Ige Should Sign Bargaining Bill

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There is a power in a union.

Conservative political pundits prognosticate about the onslaught of austerity facing our nation. Many of these same pundits–often analysts of the Fox News variety, but also fiscally corporate members of the Democratic Party–believe that labor unions are an impediment to economic prosperity and argue that collective bargaining sets wages and work conditions above what the free market demands.

They couldn’t be more wrong. Collective bargaining is a civil right. Unionized employees’ compensation and work protections are essential to creating an upwardly mobile middle class and accelerating economy. As economist Paula Voos of Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations notes, “It is no accident that the prosperity and consumer boom of the 1950s–a period of unprecedented middle class expansion, broad business growth, increased home ownership, rising consumer spending, and the shared expectation that a college education was within the reach of everyone and that the lives of our children would be better than our own–followed the greatest sustained expansion of unionization in American history.”

Unsurprisingly, decreasing American middle class incomes and the rapidly widening wealth gap in our country parallel a significant decline in union membership. It is imperative, then, that we promote higher productivity by strengthening labor relations. Through their unions, employees may expose workplace problems, inefficient processes, unfair work conditions, and unsupportive compensation without fear of reprisal. Unions also increase the recruitment and retention of highly experienced employees, creating circumstances that favor professional development and mutual trust in the workplace. Perhaps most importantly, labor organizations foment understandings of democratic government and solidarity, resolving conflict and differences through negotiation, consensus-building, and participatory rulemaking. In other words, unions mold engaged and responsible citizens.

Gov. David Ige would, thus, be making a big mistake in vetoing SB 410, as he has threatened. According to Ige, “This bill directly impacts the ability of state departments to effectively manage its workforce by negating management rights to direct its workforce and requiring union consent on such matters as assignment, transfer and discipline.” Ige’s logic was echoed in a recent Honolulu Civil Beat editorial, in which the news group’s editors stated:

But conducting major surgery on a collective bargaining law that has served the islands and its tens of thousands of public employees for nearly 50 years is not funny. That’s why opponents of SB 410 include James Nishimoto, director of the Hawaii Department of Human Resources and the person who led recent collective bargaining talks that have resulted in significant pay increases for some of those very same unions—HGEA, the HSTA and the HFFA.

Civil Beat’s editors go on to suggest that the historical tie between unions and the Democratic Party led to the bill’s passage and, further, that the contracts awarded to Hawai’i’s workers this year–along with lawmakers’ efforts to buoy the Maui Health System and provide separation benefits for unionized medical professionals at state-run hospitals being taken over by Kaiser Permanente–show that the islands are “uncritically” friendly toward labor.

Ige and Civil Beat’s shockingly myopic assault on wokers’ rights couldn’t be more wrong. Far from distorting labor-management relations, SB 410 attempts to prevent “the employer” from blocking bargaining on issues that should be or traditionally have been negotiated. While media reports have focused on how the bill would make discipline, training, and terminations subject to collective bargaining, the measure would also apply to other items impacting work conditions. Consider, for example, public school teachers, who are often oversee more than 30 students per class in triple-digit temperatures. Seldom are teachers given adequate resources to meet the needs of each child, a tragedy that’s especially traumatic for  special needs students. Negotiators from the Hawai’i State Teachers Association might want to discuss these workplace issues during contract talks, contending that ballooning class sizes, blazing classrooms, and impoverished resources degrade teachers’ ability to provide a quality education. Yet, Hawai’i Revised Statues 89-9, the law amended by SB 410, currently contains no language requiring the employer–in the example above, the Hawai’i State Department of Education–to consider these concerns during the collective bargaining process, effectively empowering the employer to dictate working conditions without consequence.

Moreover, issues of discipline, due process, and reemployment rights are top priorities for all labor movements, while any notion that the aloha state has been unduly sympathetic to labor recklessly discounts the causes for which local unions are fighting. To again cite Hawai’i’s hardworking public school teachers, in its recent contract agreement, HSTA secured annual raises of totaling nearly 14 percent over four years, a healthy deal that warrants the respect of teachers, the state, and the general public. As the following chart demonstrates, however, Hawai’i’s teachers are grossly underpaid compared to their national peers when their salaries are adjusted by cost of living. An experienced English teacher in the prime of her career, who may also be raising a family, earns approximately $25,000 less than her average mainland counterpart. While a new funding mechanism for education is needed to close teachers’ salary gap (such as taxing residential investment properties and visitor accommodations), the sheer size of the pay gap shows that labor organizers have a lot to achieve before they reach parity, much less “uncritically” friendly status.

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Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” The same is true with regard to basic civil rights, including the rights to freely associate and bargain for fair pay and better work conditions, which are constantly under assault by a corporate mindset that puts dollars before democracy. When we hear about the supposed belligerence of “big labor,” we should remember that unions gave us child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, paid vacations, family and medical leave, minimum wage standards, and much more.

And any public officials seeking to erode the right of workers to organize should remember that there is power in a union, and that power is readily expressed on Election Day.

Faded Relations

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Famoso Inn (with swimming pool) by Jeff Brouws

A fading swimming pool set amidst flourishing foliage. A fish-topped fountain, now inhaling musky air. A lone chair, overlooking a dried aquatic hotelscape. These are a few of the many objects contained in Jeff Brouws’ “Famoso Inn (with swimming pool),” in which the San Francisco photographer’s anthropological exploration of bleak aesthetics interrogates the origin, decay, and memorial space of industrial modernity.

Yet, the static moment musters not just collapsing markets, but caressing entities, each translating its enmeshed ecology into its own unique terms. Decay, capital, and bleakness are, themselves, implicated as conceptual objects in the frame, recorded as finite beings in a contingent material array. Here, we see a set of objectal powers unfurled before the human gaze, such as earth toned saturation and blue-hued siding soiled by brusquely textured debris. At the same time, we are exposed to the inadequacy of our own perception in representing the hyperpluralized being of Others, both human and nonhuman, that are constantly animating their own relational architectonics and spatiotemporality, encountering the sublime horror of uncertainty with each burst and retreat.

If this is an image of the deindustrialization in which Donald Trump’s ascension is so heavily ingrained, then it also an encounter with the uncanny core of automation: humanism is the remainder in need of elimination for capital to accelerate. There is no labor; there is only occupation. There is no wealth; there is only finance. There is no code instructing our capacity to resist; there is only the urgent call to resist as a mode of existence and with a fierce belief that an alternative politics is in desperate need of emancipation.

Trump Terror: You Kiddin’ Me?

Being Muslim isn’t a criminal act. Worshipping in a mosque isn’t treason. Unfortunately, for many of Donald Trump’s supporters, that distinction ins’t clear. Citing recent extremist attacks as a pretext for indefinite detention, Republicans are calling for a return to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, like those used against Abdullah al-Kidd. Trump, himself, lionized the use of waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse” throughout his campaign, before issuing a barely believable reversal in November.

In an event that evades our 24-hour media memory, in 2003, two years after the 9/11 hijackings, Al-Kidd was held without due process for fifteen days under the material-witness statute, during which time the former University of Iowa football star was strip-searched, shackled nude to a chair and subjected to constant illumination. Upon release, he was placed under probationary conditions that limited his travel to four states and, ultimately, resulted in irreconcilable marital strife. The catch? Prosecutors never called Al-Kidd to the stand in the case for which he was claimed as a witness, the trial of Sami Omar al-Hussayen, nor was he connected to a crime, despite former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s congressional contention that al-Kidd’s capture was one of the nation’s major anti-terrorism “success stories.”

Believing someone should be held responsible for the illegal detention of himself and approximately 70 other Muslims arrested under the material-witness guise, Al-Kidd filed a civil suit in federal court against then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, later defended by Obama administration attorneys, maintained that the doctrine of qualified immunity–which exempts government officials from being held liable for violations of an individual’s constitutional rights–shielded him from “burdensome litigation and potential damages.” In 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Al-Kidd, ruling that Ashcroft could be found culpable for the wrongful detention of American citizens. Department of Justice lawyers then appealed to the Supreme Court, which found, in 2011, that al-Kidd’s attorneys did not met the burden of proof necessary to show that Attorney General Ashcroft could be personally sued for DOJ actions, nor that Ashcroft was directly involved in or had explicit knowledge of the events surrounding Al-Kidd’s detention (suggesting the injustice was executed by Ashcroft’s subordinates).

Given the SCOTUS ruling and national security inclinations of the incoming Trump administration, the narrative juncture cleaved by Al-Kidd’s case poses the legal question: How does the state legitimate authority to catch “criminals” without evidence of a crime? It’s a question that’s more urgent than ever, in a time of increased hate crimes, heightened vigilance of police brutality, anti-LGBT violence, and rising Islamophobia.

One possible answer resides in the discursive structures through which the consequences of statecraft are naturalized among the nation’s citizenry, particularly with regard to national security. Locating the production of security within the nexus of processes comprising an imagined political community, critical state theorist Joseph Campos II argues that the state attempts to manage the textual field of national security discourse in order to reproduce its relevance to the governed, prompting the conceptualization of threats, both internal and external, as the end-products of political labor. For Campos, instances of “terrorism,” framed within a hegemonic security metanarrative, are micropolitical inversions, whereby the othering of terrorist assemblages consecrates not only the legitimacy of state violence, but also the discursive space necessary for manufacturing consent to the omnipresence of state control, laid bare before the governed. As Campos explains:

National security discourse constitutes, and is representative of, the construction of a privileged space where the state makes terrorism meaningful and terrifying at the same time. Terrorism is made meaningful in a process that legimitizes relations of power and sets up statist objectives–maintenance of secured borders, economies, and peoples. These statist objectives are solidified in stressing the terrifying aspect of terrorism as a direct assault against the authority of the state (Campos, The State and Terrorism, 2007).

Thus, “terrorism” reaffirms the state’s Weberian monopoly of the legitimate deployment of violence inasmuch as violence is the default reaction to terror understood as an existential threat against the state, while delimiting the ideational loci from which citizens, like Al-Kidd, may critique majoritarian notions of terror without being perceived as traitors.

To combat the crackdowns on freedom that may be forthcoming if corporate security forces are exalted under Trump, we must question the manner in which terrorism is instrumentalized by the state to police society, both literally and figuratively. Here, Campos contends that the state defines terrorism as anathema to the performance of liberal life at the everyday level, undermining the state’s efforts to safeguard such functional necessities as food, shelter, and personal finance. In this way, disciplinary systems organized to confront terror are made into imagined states of relevance, requiring the constant mobilization of a citizenry faced with the threat of permanent war. Says Campos:

With the focus on the affect of terrorism on the entirety of security, security and terrorism are made imagined states of relevance for the general citizenry. In imagined states of relevance, national security discourse is constituted as a steady murmur of memory–a discourse that is constantly present, but at times in the background quietly producing itself so that it may be made vocal and active at any moment to justify any action (Campos, The State and Terrorism, 2007).

Usurping narrative strategies to valorize the moral purity of its aims, the state reenacts the historical encounters most pertinent to externalizing threats, disabling contrapuntal knowledges that problematize the production of martial subjectivities. Interrogating the dichotomous structure of securitization becomes a self-reflexive form of Aristotelian barbarism, incomprehensible to a population that views (in)security as crucial for the survival of their nation, state, community and own docile bodies. A population like Trump’s GOP followers, 68 percent of whom reported, in June, that they support a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. to make America safe. Again.

And what better pretext for actualization of national security discourse than the novelty of a threat that can strike anywhere, at anytime? One of the foremost hagiographic fictions of many political regimes, including the United States government, is a missionary mythology predicated on centuries of struggle with “heathens” and “savages.” Muslims, against whom ongoing crusades have for centuries been waged at the hands of Western warlords, first with swords and now with drones, are useful victims, especially when distilled through the timeless trauma of terror. Portrayed as the most lethal outside threat to an imagined community of like-minded Americans, Muslims are said to be plotting attacks from within our communities, erasing the inside/outside binary that grounds the state’s security machine. They are everywhere. Here and there, from here to there. They must be stopped at all costs, argue our soon-to-be-statesmen, and brought to justice by any means necessary.

Even if they’ve never committed a crime.