Scenes from the struggle for economic justice

Oakland's Community Democracy Project, Bangladeshi sweatshop activists, California domestic workers, and more May Day warriors

At an April 25 rally in SF, Bangladeshi activists fight for 112 workers who died in a fire making garments for Walmart.

Hacking Oakland's budget

Sporting trucker hats, nose rings, and in activist Shawn McDougal's case, a white tee with "Revolutionary" printed across the front in simple black lettering, the young, energetic activists assembled at Sudo Room, an Oakland hacker space, come across as unlikely ballot-initiative proponents. Nevertheless, in a few short weeks, the all-volunteer Community Democracy Project crew intends to hit the pavement and begin collecting signatures for a measure to introduce "participatory budgeting" to Oakland city government.

Their objective is to set up a kind of direct democracy system for hashing out the city's discretionary spending. The proposal would create a charter amendment and a new Oakland city department to reconfigure the politically contentious budget allocation process, by "shifting accountability in a way that more people are able to engage," says organizer Sonya Rifkin.

The proposal envisions convening democratic "neighborhood assemblies," each of which would represent roughly 4,000 Oaklanders. Any resident age 16 or older would be free to attend meetings and vote on NA proposals. The NA proposals would then be forwarded onto citywide committees and synthesized as proposals for the ballot, whereupon the electorate would have the final say.

For the Community Democracy Project organizers, who mostly became acquainted through Occupy Oakland, the radical concept is just as much about achieving equitable budget allocation as it is about stoking the embers of community building. To place it on Oakland's city ballot, the ambitious campaigners hope to collect 40,000 signatures in the next six months.

It's a tall order, yet the activists appear undaunted. It's a movement, McDougal says, comprised of "regular people, realizing that they don't have to be spectators. They can be participants." (Rebecca Bowe)

Solidarity with Bangladeshi sweatshop workers

News of a Bangladesh factory collapse last week that killed hundreds of low-wage workers reached San Francisco just as labor organizers were preparing to rally for stronger safety measures in overseas sweatshops.

Last November, a fire broke out in the Tarzeen Fashions factory in Bangladesh, killing 112 employees who produced garments for Walmart and other retailers. Sumi Abedin, a 24-year-old garment worker who earned about $62 a month working 11-hour days, six days a week, survived the blaze.

Through a translator, Abedin told reporters, "We were trying to exit through the staircase, and then we saw a lot of burned bodies, injured bodies. And I jumped through a third floor window because I thought, instead of being burned alive, even if I die, my mother will get my body."

Abedin was standing outside San Francisco's Gap headquarters, flanked by Bay Area activists from Jobs with Justice, Unite HERE, Our Walmart, and others. They were there to call on the popular retailer to sign a fire-safety agreement to implement renovations, at an estimated cost of about 10 cents per garment. In a statement, Gap noted that it had implemented its own four-point plan "to improve fire safety at the selected factories that produce our products."

Gap had no direct connection with the Tarzeen Fashions blaze that Abedin narrowly escaped. Yet Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity organizer Kalpona Akter explained that the campaign was targeting Gap because "they're saying they have corporate social responsibility," yet have refused to sign onto the worker-sanctioned, legally binding fire safety agreement endorsed by BCWS, which brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and German retailer Tchibo have committed to. "This is one appropriate thing Gap can do in this moment," Akter said, "if they really wanted to prevent this death toll in other parts of the world." (Bowe)


It seems ridiculous to me that the City wouldn't want to see the energy and money that goes into these programmes actually result in jobs. It feels like once again those who need the government's help the most are the ones being made to jump through the most irrelevant of hoops. Let's face reality and help our fellow city members by supporting these changes.

Posted by HannahMc on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

A Living Wage is not a minimum wage. As I teacher I see families where the parents each work two or three part time jobs and barely scrape by. It is essential for workers to have their earning translate into being able to live on what they earn. It is shocking that minimum wages keep workers in poverty . It is time to speak up for
living wages. and support the legislation to do so.

Posted by Mary Jane Mikuriya on May. 03, 2013 @ 5:18 am

business, and so who thinks that workers should be paid according to what they would like, and not according to the value they add.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 7:19 am

Earned about $62 a month working 11-hour days, six days a week, and earn pennies on the dollar? How would you like to work your ass off for $62.00 a month and risk your life to do it? Or do you think unsafe factories and working conditions are just part of the cost of doing business? If so, you're a pitiful excuse for a human being.

Posted by Guest on May. 04, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

and not whatever they think they need for the lifestyle that they aspire to.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2013 @ 7:15 am

For those adults in welfare struggling to pay rent and food it is essential that community jobs program function to way it should be intended with improvements so that these people can at least get back on their feet,pay bills and gain a skill to carry for sustained work career.

Posted by David F on May. 04, 2013 @ 11:13 am

Thank you for the coverage about the Community Jobs Program and the needs of working people to have a wage they can actually live on, especially in the high cost Bay Area. Economic inequality is increasing and it leads to many social problems. I am tired to corporations getting tax breaks while programs for working people and the unemployed are being cut back. The Guardian should expand it's coverage of economic inequality and what can be done about it.

Posted by Guest Linda R. on May. 05, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

Thank you for your very important coverage of the city's Community Jobs Program! The Board of Supervisors are currently conducting an audit of the city's workforce development program and hopefully their review will include the Community Jobs Program given its existing limitations. I encourage the Bay Guardian and Rebecca Bowe to continue covering this story as the audit winds up its work and the findings and recommendations are made known. Again, thank you for your article and please continue to cover this important news item.

Posted by Ronald on May. 07, 2013 @ 7:56 am

business environment. Schemes and programs make only a marginal difference for as long as the city maintains an anti-business tax and regulatory structure.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2013 @ 9:54 am

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