The Civil Rights Act – looking ahead

The Civil Rights Act – looking ahead

By Marvin Krakow

When we look back, few of us would want to be associated with opposition to our country’s efforts to end discrimination.  Yet, today, as we did then, we all too quickly close our eyes to the mistreatment of others, and all too readily harden our hearts against the suffering of those we call “other”.  As we try to imagine the challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years, an appreciation of how far we have come may help us choose progress and compassion over misplaced caution and over “all deliberate speed”.   We have a chance to think big.

Looking Ahead — Part 2

We can draw a two part lesson from the changes which followed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

First, we have learned to appreciate diversity and inclusion.  People once excluded by law and by custom, when given a chance, contribute to our communities.  They become our co-workers, our business partners, our friends, our loved ones. We share celebrations, food, holidays, life’s passages.

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Our work becomes more productive.  Our art, our writing, our music, the entirety of human expressive effort becomes more creative.  Our lives are enriched beyond measure.

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Second, we have learned that we often fail to see or to appreciate discrimination inherent in our daily lives.  In the mid-twentieth century, we failed to appreciate the extent to which our laws and customs abused and marginalized women, minorities, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, people with physical and mental challenges, and older people.

Occupy_Wall_Street_spreads_to_PortlandToday, we fail to recognize the ways in which we abuse and marginalize people without money, people with limited education, and people whose religions we do not understand.  We fail to recognize the ways in which we deny the humanity of working men and women  and degrade their lives.  What we don’t see, we can’t acknowledge: the more subtle and hidden forms that traditional discrimination now takes.

Our work is not done.  Imagine how our communities might look fifty years from now at the one hundredth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  Imagining the future gives us a sense of the struggles ahead, but at the same time, it acknowledges changes already underway, and it provides hope to sustain our efforts.  Here is my personal wish list for 2064:

  1. Employers must have good cause before firing a worker.  Job security will be a fundamental right for all.
  2. Countries participating in the global economy will develop and enforce international standards for treatment of working men and women.  Participating countries will require that goods and services sold in their domestic markets be produced in safe facilities, by workers who are paid a living wage,  enough to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education for their families.
  3. The countries of the world will develop and enforce international standards for environmentally sustainable production.  No business will be allowed to operate without systems and processes to prevent environmental damage.  Participating countries will no longer permit the degradation of land, water, and air as a part of doing business.
  4. The right to free movement of all people among the countries of the world will be guaranteed in the same way that the right to free movement of all people among the states of the United States is guaranteed by our Constitution. How we treat a person will not depend on where he or she was born.  We will recognize that laws which restrict immigrants are fundamentally unfair.  We will provide sufficient support and services to fully integrate newcomers into our communities.
  5. In the United States, we will expand Social Security to develop an effective and financially sound workplace benefit system, including unemployment stipends, paid medical and family leave, disability insurance and retirement pensions which support a decent life.
  6. Both here and abroad, we will find ways to reduce inequality of income and wealth, making sure that all people can earn enough to provide a decent life for themselves and for their families.
  7. Workplaces will follow the model of union grievances, and will provide informal, effective, and speedy dispute resolution mechanisms to address claims of unfair treatment, and to serve as a check on unilateral management actions.
  8. We will reaffirm and guarantee the rights of working people and consumers to present discrimination and workplace fairness claims to juries.
  9. Workplaces will provide support for family obligations, including decent childcare, and paid leave for medical and newborn care.
  10. Successful businesses will develop mechanisms to involve workers in decisions affecting the operation of the workplace.  In the unionized sector of the economy, an expansion of the mandatory subjects of collective bargaining may support that change.  In every workplace, we will protect working men and women who speak out about issues at work, safety, pay, discrimination, illegal conduct.   Even in the absence of legal requirements, the economic advantages realized by fully engaging working men and women will provide a competitive advantage to businesses which seize the initiative.
  11. We will surrender the illusion of superiority.  The mistreatment of others, including all forms of discrimination and retaliation, rests on the often unacknowledged assumption that the person in power is better than the person oppressed.  It is possible, however, to affirm our own needs and desires without denigrating the humanity of others.
  12. This item left blank.  It will be filled in by the struggles of ordinary people.  It will amaze us!
Marvin Krakow

About Marvin Krakow

Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).

The Civil Rights Act – looking back

The Civil Rights Act – looking back

By Marvin Krakow

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed equal treatment in the workplace, in public facilities, and in public accommodations, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sex.  Equality was not the norm in 1964.  Remembering where we started may provide hope and inspiration for the next fifty years.

This is the first of a two part posting: first, a history we have lived, second, imagining and planning for the future.

Looking Back – Part 1

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/ff/Little_Rock_Desegregation_1957.jpg

Little Rock Desegregation 1957” by Will Counts. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

By beginning with a look at the United States of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we can better appreciate the magnitude of the changes we have experienced.  There and then were the conditions which the Civil Rights Act was meant to address.  The United States Supreme Court struck down segregated schools and the doctrine of “separate but equal” public facilities, only in 1954.  A year later, the Court called for dismantling segregated public schools with “all deliberate speed.”   In practice, communities and states intent on resisting the required changes made much of “deliberate” at the expense of “speed.”

In 1960, as part of the Wilmington, Delaware school district’s long delayed preparation for desegregation, I, with a few classmates, had a chance to visit the black school about six blocks from our own.  The only apparent equal part was the architectural plan.  The two schools had the same floor plans.  Even as an eleven year old, I could see that the black school had almost no books, that the sandstone bricks were crumbling, the toilets broken and foul.  By contrast, my own school had well maintained granite, a fully stocked library, plenty of classroom supplies and materials, clean and functioning lavatories.

Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History

The lack of adequate facilities and the open lie of “separate but equal” were but the tip of the iceberg of de jure segregation.  Our country had opportunities only for a select few.  We did not tolerate differences.  We murdered those who challenged the assigned order.   State sponsored and state enforced racial separation — combined with political disenfranchisement, and an economic and social caste system — was violent, brutal, and unremitting.   In the Summer of 1964, the world witnessed the terrorism supporting American segregation in the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

Lynchings, counted in the thousands, were carried out over generations, not only in the South, but throughout the country.  “Race riots”, actually pogroms and massacres of entire communities, terrorized people of color.  The ferocity of racial as well as ethnic violence characterized and defined American society in the first half of the twentieth century.

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“Student and Faculty Civil Rights Rally, San Jose State College, February 28, 1964” by Moore, John. Courtesy of San José State University, Special Collections and Archives

Pervasive discrimination was not limited to African Americans.  Universities had quotas for Jews, Catholics, and other minorities.  Large corporations, law firms, hospitals would not consider ethnic minorities for hire.  Women had limited rights to own property.   Gays were invisible. In quantitative terms, almost two-thirds of our country’s people suffered discrimination.  Freedom and opportunity were reserved for members of a small and privileged class consisting almost exclusively of economically fortunate, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant men.    The norm, the life experienced by most people, included closed doors, hatred, persecution, and violence.

When we hear the stories of individuals we can begin to understand the extent and severity of discrimination in the mid-twentieth century United States.  From my own family stories: a young woman limited to secretarial work for men who were far less talented than she, a high school girl learning from her admired father that his field of work was closed to all women, a man who died unable to tell his family of his love for another human being, a woman hospitalized for “hysteria” as she came to terms with her love of another woman, an entire family whose parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins were slaughtered after the United States refused them safe haven from Nazi genocide.

There are few in my generation, coming of age in the 1960’s, who do not know such stories.  The details may vary. The story tellers may be Asian, Hispanic, African American, Irish, Native American. Regardless of one’s origins, America of the early and middle twentieth century held up the torch of liberty and opportunity while unapologetically shutting doors and crushing hopes.

Discrimination and violence strike deeply.  At its core, discrimination is a disregard and disrespect of another person’s humanity.  It is an expression of contempt and hatred.  When we suffer discrimination, the pain stays with us for years.  It is felt for generations.  When we engage in discrimination, when we tolerate contempt and hatred, and when we acquiesce in violence, we rend the fabric of our communities.  We corrupt our souls.

O’Connor, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan” by Steve Petteway. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, at the time of its passage, represented our country’s highest aspirations in the face of social and political realities far different than our Constitution’s promises.  The ongoing success of that legislation is all around us. Women and minorities have entered the workplace.  Many have risen to positions of prominence.  People with physical and emotional challenges are emerging from the shadows of dependence and isolation.  We are beginning to understand the waste of human potential and the pain we inflict in denying and demonizing love and sexuality.  We have made room for a true diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices.

But we can’t take our progress for granted.  As we try to imagine the challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years, an appreciation of how far we have come may help us choose compassion over misplaced caution and progress over the next iteration of “all deliberate speed.”

We now have a chance to be on the right side of history.  In my next post, I will discuss how we might get there.

 

 

Marvin Krakow

About Marvin Krakow

Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).

Celebrating Labor Day 3

Celebrating Labor Day

By Joan Herrington

What does Labor Day mean to you?  A day to sleep in, to fire up the BBQ, to organize school supplies, or to hit the sales?  How about a day to remember the Pullman strike?  The what? Why?

Labor Day was established in 1894 after federal troops killed workers during the Pullman strike.

Pullman railroad workers lived in company towns, rented company houses, and bought their goods in company stores…all at company-set prices.  They were fired if they tried to unionize.  When George Pullman slashed his railroad workers’ pay by 25%, they could no longer afford to live in Pullman Town.  To protest their non-living wage, Pullman employees went on a “wildcat” strike.  Over the next six days, to show solidarity for Pullman workers, over 100,000 railroad union members cross-country refused to service trains with Pullman cars.  At George Pullman’s request, United States Attorney General Richard Olney obtained a federal court injunction against the strikers, and federal troops were sent in to enforce it.

After federal troops killed some of the workers on strike, the trains started running again.  But scandal erupted when the public learned Olney was also a director of Pullman’s railroad.  In other words, Olney, the head of a taxpayer-funded federal agency obtained a federal court order and used federal troops to protect his own and corporate interests against striking workers.  Outraged at this abuse of power, rioters spread from city to city, causing 30 deaths and millions of dollars in damage.  To restore calm, within the next week, a bill establishing Labor Day as a national holiday honoring “the strength and spirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” was rushed through Congress and signed by President Grover Cleveland.

The battle for a living wage continues to this day.

This Labor Day, some 15 million American workers struggle to live on minimum wage earnings. Just last week, fast food workers went out on strike for a living wage. 

Earlier this year, Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Labor Seth Harris travelled around the country to hear testimony in support of the proposed Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2015.  He listened to: a store clerk who doesn’t know how she will support herself and her five-year-old son since her employer cut her hours of work; a homeless shelter worker who often lives without power because she can’t afford to pay her bill; a solo father who sells his own blood so his two children won’t go to bed hungry.

Reflecting on the people he met, Harris stated:

I’ve met workers of every age, race, ethnicity and background. In superficial ways, they could have not been more different. But what unites all of them is this: the desire to work hard and the opportunity to make life better for themselves and their families. Too many of them are stuck at a wage that forces them to depend on the generosity of community organizations, family, friends or government just to stay above water. I haven’t met anyone who is looking for a handout. To the contrary, they just want a fair wage so they don’t have to rely on others.

The bill to raise the minimum wage is still stuck in Congress.  Why not honor this Labor Day by contacting your Congressional representative and ask him or her to support The Fair Wage Act of 2013?

Click here to find contact information for your Congressional representative or here for more information on The Fair Wage Act of 2013.

Joan Herrington

About Joan Herrington

As a former Administrative Law Judge with the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, Joan focuses on protecting employment rights. Joan helps the Department of Fair Employment and Housing enforce the Fair Employment and Housing Act by representing employees in lawsuits, such as discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, color, pregnancy, sex, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, age, and religion. Joan also focuses on protecting employees and whistleblowers from unlawful retaliation. As a qualified and experienced mediator, Joan also helps resolve employment disputes.

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