Inequality 'Faces on the Frontlines' 2016

In April 2016, the inequality newsletter I co-edit started publishing a weekly "Face on the Frontlines" feature. Since then, we've had the honor of spotlighting more than two dozen workers, organizers, artists, students, business leaders, elected officials, and others who are fighting to reverse extreme inequality.

All these individuals have kept up our spirits, in difficult times, and reminded us that we can take on formidable obstacles -- and win. As 2016 winds down, I wanted to highlight some of the Faces on the Frontlines who we found especially inspiring.

We started our series with Jobs with Justice Organizing Director Erica Smiley, who wrote about the need for labor organizing strategies that can succeed even in the face of anti-union laws and institutions. In our new political landscape, her words have become even more prescient.

In May, John Mudie, a telecom lineman and union official from Buffalo, New York, reported from the frontlines of a strike involving nearly 40,000 Verizon workers. They faced a CEO -- who was earning $25,000 per day -- out to slash jobs and benefits. A few weeks later, the company backed down off that attack and agreed to add call center jobs and reverse key outsourcing initiatives.

In June, we published a piece by restaurant server Christopher Alvear about the need to raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers. In November, we had the pleasure of reporting on two ballot initiatives that successfully did just that.

In July, Ben Chin of Maine People's Alliance described his life as the target of a right-wing governor's racist smears. A few months later, that governor declared that Chin and other organizers of ballot initiatives to increase taxes on the wealthy and raise the minimum wage "should be sent to jail." After the election, we were thrilled to interview Ben again -- about his November 2016 ballot victories.

In August, we featured Magdalena Zylinska, a housecleaner and organizer from Chicago about the big win on a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in the state of Illinois. This was the seventh such state victory for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and their allies.

In early September, IPS Associate Fellow Manuel Pérez-Rocha shared lessons from his many years of work against free trade in Mexico and Central America about the likely impacts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A main focus of his work has been to fight trade rules that allow private corporations to sue governments over public interest regulations. And so in October we were pleased to report on a victory by Salvadoran activists against one of these corporate lawsuits, in this case over the denial of a mining permit on environmental grounds. Only a few weeks later, we were able to celebrate the demise of the TPP negotiations.

In late September, we interviewed Judith Le Blanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, about the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline and the role played by billionaire and big bank investors in the project. After the number of water protectors continued to swell, federal authorities put at least a temporary halt on pipeline construction on December 4, in a huge win for the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.

In October, we ran a commentary by Steve Novick, a member of the Portland, Oregon city council who was pushing a path-breaking proposal for a tax penalty on corporations with extreme CEO-worker pay gaps. On December 8, we had the pleasure of reporting that the proposal had been adopted. And since then we've been hearing from elected officials in many other jurisdictions who are interested in taking similar action and making this a national movement.

Many more inspiring "Faces on the Frontlines" can be found at Inequality.org. In 2017, we look forward to getting to know more champions in the fight against inequality and sharing their stories and strategies.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Free subscriptions to the newsletter she co-edits are available at Inequality.org.