Gwen Mills

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Gwen Mills is a Connecticut activist.

Background

She grew up in East Rock a few houses from where she now lives. Her father, who was raised in upstate New York, attended Yale on a scholarship in the 1960s, met her mother in New Haven, and stayed.

Mills said she didn’t come from a union household; both her parents were small business people.

Mills went to Cornell University. At a university known for its school of labor relations, Mills put together an interdisciplinary major, mostly in the sciences. She graduated in 1997.

Only upon returning to New Haven did Mills become interested in labor issues. After holding a series of unremarkable jobs, she became in 2000 an organizer for the Connecticut Center for New Economy, a not-for-profit labor affiliated organization devoted to urban issues. CCNE is affiliated with UNITE HERE.

CCNE’s medical debt campaign dominated her six years there and shaped her political outlook, Mills said. After workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital complained that the hospital had put liens on their houses when they couldn’t pay their medical bills, CCNE launched an investigation and political campaign. The drive took five years; it resulted in the lifting of the liens and a new state law that reins in hospital’s aggressive collection practices and requires better access to charity care.

“I saw that when people get together they can make significant change,” Mills said. She said it also taught her the “the courage and integrity of people facing an issue in their lives and taking action.”

When UNITE HERE’s political director left in 2007, Mills assumed that position.

She became more deeply involved in electoral politics in 2008. At the behest of the union, Mills joined 45 other union officials and members registering voters in southern and western Virginia on behalf of the Obama campaign. Mills said her areas of the state had been so resistant to integration that rather than desegregate, some communities had shut down their public schools entirely for as long as seven years.[1]

90th Anniversary of the Communist Party USA/People’s World Amistad award

The diverse and inspired overflow crowd stayed to the end of the remarkable celebration of People's World Amistad Award honorees Anna Montalvo, Gwen Mills and Art Perry on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party USA, Dec. 2009. The theme of the event was "Keep the Ball Rolling....to win jobs with union rights, health care, peace and equality!" Unity and struggle were the messages of the day.

Bill Collins of the Rabble Rousers got everyone going with his new song "Health Care is Our Right," followed by a film, "Building on 90 Years of Struggle," which highlighted Connecticut struggles and activists and the role of the Communist Party for People before Profits policies. Everyone enjoyed all the photos.

Beto Castillo performed two Mexican songs to the delight of all. And then it was time for the award presentations.

Event chair Paul Neal presented Anna Montalvo, president of AFSCME Local 1522 in Bridgeport with citations from the New Haven Board of Aldermen and the Connecticut General Assembly. As he presented the large framed Amistad Award, AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano brought out how strong Anna has been in leading a large local with many different worksites including public works where the guys had to learn to take leadership from a woman.

New Haven Aldermen Jackie James and Allan Brison presented the citations to Gwen Mills, political field director of Unite-Here unions for Connecticut and Rhode Island. Shirley Lawrence, lead organizer for Connecticut Center for a New Economy, recalled their ten years of working together and praised Gwen's decision to be a part of the labor movement as she presented the Amistad Award. Gwen spoke of her family and her union in accepting, and recalled many efforts with the New Haven People's Center over the years.

The 90th anniversary of the Communist Party proud was done proud![2]

Political activist

Gwen Mills , a 37-year-old union organizer who has quietly developed a reputation as a top campaign strategist, was racing around New Haven keeping tabs on 15 Democratic Party primary elections in September 2011. The union she works for—UNITE HERE, whose locals represent Yale’s blue-collar and pink-collar workers, its graduate students and two other unions—had recruited or backed candidates for alderman in all those races in a bid to take on candidates backed by City Hall, and try to shake up New Haven’s strong-mayor one-party government in the process.

Mills had just been inside Frank Douglass’ second-floor apartment, which served as the campaign’s headquarters, going over a wall-full of lists of people the campaign had targeted to get out to vote. Douglass, a member of Yale’s blue-collar UNITE HERE Local 35, was one of the few union candidates on the 15-member pro-labor slate who had run for office before, four years ago in the same Dwight neighborhood.

“We’re ahead but we need to be more ahead than we are,” his campaign coordinator, Anna Robinson-Sweet, had explained to Mills and other workers crammed into the upstairs apartment. “We can win or lose in the next few hours, so we’ve got to get out there and drag people to the polls.”

Douglass ended up wining decisively, beating the incumbent and City Hall-backed Doug Bethea 358 to 172.

It was one victory among many Tuesday night that even Mills, political field director in Connecticut for the North American union UNITE HERE, described as “astonishing.” Her team took on entrenched power—and walked away winning a stunning 14 of 15 races.

And Mills, who helped Daniel Malloy become governor last year and Barack Obama take Virginia two years earlier, had a lot to do with that. She might not have the title “party chair.” Her allies might not be called a “town committee.” But they assembled a strong team of new faces to run for office. They flooded the streets with workers who identified likely voters and brought them to the polls. They spent enough money to take on a machine that had over $425,000 at its disposal.[3]

References

  1. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/mills_leads_un/, New Haven Independent, How Labor Beat City Hall, by Laurel Leff | Sep 15, 2011]
  2. http://www.peoplesworld.org/new-haven-people-s-world-amistad-award-celebration-big-success/, PW, New Haven People’s World Amistad award celebration big success, December 8 2009]
  3. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/mills_leads_un/, New Haven Independent, How Labor Beat City Hall, by Laurel Leff | Sep 15, 2011]