Category: Uncategorized

Over the Rainbow: The Uncertain Future of U.S. Politics

The World Turned Upside Down: ‘Our Revolution,’ Trump Triumphant, and the Remaking of the Democratic Party

When Bernie Sanders conceded the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in July 2016, he likely assumed that in a few months, after Hillary Clinton won the presidency, he would return to a role similar to the one he played on the campaign trail: a kind of social-democratic gadfly to a largely neoliberalized party, capitalizing on the unprecedented popularity he drew in his presidential campaign to pull President Clinton—and the entire party—to the left.

Alas, to his surprise and ours, this arrangement was not to be. But rather than seeing his role as an oppositional figure diminish under President Donald Trump, Sanders’ opportunities to affect the Democratic Party and American politics more broadly may have actually increased.

For one thing, the party appears rudderless, adrift, and still shell-shocked at November’s results. Perhaps no one better exemplified this fact than Clinton herself, whose top post-election priority seemed to be wandering in the woods beyond the New York City suburbs. Sanders, meanwhile, has taken action: publishing numerous op-eds and a book, debating Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Obamacare and single-payer health care, speaking out against Trump’s policies. The party seems to lack real leadership right now; if anyone holds it, it seems to be a wild-haired, self-described democratic socialist who has deliberately rejected the party his entire life.

Despite his professed disdain for the Democrats, Sanders has long been a pragmatist, dating back to his days as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont.[1] It should come as no surprise, then, that a new organization that has emerged in the wake of Sanders’ primary loss and bears his blessing (though not his day-to-day involvement) is, despite its to-the-barricades name, actually a deeply pragmatic one.

Our Revolution (OR) is that organization, backing political candidates in races ranging from local school boards to Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair and attempting to affect a transformation of the party at the state and local level from the bottom up. It is also running progressive campaigns like the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and demanding Democrats not vote to approve President Trump’s cabinet nominations.

The organization is young but has already experienced its share of turmoil, with a major staff revolt within weeks of its founding. Still, Our Revolution has positioned itself to absorb a large portion of the energy from Sanders’ campaign, raise large amounts of money through small donations and distribute the money to progressive candidates at all levels throughout the country.  It could play a major role in progressive campaigns and Democratic candidacies in the near future. Its overall aim appears to be nothing short of a major realignment of the Democratic Party in the very near future, pulling the party away from its pro-business, neoliberal shift of the past several decades toward a more robustly pro-worker agenda.

Much of the progressive and radical forces to the left of the Democrats expected to find themselves in a position in 2017 in which they could offer full-throated critiques of a rightward moving Democratic Party and a centrist-neoliberal president in Hillary Clinton. Instead, those forces—many of which have found a home in Our Revolution— now find themselves in a more delicate position in which they must balance building a united front approach to opposing Trump while confronting the party, the Democrats, which is currently the only viable home for those forces.

Right now, however, the organization seems to lack a stomach for the second part of that equation, the very thing that has made Sanders’ political career so unique: a deep-seated opposition to a party believed to be hopeless, corrupted, and unable to genuinely represent working and poor people’s best interests.

Candidates and Beyond

The scope of Our Revolution’s focus is broad, reaching far beyond individual candidates and even beyond the progressive campaigns du jour. The organization’s platform does not make for light reading: it features twenty-one separate issues ranging from “big money in politics,” affordable housing, and “Medicare for all” to disability rights and resolving Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, many at great length and in significant detail.[2] As Sanders did during his speeches in front of massive crowds on the campaign trail, the group appears to trust the average American’s hunger for substantive, progressive politics will outweigh their short attention spans.

The group was involved in over 100 campaigns in the 2016 election cycle, including three in the Senate, fifteen in the House, and dozens at the state and local level. By the organization’s own count, they appear to have won slightly more than half of the races they became involved in. Our Revolution also backed seven ballot initiatives, such as a single-payer measure in Colorado and a campaign finance reform bill in Maryland. [3]

In an election off-season, the group has moved to focus more on issue-based campaigns, including support for the #NoDAPL protests in North Dakota and various efforts to oppose Donald Trump’s new administration (as well as centrist-leaning Democrats that they consider too milquetoast in their resistance to the president). Our Revolution issued broad calls for more vigorous debate over and opposition to Trump’s cabinet nominees, for example, after many Democrats put up little resistance to their confirmation early on. (The organization has not, however, targeted any incumbent Democrats with its email blasts or messaging since November’s election.[4]) Before Trump’s inauguration, they encouraged President Obama to commute the prison sentence of Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has spent 35 years in prison for a number of charges related to bomb-making and armed robbery as part of a campaign for Puerto Rican independence. (Shortly before leaving office, Obama did pardon Rivera.)

The group is also the inheritor of Bernie Sanders’ massive and famed email list, which helped produce the highest number of small donations in a political campaign in U.S. history. The Democratic National Committee is desperate to gain access to the list and the potentially huge number of activists and donors it would bring them; so far, Our Revolution has remained unwilling to turn it over.[5]

One election the group stayed involved in after November, however, was Rep. Keith Ellison’s unsuccessful run for Democratic National Committee chair against former Labor Secretary Tom Perez—a contest that was billed as a referendum on the future direction of the Democratic Party. Given the current state of affairs in the party—with Sanders’ campaign revealing and stirring to action a massive section of progressive and even socialist-curious voters, (many of whom still feel that party’s leadership unfairly stole the nomination from him); and with Clinton and her centrist brand of politics being clearly discredited by the Republican sweep across the local, state, and national levels — one might have assumed that the Democratic leadership would finally be willing to toss this newly riled base a bone in the form of appointing Ellison as DNC chair.

But instead of reaching out to that base through such a choice, party leaders rebuked them, mounting a full-on campaign for Perez over Ellison—even after he was endorsed by much of the labor movement, including by the United Auto Workers ( UAW), American Federation of Teachers (AFT),  Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and AFL-CIO. In the internal party vote that took place in Atlanta on February 25, Perez came out on top. Ellison embraced Perez after the vote and encouraged his backers to do the same. In a supposed show of unity, Ellison was named “deputy chair” of the DNC. But as AFT President Randi Weingarten noted on Twitter, just hours after Ellison’s appointment to this position, the Democratic Party’s official account tweeted a graphic of their new leadership slate with Tom Perez at the top; neither Ellison’s name nor the title “deputy chair” appeared anywhere.[6]

The contest may offer some clues about the kind of disdain with which progressives and leftists will continue to be treated as they go about trying to transform the party. While these activists may feel like they have the only momentum within the party right now while Democratic centrists have been thoroughly discredited, this does not mean the party will hand over the reins without fighting tooth and nail.

Perez is certainly more progressive than someone like Hillary Clinton and was praised by unions as an effective labor secretary. But Ellison was an early backer of Sanders and is one of the most progressive members of Congress. If there is a left wing of the Democratic Party, Ellison is certainly on it, making his endorsement by Our Revolution a no-brainer. The rubric for determining which candidates qualify as progressive enough to gain the organization’s stamp of approval, however, remains confusing.

For example, Our Revolution endorsed Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii in her successful reelection campaign. Gabbard was one of the few members of Congress that backed Sanders in the primary and has spoken out against the war on Iraq after serving in a combat zone there through the Army National Guard, opposed a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and endorsed Bernie Sanders in the primary.

But Gabbard’s foreign policy stances are scattershot. Despite a handful of progressive stances, she also voted in favor of a 2015 Republican bill to ban Syrian refugees from coming to the United States, has visited Donald Trump in the White House and said her meeting had been “frank and positive.” Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, told the press the two had “a lot of common ground.” Gabbard also has close ties to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the far-right Hindu nationalist who “bears a responsibility for some of the worst religious violence ever seen in independent India” during his term as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, including a massacre of 2,000. The Atlantic called Gabbard “The GOPs Favorite Democrat.”[7]

Sanders’ campaign caught fire mostly thanks to his domestic policy agenda; his foreign policy, while far to the left of most in the Democratic Party, left much to be desired for many leftists, especially on issues like Israel-Palestine. Still, how could an organization dedicated to carrying on Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” within the Democratic Party continue to back a politician like Gabbard who has joined the GOP’s opposition to refugees?

The Exodus

Our Revolution was born in chaos. Within weeks of its founding on August 24, 2016, eight of the organization’s fifteen staff resigned in protest of the appointment of Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager and longtime associate, as the organization’s president.

Mainstream coverage of the staffers’ exodus adopted a bemused tone at the new organization of lefties who were at each others’ throats before their work was even up and running. The staffers who left laid the blame for Sanders’ defeat at Weaver’s feet, accusing him of mismanaging the campaign by focusing too much on television ads. They also emphasized a disagreement with the decision to adopt a 501(c)(4) tax status, which could allow the group to accept “dark money” from wealthy donors who would not have to disclose their donations—a perceived hypocrisy given Sanders’ relentless critiques of such campaign finance arrangements during his campaign.

“As a campaign manager, Jeff was a total disaster who failed Bernie’s supporters with his mismanagement,” former OR organization director Claire Sandberg told the Washington Post. We’re organizers who believed in Bernie’s call for a political revolution, so we weren’t interested in working for an organization that’s going to raise money from billionaires to spend it all on TV.”[8]

In addition to philosophical disagreements with this arrangement, Our Revolution’s tax status led to difficulties in coordinating with the candidates it endorsed. 501(c)(4) organizations can give unlimited donations to candidates as long as these groups do not directly coordinate with the campaigns that they have endorsed.

This supposed firewall between campaigns and “dark money” groups has been widely criticized as both thin and unrealistic, with obvious opportunities for violation by both sides. But no one appears to have explained how to violate this law to Our Revolution in a key House race in Florida.

Tim Canova, who was endorsed by Our Revolution in his bid to challenge former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for her House of Representatives seat, and his former staffers complained about first a duplication of work by Our Revolution and Canova’s campaign due to that lack of coordination; Canova then accused the organization of abandoning him, aiding his loss in the race. The incident led The Atlantic to ask “whether Sanders, Our Revolution, and his supporters will be able to give candidates inspired by [Sanders’] call to action what they need to win.”[9]

Still, Canova’s complaints are isolated. If other Our Revolution endorsees share his campaign’s sentiments about the group, they have not yet voiced them aloud. And even over the course of its brief life, the group can be credited for some impressive victories.

State Takeovers

The group has led some impressive state-level victories in just a few months. The Wall Street Journal characterized Our Revolution’s strategy as focused on “infiltrate[ing] and transform[ing] the Democratic Party’s power structure, starting with the lowest-level state and county committee posts that typically draw scant attention.”[10]

Perhaps the most impressive of these campaigns is the recent takeover of the California Democratic Party by “Berniecrats.”

Our Revolution ran what The Hill called “an on-the-ground get-out-the-vote effort to make sure supporters attended caucuses in each of the state’s 80 assembly districts” during an “ordinarily sleepy” event, electing 650 state party delegates out of 1,120, giving them a majority in the choosing of the state party’s officials including its chairperson.[11]

The organization’s operation reflected the ability to engage in the nitty-gritty of actual politicking that Sanders’ campaigns have always focused on. Our Revolution claimed to have sent over 100,000 emails and 40,000 text messages, and over 800 Bernie supporters signed up to run for delegate seats, according to The Hill, transforming a usually staid affair into one buzzing with excitement. Activists’ express purpose was to aggressively push one of country’s most progressive states into playing a vanguard role pushing for even more progressive policies that other states could emulate.

Our Revolution-backed candidates also won the chairmanship of the Washington-state Democratic central committee after defeating an incumbent, “seized control” of the party apparatus in Hawaii and Nebraska, and “swept” local Democratic Party officer positions in Florida. The Wall Street Journal quotes a Florida activist, Stacey Patel, who was elected Brevard County’s Democratic Party chairwoman; she can’t quite seem to wrap her head around the group’s accomplishments: “We didn’t know that 60 folks would be enough to take the majority” of the local party, she told the paper.[12]

In addition to the state-level party takeovers Our Revolution has led through its numerous state organizations, it has also enlisted local groups as affiliates. In January, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a left-wing organizing and electoral group in the Bay Area city, joined Our Revolution.  The group is one of the more promising local, independent political formations in the country, scoring major victories on a wide range of issues from police reform to fighting corporate-backed politicians to winning rent control in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area.

To do so, the RPA has gone toe-to-toe with centrist, business-friendly Democrats in Richmond that reflect many of the problems of the Democratic Party nationally. Our Revolution has supported RPA candidates in the past. In the most recent city council races, an OR email blast netted around $5,000 for each RPA endorsee as well as close to 900 donors’ contact information—a testament to the power of Bernie Sanders’s vaunted email list. If Our Revolution wants to transform the political landscape nationally, its leaders should take the RPA’s lessons on the need for independence from—and thus a level of combat with—the Democrats seriously, especially in one-party cities like Richmond.

The group also has the support of many of the former members of Labor for Bernie, a grassroots organization of union members and staffers around the country who backed Sanders’ campaign. Many did so in defiance of the decisions of their international unions, which either endorsed Hillary Clinton or stayed neutral in the election. National Nurses United (NNU) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) (whose former president Larry Cohen now works for Our Revolution) have also worked closely with the group; both endorsed Sanders in the primary. The California Nurses Association has even given Our Revolution California a full-time staffer.

Given the complete lack of institutional mechanisms for establishing the party’s fealty to unions (unlike, say the Labour Party in the U.K., in which unions have a far greater say in the party’s direction) and the disdain with which much of the Democratic Party treats organized labor, this could be an important base from which organized labor pushes for its agenda within the party. In addition to the NNU and the CWA, the wide-ranging group of union staff and rank and file— many of whom also make up the most important activist and progressive wing of U.S. labor — that made up Labor for Bernie has now become Labor for Our Revolution, and could continue to play a role in pushing both the party and their own unions leftward.

Transforming the Party

Our Revolution organizers see the group as a vehicle for realigning the Democratic Party so it meets the needs of the working class rather than the one percent— something perhaps more closely resembling a twenty-first century labor party.

“We’re looking to transform the party,” said Our Revolution executive director Shannon Jackson after the California party takeover.

This is not the first time leftists and left-liberals have attempted to affect such a shift. Such attempts have a long history in American politics, ranging from Walter Reuther and the New Left in the 1960s to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in 1984 and 1988. None have been particularly successful, as the party has drifted further and further in a neoliberal direction.[13]

There are structural barriers to the transformation of the Democrats, both in the party’s history, its current composition, and the diminished power of organized labor. Many labor parties in Europe are rooted in breaks from bourgeois parties from earlier in the twentieth century, and took place at a time of rising strength of the industrial working class. That break never happened in the United States, leading to the Democratic coalition including several strongly conservative elements like various sectors of capital and Southern white racists alongside workers, unions, and (later in the twentieth century) African Americans and other people of color.

This has led to the classic dilemma endlessly debated by American radicals for decades: Should they struggle within a hopelessly compromised Democratic Party in order to make the greatest possible impact on the world, or should they abandon the party in favor of creating an alternative but risk complete political isolation? It’s a question that has never been an easy one to answer, and now is no exception. On the one hand, in the wake of November’s devastating results across the board for the Democrats and Sanders’ successful insurgent and unapologetic left-wing campaign, the party’s centrism has never appeared more bankrupt and the need for a real alternative never greater. On the other hand, faced with the extreme reactionary revanchism of the Trump administration and the immiseration its policies have already brought, the impulse for many is to put such battles to the side in favor of building the unity needed to defeat the Right.

Part of what makes Bernie Sanders’ career so unusual is that he is the most successful politician in the past half-century or more at striking a balance between these two poles. He has been a steadfast critic of not just the party’s rightward drift but of its inability to ever serve as a genuine vehicle for working-class interests. He only joined the party in order to have access to a mass audience, and even then, he continued to make many such criticisms.

But he also has long caucused with Democrats in the House and Senate, and works closely with many in the party. After Hillary Clinton’s campaign criticized Sanders’ stance on health care reform during the primary, the Sanders campaign released a photo of the then-representative in a meeting with the paragon of centrist, pragmatic deal-making herself, Hillary Clinton, in 1993, with a handwritten note from the then-First Lady thanking Sanders for his role in pushing health reform.[14]

No one else in recent American political history has walked this line as deftly as Sanders has. That he has managed to do so is perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of his political career. It is also what defines him and is most responsible for his campaign’s success. Any other established, longstanding Democratic politician attempting to capture the current populist mood would likely have failed because of the compromises being a member of that party requires of its members.

At a time when most of the Democratic Party was pushing welfare reform, Sanders was denouncing it; when Bill Clinton led his party into passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, Sanders spoke out in vehement opposition. Even the most progressive members of the party have been compromised in important ways. Keith Ellison, for example, receives large amounts of campaign contributions from large corporations like TCF Financial—companies Sanders has spent his whole career opposing.

Over the span of Sanders’ career, a fair number of Democrats have joined him in breaking with certain aspects of the party’s rightward drift, and many have decried the pernicious influence of corporate money in politics. But no one has held as consistent of a left-wing governing record and as complete a rejection of corporate cash as Sanders has. Part of this surely has to do with Sanders’ personality. But it also has to do with his consistent independence from the Democratic Party.

Our Revolution has played a key role in amplifying some of the leftmost voices within the Democratic Party; it may help launch the careers of some talented young progressive politicians, and it may even help steer the Democrats away from the disastrous neoliberal course it has been on the better part of the last half-century.

But will it help inculcate the level of hostility toward not just the right wing of the party but also the party itself? At a moment when the first instinct of many in response to the nonstop depravity of a Trump administration will be to forego a necessary confrontation with the Democrats, will Our Revolution buck the tide? Will it produce any future Bernie Sanderses—not just broadly defined progressives but bone-deep leftists whose politics include a commitment to do battle with the Democrats from a place of independence, even when it is often forced to work within and around the party? The organization is in its infancy, and its path it still wide open. But it will soon have to make a choice about how close its relationship to the Democratic Party will be. 



[1] Bernie Sanders with Huck Gutman, Outsider in the White House. Verso Books, 2015. Katherine Q. Seelye, “As Mayor, Bernie Sanders Was More Pragmatist Than Socialist.” New York Times, Nov. 25, 2015.

[2] Our Revolution, “Platform.”

[3] Kate Aronoff and Ethan Corey, “Welcome to the Next Incarnation of the Bernie Sanders Campaign.” In These Times, September 12, 2016.

[4] Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel, “Democrats bracing for town hall protests directed at them ask Bernie Sanders for help.” Washington Post, February 14, 2017.

[5] Daniel Marans, “Bernie Sanders Has a Massive Email List. But He Has Good Reason to Think Twice About Sharing It.” Huffington Post, February 9, 2017.

[6] Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten). “What happened to the new deputy chair?” February 26, 2017, 12:26 am. Tweet. The Democratic Party (@TheDemocrats). “There’s a tough fight ahead of us, and our newly elected DNC officers are here for it. Let’s do this. #DNCFuture.” February 25, 2017, 8:34 pm. Tweet. Later tweets from the party’s account included Ellison.

[7] Alex Seitz-Wald, “Democrat Tulsi Gabbard Defends ‘Frank and Positive’ Trump Meeting.” NBC News, November 21, 2016. Ivy Ashe, “Gabbard Supports GOP Bill on Syrian Refugees.” Hawaii Tribune-Herald, November 21, 2015. Aditya Chakrabortty “Narendra Modi, a man with a massacre on his hands, is not the reasonable choice for India.” The Guardian, April 7, 2014. Krishnadev Calamur, “The GOP’s Favorite Democrat Goes to Syria.” The Atlantic, January 18, 2017.

[8] David Weigel and John Wagner, “Bernie Sanders launches ‘Our Revolution’ with electoral targets — and a few critics left behind.” Washington Post, August 24, 2016.

[9] Clare Foran, “How the Political Revolution Failed Tim Canova.” The Atlantic, August 30, 2016.

[10] Reid J. Epstein and Janet Hook, Wall Street Journal. “Bernie Sanders Loyalists Are Taking Over the Democratic Party One County Office at a Time.” February 22, 2017.

[11] Reid Wilson, The Hill. “Sanders backers take over California Democratic Party.” January 19, 2017.

[12] Epstein and Hook, Wall Street Journal.

[13] Paul Heideman, “It’s Their Party.” Jacobin, Issue 20: “Up From Liberalism.” Winter 2016.

[14] Peter Wade, “Hillary Questioned Bernie’s Record on Health Care and The Internet Made an Epic Correction.” Esquire, March 12, 2016.

The Democratic Party Left After the Ellison DNC Campaign: Unite or Fight?

One thing to keep in mind about the recent Thomas Perez–Keith Ellison race for Democratic National Committee chair is that it was pretty much an only-in-America sort of thing.  Were we in any kind of parliamentary system – like most countries have – the two sides would probably be in different parties – the Bernie Sanders core of the Ellison campaign most likely in some type of socialist or labor-oriented party, with the Clinton people around Perez probably mostly in a more business-oriented liberal party.  Instead, however, the American presidential system that we actually have pretty much keeps the two sides coexisting under one big Democratic Party tent.

If all of this seems somewhat less than clear to us, though, we can probably be excused since this type of distinction within the party is pretty much a post-Sanders campaign thing.  Sanders, after all, went further on the national level than any figure so clearly of-the-left since George McGovern won the nomination in 1972.  And no self-identified socialist had made such a splash in a presidential race since Eugene Debs ran from his Atlanta Federal Penitentiary cell in 1920.  So, the next thing to remember about the DNC chair’s race is that a year ago the wing of the Party that considers it overly influenced by corporate money and connections simply didn’t exist on a national level; the DNC only contained the Clinton/Obama wing.

When Perez entered the race, his supporters argued that he was just as, or nearly as progressive as Ellison – which then raised the question of why, if the differences really were slight, he found it necessary to run against the already-declared Ellison.  In a New Republic article, “Establishment Democrats Just Won a Needless Proxy War,” Alex Shephard posited a pretty simple and convincing answer – the party’s main liners simply “don’t believe a major course correction is in order and … are reluctant to make significant reforms.”  Certainly Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi buttressed that conclusion when she told Face the Nation that, so far as possible post-election changes in the Democratic Party went, “I don’t think people want a new direction.”

Shephard also seems on the money in writing that, very simply, “the party is once again saying it doesn’t trust progressives.”  Of course, that lack of trust might be understandable enough, in that it seems fair to say that a lot of us on the other side of the divide don’t really trust the leadership of the corporate Democrats either.  So concentrating on the question of “trust” is probably off the point.  What is to the point is that there are currently two substantially varying views about what the Democratic Party needs to do to effectively represent the interests of the working people of the nation – and about whether it needs to reduce corporate influence within the party.  The two sides see the very question of debate within the Party very differently.    For those who generally favor the current course, arguing about changing it may seem a diversionary and  possibly even a dangerous waste of time.  On the other hand, for those who think serious change actually is in order, it could be seen as a dereliction of duty not to discuss that.  What we have here is an argument about the legitimacy of argument.

As an old friend put it, “We’re in a war against fascists. There’s no time for infighting.”  Even change that might otherwise be in order needs to go on hold for the moment, in deference to the party unity required to meet the Trump crisis, according to this line of thinking.   Not coincidentally, this view is consistent with the core message of the recently completed Clinton campaign which argued, since before the primaries started, that opposing their candidate or arguing about her Wall Street ties would only help the Republicans and divert attention from the campaign’s central message of how deplorable Donald Trump was.  And we know how successful that approach was.

There is also a very different take on all of this, of course, which holds that with the Ellison loss the Democratic Party has once again demonstrated itself incapable of change,  and therefore requiring those looking for an alternative to Wall Street politics to find some other venue for their political energies.  But while the Perez victory clearly represented a win for those comfortable with the current level of corporate and lobbyist influence within the party, we should not ignore the inroads obviously made by those who are not happy with that situation.   Let’s not forget, after all, that it was the DNC that got the ball rolling for Hillary Clinton, with its super delegates backing her over Sanders by a 311 ½ – 34 ½ margin.  While this did not provide the margin of victory, as Clinton ultimately won a majority of the elected delegates, it did give her a substantial delegate lead before a single primary voter had even entered a polling place, and made an immense contribution toward creating the aura of her candidacy’s inevitability that her campaign rode through to the end – even as poll after poll continued to show Sanders the stronger contender against Trump.  So in this context, Ellison’s loss to the establishment candidate by only a 235-200 vote margin must be seen as a sign that change within the party is real, if not yet sufficient.

On balance, the simple fact of life seems to be that unless we’re willing to turn the country over to the Republicans, the Clinton/Perez and Sanders/Ellison blocs are pretty much stuck with each other.   Figuring out where we fight and where we unite may often be a difficult needle to thread – it’s not a problem you have to deal when you have separate parties – but it’s not one we can just ignore – even if one of the factions might wish it so.

What sorts of intra-party conflicts are unavoidable?  Well, let’s start with California, where insurgents supporting a Main Street rather than a Wall Street-oriented party won a majority of state party convention slots elected in January.  With the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, there is renewed hope of actually moving to a real solution to the health insurance crisis by enacting a single payer, Medicare-for-all bill on the state level.  And while a bill has been filed, the fact is that for the prior four years the state’s Democratic legislative leadership simply did not allow a bill to be filed.  Although a single payer system had twice passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it has not been passed since Democratic Jerry Brown succeeded him, the legislative leadership’s prior support for the bill having been exposed as a sham aimed at embarrassing a Republican governor.  Have they changed their position in reality?  If so, we will be happy to unite behind their effort.  If not, we have no choice but to fight them.

Then there’s New Jersey, where Clinton-supporter Phil Murphy and Sanders supporter John Wisniewski seek the Democratic nomination for this year’s gubernatorial election.  Wisnewski has served in the New Jersey Assembly for twenty-one years, yet it is the former Goldman Sachs executive Murphy who enjoys the support of the party establishment.  Yet Murphy, who has loaned his campaign over $9 million, calls Wisnewski a “Trenton insider and party boss.”  Both are running as progressives, but there are differences: Wisnewski actively supports a New Jersey single-payer system, while Murphy considers defense of the Affordable Care Act the priority.  Some claim Wisnewski’s support of Sanders was opportunistic.  Wisnewski replies that, given the overwhelming party support for Clinton, you’d have to be nuts consider support of Sanders as any kind of political opportunity.  These fights and choices will go on all across the nation.

Then there is the matter of foreign policy.  As heartening as the immediate and dramatic negative response to Donald Trump’s ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries was, the fact is that we bombed five of those countries last year, along with two more predominantly Muslim countries.  Relatively few commentators seem to have found this noteworthy, in large part because the presidency of Barack Obama basically anesthetized the American antiwar movement.  We are in the sixteenth year of a war in Afghanistan – a war that virtually anyone who seriously thinks about it realizes we will never win – and yet we recently concluded a presidential campaign in which it was simply not an issue.  And, unfortunately,  right now there seems little reason to hope the current leadership of the Democratic Party will any time soon be bringing forth a national security policy that does not involve endless war.

The fact of the matter is that even Bernie Sanders – who did denounce “regime change” policies and actually name the names of democratically elected leaders of foreign countries overthrown in the name of the American people – did not go far enough in making the case that our current policy of worldwide military engagement (the American military was active in 134 countries last year) is making new enemies for America faster than it kills the old ones.  There was a telling moment during the Democratic Nominating Convention in Philadelphia when Bernie Sanders delegates began to chant “No more wars” when Retired General John Allen spoke, and were met with a counter-chant of “USA. USA” – one side straining to find an alternative foreign policy; the other seemingly declaring the current one as American as apple pie.   Anyone seeking a serious course change away from militarism will almost certainly be forced to argue not only with the Republican Party, but with the current leadership of the Democratic as well.  Silence in the name of unity is simply not an acceptable option.

And then there’s basic politics:  Immediately following the presidential election, Mother Jones published a list of “11 Democrats Who Could Defeat President Trump in 2020″ that included Senators Cory Booker, Tammy Duckworth, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Tim Kaine, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Governor (and presidential candidate) Martin O’Malley and outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama.  The Hill added the names of Clinton and Sanders, along with former Vice President Joe Biden, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and TV star Oprah Winfrey.  US News and World Report threw the names of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and billionaire Mark Cuban into the mix.  There have been further lists since, of course, but you get the picture – besides the man himself, if there’s anyone besides Elizabeth Warren on these lists who could appeal to the throngs brought into the political process by the Sanders campaign, I’d like to know about it.

We’ve got some hard work to do here, whether we like it or not, and it involves asking questions about who supported what, when; and who wants to go where now?  And it doesn’t stop at candidates and office holders, either.  When the Sanders campaign finally gave America a major not-approved-by-Wall Street presidential candidate, there were commentators and writers previously thought to be “on the left” who rose to the occasion, while others sank.  Robert Reich, for instance, turned out to have a lot of useful things to say; Paul Krugman maybe not so much.  If we hope to give America’s working class the option of a Democratic Party that really is on their side, we have to wend our way through this – uniting where we can, fighting where we must.

Recognize, Reduce, Redistribute Unpaid Care Work: How to Close the Gender Gap

In September 2016, in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election, in which Hillary Clinton was expected to become the first woman U.S. president, the media announced that progress on a signature campaign of women’s rights advocates—closing the gender wage gap–had sputtered, if not actually stalled, in the U.S. as well as in many other countries. The annual earnings ratio between women and men in the U.S. was 79.6 percent in 2015, only marginally higher than it was 2007, when it hit 77.8 percent. At this rate, one study concluded, it will take 45 years, until 2059, for men and women to reach parity. Globally it was even worse. The U.N. 2015 Millennium Development Goal Gender Chart estimates that globally women earn 24 percent less than men and perform two and a half times more unpaid care and domestic work than men.

Since at least the early 1970s, women’s rights organizations have campaigned to improve the terms and conditions of women’s paid work, of which the wage gap is the most visible symbol. By the middle of the 1990s, this effort was embraced by trade unions in many countries and by 2005, working together or separately, they had secured the passage of laws forbidding discrimination against women in the workplace in most countries. The proportion of countries with equal pay legislation rose from around 33 percent in 1975 to 86 percent in 2005. The vast majority of firms no longer use different pay scales for women and men, and globally the gender wage gap narrowed by about half from 1991 to 2014, largely due to gains in women’s education. But progress has slowed steadily over this period, and in high income countries it has largely stalled. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, after narrowing somewhat in the period 2000-2008, the average gap between the wages of men working full time and women working full time has remained at around 16 percent since 2009, meaning that women’s wages have remained on average around 86 percent of men’s.

One of the key reasons for stalled progress on the wage gap is that women continue to have greater responsibility than men for unpaid care and domestic work in families and communities, looking after people, providing for their daily needs, caring for children, frail elderly people, people who are ill, or living with disabilities. In all regions of the world, mothers with dependent children on average earn less than women without dependent children and less than fathers with similar household and employment characteristics. The gender pay gap is much larger among parents than between women and men who have no children. In the U.S. childless women (including married and unmarried) earn 93 cents on a childless man’s dollar, but among full-time workers, married mothers with at least one child under age 18 earn 76 cents on a married father’s dollar.

Unpaid work responsibilities also result in a gender gap in participation in paid work: Many women have to withdraw from paid work for long periods to care for family members. As a result the gender gap in lifetime earnings is even bigger than the pay gap between employed women and men, as many women have no earnings at all for substantial periods of time. Globally women’s labor force participation has stagnated, although there are important regional variations, with rises in Latin America but declines in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Socialist feminists have always argued that to achieve equality in paid work, women also need to achieve equality in unpaid work. The strategies that can help to achieve this can be summarized as: recognize, reduce, and redistribute women’s unpaid work. These strategies have been strongest in high-income countries with extensive welfare states and have begun to be adopted in a growing number of developing countries that have introduced some of the social protection policies advocated by the International Labour Organization (ILO). But political and economic changes emerging in 2016 put in question how far these strategies can be sustained, let alone extended to countries like the U.S., where they have been weak.

Recognizing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work

Recognizing unpaid care and domestic work means understanding how this work underpins all economies and valuing it accordingly. Right-wing commentators see these activities as a private matter, reducible to individual private choices, rather than shaped by social and economic structures, and having implications for wider society, not just the people providing and receiving care. If no one had children, and took care of families and friends, economies would come to a halt for lack of a labor force.

It is possible to calculate the economic value of unpaid care and domestic work, by finding out how much time is spent on this work, using a time-use survey, and then putting a price on the output produced or a wage on the time spent. Between 1966 and 2015 at least 85 countries in all regions of the world have conducted time-use surveys to find out how people spend their time over the twenty –four hours of a day or the seven days of a week. In the U.S .a time-use survey is conducted annually with a representative sample of people over the age of 15, under the auspices of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. In 2014 it showed that the average time per day spent in paid work was 4.28 hours for men, and 2.93 hours for women, while the average time spent in unpaid work was 2.33 hours for men and 3.72 hours for women.

It is possible to put a monetary value on unpaid work by asking what it would cost to hire someone to do the work instead. Using this method, estimates were made of the monetary value of unpaid work for 27 OECD countries in 2008, and this was compared with the value of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For the U.S., it was found that the monetary value of unpaid work was 18 percent of U.S. GDP, while for Denmark it was 31percent of Danish GDP and for Sweden 25 percent of Swedish GDP. Differences reflect differences between countries in the amount of unpaid work done, and in the wages used to value this. If wages for paid domestic and care workers are particularly low, as they are in the U.S., then the monetary value of unpaid work will be low. The monetary value is, of course, not the same as the social value of the work, but calculating it highlights what the monetary costs would be if the work were not done for free.

The UK Office of National Statistics released data in November 2016 showing on average UK men do 16 hours unpaid work a week, while women do 26 hours weekly (60 percent more than men). People who have lower incomes do more unpaid work than those with higher incomes. Valuing the work at replacement cost (i.e., what you would have to pay someone to do the same work), men’s weekly unpaid work amounted to 166.63 pounds, while women’s amounted to 259.63 pounds.

Some feminists have argued that women should actually be paid a wage for the domestic and care work they do for their families and friends. The International Wages for Housework Campaign was launched in Italy in 1972 and spread to the UK. Committees calling for Wages for Housework were founded in several cities in U.S, including New York. Today one of the originators of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, London-based Selma James, coordinates Global Women’s Strike, an international network for recognition and payment for all household and care work. However, the demand for Wages for Housework has not become central to women’s struggles for equality, largely because it is perceived as likely to perpetuate the current division of labor, in which housework is seen as women’s work and which is a persistent obstacle to equality in paid work. Also, the proposal would be impossible to implement, as there would be no way to verify hours of work performed, and so in effect would amount to a kind of welfare benefit for housewives rather than a wage. In addition, it does not focus on the questions of how to reduce and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work, and so lacks transformative potential.

Instead, more women’s organizations have struggled for recognition of unpaid work in official national statistics (as in the examples above); and in publicly funded welfare state and social protection systems, such as through tax-funded paid maternity leave, and arrangements that ensure women do not face additional penalties in public pensions because of time spent out of the labor market caring for children.

However, even when statistics on the extent and monetary value of unpaid care and domestic work are produced, they are not used in the design of economic policies. For instance, despite the availability of time use data in the majority of European countries, the design of austerity policies these countries have adopted since 2010 have paid no attention to their impact on unpaid work. Research in a number of countries suggests that cuts to public expenditures have increased women’s unpaid work, especially for low income women, as these women produce caregiving services formerly provided by the public sector, particularly for the elderly and disabled.

Women’s unpaid work has been recognized and supported through cash payments linked to raising children in many countries with a welfare state or social protection system. For instance, in most high-income countries, women employees are entitled to paid maternity leave funded from tax revenue—the U.S. is an exception. However, leave benefits vary greatly across countries. The ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183),ratified by 32 countries as of August 2016, calls for at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, which most developed economies generally exceed. The average duration of paid parental leave in developed economies is 26 weeks.

Some feminists have expressed concern that long-term paid maternity leave, such as the three years available to mothers in Finland, encourages women to leave paid employment for too long, making it difficult for them to return to jobs comparable in terms of pay and conditions to the ones they have left. A more transformative option is paid parental leave, equally shared between both parents, which is discussed here as one of the strategies to redistribute unpaid work.

Women who take time out of paid employment to care for children and other family members also lose out in pension entitlements. In many countries that have a state- organized public pension based on payroll taxes paid by employers and employees, women have successfully campaigned for the government to reduce their loss by paying some contributions on their behalf when they are out of the labor market taking care of family members. Such payments, known as pension credits, are widely used in developed countries and have recently been introduced in some developing countries, primarily in Latin America, such as in Uruguay and Bolivia. They can be provided in relation to care of children, frail elderly people, and people who are ill or disabled, but in practice they are mainly awarded for care of children. Again there is an issue of whether pension credits are paid only for mothers (as is the case in Latin America) or to whomever is the main caregiver, independent of their sex (as is more the case in Europe). Pension credits for the main care-giver does more to promote the redistribution of unpaid care.

Of course, if there is a universal, non-contributory pension, funded from general tax revenue and available to all, pension credits may not be necessary. Such universal social pensions are available in a growing number of countries, including Bolivia, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, Thailand, and rural Brazil. While these have obvious advantages over work-related contributory pension schemes, which are found in OECD countries, the benefit levels are almost always considerably lower than those in contributory pension schemes.

Reducing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work

Women’s organizations and trade unions in many countries have advocated for reduction of unpaid care and domestic work through public investment in physical infrastructure, such as the provision of clean water and sanitation, clean energy and public transport; and in social infrastructure, such as care services and health services. Provision of such services is part of the social protection system advocated by the ILO.

In many developing countries, access to clean water and sanitation and clean energy cannot be taken for granted, especially in rural areas; and women and girls spend a lot of time collecting water and fuel. For instance, estimates for 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicate that women spend a combined total of 16 million hours per day collecting water. This unpaid work could be eliminated by investment in water and sanitation infrastructure, provided access is affordable. In South Africa each household is entitled to 6000 liters of free, safe water per month. Similarly, women and girls in rural areas spend a lot of time collecting wood and other fuels and grinding and pounding food grains by hand. Rural electrification in South Africa reduced the time women spent on such tasks, boosting their participation in paid work by 9 percent.

In high-income countries, clean water and electricity is widely available, but women spend many hours of unpaid time caring for their children and frail elderly relatives. This can be reduced by transferring production of care to paid workers. In OECD countries on average , only 33 percent of 0-2 year olds are enrolled in early childhood education and care services. This increases to more than 70 percent of 3-5 year olds , but in some countries , such as UK, this is because compulsory enrolment in school begins at age five. In the U.S. early childhood education and care services are not publically provided until age five in most places . Services for children under three, whether publically or privately provided, are only free of charge to the poorest children in any country, and costs vary widely, with fees in the U.S. among the highest in the OECD. Moreover, services are frequently not designed with the needs of working parents in mind, and may operate for only half the day. In the U.S., contributions to the child care costs of some low-income families are made through cash transfers of some kind, such as the low-income tax credit, and there is no comprehensive public provision of such services. By contrast in Denmark, child care provision is the responsibility of local government, and all children, from 26 weeks to 6 years, are entitled to a full-time place. Fees are related to the earnings of parents.

In countries with aging populations, a growing amount of unpaid care work is devoted by women to looking after frail elderly relatives. Public investment in non-medical services for frail elderly people is low, and in some countries, such as the UK, has gone to finance out-sourced services whose staff are badly paid, poorly trained and lack employment rights. In the U.S., there is some limited funding for non-medical care for frail elderly people through Medicaid, providing they first have exhausted all of their own savings. By contrast, in Denmark services are financed through taxation and provided by local councils to all legal residents, and for permanent long-term care needs, are free of charge.
The publically provided care for children and old people that is available in Denmark, as well as benefiting those who need care, also frees more of the time of working-age women to undertake full-time paid work and reduces gaps in their labor force participation. The gender wage gap in Denmark in 2012 was around seven percent, and had been falling since 2009, whereas in U.S. it was almost double this and stalled.

Awareness of the economic benefits of public investment in child care and elder care services is growing. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called for such investment to provide not only needed services but also millions of good quality new jobs, citing analysis by feminist economists at the UK Women’s Budget Group of the impact of investing two percent of GDP in public provision of child care and elder care services in seven OECD countries. In the U.S., according to this analysis, such investment would create nearly 13 million new jobs, much more than investing two percent of GDP in the construction sector, which would create around 7.5 million jobs. Some 67 percent of the new jobs created by investment in the care sector would go to women, compared to 35 percent of new jobs created by investment in the construction sector. Investment in the care sector would reduce the gender employment gap, while investment in the construction sector would increase the gender employment gap. It is vital to have investment in social infrastructure, such as care services, and not just in physical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, if women are to benefit equally with men from such investment.

Redistributing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work

Neither feminists nor trade unionists are campaigning to eliminate unpaid care and domestic work altogether. Women—and in some countries at least, increasingly men—want both time free from caregiving responsibilities, and also time to care for loved ones. Gender equality requires that we redistribute the unpaid domestic and care work that remains after comprehensive investment in household-related infrastructure and public services, so that men and boys share this equally with women and girls. This can be encouraged by provision of tax-funded paid parental leave for fathers as well as mothers. In 1994, statutory paternity leave provisions existed in 40 of the 141 countries for which the ILO had data. By 2015, leave entitlements for fathers were provided in at least 94 countries of 170 with ILO data. But paid paternity leave has an average length of seven days against an average length of 106 days for mothers. Fathers’ use of parental leave seems to be highest when leave is not just paid but well paid—at least half of previous earnings, as in the four OECD countries with the most gender-equal distributions of parental leave—Iceland, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden . Also effective are requirements that fathers cannot transfer their entitlement to mothers. In Iceland and Sweden, which offer a non-transferable “use-it-or-lose-it” fathers’ quota of leave days, men’s uptake is much higher (90 percent) than in Denmark (24 percent) and Slovenia (6 percent), which do not.

Men are beginning to take some responsibility for trying to change social norms about men’s participation in unpaid care and domestic work. MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign in more than 40 countries in five continents. Largely funded by U.S. and European foundations and U.N. agencies, its mission is “to promote men’s involvement as equitable, nonviolent fathers and caregivers in order to achieve family well-being, gender equality, and better health for mothers, fathers, and children.” Activities vary by country, ranging from small social media initiatives to radio shows, to comprehensive programs of education and training, and campaigns for paid leave for fathers. For instance, in Brazil, Promundo, a MenCare partner, works alongside the government’s ‘bolsa familia’ cash transfer program (which is targeted to low-income mothers) to train staff administering the program to work with fathers as well as mothers. The aim is to encourage fathers, as well as mothers, to take responsibility for children’s education and health. In 2016 MenCare produced a report on fatherhood in the U.S., which in addition to calling for paid parental leave, calls for workplace policies that value what parents do as caregivers as much as they value their professional achievements. Such policies should include, in addition to parental leave: flexible work hours, sick leave, a living wage, and creation of workplace cultures that respect the caregiving responsibilities of all genders.

Changes in the way that paid work is organized are essential if unpaid domestic and care work are to be equally distributed between women and men. It is particularly important that such arrangements should not only focus on women: for instance, creating a ‘mommy track’ of part-time work just for women. It is often overlooked that the hourly gender wage gap tends to be greatest between women working part-time and men working full-time. For instance, as pointed out by women’s rights campaigners in Scotland, in 2014, the gap in Scotland between the hourly earnings of all men and women was 17.5 percent; in full-time work the gap was almost half this, at 9 percent; but the gap between the hourly earnings of men working full-time and women working part-time was 34.5 percent. A study with low-income mothers in heterosexual couples in England found strong support for a shorter full-time working week for both women and men, so that mothers and fathers could share equally in paid and unpaid work.

The gender wage gap will never be closed by measures that aim to make women’s working lives more like men’s. Now we need more radical measures, those that will transform men’s working lives to make them more like those of women, such as equalizing ‘normal’ hours of paid work at about 30 hours a week for both men and women, raising wages where necessary to ensure this brings in a living income.

Closing the Gap

The gender wage gap will persist, and women’s rights will not be fulfilled, unless the gender gap in unpaid care and domestic work is recognized and closed. Public investment is vital to reduce the amount of unpaid work that needs to be done, but we also need measures to redistribute the remaining work, so that it is equally shared by men and women. As well as raising the rate of women’s participation in paid work, we need to raise the rate of men’s participation in unpaid care and domestic work. This requires action from governments, businesses, trade unions, and women’s organizations to mobilize resources and change cultures. To date, the most effective action has been in developed countries with extensive welfare states and in developing countries that are creating social protection systems. But these achievements are jeopardized by austerity policies and the rise of populist politics that reinforce gender stereotypes and call only for public investment in construction projects not in public services. It will be important for labor organizations and women’s organizations to work together to address inequalities not only in paid work but also in unpaid work.



  1. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Gender Wage Gap: 2015, IWPR #446, Washington, D.C., September 2016.
  2. United Nations, MDG Gender Chart 2015, New York, 2015, p. 3;
  3. UN Women, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 (New York: UN Women, 2015) 32-33.
  4. Ibid.
  5. UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action For Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment (New York: UN Secretariat, 2016), 33-35.
  7. UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, 2016:34.
  8. Michelle Budig, The Fatherhood Bonus and the Motherhood Penalty: Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay,2014.
  9. UN Women 2015, 75-76.
  10. For instance, Jean Gardiner, Gender, Care and Economics (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997) shows how feminist in the UK-based Conference of Socialist Economists argued in the 1970s that unpaid domestic labour underpinned both the capitalist economy and the gender inequality women experienced in the public sphere and yet had been largely ignored by economists of the left and the right.
  11. I first suggested the three Rs framework for analyzing unpaid work in seminar organized by the United Nations Development Programme in New York in 2009. This framework was subsequently used by UNDP (see for instance Anna Falth and Mark Blackden, ‘Unpaid Care Work’, Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction Policy Brief No.1(New York: UNDP 2009). It has since then been used, albeit with some variations, by a wide range of international organizations – see for instance UN Women 2015 and UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (2016).
  12. ILO (International Labour Organization) World Social Protection Report 2014-15: Building Economic Recovery, Inclusive Development and Social Justice (Geneva 2014). Social protection encompasses provision of basic income security through minimum wages and cash transfers, and provision of basic social services such as education, care and health services.
  13. As eloquently explained by Nancy Folbre, Who Pays for the Kids: Gender and Structures of Constraint (London: Routledge, 1994) and Antonella Picchio, Social Reproduction ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
  14. United Nations Statistics Division Time Use data portal. (
  15. Ibid. The time is averaged over the population over 15 years old, including some who do no paid work and some who do no unpaid work.
  16. Ahmad, N., and S. H. Koh. “Incorporating Estimates of Household Production of Non-Market Services into International Comparisons of Material Well-Being.” OECD Statistics Directorate Working Paper No. 42, 2011.
  17. For a discussion of the conceptual issues, see Nancy Folbre, Valuing Non-Market Work (New York:UNDP Human Development Report Office, 2015).
  18. Report in The Guardian,11 November 2016.
  19. See
  20. There are also other problems, such as who pays the wages; how it is decided how big a wage a particular woman should get, given that there are no set hours of work; and whether married women with no children and well-off husbands should be paid for the housework they do.
  21. Hannah Bargawi, Giovanni Cozzi and Susan Himmelweit (eds.), Economics and Austerity in Europe: Gendered Impacts and Sustainable Alternatives (London, Routledge, 2016).
  22. Sharon Lerner, The Real War on Families: Why the US Need Paid Leave Now, In These Times, August 18, 2015
  23. UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (2016) 68.
  24. UN Women (2015) 155. An ILO costing study of basic social protection provision in seven low-income countries in Africa and five in Asia estimated that the annual cost of universal basic old age and disability pensions would cost between 0.6 and 1.5% of annual GDP; K Hagemejer and C. Behrendt, “ Can Low-Income Countries Afford Basic Social Security?” Geneva, ILO, 2008;;jsessionid=v1LfY11PCGvGW4N9dqsKKrcxyWszDNnBNTtcqr2TQqzLfvhBD9gB!79209976?ressource.ressourceId=5951
  25. Ibid. 181.
  26. Ibid. 182.
  27. Ferrant, G., L. M. Pesando and K. Nowacka, .Unpaid Care Work: The Missing Link In The Analysis Of Gender Gaps In Labour Outcomes.(Paris: OECD, 2014) .
  28. Some US cities, such as New York City, have recently introduced publically funded education for 4 year olds.
  29. Although wages are generally low, these services are very labor intensive, in both for profit and non-profit facilities. Women’s Budget Group, Investing in the Care Economy: A gender analysis of employment stimulus in seven OECD countries (ITUC,2016,42).
  30. Ibid. 37,42.
  31. Ibid. 41. There is also some limited funding through Medicare, but limited to three weeks, based on the assumption, which must be certified through a doctor, that the person is likely to improve during that time.
  32. Women’s Budget Group (2016)37.
  34. Women’s Budget Group (2016).
  35. Women’s Budget Group (2016, Tables 13,14 and 15). While it can be argued that investment in the care sector would simply create additional low-wage jobs, it is likely that wages would increase with sufficient investment.
  36. OECD. Backgrounder on Father’s Leave and Its Use. Paris: OECD ,2016).
    family/Backgrounder-fathers-use-of-leave.pdf. These gender differences in how much parental leave is taken reflect the fact that the loss of earnings for men is much greater than the loss of earnings for women, who generally are paid less.
  37. MenCare, The MenCare Parental Leave Platform. (Washington, DC, 2016. MenCare is coordinated by Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice in collaboration with the MenEngage Alliance, Save the Children, and Rutgers University and is funded by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Sida (Swiss Development Agency), Oak Foundation, Summit Foundation, United Nations Population Fund, and UN Women.
  40. MenCare, State of America’s Fathers,
  41. Close the Gap Working Paper No. 14, 2015.
  42. Tracey Warren, Gillian Pascall, and Elizabeth Fox, ‘Gender Equality in Time: Low Paid Mothers’ Paid and Unpaid Work in the UK. Feminist Economics 16(3)193-220, 2010.

Video: Washington DC Protest against the Financial Industry

In response to the closer alliance between Wall Street and the Trump Administration, protestors staged a marriage between Donald Trump and Wall Street on Valentine’s Day, complete with giant puppets and fake money raining down on the assembled crowd. documented Bernie Sanders’ appearance to denounce Trump’s pretense of ‘Draining the Swamp’, and lying about his ties to Wall Street.

The Assault on the CFPB: Current State of Play

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in the face of industry resistance. With a Republican Congress and President Trump in the White House, it is facing an attack that could be the final blow.

In a joint statement last week, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. John Ratcliffe presented the Repeal CFPB Act, which targets Title X of Dodd-Frank. The congressmen claim that if passed, the Act would “free consumers and small businesses from the CFPB’s regulatory blockades and financial activism.” In fact, it would completely eliminate the CFPB as an agency. (Consumerist, Lawmakers Introduce Legislation that would Abolish the CFPB)

Should the efforts of Cruz and Ratcliffe fail, there is still House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s plan to revise his earlier bill with the aim of weakening, if not completely destroy the CFPB and pacify banks by removing some key components of annual stress tests that evaluate how a bank will perform in a financial crisis.

In a memo to lawmakers, Hensarling outlined the details of his plan. In an article last week, Bloomberg News reported some of the specifics from the memo:

Hensarling is seeking to eliminate much of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s regulatory powers, and transform it into a law enforcement agency. The memo proposes the controversial regulator only be able to pass rules that have been mandated by Congress. The plan would further restrict the agency by eliminating its authority to supervise financial firms and doing away with a public database documenting consumer complaints. (Bloomberg News, New GOP Memo Targets Stress Tests, CFPB in Dodd-Frank Changes)

Hensarling’s other proposal addresses the role of the CFPB director. He has asserted his belief that the bureau should be under the supervision of a single director, and that the director should ‘be removable by the President at-will”. (Bloomberg News) Hensarling has also announced his opinion that the current CFPB director should be fired by Trump before his term ends next summer. The Bureau is presently engaged in appealing a court ruling that would permit the President to do exactly that without cause.

Gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

You know things have gotten bad for the banking industry when even the bankers themselves are beating up on their own. After the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced back in early September that it was fining Wells Fargo nearly $200 million—the largest fine ever levied by the Bureau—for the “widespread illegal practice” of opening dummy accounts, filling them with depositors’ funds without their knowledge or authorization, and then cashing in on the accounts by assessing consumers’ fees and other charges, you could almost hear the bankers of the world collectively throwing up their hands. “Not that Senator Elizabeth Warren needed more ammunition to protect the CFPB,” grumbled Jaret Seiberg of the Cowen Group, a leading financial services company, “but she has it now.” Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), put it even more bluntly. “Wells’ greed has made it much more difficult for ICBA to get much needed regulatory relief,” Fine groused.

An invention of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB was created to rein in the bottom-feeders of the financial community. But the revelation that the largest bank in the world by market capitalization had just been caught with its hand in the cookie jar was not what really bothered Fine and Seiberg. Rather, it was the extraordinarily poor timing of the news that rankled them most of all. On the very same day the CFPB issued its consent order against Wells Fargo, the House Financial Services Committee announced that it would begin hearings on a new piece of legislation, the Financial Choice Act, introduced by Republican Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Hensarling, one of Wall Street’s most contentedly kept men on Capitol Hill (to the tune of $1.2 million in campaign contributions during the 2016 election cycle alone), drafted the Financial Choice Act in effect to gut or destroy the regulatory provisions put in place by Dodd-Frank, and especially Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild, the CFPB (no wonder, then, that Warren has called the bill “Congressman Hensarling’s wet-kiss to the Wall Street banks”). So when Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf found himself hauled before the public to confess sheepishly that “we make mistakes,” just as Hensarling was beginning the campaign to bring the Financial Choice Act to a floor vote, the ICBA’s Fine grimly rued the inopportune coincidence: “Much-needed CFPB reform is basically DOA,” he acknowledged by way of a postmortem. A little more than a month later, Stumpf himself was DOA—victim of an unceremonious early retirement package that included a “claw back” of nearly $41 million in previously awarded stock bonuses.

If that turns out to be the fate of the Financial Choice Act as well—which, among other things, would replace the CFPB’s existing “consumer watchdog” executive structure with a bipartisan commission subject to the unpredictable currents of congressional appropriations, while repealing its ability to ban financial products deemed to be abusive—it will not have been the first attempt to curtail the Bureau’s regulatory effectiveness. Nor is it likely to be the last. Ever since the 2010 passage of Dodd-Frank, the CFPB has been a perennial target for the banks and financing companies that fall under its umbrella. And with the ready assistance of hired guns like Hensarling, a proliferating array of industries that manufacture increasingly novel (and frequently quite predatory) financial products, which often remain just outside of that umbrella, have been fighting toothand-nail to keep the CFPB out of its turf.

Take, for instance, the world of for-profit educational companies. A state-subsidized boondoggle of alarming proportions, the degree-mill industry has raked in as much as $32 billion annually in taxpayer dollars in recent years, even as the Department of Education reports that 72 percent of for-profit colleges produce graduates who earn less on average than the typical high school dropout in the overall population. For that dubious honor, another study concluded, the typical University of Phoenix or DeVry graduate leaves school “ripped off, unemployed, and deep in debt,” and six times more likely to default on her student loan than a graduate of a non-profit or public college.

This kind of track record of consumer abuse is exactly what the CFPB was created to address, so it was a salutary development when the Bureau secured a $530 million judgment against Corinthian Colleges, one of the industry’s worst offenders, in the fall of 2015, while forcing Corinthian out of business in the process. A similar outcome resulted when the CFPB went after the ITT Technical Institute, which announced it was closing its doors in September 2016. But when the CFPB attempted to push its regulatory authority still further into the workings of the for-profit education industry, the industry pushed back. Noting that forprofit institutions become eligible to participate in massively lucrative federal financial aid programs by being accredited by a recognized agency, the Bureau issued a civil investigative demand— effectively a comprehensive subpoena preliminary to a full investigation—to the century-old Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), requesting information on how the process had worked for low-performers like Corinthian.

The ACICS responded by refusing to turn over the requested information, while appealing the CFPB’s demand on the legal grounds that the Bureau was “delving into accreditation oversight, not consumer financing, and is overstepping its bounds into an area that is exclusively under the control of the Department of Education.” Meanwhile, the for-profit educational industry’s political allies swung into action as well. Two powerful Congressional Republicans—Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; and Minnesota’s John Kline, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce—sent a scathing letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, attacking the Bureau’s “unprecedented overreach” and insisting that it “immediately rescind” the information request.

Alexander and Kline explained their opposition to the CFPB’s move by arguing that “determining the role of accreditors for federal purposes is a congressional responsibility, not yours.” But their unacknowledged connections to the worst offenders in the for-profit college industry surely mattered. Eight of the leading for-profit education corporations, including Corinthian and ITT Tech, have been the subject of state- or federal-level investigations in recent years; Lamar Alexander has received substantial campaign contributions from all eight of them. During the last complete campaign cycle, in 2014, John Kline was among the top three congressional recipients of campaign dollars from five of the eight colleges (or from their ownership groups, if privately held). From three of them, Kline received more campaign contributions than any other individual member of Congress.

The political pressure had its intended effect. In April 2016, a conservative federal judge appointed by George W. Bush denied the CFPB’s civil investigative demand, throwing a significant obstacle in the way of the Bureau’s attempts to extend its watchdog duties into the accreditation process.

The for-profit education racket is not the only place where predatory financial companies and their lackeys on the Hill have been working to impede the Bureau’s more expansive ambitions. In recent months, the CFPB has also been trying to shine a light into the shadowy world of structured settlement purchasing—and with remarkably similar results.

Structured settlement purchasing is one of those ubiquitous industries you have probably never heard of. Recognizable for their familiar “get cash now!” television and radio ads, structured settlement purchasers are companies that give consumers immediate lump sum cash payments at discounted rates, in exchange for future streams of payments usually associated with a settlement in a lawsuit. For instance, Freddie Gray—the Baltimore man whose death while in police custody led to weeks of unrest and trials for six Baltimore police officers— had been the beneficiary of a lead-poisoning settlement when he was a child; by the time he was twenty-three, the Washington Post reported, Gray had sold a Maryland-based financial company called Access Funding $146,000 in future payments, in exchange for just $18,300 in lump sum payouts. And Freddie Gray is far from alone—according to the National Structured Settlements Trade Association, between $8 and $10 billion worth of settlement payments are purchased by companies like Access Funding every year, often at deeply discounted prices that leave desperate consumers like Gray with just pennies on the dollar for what their original settlements would have been worth. After the Post story broke, most of Maryland’s judiciary and the state’s attorney general joined Congressman Elijah Cummings in demanding a deeper investigation into “how private companies make profits buying and selling settlements that are meant to ensure victims have reliable incomes, and how we can best protect vulnerable individuals from predatory and abusive practices.”

The largest player in the structured settlement market, by far, is J. G. Wentworth, a Pennsylvania company that does business across the country under a few different brand names. In September 2015, the CFPB issued a civil investigative demand to J. G. Wentworth, which the company refused to comply with on the dubious grounds that, because the company does not lend money to consumers (i.e., provide them with credit) but rather purchases outright their future payment streams, structured settlement payouts are “not a consumer financial product” and, therefore, outside of the CFPB’s purview. The CFPB rejected J. G. Wentworth’s petition to set aside the information request, but the company still refused to comply, throwing the decision to the courts once again and hoping for a favorable ruling like the one that spared the ACICS.

At this writing, the outcome of the CFPB’s efforts to extend its regulatory oversight into the market for structured settlement purchasing also remains up in the air. And that is exactly why so much of the financial community was so frustrated with the poor timing of the Wells Fargo fiasco. By cutting the CFPB off at the knees, the Financial Choice Act is the banking lobby’s most significant effort yet to roll back the regulatory reforms that emerged from the financial crisis of 2008—a crisis that began, remember, because of the lawless and predatory behavior of an industry selling a particularly ubiquitous consumer product. No wonder, then, that JLL Partners, the private equity firm that has owned a majority stake in J. G. Wentworth since 2006, has given more money to Jeb Hensarling than any other member of Congress in each of the last two election cycles.

Assuming Wells Fargo and their ilk can avoid tripping over their own feet, Hensarling, Alexander, Kline, and the rest of their cronies on the Hill know exactly what they need to do to keep the money flowing.

Video: Debt, Wall Street, and Public Sector Unions

At last year’s conference on Public Sector Unions, Saqib Bhatti presented on how debt has replaced income in the US economy. As debt skyrocketed, bank profits have soared, but the impacts on other parts of the economy – and particularly public workers – are negative and getting worse.

Sadiq Bhatti is the Executive Director of the ReFund America Project and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He works on campaigns to rebalance the relationship between Wall Street and local communities.

The New Wave of Organizing on Social Media

Since Trump’s election, a number of ‘new’ network and campaigns have sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere. The smallest of these groups has attracted thousands of volunteers in a short period of time. New Labor Forum compiled this list as a resource for those seeking to understand the landscape of this new wave of ‘from below’ activism.

The largest and most prominent of these is of course the recent Women’s March on Washington, which took place this past Saturday. They intend on continuing the mission of the march with actions promoted to their supporters.

It’s true that the ‘newness’ of each group is up for debate; an effort led by Michael Moore might be new, but his personal brand is not. The resource guide based group ‘Indivisible’ is new, but the founding members are congressional staffers who are known quantities to many political insiders. What is new, is that social media and the rapidly accelerating news cycle have made it possible for newly crafted brands to appear out of nowhere and engaged millions in intense, sustained activism in a matter of weeks, leaving established organizations to look for ways to connect in order to remain relevant.


One Hundred Days of Resistance

Michael Moore

He is calling for actions during the first 100 days and releasing his new film TrumpLand.



Beau Willimon and Action Group Network

They are creating a national network of Action Groups to foster a ‘culture of change’. Groups are organized by location and issue. (Willimon is a screenwriter for House of Cards.)



Women’s March 10 Actions 100 Days

A continuation of the project started by the Women’s March on Washington. They will post actions to their website over Trump’s first 100 days in office.




‘A practical guide for resisting the Trump Agenda’ written by Congressional staffers. They seem very open to comments and ideas for improving the guide, which is published online.

Links: @IndivisibleTeam


Democratic Coalition Against Trump

Also known as DCAT, they formed initially to prevent Trump from getting elected. Their new mission is holding the Trump and his administration accountable along with any elected officials who support him.



The Sister District Project

They are working to ensure the voting protections of all American citizens by using the resources of progressive districts.



Trump Resistance Movement

A facebook page dedicated to the peaceful resistance against the intolerance coming from the Trump Administration



Knock Every Door

launching nationwide, volunteer-led canvasses to organize our communities against Trump, starting right after the inauguration on January 20



Rise When We Fall

A citizen watchdog organization enabling Americans to take action against the Trump Administration and Congress, as well as local and state governments.



2 Hours a Week

A community fostering a new level of civic engagement following the 2016 election by offering you 2 hours a week of tangible action.




Swing Districts are places where the winner of the last House of Representatives election was determined by a thin margin. Swing Left helps you find and commit to supporting progressives in your closest Swing District so that you can help ensure we take back the House in 2018.



Organizer’s Roundtable

Organizer’s Roundtable is a people-powered movement that formed in the wake of the 2016 US elections as a response to threats to our communities, our rights, and our freedoms.





LittleSis – the Database of Hidden Relationships Among the Powerful

LittleSis is the snarky alternative to Big Brother – a way for the little people to watch the powerful. A project of Public Accountability Project, a public watchdog group, LittleSis is a tool for conducting research on corporate power and the wealthy, to track corruption and conflicts of interest.

As the names of cabinet appointments have been made public, LittleSis has been posting reports about the relationships between nominees and corporate entities, to help the public better understand who and what they represent.




New Titles From NLF Authors

The City Is the Factory examines the “relocation of the space of protest from the factory to the city . . . see[ing] in it a shift that is both historically distinct and politically significant. Across these city-oriented struggles, [the book’s essay’s] focus on the increasing prominence of what Henri Lefebvre called “right to the city” demands and...

Read more