From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
Related Categories: California | Labor & Workers
Slaving for the Progressives
by repost
Tuesday May 17th, 2005 12:08 PM
For all its political rhetoric, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is like any other business, but instead of the profits going to the shareholders, they go to the Democratic Party. In Marxist terms, GCI was able to hand over $22 million to the party instead of the targeted $5 million by extracting surplus labor value from its workers.
Commentary: Slaving for the Progressives

Remember the old progressive values: better working conditions, shorter work weeks, higher wages? These issues hark back to the capital “P” Progressive Era, when workers struggled to win decent wages and working conditions from the Robber Barons. The movement made great gains in the early and middle 20th century, and fell victim to its own success as its core values became less important, nearly forgotten altogether. These issues ought to be front and center on the progressive stage once again. American middle class incomes have been stagnant for 30 years, and income inequality is the highest it’s been since the Gilded Age of laissez faire capitalism.

Sure, we’re all for saving the whales and the spotted owls and the snail darters and the medflies. Sure, we want clean air and clean water. But meanwhile, we all have to eat and pay the bills.

If you think that the main problem in American society is economic justice, take a look at Boston-based Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., which has offices in major California cities. Their motto is “Building grassroots support for progressive candidates, parties, and campaigns.” And, they have been spectacularly successful at it. In 2004, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. had a target of raising five million dollars for the Democratic Party. They ended up raising $22 million!

How did they do it? By exploiting their workers to a degree that would make John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie beam with approval. The starting annual salary at Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is $24,000.

But, as they say on late-night TV, “Wait, there’s more.” More, more, more hours of toil. For this princely sum of $24,000, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. expects its employees to work 60 to 70 hours a week, seven days a week. This works out to an hourly rate that is barely above the minimum wage in Massachusetts and California, and well below San Francisco’s “living wage.”

Worse working conditions, longer work weeks, lower wages. Right on, man!

For all its political rhetoric, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is like any other business, but instead of the profits going to the shareholders, they go to the Democratic Party. In Marxist terms, GCI was able to hand over $22 million to the party instead of the targeted $5 million by extracting surplus labor value from its workers. Obviously, the less you pay the workers and the more you work them, the more money you get to keep for your own purposes. But of course, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is fighting the good fight for the progressive cause—for the party—and we must all make sacrifices for the revolution, comrade. The ends justify the means, as usual.

I recently attended what I expected to be a traditional job interview at GCI’s offices in Berkeley. Instead, it turned out to be a mass indoctrination session, where we were told how wonderful it was going to be to adopt this “lifestyle choice.” Now if that isn’t Doublespeak, I don’t know what is. You have the “freedom” to choose “slavery.”

Most of the attendees either had or were about to receive political science degrees, so they should have had a course in political economy somewhere along the way, and they should have learned all that Marxist stuff about surplus labor value and rates of exploitation. I guess they didn’t let all that education go to their heads. But I’m an old horse, and when they saw that I wasn’t buying the Party line, they whisked me out of the building as though I had a plague that was about to spread to the rest of the herd.

For my money, these so-called progressives at Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. are worse than the capitalists.

Farms? In Berkeley? You bet... Animal Farm.
by reader
Tuesday May 17th, 2005 1:50 PM
BDP usually has pretty good stuff, and I thought this was one of the better ones, esp since it shows what the Dems are all about.
by x329401
Tuesday Jun 28th, 2005 12:04 PM
GCI - meet IWW.

" Answer: Time to Organize.
by Confused
Sunday Jul 3rd, 2005 3:20 PM
I just got a job at GCI, and I knew about the long hours. The only reason I took the job was because I thought I was working for a good cause. So, am I the devil now? Did I just sign a pact with satan? Should I not take this job? But unemployment sucks though. I wanted to work at a good company that tried to help out people. I hate capitalists, and now I'm worse than them? I feel like killing myself. What should I do?
by Confused
Sunday Jul 3rd, 2005 3:36 PM
I've searched the web for Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. job listings. And most of them appears in progressive sites like,,, etc. Also GCI is often listed as a non-profit. Misleading? When I got the job at GCI, they did not tell me my salary was comission based. They only said I'd be earning around 350-550 per week. I don't know, I'll take the job. I'm broke. I wish I could work 5 hrs a day, 4 days a week for 40,000/year. But I don't shy away from hard work. Slavery? Hope not. But if it is, I'll quit.
by confused
Sunday Jul 3rd, 2005 3:54 PM
I guess a job at GCI is still better than a job killing baby seals. Please visit
by Thomas Gangale
(teg [at] Thursday Jul 28th, 2005 12:52 PM
<p>Dear "Confused,"

<p>I'd be interested in hearing how GCI is working out for you. Feel free to email me.

by Robin
Thursday Jan 3rd, 2008 4:30 PM
As someone who works for another canvassing organization, I have to say that this is a completely unbalanced article that doesn't present the reality of canvassing. I'd like to add my perspective.

First of all, when you mention the starting salary, that is clearly for a canvass director position, not the base canvassing position. Canvass directors run the office - I am one. I will make about 25K this year after taxes when you add in bonuses from my own fundraising. Everyone has their own needs and expectations about salaries; in my experience this has been plenty of money for me to live a comfortable and independent lifestyle as a recent college graduate, as well as saving a bit. I have benefits, sick days, floating holidays, and paid vacation as well as an annual week long paid organizational retreat at a ski resort. I have the opportunity to attend national trainings all across the country - I've been to Denver, Boston and Minneapolis all in the last 6 months. I work hard - typically around 50 hours a week during the winter and up to 60 in the summer, never the 70 claimed in this article. I like a challenge, and I like that this job has given me more responsibility than many other recent-grad positions.

Canvassers often make MORE money than the directors, because they typically bonus off of fundraising more. Canvassers are never paid below minimum wage under any circumstances, nor are they expected to work more than 40 hours a week. They are paid overtime for any extra hours they work. Canvassers DO NOT work 70 hours a week. At my organization, canvassers who stick around for awhile can get benefits, paid health care and vacation. Canvassing is also hard work, but I think it is valuable. For most canvassers, this is their first political involvement outside a classroom or college setting. In my experience, they typically make more money than they would at other jobs for people in their late teens or early 20s (retail, coffee shops, etc) and it is much more meaningful. Most canvassers like the fact that they talk to people everyday about important issues.

The sarcastic tone of the article and references to "the party" make it seem like canvassing organizations are some sort of cult. Everyone has their own ideas about what "propaganda" is... I've never felt I was being propagandized or being made to "drink the kool aid". In fact, I think the trainings are pretty informative.

Canvassing isn't perfect, but it is one good way of providing entry level political jobs and of mobilizing citizens and resources for great organizations.
by LnNY
Friday Feb 1st, 2008 8:02 AM
I'm far older than the average worker at GCI, but being a political junkie and having just been laid off of my corporate job I decided to take the job because it is supposed to be meaningful.

The particular campaign I worked a whopping three days on was for ACLU memberships. It turned out to be panhandling under the guise of political action.

Although the cause is good, the business model used by GCI is definitely CORPORATE, complete with still wet-behind-the-ears staffers that are inept office managers. If I was wanted to deal with arrogant people in charge I would have gone right back into the corporate world.

In any event, I couldn't collect more than $62 in the three days I worked so I was told not to come back. I wasn't told that I should come back to pick up a paycheck, nor was I advised that a paycheck was waiting in their office for me to pick up. No one called, no one sent the check or notification to pick it up so I never even knew I had one until I received a W-2 in the mail saying they PAID me some money.

When I called the office to find out where my check was and why they didn't send it, the smarmy 12 y/o who answered the call implied that I must have forgotten to come pick it up.

GCI dishes out the same corporate crap to its ever-changing canvassers that other corporations do w/out any of the benefits... like your own desk & computer and free ginger ale, and milk or cream for your free coffee!
by Will Lutwick
Thursday Jun 26th, 2008 3:04 PM
As a veteran of the Peace Corps and Vista from many years ago, where I received less than minimum wage for charitable work and service to my country, I resent the way the author looks at this. This is about working for a cause, it's not about exploiting labor. Nobody is forcing these people to do this work and it's valuable experience. Think of it as interning. You want to get into politics, you have to start somewhere. This is about volunteering. Thankfully there are still some young adults who think making a difference in the world is more important than a fat salary and perks.
by Dr. Dungheap
Friday Dec 19th, 2008 8:54 AM
Volunteering is great, I've done plenty of it. But being exploited by a FOR PROFIT fundraising corporation is bullshit.
These companies aren't saving the environemt or stopping poverty, they're making a tidy profit raising money for org's that do.

I've canvassed before, and it sucks. Your idealism is commodified and then squeezed for everything it's worth.

Kinda like selling papers for the 'comrades'...

We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


donate now

$ 95.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network