioritizing certain communities over others, of prioritizing also companies over the interest of people. When you break it down on a way that impacts people’s lives, if you bring up that Baltimore has, I think, maybe the highest air pollution death rates in the country, and that’s not in Roland Park, that’s downtown, that’s by the incinerator. You know, when we frame it in terms of that, then we look at what can we do to make our lives better, what can we do to make our children’s lives better. Then that kinds of address all those issues at once, you see it together. And then kind of getting back to, if I could jump into what you’re saying with the development in Port Covington and everything. Paul Jay: I mean, what I’m getting at is if you’re really gonna do something at the local or state level and right now, it’s gonna have to be at local or state levels because at the federal level, climate change policy is dead, I don’t see how it gets done without the public sector. Rebecca Mark: Yes. Paul Jay: Way more involved, and not in partnership with the private sector ’cause the private sector, with some exceptions, it’s not where they want to put their mind. Rebecca Mark: Mm-hmm. So if I may on that, one of the things we, Maryland Working Families, has been a part of the helping mobilize, helping people go out to the People’s Climate March in April, we are in a coalition with different environmental justice groups in Maryland and in Baltimore, Baltimore People’s Climate Movement. We also helped, through the Maryland Environmental Health Network, I have to definitely plug them, helped a youth-led group, Baltimore Beyond Plastic, pass a resolution in city hall that signed Baltimore onto the climate, the Paris Climate Agreement, but then went farther. We will do more to address climate change, and that it will be done equitably, it’s where Maryland Working Families kinda comes in with that, is when there is a new, with these new industries that are being invested, whether or not, maybe not as much as they should be, but they are these new industries and we want to make sure that the, we don’t fall down the same, the same holes as histories of mining or anything, that the jobs that go in, it’s carved into it. If we’re talking about improving the future for ourselves and our children and grandchildren like they always say about climate change, let’s make sure these jobs in the renewable energy markets are actually have- have economic stability and treat people with dignity, have a quality of life for them. Paul Jay: I mean, you’ve got a port in Maryland, just outside of Baltimore, which is one of the main ports, exported coal. Mark McLaurin: I think the larger point that you were making, which was around kind of this kind of derogation of the public sector and not, like, that somehow, investment in the public sector is somehow seen as something that is kind of less than preferable or something that should exist below investment in the private sector, and that has been a recurring problem, even in a state like Maryland. I mean, all you have to do is visit Minneapolis one time to be reminded that Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line. I mean, that state legislature can, in many respects, is one of the more anti-Democratic institutions and one of the more southern-feeling institutions that I’ve ever been to. I mean, Annapolis and Richmond are about the same in terms of working there, if you’ve ever worked in both of them and so, one of the things that we did at SEIU that we’re continuing to do with Working Families is, we’ve got to change who is in Annapolis representing us, okay, and so when we, what we did in 2010 was, we took out five incumbent Democratic senators, and we replaced them with who, with public employees, okay. So George Della was defeated here in Baltimore City by Bill Ferguson, was a Baltimore city school teacher. Prince George’s County was defeated by Joanne Benson, a high school principal. So we have looked to our membership, we’re continuing that work in 2018. We’re targeting Democratic incumbents in District 44 and in District 45 and a whole host of districts, but these are preferred candidates, our candidates that come out of the public sector. They have a unique reverence for and respect for and belief in, most importantly, its ability to do the most good, because Maryland is supposed to be a citizen legislature, so most of the folks there, for 90 days, have other jobs and far too few of those other jobs are public sector employees. Far too many of them come out of the small business community that is philosophically hostile to public sector investment, so the work that Working Families is doing is changing that very thing that you pointed to as a problem, which is degrading of the public sector. Charly Carter: And we’ve seen the sea change from 2014- 2010 to 2014, we saw a huge change in the legislature where a number of, I would say, 20 new progressive legislators were elected, Cory McCray among those, and we’ve seen the work that he’s done and he’s very first-year. He restored voting rights to ex-felons here in this state, and has continued to do good work, creating, putting money into training programs for youth and, not internships, allowing people to get trained in trades. Mark McLaurin: Apprenticeships. Charly Carter: Apprenticeships. Thank you. I think Mark is right is that whether it’s at the state level, whether it’s at the city level, where we helped usher in five new progressive leaders where they form the very core of the progressive caucus here in Baltimore, that we’re, by electing progressives and challenging Democrats who have, for too long, prioritized the success of business over people- Paul Jay: Let’s get concrete about that. There’s gonna be a Democratic primary for governor, Bernie Sanders came and endorsed Ben Jealous, are you guys gonna endorse somebody for governor? Charly Carter: We will, we will make an endorsement in the Democratic primary. My guess is some time, early fall. Paul Jay: Is it gonna be Ben Jealous? Charly Carter: We haven’t, we’re still going through the process, we were soliciting questionnaires and we’ll have interviews with the candidates and then- Paul Jay: The same fight’s gonna take place, it’s gonna be the Sanders versus Clinton warring in all likelihood. Charly Carter: Well, I mean, I think that we have a good field of candidates right now and for that, we think it’s important that there’s a good field of candidates, that they’re raising issues about working families, whether it’s Ben Jealous, whether it’s Rich Madaleno, whether it’s Kevin Cabinet, we want to hear people talking about the issues that have been avoided so long, and we’re happy that there’s gonna be a healthy debate. We’re hoping there’s a healthy debate and there’s not an attempt to squash debate and only get in line behind one person, we want there to continue to be every candidate talking about issues like $15 an hour minimum wage, having people be able to predict their schedules so they can get a second job or go to school for more training, or even to go to your question about investment in public strategies that can not only help address things like climate change, but also repair infrastructure and people to work at the same time. Working Families is pushing, we believe in holistic solutions to problems, whether- and it’s why we react so vehemently to when things like Port Covington come up, to go back to your previous question about climate change, this is an instance where a city that claims itself to be poor, where we’ve had 60 years, as you’ve said, of increasingly concentrated poverty in areas of a city which have never seen an ounce of investment, that city leaders could, with a straight face, say that they’re gonna invest 600 million dollars or more into an area which has absolutely no infrastructure, which will be underwater in ten years, that we see as an alternative in investing 600 million dollars in Sandtown, in Cherry Hill, in Oliver, to rebuild the infrastructure there and to put people to work at the same time. So we think that what we desperately need and have not had are leaders with hope and vision and I think you’ve talked a lot about Bernie Sanders. I think what really drew people to Bernie Sanders, just like Barack Obama, is they present a vision for people, a vision that people can buy into that things can get better, and I think here in Baltimore, and in Maryland, people want to work hard, people do work hard, but we want to go in a direction, the people need to be led by leaders that have a vision for how their lives will improve. Paul Jay: Well, thank you all for joining us. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.