Oakland Socialist Disrupts The Process

This evening, “my” state assemblymember, Rob Bonta – a good liberal Democrat – held a fraudulent town hall meeting in Oakland. After giving a nice speech about what wonderful things he is doing in Sacramento, he started to accept written questions. This was just a nice photo opportunity for him and a chance for some people to figure out how to feather their own nests — all while the rich are getting richer and everybody else poorer, the world is being destroyed, and the bombs are being rained down on the people of Gaza. So at that point, just as he started to read the written questions, I disrupted the meeting.

When the process is criminal, only accomplices remain silent.

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San Francisco Protest Against Israeli Atrocities in Gaza

On Sunday, July 20 in San Francisco, some 4-6,000 people protested Israeli atrocities in Gaza. Here is a short video of that protest.

Posted in Middle East, rebellion, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Treatment of Africans in Israel

Well worth watching.

Posted in Middle East, racism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Open Letter to Comrades in Socialist Alternative


Dear Comrades:

Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council both increased the mood of workers in and around Seattle and increased the interest in socialism. We supported her campaign, argued in favor of voting for her, and some of us made substantial donations to her campaign. We were elated when she got elected. However, every step forward comes not only with new opportunities, but also new problems and, yes, new potential dangers. In this case, we are worried that Kshama has gotten too close to the union leadership and also is not clearly enough distancing herself from the liberal Democrats on some key issues.

  • At the 15 Now conference in Seattle last April, the leadership of the hotel workers union appeared on behalf of the hotel owners. They wanted the union hotels exempted from the $15 per hour minimum wage. Their position was that they could not make the hotels pay this increased wage plus keep paying the same amount for health care benefits. Instead of arguing that we have to build a movement that makes the hotel owners and all employers do both, Kshama simply supported the position of the union leadership. We think this was a mistake. We are also told by city officials that it’s possible that union workers will be exempted from the new ordinance. We think Kshama should bring this out in the open and campaign against this. What is the purpose of having a union if it means lower wages?

  • When a Kathleen O’Toole, former capitalist and, before that police commissioner in Boston, was appointed police commissioner in Seattle, Kshama correctly enough voted “no”. However, her statement on the issue was unclear at best. She implied support for O’Toole’s “tiered” approach for the use of police repression. This is simply unacceptable. And she praised O’Toole for her “openness” in answering questions. We wonder if O’Toole was questioned about the repressive and also racist methods of the Boston police.

  • Shortly after that, a young Latino man, Oscar Giron, was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Seattle. For over a week, the Seattle police withheld video of the event as well as refused to turn the body over to Oscar’s family. Meanwhile, there were protests organized by the family. We think Kshama, or at least somebody from her office, should have been at the protest and that she should have made a public statement, at the very least demanding that the video and the body be turned over immediately. Unfortunately, she has been silent on this issue to this very day. When we were writing an article on this for this blog site, we contacted Kshama’s office for a comment. We were told they had been “too busy” to even discuss the issue. This issue of police brutality and police murders as well as the issue of mass incarceration of black and Latino people is the central issue of repression in US society. Socialists – especially one in public office – should be the most outspoken on this question.

  • Now we have another issue: Israel’s murderous attack on Gaza as well as what has been happening in the West Bank and in Israel itself. Sawant is only a city official, but it is common for political figures at her level to participate in broader campaigns, make statements, etc. This is doubly so for her, since she is the most prominent socialist in the US. There have been two protests against Israel in Seattle recently. Kshama Sawant should have been there and should have spoken there.She should have made a public statement on the issue, introduced a resolution at the city council, etc. (SA has made a statement, but that is a different matter.)

One of the many children killed by the Israeli regime. Kshama Sawant should be clearly speaking up on this issue.

One of the many children killed or wounded by the Israeli regime. Kshama Sawant should be clearly speaking up on this issue.

This is extremely disappointing. Domestically, she won’t speak up clearly and unequivocally for the most oppressed layer of society – those who come into contact with our criminal (in)justice system, especially Latino and Black people. Internationally, when this huge crime against humanity is being conducted in Gaza, when little children are being targeted, when even worse is developing – Kshama Sawant is publicly silent. A clear statement on this issue by Sawant would attract attention and might actually influence some people in the US who are confused on the issue. It could also help strengthen a socialist perspective among pro-Palestinian supporters here.

Instead, Kshama Sawant is missing in action. If this continues, there will be major disappointment among many people who originally supported her. This silence will increase the cynicism and confusion that is so widespread already among both workers and young people.

It may sound harsh, but we have to ask: “What kind of socialism is this?”

We hope that members of Socialist Alternative ask within SA and inside the CWI why Kshama Sawant is not speaking out on these issues.


Posted in Minimum wage campaign, socialist movement | 2 Comments

Gaza and Israel: A World Turned Upside Down

child victim

It seems to be a world turned upside down and inside out.

A little boy with half his head blown off, a half dozen boys shelled by an Israeli naval ship while they are playing soccer on a beach in Gaza,

Mother reacts on learning that her son was one of those murdered by the Israeli navy while he was playing on the beach.

Mother reacts on learning that her son was one of those murdered by the Israeli navy while he was playing on the beach.

people nearly burned alive and others with limbs blown off, hundreds of homes destroyed and some 200 killed many more wounded, the criminal use of white phosphorous…. and the Israeli politicians claiming “Israel has acted with restraint.”

Year after year of an Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza, which includes preventing building materials from entering, sharp restrictions even on water supplies, sharply restricting Gaza fisherman from fishing in their own waters. And in the West Bank, theft after theft of Palestinians’ homes and lands and assault after assault on Palestinians (including on children) by the Israel’s settler thugs.

entire Israeli settler families are involved in these racist attacks

entire Israeli settler families are involved in these racist attacks

Result of Settler land theft in West Bank.

Result of Settler land theft in West Bank.

Checkpoint atrocities and humiliations without end…. And US President Obama talks about Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

The racist state of Israel has been carrying out creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank for years. Since siege is an act of war, it has been carrying out a war against the people of Gaza for years. Yet it is the “victim”.

Hamas is blamed for the rockets that have struck Israel, but Israel’s violating the cease-fire agreement of 2012 is ignored. They have continued the siege of Gaza as well as continued the attacks on Gazan farmers near the Israeli border and fishermen off the Gaza coast.  Hamas is blamed for not accepting the Egypt government proposed truce, that Hamas is saying that they want a truce that includes some real steps towards resolving the issues, including ending the siege. According to this narrative, Israel is completely the “good guy”.

The corporate-controlled media in the US helps this image along. The Wall St. Journal for instance, carried a report on events in Gaza/Israel on 7/16. The article concluded with the “heart rending” story of Ana Friedman, resident of Ashdod (in Israel) who returned from a rocket attack to find the floor of her home littered with shards of glass. “I started to cry,” she said. “It was sad and depressing.”

Israelis settling back in Sderot, enjoying watching the bombings of Gaza. They passed around pop corn while watching.

Israelis settling back in Sderot, enjoying watching the bombings of Gaza. They passed around pop corn while watching.

How is this woman’s story in any way even comparable to what has been happening to the people of Gaza over the last years, never mind at present? How does it even begin to compare to what happened to those boys who were shelled by the Israeli gun boat (an event that the US media has ignored, which is to say covered up)?

And so, the US “public” continues on its way, in general swallowing the distortions, lies and half truths that the corporate media pumps out regarding Israel. (This is especially ironic since polls indicate that only about 20% of the US population has confidence in this same media.)

Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC reporter, who reported on the Israeli gunboat that killed four Palestinian boys playing on the beach. Within 24 hours of his reporting on this, NBC pulled him out of the region. His problem is that he told the truth.

Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC reporter, who reported on the Israeli gunboat that killed four Palestinian boys playing on the beach. Within 24 hours of his reporting on this, NBC pulled him out of the region. His problem is that he told the truth.

Fox News joins headline on rockets from Gaza with photo of effects of Israeli bombing on Gaza, leaving what impression?

Fox News joins headline on rockets from Gaza with photo of effects of Israeli bombing on Gaza, leaving what impression?

Not Isolated Development

Many of those on both sides of this war against the Palestinian people tend to see this conflict in isolation: Either it is simply a matter of Hamas “terrorism” or one of Zionist racism and expansionism. This is mistaken; this war against the Palestinian people can only be understood – and therefore only be successfully opposed – if it is seen in its context, both regionally as well as historically.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has its origins in Yassir Arafat’s PLO. Originally, the PLO had a “military” strategy similar to that of Hamas today. But this “military” strategy – a campaign of bombings, etc. -  had no more chance of succeeding than did a similar strategy of the IRA in Northern Ireland or of the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid regime in South Africa. Fatah had to adopt this strategy because, financed as it was by the reactionary regimes of the region, it could never build a real workers’ movement. Behind this strategy lay the acceptance of capitalism, and once it got into power, it moved further and further towards accommodating itself to Israeli (and US) capitalism. The US government, for instance, basically finances the West Bank Palestinian police (to the tune of nearly $400 million and counting) and provides “training” and “advisors”.

Hamas’s Origins

Packed into the world’s largest open air prison and under the constant Israeli siege, the people of Gaza finally turned to Hamas to find a way forward. But who is Hamas? Founded in the second half of the 20th century, it was linked with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which itself was and is controlled by a layer of the Egyptian capitalist class. The move towards political/nationalist Islam received a boost after Israel’s smashing victory in the 1967 war with Egypt, in which the weakness of the secular Egyptian regime was revealed.

But the origins of Hamas have another side: “According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran…. Israel was certainly funding the group at that time.”

Since Hamas has come into power in Gaza, it seems to be undergoing a transformation similar to what the PLO underwent. In 2012 it signed a ceasefire accord with the Israeli regime. Although the Israeli regime never fully implemented their commitments – especially the lifting of the siege, as well as stopping its attacks on farmers near the border and on Gaza fishermen – Hamas did try to implement its commitments, especially trying to stop many of the rocket attacks. But as a capitalist-based group, it had no alternative to the “military” strategy that appeared serious or militant. Therefore, to the degree that it stopped the rocket attacks on Israel, to that same degree it started to lose the support of the most determined and angry of the Gazan youth.

Salafis Rise in the Region

Meanwhile, events were unfolding in the region and around the world. In particular, this means the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism/nationalism in the form of al Qaeda and related groups. And just as Israel supported and helped finance Hamas originally, so did US capitalism with al Qaeda, especially as it was seen as a tool to combat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And while Hamas’s roots lie in its links with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, this “new” Islamic fundamentalism/nationalism has its roots in what is called “Salafi-ism”. This school of thought preaches that the Koran must be taken literally, that Islamic society must return to the ways of the original founders of the religion, which includes a return to a strict interpretation of Islamic law (sharia). This includes cultural repression and extreme repression of half of the population (women) as well as all non-Muslims. Since the Salafis have their origin in the Sunni wing of Islam, it also means attacks on and repression of the Shia wing.

As we shall see, this development has directly affected events in Israel/Palestine.

The Salafis developed as a military force, especially in the next door neighbor to Israel – Syria. There, what was originally a revolt from below was transformed into a war by proxy between US and Western European capitalism (and their allies in the region) on one side vs. Russian and Iranian capitalism on the other (with the masses of Syrians caught and hammered in-between). Their military successes in Syria led to their military assault on western and northern Iraq. (See this article, for instance.)

“Success Breeds Success”

But as they say, “success breeds success”, and the military advances of this wing, especially as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which now calls itself simply “The Islamic State” (IS), started to attract a few youth in Gaza. This tendency was strengthened by the attempts of Hamas to stop or at least limit the rocket attacks (weak as they were) on Israel. There are several reports of such groups now starting to get a base inside Gaza, although Hamas denies this. (See, for instance this article.) One report  includes a video allegedly shot inside Gaza.

IS (ISIS) group allegedly inside Gaza

IS (ISIS) group allegedly inside Gaza

Also significant is the report of the death of Wadih Nafedh Wash, a Gazan young man, who was killed in Syria while fighting as a member of ISIS. According to this same report, the youth’s father ‘said that his son traveled to Syria because he was being pursued by security agents in the Gaza government for launching rockets at Israel. “Hamas’ Internal Security Agency arrested my son more than six times. The last time, he was severely tortured in prison and required physical treatment that lasted two months,” he said.”’ In other words, Wadih had turned to ISIS because Hamas is turning away from the only approach that seemed to be serious enough – the “military” strategy.

Nor should we forget the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youth in the West Bank and the subsequent kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian youth there, who was burned alive by Israeli fascists. Hamas was widely blamed for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youths, but they have denied responsibility. In fact, according to numerous reports a Salafi, and probably ISIS-linked group called “Dawlat al-Islam” (translation: “Liberators’ Battalion of Hebron”) has claimed credit. (It should also be noted that according to noted Israeli commentator Uri Avnery, this was a kidnapping gone awry – that the original intent was to hold them hostage in exchange for some Palestinian prisoners but that after one of the youths was able to make a cell phone call they were all killed.)

History Repeating Itself; “Military” Strategy a Failure

So we have the story repeating itself – from the PLO to Hamas and now to ISIS. Nationalist, but pro-capitalist – groups who can only appeal to the youth through terrorism. (We emphasize that the State of Israel remains the greatest terrorists in the region, but that is a different matter.) This so-called strategy will never succeed. The racist state of Israel will never be overthrown by military means. It will never be forced to give up power and control over Gaza, the West Bank or the Golan Heights (in Syria) by these means. It would create a nuclear holocaust first, so that even if it were possible (which it is not), what would be left but a smoking nuclear ruins?

And if groups like IS were able to take power, what sort of regime would they institute? Harsh repression of women, slaughter of those with religious differences (Shia’s, etc.), and complete repression of workers’ rights. (If IS seizes control of the oil refineries in Iraq, look for complete suppression of the oil workers’ unions, which historically have been the strongest sector of the Iraqi labor movement.)

Alternative to “Military” Strategy

There is another alternative to this “military” strategy. That is a class-based and truly revolutionary strategy. A hint of the potential was seen in the uprising in Syria, before that uprising was overwhelmed by the civil war. There, in the town of Taftanaz, the movement set up the beginnings of what could be called workers’ councils, a way of workers, themselves running society, as reported here. This was a movement not only against a repressive regime, it was a movement of the working class and the poor against the wealthy. Unfortunately, when this movement came under military attack, there was apparently no strategy for winning over the rank and file soldiers through a class appeal and no strategy for how to build upon and spread these workers’ councils. The result was that ex-officers from Assad’s military took control over the movement, and from there the al-Qaeda linked groups intervened.

It is a similar story in Egypt. There out of the mass occupations of the central square in Cairo and other major cities, occupation committees were formed. These committees, which could have developed into committees similar to what developed in Taftanaz, were consciously kept non-political. The result was that ultimately the Muslim Brotherhood came to power and following them Egyptian military – what seems to be Mubarakism without Mubarak.

Since then, Iraq seems to be falling into a bitter sectarian conflict between the Shia and the Sunni.

Weakened Workers’ Movement

All of this reflects the global weakening of the workers’ movement – a weakening which has left a huge vacuum into with sectarianism and reaction has stepped. It is reflected in India, where the Hindu nationalist BJP has come to power. It is reflected even in Greece where, for all the militancy of the Greek working class, there is also the rise of Greek fascism in the form of Golden Dawn. And it is most certainly reflected in Israel, where fascists and fascist types not only attack Palestinians, they also attack Israeli lefts and peace protesters.

Class Appeal

All is not lost, however. Far from it, as the workers’ movements in Egypt, Syria and Iraq showed just recently. A campaign of youth and workers in Gaza and the West Bank that linked the national question with the economic ones would get a response even today in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. (It was not long ago that the powerful working class in Mahallah, Egypt, was even declaring its independence from the local province!) In fact, the potential for it to get a response in the Israeli working class is shown in this report: “Israel is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Between 1995 and 2011, labor’s share of national income fell more sharply there than in the US. Over the past two decades, Israeli wages have plummeted. The country has 18 billionaires, substantially more per capita (in a population of 7.9 million) than in the US. While poverty has grown, the richest 500 Israelis have tripled their wealth over the past 12 years.”

Israeli Working Class Hopelessly Racist?

It might seem that despite this, the Israeli working class is hopelessly racist, but we should recall the situation with the white working class in the US’s South. There, lynching of black people was common 100 years ago. At the same time, however, the radical Industrial Workers of the World succeeded in building integrated unions based on class interests and in one instance white workers put their lives on the line to protect a black union organizer. There must be Israeli workers who would be receptive to a similar approach. That they are hidden now simply reflects the fact that the workers’ movement in general is in retreat, but the potential is there, as it most certainly is elsewhere in the region.

Israel/Palestine a Warning

Far from being an isolated situation, the racism of the State of Israel, the rise of outright fascist groups there, the one-sided war against an entire population (Gaza), the creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank — all of this is a warning of the direction of capitalism in general. And far from a local or nationalist solution, the solution lies in a class-based revolutionary approach.

One final note is this: The world’s working class has a direct stake in this outcome as it will influence regional and as a result world events. Here in the US, the union leaders continue to cling to the employers and to one of the employers’ political parties – the Democrats. As a result, they support US foreign policy, including US support for the State of Israel. They do this to the same extent as they support domestic policy, meaning granting continual cuts in US workers’ standard of living. Socialists and serious unionists must oppose both aspects of this approach of the union leaders – no cuts at home, no support for Corporate America’s policies abroad, including no support for the State of Israel.


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“Iraq is now a failed state…”

Ali Khedery is chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners. From 2003 to 2009, he was the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq, acting as a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors and as a senior adviser to three heads of U.S. Central Command. In 2011, as an executive with Exxon Mobil, he negotiated the company’s entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”

George W. Bush and Nouri al-Maliki. Birds of a feather... After Bush, Obama became a Maliki booster.

George W. Bush and Nouri al-Maliki. Birds of a feather… After Bush, Obama became a Maliki booster.

This is how the Washington Post describes Khedery, and why his article in that newspaper is important. It’s called Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq. In it, Khedery clearly describes the exact steps the Bush and then the Obama administrations took to keep their control over the Iraqi regime. It gives a much clearer picture to exactly how a major capitalist power such as the US controls a foreign government.

But it also gives a clear picture of something else: The weakening of US capitalism on a world scale.

In his article, Khedery describes how the Iranian regime intervened and how US capitalism was unable to stop them. Among other things, Khedery explicitly refers to the economic crisis in the US as being one factor.

The entire article is geared to prove that the sectarian dissolution of the Iraqi state was avoidable… had the Obama administration only listened to his advice. But then, he unintentionally disproves exactly that claim. He refers to “countries across the Middle East fracture(ing) along ethno-sectarian lines”. What makes him think that Iraq could be any different as long as one capitalist clique or another is in office?

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Latest Crisis in Israel

The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli settler teens was criminal in every sense of the word – on both “moral” (whatever that means) as well as political grounds. It strengthens official Israeli racism. But the murder of Palestinian Abu Khdeir by Israeli settler racists is even worse; it flows naturally from a society which has racism built into its very core.

Abu Khdeir was burned alive.

In the protests that followed this heinous act, Abu’s cousin, Tariq Khdeir was viciously assaulted by Israeli police. Below is a video of this assault.

The Israeli regime claimed that this video was “doctored” but they cannot explain the condition of Khdeir’s face upon his release:

Tariq Khdeir before and after having been beaten by Israeli police

Tariq Khdeir before and after having been beaten by Israeli police

Now, six Israelis have been arrested for the murder of Abu Khdeir. Inevitably, it will be claimed that they acted alone. However, they are being defended by a shadowy (tax exempt) Israeli non-profit group called Honeinu. This group focuses on defending Israelis accused to attacking Palestinians. It is most likely in the days to come that the accused will be shown to be linked to right win settler groups and wings of the Jewish hierarchy if not to members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament).

Completely aside from this, the entire atmosphere in Israel serves to encourage this type of atrocity.  For one thing, there is the issue of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians. Settler groups regularly assault Palestinians, burn their olive trees, etc. The Israeli regime encourages this by turning a blind eye.

Israeli settlers attack Palestinian farmer

Israeli settlers attack Palestinian farmer

entire Israeli settler families are involved in these racist attacks

entire Israeli settler families are involved in these racist attacks

In the days following the disappearance of the three Israeli teen agers, the general level of racism was brought to a fever pitch, not only by the statements of Israeli MK’s, rabbis, etc. but by the official behavior of the Israeli state, which carried out collective punishment of the entire Palestinian community. As reported by Uri Avnery, for instance, they made mass, indiscriminate arrests of hundreds of Palestinians, including anybody ever suspected of having been associated with Hamas in any way.

Thus the stage was set: The constant level of official racism; hundreds, possibly thousands of acts of racist violence carried out by the settlers and rarely if ever punished (see, in the photo above, the Israeli soldiers standing passively by as the Palestinian woman is attacked); and then an official policy of collective punishment of Palestinians for the disappearance (later revealed to be murder) of three Israeli teens. It was inevitable that some racists would draw the conclusion that the murder of a Palestinian was justified in response.

All of official Israel stands guilty. This in no way justifies the murder of the three Israeli teens, as we explain above, but it is the State of Israel, and their US sponsor, who are in control and have set the stage for this.

Posted in Middle East, racism | Leave a comment

Oscar Perez-Giron and the Fight for Justice

Another week, another victim of apparent police murder. Below is a link to a video, along with some commentary/reporting, of one of the latest of these murders – the apparent police murder of Oscar Perez-Giron in Seattle, WA. The testimony in this video completely contradicts the official story, as does some surrounding circumstantial evidence.

  • This took place on the platform of the light rail transport system in Seattle, where there are numerous video cameras. No video of this event has been released. Why?
  • Oscar’s body has not been released to the family. If the witness’s testimony is true, then Oscar would have been shot at point-blank range and the wounds would prove this. That would tend to contradict the official story.

What are they hiding?

All socialists worthy of the name must speak up without hesitation on this issue!


Watch video here: Oscar Perez-Giron and the Fight for Justice.

(Note: We have contacted socialist City Council member Sawant for a statement on this. Unfortunately, they have not discussed it, but they said they will get back to us. We look forward to publishing their comments.)

Posted in racism, United States | 3 Comments

Iraq: “Things Fall Apart”


          Turning and turning in the widening gyre

           The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

          Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…

W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming

ISIS militia in Basra; they just returned from the Syrian civil war.

ISIS militia in Basra; they just returned from the Syrian civil war.

So wrote William Butler Yeats in describing the period shortly after WWI. So he might have written today, and nowhere is this more true than describing what is happening in Iraq.

World imperialism had imposed “order” on the region through WWI, which was a colonial scramble to redivide the then-colonial world. As part of that bloody scramble, the British and French capitalists reached the Sykes-Picot Accord, which divided up the Middle East into “spheres of influence” – that is, it was an agreement over which gang of capitalists would get to rape which peoples in that part of the world. So much for the war to make the world safe for democracy…..

Iraq in Crisis

Iraq, a majority Shia society, has little history of sectarian, Sunni-Shia violence. In fact, many clans or tribes contain both wings of Muslims and intermarriage was not uncommon. And while the dictator Saddam Hussein based himself on and favored the Sunni minority, that was as much based on his tribal origins (which happened to be mainly Sunni) as it was based on religious sectarianism. In fact, Hussein sharply repressed political Islam during his reign. The US invasion of Iraq, however, disrupted this.

Among other things, the US invasion and its aftermath has been an economic disaster for the masses of Iraqis. At least under Hussein there was some government social programs as well as state run enterprises. Under US tutelage, most of this has been eliminated, yet there has been little capital investment. As a result, some 35% of Iraqis live in poverty1 and unemployment is officially running at about 20% and is especially severe amongst the youth2. To divert attention and to build some sort of base, Maliki has greatly favored the Shiite majority vs. the Sunni minority. As one article reported, “Ordinary Sunnis complain of discrimination in almost all aspects of life, including housing, education, employment and security.”3 Maliki charged the top Sunni politician, Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi, with “terrorism” and forced him to flee the country for his life.

Read entire article here: Iraq Things fall apart



Posted in Middle East, war | Leave a comment

“What is lacking….”

Yesterday, I went to a memorial for a long-time socialist fighter who had died recently. He had never given up the struggle, and as was fitting, all of those who spoke not only talked about this comrade; they also raised the political issues to which he had dedicated his life. One comment especially struck me:

“What is lacking is the leadership, but the groundwork is there,” said one of those who paid tribute.

Almost all of those who were there and those who spoke had spent many years fighting for the working class and for socialism. And, like me, they weren’t far from the end either. As a result, they seem stuck in an earlier period, because that is exactly the point: The ground work needs to be made anew, it isn’t there any more, or it’s almost not there.

In an earlier period, there were huge workers’ parties – the social democrats and the Communist parties. They were in a position time and again of leading the working class to power, but their leadership betrayed them time and again. And now?

The Communist Parties are more or less gone. And the Social Democratic Parties, if they haven’t become out-and-out capitalist parties, they are the “next best thing”, and entire generations of workers don’t look towards them anymore. And beneath that, much of the old traditions of the class struggle have been severely weakened, almost to the point of disappearance. This is connected with the fact that the industrial sector of the working class has been severely eroded in the West, and it is that sector that best carries on these traditions.

In the document “Preparing for Revolution” these points are explained. A part of that is below. But the main point is this: The best tribute to those old socialists (such as this writer) is to recognize the new situation that has opened up and to adjust ourselves accordingly.

From “Preparing for Revolution”:

“The new crisis today finds the working class in its former strongholds politically disarmed. Its earlier traditional socialist outlook and basic class consciousness have ebbed, due to a number of factors. The most immediate of these was the collapse of the former Stalinist states, which for all their more repugnant aspects, nevertheless had still held out some fading hope of an alternative future. Other causes were the decline of formerly formidable trade unions in the by now rapidly de-industrialising countries; the erosion of industrial communities in their traditional strongholds; the prolonged upswing and development of the new technology; the new-found triumphalism of the capitalists; and the abandonment by former “left” as well as right-wing reformists of even the pretence of socialist aspirations.

“The need for trade unions, the power of the strike, the culture of class solidarity, and the obsolescence of capitalism were most strikingly obvious within the old great concentrations of industrial manufacturing workers. What remains today of 150 years of socialist tradition in the West is little more than a fading memory among diminishing circles within the older generation. In the old homeland of the proletariat, many workers today are far less conscious than previously of their role, their tasks or even their class identity.”

Posted in Workers International Network | Leave a comment

Seattle’s Minimum Wage Ordinance: What Does It Mean?


On Monday, June 2, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage in that city to $15 per hour for some workers starting in April of next year and with a phase-in that will take until 2025 for all workers. (See graph) The objective basis for this is the growing mood of discontent due to rising income inequality. As Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, himself, pointed out one eighth of Seattle’s population lives in poverty while the top 20% of Seattle’s households take in more income than the bottom 50%. This is typical across the United States. There were several factors involved in pushing the (mainly) Democratic city council to pass this:

On the one hand, there is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They have a national strategy of campaigning to increase the minimum wage and have organized campaigns for this from the Seattle airport (Seatac) to San Francisco to New York City. They are doing this in place of serious organizing campaigns, which they have partially retreated from. As David Rolf, president of SEIU Local 775 in Seattle put it, “Even if workers want to form a union, it’s almost impossible to pull it off. So there’s not going to be a big resurgence of shop-by-shop bargaining…. We want to build enough strength with the wage movement, city by city, to bring the national brands to the bargaining table.” The reason the union leadership thinks that organizing on the job is “almost impossible” is that they feel bound by the labor laws and the National Labor Relations Board procedures, instead of considering returning to the methods of the 1930s (sit down strikes, mass pickets, open defiance, etc.).

The Democrats, themselves, often take up the issue of a minimum wage in order to embarrass the Republicans and win votes. From President Barack Obama to California Governor Gerry Brown, the Democrats are raising this issue in preparation for the national elections of 2016.

The Seattle City Council was under the pressure of the openly socialist city council member Kshama Sawant. Elected on a platform that emphasized the issue of a $15 per hour minimum wage, Sawant and her group – Socialist Alternative – started organizing to win this minimum wage shortly after she came into office (January, 2014). The fact of her election not only helped to open up the question of socialism a little bit, it also helped focus the demand for a specific figure – $15 – for Seattle’s minimum wage. (This author personally experienced both of these in his visits to Seattle.)

Kshama Sawant speaking to media.

Kshama Sawant speaking to media.

Sawant and Socialist Alternative at first hailed the passage of the minimum wage ordinance as a “historic victory” which was due to the “grass roots campaign” of 15 Now, which is controlled in Seattle by Socialist Alternative. (They later somewhat changed their tune about this measure, as can be seen in this article.) What is the reality? Was it such a “historic victory” and how much was a “grass roots” campaign responsible for it?

Look at the facts: As Mayor Murray explains, “businesses with fewer than 500 employees (get) seven years to reach $15 an hour, or five years if tips and health care are included in the calculations. Businesses with 500 employees or more have three years to reach $15 an hour, or four years if employees are enrolled in employer-paid health plans.” In fact, it is even worse than that. When looking at the graph, you can see that some employers will actually have until 2025 to reach 15/hour (plus the official inflation rate, about which more later).


Tips and health care benefits to be included as “total compensation”, a multi-year phase-in, training wages — these are the exact kinds of loopholes that Sawant had derided as having “more holes than Swiss cheese” back in March.

Historic Attacks on Minimum Wage
It’s more than just loopholes, though. In general, the minimum wage has been exactly that – a minimum wage for all workers. The mainstream of the capitalist class, realizing that they couldn’t eliminate the minimum wage, have over the years tried to weaken it by introducing exactly the kinds of loopholes that the Seattle ordinance carries, especially a sub-minimum wage for young workers. The fact that this ordinance carries all these loopholes helps open the door to further weakening the minimum wage elsewhere and also nationally.

There is another weakness of this ordinance – one that nobody is discussing. That is how it’s tied to the federal government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is the official inflation rate, and the strategy is to tie any future raises in the minimum wage to this as a way of avoiding future battles around this issue. However, as this article explains, and as the graph below shows, there has been a long term strategy (ever since the Bill Clinton presidencies) to change how the CPI is figured in such a way as to reduce it. As the graph below shows, inflation by the old way of measuring it is running at about 9% vs. the new measurement of about 2%. This means that the minimum wage will be falling further and further behind real prices, but workers will see the cause less clearly.

The real rate of inflation vs. official statistics

The real rate of inflation vs. official statistics

Neither the union leaders nor Socialist Alternative has taken up this point.

“Grass Roots Campaign” Responsible?
Sawant and Socialist Alternative deserve some of the credit for helping to focus attention on a $15/hour minimum wage. (See this article for an example.) Are they, alone, responsible? Look at San Francisco. There, SEIU introduced a ballot initiative for a $15 per hour minimum wage back in April of this year. That initiative was actually stronger than the one that Socialist Alternative introduced in Seattle, and it put the San Francisco Board of Supervisors under pressure. On June 10, the Supervisors passed a measure to put a minimum wage ordinance on the ballot as a ballot measure. It would raise the minimum wage in steps to $15 per hour in 2018. If it passes the voters, it will be a stronger measure than what was passed in Seattle, since it doesn’t have the loopholes that the Seattle measure has. It was passed without a 15 Now “grassroots campaign”. Sure, what was happening in Seattle might have influenced this, but that was far from the main factor.

Getting from there to here
What was the process in which this ordinance was passed in Seattle?

Sawant’s electoral victory and her and Socialist Alternative’s success in popularizing the slogan of 15 Now forced the (Democratic) mayor to do something. In this sort of situation, where big business is under pressure, they often put forward the Democrats to grant a few concessions, often with ticking time bombs that can undermine all the advances further on down the road, with the purpose of ensuring that no real confrontation between the classes, no independent movement of the working class develops.

The union leadership plays a key role in this process. Feeling bound to the employers like a fetus bound to the placenta by the umbilical cord, the entire union leadership from Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, on down to local leaders, like David Rolf, are even more afraid of such an open, independent movement than are the bosses. After all, their entire careers are based on preventing this. So inside the unions, they are constantly arguing for the idea that the interests of the workers are tied in with those of the employers and that they are on the same team – the “team concept”. (See this pamphlet for more on this issue.) As the 19th century socialist Daniel DeLeon put it, they are the “labor lieutenants of capital”.

They also represent the Democratic Party – one of the two parities of big business – inside the unions. To do this, they have to help strengthen the “progressive” wing of the Democrats, so sometimes they will organize protests and other events, including even ballot initiatives.

This is exactly what they did in pushing through a $15 per hour minimum wage ballot initiative in the Seatac (Seattle/Tacoma) airport. That initiative passed last November, but it had a critical weakness: It excluded union workers, who make up about 40% of the airport work force. David Rolf – the key union leader in there – explained this by saying “we always want to offer an olive branch to employers of good conscience.” This is a perfect expression of the team concept in action.

Neither Sawant personally nor Socialist Alternative in general criticized this clause. In fact, this writer was told back in March by a Socialist Alternative leader that they would support such a clause in Seattle if it was necessary to win the support of the union leadership. Despite that, Sawant’s presence on the city council and the passage of the voter initiative at Seatac forced Seattle mayor Murray to do something. What he did was an absolute textbook example of the Democrats’ role.

In January, Murray appointed a mayor’s “Income Inequality Advisory Committee” to come up with a plan for a minimum wage increase. As he said, “Our goal was to increase income for low-wage workers without hurting local companies or sacrificing jobs. To get there, we pursued an intensely inclusive and collaborative approach that included… leaders from local businesses, labor organizations, non-profits and the city.” He appointed as co-chairs the ever-reliable David Rolf and Howard Wright, who represents Seattle’s restaurant and hotel industry.

Seattle Mayor Murray speaking with David Rolf (L) and Howard Wright (R) - They collaborated together.

Seattle Mayor Murray speaking with David Rolf (L) and Howard Wright (R) – They collaborated together.

Seattle’s big business organized a group called “One Seattle” to minimize the damage. In one article on their web site, they tout the “progressive” record of Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce, argue for all the loopholes that the City ended up passing, press to “finesse a fair package”, and say that “Mayor Murray and the City Council seem to be listening.” By passing a compromise measure, they say that corporate-minded union officials like Rolf “will be able to show that organized labor can still make things happen” (that is, he will save face), a “WTO moment” will be avoided, and “class warfare talk (will be relegated) to the ‘dustbin of history’ – thank you Leon Trotsky for the phrase.” This last was a clear swipe at Sawant and Socialist Alternative, and it shows that all their calculations are meant to avoid an open, independent struggle and to undercut Sawant.

Their best ally was David Rolf and the rest of the union leadership. Rolf commented after Mayor Murray first outlined his plan, “As co-chair of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, I want to thank Mayor Murray for his leadership, and recognize Howard Wright, my co-chair, and all the committee members including my brothers and sisters from the labor movement and the business community.” His brothers and sisters in the business community! What more needs to be said?

Rolf is not unique. There was almost no support for 15 Now from any significant sector of the union leadership. Socialist Alternative explains this in a roundabout way: “If the big unions had backed the threat of a ballot initiative for a stronger $15, business could have been forced to concede much more,” they wrote after the fact.

Socialist Alternative
But the very way that they put this, as well as the fact that it was only written afterwards, says a lot. Note, for instance, how they equate “the big unions” with the union leadership. Also, note that they make clear that the ballot initiative was intended as a way to pressure the Democrats, not to actually build an independent movement. That this was their intent all along was made clear during the “15 Now” conference on April 26 as well as in their timing and method of putting forward the ballot initiative. Why, for instance, did they wait until May to start the process, leaving themselves only a month or less to collect signatures? Why did they fail to really try to mobilize low wage workers – both union and non-union alike? For instance, there was the suggestion made both at the 15 Now conference and later to try to organize the low paid UFCW members (grocery clerks) to get their union to back 15 Now. This was ignored, and the only possible explanation is that the Socialist Alternative leadership did not want a conflict with the union leadership. Then there was the debate at the 15 Now conference over granting a union exclusion clause to the hotel industry. This was asked for by the UNITE/HERE union leadership because they did not want to fight the hotels for an increase in pay while at the same time keeping the health benefits – in other words, the team concept in practice again. The entire Socialist Alternative leadership campaigned for this exclusion clause. (See this report and this video.)

Union Leadership vs. the Membership
The gap between the union leadership and the membership has never been greater in the US. We can only expect that the leadership will act as they did in this struggle. For decades, union activists have worked to organize opposition caucuses inside different unions (including the UFCW). This has faced tough going because the great majority of members are pretty demoralized. However, with a high profile figure like Sawant, it might have been possible to break through this mood. Imagine if 15 Now (Socialist Alternative) had campaigned among grocery workers as advocated here. Imagine if they, with Sawant at the lead, had organized little mini-rallies inside low wage work places from the grocery stores to McDonalds to Starbucks. True, they would have antagonized almost every single union official in Seattle and beyond, but who cares? Who knows what might have come from this? It can’t be ruled out that they could have brought into activity a whole new layer of low wage workers.

Broader Program or Single Issue Campaign?
There is also the issue of program. The SA leadership ensured that 15 Now keep as its only issue the minimum wage. Doing this makes it difficult to directly appeal to other sectors of the working class, for instance the unemployed. At the 15 Now conference it was suggested that 15 Now take up the issue of unemployment. This was derailed by the SA leadership. It was also suggested that 15 Now raise the idea that the minimum wage be applied to prisoners, and that it be related to union rights for prisoners and to an end to solitary confinement (the use of which makes any union organizing in prison nearly impossible). At a time when mass incarceration is “the new Jim Crow”, when it is devastating the black communities in the US, socialists cannot ignore or minimize this issue. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the SA leadership did. If they hadn’t done this, there is the chance that it could have brought a whole new layer of the working class – and the most oppressed layers at that – into the movement. This includes both the prisoners and their families. Of course, it would have alienated the union leaders and their masters – the Democrats – but that should not scare us off.

After the fact, as we explain, the Socialist Alternative leadership mildly criticized the union leadership. Didn’t they know that this leadership would play this role? When Sawant ran against Richard Conlin the most anti-worker member on the city council, she could not even get the central labor council to endorse her. (Conlin had been the only city council member to oppose requiring Seattle’s major corporations to provide some form of health benefits, for instance.) She got all of 4% of her campaign donations through this union leadership. What else did they expect, given these facts and the historic role of the union leadership?

Despite this, the Socialist Alternative leadership operated in the hopes of winning the support of the representatives of the Democratic Party inside the workers’ movement – the union leadership. But they also have the competing pressure of their socialist traditions. This is why they veered back and forth. They waited for months to get a ballot initiative campaign under way and then they had to scramble to try to get enough signatures, only to (apparently) drop the entire initiative in the end. They first criticized the Democrats’ proposals as having “more holes than Swiss cheese”, then triumphed that what the City Council passed was a “historic victory” won by 15 Now’s “grassroots campaign”, and that the mayor’s proposal “shows leadership for the rest of the country,” only to turn around once again and criticize its weaknesses along with a mild criticism of the role of the union leadership. Their mistaken orientation towards the union leadership could be corrected were it not for the fact that they have shut themselves off from the rest of the socialist movement as well as workers in general. If this is any indication, then one can only guess that they have also clamped down on real rank-and-file discussion and decision-making within Socialist Alternative also.

Socialist Alternative made an important contribution to the workers movement and to the cause of socialism when they got Kshama Sawant elected. It is exactly for this reason that we raise these criticisms here – because so much more potentially could have been accomplished.

If Socialist Alternative had taken up the programmatic and organizational approach that is explained here, there is a chance they could have really developed the beginnings of an independent and far wider working class movement – one that included unemployed workers, prisoners and their families, low wage workers, etc. Had they succeeded, this would have wrung greater concessions from Corporate Seattle and the Democrats, but far more important is the movement itself that it might have gotten started. There’s no guarantee, but sometimes a relatively small group can be the instrument for a far movement far greater than itself.

Also, more could also have been accomplished if the Socialist Alternative leadership had really tried to build a real coalition – a real “united front” – through 15 Now, rather than trying to control things. The “15 Now” conference on April 26, for instance, was controlled by the SA leadership from start to finish. In other areas, they are trying to do the same. In Tacoma, for instance, things got so bad that the majority of 15 Now activists had to vote to ban the SA leadership from the group there!

This writer was one of the founding members of the predecessor to Socialist Alternative — Labor Militant. He is familiar with the traditions and the history of SA and their international links. One of the great strengths of their traditions used to be their ability to link the struggle for socialism to the day-to-day needs and the consciousness of ordinary workers without capitulating to the union leadership. It is difficult to imagine that there are not some members of Socialist Alternative who aren’t touched by those traditions and aren’t trying to build on them. It is our hope that this critique can contribute to any discussions around what went right and what should have been done in the Seattle $15 per hour minimum wage campaign so that socialists and the workers movement in general can move forward from here.

Added July 14

This writer was just talking with the the Seattle gov’t. offices. I was asking whether the 15 minimum wage ordinance would cover union workers – that is, whether those workers whose contract calls for less than $15 per hour will see an increase to this minimum, and if so whether this would affect the employer contributions to benefits. I was told that this is one of the “details” that is still being worked out. I was also given a web page where such questions were dealt with. When I tried to open that page I got a message “Access denied.”

We hope that 15 Now campaigners in Seattle are being kept fully aware of what is happening with these “details”.

Posted in labor, Minimum wage campaign, Uncategorized, United States | 6 Comments

Corporate America gets a set-back… from the far right

Gerald Seib, the Wall St. Journal’s “Washington correspondent”, described matters perfectly when he wrote: “Most business leaders don’t particularly like getting their hands dirty in political fights. So they have tended to support whatever candidates the Republican Party offered up, funneled money to party or outside groups to do the heavy lifting, and hoped for the best.
“The October government shutdown, however, may prove to be a tide-turning event. Business leaders openly pleaded with Congress to avoid a showdown over raising the nation’s debt ceiling—a fight they feared would disrupt financial markets world-wide—and urged lawmakers to avoid an economically destabilizing government shutdown. They were stunned to discover, though, that their pleas fell upon deaf ears among several dozen tea-party warriors in the House who steamed toward a shutdown anyway, and were in some cases openly disdainful of the business community’s arguments.”
(WSJ 12/2/2013)
Brat vs. Cantor
As a result, major business groups like the Chamber of Commerce have stepped in to finance candidates in recent Republican primaries. They financed a series of establishment Republicans against Tea Party challengers, thereby ensuring their victories. A key election was held on Tuesday, June 10, where the second in command for Republicans the US House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, faced a Tea Party supporter, David Brat. Corporate America showered $5.7 million on Cantor, who had been considered the most likely to replace current Republican leader in the House, John Boehner. Despite raising only $231,000, Brat beat Cantor, thus throwing Republican plans into a tizzy.

David Brat campaigning for office

David Brat campaigning for office

Among other things, the Republican leadership has been trying to repair its relations with the Latino community. The huge majority of Latino voters today shun the Republicans because of their anti-immigrant position. Brat, however, campaigned against any sort of immigration reform, but he did it with an anti-corporate twist. “Eric Cantor… represents large corporations that want cheap labor,” he said.
How ironic to see a right-wing Republican appealing to the anti-corporate mood that exists! It shows the problem for the Democrats, also. At least in the case of these far right Republicans, they can be counted on to divide and weaken the working class. They can be counted on to oppose unions. So Corporate America, while it wishes it could control them a little more, doesn’t have any real principled objection to them. But a Democrat who would appeal to the anti-corporate mood? That is “class warfare” and must be stopped immediately.
One last point: The last time Cantor ran (and won), his margin of victory was greater than the total number of votes casted (60,000) yesterday. So this outcome does not necessarily show a great turn to the right; it shows how the most motivated Republican voters cannot be counted on by Corporate America.

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Radio Show on the Union Leadership

Last Saturday (6/7), the editor of this blog site - John Reimann – was on WEFT’s radio program “World Labor Hour,” in a discussion on what has happened in the US labor movement, especially the role of the union leadership. The old socialist Daniel DeLeon described the union leaders as “the labor lieutenants of capital” – in other words, the representatives of the employers inside the unions. Along with this, they are the representatives of the Democratic Party (one of the two political parties of the employers). This was discussed on this radio show, along with a discussion on how this played out in the struggle for a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle and what should have been done instead.

You can listen to this discussion at the site below. The discussion starts about 28 minutes into the show.


Posted in labor, Minimum wage campaign, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

India: Background to Election of Modi

by Roger Silverman

The sweeping electoral victory of the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi has been greeted worldwide with a mixture of euphoria and alarm.

Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalist

Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalist

For big business, the justification for the euphoria lies in Modi’s record as chief minister of the state of Gujarat between 2002 and 2010, when he presided over an average growth rate of 16.6% a year. However, Gujarat’s rapid growth actually pre-dates Modi by a whole decade: it had already been the fastest-growing of India’s fourteen major states between 1991 and 1998. Moreover, even during Modi’s tenure of office, Gujarat was not in fact India’s fastest-growing state: its record was exceeded by Uttarkhand and Sikkim.

Gujarat’s rapid rate of development was based mainly on Modi’s policy of sweeping away the few remaining vestiges of state regulation to attract foreign direct investment. Modi calls his state the “global gateway to India”. But even by the measure of FDI inflows, Gujarat’s economy remains dwarfed by other traditional havens for foreign investment, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

There is even greater justification for the alarm felt especially by India’s minorities and lower castes, and above all by India’s 176 million Muslims, in the horror of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, which was orchestrated by Modi’s government. Up to 2,000 Muslim men, women and children were hacked, burned or bludgeoned to death in an orgy of communal rioting, and 200,000 made homeless, while the police stood aside. Modi’s considered response to this bloodbath is that he feels the same level of regret as he would “if a puppy had been run over by a car”.


India and China are often bracketed together as the powerhouse of the world economy. However, this coupling is deceptive. Both India and China offer huge reserves of cheap labour; but India cannot match the incomparably more developed and efficient infrastructure provided in China by decades of state investment and planning. The fact is that India’s economy is still only one-fifth the size of China’s, and falling fast behind it.

From a high point in 2010-11, when GDP rose by 9.3%, India’s growth rate has slumped in just three years to 4.4%, and inflation is running above 8%. Despite its huge reserves of cheap labour and its desperate adoption of deregulation, the truth is that India with its rickety infrastructure and unstable administration is still an unattractive proposition for international investors. In World Bank league tables, India ranks 60th in the world in terms of productivity and competitiveness (China is 29th), 134th for “ease of doing business”, and 179th for “suitability for inward investment”.

Information technology and business process outsourcing are among the fastest growing sectors of the economy, contributing 25% of the country’s total exports in 2007–08. The growth in the IT and software sector – and of course the proliferation of call centres – are largely attributable to the availability of a huge pool of cheap, skilled, English-speaking workers. Thus, where Indians had in the past largely performed the services of cooks, housemaids and washerwomen for the British raj, globalisation and digitalisation had now elevated them to the world’s typists, receptionists and filing clerks. By 2009, seven Indian firms were listed among the top fifteen technology outsourcing companies in the world.

As for India’s manufacturing industry, it relies on a combination of cheap labour and new technology, with its textile industries especially dependent on child labour, from the fields to the mills to the clothing and carpet workshops.

With a “middle-class” population now estimated at 300 million, India offers a perfectly viable domestic consumer market capable of sustaining the booming growth of recent years. However, the economic “miracle” still leaves a vast majority of peasants and urban poor destitute and living at subsistence level, with about 400 million people in India – one third of India’s population, and one-third also of the world’s total poor – barely surviving below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. Far from bringing prosperity to the people, India’s boom has been confined to a small affluent minority. On the contrary: there has been a substantial widening of the gap between rich and poor, dating from the demolition of price controls and subsidies along with the rest of the economic “reforms” dictated at gunpoint by the IMF and the World Bank in 1991.


It should always be remembered that before colonisation, in 1700 India’s share of world income had equalled that of all Europe combined, at almost a quarter. By the time it had gained independence in 1947, India was among the very poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita income.

From independence in 1947 to the new economic turn in 1991, India’s economy had been based upon a high level of state ownership; protectionism; high tariff walls; import and exchange controls; import substitution; interventionist policies; a system of state rationing; and a dependence on favourable trade terms with the Soviet Union. There were even nominal “five-year plans”. At one point, income tax levels – which were always treated in practice as purely hypothetical – were fixed at a maximum of 97.5%. The inevitable outcome was cheating on a massive scale, smuggling, and a wholesale evasion of regulations, exchange controls and taxation – a carnival of rampant bureaucratism, corruption and inefficiency, in which the ruling class routinely violated the rules of its own administration.

The USSR had been India’s major trading partner, and its collapse in 1991, together with the spike in oil prices precipitated by the first Gulf War, created an immediate balance-of-payments crisis for India. Teetering on the brink of an outright overnight default on its loans, India was forced to beg the IMF for a $1.8 billion bailout. The price was instant de-regulation.

There followed a bonfire of state controls. Whether under the Congress governments of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, or the BJP government of Vajpayee, regulations and subsidies were demolished and India thrown wide open to penetration by the multinationals. An influx of hot money flowed into India, and for a few years it became one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. On the basis of purely abstract fantastical hypothetical projections, it was predicted that India could overtake France and Italy by 2020, Germany, UK and Russia by 2025 and Japan by 2035. It was even projected that India was on course to overtake the USA.


Under the patronage of the British raj, a narrowly-based indigenous capitalist class had already begun to take root in the decades prior to independence. Today such families as the Tatas, Birlas and Mittals are world-stage tycoons. But in the early period of independence, it had suited the Indian ruling class to shelter behind a political aristocracy posing as protector of the minorities; champion of the poor; secular, democratic and even “socialist”. The flimsy pretext for this was its dependence on nationalisation, protectionism, state subsidies, friendly relations with the USSR, and above all its need to secure a home market safe from the constant risk of communal disintegration and national fragmentation.

This was always largely a cynical and hollow facade, though, long abandoned in practice even by Congress. Congress was little more than the cynical political exploiter of the insecurities of the minorities. This can be seen in its true criminal record: the formal and legal institutionalising of caste rivalries; the dictatorial Emergency regime; the regular dismissal of opposition state governments; suppression of national revolts; tolerance of caste atrocities; periodic fostering of communal riots; brutal military repression in Kashmir; successive wars with Pakistan; explicit endorsement of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, etc…

Narendra Modi’s political vehicle the Bharatiya Janata Party is an explicitly communal Hindu outfit, the political voice of a conglomerate of reactionary and sinister forces. These include the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the Hindu communal movement which provoked conflict throughout India in 1992 by mobilising 150,000 rioters to storm the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya;Shiv Sena, an overtly fascist party modelled on the Nazis and based in Maharashtra, which in early 1993 perpetrated a massacre of 3,000 Muslims in Mumbai in a pre-planned act of ethnic cleansing; and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), a five-million strong paramilitary Hindu communal mass movement of which Modi is a lifelong member.

Already since Modi's election, there have been anti-Muslim riots. In this case, 12 people were injured in this May 11 riot in Meerut

Already since Modi’s election, there have been anti-Muslim riots. In this case, 12 people were injured in this May 11 riot in Meerut

The RSS has five to six million members and over a million organised “volunteers” who hold regular public paramilitary drills. It was founded in 1925 as a conscious counter-weight to the growing influence of socialist ideas within India’s national liberation movement. It openly praised the ideology of Mussolini and Hitler and identified the Nazi holocaust as its model in its mission to destroy the Muslim community. (India has the second largest Muslim population in the world: more numerous than Pakistan or Bangladesh, and exceeded only by Indonesia.)  In the words of one of the founders of the RSS, Golwalkar: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.” It was an RSS member who assassinated Gandhi in 1948.


For the BJP, a combination of communalism and neoliberalism is nothing new. The previous BJP government under Vajpayee (from 1998 to 2004) had presided over wholesale privatisation of state enterprises. Meanwhile, along with the VHP and RSS, BJP cadres had instigated the provocative destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya and the subsequent pogrom in Mumbai in 1993, prior to the Gujarat massacre.

However, the hands of India’s traditional ruling party Congress are hardly much cleaner. The IMF-imposed programme of privatisation and budget cuts was first introduced under the Congress administration of Narasimha Rao and further promoted under the world banker Manmohan Singh. Congress had meanwhile long abandoned in practice its always at best ambiguous and hypocritical secular stance. To take just one glaring example: in 1984 it was Congress politicians who had ordered the assault on the Golden Temple at Amritsar and then deliberately orchestrated the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi and throughout India.

In a society graphically polarised between a narrow plutocracy and the destitute masses, a class so manifestly parasitic as the Indian capitalist class has somehow to whip up an artificial mass base. Like every ruling class in its epoch of decay, ultimately its survival depends upon the magical power of myth. Today the symbol of homespun self-sufficiency represented by the spinning wheel is giving way to age-old epic Hindu mythology. True, riots and massacres are messy affairs that tend to get in the way of business. But such passions have a momentum of their own; they can’t be simply switched on and off. It is unfortunate that random eruptions of communal violence may sometimes destabilise order and discipline, but these are the political price paid by the ruling class to stay afloat.

There is a difference in the rhetoric of the two rival parties; but hardly nowadays a trace of difference in policy. The process of wholesale privatisation gained momentum under Congress and BJP governments alike. Similarly, the storming of the mosque at Ayodhya, the worst communal riots since 1947, and the pogrom in Mumbai all took place under the Congress government of Narasimha Rao.


Under capitalism, the population of India face horror without end: the daily rape and slaughter of women, the degradation of the lower castes and “untouchables”; the constant threat of communal pogroms against the Muslims and other minorities; police brutality and victimisation.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its precursor the Communist Party of India have utterly discredited themselves over decades of unprincipled political manoeuvring with the respective rival reactionary parties of the ruling class. There will be no way forward for India out of the dual torture of poverty and repression until the emergence of a new mass party voicing the needs and aspirations of the workers from call centres to textile mills, the landless peasants and farm labourers, the exploited and unemployed of the shanty towns, the women and the downtrodden.

Editor’s note: Roger Silverman is a lifelong socialist who spent many years doing political work in India. He is now a teacher in London, where he helps students put out the youth magazine, “Carbolic”, and he is active in the Workers’ International Network.

Posted in Asia, racism | Leave a comment

“Citizen’s Income” Campaign

The basic problem under capitalism revolves around the clash of interests between the working class majority and the small minority who own the capital – the capitalist class. Whenever this clash comes out in the open, it is never a pretty affair. As a result, throughout history, different reformers have worked out different schemes to solve the problems without all the turmoil, bloodshed and conflict. One of the latest is the “Citizen’s Income” campaign. (We suppose,  from the title, that non-citizens can be allowed to starve.) Julian Silverman reports from London, UK, on a meeting of these people.

I learn that a ‘citizens’ wage’ should really be called a ‘citizens’ income’ or ‘basic wage’.

It is the idea that there would be a basic income – a ‘floor’ below which no one could fall, working or non-working.

I was interested in the idea because of the obvious dire need for such a thing and because it removes ever so slightly the corrupting one-to-one relationship between money and ‘work’ [and refuses to beg the question of what counts as 'work'] – i.e. because it is a little glimpse of socialism [Socialism = "to each according to his/her need: from each according to his/her ability"] and yet could be possible here and now under capitalism. [It would cost no more than the present contorted and hard-to-administer regime of taxes and benefits].

It was a high-powered conference at the British Library. The people there did not look like the lefty crowd I usually associate with. They were smartly/casually dressed and spoke like the suave and solvent government underlings, self-financing charity workers that many of them were rather than the nerdy students, the unemployed, grey-haired ex-radicals, single Mums, beardy or beery trade unionists that I expected.

John McDonnell was there and spoke very well. He said that the time was right for this idea because everything else had failed. That every time Miliband said something radical his opinion poll ratings went up, but that he only spoke radical when it was absolutely safe to do so. Our job was to make it safe….I can’t remember now, but I think it was he who quoted Tony Benn who said every time a new idea comes first they say it’s bad, then they say it’s mad and finally they all claim they thought of it first. [I'm finding something like that too] Anyway Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party also spoke well, and there were others who had written books on the economics of it and there was one academic professional who spoke of the moral philosophy behind it: you know “What is the moral life? Is goodness the greatest happiness for the greatest number?” and that sort of thing. This kind of blah-blah turns me right off, but if it will help people survive the cuts then I’m all for it. Among other people present was the great Harry Shutt, author of the best book which foreold the economic collapse we are facing a full fifteen years ago. He didn’t speak. He was just in the audience.

What was bad, as far as i was concerned, was the remark that one of these clever people made that this was the age of globalism and that you could talk to business about this idea. The ideologues would not listen of course, but the reasonable ones would see that they could increase their market if people could buy their goods etc.

In the break I found myself talking to a group including an economics expert who had lectured and written books about Keynesian economics [roughly, the theory referred to above], a journalist and a man who had acted as finance adviser to the government of Tanzania. The kind of people who know all the answers without having to wait for the question.

This utopian fantasy notion is a favourite among trade unionists and the muddled left. I too would like to believe it. It would be so simple. Tell all these big industrialists how they’ve all got it wrong. They don’t need austerity, they don’t need to cut pay, cut costs, sack people, put out zero hour contracts, seize public assets, stage wars for cheap labour, expanding markets, raw materials, ruin and rob the planet etc. etc. Unfortunately things don’t work like that. Big business knows how to do business for its own advantage without our advice. It can sell its increasingly shabby stuff by putting us all into permanent debt-slavery and can do a better deal taking over Barnet council and the like,  and extracting their profit from our taxes….

Do people need a basic wage for living? To live, don’t they need shelter, warmth, energy, education, social care etc.? If you make this a matter of money then it will be the money people who win. I suddenly had a horrific image. They might allow a ciizen’s income and then do nothing about housing, carry on privatising the NHS (National Health Service) etc. and say: “Well, you can’t complain. We’ve given you the money. You can pay for it yourself.” Money, after all, is nothing but an I O U which the government will accept… so this would end up helping the banks all the more…..a nightmare.

Perhaps this is not an idea whose time has come, but an idea whose time has already been and gone: a cranky notion.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Tommy Smith & John Carlos

Amazing that this simple act of protest brought about such repercussions. It shows the political role that athletes play in the US and worldwide.

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Anti Fracking Protests in Romania

Global oil depletion meet environmental protesters.

New supplies of the “low hanging fruit” – that is, the easy-to-reach and pump oil – is more or less gone, so capitalism is having to develop newer and more environmentally harmful sources, the main one of which is fracking. The result is this: In the past, it was mainly young idealists who concerned themselves with environmental issues like global warming. That was because the effects were not so obviously direct. But fracking has direct effects on the air and water of those living around it. As a result, a real grass roots movement is developing around this issue and that movement is global. Below is a video of such protests in Romania.

The next logical step is for the “fractivists” to start to link up globally.


Posted in environment, Europe, rebellion | 1 Comment

Juan Carlos Abdicates

The abdication of Spain’s King Juan Carlos and his replacement by his son, Felipe, reminds me of a joke that was told back in the ’80s:
It seems there was a police road block and they were asking for identification. Placido Domingo, the opera singer, came along and identified himself. The police didn’t believe him so they asked him to what he could do. “I can sing” he said, and he sang a little bit. “Yes, you’re a singer,” the police said, and they let him through.

Then along came a soccer star. He was asked the same thing. “I can dribble a soccer ball,” he said and he took out a soccer ball and dribbled it around, bounced it off his head, etc. “Yes, you’re a soccer player,” said the cops, and they let him through.

Then along came King Juan Carlos. “Let me through. I’m King Juan Carlos,” he said.
“What can you do?” the cops asked.
“Me? I can’t do anything,” replied Juan Carlos.
“Yep, you’re the king,” they said and let him through.

Posted in John Reimann's personal blog | Leave a comment

Indians elect a communalist: some background

by Roger Silverman

Introduction: The Bharita Janaya Party (BJP) recently won the national elections in India, putting its candidate, Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party with links to organizers of anti-Muslim riots in the past. Here, Marxist Roger Silverman, who has spent many years in India, gives a little background.

Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalist

Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalist

In a society graphically polarised between a narrow plutocracy and the destitute masses, a class so manifestly parasitic as the Indian capitalist class has somehow to whip up an artificial mass base. Like every ruling class in its epoch of decay, ultimately its survival depends upon the magical power of myth.

In the early period of independence, it suited the indigenous capitalist class, which had already begun to take root under the patronage of the British raj, to shelter behind a political elite posing as defender of the minorities, champion of the poor; secular, democratic and even “socialist”. The flimsy pretext for this was its dependence on nationalisation, protection and state subsidies, and its need to secure a home market safe from the risk of communal and national disintegration. It was always a cynical and hollow facade, though, long abandoned in practice even by Congress, as can be seen in its true record: the institutionalising of caste rivalries; the dictatorial Emergency regime; the regular subordination of opposition state governments; suppression of national revolts; tolerance of caste atrocities; periodic fostering of communal riots; brutal military repression in Kashmir; successive wars with Pakistan; explicit endorsement of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, etc…

Today the ruling class resorts more explicitly to such crude devices; and what more effective device than outright Hindu high-caste bigotry? True, riots and massacres are messy affairs that tend to get in the way of business. But such passions have a momentum of their own; they can’t be simply switched on and off. It is unfortunate that random eruptions of communal violence may sometimes destabilise order and discipline, but these are the political price paid by the ruling class to stay afloat.

There is a difference in the rhetoric of the two rival parties; but hardly nowadays a trace of difference in policy. The process of wholesale privatisation gained momentum under the Congress governments of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh and the BJP government of Vajpayee alike. Similarly, the storming of the mosque at Ayodhya, the worst communal riots since 1947, and the horrific pogrom of 3,000+ Muslims in Mumbai, all took place under the Congress government of Narasimha Rao. Under the crude bigot Narendra Modi, the gulf between rich and poor will widen still further (with perhaps a limited further growth of the narrow urban middle class), and there will be more communal riots.

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Seattle Democrats: “Showing Leadership?”

An article on yesterday’s al Jazeera web site reports on Seattle socialist city council member Kshama Sawant and the campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage. It reports on a proposal by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray for a phased-in minimum wage of $15 per hour. The very fact of this article shows how her election has made a real dent in the corporate control over US politics. It’s an example of how Sawant’s election has not only made socialism more acceptable, it has helped focus attention on a specific number – 15 – for a minimum wage. These are definite steps forward.
But we have to see beyond this. The mayor’s proposal is exactly what Sawant denounced as having “more holes than Swiss cheese”at the March 15 rally for 15 Now in Seattle. And she was right; Democrat Murray’s proposal opens the door to all sorts of diversions – training wages, exceptions for exactly some of the low price leaders as far as low wages (franchises like McDonald’s), encourages businesses to hire and fire repeatedly, etc. Now, however, Sawant is saying this “shows leadership for the rest of the country.”
I guess it does in one way: It shows how to deflect the pressure for a real, significant raise now, which is exactly what the Democratic Party is so adept at. It’s called co-opting. How did Sawant and Socialist Alternative get to this point?
Sawant and Union Leadership
Sawant was elected in part due to the support of a layer of the union leadership. Not only that, but at the time she expressed no criticism of that leadership, which was partly why they supported her. The other part of the reason they supported her was to put pressure on the Democrats, who they had no intention whatsoever of breaking from. This union leadership was going to support whatever the “left” wing of the Democrats would put forward, while maybe putting pressure on them at the same time.  Which is exactly what they did by supporting Sawant but not breaking from the Democrats in general. As a result of this pressure, the mayor appointed an “Income Inequality Advisory Committee” to consider a higher minimum wage. Co-chairs of the committee are the corporate-minded union leader David Rolf of SEIU and a representative of the Chamber of Commerce. Again, he sought to co-opt Sawant by appointing her to this committee also. What went on behind the closed doors of this committee we don’t know, because Sawant never blew the whistle on that. But the other problem was that she and Socialist Alternative were fooled into “seeing the process through”.
David Rolf , SEIU leader, pumping up the Democrats. Is this the type we want to ally with?

David Rolf , SEIU leader, pumping up the Democrats. Is this the type we want to ally with?

Waited Too Long
They should have realized that this all was a typical maneuver of the Democrats when big business comes under pressure, and they should have filed for a ballot initiative immediately and started back in January gathering signatures. By waiting until now, they are stuck with their relatively small forces scrambling to get 20,000 signatures by June 15 – a huge task.
That leads to another question: Why is it that it’s basically just Socialist Alternative members who are out gathering signatures? How about the rest of the left? How about other low wage workers?
As for the rest of the left: Socialist Alternative’s problem is that their leadership has been determined to completely control the 15 Now campaign themselves. For instance, there was a 15 Now conference in Seattle on April 15. The chairs were all Socialist Alternative members. The agenda was determined by Socialist Alternative. The speakers were decided by Socialist Alternative. If you are determined to control everything, then you will be stuck with these consequences. This includes those outside your organization being unwilling to get really involved.
Low Wage Workers
As for low wage workers: At that conference and since then, it has been suggested that 15 Now (really, Socialist Alternative) take up a campaign among union grocery clerks, many of whom earn less than $10 per hour. It was suggested that 15 Now (i.e., Socialist Alternative) help them organize to get their union to back 15 Now. This has been ignored. The reason is that while Socialist Alternative leaders may lack a clear perspective, they are not naive and they know that any such campaign would mean a complete break with the entire union leadership.
Instead of doing this, it was reported that at a UFCW member came to a 15 Now meeting and asked what she could do to help the campaign. She was told by the Socialist Alternative leadership that she could “ask” her union leaders to support the campaign. In other words, she was on her own.
It is sad to say so, but Socialist Alternative leadership has chosen to side with the union leadership over the membership. In doing so, they have allowed themselves to be maneuvered into the position of just playing the role of pressuring the Democrats instead of building an independent movement.
March 15 protest - Could this have become a true mass movement?

March 15 protest – Could this have become a true mass movement?

New Election Campaign
The al Jazeera article also reports that Socialist Alternative will be running a 15 Now leader – Jess Spears – for state assembly. It’s clear that nobody outside of Socialist Alternative will have any real input into this campaign, meaning it will have to be on the backs of the members. After a mad scramble to get the signatures, now Socialist Alternative members will be expected to take up another “pedal to the medal” campaign, leaving them no time to think and assess. When Sawant was elected, Socialist Alternative called for 200 independent left candidates to run in elections this June. They could have used the 15 Now campaign and Sawant’s position to really build a wider socialist/left coalition around the country. In practice, however, what this really means is simply seeking outside financial support for more Socialist Alternative candidates.
One final point: At the April 15 15 Now conference, it was repeated that winning a $15 per hour minimum wage would “transform the consciousness”. In other words, this campaign would immediately lead to the creation of a wider movement of, by and for workers. This was the justification for waging this single issue campaign. Now that claim has evidently been dropped. Since they are not using the issue to try to encourage layers of the working class to organize and fight for themselves (e.g. low wage grocery workers), all that is left is what could be called ballot box socialism – we’ll win this issue now (or some part of it), and then on to another issue (rent control maybe?) This more and more approaches the strategy of classical social democracy.
This web site enthusiastically advertised Sawant’s victory. The author of this article donated hundreds of dollars to Sawant’s campaign. We still think we were right to have done so, but seeing what is happening is disappointing. But what is more important is the fact that many other workers and young people will be similarly disappointed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is no reason, for example, that just a few people in Seattle can’t take the 15 Now campaign directly to the low wage grocery workers and use this issue to help them organize to change their union. That, in itself, would be an important step forward.
working class one fist copy
Posted in labor, Minimum wage campaign, socialist movement, United States | Leave a comment

Odessa, again: “What Really Happened”

This site has published a couple of reports on the slaughter in Odessa. The first one saying that it was basically a fascist attack on protesters. There was another report which sharply criticized both sides. Since we don’t have any direct contact there, we thought it was important to hear all different views.

However, this report  has a lot of video footage. It seems to show pretty decisively that those who died inside the building were simply murdered and that this was clearly a fascist attack on peaceful protesters, that it was not mutual combat. Not only that, but the police seemed to collaborate with this attack. It’s important for us to get a clearer view of what happened in Odessa because it seems that the who situation in Ukraine is far from resolved.



Posted in Europe, world relations | Leave a comment

Putting Their Children at Risk?

The Kaufman Family

The Kaufman Family

In early April, the Kaufman family set sail across the Pacific from Baja California. On their 36 foot sailboat were mom and dad – Charlotte and Eric – and their daughters: Cora, 3, and 1 year old Liza. Some 900 miles out to sea, Liza started to get very sick, including a rash all over her body, and didn’t respond to antibiotics. The Kaufman’s had to call for assistance and they were rescued off of their boat and flown to shore.


Kaufman family rescued at sea

Kaufman family rescued at sea

A huge hullabaloo followed, in which all sorts of people attacked the Kaufman parents for irresponsibility, for putting their kids at risk. Some even said the kids should be taken away from the parents. Even Charlotte’s brother, James Moriset, publicly attacked her. “I don’t understand what they were thinking to begin with,” he said. “I’m sorry, I don’t even like to take my kids in a car ride that would be too dangerous, and it’s like taking them out into the big ocean?”

A recent visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, watching kids playing in the ocean there, and reading a book on the environment (“Green Illusions”) while I was there, got me thinking more about this issue.

But first, as far as the relative dangers: Every year, hundreds – probably thousands – of families are cruising all around the globe with kids of all different ages. The reason we never hear about them is that nothing bad has happened. In fact, with modern GPS, satellite phones, etc., it’s probably safer going cruising with kids now than it was going backpacking or hiking in the back country before the days of cell phones. (Or today, for that matter, if you’re out of range of the cell phone.)

Why Risk It?

“Yes, but why put your children at risk?” some people ask. The sailing magazine “Latitude 38″ asked that of readers. Many reported on meeting young kids who were cruisers. They reported on how well adjusted these kids seemed to be, on their sense of responsibility and independence, on how well they related to adults. Having sailed to distant lands and often spent months ashore, these kids didn’t just study different cultures; they lived them. Maybe more important than anything, considering the environmental crisis that is developing, one of the most important things for our children to develop is a sense that we are part of nature, that we don’t stand above and apart from it. What better way to develop that than on a sailboat?

Risks to Children in Capitalist Society

On the other hand, there are the extreme risks raising children in modern-day capitalism – risks to both the mental and the physical health.  According to one report, the average child under eleven watches some 2.8 hours of TV per day, and from 12 – 17 years old they watch 3.4 hours per day. And what do they see when they are watching?

  • One 2002 study estimated that the average 18-year-old has watched 200,000 acts of violence on TV.  And that probably didn’t include watching football. Added to this is the increase since then of the popularity of video games, of which over 85% are violent according to “Psychology Today” (7/17/2006). All serious studies show that watching violence, and participating in it through video games, increases a tendency towards violent actions and decreases natural human empathy.
  • One study, for instance (“Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media”, Bushman and Anderson) found that after watching violent episodes the viewer was less likely to help an injured person. “The findings from both studies suggest that violent media make people numb to the pain and suffering of others,” they concluded. Another study (“The Effect of Video Game Violence,” Carnagey, Anderson and Bushman) showed changed brain patterns in those who played violent video games.  As one author concluded, “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.” The part of the brain so affected “is involved in inhibition and emotional modulation.”


Then there are the effects of the thousands of hours of advertising, especially on young children, who find it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality and also find it difficult to view advertising critically. According to another report, “The vast majority of youth-directed ads promote unhealthy foods and drinks, such as fast-food products, carbonated beverages, and cereals, candies, and other items that are high in sugar and/or fat. Compared with the foods and beverages marketed to adults, those marketed to children continue to be much less healthy overall.” 

Study after study has linked TV watching with the view that material possessions equal happiness – consumerism, in other words, while at the same time being directly linked with feelings of isolation, with alcoholism, etc.

Peer Pressure

Even simply limiting TV watching – or preventing it altogether – won’t eliminate these influences since unless the parents want to raise their kids in an ivory tower they will be influenced by peer pressure.

Of course, it’s possible to raise children who are mentally and physically healthy in modern US capitalist society. But who is to say that the risks are any less than those kids who are off sailing the seven seas.

Oh, yes, and as far as Mexico: I spent nearly one entire day watching a group of little children playing in the surf. They jumped up and down, even dove into the little waves, they lay down and allowed the water to tumble them over, they ran around and laughed. For hour after hour they played, with not a fight or conflict the entire time.

IMG_0885 IMG_0892 IMG_0963

It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Posted in capitalist media, education/childhood, John Reimann's personal blog, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ukraine: Another View

We are not anarchists and usually see things very differently from them. However, when trying to figure out what is happening in Ukraine – especially what did happen in Odessa – we have to get direct reports from there. We just published a report from Borotba, which gave one slant on things. Here is a report from an anarchist group in Ukraine. It claims that both sides are led by reactionary nationalists, and labels Borotba as Stalinist.


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Report from Odessa

People will have read about the massacre of some 40 people in Odessa, Ukraine. What the US media more or less covered up is that this was done by fascist forces who gathered from throughout Ukraine to march on Odessa. Below is a link to a report from Borotba, a socialist group in Ukraine:


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Open Letter to Socialist Alternative for campaign in UFCW

Dear Comrades in Socialist Alternative:

Your recent 15 Now conference had some interesting debate on different issues. For me, the most important issue was that of the collective bargaining opt-out for HERE members. We will see how that issue plays out.

Whatever differences we have on those issues, I’m sure we all would like to see as strong a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle as possible. The official support of the unions would be a great help in that. Disgracefully, the leadership of UFCW has not jumped on board, despite the fact that union workers at QFC, Albertson’s, Safeway, etc. in Seattle start at $9.42 per hour. Their courtesy clerks top out at $9.52 per hour and workers don’t reach the top of their pay scale until they have worked 7800 hours (3.75 years if they get 40 full hours per week, 52 weeks per year, which many of them don’t.) A strong $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance would tremendously help the lives of those workers, yet their leadership is not supporting it. The reason is that they believe they have to help these stores maximize their profits, which means at the workers’ expense.

I think it would be a great advance for 15 Now to develop a campaign aimed at these workers. 15 Now supporters could go into the grocery stores and hand out leaflets to the workers there explaining what you are trying to do, explaining that their union has not endorsed 15 Now and urging them to get involved in their union, to organize to force their union to endorse, donate to and mobilize for 15 Now. The campaign could also explain that this would be the first step in organizing to change their union, to make it really fight for the membership.

In other parts of the country, including the San Francisco Bay Area and in northern California, UFCW rank and file members have been organizing along these lines for years, but their success has been limited. The reason is that most members don’t really believe that anything can change. With a prominent elected public official – Kshama Sawant – associated with this campaign, it just might break through this defeatist mood. If it did, then regardless of the outcome of the 15 Now campaign and ballot initiative, this would be a huge step forward for all workers.

This idea has its roots in our experience here: In 2003-04, there was a grocery strike in Southern California. The UFCW sent pickets up to the San Francisco Bay Area to get a boycott of Safeway going. A few of us formed a group called Bay Area Striker Solidarity Organization (BASSO). We did exactly what is described above. We had great conversations and in a few cases a shop steward or other worker actually called a work place meeting on the spot for us to speak to a group of workers. Our success was limited, but that was then and this is now, and also we didn’t have a “Kshama Sawant” to point to either. But anyway, we learned a lot from that experience. And if you would consider doing a campaign like this, I’d be happy to come up there again for a few days to use what I learned in order to help that campaign get started.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours in the struggle,

John Reimann

Posted in labor, Minimum wage campaign | Leave a comment

15 Now Conference: Debate About Union Exclusion Clause

15 Now Conference

15 Now Conference


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15 Now Conference Report

15 Now Conference

15 Now Conference

On Saturday, April 26, some 400 activists and socialists gathered in Seattle to participate in the national “15 Now” conference. They came primarily from Seattle, but also from all over the country, including from as far away as Mobile, Alabama.


The conference and Socialist Alternative’s 15 Now campaign should be considered in its context. For decades now, there has been a general mood of resignation within the US working class – a feeling that nothing can be done to reverse the general course of things. This ranges from the most obvious issue of income levels and economic security to other issues like poisoning of the environment. In 2012, one of the first warning signs of a new movement sprang to life in the form of the Occupy movement. According to one person I talked with here (who is not a member of any socialist group), Socialist Alternative was really the only socialist group that was very present in Occupy Seattle and consistently sided with the left wing of that movement. Most prominent of the Socialist Alternative members in Occupy was Kshama Sawant, and that played an important role in Socialist Alternative and Sawant winning a base among the radicalized youth.

It is also clear that Sawant’s election victory has helped the consciousness here in Seattle. For instance, I was in a coffee shop here and got to talking with a young mother sitting next to me. This was a pretty middle class woman, but she was definitely aware of Sawant (she liked her “passion”) as well as the issue of the fifteen dollar minimum wage. She had some doubts about it, but those doubts were easily put to rest. (See this article.)

Although Socialist Alternative had been hoping for up to 1000 at the fifteen now conference, even 400 is not a bad outcome and would not have been possible had Sawant not won the election. (Probably close to 200 were Socialist Alternative members.)

Involving Low Wage Workers

However, the conference also showed that the campaign has not really made any major headway in breaking into exactly that sector who most need a $15 per hour minimum wage – single working parents, black and Latino youth, etc. From the outside, it is impossible to know for sure if this is because of the orientation of Socialist Alternative or because it is exactly these layers who feel the most depressed and abandoned.

Whatever the reason, it must be admitted that the orientation and strategy of Socialist Alternative – who run “15 Now” – does not help.

Mayor’s “Income Inequality Advisory Committee”

Sawant was elected partly through the support of a layer of the union leadership. Several locals endorsed her and the majority of the delegates to the central labor council voted to give a joint endorsement to Sawant and her opponent. Because her campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage for all and immediately really hit a nerve, the newly elected mayor was forced to appoint an “Income Inequality Advisory Committee” to study the issue of the minimum wage. This committee, however, was stacked in favor of big business, but it had as a co-chair David Rolf, head of the SEIU local in Seattle. Clearly, the intent of the committee was to suck in the union leadership to give them the appearance that they had some real influence – “a seat at the table” as they say. That is nothing new.

What was new was the presence of Sawant. How would she relate to this?

We don’t know what she was doing for the first few months she was in office, but we do know that she had said she would try to “work with” the other city council members. What seems most likely is that this was coming from the union leadership. Although the composition of the committee made it clear that they would not come up with anything acceptable as far as a minimum wage proposal, Sawant and Socialist Alternative did not have a real strategy to combat them. The first mistake they made was to wait to file a ballot initiative until this late date. Even now, it was made clear at the conference that it was only filed to pressure the city council. “To pressure the city council, the threat of a ballot initiative has to be credible,” said Socialist Alternative leader Jess Spears. This sort of comment was repeated throughout the conference. Sawant, herself, said “If the council doesn’t do what 67% of their constituents want them to do, we’ll take the charter amendment (the ballot initiative) to the voters.”

Read More:15 Now conference report

Posted in Minimum wage campaign | 1 Comment

How the Brain Works, school work and socialism

An article in today’s Wall St. Journal sheds some interesting light on how decisions are made. According to this article, as they say “doing less is more”. It explains that the best decision-making is not done with simple logic and facts. It requires creativity and intuitive leaps. The article describes the use of brain imaging to show this. It also explains that hard deadlines and piling up of tasks inhibits this sort of thinking – thinking “outside the box” as they say.

Children’s School Work

On the one hand, this has implications for children’s schooling. As a grandfather, I have noticed how even a first grader tends to get homework piled up on top of homework. And I know that for high school kids this can be many times worse. And this is precisely at the ages at which the creative parts of the brain should be stimulated and encouraged to develop. Instead, just the opposite is done.


It might seem strange to make the leap from here to the issue of socialism, but consider this: The capitalists make the argument that the reason socialism couldn’t “work” is that it would be less efficient – exactly because people are under more pressure (competition) under capitalism. But this study proves the exact opposite. It shows that if people had more time to just relax and contemplate things, that they would be better able to figure out things and resolve problems better. This is completely aside from the issue of which class rules and in whose interest.

Posted in education/childhood, John Reimann's personal blog | Leave a comment

Conversation in a Seattle Coffee Shop

A friend of mine and I were sitting in a coffee/tea shop in Seattle this morning when a pleasant young couple with a baby sat down next to us. After playing with the baby for a few minutes I got to talking with the (young) mother. I asked her what she thought of Kshama Sawant.

“I admire her passion and integrity,” she said. “It’s something that has disappeared from politics. But sometimes I worry that she might be trying to move too far too fast. Of course, maybe that’s something I’m getting from the media.”

I asked if she was referring to the issue of 15 Now. “Yes. I worry that if they pass that kind of minimum wage, that prices would go up.”

“Well, some businesses might try to raise their prices initially,” I said. “But pretty soon they’d run into what the Wall St. Journal calls ‘price resistance.’ Then they’d have to drop their prices back down and take a cut in their profits. As for those businesses that would be able to keep their prices up: They’d have raised their prices anyway, since that’s what they’re in business for – to maximize their profits.”

She agreed. “But wouldn’t some go out of business?”

“Maybe some would,” I said, “but a Wall St. Journal article published the results of a survey they did in the San Jose-Santa Clara California area a year after they raised the minimum wage there. They found that the number of minimum wage jobs had actually increased more than they had in the state overall. The thing is this: I’m sure there are some small businesses that could have survived if they’d have been allowed to pay their workers $5 per hour. So should we drop the minimum wage to that for them? Or how about three? There’s no limit once you start down that road.”

This registered with her. “Look,” I continued, “the basic thing is, you know how hard it is to get by nowadays, and it’s not just high school kids working minimum wage jobs anymore. In this country, with all this wealth, it’s just not right that anybody should have to survive on less than $15 per hour, even as a single person, never mind some single parent, for instance. Even 15 isn’t enough.”

She agreed. Upon my asking, she said she was a social worker who worked for the VA.

“I’m sure you could use a raise. And if you went for one, I’m sure you’d be told that the VA can’t afford it. They all say that. But if you wouldn’t want to accept that, then how about for somebody who’s only making minimum wage?”

It took all of about ten minutes to convince her that a $15 per hour minimum wage for all was justified, and it was as easy as falling off a log. I’m sure that as she becomes victim to all the corporate propaganda that this will have an influence. But it goes to show how a serious campaign for 15 now for all workers could easily win over the great majority in Seattle.

Posted in John Reimann's personal blog, Minimum wage campaign | Leave a comment

Support South African Miners

Striking miners shot down in Marikana, South Africa

Striking miners shot down in Marikana, South Africa


We have received the following appeal:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All
A living wage for mineworkers is a living wage for all


We humbly write these words to draw your attention to the struggle and sacrifice platinum mineworkers are making for a living wage. A victory for the platinum workers will be massive for all South African workers, regardless of which trade union they belong to or which federation they are part of.

The platinum miners strike for R12500 is a legitimate demand. Workers have been massacred for making this demand. Yet the platinum workers are uncowed. 11 weeks on strike, but they are holding steadfast. Its a response to the doubling of prices for basic food stuffs over the past five years and wage repression pursued by the mine bosses over the past 15 years. Mining Capital as a whole have managed in this short space of time to ensure a fall in the wage share of total value produced in South Africa every year, from 55% in 1997 to 38% in 2012 (StatsSA). In platinum mining the wage share of new value created stood at 61% in 1997. By 2012, it had fallen to 35%!

The strike is a response to the excessive profiteering of the platinum bosses. Platinum has enjoyed extremely high rates of return on investment. R48 billion of the R158 billion in mining profits paid out to shareholders from 2006 to 2011 were from platinum mining. This fact has not been lost on miners, who have seen massive expansion of operations and their senior managers earn grotesque sums of money.

The strike is also a response to the bosses demand for a 15% and upwards returns on their investments. This profit bench mark was set last year by the mining giant Anglo American, owner of Angloplats. It would translate into a profit increase by more than R29.5 billion for Angloplats, Implats and Lonmin together from the current profit levels. This is what the shareholders demand! But if far less than half of those increased profits they want instead was to be divided between all the 135 000 workers employed by the 3 giant companies – permanent as well as contract workers – they all would receive a wages well above R12500, after all deductions, Why should we accept excessive profiteering at the expense of a living wage?

And make no mistake: the strike is also about HOPE! Despite the Marikana massacre, the mighty movement that followed showed the Nation: Workers can do it. Our world can be changed, it must be changed and we will change it!

It is therefore no wonder the propaganda waged by the bosses and their lackeys in the media about affordability and threats of shaft closures has failed to weaken the resolve of the striking mineworkers and its leadership. The refusal of the platinum giants to budge from their initial offer is not about affordability, its simply about power, as was the case with the 1987 strike. Again like the1987 strike could have already met this demand with the losses incurred to date.

Unlike the unwillingness of the bosses to make any compromise, the mineworkers have made five compromises on their set of demands. The bosses are not negotiating in good faith.

We appeal to all trade unionists to rally against the unity of the capitalist class supported by the state and to respond with our own show of unity. To this end we appeal for support for the section 77 protected strike that NACTU has applied for.

We also appeal for the trade unions to hold money collections in support of the newly established AMCU strike fund. Monies can be deposited into the following account:

Account Name: Account Number: Branch Code:

Standard Bank – Witbank Business
AMCU Association of Mineworkers and Construction Strike Fund 332 748 634
052 750

Copies of deposit slips or EFT transfers must be emailed to dlf.wcape.tradeunion@outlook.com and in the e-mail please indicate which organization/church/group made the deposit and the province.

At this moment in time our slogan an injury to one is an injury to all has be put into practice. A defeat of the mineworkers will be a defeat for the entire workers movement. We have to put aside our political and organisational affiliations to build the unity capable of stopping the bosses starving one of the most powerful sections of the working class back to work.

Issued by the National Committee of the Democratic Left Front Email:dlf.wcape.tradeunion@outlook.com

Rehad Desai
Posted in Africa, labor | Leave a comment

$15 per Hour Minimum Wage: The Class Struggle Heats Up


There is no doubt about it: Winning a $15 per hour minimum wage for Seattle workers would be a small but significant victory for the entire working class. It would increase the standard of living for many workers who are struggling to survive. Maybe even more important, it would be a step in reversing the decades long offensive of Corporate America, and thereby it would raise the morale – the fighting spirit – of workers. This would help set in motion further struggles of workers.

Corporate Seattle Fears a Cut in Profits

Corporate Seattle is rallying the opposition to this initiative for two reasons. First of all, it will cut into their profits. The owner of Julia’s restaurant chain complains: “If a mandatory $15 an hour wage would kick in we would have to raise prices accordingly, most likely cut our work force, and  trim hours of operation, making it even more difficult to be profitable, maybe even close our business.” Like every other restaurant owner, Julia’s restaurants owners is not in business to serve food; they are in business to make a profit. If they can boost their profits by cutting workers now, they will do it. If they can boost their profits by cutting hours of operation now, they will do it. Their real problem is that, as they say, a $15 per hour minimum wage might even make it “more difficult to be profitable” — meaning it could reduce their profits.

Will this force some restaurants to close down? Possibly so. But what will be the ultimate consequence? The customers of those restaurants will simply go elsewhere, forcing those other restaurants to hire more workers. It’s true that this will disrupt the lives of some workers for a period, but then any struggle to increase wages inevitably has that short term side effect. (It’s also why the struggle for higher pay should be linked with the struggle for better unemployment benefits and for free health care for all.)

Will 15 Now Lead to Cut in Jobs?

Will an increase in the minimum wage lead to an immediate or medium term decline in the number of low wage jobs, as Corporate Seattle claims? Some evidence indicates the opposite. The Wall St. Journal – certainly no friend of working class people – recently published an article on how different businesses were handling local increases in the minimum wage. Among other areas, they examined the case of San Jose, CA, where the minimum wage was increased by $2.00 per hour (to $10.15) in 2013.   The article reports The research, published in the Review of Economics and Statistics in 2010, found municipalities with higher pay didn’t suffer job losses among low-wage restaurant workers. Nearly half of all minimum wage-earners work in food service….. Initial data a year after the minimum-wage increase shows the number of fast-food workers in the San Jose-Santa Clara metropolitan area rose at a faster pace than in the state overall.” (wsj 4-8-2014 )

The article also confirms what the owner of Julia’s fears – a cut in profits. They describe one owner of several Carl’s Jr. franchises, some in San Jose and some outside of it. This owner now charges $6.19 for a burger, fries and a drink  in San Jose (vs. $5.99 in Santa Clara), but he would have to charge $6.75 in San Jose to make up for the higher pay there. He lost some of his profits, in other words.

To put it very simply, the struggle over minimum wage – and over wages in general – is a struggle over how much “surplus value” goes to workers and how much goes to the employer. It is a struggle over competing and conflicting interests. And this is exactly what the employers, the owners of capital, and their mouthpieces fear – that this struggle will increasingly break out in the open and raise the awareness of these competing interests on the part of workers.

Seattle: One Big Happy Family?

Corporate America and their representatives fear the struggle just as much as they fear any ultimate outcome. The main opposition to 15 Now in Seattle gives the game away simply in their name alone: “One Seattle Coalition”. In other words, we – workers and employers – are all one big happy family with common interests. An article posted on the One Seattle web site is most revealing.

The article starts out by showing how Corporate Seattle feels the pressure of Sawant and the Seattle working class. It emphasizes the fact that the Seattle Chamber of Commerce has broken with its parent organization – the National Chamber of Commerce and that they are “not exactly the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson.”

They try to counter this pressure by trying to build on local patriotism – the supposedly uniquely creative “’Seattle Process’” and advocate an increase in the minimum wage, but in moderation and with all sorts of loopholes. They describe the political benefits. “The Emerald City stands to be a national pacesetter.  ‘Seattle enacts nation’s highest minimum wage: Business, labor come together on wage proposal,’ would be the headline. … Advocates like entrepreneur Nick Hanauer and Citizen University founder Eric Liu will be able to write a book about how it happened.  SEIU leader David Rolf will be able to show that organized labor can still make things happen. Joe Fugere, owner of Tutta Bella Pizza, will get a warm welcome back to the White House. Ed Murray stands to become a national progressive champion, the guy who gets things done, while New York Mayor Bill De Blasio founders in feuds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.”

“WTO Moment”

It concludes by showing its real fear: That a ‘“WTO moment’” may recur. The benefit of a compromise will be “relegating class warfare talk to the ‘dustbin of history’ – thank you, Leon Trotsky, for that phrase.” (The thanks to Trotsky is revealing – both of their ignorance that this is a phrase from Marx, not Trotsky, as well as a recognition of the role of Socialist Alternative, a Trotskyist group.)

Capitalist Counter Attack

However, in physics for every action there is a counter-action and in the world of the class struggle, for every victory of the working class there is a counter attack by the employers. An increase in the minimum wage is no exception.

Any such increase will tend to lead to an overall increase in wages. If an employer pays some workers $10 per hour, for instance, and pays other more skilled or longer term workers $12, he or she will tend to have to maintain that wage differential after the minimum wage increases to $15. In the short and medium term, this will lead to a redistribution of wealth downwards, reversing the longer term trend of redistributing wealth from the workers and the poor up to the top capitalists.

What form is a counter attack of the capitalists likely to take?

They will increasingly send manufacturing and high tech jobs overseas to low wage countries like China, India, etc. This, then, will put downwards pressure on all wages in the US, just as it has over recent decades.

Workers Must Struggle

Corporate America argues that this means that it is useless to fight for higher pay. Nothing could be further from the truth. One pay cut simply leads to another, driving down the living standards of the working class to one level grey mass, ultimately heading towards complete immiseration. Accepting pay cuts, or not fighting for better pay, demoralizes workers and makes many times more difficult launching a counter-offensive for a changed society altogether.

Karl Marx gave the answer to why workers must fight against low pay. He wrote: (Should ) the working class... abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation.… By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement. At the same time… the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market."  

Karl Marx gave the answer to why workers must fight against low pay. He wrote:
(Should ) the working class… abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation.… By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.
At the same time… the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market.”

“Labor Lieutenants of Capital” & Team Concept

The fight for an increased minimum wage has to be broadened out; it has to draw in all sectors of the working class, and to do so means connecting it with related issues. First and foremost, it means relating the issue of the minimum wage to the issue of wages as a whole for all workers. In the US, the main organizations that workers have built to improve their living standards have been the unions. But today the unions are locked in a strangle-hold by a leadership that is in the main the mouthpiece of the employers – “the labor lieutenants of capital” as the old time socialist Daniel deLeon called them.

Seattle’s own David Rolf of the SEIU is a prime example of this. Courted by One Seattle for good reason (see above quote), he has explained why he supports excluding union workers from a $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance: “We always want to offer an olive branch and a high road approach to employers of conscience who prefer to have direct and honest relations to unions that they are facing across the bargaining table so, yes, we hope that amongst the unions that are active at the airport that if workers choose to join those unions we want to facilitate and encourage productive, bilateral bargaining agreements,” he said.

It is exactly because of this attitude that Corporate Seattle, in the person of One Seattle, recognizes that they have to give the David Rolfs of the union movement a few concessions – to allow them to maintain control over their members and over the working class in general. And it is exactly this thinking that will tend to be discredited by building a mass movement for the $15 per hour minimum wage.

Building an Opposition Within the Unions

At this point, it seems that the leadership of many if not all of Seattle’s major unions are not supporting 15 Now. This includes SEIU (service employees), UNITE/HERE (hotel and restaurant workers), and UFCW (grocery workers). These are exactly the sectors where most low wage union workers are concentrated. This poses both the opportunity as well as the necessity for 15 Now to make a drive into those work places aimed at those low paid workers. This could include actually holding work place leafletting and rallies. The purpose of this drive would be to encourage those workers and help them organize to fight inside their union to get those unions to endorse and contribute to the 15 Now campaign. Sawant, herself, for instance, could take time out from negotiating and debating with the Mayor’s Commission and lead such a campaign. If she got arrested in the process, so much the better.*

Again, even more important than whether those workers actually won that battle would be the process of their organizing and the longer term implications of that. It would mean putting an end to the rule of the David Rolf’s of the union movement and rebuilding the unions as fighting organizations of the working class, with no illusions in “employers of good conscience,” with no illusions that workers and the employers have common interests. That this would also mean putting the entire union hierarchy on edge in Seattle is actually a positive; it would mean that such a campaign would tend to spread to the entire labor movement there. Included in the campaign to transform the unions could be some of the following program:

  • End the team concept, (the concept that union and the employer are on the same “team”). No concessions, no cuts in pay or benefits.
  • Link the contract struggle with a mass, rank-and-file based campaign to organize the unorganized.
  • For international solidarity in deeds, not just words, including direct links between workers in the same company and the same industry around the world through the internet and by direct visits; a strike against a company or an entire industry in one country means a strike against them everywhere.
  • Link the struggle of union workers with the struggle of oppressed groups to build solidarity; union support for prisoner rights, for immigrant rights, against police brutality, for the rights of specially oppressed minorities and women, etc.
  • For workers candidates and a mass workers’ party in the United States.

As sailors say, “it’s not the destination; it’s the journey”, and what is true for them is 1000 times more true for the class struggle. It is what is to be learned, how the class consciousness increases, that is at least as important as the temporary victories.

* – We are happy to see that Socialist Alternative and 15 Now did not include the union exclusion clause – known as the “collective bargaining opt-out” in its initiative. It was long unclear what their intentions were on this. This inclusion would have been a serious mistake. As for the other concessions – the three year phase in for employees in businesses of up to 250 workers and in non-profits – from this distance here in Oakland it is difficult to have a definite opinion although if these concessions are made more to attract a wing of the union hierarchy than to attract workers we think it is mistaken. For a more fleshed out strategy and program for a minimum wage campaign that is not oriented to the union hierarchy, see here

working class one fist copy

Posted in economics, Marxist theory, Minimum wage campaign, United States | 2 Comments

Seattle Ballot Initiative Filed


15 Now in Seattle has filed a ballot initiative (more than one, actually, for legal reasons) to increase Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour starting January, 2015. The increase would apply immediately to some but not most workers and would be phased in over 3 years for nearly all. If it wins, this will mean a significant improvement in the standard of living for workers in Seattle. It will also help set the standard for workers elsewhere, and therefore all workers everywhere should support it.

The initiative does have some weaknesses, however, the main one being that workers for employers of less than 250 workers and non-profits, including hospitals, will not see the full benefits for three years. These workers compose a decisive majority of Seattle’s work force. It was evidently determined by the Socialist Alternative leadership that these concessions were necessary to give the initiative a chance of passing. Writing from here in Oakland, it is impossible to judge that, although it does appear that this decision was based as much as trying to win over a sector of the union hierarchy as it was based on convince workers in Seattle.

If that is true, then this is a mistaken orientation. The main basis for decision making is what will be most likely to help build a wider movement of workers and youth.

The initiative does come down on the right side of an even more decisive question: Whether workers who are working under a union contract will be exempted from this initiative. Such an exclusion is in the minimum wage initiative passed for the Sea Tac (Seattle) airport area. Initially it was not clear at all that this would not be in whatever initiative 15 Now campaign filed in Seattle. However, it seems that the major unions which have workers working at under $15 per hour (service workers and grocery workers) are not backing the initiative. It is exactly the members of these unions who stand the most to gain from the initiative. Therefore a campaign amongst these workers to help them organize to get their unions to back the initiative should be part of the overall campaign.

The other question is whether the campaign for 15 Now will link up with other workers’ struggles in Seattle. This includes the struggle of immigrant workers, especially immigrant youth, against deportation; the struggle for better pay for all workers; and the struggle for decent jobs for all.

Immigrant youth blocking a deportation bus. Their militancy would add enormously to the 15 Now campaign.

Immigrant youth blocking a deportation bus. Their militancy would add enormously to the 15 Now campaign.

Hopefully, the initiative will pass. However, if nothing else comes out of this campaign but helping the low wage union members organize to change their unions, as well as linking up these different but related issues, then this will be a real step forward.

Posted in labor, Minimum wage campaign, socialist movement | Leave a comment

“15 Now”: A Socialist Program and Strategy

The election of socialist Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council was an important step forward for the workers’ movement and for socialism. It raised the hopes of workers and it helped put socialism on the agenda. However, every advance comes with new problems and potential pitfalls. In this case, Comrade Sawant and her organization, Socialist Alternative, are making some mistakes, which if not corrected have the potential to lead to serious disappointment for many. These mistakes include plans for a three-year “phase in” of the $15 per hour minimum wage for workers who work in businesses which employ less than 250 workers. It would also have such a phase in for workers at “non-profits”, which might even include hospitals. There is also evidently a plan to copy the minimum wage ordinance at Sea Tac airport, which excluded those workers who are working under a union contract.

We have taken up these issues in an Open Letter to Kshama Sawant, as well as in an article titled “The Minimum Wage, The Democrats, the Union Leadership and Kshama Sawant.” It would be immensely helpful to have an open and comradely discussion around these issues. That is especially true since no one group can build an opposition to the capitalist offensive alone nor does any one group have a monopoly on wisdom and insight.

It is not too late for Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative to engage in this discussion and toreconsider and strengthen the 15 Now campaign.

Low Wage Workers

It appears that Comrade Sawant and the 15 Now campaign are not focusing enough on the very layer on which she should be basing herself – low wage workers and the unemployed. To fully focus on this layer, Comrade Sawant has to reverse her proposal to exclude work places of under 250 workers – an exclusion that would even mean that workers at fast food places like McDonalds – a poster child for low wages – would not receive the immediate $15. After changing this proposal, Sawant could make regular “visits” to low wage work places – McDonalds, coffee bars, Walmart. These would involve touring the work place, even having small impromptu rallies inside the work place with Sawant and others giving short speeches explaining what she is trying to do and appealing to the workers to get involved.

The movement must fight all poverty in America

The movement must fight all poverty in America


A central target of such visits should be the major supermarkets, many of which are organized under the UFCW. There, workers are working under a contract that doesn’t expire for another two years. All workers in those supermarkets start at $9.42 per hour (!) and courtesy clerks top out at $9.52. Workers don’t get to the maximum wage until they have worked 7800 hours, which means that they would have to work almost four years… if they worked 40 hours per week every week in the year. (Many workers in the supermarkets don’t get a full 40 hour week.)

Comrade Sawant and Socialist Alternative should explain that this sort of contract – the norm in the UFCW – is a result of the team concept that the union leadership has put into practice and that the fight for 15 is linked with the fight for real, fighting unions, unions that don’t try to balance the interests of the employers with those of the workers.

How will this low wage worker be brought into the movement?

How will this low wage worker be brought into the movement?

The Fight for 15 should also be linked with a fight for an immediate $5.00 per hour raise for all workers – fifteen or five, whichever is greater. Yes, of course, this would mean “violating” the UFCW contract with the bosses. So what? The bosses violate the contract every day of the year, and when times are hard, they come back to the union and demand new concessions. So when times are good – like now – there is no reason whatsoever that workers should not demand the same – new concessions from the employers.

Through this, a campaign for major wage increases could be leveraged into the unions, starting with the UFCW, to build opposition caucuses within those unions.

Sawant and Socialist Alternative should also go to the fast food chains as well as Walmart and urge similar steps.

Immigrant Workers

The most oppressed layers of the working class do not only face low wages, however. One sector that lives in constant insecurity is the undocumented workers, many of whom are Latin American. In Seattle, undocumented youth have taken such militant steps as physically blocking the deportation busses. In any struggle for higher wages, though, these undocumented workers will be used to break strikes unless they are won over in advance. Therefore, the Fifteen or Five Now struggle should make that direct link. Where these undocumented and immigrant youth are blocking the busses, Sawant should join them. If she gets arrested, so much the better for the movement.

The militancy of these immigrant youth must be tapped into.

The militancy of these immigrant youth must be tapped into.

In addition, there is the issue of unemployment. The official unemployment rate in the area was 5.5% in January. This does not include the many workers who are involuntarily working short hours or have given up even looking for work. These unemployed and short hour workers would also potentially be used against the higher paid workers if their needs are not taken up. This means linking up the demand for higher pay with a demand for full time jobs for all at union wages or the $15 per hour minimum, whichever is greater. (It is a disgrace, by the way, that union pay scale is often lower than what is being demanded for the minimum wage!)


Taking these steps would mean increased repression and police harassment. Black and Latino people of every city in the United States face this harassment as well as outright murder every day of the year. They also face mass incarceration. As the struggle heats up in Seattle, and as it faces this increased harassment, it should make the direct link with this issue that is rampant in the black and Latino communities.

“Free” Market vs. Socialism

Full employment at decent wages can not be achieved through the “free” market and private investment for profit – not by boosting small businesses or large businesses or non-profits either for that matter. A real start in that direction can only be achieved by public investment. In other words, a crash program to rebuild the infrastructure, rebuild the inner cities, build schools and parks, retrofit all buildings to make them energy efficient, etc. If there is one thing that has been proven it is that private investment will not take such steps, no matter how necessary they may be.

Where will the money come from? Seattle workers don’t need to look very far; they have the example of Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest people, and there are plenty of others like him in Seattle. To the threat that they would take their capital and run, the socialist response must be to put it under public ownership.

This is the real answer to all the complaints of Corporate Seattle, rather than the claim that increased wages will boost the economy by giving workers more spending power. That argument, which amounts to Keynesianism, might be true for a short time, but it also will cut into the bosses’ profits, thereby encouraging them to leave town. Socialists must not get into the trap of arguing how to make capitalism run better; we simply put forward the needs of workers and our position must be that if the system cannot afford those needs, then workers cannot afford the system. (Incidentally, that used to be the position of the Committee for a Workers International, the international grouping with which Socialist Alternative works.)

Break with Union Leadership

Taking such steps would also mean a sharp break from the union leadership. For one thing, they regard the union contracts like a fundamentalist Christian regards the bible – as a holy document whose every word must be obeyed to the letter. For another, the leadership of every single union in Seattle would be furious at Sawant and Socialist Alternative if they tried to help the more independent and militant minded union members organize to fight to change their unions.

David Rolf , SEIU leader, pumping up the Democrats. Is this the type we want to ally with?

David Rolf , SEIU leader, pumping up the Democrats. Is this the type we want to ally with?

This means that none of them would endorse a ballot initiative.

So what? It merely gives the 15 Now campaign a powerful issue to take to the rank and file and encourage them to fight for it inside their union.

Organizational Steps

In addition, there are simple organizational steps that follow. The first one is to remove the 15 Now office from the same (relatively inaccessible) office space as Socialist Alternative and put it in a store front or similarly accessible space in one of Seattle’s poorer communities. Along with this is the necessity of really building the action committees as committees of struggle that really start to take on a life of their own, that are more than groups of foot soldiers who carry out the policies of Socialist Alternative. These committees should try to hold street corner meetings where residents can speak up about the issues they face, whether it be police harassment or poverty or domestic violence. The committees could then start to take up all these issues.

We recognize that the resources of Socialist Alternative are very limited. This is exactly why these committees need to be opened up like this. In addition, all different political currents should be welcomed in.

Such steps would inevitably be “messy”. There would, for instance, be problems of people showing up drunk. But the building of any popular movement in the US today will inevitably have to deal with such issues. The Occupy movement, where comrade Sawant got her start in many ways, most definitely had to deal with these issues.

Will it Win?

Will this approach be able to mobilize enough workers and young people to overcome the propaganda (and the money) of the bosses? Will it be able to overcome the bosses’ representatives inside the unions – the union hierarchy? There is no guarantee. But the present course far from guarantees a victory either since the great majority of low wage workers will not immediately receive the $15 per hour minimum wage and higher paid workers won’t be directly affected at all, meaning that it will be difficult to involve this majority.

For decades, the union leadership along with their allies, the non-profiteers, have been able to control the movement, to keep it within respectable bounds. Maybe, with a somewhat prominent and charismatic leader like Kshama Sawant at its head, this direction will be able to pierce that barrier. Maybe it will set into action all the pent-up anger and frustration. There is no way of knowing in advance.

But even if it doesn’t, it will lay down a marker for the future. It’s far better to try and fail than not to try at all, especially since the “victory” the present 15 Now campaign promises is so extremely limited and is far from guaranteed anyway.

In short, 15 Now has a choice to make: Either base itself on the rank and file of the unions or on the union leadership. Either really try to organize a mass movement or simply stick to ballot-box socialism. Either play it safe and respectable, or be loud and rowdy and take risks.

Occupy Movement: It was confused and rowdy and it captured the imagination of millions, especially the youth.

Occupy Movement: It was confused and rowdy and it captured the imagination of millions, especially the youth.

Posted in socialist movement, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

The Minimum Wage, the Democrats, the Union Leadership and Kshama Sawant


Obama Biden Boehner

The union leadership is tailing the Democrats once again, this time on the issue of the minimum wage. In keeping with tradition, the Democrats are pushing the issue in the hopes of winning votes in elections later this year as well as in the 2016 presidential election. But they are making sure not to push the issue too far, so they’re keeping their call for slightly over $10 per hour by 2015. This amount is so miserly that even Wal Mart is reported to be considering supporting it! In fact, day laborers in Oakland are reported to be refusing to work for less that $15 per hour already.

Union Leadership

So it is that the AFL-CIO leadership simply calls for this same increase. Around the nation, wherever the pressure is slightly greater, they are going for slightly larger increases and at a faster pace than Obama is advocating. The Democrats in Connecticut just pushed through a minimum wage increase to $10.10 immediately. Berkeley CA’s mayor is calling for an immediate city minimum wage of $10.55 and in Oakland a ballot initiative is being planned for a $12.25 minimum wage.

Sea Tac

The greatest raise was the ballot initiative just passed last November at Sea Tac (basically the Seattle airport area) for a $15 per hour minimum wage. That initiative, however, had a huge flaw in it: It excluded workers working under a union contract that called for less than the $15 minimum. According to one worker at the airport, this means some 40% of the work force there. David Rolf, an officer in SEIU 775 explained the reasoning in an interview with Marie Choi aired on KPFA radio last November: 

First, he claimed that most of the some 120 municipal minimum wage laws in the US “don’t supersede what is in the collective bargaining agreement.” (Here in the SF Bay area, that is not true, and the Oakland ballot initiative has no such exclusion either.) He went on to say: “If a group of workers votes that it is more important to put money into a retirement program (or sick pay, etc.) than onto wages, that’s their democratic right.”

Rolf and similar leaders are out of touch at best. All that is required is a little imagination. Think about a single mother of two, desperately struggling to make ends meet on, say, $12 per hour. Does anybody seriously think that that worker is happy with that wage? Rolf, who most assuredly is making more than $600 per week ($15 per hour for a 40 hour week), does not have to worry about this.

His explanation also misrepresents the actual situation. In contract after contract, the union leadership does everything it can to discourage the members from really organizing and fighting for more than what the employer is willing to grant. Ultimately, the leadership wears down the members, who feel that there is little prospect of winning anything better as long as the leadership is so conciliatory to management. The recent concessionary contract at Boeing is a perfect example.

Olive Branch” to Employers

Rolf also commented, “We always want to offer an olive branch and a high road approach to employers of conscience who prefer to have direct and honest relations to unions that they are facing across the bargaining table so, yes, we hope that amongst the unions that are active at the airport that if workers choose to join those unions we want to facilitate and encourage productive, bilateral bargaining agreements.”

David Rolf pumping up the Democrats

David Rolf pumping up the Democrats

In other words, the union exemption is a payoff to those employers who are willing to sign a union contract, thereby allowing the leadership to extract dues money from those employees. At the same time, this exemption gives the unionized employers a leg up in their competition with the non-union employers, who will have to pay the full $15 per hour wage.

Team Concept

This is the team concept of the union leadership carried out in practice. Unable to even conceive of any alternative to capitalism, they feel themselves tied at the hip to the employers and their political representatives. Industrially, they seek to help “their” employers compete with those who are non-union. They advance the idea that the workers and their employer are on the same team, competing with other employers… and their workers. This means that the union workers have to compete with the non-union for who can make a greater profit for their boss. It’s worker against worker.

Politically, it’s no different, with the union leadership seeing no alternative to the bosses’ party – the Democrats. As we see with the minimum wage campaign, they demand what the Democrats are willing to grant. The problem is that, just as on the job, the Democrats have been willing to grant less and less, and so the union leaders have been casting about for a means of pressuring their “allies”.

Kshama Sawant and Pressuring the Democrats

Sawant speaking

Then along came an attractive upstart — Kshama Sawant — and she got the support of a sector of the union leadership. (The majority of delegates to the King County Labor Council voted to endorse her, for instance.) They saw Sawant as a means of pressuring the Democrats, not as a step towards breaking with them. In supporting her, they also implicitly supported her call for a $15 per hour minimum wage, or at least they couldn’t openly oppose it.

Committed to this figure, Sawant pressed ahead. Her popularity forced the mayor to include her on his “income inequality” committee. The problem of Sawant and Socialist Alternative, however, has been that they lacked clear perspectives and a clear strategy from the start.

Many people are proposing that whatever new minimum wage be tied to the official inflation rate, the "CPI". However, the way the government figures this rate has been changed to underestimate it by about half. This graph from Shadowstats.com shows the official rate and what it should be if it were figured as it was before 1990.

Many people are proposing that whatever new minimum wage be tied to the official inflation rate, the “CPI”. However, the way the government figures this rate has been changed to underestimate it by about half. This graph from Shadowstats.com shows the official rate and what it should be if it were figured as it was before 1990.


Working With” the City Councilors

Before she even took office, she said she was going to try to “work with” her fellow city council members. This meant giving the mayor’s committee a chance to come up with something acceptable. But what Sawant and Socialist Alternative were calling for ($15 per hour) was too much for the Democrats to accept and therefore also too much for the union leadership to really fight for. It seems that Sawant and Socialist Alternative did not realize this would be the case from Day One, and therefore did not plan for a ballot initiative until the last minute.

Making Concessions

Predictably, the union leadership in the main has not supported the $15 Now campaign in any real way. On the other hand, Sawant and Socialist Alternative (who run the 15 Now campaign) have reportedly made some very serious concessions. They have already announced that they will accept a three year phase in of the minimum wage for “small” businesses. Now, it is reported that they pushed through a resolution in the 15 Now campaign that “small” business will be defined as any business with less than 250 employees. This is not a small business. It is also reported that they pushed through resolutions that (1)All non-profits be allowed the 3 year phase in for the minimum wage. This would reportedly even include “non-profit” hospitals! And (2) that Kshama Sawant and the leader of Socialist Alternative, Phil Locker, be empowered to allow the union exemption clause into the ballot initiative.

This was done with no open discussion in advance. When questioned about this a few days before this decision, a member of the Sawant staff simply refused to comment. And since then, as of this writing, there has been no official announcement of these decisions on the facebook pages of Kshama Sawant or the 15 Now campaign. The union exclusion clause (known as a “collective bargaining opt-out, or CBO) is especially serious. By adopting it, Socialist Alternative and 15 Now are accepting the team concept and the approach of “offering an olive branch to employers of good conscience.” It is exactly this entire strategy that has been so devastating to the entire union movement and the working class in general. This will inevitably have longer term consequences. How, for instance, can they then turn around and oppose the team concept when they have embraced its practical consequence?

Sawant and her party, Socialist Alternative, have ended up with the worst of both worlds. They have to rush at the last minute to decide what they want to do about a ballot initiative because they wanted to show themselves as having faith in the process or something of the sort as far as the mayor’s committee is concerned. The turnout for the March 15 march was 700 maximum, respectable but not overwhelming. It appears this is at least partly due to her and her staff having spent so much time and energy debating with the mayor’s committee instead of really focusing on campaigning in the communities and the work places. But on the other hand, the union leadership is still not fully supporting them.


How did Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant end up in this predicament?

The problem is that they started off with an orientation towards the union leadership more than towards the membership and non-union, low wage workers. What they should have done was start with an explanation that while they are fighting for 15 now, that that figure is not enough, that it is just a starting point. It also should have been linked to a campaign for an immediate raise of $5 per hour for all workers, union or not. Also, a demand like “jobs for all” and/or a publicly funded jobs creation program (at the $15 per hour minimum wage) should have been raised as well in order to get the unemployed involved in the campaign. Thus the needs of low wage workers would have been tied to those of the rest of the working class, including the unemployed. This would have alienated the union leadership, but considering the huge gulf that exists between them and their membership, socialists must make a choice which side to orient towards.

They could take their campaign into the grocery stores, hospitals, hotels, coffee bars – directly to low wage workers and all other workers. They could explain that the union leadership is refusing to support this initiative because they care more about “offering an olive branch” (as David Fold put it) to the employers and the Democrats than they do about organizing a fight for the members and for all workers.

March 15 protest - Could this become a true mass movement?

March 15 protest – Could this become a true mass movement?

Open Up 15 Now

If they did this, Socialist Alternative could really open up the 15 Now campaign and build its structures in such a way that all workers can get involved beyond just being foot soldiers, (rather than having the Socialist Alternative leadership control it). One simple step would be to move the 15 Now office out of the office of Socialist Alternative, where it is largely inaccessible, and into a store front in or near a poor community. That, in itself, would say a lot.

Would This Succeed?

There is no telling whether such a campaign would spark off enough enthusiasm to overcome the resistance of the employers, the Democrats and their representatives inside the unions – the union leadership. One experience of this writer can serve as an example: In 1999, the leadership of the Carpenters Union in Northern California signed a sweetheart contract with the contractors. This writer organized a protest against that contract, but when one carpenter called for a walk off, this writer and others who had been active thought the mood wasn’t there for that. When we found out that there was a mood, we helped lead the way for the San Francisco Bay Area carpenters wildcat strike of 1999 in which some 2,000 carpenters walked off the job.

Who knows what is seething beneath the surface in the Seattle working class? Who knows how they would respond to such a campaign? All we can say is that even if a mass response did not happen, at least a fighting example would have been set. Instead, what is being contemplated is a ballot initiative with the exact “more holes than Swiss cheese” as Sawant herself said in denouncing the mayor’s committee.

Win at all Costs vs. Building the Movement

Presently, the Sawant campaign is taking the approach that “we want to win; we are not purists” as one of Sawant’s staff said to this writer on March 15. What he meant was that he was in favor of making principled concessions (such as the ones mentioned above) in order to gain the support of the union leadership or a wing of it. This is being done at the expense of really struggling to build a real rank-and-file workers’ movement; it represents trying to rest on a layer of the union leadership rather than on the membership. And the present course doesn’t even guarantee a victorious ballot initiative this November! How, after all, can we expect the vast majority of workers in Seattle, who won’t be directly and immediately affected by this initiative, to campaign for it? After all, for the majority, this is not “15 now” but, rather “15 in three years from now.”

A $12.25 minimum wage initiative is being circulated in Oakland, CA. While significantly less that the $15 wage, it would cover all workers regardless of union status, employer size, etc. It also mandates sick pay. Which is better? It's pretty much a tossup.

A $12.25 minimum wage initiative is being circulated in Oakland, CA. While significantly less that the $15 wage, it would cover all workers regardless of union status, employer size, etc. It also mandates sick pay. Which is better? It’s pretty much a tossup.

As with other serious socialists and working class fighters, this writer was extremely enthusiastic about Sawant’s election victory. As we see just a few miles north of Seattle, where Mike LaPointe is running for congress, there seems to be a trend of the movement turning towards electoral politics. Sawant and Socialist Alternative can and should play a role right at the very lead of this tendency. They can do that by taking some of the steps along the lines of those outlined above. We hope they do so.


Posted in labor, United States | 5 Comments

Fred Phelps is dead; the truth is stranger than fiction


The infamous bigot, Fred Phelps, is dead. He and his church – the Westboro Baptist Church (composed mainly of his family members) were infamous for picketing funerals of gay people with signs saying “god hates fags”. He was a disgusting hate monger, but his history is very complex and says a lot about US society.

Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Phelps attended various colleges and ended up as a lawyer in Kansas City. There, he became possibly the most active civil rights lawyer in the state! Here’s how wikipidia describes his activities:

“Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1964, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm.[17] The first notable cases were related to civil rights. “I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he claims. Phelps’ daughter was quoted as saying, “We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were n____ lovers,” and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil rights cases.
Phelps took cases on behalf of African-American clients alleging racial discrimination by school systems, and a predominantly black American Legion post which had been raided by police, alleging racially based police abuse.[19] Phelps’ law firm obtained settlements for some clients. Phelps also sued President Ronald Reagan over Reagan’s appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, alleging this violated separation of church and state. The case was dismissed by the U.S. district court. Phelps’ law firm, staffed by himself and family members also represented non-white Kansans in discrimination actions against Kansas City Power and Light, Southwestern Bell, and the Topeka City Attorney, and represented two female professors alleging discrimination in Kansas universities.
In the 1980s, Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP,  for his work on behalf of black clients.”

Ultimately, Phelps was disbarred for a vicious, sexist court attack on a female court reporter.

Phelps was also something of an anti-war activist. He and his followers went to Iraq in 1997 to protest against the US on the streets of Baghdad.

Westboro Babptist Church in action

Westboro Babptist Church in action

Meanwhile, Phelps was developing his ultra-Calvinist religious views. According to these views, “God” has preordained some people to ascend to heaven and the rest to go to hell. He also developed his hatred of homosexuality, and for instance supported Al Gore at one point when Gore opposed gay rights.

What are we to make of all this? How did a civil rights lawyer evolve into a vicious bigot?

It shows the extreme confusion that exists in what passes for intellectual life in official US society. This is a society where preachers are taken seriously for claiming that their prayers resulted in massive floods that broke a drought. It’s the same society in which fashion icons and sports heroes dominate the media. It’s also the same society which has never had a mass workers’ party nor a really mass socialist movement (Eugene Debs and the old Socialist Party came close). Given that, all sorts of twisted and contradictory thinking is inevitable. How the hate-filled message of Fred Phelps developed is an example.

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Interview with Mike LaPointe – 99%’er and candidate for congress

Occupy Everett - Like Kshama Sawant in Seattle, LaPointe was active in Occupy Everett

Occupy Everett – Like Kshama Sawant in Seattle, LaPointe was active in Occupy Everett

We interview Mike LaPointe, candidate for office from the State of Washington’s 2nd district, and activist in Occupy Everett. Mike is an example of what seems to be a new trend to run for public office outside of the Democratic/Republican straightjacket – the most striking example of which is Kshama Sawant in Seattle. (See the speech Sawant gave at the 15 Now rally on March 15 here and an open letter to her here.)

Here is the interview with LaPointe:

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Kshama Sawant speaks on March 15


On March 15, Socialist Alternative and the 15 Now campaign held a march and rally in Seattle. It was organized as a major step in advancing the struggle for a $15 per hour minimum wage in that city. Below are the videos of Sawant’s speech. It is in three parts in order to be able to post it here.


Posted in socialist movement, Uncategorized, United States, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Ukraine: Can West Get Situation Under Control?

Here is a phone call between theUkrainian former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and former Defense Minister Nestor Sufrych. Whether it was Russia or the West that intercepted this phone call is not clear. In either case, Tymoshenko has revealed herself as the Ukrainian Sarah Palin.

In another step, a leader of the fascist Right Sector, Alexandr Muzychko, has been reported to have been killed by police. According to the report, police were attempting to arrest Muzychko for intimidating a government body and other crimes. (He had been filmed threatening a local government council with knives and an AK 47.)

We do not use the term “fascist” lightly. That is what the Right Sector is, including all the armed violence that goes along with these types. Western governments would like to get a friendly but reliable regime in Ukraine. They were willing to lean on the far right, including the fascist Right Sector, to overthrow the pro-Russian previous government, but now things have gone too far. The Right Sector even has its man in as Minister of Defense.

Neither the Western European nor the Putin regimes want a direct military confrontation in Ukraine. Despite all its bluster, the West (including Obama) is forced to accept Putin’s annexation of Crimea, just as Putin is forced to accept the existence of a pro-West regime in the rest of Ukraine. The problem is that both sides have set forces into motion that they may not be able to control.

The main such force is the far right Svoboda and their ally, the fascist Right Sector. What kind of base do they have and how far will they go in asserting Ukrainian nationalism? Will they move to suppress by mass force the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine? If so, then will Putin be able to stand by without directly intervening?

Dangerous forces have been set loose.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia Herzegovina a true workers’ uprising has been taking place. If such a workers’ movement spreads throughout eastern Europe, this can be the alternative to fratricidal nationalism that seems to be dominating the scene in Ukraine.

Posted in Europe, world relations | Leave a comment

Open Letter to Kshama Sawant



$15 an hour supporters at the March 15 rally

$15 an hour supporters at the March 15 rally


Dear Kshama Sawant:

Congratulations on having been elected as the first openly socialist representative in many decades. Your victory has given some people hope and has made the issue of socialism more prominent.

This victory has placed you in an important position, presenting opportunities and also presenting serious risks. As fellow socialists, we want to see an expansion of the movement you have begun. For this reason we are writing with the following concerns.

“Phase In”

When you spoke at the rally on March 15, you proposed that a $15 per hour ballot initiative would include a three year “phase in” for workers at non-profits and small businesses. Was this simply a negotiating ploy or do you seriously intend to put forward this concession? This was not clear and therefore could be confusing to your supporters. One of the main attacks on the minimum wage in recent decades has been to try to exempt certain categories of workers, but this attack has met with only limited success. By including this “phase-in” we think you may be opening the door to even further exemptions around the country in the future.

Union Contract Exclusion

Even more serious, however, is our concern about a possible union exemption. As you know, the $15 per hour minimum wage at Sea-Tac excludes those workers who are working under a union contract and getting less than this amount; they will continue to get less than the $15 until their union contract expires. To our knowledge, you did not criticize this, and therefore we are concerned that you will consider putting the same exception in any ballot initiative you propose. The fact that you are working closely with different layers of the union leadership heightens this concern. We hope we are wrong about this, but we have reason to suspect that that is not ruled out right now.

Union workers currently making less than the $15 per hour would feel that being in a union is not only pointless, but that it is actually harmful. Not only that, but such an exception would reinforce the team concept approach of the union leadership. They would go around to the nonunion employers in town offering to sign them up for any amount they could blow the $15 per hour. They would also be advertising to “their” employers that they are saving money by having a union contract.

We think that around these measures you have to part ways with the union leadership. What is the meaning of being a socialist otherwise? In any case, whether such steps are correct or not, we think maximum discussion among those involved is necessary, and from the reaction of those we met there we are not sure this is happening. We also think that steps like the union exception should be presented for what it is: A concession to the union leadership without which it is felt the measure cannot pass. This is open to debate, but at the very least it has to be openly presented. And we should also not forget the level of anger and distrust that exists within the union membership. If we ally ourselves too closely to the leadership, we are liable to be cut off from any movement from below, a movement that has to and will take place.


At the March 15 rally, the question of unemployment was hardly mentioned, if it was mentioned at all. An unemployed worker or young person will tend to ask, “What good does a $15 per hour minimum wage do me; I don’t even have a job.” That is why we think some demands around unemployment should be raised along with the $15 per hour minimum wage demand. In relation to broadening the issues, we also think it should be made clear that $15 per hour is only a start, that even that amount is not enough.


We would like to suggest that maybe there are some related issues that could possibly be raised more. These include mass incarceration of black and Latino people as well as police brutality, the struggle of immigrants – especially the radical steps being taken by immigrant youth, etc.


This will inevitably lead directly to the question of whether all of this can be resolved under capitalism, which then opens up the question of socialism. Unfortunately, neither you nor Phil Locker nor anybody else ever raised the issue of socialism, or even mentioned the word, at the March 15 event. We understand that every victory of the working class advances the consciousness, but if this is accomplished at the expense of compromises in principle, or without open discussion within the movement, then we are taking a dangerous path.

We are concerned that maybe there is too much focus on debating with and negotiating with business leaders, other politicians, union leaders and not enough  getting out into the streets, especially in the poorest neighborhoods on Seattle. We wonder, for instance, whether it wouldn’t be better to have opened up the 15 Now office in a store front in South Seattle rather than in an office that is all but inaccessible.

We know that holding political office is not easy. Several of us have served as elected union officers, and while it is different in some ways, we understand the pressures that are brought to bear. For that reason, we think it is vitally important that you open the 15 Now campaign more than you have.

There are many other points to be raised, but we think these are some of the most important. We raise them in the spirit of comradeship and because just as your success is a step forward for the workers’ movement in general, so any mistakes, if persisted in, can be a set-back of similar proportions. We look forward to a friendly dialog and collaboration in the future.

Comrade Sawant, you have repeatedly said that your victory has to be repeated throughout the United States. We agree. For that to happen, we need a genuine collaboration amongst socialists and in the wider working class movement. And for that we need a genuine dialogue. In that spirit, we look forward to hearing back from you and carrying a discussion forward.

In Solidarity,

John Reimann, former Recording Secretary and expelled member, Carpenters Local 713

Cheryl Zuur, former President, AFSCME Local 444

Sonja E. former branch secretary, Voran, Germany

Posted in socialist movement, United States | 1 Comment

Documentary: Bosnia and Herzegovina in Spring


The US media is giving no coverage to these protests because, as one woman explains, this is a class uprising. Also note that most of the protesters appear to be pretty young. This contrasts with a recent nationalist, pro-Russian protest in Crimea.

Originally posted on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files:

View original

Posted in rebellion, Uncategorized, workers' struggles | Leave a comment

Why I Like Oakland

Posted in John Reimann's personal blog, Oakland | Leave a comment

A Sad State of Affairs

I am now in Seattle seeing what the Kshama Sawant campaign is doing. I just went to a meeting of some members of the International Association of Machinists. These are members who opposed the last contract – naturally some of the strongest unionists in their union. I introduced myself as a retired carpenter and an expelled member of the carpenters union. Before I had the chanceto give a single word of explanation, one of the IAM members jumped up, ran over to me, gave me a hug and said “that’s my kind of guy.”

It used to be that such an introduction would immediately raise suspicion — did this guy steal union money? Did he scab? Nowadays it’s just assumed that he stood up to the representatives of the employers who are running our unions.

That is a sad state of affairs in our unions.

Posted in John Reimann's personal blog, labor | Leave a comment

Fracking is serious business


Anybody who thinks that Corporate America, and Corporate World are not totally dedicated to expanding the use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) should take a look at recent news.

  • Item: The Obama administration has made a historic shift from focusing on its power and influence in the mid East to combatting the influence of Chinese capitalism in the Pacific. The reason they are able to do this is the massive increase in oil and natural gas production in the US (and Canada), with the result that they are less dependent on Mid East Oil
  • Item: As if this weren’t enough, we have the continuing crisis in Ukraine. There, US capitalism and its allies in Western Europe are severely constrained as to what sanctions they can apply to Russia because so many Western European countries are so dependent on Russian gas, which is sent through Ukraine. The previous Ukrainian government had signed multi-billion dollar deals with both Chevron and Shell to explore for shale gas in that country, but meanwhile it is Western European governments are looking for a way to get gas from the fracking fields of the US.
  • Item: If that weren’t enough, we see how the fracking and tar sands boom has boosted the US economy. The March 14, 2014 Wall St. Journal has an article on the tremendous boom in the railroad industry that has resulted. They write:

“BNSF is scrambling. The railroad is leasing and buying locomotives by the hundreds and hiring new crews. In mid-February it began building new track on top of frozen snow-covered ground along its main oil-patch route. It normally wouldn’t have attempted such a project until spring.”

Both the railroad and the trucking industry are now hiring significant numbers as a result of this boom. And that is just one example.

In the ’90s and the early part of the 2000s we had a boom that was based on the housing industry, this one is based on oil production. Most of the earlier boom was also based on a huge build-up of credit – fictitious capital. There are some economists who argue that the present boom has a similar aspect and that fracking will not prove to be anywhere near as profitable as they think. This may be, but meanwhile they are absolutely determined to expand this disastrous practice.

Whether a fracking financial bubble bursts or not, there is also an environmental bubble that is building up and will prove to be many, many times more costly. If capitalism cannot afford a clean environment, then we cannot afford capitalism!


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Ukraine, Syria and Power Politics


map of gas pipelines running through Ukraine

The British newspaper the Guardian recently reported on how Corporate America has been intervening in Ukraine ever since the days of the Bush administration. They have been giving billions of dollars to support “democracy” in Ukraine. As they point out, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Newland has said:

“Today, there are senior officials in the Ukrainian government, in the business community, as well as in the opposition, civil society, and religious community, who believe in this democratic and European future for their country. And they’ve been working hard to move their country and their president in the right direction.”

The US has been unequivocal in its praise of the Euro Maidan movement, despite the fact that this movement includes outright fascists (that is, supporters of Hitler), real anti-Semites (not simply those who make legitimate criticisms of Israel, but those who firebomb Jewish synagogues), and extreme anti-woman bigots.

What is happening here?

As competition heats up for access to the remaining oil deposits around the world, so does the rivalry between the major capitalist powers and capitalist blocs. Ukraine, whose name means “border land” in the Ukrainian language, is exactly on the border between Western and Eastern capitalism (the European Union and Russia). As that same Guardian article reports:

‘A more recent US State Department-sponsored report notes that “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities”, make the country “a potentially crucial player in European energy transit” – a position that will “grow as Western European demands for Russian and Caspian gas and oil continue to increase.”‘

While the previous Yanukovich regime started tilting towards Russia, it should also be noted that back in November he had signed a $10 billion deal with Chevron to explore for shale gas (fracking) in Ukraine. Yanukovich had already signed a similar deal with Shell the previous January.

Meanwhile, US Senator John McCain – the Republican candidate for President in 2008 – when asked about the possibility of direct US military intervention commented  “I’d love to tell you that there is (that possibility)… but frankly I do not see it. I wish that there were. … I do not see a military option and it’s tragic.” Again: The reason that there is none is the fact of a nuclear armed Russia. This fact is not lost on regimes such as the Iranian regime, as well as others. This is not to support the spread of nuclear weapons but simply to point out that such a spread is inevitable under capitalism, especially as the rivalries heat up.

Nor does the role of Western capitalism mean that the Russian intervention in any way will benefit workers – not in Crimea and most certainly not in Russia. It is calling forth the most right-wing nationalist and bigoted forces in Russian politics and is leading to increased repression in Russia itself. This intervention will also be used to repress the Tatar minority in Crimea.

There is a similarity between the situation in Ukraine and that in Syria, as was pointed out in the previous article on this site on Ukraine. We don’t know to what extent workers as workers were involved in the original protests in Ukraine, although they certainly were in Syria. But in both cases, it has ended up with totally reactionary forces on both sides representing the interests of major capitalist powers outside the country – wars by proxy, in other words.


There are now reports of protests against the new regime in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. There are also reports that the new government has sent in mercenaries from the infamous private “security” company formerly known as Blackwater (or Iraq fame). In fact, below is a video of them as they are chased out of the town center by local residents.

Putin may have planned a “surgical” operation in which he sent in a limited number of troops to hive off Crimea, but this may get out of control. If there is a general uprising in eastern Ukraine against the new regime, then the new regime may feel forced to try to put it down, either with their military or with informal militias (really just armed thugs), possibly combined with mercenaries like these. If that happens, then Putin will very likely feel forced to send in troops. This could get very much uglier.

Posted in environment, Europe, world relations | Leave a comment

Don’t Count on the EPA…


EPA Chief Gina McCarthy: Kissing up to the oil industry

Don’t count on the Environmental “Protection” Agency… unless you are the oil industry or a global warming denier, that is.

Today’s Wall St. Journal carries an article on Obama’s head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy. They report:

“Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), a longtime and outspoken EPA critic, said he has been won over by Ms. McCarthy’s work. (NOTE: Inhofe is the foremost spokesperson for the oil industry in the US Senate and is one of the most prominent deniers of the fact of global warming.)

“Mr. Inhofe hosted two meetings last year in his office at the Capitol between Ms. McCarthy and executives of Devon Energy Corp. They told Ms. McCarthy the EPA was overestimating the level of greenhouse-gas emissions from hydraulically fracked wells in an annual report to the United Nations.

“The accounting matters to industry executives because part of the U.N. climate-change effort involves coordinating with governments to write national plans to address the emissions.

“The executives presented alternative methods for the calculations. They became the basis for Ms. McCarthy’s proposed change in 2014 in how the EPA will measure such emissions.

“‘She sat down and made modifications to the rule, and that was very helpful,” Mr. Inhofe said. “You don’t get that if you have a relationship of hostility.’”

So there we have it. The head of the Environmental “Protection” Agency is allowing the oil and gas industry to write important rules for her and is being praised by a global warming denier. What more could the corporate criminals ask for?

Disgracefully, one of the main environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, also praised McCarthy. “David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Ms. McCarthy is a straight-shooter. “You don’t feel like there’s a lot of massaging statements in meetings to obfuscate or try to leave different impressions with different people,” he said. He said she has been “strong and effective” at the EPA even if his environmental group would have liked the agency to go further on some regulations.”

So you’d better not count on them or their type either. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but all we have left is a mass, grass roots movement – a movement from below. One part of this movement will include mass civil disobedience to stop the polluters in their tracks. Another part will include electing our own people into office – separate from and independent of the Republicrats and big business. But for that, we’ll also have to take on all the other issues that ordinary, working class people face.

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Ukraine: “The sins of the fathers…” and beyond


by John Reimann

 “The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.”

You don’t have to believe in the Christian Bible to see this at work in the current crisis in Ukraine. It’s not all that is at work, but it certainly is part of it. In addition, we see the economic crisis of capitalism, the general lack of a truly independent workers’ movement on a global scale, and the weakening of US capitalism as the dominant force in the world, leaving an increasingly chaotic situation. (Not that US capitalism’s dominance served the interests of workers anywhere, either.)

 National Struggles

“Ukraine” means border land in the Ukrainian language, and that is exactly what it is. As such a land, and lacking major barriers such as high mountains surrounding it, Ukraine was a target for invasion after invasion. This includes both the invasion of the “Golden Horde” of the Mongols, invasion by the Ottoman Empire, of the German Nazis, and on and on. One particular part of the present day Ukraine – Crimea – was especially the object of such invasions. Until they were forcibly uprooted and driven to Uzbekistan by Stalin (a move in which some 40% died), Crimea was settled predominantly by the Tatars. But just a review of the ethnic origins of this group reveals a lot. The Tatars are divided into various sub-ethnic groups. They speak Crimean Tatar, Russian or Turkish, depending on their locale. The Crimean Tatars are composed of Greeks, Armenians, Italians and Ottoman Turks on the southern coast, Goths on the central mountains, and Kipchaks and Cumans of the steppe and forming of the Crimean Tatar ethnic group. Wars arising from all the regional rivalries, such as that between Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire, were fought on Crimean soil. (In turn, the Tatars themselves carried out raids on Russia and Ukraine in an earlier period in which they captured thousands to sell as slaves to the Ottomans.)

In “normal” times – that is, times of relative stability – this history of war, invasion, forced resettlement could be somewhat pushed into the background. But let a new crisis arise, and all the old ethnic tensions will be used by nationalist and right wing forces. Or to put it another way: These tensions will be exacerbated if there is no mass and independent working class movement to resolve them.

This is exactly what is happening now.

Hitler and Stalin

Another aspect of this history stems from the roles of both the Nazis as well as the crimes of Stalin and his regime.

The Russian Revolution swept into Eastern Europe, including into Ukraine, but then it was totally corrupted by the bureaucracy that seized power in the Soviet Union with Stalin at its head. The unstable position of this bureaucracy, with Stalin at its head, was shown by the purges and also by the attacks on different national minorities. In order to ensure that no opposition movement could develop anywhere he brutally oppressed almost all ethnic groups within the Soviet Union. Part of this oppression was the forced relocation of such ethnic groups as the Tatars, as mentioned above. Then there was the brutal crack down on the peasantry, including the forced collectivization. This hit the Ukrainian peasantry extremely hard, and thousands literally starved to death as a result. The consequence was that when the Nazis invaded Ukraine, some Ukrainians actually welcomed them. That most soon found out that the Nazis were just the opposite of their saviors is another story. Also factored into this was the historic anti-Semitism that was so common especially in Eastern Europe at that time.

peasant starvation

Russian peasants starved to death under Stalin

Crimean Tatars

The upshot was the development of pro Nazi forces in Ukraine as well as in Crimea, where a Tatar legion of the Nazi forces was built. After the defeat of the Nazis, Stalin used the latter as an excuse for the forced resettlement of the Crimean Tatars. In the 1950s, then Soviet Premier Khruschev carried out a program of “deStalinization”. While maintaining bureaucratic control over every aspect of life, he made a pretense of eliminating the worst aspects of Stalin’s rule. As part of this, he made Crimea part of “the” Ukraine at that time. (Perhaps this was done also to make it more difficult for the Tatars to return there.) However, it was not until 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the Tatars returned to their ancestral homeland from Uzbekistan.

Imagine the meaning of this: Generation after generation of Tatars had grown up and lived outside of Crimea. They had no direct personal experience, yet the history, the call for a return to their homeland lived on and as soon as the opportunity arose they took advantage of it. (In some ways, this calls to mind the present situation of the Palestinian diaspora.)

Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars: For generations they maintained their traditions

What did they find upon their return?

Their former homes and land was occupied by ethnic Russians, who now were the overwhelming majority (some 75%). Despite new laws, they found it near impossible to get land on which to build new homes or mosques to carry out their traditional religion. They were a discriminated-against minority in their own home. In the absence of a real workers’ struggle to unite all workers and peasants, this also created distrust among the ethnic Russians.

Collapse of Stalinism: Aftermath

With the collapse of Stalinism, US capitalism became dominant globally and with it the rise of the neo liberals and the propaganda of the “free” market. This meant wave after wave of attacks on any government intervention into the economy such as price supports for basic necessities, government social welfare programs, and privatization. All of this was accompanied by massive corruption, which included the rise of the “oligarchs” not only in Russia but also in Ukraine.

So it was that the early years of the 21st century saw the rise of massive wealth of the few amidst the increasing poverty of the many in Ukraine. (A story that might sound familiar to workers in the United States, for that matter!)

According to one report, The Ukrainian hryvnia has lost 25 percent of its value against the dollar since mid-January (the currency is worth about 1/5th of what it was when it was issued in 1996).” According to al Jazeera, “As of December 2013 the external debt of Ukraine skyrocketed to $149 bn., which makes more than 77 percent of country’s GDP. About $65bn short-term debt can’t be paid at the moment, while the country’s gold and foreign currency reserves are estimated to have shrunk to $15 bn.” This has meant severe inflation in Ukraine.

Western Ukraine

Predominantly ethnic Ukrainian (as opposed to ethnic Russian) western Ukraine is also more rural than is Eastern Ukraine, which also has closer economic ties to Russia. Partly due to this, there was an opening for demagogic propaganda in western Ukraine to look towards the European Union (EU) for salvation. The gaze to the EU was directed at Germany, instead of to the crisis ridden Greece or Spain. Given all these factors, when the then regime of Yanukovich changed courses and moved towards Russia instead of the EU, all the tensions broke out in the open in the form of protests against this tilt and in favor of tilting towards the EU.

Thus arose the now famous Euro Maidan occupation. Prominent among the occupiers has been the neo Nazi forces of Svoboda as well as other fascists and semi fascists. To its eternal disgrace, representatives of US capitalism have either ignored this or openly encouraged it, such as when Republican US Senator John McCain and Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy publicly posed with Svoboda’s leader Tyahnybok in December of 2013.

McCain Tahnybok

John McCain with Tahnybok

An extremely interesting interview1 with a Ukrainian syndicalist goes into some detail about the occupation. One aspect has been a split among the ruling elite, the oligarchs. “Since 2010, Viktor Yanukovych, who had initially been just a puppet of powerful oligarchs, has become an ambitious businessman himself. His elder son has accumulated vast powers; “The Family” occupied important positions in the government, monopolized control over capital flows, and started fighting with Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash and other oligarchs who had been their sponsors previously. Naturally, the traditional oligarchic clans didn’t like this, so the current protest has also an elite dimension.”

On the composition of the protests, he says: Initially… the protesters were mainly students and urban ‘middle classes: petite bourgeoisie, bohemian circles, office workers. Right now, the class composition of the protests has definitely shifted to the more universal one. I’m not sure about the exact proportions but it’s doubtless that the protest has become more “proletarian” – although the share of workers is still low, and when they are present, they are there as “Ukrainians” or “citizens” but not as “workers”. Also, in Kyiv per se life goes on as usual, nobody is on strike etc. Generally, the protest has a cross-class nature: it includes unemployed people as well as the CEO of Microsoft Ukraine.


Far right neo fascists in Kiev

As numerous reports including this one make clear, there is massive confusion at best within this movement. The role of the neo-fascists adds to this confusion. There are numerous reports of trade unionists and leftists being beaten up by these far right forces. Since the fall of Yevtushenko, there have been fire bombings of Synagogues. And one of the first steps taken by the new government was to attempt to revoke the law which gave rights to speakers of all languages. (This attempt was later abandoned.)

Pervasive in the new government are neo fascists. This includes not only members of parliament but also members of the cabinet. The secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council is Andriy Parubiy. He is a leader of the “National Social Party”, and if that name sounds suspiciously like the Nazi “National Socialist Party” it is no accident. He is a neo fascist. “Overseeing the armed forces alongside Parubiy as the Deputy Secretary of National Security is Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector – a group of hardline nationalist streetfighters, who previously boasted they were ready for armed struggle to free Ukraine.”2

The appointment of Deputy Prime Minister, Oleksandr Sych, will not be a great step forward for women. ‘Sych, 49, is a member of the far-right nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party. He is an anti-abortion activist and once publicly suggested that women should “lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including refraining from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company”. 3

At the top of this cast of criminals stands newly appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Yatsenyuk is a former central banker and has close ties with Western finance capital. Given US President Obama’s call on Ukraine to observe its “foreign commitments”, meaning paying off its foreign debts on time, as well as his call for economic “reform”, meaning attacking the Ukrainian working class, we know what to expect from him.

Russian Forces Invade

Russian troops Ukraine

Russian troops in Crimea

In chaotic situation in which all the old ethnic tensions were brought to the fore, it is inevitable that the ethnic Russians would feel threatened. Given their majority status in Crimea, and given the fact that Crimea has historically been passed back and forth between greater nations like a gift at a birthday party, it was also inevitable that the ethnic Russians in Crimea would tend to rise up against the new, right-wing nationalist regime dominated not only by Ukranian nationalism, but by representatives of world capitalism. On the other hand, given their brutal treatment at the hands of Stalin, and their rivalry with the ethnic Russians in Crimea at present, and in the background of an independent movement of the working class itself, it was inevitable that the ethnic Tatars in Crimea would tend to side with the new Ukrainian regime in Western Ukraine.

Then there is the role of the Putin regime in Russia. Putin bases himself in part on Russian nationalism. Also, he sees the drive to spread the influence of Western – especially Western European capitalism – as a threat to Russian capitalism. Finally there was the potential threat to the Russian naval bases in Crimea. Therefore, for both domestic as well as international reasons, he could not stand idly by; he was forced to send his troops into Crimea.

The invasion of Russian troops has been accompanied by the entry of the “Night Wolves” thug Russian motorcycle gang into Crimea as well as of the nationalist bigot Vladimir Zhironovsky. This will not work out to defend the rights of ethnic Russians and especially not to defend the rights of the working class, neither in Crimea nor in Ukraine as a whole. It will also boost these right wing nationalist forces within Russia. In fact, just days after the invasion a group of anti-war protesters in Moscow were all arrested by the police there.

US Capitalism

The representatives of US capitalism wailed and gnashed their teeth. Even before the invasion, Niall Ferguson wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal in which he complained: The president said: “There will be consequences if people step over the line.” No one took that warning seriously—Ukrainian government snipers kept on killing people in Independence Square regardless. The world remembers the red line that Mr. Obama once drew over the use of chemical weapons in Syria . . . and then ignored once the line had been crossed.’4 Peggy Noonan, regular columnist for the WSJ wrote that Obama’s stance regarding Ukraine “doesn’t look peaceable, it looks weak”5

Their problem is not that Obama’s policy “looks” like it stems from weakness, it does stem from weakness! After all, even the normally rabid editors of the WSJ explain that there is little that Obama can do other than call for some sort of sanctions. But even they admit that the close ties between Western European and the Russian economies are a limiting factor. First and foremost is the dependence of Germany for its supply of natural gas on the Russian gas pipelines. So any serious economic sanctions would be a non-starter out of the gate.

Jim DeMint, president of the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation summed it up. He wrote: “Weak statements, history has proven, only invite aggression. What our friends, and also our foes, need to hear is a clarion call in support of liberty and self-determination, and the threat of punitive sanctions against those who transgress those principles. The Ukrainians who rose to demand freedom need to be comforted by our words and intentions, and the thugs in the Kremlin need to fear them.

“Going forward, President Obama must understand that his ‘reset’ with Russia has been a disastrous failure and that his promises to Putin of post-election ‘flexibility’ have backfired. He must also rethink his entire policy of deserting our friends and cozying up to our enemies, as well as plans to neuter our military might. But now, what we need is clarity and global leadership.”6 Words and more words. Even the neo-conservatives are at a loss to advocate any clear action.

The reason is clear: It’s simply that the tops of US capitalism put a compromiser and advocate of “diplomacy” into the White House because they have come to recognize that they are in a weakened position globally. Not that they aren’t dangerous. With a military possessing numerous weapons of mass destruction and whose total size is almost as large as the combined militaries of the entire rest of the world, US capitalism poses a deadly threat.

But what can they do in this situation? Send troops to Ukraine? Nobody is advocating that. For one thing, Russia is a nuclear power. (This, incidentally, is an incentive for the Iranian regime to develop a nuclear weapon. Not that the spread of nuclear weapons is not a deadly danger to life on the planet, but the increased international tensions and increased desperation of US capitalism are driving different capitalist regimes in that direction.) And even if the risk of nuclear war weren’t present, US capitalism implicitly accepts the “sphere of influence” of Russian capitalism, just as it insists on its own similar sphere on the American continent. (Although even that is weakening.)


Without having a clearer view of the internal forces within Ukraine, especially within various sectors of the Ukrainian working class, it is foolhardy to try to be anywhere near definitive about the future in Ukraine. But one thing is most likely: That the new regime in Ukraine will try to carry out the demands of Western capitalism and cut social services, privatize, etc. It seems unlikely that Russian troops will go beyond Crimea, but if new measures are carried out against ethnic Russians in Western Ukraine Putin may feel forced to send them.

In addition, there are the perspectives for the workers’ movement in other parts of Eastern as well as Western Europe. Whenever an independent movement of the working class develops in these regions, it is certain to have an effect on Ukrainian workers. But the question is “when”.

We do not know to what extent the Ukrainian working class was involved in the struggle, with their own class interests in mind, but it seems almost impossible that this did not happen at all. But the outcome at this point has been a new regime that prominently includes the most vicious right wing forces. This outcome is not isolated: In Egypt, millions of workers and youth rose up to oust Mubarak. And what was the result? First the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists rode into power, and then they were ousted by the equally reactionary Egyptian military. Then there is the situation in Syria, which started as a genuine revolution from below. This even included a tendency to form workers’ councils7 . This revolt from below was then overwhelmed by the forces of reaction. And Chinese society appears to be bursting at the seams with struggle, but now we have this horrific terrorist attack evidently by nationalist Uighur forces. According to one article, this attack is having an effect on the mood in China similar to what 9/11 had here in the United States.8

imagesone of the wounded in the Uighur nationalist terrorist attack in China

This is only one side of the coin. In Egypt, for instance, there is still wave after wave of strikes. And the powerful Chinese working class still has not fully spoken. But these defeats, however temporary and partial, give a hint of the serious danger that human society faces. To this must be added the environmental disaster that looms.

egypt strike

Egyptian textile workers on strike

The working class is far from down for the count. It will rise from Ukraine to Syria to China. But the conditions do not allow for indefinite time. We must do all we can to draw the lessons and build a mass, independent and international workers movement. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Posted in Europe, rebellion, repression, workers' struggles | Leave a comment

Endocrine Disruption conference

This might sound too technical for the ordinary lay person, but it’s not. And given the assault on the environment and on our health, workers have to educate ourselves about these issues. After all, big business and their politicians certainly won’t!

Endocrine Disruption: Widening the Scope

Please join us March 19th 1:00 EDT for a teleconference presentation by Dr. Frederica Perera on the Effects of Prenatal Exposure to EDCs on Childhood Development.

This half-hour teleconference call is the third in a monthly series sponsored by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s EDC Strategies Group.* In the series, invited speakers will present the latest research on endocrine disruption and the immune system, the metabolic system, the brain, behavior and more.

Dr. Perera will present data from a longitudinal cohort study that followed mothers and children from pregnancy into adolescence, showing that prenatal exposure to air pollutants (specifically, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes and other disease endpoints. Prevention strategies will also be discussed.

RSVP here for the March 19th teleconference call.

Mark your calendars for the next call in the series, April 16th, featuring Dr. Philippe Grandjean discussing “Chemical Brain Drain”, how the next generation’s brain functions are endangered by environmental chemicals.

Previous presentations are available as MP3 recordings:

January 8th Dr. Rodney Dietert: Endocrine Disruption and Immune Dysfunction.

February 19th Dr. Jamie DeWitt: Endocrine Disruption of the Neuro-immune Interface.

Posted in environment, Human health | Leave a comment

Anti war protest in Moscow

Meanwhile, in Moscow, anti war protesters are arrested.

Posted in repression, world relations | Leave a comment

Obama statement on Ukraine


The White House has issued a statement on the Russian troop invasion of Crimea. Here, in part, is what they said along with a translation:

White House statement: President Obama spoke for 90 minutes this afternoon with President Putin of Russia about the situation in Ukraine. President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and which is inconsistent with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act. The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory.

Translation: We condemn it, but there is nothing we can do about it. All of these international laws are irrelevant. They don’t apply to us any more than they do to you. The only law that really exists is the law of the jungle. Might makes right.

White House Statement: The Ukrainian government has made clear its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and to abide by Ukraine’s international commitments, and we will continue to urge them to do so.

Translation: As long as it suits us to do so, we will continue to ignore the influence of fascist forces within the new Ukrainian government, the beating of trade unionists, the fire-bombing of synagogues, the withdrawing of recognition of different languages, etc. As long as they honor their “international commitments” – meaning paying their debts to the banks, the IMF, etc. – we don’t care about the rest.

White House Statement: President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Translation: We know that ethnic groups will be repressed in Ukraine. This includes ethnic Russians. Nothing should be done about this that really matters, as long as it is our allies doing the repression. We are looking for a way to get our hands into this matter.

White House Statement: President Obama urged an immediate effort to initiate a dialogue between Russia and the Ukrainian government, with international facilitation, as appropriate. The United States is prepared to participate.

Translation: We are looking for a way to get our hands into the matter.

White House Statement: Going forward, we will continue consulting closely with allies and partners, the Ukrainian government and the International Monetary Fund, to provide the new government with significant assistance to secure financial stability, to support needed (economic) reforms, to allow Ukraine to conduct successful elections, and to support Ukraine as it pursues a democratic future. 

Translation: Message to Ukrainian workers: You will be f___ed by both us and Russia.

Posted in Europe, world relations | Leave a comment

US “Democracy” in Action


The framers of the US Constitution consciously set up the government into three different parts – executive, legislative and judicial – in order to ensure that even if the majority of the people managed to gain control over one wing, or even two, that the third wing could thwart them. The wing that is most shielded from the wishes of the majority is the judicial, especially the US Supreme Court. In order to keep it as distant and mystical as possible, the court forbids any video recordings. Here, for the first time ever, is a video of a court proceeding, specifically a protester who has the guts to stand up and challenge the court. He is protesting the “Citizens United” ruling, under which corporations are “citizens” and can make unlimited political donations. It shows how much this wing is under direct corporate control.

Here’s the video:

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Perspectives for British Labour Party

(Note: The Workers’ International Network (WIN), with which this blog site is associated, maintains an online socialist discussion list. One discussion going on on that list is about the new movements rising up in Britain. Some on that list believe that these new movements will go through the British Labour Party, which they seem to see as still being the traditional party of the British working class. Here, Roger Silverman, one of the founders of WIN, answers that argument.)

Some time ago, economist Michael Roberts predicted that Labour would lose next year’s General Election in Britain. I am coming round to his point of view.

Up to recently, I had expected Labour to win a small majority, or to form a minority government, based on revulsion at the Tory/LibDem coalition’s attacks on public sector jobs, welfare, pensions, the health service, etc. I had envisaged the possibility of a short-lived government of crisis, subject to unprecedented destabilisation, presiding over economic meltdown, sabotage, riots, racist provocations, possible terrorist atrocities (with or without state collusion); and that such a government would shortly be replaced by a Tory government far to the right even of this one, following a split and merger with UKIP.

This scenario is still quite feasible. But even a brief period of Labour government is beginning to look less and less likely now.

Who controls elections’ outcome?

Under bourgeois democracy, only in the most exceptional circumstances are election results determined by anything other than the prior wishes of the ruling class. In 1945 the Labour Party swept to power as an expression of the revolutionary mood sweeping Europe, which also produced popular front governments in France and Italy, etc., and in 1974 it was mass solidarity with the striking coal miners which dealt a decisive answer to the inept Tory government’s question: who rules Britain?

Labour Party poster from 1945

Labour Party poster from 1945

In contrast, in 1964 a narrow Labour election victory was at least tolerated by the ruling class to replace a tired and corrupt establishment. Between 1997 and around 2008, however, the carefully groomed New Labour clique of Blair and Brown was directly promoted, generously funded and enthusiastically endorsed by the ruling class, as the only conceivable means of extending the Thatcherite counter-revolution onwards  under a false label, once the Tories had become too discredited to carry it on any further. For a brief decade, New Labour became beyond any question the chosen political instrument of British capitalism.

Labour Today

A Labour government today would serve no purpose from the point of view of the ruling class, which is still content with a Tory-led government presiding over an albeit brief and shallow economic recovery, still capable of inflicting further ruthless cuts and intent on further driving down the living standards and democratic rights of the British working class. And yet such is the utter spinelessness of the Miliband leadership that it has quite deliberately muted its potential appeal to the mass of the electorate, who are appalled at the Tories’ disguised privatisation of health and education and are crying out for renationalisation of energy and transport. Labour’s programme is almost calculated to dampen the enthusiasm of the workers, the poor and dispossessed. Miliband personally, with his frightened-rabbit countenance and trembling voice, is the very embodiment of capitulation. The calculation of the Labour leaders is that their only chance of regaining political office is by placating the ruling class and reassuring it that they will continue as under the New Labour brand name to do its bidding.

Ed Miliband: Does he look like a workers' leader?

Ed Miliband: Does he look like a workers’ leader?

  • To take a recent example: the latest Labour policy statement has announced triumphantly that a Labour government would be “tougher” on welfare than the Tories:
  • it would cut the dole for the million or so youth unemployed and offer them compulsory “training” on minimal maintenance grants instead. This would apply to all unemployed young people without the equivalent of A levels (a post-secondary qualification)… as if the cause of unemployment were a shortage of people with A levels! How many skilled jobs are lying unfilled due to inadequate qualifications? How many A levels are needed to stack supermarket shelves? All this policy would achieve is better educated unemployed youth. It is a policy almost calculated to alienate a new generation of young voters.

If Labour does scrape through the election, probably  with a precarious wafer-thin majority, this can only conceivably be on the basis of a low poll, a wipe-out of the Liberal-Democrat vote, and a mass defection of Tory voters to UKIP. It would lack the clear mandate or mass base sufficient to withstand the kind of hysterically orchestrated destabilisation campaign of lies, blackmail and sabotage that would soon be let loose.

The question is: what would come next?

Labour Party then and now

It is significant that it is largely those comrades who have been living abroad for decades and who are relying on distant memories of the ‘60s and ‘70s who are insisting on the fundamentally unchanged nature of the Labour Party. Their arguments are formalistic and undialectical. There have been fundamental changes. It is not enough to drag from the past the false arguments of sectarians in those dim and distant days, as they do, and triumphantly flaunt them as prefabricated instant refutations of the considered analysis that we have patiently explained. These comrades insist on “answers” to their challenges, but we can only answer what we have already spelled out at some length. They have read the relevant section of the WIN pamphlet Preparing for Revolution, which devotes no fewer than six pages (roughly 4,000 words) to this question. They are welcome to disagree with its conclusions, but if so the obligation is on them to consider seriously our arguments and spell out their reasoned objections.

The view from within

I don’t accept for a moment the idea implied by these comrades that those socialists who still remain half-hearted token members of the Labour Party regard as splitters, renegades or deserters those who have opted instead to join Left Unity or the TUSC, or to participate in events organised by the People’s Assembly or the Coalition of Resistance; any more than the latter consider rank-and-file Labour Party supporters as opportunists or careerists. Left activists of all stripes understand that this is a period of flux, and that we are all searching for the best way forward. What kind of united left party will eventually emerge is still unclear.

Birth of Labour Party – then and now

There are clear parallels in the situation today with the period prior to the birth of the Labour Party more than a century ago. The established trade unions were politically allied to the Liberal Party, much as they are today to the current post-Blair Labour Party. Alongside them were the Independent Labour Party, the principal forerunner of the future Labour Party; the Fabian Society; the Social-Democratic Federation; the Co-operative movement; various socialist societies. Later, under the banner of the TUC’s Labour Representation Committee,  most of them (with the exception of the left-sectarian SDF) merged to create the Labour Party, which went on under the impact of impending world-historical events to adopt a socialist programme.

Today socialists are groping through a confluence of routes towards a coherent role. Some remain in the Labour Party; some have found their way into one or other of the small left parties or their fragmented offshoots; some stand in elections as TUSC or No To EU; some have joined Left Unity, welcoming it as a positive initiative towards a socialist revival.

Left Unity in Britain

Where does Left Unity stand today in relation to the rebirth of a mass socialist party in Britain? It was only to be expected that the first fumblings of what could conceivably lead to the eventual establishment of a new party of the working class would inevitably be confused, contradictory, riddled with reformist illusions. Left Unity is by no means the last word. It may fizzle out, like so many previous stillborn experiments: the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance, Respect… On the other hand, it could prove to be a potentially important link, a transitory step in the current period of nascent political ferment within a section of the British working class, as expressed in repeated one-day public sector strikes. To demand of Left Unity from the outset a clear revolutionary perspective and programme – let alone the instant adoption of the theoretical ideas put forward by WIN – is utterly misplaced, simply incongruous. Millions of people find themselves suddenly thrown into destitution by mass redundancies, falling wages, cuts in benefits, the bedroom tax, food and fuel poverty, homelessness and real hunger. Many thousands of them have been newly awakened to political struggle. They don’t have the luxury to engage in pedantic theoretical seminars. For them the small print can come later; they need a voice now.

Left Unity is a very clumsy rough-and-ready tool. It can only be sharpened in action. It is the duty of socialists to help transform it from a mere umbrella of “left unity” (the name itself implies a half-hearted regrouping of failed former left activists) into a force that really can unify the struggles of a new generation of working-class men, women and youth; people who may never for a moment have ever considered themselves “left”, but whose livelihoods and futures are under attack now as never before, and who have been left abandoned, defenceless, disarmed and gagged by the historic defection of the Labour Party from its historic objectives.

The last word has yet to be written. Eventually the historic paradox of the Labour Party can only be resolved either by a victorious reclamation by the trade unions, which would entail a decisive break with the current parliamentary clique of parasitic New Labour special advisers and lobbyists; or by the proclamation of a new political voice of the trade unions. Either of these variants would represent a major new beginning. It is highly significant that Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest trade union and principal Labour fundraiser Unite, has spelled out a clear warning to Miliband: that if he fails, then Unite is prepared to take the necessary steps to found an alternative new party.

If Labour loses the next election (a clear possibility), then that is a likely consequence. On the other hand, if Labour wins, then a similar outlook, perhaps after a slight delay, is likewise on the cards. A Labour government which continues the same programme of austerity and repression can expect to retain the loyalty of its working-class voter base only for so long.

Can Left Unity fill the void?

Can Left Unity fill the void?

The working class can no longer be expected forever to tolerate a state of permanent disenfranchisement. There is a huge yawning vacuum which cannot but be filled. Either way, it will… and Left Unity can be a pioneering forerunner and a significant strand of a new or revived mass workers’ party.

Roger Silverman

London, July 12, 2014

Posted in Europe, socialist movement, Workers International Network | Leave a comment