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The 25 Biggest Progressive Victories in 2012

It wasn't all doom and gloom.

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8. Expanding Same-Day Voter Registration. Add California to the list of states that allow voters to register and vote on election day - a victory for democracy. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing Californians to register to vote up to and including Election Day. (The current deadline is 15 days before an election). Common Cause, which sponsored the measure and shepherded it through the state legislature, says it could  boost voter rolls by an estimated 8 percent. Republicans opposed the bill, warning about the potential of widespread voter fraud, even though there's no evidence of fraud in the eight other states - Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming - that already have election day registration laws. States with such laws generally have higher levels of voter turnout, especially among low-income and young voters.

9. We're Getting Greener All the Time. In Los Angeles, a coalition of unions, environmentalists and public health activists (including the Teamsters, the National Resources Defense Council and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) persuaded the mayor and city council to adopt their "Don't Waste LA" plan, an historic reform of the city's commercial waste system that will require waste companies to get a city permit to haul trash from businesses and apartment buildings, improve working conditions for garbage haulers, dramatically expand recycling and create thousands of green jobs. The victory builds on the same blue-green coalition that over the past several years waged a successful campaign to clean up pollution at the dirty Los Angeles port and improve working conditions for the port's truck drivers. Nationwide protests, including civil disobedience at the White House, pressured the Obama administration to delay - and perhaps to stop - construction of the 1700 Keystone  XL pipeline connecting oil sand mines in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. Despite the administration's waffle on the pipeline project, it adopted two significant new environmental regulations - tightening  air quality standards for fine particulate matter and doubling vehicle fuel  efficiency standards to 54.5 miles-per-gallon by 2025 (which will save Americans $1.7 trillion at the gap pump) and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In June, a federal appellate court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, a move that corporate America had opposed.

10. Walmart Workers on the March. The first-ever strike by Walmart workers that began in October in a few California stores spread to over 100 cities around the country by the day after Thanksgiving, the nation's biggest shopping day. Tens of thousands of consumers, community activists and union members demonstrated their support in rallies and some acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, drawing widespread media attention. The United Food and Commercial Workers helped catalyze the protest, sponsored by Our Walmart, a network of the big box store's employees. Around the country and around the world, Walmart, the world's largest private employer, is increasingly on the defensive as its corporate practices come to light - not only paying poverty-level wages but also putting profits above worker safety by contracting with dangerous sweatshops in Bangladesh (where 112 workers died in a factory fire) and elsewhere to make its  clothes and toys, bribing Mexican officials to expand its  retail empire and selling more  guns and ammunition than any other retailer in the United States.

11. Fast-Food and Domestic Workers Gain Momentum. The past year, 2012, is likely to be seen as the year that the labor movement developed new strategies and made significant headway in organizing low-wage workers, not only those who toil for the behemoth Walmart, but also domestic workers and workers in the fast-food industry. In October, workers at McDonalds, Burger King and other fast-food chains in New York City staged a walkout to demand better pay and the right to unionize. Viewing these food-chain workers as a large and growing sector of exploited workers, the Service Employees International Union and New York Communities for Change joined forces to help coordinate the walkouts. Like farmworkers, most of America's 1.8 million domestic workers - nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers - are  not covered by federal wage, overtime, union-organizing, and other labor laws. Many toil 12 to 15 hours a day and get paid less than $200 per week. The  first-ever study of this invisible workforce, released in November by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), a national network of groups in 17 cities and 11 states found that 23 percent of domestic workers made less than their state's minimum wage (which must be at least $7.25 an hour). Among live-in workers, 67 percent earned below the minimum, 65 percent had no health insurance, about 82 percent had no paid sick days and 25 percent said their jobs made it impossible to get five hours of uninterrupted sleep. Thanks to the NDWA, New York State passed the first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. Last year the California legislature adopted a similar measure, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in October. The activists plan to regroup and push for the bill this year in California and several other states.

 
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