Train the Trainer: Open Oakland CA Session

While in Oakland for the CWA, USW, Sierra Club, Bluegreen Alliance trainings, in September 2017, RI also held its first training open to the community. 

While in Oakland we also held our first at-large train-the-trainer, open to anyone in the community. Most of the twenty-four participants came from the Bay area, a few from further afield in California, and three traveled all the way from Ashland, Oregon.

Participants were former, current, and new activists involved in organizations like The Incorruptibles, Equitable Food Initiative, Indivisible, Democratic Socialists of America, the Longshore & Warehouse Union, the National Nurses Union, or no organization at all.

Michael Bingham, one of the Oregonians, said, “The ‘Ashland OR Chapter’ is energized and ready to go to work. It’s wonderful to sit in a room of like-minded folks and get my hope tank filled. I had been running on empty for far too long. “

Labor-Environmental Train-the-Trainer: CWA, USW, Sierra Club, Bluegreen Alliance, in Oakland CA

This is a report about a Train the Trainer session held in Oakland CA in September 2017, with members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), United Steelworkers (USW), Sierra Club, and BlueGreen Alliance.

After a successful pilot workshop with labor and environmental activists earlier this year, Runaway returned to Oakland for a joint two-day train-the-trainer session. Twenty-six newly minted trainers from CWA, USW, the Sierra Club, and the BlueGreen Alliance will take the education back to their locals and chapters.

A coordinating team of all four organizations will pair up labor and environmental trainers to bridge the false divide between blue and green issues. Across the country and the world, the people most at risk from climate change are low-income and working people. And taking on climate change requires a movement that tackles runaway inequality and financial strip-mining. As the late Barry Commoner said, “Everything is connected to everything else.”


Training the Trainer: United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 9A Conference

This is a report on recent Runaway Inequality work at the UAW Region 9A Conference, in August 2017.

Runaway inequality trainers held workshops for all 120 participants at Region 9A’s annual conference. Trainers ran four simultaneous workshops, including our first ever in Spanish for conference delegates from Puerto Rico.

UAW Region 9A director Julie Kushner explained why she invited us. “Since the presidential election, I’ve been thinking we need to do a better job helping our members connect the dots between economic justice and political solutions. I heard about the ‘Runaway Inequality’ education module at the Working Families Party national meeting. I knew right away that the subject matter and format would be perfect for our leadership. This program not only educates and informs but incorporates action.”

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive for both the content and the workshop format: “I liked how everyone was encouraged to participate and take turns at being the speaker. I normally hate these kinds of break out group things but this was great.”

Kushner: “The Runaway Inequality program―with data, statistics and an action-driven agenda―was universally well-received. Our leaders who struggle with membership that vote against their own self-interest were the most enthusiastic participants. Everyone wants to bring this program to their plants and offices.”

Delegate Renford Whynes from UAW Local 2377 in Stamford, CT, put it more directly: “Education like this allows me to go out there with the zeal and desire to teach somebody. I’m on a mission.”

Wilmington North Carolina Events with Les Leopold

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 19, Les Leopold will give a presentation, What Happened to the American Dream, at the Wilmington ILA Union Hall, 1305 S. Fifth Ave. The public is invited.

At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20, Leopold will reprise his presentation at UNCW, with a Q+A session to follow.

Daniel Buffington wrote in the Wilmington Star News this week:

“The title of Al Hunt’s Sept. 4 op/ed column, “Flat wages drive instability,” points out how American workers have been left out of economic growth over the past 40 years and the dangers that represents. Workers have not shared in the prosperity; corporate profits and the pay for CEOs have skyrocketed, but this increase has not trickled down to us.

Why? The major reason is that American workers have no bargaining power. Before the 1930s, workers had little power to improve their wages and working conditions. The result was runaway inequality, much like today. In the end, this was a major cause of the Great Depression.

Then two things happened. There was a huge surge in union organizing with the birth of the CIO, and Franklin Roosevelt won the 1932 election and delivered on his promise of a New Deal. Workers won the 40-hour work week, benefits like paid vacations, health insurance and pensions. The government passed Social Security and created huge public works programs.

Over the next 40 years, the U.S. saw the growth of the largest and most prosperous middle class in history. But starting in the 1970s, both the unions and the New Deal came under attack from conservatives. They claimed that cutting taxes for the wealthy, busting unions and doing away with New Deal programs would lead to rapid economic growth that would benefit everyone. It didn’t.

When workers lost their seat at the negotiating table and their political power in elections, the share of our wealth going to middle class went down, while the percentage of income going to the very wealthy went up. The result – runaway inequality.

Labor activist Les Leopold has written an excellent book describing the causes and consequences of “Runaway Inequality” and what we can do to reverse it.”

A Book Review from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington Seahawk

Les Leopold is making an appearance at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington on September 20th. The campus newspaper reviewed his book, Runaway Inequality, recently. You can read the whole review here.

The takeaway quote is:

“If we all were to talk about this inequality and how it not only affects you but everyone you know, people would start to listen. If more people read Leopold’s book and understood where all the money was “disappearing” to, people would voice their frustrations. No movement for change is done in a small fashion. It might start out that way, but it takes people from all walks of life fighting for equality to actually achieve it.”


What Do You Think? A New Introduction to the Third Printing of Runaway Inequality.

After two printings and more than 50,000 copies sold, Runaway Inequality will get a new introduction and a new printing early in 2018. While we discussed a new title for the book, Runaway Inequality in the Age of Trump, we decided to not change the name, but the draft of the new introduction, which follows, discusses what we’ve been doing to reverse runaway inequality, and the changes our new president has brought to the nation. Since you’re likely already familiar with the book and our education program, we’re interested in hearing your reactions. Please use the form at the right to leave whatever comments you want to make. Thank you.

Runaway Inequality 

Preface to the Third Printing

By Les Leopold

Runaway Inequality has sold 50,000 copies. The book, and the accompanying curriculum, are being used in hundreds of workshops, conferences and discussion groups for unions, church groups, immigrant worker centers and environmental organizations. A Spanish print and e-book edition is now available as well. Thousands of people have joined the educational network and hundreds have volunteered to become runaway inequality trainers. (All training materials in Spanish and English are available free of charge at All royalties from book sales go back into the project).

It’s a good start but much more is needed. Runaway inequality has been festering for more than a generation, growing more severe under both political parties. The election of Donald Trump is making it worse. That’s why we’ve added “in the Age of Trump” to the title. However, this book is not a diatribe against Trump nor an attack on all of those who voted for him. Rather, it lays out the facts about runaway inequality, how it ties together so many crucial issues we all face, and why it can unite us in building a movement for economic fairness and justice. The facts in this book will highlight how rule by financial elites is ruining all that we hold dear. We think that message also can reach many who voted for Trump out of sheer frustration.

Many working people hoped that Donald Trump would bring a new voice to politics and the economy by ending anti-labor trade deals, protecting decent paying jobs, and generally improving wages and working conditions. Those wishes are not being fulfilled. Rather, Trump is exacerbating runaway inequality.

As part of the billionaire class, he is acting true to form. That class believes that the super-rich are the heart and soul of the economy — the job creators. Trump and his fellow financial elites truly believe they should be liberated from all burdensome regulations and taxes. They believe that public services should be turned over to the private sector and run for profit. To the richest of the rich, runaway inequality is a sign of great achievement — a blessing, not a plague on our economy. They feel it entitles them to a privileged position in every area of life.

It is not an accident that the Trump administration is loaded with super-rich Wall Street and corporate elites. It is not an accident that he is calling for enormous tax cuts on corporations claiming that they will lead automatically to increases in wages. But as this book shows as clearly as possible, Trump has it backwards. Tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations lead to more wealth for the few. It does not trickle down. Instead the rich grow richer and richer while worker wages stall. That’s been the case for more than a generation.

The Great Distraction

As this book makes clear, runaway inequality predates Trump by more than four decades and transcends both political parties. Democrats and Republicans alike have supported policies that accelerate inequality. However, Trump is adding a highly negative element that can not be brushed aside — race-bating — the age old American practice of using race to attract white supremacists, divide working people and distract us from the pursuit of economic fairness.  Historically, in-your-face race-baiting (not the subtle dog-whistles like “getting tough on crime”) usually has been confined to fringe candidates from the Jim Crow South. But Trump is reviving that tradition with gusto. He is the first president ever to tacitly welcome the support both of neo-Nazis and the Klan.

Race-baiting is nothing new for Trump.

  • In 1989, he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five — five young black men who Trump erroneously claimed had committed rape.  (They were exonerated of the crime when DNA led the police to the real culprit.)
  • He was the leading advocate of the “Birther” movement to which white supremacists flocked. It falsely claimed that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen and therefore not a legitimate president.
  • During his 2016 campaign, Trump attacked a sitting federal judge because of his Hispanic heritage. As far as we know, that’s a first for a sitting president.
  • Trump launched his entire presidential campaign by attacking Mexican immigrants whom he called rapists and murderers.
  • After the Charlottesville supremacist riot in the summer of 2017, he virtually exonerated the Nazi and KKK thugs who chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, beat-up counter-demonstrators and murdered one.
  • Later in 2017, he also pardoned ex-Sherriff Joe Arpaio who was held in contempt of court for overtly refusing to halt practices that violated the constitutional rights of thousands of Latinos. In 2007, Arpaio said to Lou Dobbs on television that it was an honor to be compared to the KKK.

Some Trump supporters try to write all this off as refreshing defiance of stultifying political correctness — “He’s just saying stuff out loud that we are thinking and afraid to say.” But it is a grave error to give Trump or anyone else a pass when race, religion or ethnicity is used to play us against each other. In each case, Trump is promoting himself   and trying to bring closer to him those who believe the world should be ordered by skin color. At the same time, race-baiting moves the national conversation further away from reversing runaway inequality.  It serves as a great distraction from mobilizing against the rule of financial elites.

“Playing a Symphony on that White Skin”

Historically, race-baiting has been used to protect the privileges of economic elites by dividing workers (as we show in detail in our curriculum and in Chapter 9 of this book).

There are still millions of Americans who believe in the disproven idea that there are such things as biological races with different traits including intelligence. That entire idea has been scientifically disproven again and again. In fact, the idea of a separate biological race of “negro” was created by southern elites to justify the institution of slavery. After the Civil War, there was a virtual second civil conflict lasting twenty years between the former plantation elites and poor white/black farmers for control of civil society. It was not until nearly 1900 that the white supremacists fully recaptured power and instituted the Jim Crow laws.

In his novel Freedom Road, Howard Fast (best known for Spartacus) graphically describes how the manipulation of skin color paved the road to power for Southern elites after the Civil War. In this selection from his fictional account, a former plantation owner describes how to reclaim their riches by creating a violent army from those who are fixated on their skin color:

… there’ll be men enough, the scum that we used for overseers, the trash that bought and sold slaves and bred them, the kind who were men with bullwhips and filth without one, the kind who have only one virtue, a white skin. Gentlemen, we’ll play a symphony on that white skin, we’ll make it a badge of honor. We’ll put a premium on that white skin. We’ll dredge the sewers and the swamps for candidates, and we’ll give them their white skin – and in return, gentlemen, they will give us back what we lost through this insane war, yes, all of it.

 Playing “a symphony on that white skin” also was the tactic of choice used by the steel industry to break strikes and prevent unionization after WWI.  Management consultants and academics developed an entire pseudo-science of racial/ethnic/religious hierarchies to determine which groups are best suited for different kinds of work.  This 1925 chart from a steel facility in Pittsburgh is a classic example of how race, religion and ethnicity were used to carve up the workforce. (The darker the shade of the box, the less fit that group supposedly is for a given task.) The goal was clear — keep workers divided.

What do you think about the new introduction?

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