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Last week, I got to go see Clive Owen make his Broadway debut in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Old Times.  I also had a little too much wine beforehand.  As such, the following is not a review.

Old Times is by Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter and is a so-called “memory play”… this is theater-speak for difficult to follow.  

Old Times was also an unusually brief theater experience, a mere 67 minutes.  In the short time I was seated in the American Airlines Theater a lot of urgent questions came up for me…not all these questions were related to Pinter’s abstract script.  See below:

How much are tickets to Old Times on Broadway…per minute?

By my calculations, anywhere from $1.25 – $5 or more per minute if you buy directly from the box office.  I couldn’t help but wonder if 
maybe they should have inserted some more of Pinter’s famous pauses (google: “Pinter pause”) to add value for the audience.

How much does the show cost the The Roundabout Theatre Company…per minute?

A silly question, maybe, considering all the preliminary work that goes into a large-scale production like Old Times.  But interesting because Roundabout is the nation’s largest 501c3 not-for-profit theater company.   

Apparently, they also have to publish a public financial report which would answer the question of how much the production costs.  This report will come out next year so stay tuned  (Roundabout is likely back in the black thanks to a network of donors and subscribers after a recession that hit the arts hard).  But the financial report will not explicitly answer the next question…

How much does Clive Owen make…per minute?

An internet search for “Clive Owen salary” reveals that Clive Owen may be one of the highest paid actors in the world…but there is little to be found regarding compensation for his theater work.  

Clive Owens, if I had to take a not-very-educated guess, is making less than the $150,000 per week Julia Roberts reportedly made for her star-turn in Three Days of Rain.  Let’s say he makes the same $40,000 Patti Lupone allegedly pulled in for the last Broadway revival of Gypsy.

 It is not-for-profit after all, it’s a meaty role that Clive expressed great interest in and it is not like he needs the money.

So let’s say $40,000.  He performs for a total of 536 enigmatic, sexually-charged minutes per week.  That is a total of 74.63 unconfirmed US Dollars per minute of stage time.  It’s not Hollywood money but it’ll pay the bills.

I won’t touch the issue of wage inequality based on gender…and the question of how much Clive’s Tony-nominated female co-star Eve Best might be making.  But I’m all over the implications for income inequality…

How about the other workers on the show: what do they make?

A living wage.

The New York theater industry is heavily unionized.  FOX News aired an interview a few years back with Broadway producer Barry Habib of Rock of Ages, in which he knocked the influence of organized labor.  In fact, as many as 17 unions represent workers and artists in some Broadway productions, many under the umbrella of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).  This ensures that, in an industry that is VERY fickle and precarious, all workers involved are paid a living wage as long as the show is running and enjoy benefits such as health insurance long after it closes.   

By the way, producers have been known to complain about the high cost of the acting talent as a percentage of their total costs when negotiating with the actor’s union, Actor’s Equity Association (AEA).  But Equity does not negotiate star salaries; they simply negotiate minimums.  So a union can not be blamed for the star salaries here as much as the star’s agents and the stars themselves…and maybe a little bit the audience that flocks to see such stars.

What does Old Times have to teach us? 

There has been a lot of buzz recently on the “Hollywood” business model: a short-term, project-based model of employment.  In a world of work increasingly precarious, movies create a ton of good quality, high-paying jobs…so much so, that cities throughout the US now offer tax credits to lure production.  In large part, this is due to the unions that represent many of the workers.  But it was Broadway that wrote the book on equitable pay for skilled temporary workers.

If producers bemoan the cost of doing business on Broadway as compared to, say, London, it is because everyone gets paid more over here.  Broadway theater professionals can, unlike their counterparts in London, afford to live within the city limits.  That includes dressers and stage technicians as well as stars like Clive Owen living the proverbial American Dream.  No wonder our stages and films are filled with Brits.  

Roundabout reports that 70% of its “salaries and benefits” costs are paid under collective bargaining agreements, that is to say, negotiates by unions.  In my mind, that is all the more reason to subscribe.  

The revenue from your ticket to Old Times goes to support a not-for-profit institution that manages to pay equitable salaries for hundreds of Americans.  Pat yourself on the back.  You can feel good about supporting the theater.

Oh ya: Old Times is also an important British play from an important British playwright with a big-name British movie star…and you’ll be out by 9:30.

Professional actor turned hotel concierge, Dana Steer arrived in New York to pursue a career on the musical stage in 2000.  Work as an actor came and went—and Dana found opportunity to explore many other professions and interests.  He eventually settled into a job in New York’s robust hotel industry.  His professional life in the arts and the hotel industry has been shaped by unions: Actor’s Equity, SAG/AFTRA and more recently the New York Hotel Trades Council, the union of hotel workers.  An interest in the world of work and social justice in the workplace brought Dana to the renowned Murphy Institute at CUNY SPS, where he is pursuing a Masters degree in Labor Studies.  Dana is active in his union and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Carnegie Mellon University.

Workers Unite! Film Festival

To all of the veterans, active troops, and military families in the SPS community, we thank you! Returning home and making higher education a goal is not always easy.  We asked alum Armando Vega, and current student Enrique Diaz to share some of their thoughts on being student veterans.

1. What branch of the United States Military did you serve, and for how many years were you enlisted?

I was in the U.S. Navy, and I served honorably for 4 years (1994 – 1998).

2. What CUNY SPS program did you receive a degree in, when, and how has that changed your life?

I earned an MA in Labor Studies. My desire is to work in Human Resources and the Labor Relations department. My dream is to one day become the HR manager and or director of a reputable corporation.

3. Were your experiences as a student affected by also being a veteran?

Not really because I returned to school much later in life, and my classmates where older working class adults. I try to keep my veteran status private for the most part.

4. What does Veterans Day mean to you?

Veterans Day is close to being the most important day of the year next to July 4th. It is a day of remembrance for the sacrifices made by the many brave men and women that has enabled this great nation to remain free from tyranny.

5. What advice do you have for newly returning veterans?

To be resilient, and realize that the civilian world is not very kind to returning veterans, and that finding employment is very difficult right now. Keep the faith and seek help from the Veterans Administration.

Any additional thoughts?

For me to attend CUNY and earn my Masters degree was a worthwhile accomplishment, and hopefully I can use it to advance in my career.

1. What branch of the United States Military did you serve, and for how many years were you enlisted?

I served 6 years as a Religious Program Specialist (RP) with the United States Navy and 4 years as an 0111 (Administrative Specialist) with the United States Marine Corps.

2. What CUNY SPS program did you receive a degree in, when, and how has that changed your life?

Currently enrolled in the Public Administration Certificate Program, once completed, June 2013, I plan on transferring to Brooklyn College for a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Once I have earned my degree in Political Science, I hope to use it to advance my career within City government.

3. Were your experiences as a student affected by also being a veteran?

My yearning for learning was nurtured while I was on active duty. As a veteran, I now have more time to pursue my desire to learn.

4. What does Veterans Day mean to you?

It’s a day of reflection. I think back to my time served, my friends and family who have served and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could live in a land where the only one holding me back is myself. All the opportunities are there for the taking.

5. What advice do you have for newly returning veterans?

Take advantage of any programs available to you. Use your GI Bill to further your education and make yourself more marketable. As sad as it is to say, being a veteran is simply not enough anymore to obtain a good paying job to sustain yourself and your family.

A few weeks ago, in a supposed attempt to put a dent in the federal deficit, Obama announced that he would be freezing wages for federal employees—over 2 million workers.  Obama said, “The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice…And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.” This is just pure nonsense. Freezing wages for working class people in bad economic times will at best only contribute to a sluggish recovery, and at worst contribute to a double-dip into a recession.  Furthermore, why do ordinary Americans—most federal employees are not analysts making 6 figures—have to share the sacrifice alone? What about the rich?  Maybe they will just share their sacrifice in taxes….

Try again.  Yesterday, the Senate pretty much sured up the passage a controversial tax bill, as it cleared a procedural hurdle with overwhelming support.  The upside is that the bill extends unemployment benefits for 13 months. The downside is, well, everything else. Worst of all, it will extend Bush-era tax cuts, including the ones for the rich—going against one of his biggest campaign promises not to do so.  This part of the bill was forcefully pushed by Republicans but Obama easily caved in, per usual these days.  Yes, you heard me right. The bankers on Wall St. and the other super rich get “socialism for the rich” through bailouts, and they also get rewarded with tax breaks.

Firstly, this is, and should be, a huge insult to every working person in the United States.  It shows that bankers and corporations matter most, and they will be rewarded no matter how much they ruin our economy and people’s lives in the process.  Secondly, the fact that unemployment benefits were held hostage and tagged onto a bill that will hurt working people should also be an insult. Thirdly, it will add to the federal deficit by taking away billions of dollars in federal revenue.  Confused? Weren’t they trying to reduce that? Fourthly, it shows that the elites really don’t care about the deficit.  It is merely used as an excuse to attack social spending on programs and services that benefit working people, and at the same time ensure that the rich get richer.  Now it makes sense, no?

As I argued in a previous post, on the whole the Democrats are not able to put forth truly progressive economy policy because they are beholden to moneyed interests.  However, this seems to be the beginning of austerity programs that are not only regressive, but represent an escalation of the thirty years or so attack that has been taking place against working America.  Sadly, they will only worse under the coming Republican controlled House and weakened Democratic Senate. And, yes, this should be cause for great concern.

I could continue to explain the ills of the measures, but I think they speak for themselves.  The real question is what to do.  I think these recent events change the game plan a bit.  More than ever I am convinced that there is very little hope of getting any progressive measure passed in the next two years on a national level, and the chances of regressive measures has increased. Therefore, I believe we must focus more than ever on building grassroots opposition to any and all policies and forces that siege oppressed communities.  We need to start now if we are to have any influence in the years to come.

I think for the labor movement this means a few things.   It means that it is time for it to take its place as a leading actor and advocate for working and oppressed people everywhere. In a great article in the New Labor Forum, Stephen Lerner of SEIU says:

This is the time to offer a moral voice for those devastated by the economic crisis, and to have the courage and passion to liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of limited expectations. Unions, and their members, must join with communities long mired in poverty—and the tens of millions of people being forced out of the middle class—to imagine and articulate a vision of a better world, and to help lead the battle to win it. We have the opportunity to work with a growing group of potential allies to develop a plan and strategy to achieve that vision—but, to do so, we have to question and challenge long held assumptions and ideas.

One of those “long held assumptions” is that what is good for free market capitalism is good for us.  We need to ditch that in the gutter.  So, yes, we are in tough political climate, but we should use such hectic times to provide a true voice of hope and vision; and a vehicle to exercise collective will to reach it.  Let’s get started. It’s getting cold.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” –Warren Buffet

Almost four years to the day after billionaire Warren Buffet candidly spoke those words, a bailout package was agreed upon by the European Union and IMF to give to Ireland[i], at the tune of $89. 4 billion (euro67.5 billion) in loans.  It is meant to help the country with its massive banking crisis that has sent the Celtic Tiger crawling back to its cage.  The money, however, comes with some conditions.

First, Ireland will have to repay the money at an average 5.8% interest rate, which is higher than the 5.2% Greece agreed to pay out. In other words, it is an astronomically high and unfair rate to enforce.  Even with reasonable growth, it would be unaffordable.  Speaking of growth, what are the other conditions?

Second, the EU and the IMF will require that Ireland engage in fiscal austerity.  With the pretext of reducing the deficit, the government will have to basically cut social spending. This is going to have horrendous effects on the Irish economy, especially affecting the working class.  Economist Robin Hahnel said, “This is going to do nothing but aggravate the recessionary pressures within those economies and … increase their rates of unemployment. Production is going to drop further, income will drop and that means tax revenues are going to drop.”  But, hey, what really is important is that the private investors and the richer nations, like Germany and the United States, get their money back. Also part of this austerity program involves raising the sales, or value-added, tax to 23 percent, while the government pledges not to raise the already low corporate tax from 12 percent. Political economist Leo Panitch describes this situation of inequality, and how the United States corporations play a role:

And I might point out that the American corporations that have been the largest investors in Ireland in terms of manufacturing investment and exports from Ireland are threatening they’ll pull out unless this 12 percent corporate tax is maintained. So you see the enormous class inequity that’s built into this, the enormous demonstrations that have taken place in Ireland. And they’re not new.

This is where Buffet’s brutally honest words come in.  The conditions of this bailout, and the circumstances that created the need for a bailout, amount to nothing less than class warfare; and unless popular forces can resist it, the capitalists and their states who are waging it are going to come out on top, at the expense of the great majority of the population.

It is here that the Irish people have a chance to shine, and they have already been getting the ball rolling.  On November 3rd, tens of thousands of students from all over Ireland flooded the streets of Dublin to protest the proposed increase of registration fees, even resulting in an occupation of the Department of Finance. On November 27th, over a 100,000 people came out on the streets of Dublin to protest the austerity measures.  It was organized by the mainstream, moderate trade union leaders, but they did so knowing that they had to—the people were angry.  Moreover, leftwing forces showed a strong showing, pointing out that more radical action is required if the Irish people are to weather the storm.  Furthermore, the Irish people can shine if they are able to mobilize even greater numbers of people, and create a situation where their voices are not only heard but action in their favor is taken.

To do this, they need a plan of action and an alternative.  Given the likely effects on the economy due to austerity, described above, Ireland’s best bet, according to economist Dean Baker, is to learn from Argentina and default on its debt and break from the euro.  He says,

Ireland should study the lessons of Argentina.  Breaking from the euro would have consequences, but it is getting increasingly likely that the pain from the break is less than the pain of staying in…What the people of Ireland and every country must realize is that if they agree to play by the bankers’ rules, they will lose.

Then, Ireland should nationalize its banking system and turn it into a public utility under the democratic control of the populace.  This does not mean merely putting public money into banks while demanding no executive powers. Panitch, discussing such a proposal for all countries, says, “I mean taking the banks properly into public ownership and changing the function of the banks, as Mitterrand did not do in France in the 1980s, so that the criteria on which they invest are redefined as social purposes, to be democratically determined.”

The people of Ireland are at a crossroads. They can accept austerity and watch their economic situation deteriorate; or they can take bold action and do what is necessary to limit the long-term suffering of the majority, as well as protect against further crises. They have the opportunity to set an example for the countries that are next on the austerity hit list—notably Spain and Portugal—and for the people in the richer countries, like the United States, as well. They can show us that when Warren Buffet’s class, the rich, capitalist class, wages war on the working class, there will be resistance, and we do have an alternative.[ii] Will they be able to exclaim with confidence, “We won’t pay! We will win!”?

[i] For the sake of this blog, I will use the term “Ireland” to describe the 26 counties that compromise the south of Ireland but are referred to as the “Republic of Ireland.”  The true Republic of Ireland also consists of the 6 counties of Northern Ireland that are still under colonial British rule.  Many of the progressive forces fighting austerity also seek a united 32 County Ireland, myself included.

[ii] This is a link to an article I wrote on an alternative economic system to capitalism, called participatory economics.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.

Recently, I got into a Facebook comment exchange with a longtime friend of mine from back home in Providence, RI.­  He identifies as a conservative.  I had posted an article that argued that a portion of the reason for the Republican Party gaining so many seats in Congress was that youth of color did not come out to vote in the same numbers as they did in 2008.  This, I argued, was another factor supporting the argument that the election results did not signify a conservative shift in the American populace; rather, it reflected the disillusionment and anger of voters who felt that President Obama and the Democrats did not deliver on the progressive change they had voted for.

This topic warrants its own post, and I probably will dedicate one to it. We’ll see.

What I want to discuss here is a comment that he made about taxes and the size of the government.  He decried the size of the government, and how they are becoming ever more invasive into our freedoms, mentioning as one example an excise and sales tax on alcohol.  I don’t know much about the size or extent of the tax he was talking about; however, it made me think about all of the recent hoopla over whether or not we need to cut taxes, and about the larger role of the government in all of it.

My friend ain’t no millionaire (Sorry, that’s how we see it back home!).  He comes from a working class family, and from 6th grade to 12th grade he went to the same public schools I did.  The point is, he is not benefiting from corporate tax breaks and cutting income taxes for the rich.   Leaving the rest of his political beliefs aside, some of that concern is valid—it’s not merely right wing blabber.  We are in an economic crisis, and we are being hit hard.  For the latter, I don’t include everyone in society. That “we” is regular working class people. Higher taxes on things that affect our everyday life are going to unfairly burden us with the brunt of paying for state and federal deficits.

Now, let’s take a look at two of the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—a “bipartisan” panel appointed by the President and charged with the task of coming up with solutions to the nation’s long-run fiscal problems.  They proposed eliminating the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest.  These are tax breaks that Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, says, “whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans.” Krugman goes onto point out that the gained revenue will not be used to reduce the deficit, “but to allow sharp reductions in both the marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.”

I take issue with the use of that term, “middle-class,” which most often just refers to “middle-income” working class people; however, the picture is clear. Here, Krugman is spot on again:

It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?

What we have is yet another example where working Americans has to bear the brunt of the economic crisis, while the wealthy consolidate their wealth.  It is measures like these that give can validate the calls for “smaller government” and fuel anti-tax hysteria.  It also, if implemented, will probably contribute to a weakening of the economy and an increase in the budget deficit because: 1) working class people will have less money to spend, thereby lowering demand; 2) the rich people are less-likely to put that newfound money into the economy; and 3) tax flows from the wealthy will diminish leading to a decrease in government revenue and probably increase long-term deficits.

The problem is that measures like these are pursued because the Democrats are not willing to do what is necessary—due to them being controlled by financial and corporate interests—and after the midterm elections, they do not have the ability to even if they wanted.   Absent of increased taxes on the wealthiest 1-5% and a massive fiscal stimulus, the tab has to be picked up by us.  Republicans are able take advantage of this fact—though once they also fail, or even make things worse, it could be a different story.

This is what people like my friend do not get. It is not a matter of “small government” or “big government”—do those preaching small government speak out against the massively funded military industrial complex or militarized borders?  It is a matter of whose interests the government is serving; it is about political power. And the reality is that our economic system of capitalism relies on a strong government to rescue the elite that run it when they overplay their hand.

Until we can mount a counter-force to corporate interests controlling government by building a social and political movement, and eventually think beyond the limits of our current economic arrangement to imagine a system based on equitable cooperation and true freedom, working people will always be the hand that holds the silver spoon.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.

Today is Election Day, and we could quite possibly see many changes in Congress and in governships. It’s just not the kind of change that President Obama and his supporters were hoping for. See, the Democrats are on track to lose seats in both the House and the Senate, with a very good chance of losing control of one or both of them.   The writing has been on the wall for months, as unemployment continues to remain high and foreclosures hit record numbers.  This has made people angry, very angry, and they are targeting their anger at the party in power—the Democrats.

The most visible, and I stress visible, example of citizen outrage has been the Tea Party.  Some have argued that their size and strength are not as massive as the media has made it out to be.  Regardless, their message has received immense media coverage. Tea Party supporters not only call for a reduction in government spending and tower taxes but also accuse the President of being a socialist. The latter, and of course the former, are most vocally expressed by Fox News personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck.

The first casualty of voter backlash happened in January, in Massachusetts, when Republican Scott Brown, in a special election, won the vacant U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy—a hero among liberal Democrats.  Brown campaigned on a platform that railed against the healthcare bill and decried the woes of government spending.  Now enter organized labor.

The very next day, the president of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka, released a video discussing the results in Massachusetts.  He rightfully pointed out that pundits in the corporate media were going to attribute the outcome to voters punishing the Democrats for overreaching in policy-making, when the opposite is true.  For example, on issues like healthcare, many Americans feel that the bill did not go far enough!  Trumka stressed that working people feel like Wall Street and the bankers are being taken care of but working people are not.  He said that Scott Brown’s victory should be a wake-up call to both Democrats and Labor.  It signaled that people want action and not excuses.  It was an excellent address.   However, what kind of action would Labor take as part of their wake-up call?

Well, even before the Brown victory, Trumka threatened to cut support for Democrats who didn’t push for a more comprehensive healthcare bill and who didn’t back the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Specifically concerning healthcare, Trumka issued a threat:

Well, we need to send them a special message: it’s that you may have forgotten what the labor movement did to get you elected; but, by God, we never will! And if you stab us in the back on health care this year don’t you dare ask us for our support next year!

Fast forward to the present. What has happened? Healthcare passed without a public option, EFCA is not even being talked about, and the government is not taking adequate measures to spur job creation—like something along the lines of a public works project of some sort.  Then, don’t forget that we have two wars going on and something called climate change. Oh, boy! Watch out! Labor must be planning to run more progressive candidates against Democratic incumbents who did not follow through, right? Wrong.

Instead, all of the blame is being put only on Republicans and Fox News.  Labor is scrambling, at the tune of millions of dollars, to get the very same Democrats who should be on the chopping block re-elected.  Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this situation?  Didn’t these people betray us?

I am in no way advocating that Labor throw their support behind the Republicans as a way to smite the Democrats. I am saying that if Labor truly wants to fight on behalf of working-class people, it needs to be able to flex its muscle and make good on its promises (and threats).  Otherwise, our elected officials have no reason to listen to us.  As Trumka, himself, noted, Americans truly want change in a progressive direction.  The labor movement should be at the forefront of providing a vehicle for that change, and to get on that path, the unions out there might want to question their relationship to the Democratic Party.

I would also like to make a suggestion to labor leaders and rank-and-file workers, alike.  We should always work to get the most pro-labor candidates in office, but time after time, we see politicians fall very short on their promises. There is a way, however, to increase the chances that our voices are heard and our demands met. And that way is to mobilize the power we have as workers outside of the ballot box.  Sometimes we need to vote with our feet in the streets.  We could definitely learn from our fellow workers in France about that.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.