Ellen David Friedman

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Ellen David Friedman

Template:TOCnestleft Ellen David Friedman is a Vermont activist. She is married to Stuart Friedman. She is a retired organizer for Vermont NEA and a member of the Labor Notes board.


Ellen David Friedman was born in New York City in 1952 and graduated from Harvard University in 1974. After moving to Vermont as a full time resident in 1974, she held positions with the Vermont Alliance, Chelsea Country Store, United Electrical Workers Union, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Between 1986 and 2007 she was been employed by Vermont - NEA (National Education Association). She was a founding member of the Rainbow Coalition of Vermont in 1984 and was a member of its first steering committee. She was also elected National Committeewoman for the Vermont Democratic Party in 1984. She was active in efforts to elect Jesse Jackson president of the United States in 1988 and Bernie Sanders governor of Vermont in 1986 and U.S. Congress in 1988.[1]


In the late 1970s, Ellen David Friedman was a member of the New American Movement.

Rainbow Coalition

In 1986 Ellen David Friedman of Vermont was on the Credentials Committee at the Founding Convention of the National Rainbow Coalition.[2]

Socialist Scholars Conference

Ellen David Friedman, Progressive Vermont Alliance; Max Elbaum, Managing Editor, CrossRoads; Robert Fitrakis, Columbus Democratic Socialists of America; Irwin Silber, Editorial Board, CrossRoads and James Steele, Breakthrough Political Consulting Services were speakers on the The '92 Elections & Left Electoral Strategies panel sponsored by CrossRoads at the Tenth Annual Socialist Scholars Conference. The conference was held April 24-26, 1992 at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City.[3]

1993 NCIPA National Steering Committee

As of Spring 1993, the National Committee for Independent Political Action Steering Committee included Ellen David Friedman.

New Party builder

New Party News Fall 1994 listed over 100 New Party activists-"some of the community leaders, organizers, retirees,, scholars, artists, parents, students, doctors, writers and other activists who are building the NP" the list included Ellen David Friedman, Vermont-NEA


In the mid 2000s, veteran Vermont activists Ellen David Friedman and Stuart Friedman taught community organizing to university students in southern China while also quietly working with labor groups not sanctioned by the communist government. In 2007, the East Montpelier partners left their respective Green Mountain jobs — Ellen as an organizer for the Vermont teachers’ union and as vice-chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, Stuart as a clinical social worker at Central Vermont Hospital — in order to focus more intensively on their work in the People’s Republic. Their ambitious aim is to help mitigate the negative effects of the global market economy model espoused by Gov. James Douglas and the Vermont business leaders who recently concluded a joint prospecting trip to China.[4]

My fond hope is that I can work with people in trade unions and share my experiences in Western labor-organizing practices and collective bargaining,” David-Friedman says. Ellen, 55, and Stuart, 59, will return in August to the Pearl River Delta region where they have lived for a few months each year since their son, Eli Friedman, began studying Chinese there in 2000. The couple received faculty appointments in Guangzhou University’s social work department a couple of years ago because “social work is a new field in China and there was a need for foreign teachers,” David-Friedman explains. The couple will return to Vermont next February.
Though organizing comes easy to the diminutive, irrepressible David-Friedman, she regards the present period as among the worst of times in terms of workers’ movements. Still, that’s no reason to despair, she says, citing the axiom of 19th-century Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will.
Not long after visiting Eli for the first time, David-Friedman got involved with small independent groups that were raising money in Hong Kong to support efforts to improve working conditions in the People’s Republic. These grassroots Chinese organizers work cautiously outside the aegis of the government-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions to try to enforce minimum-wage guarantees as well as occupational safety and health standards.

As a labor organizer from the world’s leading capitalist country, she gently prods her students to ask questions about the direction taken by a society founded on principles of economic equity. David-Friedman notes ruefully that most of the students say they have little use for the Marxist worldview that she regards as essential to understanding history and politics. China’s unconditional embrace of the private market has made socialist theory seem irrelevant to many Chinese. “The state is presumed not to be challengeable,” David-Friedman observes. “The state is considered to have full responsibility for making decisions about the country’s economic development — which is really a way of saying its move to marketize everything.”
It was this grand vision, along with the day-to-day excitement of teaching and organizing in China, that led David-Friedman to leave her 20-year-long job with the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association. Her absence will be sorely felt, says Vermont NEA director Joel Cook. He says her “key achievement” was organizing hundreds of support staffers in the state’s public schools. “Ellen brought a unique perspective to the work of this association,” Cook comments. “She is unrelenting in her dedication to the interests of working people and issues of social justice.”
Similarly, in her leadership roles with the Progressive Party, David-Friedman gets major credit for electoral gains outside the Burlington area.

Liu Cheng connection

In 2007 Ellen David Friedman raised funds for and organized a three-week speaking tour of the United States by Liu Cheng, a Shanghai scholar and a principal architect of the government-backed labor-reform legislation.

Cheng had denounced an arm-twisting exercise by American and European corporations that had already succeeded in weakening the proposed reforms. Cheng accused Western business associations based in Shanghai of impinging on China’s national sovereignty by implying they might move their investments to a more pliable Asian country, such as Pakistan, if wages and workers’ protections were elevated in Chinese factories.

The whirlwind U.S. tour, which included more than 40 meetings with trade union leaders and government officials, “had quite an impact,” David-Friedman recounts. She says Cheng was subsequently able to help prevent further dilution of the proposed reforms because he could plausibly argue that his hang-tough position enjoyed support in sections of American society.

David-Friedman points to the Chinese government’s move to improve working conditions as one reason why she feels “empathy” for the People’s Republic. China meets some of the standards for a socialist nation, she says. And China does not conform to many Americans’ depiction of it as a monolithically repressive and exploitative state. “Sure, there are sweatshops” and strict limitations on individual freedom, David-Friedman concedes. But there’s much more to China than that, she adds. Communist Party apparatchiks and overseers at Guangzhou University have never attempted to censor her or Stuart’s teaching, David-Friedman points out. “We can say anything we want to in the classroom,” she notes.

But China’s communist revolution has gone off the rails, David-Friedman adds. The party “has divorced itself, tragically, from allowing itself to be led by the needs of workers,” she adds. But maybe, in some small measure, these Vermont Progressives can help put the world’s largest country back on the track toward socialism.[5]

Open letter to Andy Stern

On May 1 2008, Ellen David Friedman, Founder of the Vermont Workers Center and former VEA Staff Member signed an open letter to SEIU president Andy Stern in protest at SEIU move to force its local United Healthcare Workers into trusteeship.

"We are writing to express our deep concern about SEIU's threatened trusteeship over its third largest local, United Healthcare Workers (UHW). We believe that there must always be room within organized labor for legitimate and principled dissent, if our movement is to survive and grow. Putting UHW under trusteeship would send a very troubling message and be viewed, by many, as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU. In our view, this would have negative consequences for the workers directly affected, the SEIU itself, and the labor movement as a whole. We strongly urge you to avoid such a tragedy."

On Chinese labor

Boston Democratic Socialists of America member, Paul Garver, as a consultant to the International Union of Food Workers, wrote an article "Chinese Labor: Epic Struggle in the Pearl River Delta" for the Democratic Socialists of America magazine Democratic Left, Fall 2008, on Chinese labor struggles. He thankedd Anita Chan, Jenny Chan, Ellen David Friedman and Cathy Walker for their comments on the report.[6]

Labor Notes

In 2009 Ellen David Friedman, Vermont Workers Center was a member of the Labor Notes policy committee[7].

Left Forum 2013

Panel Title: From Chinatown to China - Building Grassroots Solidarity through Organizing

Moderator: Helena Wong: CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities


Unionizing baristas

Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America November 27, 2017;


Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America Presents # 772: “Labor Day Awards 2017” Rob Brown, Sam Mason, Pete Meyers, Ellen David Friedman, Megan Graham, Shoshe Cole, Rachel Gunderson, David Kornreich, Dave Marsh, Angela Cornell, Leni Hochman, Eric Evans and Lindsay Mercer tell us about unionizing baristas at Gimme!, the Ithaca College faculty fired three, help from the Cornell Labor Law Clinic, workers supporting the Robin Fund, unionbusting at Cornell, and bad building practices of Cayuga Medical Center. Recorded September 4, 2017.

Supporting teacher unionists

Ellen David Friedman July 31 2018:


In West Virginia continuing to build up power with these inspiring teacher unionists. Blue cities and red states together! — with Vanessa Arredondo-Aguirre, Rebecca Fligelman Garelli, Carrie Beatty, Natalia Bacchus, Becky Tarlau, Lori Brown Burris, Brian Bowman, Olivia Morris, Barbara Madeloni, Emily Comer, Jenny Craig, Vera Miller, Jia Lee, Kelley Collings, Kevin Prosen, Eric Blanc, Shira Cohen, Jay O'Neal, Ryan Bruckenthal, Angelina Cruz, Debby Pope and Michelle Strater Gunderson.

Re-visiting the Rainbow Coalition


Join a discussion with organizers from the 1984 and 1988 Rainbow Coalition

Thank you all for joining our Left Unity call in May, about electoral strategies. We will be sending out a report on the call soon.

In the meantime, we wanted to extend an invitation to you to join an online discussion on Thursday, June 28, at 5:30 pm Pacific / 8:30 pm Eastern, with left organizers from the Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow was a multiracial progressive formation that propelled Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.

The discussion is hosted by our friends at Organizing Upgrade...

The current list of panelists includes Bill Gallegos, Jamala Rogers, Ellen David Friedman, Ted Glick, and Cathi Tactaquin, with Bill Fletcher and Rishi Awatramani moderating.

The panel will attempt to draw out lessons from the Rainbow years for left movement activists today that are once again attempting to build independent political power through electoral strategies and also contest for power within the Democratic Party.