Tag Archives: Michelle Alexander

Drugs at Work

I am not an airline pilot or heart surgeon. In fact, nothing I do professionally could lead to the death or salvation of another human life. Yet a shocking number of potential employers would like me to pee in a cup before copyediting their ads, researching their articles or ghostwriting their memoirs.

I’m newly unemployed — underemployed actually, since I’ve managed to snag a few paid speaking gigs and copyediting jobs here and there — and my recent  discovery of drug testing mania for jobs involving zero physical risk is a bit troubling. Not because I’m worried about passing these tests, but I find the invasion of privacy for someone engaged in nothing more potentially injurious than comma insertions and syntactic guidance outrageous.

No, Yellowpages, I will not submit to an anal probe for the privilege of editing phonebook ads!

Why do so many businesses require drug testing for all employees? Web sites that advertise pre-employment drug testing cite “US Department of Labor estimates that drug use in the workplace costs employers $75 to $100 billion dollars annually in lost time, accidents, health care and workers compensation costs.”

Setting aside for a moment that many jobs don’t even offer health benefits anymore, why stop at this particular labor cost? How about banning Facebook, smartphone use or any number of genuine profit-suckers — like having families — from employees’ lives?

According to some studies, the average office worker spends 18 hours per week checking out bargains on Zappos, updating social media and generally spacing out from sheer boredom. That’s $759 billion per year, putting those silly nighttime bong-hitting, doobie-smoking wastrels to shame.

And don’t even get me started on the work hours lost to parents having to deal with their kids’ illnesses, parent-teacher conferences or other such anti-productive activities, like going to the bathroom.

As with all moralistic crusades with a veneer of economic benefit, when it comes to drug testing the poor are targeted for the worst abuse. Not surprisingly, Arizona, the state that first legalized racial profiling of immigrants, was the first to test welfare recipients for drugs in 2009. Guess what? Of the 87,000 people tested, exactly one person was found with drugs in their system.

Florida — ever in the vanguard of passing racist, anti-poor, reactionary legislation — not only tried testing all welfare applicants for drugs last year, but had them pay the $30 to $40 cost for doing so (though money was reimbursed to those who tested negative). Of those who took the test, 2.7% tested positive.

Let’s face it, the war on drugs is about policing the behavior of workers and the poor, in particular Blacks, as Michelle Alexander details in her brilliant book, The New Jim Crow. As Alexander wrote recently:

The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought.  This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.  In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.  Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data.  White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

It’s a war that’s been devastating Black and Brown communities for decades and it  seems to be quite adaptable to a broader swath of the U.S. population as times get tougher.

Bourbon-soaked legislators wagging accusatory fingers at poor people who don’t share Rush Limbaugh’s privilege of access to prescription drugs are waging a war of control over a  workforce in social and economic decline.

Study after study shows the relatively harmless effects of the primary drug, weed, that is sending hundreds of thousands to jail and pushing people out of the labor force or off food stamp assistance. Now the chatter is about drug testing those applying for unemployment insurance, as if the indignities we must endure to collect the maximum benefit of $405 a week (in NY state) aren’t enough.

An estimated 100 million Americans have tried pot, including the current and last two presidents, and more than 17 million use it regularly, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  And the economic and social justifications for the drug war have been destroyed by medical, legal and other authorities for years.

It seems that as the economy worsens and ordinary people begin to resist the imposition of never-ending austerity, illicit drugs have become the justification for police-state powers of a 1% drunk on power, fear and martinis.

Don’t even think of missing Socialism 2012: Educate. Agitate. Occupy.


Is Trayvon’s Killing Sparking a New Movement in Central Florida?

Central Florida leftists insist something new is happening here since Trayvon Martin’s killing. In the era of Occupy and global resistance, small towns draped in Spanish moss are now home to budding activists raising their fists to demand justice for Trayvon.

I’m down here from Brooklyn on a long-planned speaking tour that I hastily shifted to talk about Winning Justice for Trayvon: Socialism and the Fight to End the New Jim Crow. My impression so far is that these local activists living amidst boarded-up strip malls and forests of foreclosure signs are onto something.

The multiracial protests and meetings here seem to indicate that perhaps a new civil rights movement is developing in a region where the Klan still holds public rallies and newspapers uncritically report racist tirades against Trayvon.

Where this will go from here I have no idea, but one thing is certain: There are Floridians who say they’re forever changed by this case, and some of them  — to the horror of bigots — will cite this as their entry into a life of organized left-wing politics.

On Monday at the University of Florida’s flagship campus in Gainesville, more than 250 Black and white students marched together to the FBI building to demand the Feds take action to arrest Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman. That is not a large protest to folks in New York or Chicago, but in a deeply segregated town where Blacks literally live on the other side of the tracks, where  activists passed a Klan rally of dozens along the road home afterward, a multiracial march of this size is a triumph.

The demand from students at the march for a new civil rights movement is a heartening sign. Seasoned activists insist this hasn’t happened in the past, despite an endless stream of outrages over the years.

On Wednesday in Melbourne, a beach town about 80 miles from Sanford where Trayvon was killed, a diverse crowd of 45 or so attended my meeting. The young people there, like young people everywhere nowadays, are scraping by on jobs at Radio Shack, sandwich shops and are moving back home with mom and dad, desperately hoping for something to change.

Several left the meeting with copies of The Meaning of Marxism, Sexuality and Socialism and The Communist Manifesto tucked under their arms, excited to join reading groups in coming weeks. They’re carpooling to Sanford on Saturday for the big NAACP march for Trayvon, excited to be part of history, but outraged by the latest character assassinations of Trayvon.

Last night in Gainesville after I spoke a crowd of students participated in the wide-ranging discussion about the roots 0f racism, comparisons to the sixties and how multiracial unity can be forged. Several young Black women wearing hoodies participated in an animated discussion, the campus NAACP rep grabbed a Socialist Worker, a young Black alum leafleted for a Million Hoodie March today. When a retired transgender activist who’d been a postal strike militant in 1970 denounced the divide and conquer tactics of the 1%, she was applauded.

One Cuban-African American student who’d read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow was elated to find socialists on campus — finally a political home for a young woman whose Miami Beach youth was spent being ridiculed for expressing antiracist ideas. She’s joining the local carpool to Sanford on Saturday, too.

I’m off to Tampa tonight to speak at the University of South Florida and will be heading to Sanford on Saturday where I’ll Tweet from the protest (@SherryTalksBack) and file a report for Monday’s socialistworker.org.

Who knows where all this pent up anger and rage will eventually lead? Times like this we’re reminded that the system doesn’t just produce oppression, exploitation and division, it sparks resistance as well.

How long it will last, how deep it will sink roots, how much change it can win are open questions. But something’s happening here.

Below is a little Brooklyn love for Trayvon: