ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

October 3, 2011

2011.10.03: Endorsement of Richard Torres and Others

From:  Letwin, Michael
Sent: Monday, October 03, 2011 4:00 PM
To: ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: Endorsement of Richard Torres and Others

Overview

I endorse Richard Torres, a respected Brooklyn CDD member, for the position of Secretary-Treasurer. Like Azalia Torres’ 2007 candidacy for union president,[1] his directly addresses the need to revive our legacy as a grassroots, democratic, socially conscious union.[2]

As discussed below, those principles have, with George’s support, been largely abandoned by the Jim Rogers/Debbie Wright administrations (2003-Present). (Full disclosure: I was ALAA president from 1990-2002, for seven years of which George held his current position.)

Funding and Collective Bargaining

Building on years of previous collective effort, George has led effective lobbying for Legal Aid funds and caseload caps.

However, where we once exposed, condemned and sought to end the Giuliani/Bloomberg scab (nonunion) criminal defense contractors,[3] this administration has essentially acquiesced to their legitimacy, accompanied by period lip-service to the fantasy of unionization. Thus unopposed, these contractors have continued to eat away at our funding, particularly in Brooklyn.

Moreover, a union that once produced frequent, detailed written reports about all issues, including collective bargaining,[4] now avoids accountability by claiming that critical information already known to management “can’t be put in writing” for its own members.[5]

A union that once, in close alliance with 1199 support staff, encouraged members to exercise our power — thereby winning unprecedented contractual gains — has redefined “solidarity” to mean “nothing can be done.”

This is not because “there is no money” (rather, the question is how to spend it) or because the Executive Board doesn’t work hard enough (they do). Rather, it is because this administration has undermined and discouraged grassroots, participatory mobilization — and the essential bargaining leverage that goes with it.

In its place, we now have the top-down, anti-democratic, just-trust-us-we-know-best model that has crippled the U.S. labor movement — and predictably yielded some of the worst givebacks in our union’s history.[6]

Put another way: when was the last time we saw a raise?

Political Action, Solidarity and Social Justice

George has certainly devoted significant attention to political campaigning. As others have pointed out, however, the membership is virtually excluded from deciding which candidates to endorse or positions to take.

Moreover, where our union once stood with other workers and our client communities at the forefront of movements for racial, economic and social justice, it is now institutionally MIA.

Thus, where ALAA was among the most outspoken supporters of striking Transit Workers (2000),[7] our union’s labor solidarity efforts are now, at best, an afterthought.

Where ALAA once helped spearhead citywide protests against the NYPD’s murder of Amadou Diallo (1999) and Patrick Dorismond (2000),[8] it now says nothing about the killing of Sean Bell (2006) or numerous other people of color.

Where ALAA once was outspoken about racism in the criminal justice system,[9] it is now mute about the drug wars, conditions at Rikers Island, or the lynching of Troy Davis and other death row prisoners.

Where ALAA led the post-9/11 defense of civil liberties and immigrants,[10] it is now absent as Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities remain under Islamophobic attack, or as NLG attorney Lynne Stewart was railroaded to prison.

While most unions long ago denounced the war, ours remains the only NYC-area local whose principal officers have — pursuant to campaign promises that elected Jim Rogers — failed to support antiwar resolutions adopted by this UAW region.[11]

And while individual members have sought to fill these voids by speaking out,[12] this administration has — at best — been conspicuously silent about a ten-year long witch-hunt to stifle antiwar and Palestinian rights views at the workplace.

Conclusion

No individual can fix the current state of our union; that is our collective responsibility.

To do so, we need to support candidates with the grassroots energy represented by Richard Torres, by Antonia Codling (CDD-Bx Alt. VP), Femi Disu (Affirmative Action Rep.), Mia Eisner-Grynberg (CDD-Bx VP), Jane Fox (Junior Attorney Rep.), Bahar Mirhosseini (Trustee), and Brittany Moore (Junior Attorney Rep.), and others.

But above all, we need to hold all whoever we elect accountable to our legacy as a democratic, bottom-up union.

Notes

[1] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2007/05/24/45-brooklyn-cdd-members-for-azalia/

[2] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/history-of-the-association-of-legal-aid-attorneys-uaw-local-2325/

[3] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2001/09/10/labor-resolution-to-defend-legal-aid-september-10-2001/

[4] E.g., https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2000/08/01/faq-on-las-criminal-budget-shortfall/

[5] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/re-why-not-put-the-contract-online/

[6] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2007/05/16/the-real-issues-in-this-election-michael-letwin/; https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/reasons-to-vote-down-the-contract/

[7] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/1999/12/23/in-defense-of-free-speech-labor-and-civil-rights-in-new-york-city/

[8] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2000/03/22/statement-on-police-violence-abuse/; http://michaelletwin.wordpress.com/2000/04/01/2000-04-00-legal-aid-union-defends-protesters-arrested-after-cops-are-acquitted-labor-notes/; http://michaelletwin.wordpress.com/1999/05/01/1999-05-00-labor-joins-protest-over-new-york-police-killing-labor-notes/; http://bobzuss.wordpress.com/2007/05/31/march-22-1999-amadou-diallo-civil-disobedience/

[9] E.g., https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2000/06/16/equal-justice-news/; https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/1994/04/18/michael-letwin-sentencing-angela-thompson-ny-law-journal-april-18-1994/

[10] https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2002/02/21/in-defense-of-civil-liberties/

[11] http://bobzuss.wordpress.com/2007/05/31/september-27-2001-nyc-labor-against-the-war-nyclaw/; https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2003/04/14/alaa-antiwar-vote/

[12] See, e.g.: https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/legal-aid-nyc-union-members-stop-israel%e2%80%99s-massacre-in-gaza-and-end-the-siege-now/; https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/union-members-protest-award-to-schreibersdorf/; https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2007/05/19/sean-bell-and-the-epidemic-of-police-violence-in-new-york-city/; https://alaa2325.wordpress.com/2005/12/22/we-have-been-in-the-transit-workers-shoes/

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