Two New York Cops Shot

We have just received news that a young black man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, has reportedly shot and killed two New York cops in revenge for the police murder of Eric Garner. This will make a bad situation worse.

The forces of “law and order” have increasingly been put on the defensive. From President Obama to the editors of the Wall Street Journal — all the nonsense about respecting our legal process had been silenced as more and more comes out about how District Attorney Bob McCullough in Ferguson acted as the defense attorney for the accused rather than as the prosecutor. He has recently even admitted that he put a witness up on the stand who he knew was lying. This was a witness who testified that everything that Wilson claimed had happened was true. But it had become clear that she was a lying bigot who wasn’t even in Ferguson at the time. There is actually grounds to bar McCullough from practicing law for allowing false evidence to be entered into the proceedings. Even the mass, corporate media was starting to report on this sort of cover-up.

Now, that will be overwhelmed with condemnation of the killing of the two cops, with praise for what wonderful and dedicated officers of the law they are, etc. etc.

There will be claims that the protesters created the atmosphere that allowed this killing of the cops. This, along with the natural inclinations of the cops themselves, will lead them to crack down even harder on protesters as well as to be even more vicious in their behavior in the black community.

Then there is the issue that Brinsley reportedly was studying Arabic and was studying Islam. This will give the criminal (in)justice system even further justification for internet spying.

In the late ’90s and the first year of the new century, a movement was building world-wide against “globalization.” First the youth and then layers of workers were starting to organize. Capitalism was on the defensive. Then 9/11 happened and it transformed the mood and the political atmosphere. In fact, it is only in the last few years that we are starting to recover from that. This killing will not have anywhere near that same effect, but it will be in a similar direction, especially if more follow.

At this time, it does not seem that Brinsley (assuming he was, in fact, the shooter) did this as part of any larger group. In fact, it seems that he was one more young black man, hopeless for a future in this hellhole that is US capitalism, a young man filled with anger and hopelessness. All the appeals to being nice, all the appeals for peace, are as useful as appealing to the forces of nature to turn off the rain in a hurricane. Only a stronger movement can provide an alternative. This means a movement that really reaches down to the most downtrodden and really encourages their political activity and helps them organize to fight politically for a real future.

Posted in Marxist theory, racism, United States | Leave a comment

Religious fanatics groups: the fascists in the making

by Farooq Tariq, General Secretary, Awami Workers Party of Pakistan

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It was the most deadly attack on any school by religious fanatics. 146 were killed in a Peshawar Army Public School, including 136 children, ages ranging from 10 to 17 years. They asked the children to recite Kalma and then fired at them. It was an attack on Muslim children by Muslim fanatics.

Tehreek Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility and sent a group photo of the seven militants who took part in the “operation” holding guns and bombs. This was in response to the posting on-line of the dead faces of the seven who were killed by the army in the counter attack, not before they caused maximum damage.

The fanatics claimed that they do not kill little children. Their claim was that the children of the “enemy” aged less than 12 are not allowed to be killed by their “Islam”. Almost 11 percent of the total children enrolled in the school were killed within 15 minutes of their occupation of the school.

The principal of the school was fired on to the extent that her body was not recognizable. Her fault: she guided children to escape from the school during the attack. Children were asked to line up and then were shot. Those who dared to run were chased and shot also.

Such was the devastating effect on children across Pakistan that my son aged 14 asked his mum what should he do in case they come to his school, “line up or run”.

The day shocked Pakistan and the world. The news of the killing of the innocent children was flashed all over the world as the main story of the day. There was a great anger and shock.

General Strike

A spontaneous general strike in all parts of Pakistan was observed on 17th December a day later, not called by any political party, a dream of all the parties of the rich that they could be in a position to shut Pakistan for their own narrow political interests. This was one of the most successful strikes with no transport on the roads and almost all shops and institutions were closed. This reminded us of the aftermath of Benazhir Bhutto’s killing in December 2007, when all of Pakistan was shut in grief and anger.

A two minute silence in all the schools in India, a so-called arch rival, was observed, with the Indian parliament passing a resolution condemning the attack.

On the same day, heads of all the political parties represented in the parliament met in Peshawar for a useless day agreeing to “work together” with no mind-set change and no concrete proposal for dealing with fanatics. How could they?

In the meeting was Imran Khan whose party is in power in Khaiber Pukhtonkhawa, where the incident took place. He was too busy in campaigning for the overthrow of the federal government with his sit-ins and rallies in other parts of the country while totally ignoring the task of securing lives in the province.

Imran Khan’s philosophy of “good and bad Taliban” meant that no action was taken against the fanatics who had built safe heavens in the tribal areas. He was a strong advocate of “talks with good Taliban” to divide the fanatics. There are no good or bad Taliban. They are all in the same family of neo-fascism.

The ruling Muslim League had long term contacts with most of the religious fanatic groups and used them to win the 2013 general elections. Fanatics carried out suicide attacks on most of the opponents of PMLN and PTI, thus preventing them from running effective election campaigns.

Sitting in the meeting was Jamaat Islami, whose former head, declared dead Taliban as Shaheed (martyr) and army men killed by fanatics as dead. There was also Jamiat Ulemai Islam, the known political wing of one section of the religious fanatics. Also several other political parties who maintain regular contacts and links with religious extremists groups for their narrow political interests and subscribe to the same millenarian ideology of the Jihadists.

The meeting agreed to form a committee to formulate the security policy for the state within a week, as in one week they could come up with any magic formula.

The Pakistani state failed miserably to curb the rise of religious fundamentalism. There is always a soft spot for them. For a long time, they were encouraged by the state as a second line of security. The security paradigm meant an anti-India enmity was the core purpose of state patronage. The process of Islamisation was accelerated by military Dictator Zia Ul Haq with the full support of American imperialism.

Apart from creating and supporting Jihadist groups, for decades the state and military with the financial and political assistance of imperial powers, has indoctrinated millions with conservative Islamic ideology for the purpose of safeguarding its strategic interests.

The three decades since 1980 are seen as the years of madrassas, over 20,000 at present providing home ground for recruitment for suicidal attackers. Supported mainly by Saudi Arabia and many million Muslim immigrants, they have become the alternative to the regular school system. Most of the terrorist activities carried out in Pakistan and elsewhere are linked to the organizational and political support of these madrassas.

After 9/11, the state’s close relationship with the fundamentalists has changed to some extent but not broken in real terms. The banned terrorist groups change their name and carry out activities on a regular basis. They hold meetings and public rallies, collect funds and publish their literature without any state intervention.

Pakistan has become more conservative, more Islamic and more right wing resulting in the growth of the extreme Islamist’s ideas. Blasphemy laws are frequently used for settling personal and ideological scores. Religious minorities, women and children are the easy targets. These soft targets are paying the greatest price for this decisive right wing turn.

The rise of religious fundamentalism has emerged as the most serious challenge not only to progressive forces but also to the very foundation of a modern society. Education and health are the real targets of the fanatics.

Polio workers, mainly women, are killed by fanatics, on the assumption that a team working for the elimination of polio led to the discovery of Osama Bin Ladin, leading to his assassination.  The net result is that the World Health Organization has recommended a ban on all Pakistanis traveling abroad without a polio vaccination certificate.

The primary and high school syllabus in Punjab and Khaiber Pukhonkhawa provinces are amended to give room to more unscientific and pro-Jihad ideas in the name of religion. Education in most schools has been littered with war-promoting philosophy.

Religious fanatics groups are the new version of fascism. They are fascists in the making. They have all the historic characteristics of fascism. They kill opponents en mass. They have found considerable space among the middle class, particularly educated ones. They are against trade unions and social movements. They are promoting women as inferior to men, and aim to keep them in the home. Attacking the religious minorities has become a norm.

The religious fanatic groups are internationalists. They want an Islamic world. They are against democracy and promote Khilafat (kingdom) as a way of governance. They are the most barbaric force recent history has seen in the shape of “Islamic State” and Taliban. There is nothing progressive in their ideology. They are not anti-imperialism but anti-America and anti-West. They have created and carried out the most barbaric terrorist activities in the shape of suicide attacks, bomb blasts, mass killings and indiscriminate shootings.

They must be countered. The American way of fighting back in shape of “war on terror” has failed miserably. Despite all the American initiatives of occupations, wars and creating democratic alternatives, the religious fundamentalists have grown with more force.

Fundamentalists are stronger than they were at 9/11, despite the occupation of Afghanistan.

A whole package is needed. The state must break all links with fanatic’s groups. The mindset that religious fundamentalists are “our own brothers, our own people, our security line and guarantee against “Hindus”, some are bad and some are good” and so on must be changed. The conspiracy theories are most favorable arguments among the religious right wingers. They do not want to face the reality.

There is no short cut to end religious fundamentalism. There is no military solution. It has to be a political fight with dramatic reforms in education, health and working realities in most Muslim countries. Starting from nationalization of madrassas, it must go on to provide free education, health and transport as one of most effective means to counter fundamentalism.

Right wing ideas are promoting extreme right wing ideology. A mass working class alternative in the shape of trade unions and political parties linked with social movements is the most effective manner to counter religious fundamentalism.

 

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High School Students Organize in Oakland, CA

Chanting “We need justice” and explaining “we’re tired of that s__t. We’re not going to take it anymore,” hundreds of high school students in Oakland marched and rallied to protest police violence and racism. We should remember the role that the youth of this age – and even younger – played in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s. This is another sign that “this is not a moment; it’s a movement,” that history is being made here.

Posted in Oakland, racism, rebellion, United States, videos/documentaries, youth | Leave a comment

Black Lives Matter in Oakland, CA

“The momentum that this movement is building is unstoppable.” That was the message of one of the speakers at the rally to to assert that black lives matter and that a new movement is being born to put a stop to this crime wave of police brutality and murder. Meanwhile, the corporate media is showing that corporate America is worried. One of their tried-and-true tactics is to try to define the goals of the movement for it. As these speakers show, it won’t come easily.

Posted in Oakland, racism, rebellion, United States, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Are You a Union Member?

Are you a union member jpg

printible version here: Are you a union member

Posted in Ferguson, labor, leaflets, racism, rebellion | Leave a comment

US Torturers: Where are they now?

First of all the facts:

  • They “waterboarded” the prisoners until they passed out.
  • They subjected them to sleep deprivation.

    waterboarding

    waterboarding

  • They chained them standing to a wall for days on end.
  • They forced food and water up their rectums.
  • They dragged them and beat them around the prisons.

These are some of the methods that the US Senate committee – headed by Senator Feinstein – has “revealed” were carried out by the CIA. And yet, the report is a whitewash. 

According to the report, all this was done under the watch of former President George Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell without their knowledge. That is nonsense. Stories of such torture were circulating publicly at that time. Bush and Powell knew perfectly well what was happening.

Gul Rahman. This prisoner froze to death while chained to a cold wall for days.

Gul Rahman.
This prisoner froze to death while chained to a cold wall for days.

The report focuses its criticism on the claim that these torture methods “were not successful” – whether they got valuable information that prevented “American deaths.” (Deaths of others don’t matter, you see.) Defenders of these torture methods claim that they did. But consider this: The capitalists criticize Marxism with the (false) criticism that we believe that “the ends justifies the means.” But it is exactly this approach that they accept! They are the ones who believe that the ends justify the means. (We believe that the means help determine the ends.)

Where are they now?

And there is one more little detail that the report leaves out: What happened to these torturers? Where are they now? How many went on to become cops or prison guards in the United States?

If foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy, then tactics used in foreign policy wil

Solitary confinement - A form of psychological torture.

Solitary confinement -
A form of psychological torture.

l ultimately be used domestically. And that is exactly the case. What is solitary confinement? What is forced feeding? And what is the wave of p0lice brutality and murder, especially (but not only) against black and Latino people? What is it but the domestic application of these torture methods used by the US military and the CIA?

Doing the same at home.

Doing the same at home.

Feinstein’s hypocrisy

And there is one more little detail: Feinstein is willing to reveal some of the torture methods that took place under the watch of the Republicans. But how about the torture methods carried out every day by the Israeli regime? That is ignored.

Posted in repression, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

Families speak out: Family members of some of those killed by the cops speak out.

This is part one of a video taken at a protest rally on Sunday, Dec. 7. The rally was for families of some of those killed by the police locally.

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Oakland Socialist leaflet

Below is the leaflet that Oaklandsocialist is putting out. This is not “the last word” on the issue; it’s just some ideas that we hope can contribute to the movement. Comments are more than welcome. We post it here as a picture and also as the pdf in case anybody wants to print it out.

This is not a moment it's a movement jpeg

This is not a moment it’s a movement

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Berkeley protest against Mike Brown/Eric Garner verdicts

Berkeley protest on the night of Dec. 6. The youth in action.

Meanwhile, here is a leaflet that Oaklandsocialist handed out.

This is not a moment it's a movement jpeg

This is not a moment it’s a movement

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Cops and Corporate America backing off

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Just a couple of days ago, this blog site commented that we are starting to win. Now we have confirmation from today’s Wall St. Journal. A front page article in today’s paper is headlined, “

“Police Move to Revamp Tactics

Departments Rethink Training Amid Wave of Protests and Federal Scrutiny”

They report “Police departments around the country are racing to develop new training rules on the use of force…. In many cases, departments are grappling with how to prevent encounters between police and citizens from escalating into deadly ones, especially with minorities, as was the case in two deaths that have sparked nationwide civil-rights protests. Those protests continued Thursday with demonstrators gathering and chanting for change in New York, Washington, and elsewhere.”

The article goes on to report that part of the problem, as they see it, is that police are too aggressive, that they need to be taught to deescalate things. Among other things, this means backing off from the current policy of teaching the cops not to hesitate for one second to shoot.

This makes it perfectly clear: The protests and the militancy of those protests is forcing Corporate America and their politicians and other representatives (including the cops) to back off. Even House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, is getting in on the act. “Clearly both of these [murders of Michael Brown an Eric Garner] are serious tragedies that we’ve seen in our society and I think the American people want to understand more of what the facts were. There are a lot of unanswered questions that Americans have and frankly I have.”  Even James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police felt forced to admit, “I don’t think cops are perfect by any stretch and sometimes they make mistakes.”

Still the enemy

It’s not that Pasco – defender of the racist and repressive police, or John Boehner, one of the leaders of the attacks on human rights and on working class people in general – are “changing”. It’s not that they will ever be anything but the enemies of all working class people. But these comments do show a couple of things:

  • Whatever difference may exist between the corporate-controlled liberal Democrats and the corporate-controlled conservative Republicans are minor at best. They all simply respond to our pressure out in the streets (and freeways), in the communities and the work places. That’s what counts, not electing more Democrats.
  • While still in its very earliest stages, this movement is already starting to have success. This shows what tremendous potential power we have. 

We have to keep the pressure on. Build the movement in the streets (and freeways). Sink deeper roots into the working class communities.

Investigation

There are all sorts of calls for investigations by the US Department of (in)Justice. This is the same force that has led the repression of Muslim people and has vastly increased surveillance over people in this country. They may yet bring charges against Wilson (in the Michael Brown case) and Pantaleo (in the Eric Garner case), and this is good, but they will never be on our side.

Even the United Nations is getting into the act, and this is good also. But we shouldn’t have any illusions in them. This den of thieves is simply the combined governments of all the capitalist nations of the world – the same governments that are repressing their own people as well as waging wars all around the globe.

International People’s Investigation Possible?

We would like to raise this: Is it possible to organize workers’ panels, workers’ committees, to investigate police abuse and racism in every major community in the country? These committees could hold public hearings where youth and workers and the unemployed could come and testify about their own experiences. Then, from there, would it be possible to organize an international workers’ investigation into human rights abuses in the US? This would involve organizing to bring over workers’ leaders as well as just some rank and file workers from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and Australia to hear evidence and decide whether or not to convict the United States government as a human rights abuser. 

One final point: Everybody knows that the issue of police brutality, homicides and police racism does not exist in a vacuum. It is inextricably linked to the issue of mass

Nick Hanauer, self styled ".01%er"  He wrote: "And what do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks....  "I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.... It's not if. It's when."

Nick Hanauer, self styled “.01%er”
He wrote: “And what do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks….
“I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.
If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us…. It’s not if. It’s when.”

incarceration of black and Latino people. And that issue is inextricably linked to the issue of economic inequality in general. As the billionaire Nick Hanauer wrote in his famous piece The Pitchforks are Coming, “You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state.”

That is why the struggle against police brutality and racism is linked with the struggle for decent jobs and higher wages for all. And that is also why it must ultimately be linked with the struggle to bring down capitalism itself, the struggle for a democratic socialist society.

  • Build the movement in the streets and freeways and in the communities and work places. Demand the convictions of the police who killed Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford. etc.
  • For elected community patrols in every working class community to patrol the police and keep the community safe from all violence and crime – both police crime and otherwise.
  • For both local and an international people’s investigation into US human rights abuses.
  • For an end to solitary confinement and other forms of torture in US prisons and for union rights for prisoners and for the minimum wage to apply to prisoners.
  • For a $20 per hour minimum wage, a guaranteed job with union rights, socialized medical care, and free higher education for all.
  • For the movement to put up its own political candidates, completely outside of and in opposition to the Republicrat politicians and paid the same as the workers they represent.
  • For socialism; take under public ownership the commanding heights of the economy (the banks, major corporations, etc.) and democratically plan production under the direct control and management of the workers themselves.

images

Posted in Ferguson, racism, rebellion, repression, Uncategorized, United States | 2 Comments

668 – Almost 2 every day

Mike Brown

Mike Brown

According to FBI figures, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police. According to the Wall St. Journal article of 12/03/2014 and reviewed here, there is a 45% systematic undercount of this number. That means that a more accurate number is 668 people killed per year in the US by police, or almost 2 per day.

Just as with the incarceration rate, which exceeds every other country in the world, it’s hard to find a country that is not in civil war (e.g. Syria, etc.), and one that is relatively stable politically, that comes close. Some might argue that the reason is that there are more civilians with guns in the US, so the police have to be quicker to shoot. So take a look at Canada, where gun ownership is just as widespread. There, according to this list, the police killed all of seven people in 2013. And according to this article, a black person is three times more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police than is a white person. The article says that the number of black people killed by police has “nearly reached” the number lynched a century ago. But considering that the total number underestimates by 45%, it’s most likely that even more are being killed – or lynched by the cops in their daily encounters with black people.

And we mean exactly “encounter”. In this video, we see a cop having stopped a black man for supposedly driving without his seat belt on, and when he’s asked for his license and reaches into his car to get it, the cop immediately shoots him.

What is happening?

Here in the US, the police are taught to shoot first and ask questions later. That’s shown in this memo from an official in the Seattle police department, where they worry that cops will now hesitate to kill people. Add to that some other factors:

  • A general culture encouraged by Hollywood, the military industrial complex, the corporate-controlled politicians and every other source of real influence in US society that the taking of human life means nothing. 
  • The prevalent racism in all sectors of US society
  • The “law-and-order” politics, necessary for controlling large sectors of the US population, especially in this era of economic attacks on all workers. Part and parcel of this is the image sown of black men as violent criminals.

So when they say “the whole system is guilty”, this is literally the truth. Reforms are can be won, at least temporarily. The number of people, including people of color, murdered by the police can be temporarily reduced by a true mass movement. And we must wage that movement. But US capitalism cannot afford to stop doing what it’s doing.

As Malcolm X said, “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” And as this movement struggles to be born, we have to figure out how to connect the struggle against racism with the struggle to overthrow capitalism itself. Nothing less will do.

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Memo to the Movement: Keep it up; we are winning.

Last night, there was a radio show on KPFK with three members of the group “Black Lives Matter.” Two main themes emerged from what they had to say:
  1. “This is not a moment; this is a movement.” In other words, this is going to build and built.
  2. “Revolution.”

It’s almost as if Corporate America was listening. Well, actually, they were listening, just as they’ve been watching this movement building for weeks, now. And they are getting worried. A front page article in today’s Wall St. Journal – Corporate America’s foremost newspaper – shows this.

The article is headlined “Hundreds of Police Killings uncounted in Federal Stats,” and the information it carries is significant enough in and of itself: Last year, according to the FBI (the only ones who keep such statistics nationally), there were slightly over 400 “officer involved killings”, meaning the cops killed somebody. But the Wall St. Journal also found:

  • “A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years (2007 – 2012)were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. “
  • “Those internal figures (of 105 of the nation’s 110 largest police departments – the other five didn’t respond to the WSJ query) show 1,825 police killings in those 105 departments between 2007 and 2012, 47% more than the FBI’s tally for justifiable homicides in those departments’ jurisdictions, which was 1,242, according to the Journal’s analysis. Nearly all police killings are deemed by the departments or other authorities to be justifiable.”
  • “Police in Washington, D.C., didn’t report to the FBI details about any homicides for an entire decade beginning with 1998—the year the Washington Post found the city had one of the highest rates of officer-involved killings in the country. In 2011, the agency reported five killings by police. In 2012… there are again no records on homicides from the agency.”
  • “The FBI has almost no records of police shootings from departments in three of the most populous states in the country—Florida, New York and Illinois.”

Overall, the WSJ estimates that police homicides are undercounted by about 45%. This means that there were nearly 600 police killings in 2014 – getting close to 2 per day.

 

ENLARGE
Then there is this report from an article in USA Today: ” Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI…. The reports show that 18% of the blacks killed during those seven years were under age 21, compared to 8.7% of whites.”
Lesson from the South African Revolutionary Movement
Back in the 1980s, a revolutionary movement raged in South Africa against the apartheid system there. Millions of black workers and youth there understood the direct link between apartheid and capitalism itself. Corporate World – the world capitalist class – were worried about capitalism being overthrown. They put pressure on the capitalist class of South Africa to reform itself. One of the means they used was to publicize the brutalities of apartheid in their kept press. This helped stir up a movement against apartheid in countries like the US.
Now, Corporate America is feeling the heat. They are feeling that the police are out of control. We have to keep the pressure up. It’s not that we can ever rely on any wing of Corporate America’s government – not the courts, not the US Department of (in)Justice – none of them. This doesn’t mean we don’t make demands on the corporate-controlled state (the government), but reform is a byproduct of revolution. The more we organize independently of the corporate state, the more we assert our own power in the streets and work places and communities, the more reforms we will see.
Posted in capitalist media, Ferguson, racism, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

“The enemy is organizing…”

Thanks to Lauren Steiner for this report. Make sure to read down to the bottom, where she gets to “ask a question.” Congratulations to Lauren for pulling a good trick on them. And remember, not only is the enemy organizing to keep destroying our environment, turning the very air we breathe and water we drink into poison, they are doing the same as far as poverty wages, racism, sexism, you name it. It’s all part of the same struggle.

So I was sitting at my kitchen table at 5 pm tonight about to prepare dinner when the phone rang. It was a robocall from Energy Citizens, an astroturf group of Big Oil, inviting me to be on a nationwide call with an expert from the American Petroleum Institute talking about the new ozone standards the EPA was going to implement. If I wanted to be on the call, I just had to hang on. So I did.

The guy gave this whole presentation about how the Clean Air Act requires that EPA implement these regulations, but they are totally unnecessary, because emissions are down 20% due to our wonderful natural gas production. He said a couple of regions are not meeting the current standard of 75 ppb, which covers 95% of the population.
He then said that the National Economic Resource Association, or NERA, did a study for the National Association of Manufacturers that said these new rules could reduce GDP by $250 billion per year and cost jobs for 3 million Americans. This would amount to a cost of $370 per household per year.
He concluded by saying these regulations were “hostile to much of economic and human activity” and that we should send comments to the EPA saying:
1. The new ozone standards are not needed. The current ones are working fine.
2. We shouldn’t change the standards until the current standards have been met.
3. It could be catastrophic to building and families and cause the economy to nosedive and people to lose their jobs.
He answered a lot of questions basically saying ridiculous things like NOX and VOCs are caused by natural sources, that correlation does not mean causation, etc. etc.
So I pushed Star 3 to ask a question. When the pre-screener got to me, I said I was from Southern California and wanted to ask a question about why our area was not in compliance and what we could do about it. 
But when I got on, I asked the guy if he knew that NOX and VOCs were a by product of flaring of natural gas from fracking and that Vintage Oil released 5 metric tons of NOX and two metric tons of VOCs into the environment in 2011 and was only fined $750. 
They cut me off by asking what was my question. So I asked him if he was aware of the five state peer reviewed study published in Environmental Health on Oct. 30 that showed severe health effects of people living near oil and gas wells and that 40% of the air samples contained benzene and formaldehyde and other toxic substances found to be hazardous to human health. He started to talk about jobs, and I answered what good are jobs if people are getting sick. But at that point I could see they had turned off my mic.
Boy, that felt good. But the takeaway is, the enemy is organizing and we need to be too.
Posted in environment | Leave a comment

Some book ideas

Some people use the holiday season to take time to read a good book. Others like to give books over this season. Here’s some suggestions for some reading titles. Other suggestions are welcome:

Fiction

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This fictional autobiography by an intersex (what we used to call “hermaphrodite”) person of Greek origin has a lot: Greek history, including the wars between Greece and Turkey, middle-American industrial cities in the post war period, the urban riots of the ‘60s, plus some science. Like all good fiction, it also has real, live, convincing characters.

Barbara Kingsolver: Some of her books I really didn’t like, but “The Lacuna” is a great fictional autobiography of a gay man who works as the personal secretary of Leon Trotsky. Then there are a few others, like “The Beantrees”, another fictional autobiography about a rebellious young woman growing up in Kentucky. Many of Kingsolver’s books have really great dialog.

Mysteries by P.D. James — If you’re looking for mysteries, P.D. James is a good writer. A British writer, her mysteries differ from most American mystery writers in the same way that lots of European films differ from Hollywood’s: Her books have real, genuine characters and the little, odd, almost irrelevant descriptions of details of a scene that really bring things to life.

Non Fiction

“Our Stolen Future” by Theo Colborn — In this period when the crisis of capitalism is expressed, among other ways, by the environmental crisis, Colborn’s book is ever-more important. She explains how different pollutants act as “endocrine disrupters”, affecting our hormone system. Along the way, she explains in laypeople’s terms how this affects the development of the embryo as well as affecting mature beings. In this day when the role of genes is so emphasized, Colborn’s explanation of the role of hormones is a good counterbalance. Her book will make you look at human behavior in a new light. Reviewed here.

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Growing up in urban America, it’s easy not to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. What Colborn does for understanding the interaction between the environment and human health and behavior, Alexander does for explaining a lot of what is happening in our African-American communities. Her position, that mass incarceration of black people is “the new Jim Crow” – that it is used as a replacement of official segregation what that system was no longer workable – is excellently documented. It puts the police homicides (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, etc.) in their context.

“The Cholesterol Myths” by Uffe Ravnskov. Do you have “high cholesterol” or know somebody who does? Is your doctor badgering you to take a statin drug? You’d better read this book. Ravnskov, a medical doctor, carefully picks apart the entire theory that “high” cholesterol causes heart disease.

“Disconnect” by Devra Davis. This is a book that reviews the mountain of evidence that radio frequency radiation as emitted by cell phones is dangerous. Some consider Davis to be overly cautious in her claims – that cell phones are even more dangerous than she says. But especially if you talk on a cell phone a lot, or if you’re a woman who keeps her cell phone in her bra when you run, for instance, or — most important – if you have a child or teen ager who wants a cell phone… you should read about the dangers. Reviewed here.

“Merchants of Doubt” by Oreskes & Conway. The authors trace the role of corporate shills who masquerade as scientists, starting with those scientists who provided cover for the tobacco industry. Several of these actually started out as nuclear physicists. Their politics revolved around nuclear bombs and anti-communism and included an opposition to government intervention into any sphere of the economy. Their “science” followed their politics. Several of these “scientists” also pop up in the campaign to oppose the idea that acid rain was harmful and then in the ranks of the global warming deniers. Key to their method is the fact that science usually doesn’t deal in certainties of every phenomenon. From this general fact, these “merchants of doubt” continually claimed that “the science is uncertain; there is legitimate doubt” and the corporate media took things up in that light.

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Facts and propaganda re: Michael Brown homicide

In the coming days, there will be increasing “evidence” that officer Wilson had reasonable cause to fear for his life. The corporate controlled mass media will be the main outlet for this. And the facts of what actually happened are important. The problem, though, is that it’s so very difficult to actually know what happened because we know that the only time the agents of the criminal (in)justice system tell the truth is when it suits them. We also know that they are perfectly willing to plant evidence.

Take the case of O.J. Simpson and the famous bloody glove allegedly found in Simpson’s car by police officer Mark Fuhrman: Fuhrman was alone in the car when he “found” the glove. He also had a long history of making racist remarks, including regular use of the “n word” and objections to interracial couples. His big mistake was “finding” a glove that was too small to fit Simpson’s hand.

That’s only one of the most celebrated cases, but it’s not isolated. All you have to do is do a Google search with the words “police planting evidence video”.

That’s part of why the claim that there was blood in Wilson’s car is not decisive. The other reason is that as one forensic pathologist explains, the question is whether the blood is in a splatter pattern or smears. If it was the second, this means it could simply mean that somehow somebody was dripping some blood, not that Brown was shot at close range.

The most damning evidence against Wilson is this interview with a forensic pathologist:

From this interview, it seems certain that Brown was shot multiple times as he was falling down face forward. Then there is this analysis of Wilson’s testimony before the Grand Jury. As the analysis points out, while his testimony strains logic, that doesn’t prove it’s a lie. But the point is that the whole purpose of a trial – which the DA and the Grand Jury arranged not to happen – would be to see whether it was a lie or not. (We should also note that the DA never cross examined Wilson during his Grand Jury testimony.)

There’s a broader general conclusion we have to draw from this: From individual police actions to world events, the corporate politicians and the corporate media have their own narrative, their own spin. Occasionally it’s truthful, but we should be sure to never take them at their word.

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Oakland Protests Ferguson, Day 2

“That wasn’t the Grand Jury that found Wilson not guilty; it was the Grand Dragon [of the KKK]!” Day 2 of protests in Oakland, CA

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Oakland Protests Ferguson Whitewash

The response was immediate. The very afternoon the Persecutor (“misspelling” intended) in St. Louis officially announced what had already been leaked to the corporate media the

"Hnads up; don't shoot" on the 580 Freeway

“Hnads up; don’t shoot” on the 580 Freeway

protest started in Oakland CA. About 1000 people gathered downtown and marched to the 580 freeway where they outmaneuvered the cops and blocked it off.

cop cars face off against protesters on 580 freeway in Oakland

cop cars face off against protesters on 580 freeway in Oakland

And it is no wonder; nobody trusts “the system” nowadays, despite what Obama might say.  And for good reason. The entire procedure from start to finish smacked of a cover up. Consider that the police left Brown’s body lying in the street for hours while they figured out how to cover up this murder. Consider that to this day there has not been an official police report. And consider the highly unusual procedure for this Grand Jury

"First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so, we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make." Barack Obama speaking on the Ferguson Grand Jury whitewash.

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so, we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” Barack Obama speaking on the Ferguson Grand Jury whitewash.

“investigation:” The purpose of a Grand Jury hearing is simply to decide if there is enough evidence to decide that a crime might have been committed. Might. “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

And here’s what Jeryryl T. Christmas, former prosecutor in St. Louis and present defense attorney had to say about the matter: “It’s very rare that you even bring a defendant in at the Grand Jury level, and most of the time, I’m going to tell you quite frankly, most of the time that we would bring a defendant in to testify at the Grand Jury level was because we didn’t want the case issued, because we don’t have an obligation at that stage to present the the defense. Because our goal, and remember we’re the prosecutors, is to get an indictment. So normally when the prosecutors want to get rid of a case, they will bring the defendant in… (And Darryn Wilcon has had time) to conform his story to fit what’s already out

[If a prosecutor wants, he could get a Grand Jury) "to indict a ham sandwich." Judge Sol Wachtler

[If a prosecutor wants, he could get a Grand Jury) “to indict a ham sandwich.” Judge Sol Wachtler

there… Darren Wilson came in and testified for four hours. Now, as a defense attorney, I’m not going to allow my client to come in and testify for four hours unless I feel very comfortable about how they are going to handle my client while he’s in the Grand Jury….  The reality is that the Grand Jury is an arm of the prosecution…. It’s not at this level a difficult feat to get an indictment if you want an indictment. The thing is that the prosecutor didn’t want an indictment.

Obama and all the corporate politicians, liberal and conservative alike, carry on about our dedicated police officers who “put their lives on the line every day.” What are the facts?

  • Although full time sworn police officers compose .3% of the adult US population, they committed 461 homicides in 2012 – the highest number in decades. This is 3% of all homicides in 2013, 10 times more than their relative numbers would indicate. Yet not a single one of those homicides was found to be unjustified by the authorities.
  • The number of police feloniously killed in 2013 was 27. This figure has been declining every year for years and is the lowest number in 50 years.

In other words, while felonious assaults on cops has decreased, their assaults on civilians has increased. But it’s not just any civilians – black and Latino people especially have born the brunt of this. Consider the case of 12 year-old Tamir Rice, who was gunned down by

The police arrived shortly and confronted the man by saying, “Hey, partner, how you doing? Can you set that down real quick and talk to me?” (The officer didn’t have his gun drawn.) The armed man refused to set it down. The officer told him that he was jaywalking and was being detained. At that point the officer radioed that the armed man would not drop the weapon. He tells the man again that he just wants to talk to him and says, “You’re walking around here scaring people, man.” A second police car arrives at the scene. The man refuses to identify himself and demands to know if he’s free to go and the officer says no, that he is resisting and obstructing, a misdemeanor, for jaywalking and failing to identify himself. The man says, “Why don’t you fucking shoot me?” The officer gently replies, “I don’t want to shoot you; I’m not here to do that.”

The police arrived shortly and confronted the man by saying, “Hey, partner, how you doing? Can you set that down real quick and talk to me?” (The officer didn’t have his gun drawn.) The armed man refused to set it down. The officer told him that he was jaywalking and was being detained. At that point the officer radioed that the armed man would not drop the weapon. He tells the man again that he just wants to talk to him and says, “You’re walking around here scaring people, man.”
A second police car arrives at the scene. The man refuses to identify himself and demands to know if he’s free to go and the officer says no, that he is resisting and obstructing, a misdemeanor, for jaywalking and failing to identify himself. The man says, “Why don’t you fucking shoot me?” The officer gently replies, “I don’t want to shoot you; I’m not here to do that.”

the Cleveland cops just last weekend. Somebody had called in that a child was playing with a gun that “was probably fake”. The cops came out and gunned him down, claiming that he had reached into his waistband after they told him to put his hands up. Or the case of John Crawford, gunned down by the cops in a Wal Mart in Ohio (an open carry state) while he held a toy rifle before they even gave him a chance to put it down. (Surveillance video showed that he wasn’t a threat to anybody.) Compare that to the case of Lance Tamayo, a white man, who held off the cops for close to an hour, waving a pistol all around, before finally being shot (non-fatally). Or the case of another middle aged white man inKalamazoo, MI, who was waving a gun around on a busy street corner for a half hour, before the cops talked him down.

The other point is this: These 461 homicides by the cops in 2013 are only the more noticed side of the story. What rarely is discussed is the constant daily harassment, the stop and frisks, the constant disrespect and abuse in ways large and small, by the police on ordinary, every-day people in the US, most especially people of color. Truly, as US capitalism enters ever deeper into crisis, as it must economically exploit and oppress more and more people, it also must repress and abuse them in order to intimidate them. It may be that not every cop, or even the majority of cops, brutalize and murder people. It may be that not every one is racist. But every single one will cover up for those who are and do.

As a movement develops around this issue, we should consider some steps that might be taken. These could include:

  • No confidence in any wing of the corporate-controlled criminal (in)justice system; for a people’s grand jury in every poor and working class community to hear about and publicize every case of police abuse and brutality;
  • Connect the issue of police abuse with the employers’ economic abuse and the issue of low pay, unemployment and poverty;
  • For working class people’s candidates for office, starting at the local level, with those candidates basing themselves on and being a part of the movement in the streets and standing completely outside of and opposed to the Republicrat politicians and parties.

woman's face on fwy copy

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Oakland City Council votes for privatizing public land

At their meeting of Nov. 18, the Oakland City Council gave a pass to the corporate run Oakland Zoo to expand onto the beautiful, open space Knowland Park. Here is a video of some of what was said at that meeting. Predictably, the corporate-controlled City Council voted for the Zoo, but the struggle continues!

 

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Do higher wages lead to higher prices?

10676282_847496205271489_5405667804504171917_nOne of the arguments of the bosses and their representatives is that an increase in the minimum wage will cause prices to increase – that we’ll be paying $15 for a MacDonald’s hamburger if they have to pay their workers $15 per hour. As the photo above shows, that’s not true. But it also helps to know why it’s not true.

Karl Marx debated that exact question almost 150 years ago. He explained, in short, that if workers get a pay increase and the bosses try to raise prices to make up for it, then demand for the items that workers usually buy will drop relative to the demand for luxury items. As demand for worker-bought items (ground chuck, etc.) decreases (relative to luxury items – yachts, filet mignon, etc.), they will then be forced to drop those prices. As for the luxury items, there will be no increased demand for them, so price increases will not be able to hold.

It’s well worth reading Marx’s argument in full, as he explains it in “Value, Price and Profit”, since he also explains what value is, how prices are determined, etc.

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

From Ferguson, Missouri, to Kafr Kana, Israel

Mike Brown

Mike Brown

The similarities are eery.

Kheir a-din Hamdan

Kheir a-din HamThe similarities are eery.

In Ferguson, Missouri, a young black man got into some sort of hassle with a cop. He started to walk away but the cop got out of the car and opened fire. When the young man stopped and turned around, the cop continued firing. Whether he was killed immediately we will never know, since his body was left lying in the street for four hours, presumably while the police figured out what story to cook up.

Three months later, in the Israeli village of Kafr Kanna, 22 year old Kheir a-Din Hamdan confronted some Israeli police sitting in a police car. They had just arrested his cousin and he was angry. He pounded on the window of the car with some object. The police claim it was a knife, but whatever it was, he then turned and walked away. As he was walking away, the cops got out of the car and unleashed a volley of shots. Kafr fell to the ground – possibly dead on the spot, possibly not. The police grabbed his body and threw him in the car like a sack of potatoes. He bled to death.

(Note: Just a few days before this murder, the Israeli Minister of Security had publicly stated that no “terrorist” should be left alive. For an excellent article on that situation, read Uri Avnery here.)

There was one key difference: In the case of Kafr Kanna, there was actually a security video camera that – unknown to the cops – recorded the entire affair. Their claim that he attacked them with a knife and that they shot him in self defense was proven to be a lie.

The murder of Kheir a-din Hamdan caught on video

The murder of Kheir a-din Hamdan caught on video

But one thing to note: Since the murder of Kafr Kanna, Israel and the West Bank has been awash in protests – strikes, protests… And while protests have been common among the Palestinians of the West Bank, this isn’t so much true in Israel itself. Now that has changed.

Israel convulsed in protests

Israel convulsed in protests

And Ferguson? After the Mike Brown assassination, it seemed like the entire black community – especially the youth – turned out day after day, night after night. There were some protests around the country, but nothing too disruptive. Now the decision to exonerate Darren Wilson – the murderous cop – is coming. The police are getting ready. It seems virtually certain that mass protests will be met with mass repression. What will happen in the rest of the country? Will the similarity with Israel continue to the next step?

Will this be the people’s answer to the recent electoral triumph of the more reactionary wing of the US politicians?

working class one fist copy

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US Mid-term Elections: How far will crisis go?

President Barack Obama shaking hands with Senate leader to be Mitch McConnell while House leader John Boehner looks on. Do they have a deal for you!

President Barack Obama shaking hands with Senate leader to be Mitch McConnell while House leader John Boehner looks on.
Do they have a deal for you!

Hundreds – maybe thousands – of black youth (and not-so-youth) lining the streets and parading up and down W. Florissant street in Ferguson shouting “hands up! Don’t shoot!”

Ferguson

Ferguson

 

Dozens of middle aged white women screaming at Democratic Colorado Governor Hickenlooper as they protest the environmentally destructive practice of fracking.

CO Governor Hickenlooper being confronted by fracking opponents

CO Governor Hickenlooper being confronted by fracking opponents

These are the images we should keep in mind when thinking about the Tuesday’s election results. All of mainstream US politics is dedicated to preventing this sort of thing from becoming a generalized movement, preventing such a movement from breaking the near total monopoly that Corporate America holds over politics, and it is also geared towards maintaining a constant state of confusion among the American people. Most certainly the elections in the US, nearly completely controlled by the two corporate parties, are used for this.

“Pragmatism”
Take the issue of “pragmatism” – the view that ideas don’t matter, that all that counts is action. This view is deeply ingrained in US culture, and is encouraged by every element of Corporate America. In recent years, the politicians’ mantra has been breaking the “gridlock” in Washington DC, and just “getting things done.”
Obama played on this theme in his news conference the day after the elections. “The American people… expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do…. They want us to get the job done…. They want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done. So, the most important thing I can do is just get stuff done and help Congress get some things done.” Get what job done? Gridlock in blocking what? This kind of gobbledygook is spouted by both parties and by the media, and it has had an effect. According to one poll, 49% of people in the US think “gridlock” and “not getting anything done” is the most serious problem in Washington.
But this “gridlock” is largely meaningless. The reason people see it as important is that they’ve been told it’s important.

Simply a Rejection of Obama?
Corporate America claims that this election was simply a rejection of Obama and his supposedly “liberal” agenda. While Obama is justly unpopular, the fact is that it was the economy that drove most voters. According to this poll, of the four issues “foreign policy, health care, the economy, illegal immigration”, 45% of all voters said it was the economy – far more than any of the other issues.
The same poll also revealed that 48% of voters felt that the next generation would be worse off than today’s generation, 70% felt the US economy was not so good or poor, 78% were somewhat or very worried about the economy’s direction in the coming few years, and 65% thought things in general in the US were “on the wrong track”.

Republicans

John Boehner (l) and Mitch McConnell (r): Is your future safe with them?

John Boehner (l) and Mitch McConnell (r):
Is your future safe with them?

What are the plans of the Republicans and of Corporate America for the new Congress? (And while these largely overlap, they are not one and the same, as we shall see.)
The day after Obama’s press conference, the Republican leaders Mitch McConnell – Republican leader-to-be of the Senate – and John Boehner – his House of Representatives counterpart – issued their reply to Obama. In a joint column in the Wall St. Journal, they called for several points. Here are two of them, in their language plus a people’s language translation:
“Remove barriers to job creation” Translation: Allow the corporations to loot and plunder the environment and oppress their employees even more than they are doing now.
“lower energy costs for families” Translation: Push through the Keystone Pipeline and increase fracking.
Elsewhere, they talk about tax simplification (which has meant cutting taxes on the rich and raising them for everybody else), high health care costs (which has meant making it even more difficult to sue for malpractice), global terrorism (meaning increasing both the military budget and spying on people in the US and around the world), national debt (meaning further cutting government services), and “choice” in education (meaning more privatization). In other words, they plan to step up even further their attack on working class (including poor) people and on the environment.

Immigration
McConnell/Boehner steered completely clear of one issue that is huge for their supporters: “illegal” immigrants. 74% of self-identified Republican voters said this is the most important issue facing the US. Many of these want all undocumented immigrants kicked out of the country, no matter how long they have lived here and what kinds of roots they have sunk. That’s a problem for the top Republicans, since their real masters – such as the US Chamber of Commerce – don’t agree; Corporate America wants to use this sector of the working class as a source of cheap labor. As the WSJ reported (11/5/14): “The business community will continue its push to overhaul immigration laws with a focus on expanding the available workforce of legal immigrants, despite resistance in the GOP-controlled House. Business groups had been among the most influential proponents of an overhaul, including a path to citizenship for many of the illegal immigrants living in the U.S.”
This gets at a more general problem for Corporate America and their more favored party – the Republicans. (The Democrats are also needed and controlled by Corporate America, but in a slightly different way.) Before the 1960s, it was said that “you could fit all the Republicans into one country club.” Since then, with the social and economic changes, the Republicans had to expand their base, which they did with right wing, often barely disguised racist, populist appeals, for example the Tea Partiers. The problem of Corporate America is that, although they need them, they can’t completely control them. The federal government shut down of 2013 really brought this home to Corporate America, which found that they couldn’t get many of their Republican representatives in congress to back off. One of the most prominent among this far right wing is US Senator Ted Cruz, and the WSJ’s editorial of 11/06/14 warns against Republican leaders allowing Cruz to “hijack” the direction of the party.

Obama & Democrats

Unknown-1 And how about Obama and the Democrats? What are their plans?
Obama made clear he will push “immigration reform.” It’s ironic that he’s playing the champion of undocumented workers since more such people have been forcibly deported under Obama than any other president. But it works for him since the Republicans are in such a bind over the issue. It also works for the Democrats, since over 25 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2016 – the fastest growing sector of the US population. (Although a growing proportion of these voters are saying that the issue of immigration is “not a deal breaker”, it’s still a key issue.) Obama made it clear in his press conference that he plans to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire on this issue. He’s also pushing the minimum wage issue, and he noted that in all five states where this was on the ballot, a higher minimum wage was passed despite the fact that many of these states voted Republican overall. Other issues will be college student loans, US infrastructure rebuilding, continue fracking, tax “reform”, on the domestic front. He’ll also be talking about “income inequality”, but his specific plans to do anything about it are necessarily vague since he accepts that US corporations must compete with their foreign rivals, and the main way this can be done is through cutting their taxes and wages.

2016
For both parties, these election results were a preparation for the 2016 presidential election, since it’s control of the White House that determines the greatest amount of patronage and therefore determines which party will get to really dip its snout into the feeding trough. McConnell and Boehner (and their allies in papers like the Wall St. Journal) made it clear that they will use their control over the two houses of congress to try to determine the issues and set the agenda as far as how the issues are resolved. On the other hand, Obama in his press conference, made his strategy clear: “They’re the majority. They need to present their agenda,” he said. In other words, he and his fellow Democrats will try to keep the ball in their court, blame them for the problems that the “middle class” faces. (The poor get completely ignored.) Obama and the Democrats also want to foster the divisions within the Republican party – the division between the leadership and the more populist, far right wing. “I actually believe that John Boehner is sincere about wanting to get immigration reform passed,” Obama said. In other words, push Boehner and McConnell to confront their tea party aligned wing.
It us always important to have an idea what the enemy is up to and to understand their divisions and conflicts but, in the end, for working class and poor people in this country, it will be more business as usual. That is why according to one poll some 58% of people in this country think a new political party is necessary. It’s very possible that many of this 58% are looking for a right wing party, but that is another question. Since the US Civil War, Corporate America has maintained its rule by alternating between the Republicans and the Democrats. With very few exceptions, they have been able to do that without serious challenge. Now, the basis for that rule – confidence in the “two party” system (in reality, one party with two faces) is starting to crumble.
The question is how will that be expressed in the future and what can those who want to fight the system do about it?

Overly Optimistic
We must not close our eyes to the problems.
Tens of millions of people in the US have been completely confused by the corporate propaganda. The capitulation – near surrender, in fact – of the union leadership has added to this confusion. (As one protester in Ferguson reported to this writer, for example, his union leadership had told him that that issue was “not our battle.”) The rise of thugs like the “open carry” bullies are a definite danger.

Jess Spear It's true that mistakes were made in both campaigns. Socialist Alternative's campaign for Jess Spear's campaign, for example, failed to openly raise the issue of the need for a new political party. They stressed the need for rent control, but didn't point out  that the housing crisis cannot be resolved on the basis of private investment and the “free” market. Their campaign literature was indistinguishable from that of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats – individuals like former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. (Interestingly, it is very difficult to find their campaign literature online.)  They justified this as a way of trying to win more votes (as explained to this writer by a member of Socialist Alternative). Instead, they should have used the campaign to openly raise these issues, to help build a working class movement. They ended with the worst of both worlds – no increased movement on the ground in this direction and few votes. Then, in their analysis, the explained Spear's loss by complaining that liberal Democrats like Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata supported Spear's opponent although he “knew better” according to them. No, he didn't know better. There's a reason why Licata is a liberal Democrat. This sort of complaint on the part of Spear's group, Socialist Alternative, shows their continued confusion about the liberal wing of the Democrats.

Jess Spear
Socialist Alternative’s campaign for Jess Spear failed to openly raise the issue of the need for a new political party. They stressed the need for rent control, but didn’t point out that the housing crisis cannot be resolved on the basis of private investment and the “free” market. Their campaign literature was indistinguishable from that of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats – individuals like former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. (Interestingly, it is very difficult to find their campaign literature online.) They justified this as a way of trying to win more votes (as explained to this writer by a member of Socialist Alternative who gave him a Spear leaflet at a rally). They should have used the campaign to openly raise these issues, in order to help build a working class movement. Having failed to do that, they ended with the worst of both worlds – no increased movement on the ground in this direction and few votes. Then, in their analysis, they explained Spear’s loss by complaining that liberal Democrats like Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata supported Spear’s opponent although he “knew better” according to them. No, he didn’t know better. There’s a reason why Licata is a liberal Democrat. This sort of complaint on the part of Spear’s group, Socialist Alternative, shows their continued confusion about the liberal wing of the Democrats. Their analysis also largely underestimates the confusion (to put it mildly) that runs rampant in the United States.

Despite the dissatisfaction with the two main political parties, socialist Jess Spear got a scant 16% in her campaign against mainstream Democrat Frank Chopp in the Seattle area of Washington State, and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins got 5% in his campaign against conservative New York governor Cuomo. These poor results show that we still have a long ways to go.

And the ultimate outcome is far from decided. How far can Corporate America go in repressing any movement? How much time will the environmental crisis allow us?

There is no way to know the answers. But one thing is certain: we are headed for a crack-up and we cannot just sit back and not struggle to change course.

Crisis
There is also is a feeling of powerlessness. And that feeling leads people to want to ignore the issues and to seek some sort of escape or another. Here and there, though, the situation has become a real crisis, and that forces wider layers of people to move into action. It forces them to realize that they cannot escape, no matter how they try. That’s why those thousands of black residents of Ferguson went out onto the streets – because the issue of police harassment and murder had gone beyond just the steady drone; it had become an absolute crisis. That’s why those women were shouting at Colorado’s governor Hickenlooper – because the issue of fracking was absolutely destroying their lives and the lives of their families. (Those who aren’t familiar with this issue can see this article for more on this issue.)
In the future, there will be a more generalized crisis. Who knows exactly how it will develop?
The police, for example, have been given almost an unlimited license to brutalize and kill black and Latino people in this country. As was inevitable, they have now started to use this license to increase these practices in general, including on some whites (especially the poor and homeless). Will the Republicrats be able to get a grip on the cops, or is it possible that this crisis in the black communities will become so intense that a new uprising will spread across America?
If it does, we should note an important difference with the Los Angeles uprising after the Rodney King affair. At that time, the uprising was not only anti-cop; there also was an anti-white element to it. This time, things are completely different. That means that such an uprising will have a far greater response throughout US society, and that is particularly true since the majority of people in the US are so dissatisfied nowadays.
First and foremost, it will have a huge effect on young people, considering that the black youth have tended to lead the youth in general in this country. (We can see that in the “youth culture” – clothing styles, music, even speech.) That is especially important since any new movement will tend to be led by the youth.

Environment
We should also not forget the issue of the environment. Cliff Willmeng, a “fractivist” in Colorado and leading member of the Colorado Community Rights Network, was the one who described the “middle aged white women” confronting Hickenlooper. He describes the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on the issue: Whereas the Republicans want to give the oil companies unchecked power to frack, the Democrats hide behind the idea that it can be done safely if there are better regulations. (That’s like saying that the only problem is that the Darren Wilsons of the world should just be given slightly lower caliber guns.) Towards that end, the Democrats have organized astroturf groups with apple pie names like “Moms Know Best.” But as Cliff says, “We’re not into that idea that it (fracking) can be done safely… Communities are being educated. Every time we go through the process of trusting the Democrats, we learn… There’s a very strong leadership growing over the issue of fracking… people feel like it’s a life and death issue… after the elections we’re right back at work.”

Cliff Willmeng confronting a spokeswoman for Encana Energy. He helped drive her out of town.

Cliff Willmeng

Who knows when the environmental issue will reach the same proportions as that of police-initiated murder has reached in Ferguson? Who knows when a Fukushima-style crisis may hit here in the US?
Then there is the issue of the US and world economy. Obama and Corporate America assure us that, while things aren’t great, the economy is stable and slowly recovering. (Much of that recovery is based on fracking, by the way. See this article for instance.) Now there are warning signs that even this may come unwound. (As a side point: Two out of the three counties in California where it was put to on the ballot voted to outright ban fracking.) Also, the other contradictions inherent in the (inevitable) power of finance capital can burst out at any time.
Then there is the fact that US capitalism can not maintain global stability, as we see with the rise of the Islamic State, the civil war in Syria and Iraq, etc. Now, US capitalism has been so weakened that it has to make a de facto alliance with the Iranian regime! Who knows where all of this will lead?

working class one fist copy

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Save Knowland Park

Knowland Zoo

Sitting high up in the Oakland hills, overlooking the entire city and with the best views of practically the entire bay, Oakland’s scenic open space Knowland Park is a real treasure and is a great place for children to run around and explore, for nature lovers to enjoy, and for visitors to get great views. And it’s completely free.

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This writer's grandchildren exploring in Knowland Park. The Zoo's problem is that such activity is totally free.

This writer’s grandchildren exploring in Knowland Park. The Zoo’s problem is that such activity is totally free.

And that is exactly the problem. According to Corporate America and Corporate Oakland, any piece of land that doesn’t earn money is a waste, especially large pieces like Knowland Park. That is why the powers that be of the Knowland Zoo were licking their lips when they got their hands on the park some years back. They developed plans for what amounts to a theme park, complete with a gondola ride, a high end restaurant and office space in the park.

To understand what’s behind these plans, we have to look at who sits on the Board of Directors. This article makes it clear:

“Jim Wunderman is President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy organization….

Sebastian DiGrande is a Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy….

Bay Area Council. This group represents major corporations in the Bay Area. Do you really think they are looking out for you?

Bay Area Council.
This group represents major corporations in the Bay Area. Do you really think they are looking out for you?

Daniel Boggan, Jr…. assisted the municipal firm of Siebert, Branford & Shank Co. in business development from 2003 to 2006…. Cassady Hudson is a Senior Revenue and Royalty Analyst at Hands-on Mobile…. Mark McClure is a partner at California Capital and Investment Group, a real estate brokerage and development firm based in Oakland CA. He has worked on both residential and commercial development projects primarily in the City of Oakland…. Lora Tabor is the General Manager, Corporate & Services HR, for Chevron Corporation in San Ramon….”

What these corporate representatives are after with their plans for Knowland Park is explained by the comment of Nick Dehajia, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Zoo: “the project… changes the face of Oakland.” Working class and poor people in Oakland – the great majority of whom are black and brown – should look in the mirror and ask, “whose face do they want to change?” 

The zoo project is part and parcel of the long range plans to privatize everything that moves – or doesn’t move – in order to suck profits out of it. This is also connected with the long range plans to further gentrify western Alameda County. It is connected with the removal of the homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb, the development plans for the Oakland shore line, etc.

As is typical of such plans, much of this will be done at taxpayers’ expense. Votes will be held:

  • Wed, November 12, 1–5 pm. City Council “Community and Economic Development Committee” will discuss this matter. Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in City Council chambers.
  • Tues, November 18, starting 5:30 pm. Full City Council will consider and votewhether to approve the “conservation easement.” Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in City Council chambers.

The zoo mobilizes its workers and “volunteers”. We urge the working class people of Oakland to come out and stand up to Corporate Oakland. Save Knowland Park! Oppose privatization! Oppose gentrification of Oakland!

(For those interested in some background, here is an article by this writer on a tax measure that the Zoo Board tried to push through to get working class people in Alameda County to further fund their plans.)

 

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

Book Review: “The Compassionate Instinct”

According to some, cooperation and empathy violate our natural instincts. These scientists argue that those who survived in our deep past were those who were best able to dominate and overcome others and thereby produce more offspring. These theories are used to argue that therefore a society based on competition and domination (capitalism) is the only “natural” state and that a society based on cooperation (socialism) is unnatural and therefore impossible.

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Is this true?

“The Compassionate Instinct”, edited by Keltner, Marsh, et al, gives a valuable insight.

Survival of the Fittest”

Traditionally, when we think of “survival of the fittest”, we tend to think of the “fittest” individual vs. other individuals of the same species. This is certainly one aspect. However, there is also the question of survival of the species as a whole, and especially amongst the more social animals this means what traits will enable an entire pack or herd of any particular species survive.

In part, studying this issue has been made possible by scientific development, for instance brain imaging. Through this, they have shown that the same part of the brain that is activated when a mother holds her baby is also activated when a person sees pictures of a victim of harm. In the words of the book, these two things “are united by the similar neurological reactions they provoke.” It is interesting that the same part of the brain is activated when a person is helping others as when receiving a reward or experiencing a pleasurable sensation.

These clearly would help the survival of a small band of humans in the wild. The neurological reaction would mean that the members of the band would help each other, thus making the band more successful.

Autonomic Nervous System & Oxytocin

The brain is not the only part of the body that is involved in “feelings”. The “fight-or-flight” response is well known, and involves changes in the skin, muscles, heart rate, etc. The different parts of the body involved in the “fight-or-flight” syndrome are called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). What is interesting is that when people are stimulated to feelings of compassion, the ANS responds exactly the opposite from the fight-or-flight response.

There is also the role of hormones, such as oxytocin. When a mother breast feeds, the oxytocin level elevates. But interestingly, it also elevates when a person performs a friendly act like smiling or waving at somebody, the level also increases.

Empathy

All of this is related to the feeling we define as “empathy,” and humans are not the only ones capable of this feeling. In one experiment, rhesus monkeys were taught to receive food by pressing a button, which act also gave an electric shock to another rhesus. The monkeys refused to press the button, meaning they went without food, for as long as 12 days to avoid shocking their comrade.

Other experiments have also shown that a similar bond exists across species.

This bond has a survival value at the most basic level. As members of the herd see another react to a potential danger they all react similarly.

Hostility and Violence

Then there is the question of hostility and violence. Studies have shown that the violence between members of a group of a particular species tends to be greater in more stressful or harsh environments. As the book says, one study showed that savanna baboons “’have acquired an aggressive temperament as a defense against predators, and aggressiveness cannot be turned on and off like a faucet. It is an integral part of the monkeys’ personalities, so deeply rooted that it makes them potential aggressors in every situation. Thus, the savanna baboon became, literally, a textbook example of life in an aggressive, highly stratified, male-dominated society. Yet in my observation of Forest Troop (baboons), I saw members of that same species demonstrate enough behavioral plasticity to transform their society into a baboon utopia.”

Soldiers at War

Then there is the issue of human-on-human violence. The studies that show that some 80-85% of soldiers in WWs I and II intentionally avoided shooting the “enemy” soldier prove the extremely strong inhibition against killing. Once the US military found out about this inhibition, they found ways to break it down through desensitization and what one soldier called “manufactured contempt.” The breakdown of this inhibition is related to the significantly higher levels of post traumatic stress disorder in US soldiers since those wars. It also may be one factor that gives US troops a significant military advantage over opposing troops in such places as Somalia or Afghanistan.

WW I soldier. Up to 85% refused to shoot at the "enemy."

WW I soldier. Up to 85% refused to shoot at the “enemy.”

Domination & Hierarchy

Then there is the question of domination and hierarchical behavior. Most primates display such behavior, which is also present in non-literate, hunter-gatherer societies of humans. However, members of the group or clan also have collective means of keeping this behavior within limits – in other words, a collective resistance to dominance.

Revenge & Forgiveness

One of the most interesting parts of this book is on the “forgiveness instinct”. The authors point out that there are some survival benefits in the drive for revenge – the opposite of forgiveness. For one, revenge serves to inhibit similar behavior in others who may be observing as well as inhibit a repetition of the behavior in the one carrying it out in the first place. There are other functions to revenge, or punishment, though. For instance, among rhesus macaque monkeys, if one monkey finds a food source and doesn’t give the eating call – preferring to hog all the food to itself – the others will attack the transgressor if they discover it. This has obvious survival benefits for the troop as a whole.

“Forgiveness” – attempting to soothe over hurt feelings after a conflict – is also just as common though. Amongst gorillas, for instance, after a fight there will be an increase in soothing behavior such as making submissive noises, touching, and grooming. Similar behavior has been found not only among other primates but also among dolphins, goats and hyenas, but not cats (the one non-herd animal). As the authors explain: “Animals reconcile because it repairs important relationships that have been damaged by aggression. By forgiving and repairing relationships, our ancestors were in a better position to glean the benefits of cooperation between group members – which, in turn, increased their evolutionary fitness.”

Gorillas grooming

Gorillas grooming

The authors also make some interesting observations about modifying human behavior. For instance, in one experiment they randomly divided people into three groups. One group was told to write down five things for which they were “grateful” once a week. One group, the control group, was left to its own devices, and the third group was told to write down five hassles they’d been through. “Those in the gratitude condition reported fewer health complaints and even spent more time exercising than those in the hassles conditions… The gratitude group participants also experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in either of the other two groups.” Not only that, but close acquaintances of the subjects strongly tended to report that those in the gratitude group seemed more “helpful” than those in the other two groups. (None of the acquaintances knew anything about the groups or who was in which group.)

Politics

Clearly, all of this is related to the survival of the collective.

There are some directly political implications from some of their studies. For instance, the authors do show that there is a region of the brain – the amygdale – that is directly related to hostile behavior to “outsiders”. On the other hand, their research also shows that what is perceived as an “outsider” can change. Continual contact with those previously considered to be outsiders leads to this part of the brain not reacting as it previously did to their presence.

We can, of course, take all of this so far as to make any understanding of it ridiculous. This the authors do.

Experiments like the one above show that behavior can be modified in some situations. What the authors fail to consider is the significance of one stark fact that they, themselves, point out: How the US military has successfully repressed the built-in inhibition against killing other human beings. Clearly, something beyond misunderstanding or (positive) behavior reinforcement is at work. There is the simple element of class interest.

Posted in book reviews, science | Leave a comment

“How Did We Become Humans?”

Note: This is an experiment. I am trying to write something for young people between around 8 or 9 and around 12 years old. It is aimed at being a series of pamphlets on how the human species and then human society evolved, ending with how capitalism evolved and what comes next. In other words, socialism. And – most important – what is necessary to overthrow the present order. If any readers have children in that age range – or grand children or nieces or nephews, etc. – it would be greatly appreciated if you would show them this and get their opinions. In fact, any opinions from adult readers are appreciated. And please don’t be too nice if you don’t think young people will find this interesting.

How did we become humans?”

What do you mean, “become humans?” You have always been a human. Everybody you know has always been a human. Of course, we’re talking about evolution – how earlier species evolved into the human species.

But this leads to another question: “Why does it really matter?” After all, this happened a looong time ago (we’re talking millions of years). Now that we’re here, what does it matter how we became what we are?

It matters because it helps determine how we look at human society. That means, how we look at what people do in their everyday life. And if we can get a clear understanding of that, we can change it too. But to understand it, we have to look at how we got there, starting with how we – the human species – became what we are.

Religion vs. Science

It starts with the issue of evolution. And let’s not forget that a third of the people in the US don’t even believe in evolution.i What does this mean? In the US today, almost all people who reject evolution base their ideas on the Bible. This means that they simply accept that “god” has ordered things in a certain way; that’s how it always was and always will be. It means that they refuse to see that there are certain laws of nature. And that the number one law is that nothing stays the same; everything is changing – sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, but change it does. That’s what we mean by a “law” – not like the laws like what congress passes, but simply general principles, general ways, in which nature operates. For instance, at sea level, when water is heated to over 212 degrees Fahrenheit it “boils”, meaning it turns into vapor. That is a simple law of nature, but a lot of other laws are much more complex.

The human species is not separate and apart from nature. The same laws that determined how we evolved – that is, how we changed over millions of years – determined how our societies evolved and developed. And, as we say, once we understand those laws we can use them to our advantage.

What is Evolution?

So, first, what is evolution and how does it work?

Read more: How We Became Humans

Posted in for young people, Marxist theory, pamphlets | Leave a comment

SEIU Local 6 Candidates speak

Members gather on nomination night to protest unfair election procedures

Members gather on nomination night to protest unfair election procedures

As OaklandSocialist reported, a struggle is under way in SEIU Local 6. This local covers janitors, security guards and other building services workers in the Seattle/Tacoma area. For nearly a decade, Local 6 President Sergio Salinas has ruled the local like a little dictator. Not only has he made deals with management behind the workers’ backs, not only has he abused workers who spoke up and allowed management to abuse them too, his regime has also been abusive to those organizers that he, himself, has hired.

Union supporters, fellow union members, and especially fellow members of SEIU can follow their campaign and can contact them here.

Amelia Vassar

Amelia Vassar with some of her supporters outside the union hall

Amelia Vassar with some of her supporters outside the union hall

Tired of all this, Local 6 organizer Amelia Vassar decided to lead a slate of candidates to oppose his rule. No sooner than she did this than she was fired. Then Sergio’s hand-picked election committee ruled that Amelia as ineligible to run for office since she had never worked in the industry. The irony is that neither had Sergio before he ran for local office; he got into office the exact same way that Amelia is trying to!

Here is an interview with Amelia:

Nur Abdishakur

Nur Abdishakur is the opposition candidate for secretary treasurer. He, too, has been ruled ineligible. The excuse in his case is that over 40 of the names on his nomination petition were ruled invalid because the names were printed instead of signed. People should realize that many of the Local 6 members don’t speak English and writing even their names in this language is a task.

Here, Nur explains the situation:

Mike Ladd

Mike Ladd speaking at the membership rally

Mike Ladd speaking at the membership rally

Another candidate for office is Mike Ladd, who is running for executive board. Unfortunately, OaklandSocialist did not have a chance to interview Mike, but we have the following general statement from him:

“The main issue is the work load. Over the years, the janitorial companies have been increasing and increasing the work load, and if you don’t complete the amount assigned to you, you will get written up…. This has been going on for over a decade. If they don’t complete what they’re told to cover, told to cover all this ground and make it look perfect… discipline is involved. In extreme cases, things have gotten so bad that we’ve had members pass out on the job from all this work load….

“The leadership’s response has been weak at best. They have done a few little things, but it’s nowhere near enough….

“We need a strong union to protect the members. It doesn’t matter what’s in the contract if the union leadership won’t fight for it. We file grievances and go through official steps, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. We get the runaround….

Microsoft

“At Microsoft – one of our main work places – we’ve had members file hundreds of grievances over workload and all kinds of things and they don’t seem to get anywhere. You should understand, this is not just a matter of stress. We’ve had members fall down stairs. All kinds of things happen. It’s getting more and more dangerous.

“We’ve had members like Nur Abdishakur, a shop steward at Microsoft, who’s brought it up and the leadership has responded by keeping him out of union functions….

Member dies on job

“When we had ‘Justice for Janitors Day’ a couple of months ago, Sergio Salinas got up and said, ‘if we don’t get what we want about this in our next contract, we’re going to strike.’ Well, it’s been about four years that we had a member die on the job in Tacoma because she was placed on her own and she passed out on the job and died. And now it’s taken Salinas and Co. four years to figure out that workload is a life and death issue for us. They bring it up when they want to, in a contract year and in between they ignore it.

“As far as what they should be doing: First of all, they should not be repressing shop stewards for fighting for the members. They shouldn’t expect members to be fighting on the job and then turn off their brain when they come to the union hall. But more than that, we need to take the employers on head-on. We should have actions outside their buildings and get the community involved.

Struggle Emboldens People

“We should mobilize the entire membership, their families and the entire rest of the labor movement. That’s what we’d have to do, but the union leaders don’t want any sort of movement that’s out of their direct control. Because if it is, it’s going to take on a life of its own. It’s going to take on its own demands and its own political position. It’s not going to accept the conservative position of the leadership of the labor leadership and the Democratic Party. That’s what they’re afraid of; that’s why they’re always trying to avoid a struggle — because it emboldens people.”

Posted in labor | 1 Comment

Zionism, racism & ebola

Here Margaret Prescod, an African-American woman, reports on Zionists verbally attacking her, telling her to “get her ebola self out of here.” Inevitably, the racist forces will use the ebola crisis to further their racism. It’s never noted, though, about how Europeans absolutely decimated the indigenous populations of the Americas with smallpox and venereal diseases, in some cases wiping out as much as 90% of the people. In fact, smallpox-infected blankets were intentionally left for Native Americans during the wars against them – the first known case of biological warfare in history.

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SEIU Local 6: Se necesita una union que lucha por la miembrecia

Amelia Vassar, candidato para Presidente, SEIU Local 6 y Mike Ladd, candidato para el comite ejecutivo.

Amelia Vassar, candidato para Presidente, SEIU Local 6 y Mike Ladd, candidato para el comite ejecutivo.

(Nota de los editores: Esto es el primero articulo que hemos publicado en español. Y dado que las elecciones en SEIU Local 6 vienen pronto, no hemos tenido tiempo para chequear la tracussion. Por eso, pedimos su perdón por los errores que estamos seguros están aquí, pero pensamos que era importante publicar el articulo en español tan rápido como posible.)

Farhyo Ibrahim es una janitor que trabaja por ABM en el aeropuerto de Seattle/Tacoma, y es una miembro de SEIU Local 6. Recientamente, la dirigencia de la union demando a ella que ella apoya a ellos en su campana de reeleccion. Cuando ella rehuso, su empleador le puso a ella en el “graveyard shift” y le explico que ese acto fue mandado por la union.

Por que es que Farhyo y otros como ella apoyan a la oposición, aunque su apoyo dirige a acoso en su trabajo? Mike Ladd, candidato para “executive board” explica: “La cuestión principal es la de carga de trabajo. En los anos recientes, las companias aumentaban la cantidad de trabajo, y si alguien no hace todo que ellos demandan, pues habra disciplina en contra de el o ella. Esto ha sido un problema por mas que una decada. En unos casos, la situación es tan malo que ‘janitors’ han colapsados en el trabajo.” En un caso, una trabajadora fue mandada a trabajar solo y se murió en el trabajo.

Han puesto quejas, pero el proceso es muy burocrático y, muchas veces, aunque el trabajador gana, la compania ignora el resulto. Y la dirigencia dice que cuesta demasiado para iniciar una arbitracion.

Crisis economica

Parece que hay varias causas aquí. Primeramente, fuera de Seattle hay un rato elevado de vacancias en los edificios de oficinas. Por eso, los dueños de los edificios presionan a las companias de janitors a reducir sus gastos y ellos, en su vez, presionan a sus trabajadores. Esto esta conectado a la campana de destruir a las uniones por lo general en EEUU.

“Cooperacion con los dueños”

En cambio, la dirigencia de las uniones sigue la idea que tienen que cooperar con los dueños, que las uniones y las companias están en el mismo lado. El resultado inevitable es que la dirigencia ayudara a los empleadores unionizados mantener los gastos laborales a un bajo nivel para ayudar a ellos a competir con los empleadores no unionizados. Practicamente, esto significa que los trabajadores en las uniones tienen que competir con los que no tienen una union para ver quien va a trabajar por menos. Esto destruye la idea básica de tener una union, la cual es eliminar exactamente esta competición.

Vimos esto concretamente en la campana por un salario mínimo de $15 a la hora en el aeropuerto de SeaTac. Alli, se excluyeron a los empleadores unionizados de esta ley; ellos no tuvieron que pagar este mínimo. David Rolf, líder de una otra brancha de SEIU, lo explico asi: “Siempre quieremos ofrecer la paz a los empleadores de conciencia quienes prefieren tener relaciones honestas y directas con las unions con quienes ellos negocian.” Sergio Salinas, el Presidente de Local 6, también participo en esa campana en Sea Tac y aparentemente no tiene ningunos problemas con esto.

La Lucha “toma su propia vida”

Asi se ve que para luchar en la cuestión de demasiado trabajo, una confrontación directa y abierta con ambos las companias de servicios de janitores y con los dueños de las propiedades es necesario. Solamente poner quejas no sirve, y allí esta el problema. Mike Ladd, candidato para el comité exceptivo, explica: “La dirigencia de las uniones no desean cualquier tipo de movimiento que ellos mismos no controlan directamente. Porque si ellos no controlan, el movimiento va a tomar una vida propia, va a levantar sus propias demandas y su propia posición política. No va a aceptar la posición conservativa de la dirigencia sindical y el Partido Democratico. Es por eso que ellos temen otro movimiento como lo que ocurrió en 1999 en las protestas en contra la Organización de Negocios Universal. Ellos siempre tratan de evitar cualquier movimiento que envalentona a los trabajadores.

“Y allí esta el problema con respeto a la carga de trabajo. Es cierto que debemos hacer quejas, etc. Pero para realmente hacer algo, para ganar una huelga sobre este asunto, tendrán que movilizar un gran movimiento. tendrán que enfrentar todos los poderes en la sociedad con toda nuestra fuerza — lo mismo como fue hecho en los anos 1930s en EEUU.* Y es precisamente eso que asusta a los líderes. Y, en su vez, opriman a la miembrecia.”

Y eso, también, es la razón que han formado un grupo opozicional en el Local 6 y la razón que la dirigencia oficial esta tratando a reprimirlo. Mike explica, también, lo que pasa con las elecciones:

“Members Power and Democratic Reform in Local 6 (El Poder Miembrecia y Las Reformas Democraticas en Local 6) es una campana desde abajo. Son los janitores ye oficiales de seguridad y los otros miembros quienes lo componen. Luchamos por y demandamos que la miembrecia tenga el poder de hacer todas las decisiones principales en la union y que ellos mismos deben controlar a los oficiales y organizadores de la union. Es lógico porque somos nosotros quienes les pagan a ellos! Basta ya con la riqueza crecienda de los empleadores mientras que nuestros oficiales no hacen nada sobre los problemas que nosotros, los miembros, enfrentan todos los días – por ejemplo la creciendo carga de trabajo, la cual ha dirigido a miembros moriendo en el trabajo! Estamos hartos de ver a ‘shop stewards’ y otros buenos lideres en el trabajo puesto en la lista negra, aislados, o condenados a ostracismo por su lucha para sus compañeros del trabajo y por tener el coraje de levantarse al actual Presidente, Sergio Salinas, y sus fechorías. El actual clima internal es un clima de miedo por el trabajador promedio. El personal de la union y la dirigencia debe estar allí para ayudar nos – no gobernar sobre nosotros.”

* – Nota: En los 1930s en EEUU, los trabajadores hicieron ocupaciones de los puestos del trabajo, hicieron plantones masivas de miles de trabajadores, lucharon con la policía, etc. y asi ganaron los derechos sindicales.

 

Posted in espanol, labor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wishing him the worst of luck

I got a call last night from the campaign headquarters of one of the candidates for city council in Oakland. The conversation went something like this:

Campaigner: “Hello, John. I’m calling to see if you know about Abel Guillan, who’s running for Oakland city council.”

Me: “Yes, I’ve heard of him. He’s another one of those corporate politicians.”

Her: “Well, Abel has been endorsed by the Alameda County Police Officers Association.”

Me: “Well, in that case I won’t be voting for him. I’m just disgusted with how the police are getting away with murder – literally – right across the country.”

Her: “Oh. Okay. Well, Abel has also been endorsed by the ____ Democratic Party (something or other).

Me: “Well, in that case I most definitely won’t be voting for him. I’m sick of how the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, are allowing the cops to do this. I think it’s been something like 400 people the cops have killed so far this year. And both parties are equally responsible for it.”

Her: “Would you mind holding for one second.” Then, after a minute to so: “Well, John, I guess you won’t be voting for Abel.”

Me: “No, I won’t”

Her: “Well, that’s your right.”

Me: “I’m well aware of that. And all I can say is that I wish you the worst of luck.”

End of conversation.

Posted in John Reimann's personal blog, Oakland, politics | 1 Comment

SEIU Local 6: A fighting union is needed

(NOTE: See the updates at bottom of this article. This especially applies to all SEIU members.)

Amelia Vassar, candidate for president, SEIU Local 6 and Mike Ladd, candidate for executive board

Amelia Vassar, candidate for president, SEIU Local 6 and Mike Ladd, candidate for executive board

Farhyo Ibrahim is a janitor working for ABM at the Seattle Tacoma airport. A member of SEIU Local 6, she was asked to help campaign for the reelection of her local leadership. When she refused, her employer transferred her to the graveyard shift, explaining that this was coming from the union itself.

Work Load

Why is Farhyo and dozens like her supporting an opposition slate of candidates, even at the cost of harassment on their jobs? Mike Ladd, opposition candidate for executive board, explains: “the main issue is the work load. Over the years, the janitorial companies have been increasing and increasing the work load, and if you don’t complete the amount assigned to you, you will get written up. We’re being asked to clean more and more space at the same quality or higher.

“This has been going on – work load has been an issue for over a decade. If they don’t complete what they’re told to cover, told to cover all this ground and make it look perfect, depending on the situation they can get written up; discipline is involved. In extreme cases, things have gotten so bad that we’ve had members pass out on the job from all this work load.” 

Mike added that in one infamous case, a worker who was assigned to work alone passed out and actually died on the job a few years back.

Employers “just blow us off”

At times, grievances are filed, but this procedure is extremely time consuming and bureaucratic, and often times, even if the member wins the grievance, the employer “just blows us off,” Mike says. And the union leadership is extremely reluctant to go to the final step of arbitration, which they say is too costly.

Economic crisis

It seems there are several issues involved here. On the one hand, outside of Seattle there is a high vacancy rate in office buildings. So the property owners put pressure on the building maintenance contractors, who take it out on their employees. “S__t runs downhill,” as they say. This is connected with the general union busting that is happening right throughout all sectors of the US economy.

Team concept

On the other side, the entire union leadership in one way or another follows the “team concept” or “union management partnership”. This means they support the idea that the union and the unionized employers are on the same team, that they are in a partnership. The inevitable result is that the union leadership will help the unionized employers keep labor costs down to help them compete with the non-union. In practice, this means that the unionized workers have to compete with the non-union ones for who will work cheaper. This destroys the entire purpose of having a union, which is to get rid of that sort of competition.

We saw this in action in the campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage at the SeaTac airport. There, the unionized employers were excluded from having to pay that wage. David Rolf, another SEIU union leader, explained 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.” Sergio Salinas, President of SEIU Local 6, also participated in that campaign at SeaTac and apparently has no problems with this approach.

Struggle “takes on life of its own”

So, in order to really fight the issue of increased work load, a direct open confrontation with both the janitorial service companies (many of which are nation-wide) and the property owners would be necessary. Simply filing grievances won’t do it, as members of Local 6 have seen. And there lies the problem, as Mike explains: “The union leaders don’t want any sort of movement that’s out of their control directly. Because if it is, it’s going to take on its own life, it’s going to take on it own demands, and its own political position. It’s not going to accept the conservative position of the labor leadership and the Democratic Party. That’s why they’re afraid of another ‘WTO moment.’ But they’re always trying to avoid a struggle because it emboldens people.

“And that’s the problem right there, as far as the workload issue too. Sure, we have to file grievances and stuff like that. But to really do something, to win a strike over this issue, they have to do this big mobilization; they have to really confront all the powers that be with our own strength – just like was done in the 1930s; and that’s what they’re afraid of. So instead, they repress the membership.”

Mike Ladd Explains further

That’s also why an opposition slate has been organized in Local 6, and that’s why the leadership of the local is trying to repress it.  Here is Mike, explaining what’s happening with the local election:

Member’s Power and Democratic Reform at SEIU 6 is a grassroots campaign made up of rank and file janitors, security officers, and allied industry workers. We fight for and demand that all major decision making power be placed directly back into the hands of the union membership, and that all elected officers and full time staff should be held accountable to the will of the  members they are paid to serve.

We are sick and tired of seeing the employers grow rich while our union staff turns a blind eye to the problems facing our fellow members every day, such as ever increasing amounts of workload (speedups) which has lead to janitors dying on the job.

We are sick and tired of seeing good and honest shop stewards and workplace leaders blacklisted, isolated, and ostracized for zealously fighting for their coworkers and having the courage to stand up to the current President Sergio Salinas and his wrong doings. The internal climate today is that of fear for the average worker. Union staff and leadership should be here to help us – not rule over us.

 

Sergio Salinas. He is a perfect example of the link between many NGO's (where he first worked) and the union bureaucracy.

Sergio Salinas.
He is a perfect example of the link between many NGO’s (where he first worked) and the union bureaucracy. Union supporters shouldn’t be fooled by his “progressive” into thinking that he fights for his members.

And we are sick and tired of fighting hard to protect our communities while the current union leadership cuts deals behind our backs while the bosses and big business politicians. We cannot survive on another four years of “modest” (translation: meager, stagnating) contracts and living standards.

In nearly a decade long reign as President, Sergio Salinas has enjoyed little or next to no official opposition to his policies during union elections. That all changed with the formation of Members’ Power and Democratic Reform Campaign last month. Since then the environment within the union and in the workplace has become ever more repressive.

On September 25th Members’ Power Presidential Candidate Amelia Vassar publicly declared her intention to run in the coming election this December. No less than a day later her house was broken into and ransacked. Over the last month we have heard reports almost daily about  full time staff and leadership threatening and intimidating our coworkers on the job for collecting nomination signatures for Amelia Vassar, Nur Abishakur, and expressing sympathy for the Members’ Power campaign generally. (please read the section “Farhiyos Story” in the campaign attached below)

Even veteran SEIU 6 members have expressed concern that if they sign our nomination petitions and “it gets back to Sergio” that they will somehow loose their jobs. Currently, many of our coworkers have serious questions as to the real relationship between the union officials and the employers. Considering this situation, many of our candidates and campaign supporters are preparing themselves for possible retaliation from the union officials, the bosses on the job, or some combination of the two.”

UPDATE:

Amelia Vassar, candidate for president, was first declared ineligible to run for president by Sergio’s hand-picked election committee. The reason given  was that she was on staff and had never worked in the industry. That is the exact same situation that Sergio was in when he first ran for office in the local. After she was declared ineligible, this single mother was called in and fired for “disloyalty.” Oakland Socialist urges all unionists and all socialists to support this opposition slate. We don’t know everything about them, but if they are campaigning around the issue of really fighting the employers, they must be on the right road. They are having a rally on this Saturday, Oct. 18, at 1:00 p.m. at SEIU Local 6 hall, 3720 Airport Way S. in Seattle. We urge union supporters to attend.

Latest Update to this story: Amelia Vassar – a single mother – has been fired by Sergio Salinas for “disloyalty.” This is an indication of how democratically he intends to run this election. We urge members of SEIU to contact us and/or the Local 6 reform slate to find out what they can do to ensure a democratic election in Local 6. The reform slate can be contacted on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/reformseiu6

Posted in labor | 1 Comment

Radio show: What is socialism?

Recording on WEFT’s “World Labor Hour” on what is socialism? That part of show starts about 24 minutes in. For those who are interested, read more here.
http://www.radio4all.net/files/bobpalez@comcast.net/3532-1-Illinois-WorldLaborHour_2014-10-04_edit.mp3

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First Ebola fatality in US: He and 4000 more are victims of capitalism

Ebola victims

Ebola victims

With over 4,000 dead from the disease, Ebola is a major crisis… for the people in West Africa. For the rest of the world? Not so much.

Listen to Dr. Thomas Geisbert. He’s a virologist at the University of Texas, Galveston, who has spent decades studying Ebola and other similar hemorrhagic fevers. In an interview conducted by National Public Radio, he explains that they now have a vaccine that has been shown to be effective for non-human animals in labs. He explains that since ebola is not transmitted through the air (so far), it’s not that difficult to prevent a general epidemic. (Translation: In wealthy countries, like the US, it can be contained.)

Then he says: “I think one of the main obstacles is realy a financial obstacle. Most of the companies that would develop these vaccines are small biotech companies, and there’s a very small global market for an Ebola vaccine. It’s not like something like malaria that’s prevalent. So the companies really — it comes down to money.”

Translation: “The big pharmaceuticals don’t see a major profit in an Ebola vaccine because those who need it the most can’t afford it, and Ebola in general doesn’t threaten to disrupt the Western nations.”

Then we have the case of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who came down with Ebola shortly after he had come to the United States. He came down with all the classic symptoms – high fever, chills, pain, etc. He first went into the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas Texas. All the hospitals in that area had been warned about Ebola and given instructions on how to handle suspected cases. When Duncan first went into Presbyterian, what do you think was one of the first questions asked of him?

If you’re living in the US, you know what it was: Do you have health insurance?

Said one of those who accompanied him: “She (Duncan’s fiancee) told them he did not (have health insurance) because he had just come from Liberia.”

So what do you think the hospital did?

Again, if you’re living in the US you know the answer. Despite his 103 degree fever (as noted in the hospital records), they sent him home. 

Thomas Eric Duncan: Killed by capitalism

Thomas Eric Duncan:
Killed by capitalism

He later returned to the hospital when his symptoms were too serious to ignore, but it was too late then for him. The epitaph on his grave should read: “Here lies Thomas Eric Duncan, another victim of capitalism.”

Posted in Africa, health care industry | Leave a comment

More Video from Ferguson

We understand that there is a lawsuit going on in Ferguson challenging the police rule that nobody can stand still at the Ferguson protests. This is, of course, enforced selectively, but completely aside from that, the purpose of the ruling is to try to squash the protests. Below we see the police first announcing this rule – during the morning at the QT lot. We also see some scenes on and around that lot in the days leading up to this. It’s clear that the lot was a community gathering place where people shared food, ideas, etc. That’s the real reason the cops and the political power structure wanted to break it up.

Posted in Ferguson, racism, rebellion, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Bill Maher the bigot and violence in society

Below is professor Reza Aslan answering (liberal) Zionist bigot Bill Maher’s claim that there is something peculiarly violent about Islam. He explains that you can’t lump all predominantly Muslim societies together. He’s right enough in what he says, but what he should have said is something along these lines:

“Muslim people are particularly violent? You want to explain the violence in some Islamic societies by their religion? You can’t be serious. Consider history:

“Let’s go back to the founding of this country, and the genocide carried out against the Native Americans. And did you know, by the way, that some of the European settlers – Christians all – justified their slaughter of entire Native American villages by saying that God had ordained it? And how about the slave trade and slavery in the US – one of the most brutal slave systems in history? How about the fact that the slave owners found passages in the Bible to justify slavery?

“How about the two World Wars – giant convulsions of violence if there ever were such? Who carried out those wars? Continue on down through history – the holocaust against the Jews, and now the Zionist violence against the Palestinians, whereby they are steadily stealing their land and water, and where openly fascist groups are growing inside Israel itself?

“You, as an American, Bill Maher, are one to speak. As Stokely Carmichael said, ‘violence is as American as cherry pie,’ and as Martin Luther King said, the US is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Has anything changed since those days? Maybe, in the sense that violence in US society has increased. How about all the numerous cases of what seems to be senseless serial or random murders? How about the violence that is peddled by Hollywood every single day?

“Sorry, Bill Maher, but violence in a society is explained by social conditions, not some peculiar mentality that is inherent in any one religion. And in this society, capitalism means exploitation and therefore repression and therefore violence. And the more decadent it becomes, the more violent it becomes.”

 

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Scottish Independence Election Outcome

Rob Jones has been living in Scotland for the last nine or ten years. Below he comments on the election outcome. His comments reinforce the point made in an earlier article here on the issue: From here in the US, it’s impossible to really say as far as whether to argue for a “yes” or a “no” vote, but the main point is this: For any working class force, especially for socialists, the main point should have been that no matter which way the election turns out, workers’ wages, jobs, and social services will continue to be attacked and workers and young people have to use the election campaign to organize to defend their interests. Hopefully, that will still come out of this election campaign.

A couple of points for those not familiar with Scottish politics: The SNP is the Scottish National Party, which is the party that has been raising Scottish independence for years. Salmond, who Rob refers to, is the leader of that party.

Rob Jones writes:
Firstly, the nature of the SNP. It is a classic populist nationalist party, trying to please everyone- from business to the desperate. That is why people imagining a workers’ republic coexist with those seeing the SNP as a vehicle to creating a low tax tiger economy. It has been well described as promising Scandinavian welfare and security  on the basis of a US level of taxation. In essence it has a` right wing programme- expressly neo liberal in its White Paper for Scotland and promising to make a bonfire  of regulations and controls on business. Sounds familiar? Its only concrete economic commitment is to lower corporation tax, and provoke a race to the bottom, and doubtless further erode cross border worker’s solidarity. Even against the much (and often  justly) maligned Labour Party, it consistently has come out against raising taxes on the wealthy, mansion tax, levy on banks etc etc. While making great play of its commitment to the NHS, it has refused to use discretionary power to raise income tax to alleviate the issue. In short, they are an unsavoury rag bag, only getting support because of the record of the UK Governing parties.
More voted against them, because of justified fears about jobs and pensions. They effectively bullshited all questions about the economic future, currency and austerity as ‘scaremongering’. You only have to read Michael Robert’s blog on the question to see that issued around currency and deficits are deadly serious and deserve an answer.  No point in voting for formal political independence to being in effect an economic colony of England through fiscal controls. Answers were not provided and that is why 28 out of the 32 Electoral districts voted No, and why the final margin was so decisive. You cannot compare Scotland with exploited New York fast food workers. Yes, there are devastatingly poor areas, particularly around Glasgow. But the facts are that a generation ago, as measured by GDP per head of population, Scotland was 10% below the UK average. Today, Scotland is the most prosperous region of the UK, apart from London and the South East of England. This is not being an apologist for the status quo, or ignoring the catastrophic areas of much of Glasgow. It is just facts. That is all, and an indication that many folk have jobs and savings to preserve and were not swayed by talk of not being strong and courageous, not being ‘real Scots’ and the rest of the nationalist rhetoric. They wanted more substance than that. And the tail ending lefts like the SSP were a joke.
Glasgow
Even in the areas like Glasgow, where the majority votes Yes, it was far more uneven than that. Even here, 47% voted No, and like other areas, they would have been many workers and even Labour voters…. [It is useful to look at a stronghold of the Scottish working class: the Strathclyde shipyard workers.] Unless the situation changed dramatically in the last few days, I would wager that a decisive majority of Strathclyde shipyard workers voted No. Why? Their major contracts are with the UK Government, particularly in defence, and they have legitimate concerns about jobs and closures. So they and their union reps demanded a meeting with Salmond. He consistently refused to show up, leaving the distinct impression that he had nothing to offer and that he had bottled it. Unless he dramatically showed up and saved the day, all they had was a meeting with Labour Party reps and Vote No and No thanks posters and stickers- as seen on TV. They just sent him a letter on the last occasion. And what was our beloved First Minister doing at the time? In a Conference Suite at Edinburgh Airport having a meeting with business leaders to reassure them about his plans on independence.
I know about the bankruptcy of the No campaign and the reasons for so many coming into political activity for the first time -not just on one side. But they are being diverted into a potentially sectarian channel. Parts of Scotland is now truly a ‘House Divided’ . When a majority of Scots are denounced as not real Scots, and even as ‘traitors’ and ‘quislings’,  not as a one off but repeatedly by Nat outriders, then poison has entered the national bloodstream. Hopefully that will subside, and the positive side of this great event will prevail. I can only hope so, and that class issues on both sides of the border will prevail over sectarian constitutional preoccupations, that could suck in the English as well.  Otherwise it will only prove that nationalism in advanced countries, that are not the victims of a repressive regime, is a reactionary vacuity.

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San Francisco Ironworkers wildcat strike

Ironworkers in San Francisco have gone on a wildcat strike against a contractor-friendly contract. The ironworkers will be getting the grand total of a wage increase of some 60 cents spread out over several years. This at a time when prices for housing, etc. are rising.

It brings back memories of the Bay Area carpenters wildcat strike of 1999. In both cases, what stood behind the strike was a situation of full employment and a union leadership that is trying to keep the contractors happy. In the case of the carpenters, we didn’t have the right to vote at all on the contract. In the case of the ironworkers, there was a rigged vote, whereby their votes were weighted the same as the votes of ironworkers in other areas whose numbers were a quarter or less of those in San Francisco. The ironworkers contract covers all of California and Arizona, but instead of using this to bring the wages of the weaker areas up to those of San Francisco, it’s being used to drag down the San Francisco wages to the weaker areas. Here is a video of the contract. Towards the end, there is an interview where the link is made with the carpenters strike of 1999.

Here is a video of the strike:

Posted in labor | 2 Comments

Scottish Independence

The British capitalist class is facing a crisis: The possibility of an independent Scotland. How should socialists and working class fighters see this issue? In our view, we have to start with a look at the consciousness of the working class and how independence would affect that consciousness. Below are some comments from a series of socialists, the moderator of this blog site included:

John Reimann writes:

The workers’ struggle for a better life – better pay, jobs, housing, social services, etc. – has been dealt major set backs the world over, including in Great Britain. At almost every turn, the workers’ movement is blocked by its own leadership, or in the case of the Labour Party… well, some would claim that such a workers’ leadership doesn’t even exist anymore. In the past, workers could and did more or less wait for the call from their leaders to mobilize. Now, no such call comes. This throws a huge task onto workers. “You, yourself, have to sit down with your fellow workers, figure out the state of affairs and take the initiative. You cannot just wait for a greater power to bring people together; you have to start down that road yourself.” (I’m not advocating for spontaneity or just waiting for workers on their own to do things. My point is that no matter how sound and reasonable some small group of socialists may be, workers will mainly evaluate them on the basis of whether they think this group actually has any real power, in other words what “authority” it has.) That is a bitter pill to swallow, and the present situation shows that time after time, workers are tending to look for what appears to be the easy road out. So where nationalist or other similar approaches seem to solve the problem, millions of workers flock to that approach.
That is the issue that socialists have to deal with.
Not being there, it’s impossible for me to really judge whether Scottish independence would make it easier, would encourage Scottish workers to organize and take the lead of the working class throughout the British Isles. But one advocate of a vote for independence has given the example of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), which split away from the United Auto Workers in the US. This is actually an example against a “yes” vote. At the time of that split there was more militancy in some Canadian plants than in the US. The Canadian leadership encouraged a nationalist mood, leading to the split. They never posed the necessity of fighting to get rid of the UAW international leadership and change their policies. Nor did they ever hint at the fact that what happened in the US plants would ultimately have a huge effect on what happened in the Canadian plants. And what has been the result? Recently the US auto manufacturers have been shifting production away from Canada into the US, where wages are lower. And there is growing rumblings amongst the Canadian auto workers about some concessionary contracts there. Clearly, the move for separation was a diversion away from the real struggle.
It is similar in the Carpenters, who are organized in both the US and Canada. There was a decades long campaign among the British Columbia carpenters for “autonomy”.  I was up there in 1999 and I supported autonomy at the time. There was the beginning of a move for outright separation, and my view was similar to what it is about Scottish independence – would this lead to a stronger union? The main issue was (and still is) the question of the “team concept” and the idea that the union carpenters had to help “their” contractors compete with the non-union contractors. This was the idea that had to be fought, and if separation made it easier to fight it, then fine, but it had to be fought throughout the industry and the union movement. Ultimately the BC carpenters did split away, but under nationalist lines in a sense, and without squarely confronting that issue. And with what results? Now, there are the same complaints about rotten contracts pushed through by that very same leadership that we have throughout the rest of the Carpenters Union.
The issue of a union splitting off is not exactly the same as that of Scottish independence, but there are some common issues, as Tim’s raising the issue of the Canadian auto workers shows. One of the main issues in common is whether the nationalism is being raised as something of a diversion; whether it is playing into the reluctance of workers to confront that difficult question, to swallow that bitter pill that they, themselves, have to figure things out and have to take the initiative. Obviously, that is exactly what the Scottish National Party is doing – trying to divert the anger over austerity, etc. into nationalism and away from the class struggle. The question is whether the socialists are combatting that enough. I briefly looked through the material of the Socialist Party of Scotland (CWI), the Scottish Socialist Party and Tommy Sheridan’s group, “Hope Not Fear” (the name says it all — hope that things will get better). From what I looked at, I have to say that they don’t do that. Instead they focus on whether the economy (that is, a capitalist economy) would collapse in an independent (capitalist) Scotland, etc. Yes, a phrase here and there can be found that indicates otherwise, but that’s not the main thrust.
I think socialists should emphasize the following: “Prepare to defend yourself. No matter which way the vote goes, no matter whether we remain in Great Britain or are independent, the attacks on the working class and the poor will continue. The attacks on women will continue. The Labour Party and the Conservatives will attack you. The Scottish National Party will attack you. These attacks are part of the attacks of global capitalism on workers the world over. Organize in such-and-such a way to fight back. Link up with your fellow workers in the British Isles and throughout the EU and globally.” Then, in that context, the question can be posed about how to vote, but that is really a secondary question in my opinion. And in that context, I don’t necessarily think that advocating a “no” vote would necessarily be ruled out, although the more I think about it, the more I would tend to think socialists might advocate a blank ballot, which would mean a vote of no confidence in Labour, the Tories and the SNP. But that is really secondary, in my opinion.
Ed Bober writes:
I fully agree that unity of the working class across the British Isles is a paramount consideration. And I don’t think that national boundaries as shaped by bourgeois politics need be a barrier to working class organisations.
I also think this is developing into a major crisis for the British ruling class. A “yes” victory in the polls could undermine Cameron’s position as party leader even before the election next year. As the article posted by Tim illustrates, this campaign has already had a big impact in increasing political interest amongst the masses in Scotland, already too this is having repercussions within the English working class: more willingness to discuss politics.
My impression (from England so therefore tentative) is that the more establishment figures clamour to reverse the swing of public opinion, the more the Scottish working class draws the conclusion that it is better to be rid of these hypocrites based in London. The Labour leaders are distrusted almost as much as the Tories.
To me these developments illustrate the correctness of supporting a vote for Scottish independence,  not with any illusion that a capitalist Scotland would be any better, but because a “Yes” majority would deepen the political crisis for the British ruling class: something that will serve to help develop the revolutionary movement in Britain as a whole.
Marxist have a problem in a situation like this. We know that both the lies of the SNP leaders need exposing as well as the lies of the London politicians. Many Scottish people see this as a vote about defence of public services, defence of the NHS, opposition to the cuts, defence of living standards. Alex Salmond is preparing cuts. We can be sure that a newly independent Scotland will face all manner of neo-liberal “shock doctrine” pressures for austerity and privatisation. But a victory for the “No” campaign would also result in similar pressures, which in the minds of many Scottish people would be seen as the consequence of not having won independence.  The best way to expose SNP policies is for Yes to win. This will open up a more fertile political situation for revolutionaries. It will create better circumstances in which a party to the left of he SNP can be built. Such a development in Scotland would raise the level of political consciousness of workers in England and Wales.
Roger Silverman writes:

I’m not so sure. Like the rest of us, I would of course celebrate a YES result next week. It would make me personally tingle with excitement: not because it would advance the cause of the socialist revolution by a single inch, but simply because it will be such a thrill to witness the catastrophic humiliation of the British ruling class. Losing an empire was bad enough; this is amputation.

That is not to say, in my opinion, that a YES result would necessarily be preferable. It would drive a further wedge into the solidarity of the working class. It is the democratic right of the people of Scotland (and equally, for instance, that of Eastern Ukraine) to separate if they so decide; and, given the justified popular hatred of Westminster rule (whether under a Tory, New Labour or Con-Dem coalition government), it would be unthinkable to campaign for the NO camp. But the reality we have to face up to is that the surge for Scottish independence represents a retreat for the class struggle and an expression of despair.

As a handful of individuals, our preference as to which side wins the referendum is immaterial. If we had any influence, then rather than align ourselves either with the British ruling class or with an aspirant separate Scottish bourgeois government, as socialists we are duty bound to argue for a workers’ socialist federation of Britain, or even perhaps of the British Isles. Our predicament will be just the same if it comes to a referendum in Britain (or what’s left of it) over membership of the European Union. Do we align ourselves with UKIP? Or with the CBI? Whether we as individuals vote YES, or NO, or abstain, all our political energies must be concentrated on arguing for a socialist united states of Europe.

Having said that, the question of which result in this current referendum would be more favourable to attaining that objective is in my opinion a matter of conjecture and speculation, not of principle. Neither a continuation of the union nor the foundation of an independent Scotland can in themselves help the workers’ cause at all unless there is a resurgence of mass struggle and of class solidarity transcending national boundaries.

The immediate risk of separation is entirely due to the arrogance and stupidity of the Tories. Initially, they thought that, while support for independence stood at about 30-odd per cent, it would be clever to concede the SNP’s call for a referendum. Give them their referendum, they thought, and get it out of the way. Then they thought it would be even cleverer to deny voters the compromise option of “devo-max” (a maximum  extension of devolved powers, which would probably have won a big majority), under the delusion that they could frighten the electorate into defeating the SNP hands down, so that such concessions would be unnecessary. Now that they face imminent disaster, all three major Westminster parties are lavishing every kind of promise on Scotland, amounting  to virtual autonomy, provided they are left with the formal token acknowledgement of union.

And yet every step that they take plunges them deeper into trouble. Cameron’s recent promise to the electorate that he will be “heartbroken” if Scotland leaves the union must already on its own have added yet another few percentage points to the likely YES vote. If we add to that the hardly very helpful interventions by the Orange Order, UKIP and Henry Kissinger, all of whom are currently campaigning on the government’s behalf, then you begin to wonder what result they really want. Meanwhile, mass disillusionment with the Labour Party has been fatally sealed by its eagerness to do the dirty work for the Tories by taking official charge of the NO campaign, and explicitly acting as their obedient catspaws.

 

What the SNP leaders are offering is anything but a real break with Tory policies. Beyond their manipulative demagogy about humanity and social care, their only hard promises are sops to the bankers and big business to cut corporation tax and the higher-rate of income tax even lower than their current rates in Britain, to lure “investors” into Scotland. Nor do they even promise genuine independence, but only continued allegiance to the British monarchy, continued membership of NATO and the EU, and continued use of the British pound sterling currency. Their former favourite economic “role models”, Iceland and the other “Celtic tiger” Ireland, no longer seem to have much allure.

If Thursday’s vote results in a victory for YES, that would almost guarantee a built-in Tory majority at Westminster, leaving the English, Welsh and Northern Irish working class at the mercy of a vicious and vindictive newly-strengthened Tory government implementing a UKIP manifesto under Boris Johnson’s leadership. Meanwhile, it’s true that in Scotland the actual experience of an independent Scottish government would quickly expose the demagogy and hypocrisy of the SNP. Rather than inspire a militant working-class resistance, though, this is at least as likely initially to demoralise the working class and deepen despair among the youth. Let’s remember that this is no longer the Scotland of John MacLean and the “Red Clydesiders”. The closure of the coal mines, the shipyards and whole swathes of industry have drastically reduced the size, specific weight and combativity of the Scottish working class.

A NO victory still seems more probable than not, given the overall balance of the opinion polls, the numbers still uncommitted and therefore more susceptible to conservatism, and the renewed scare campaign waged by companies hypocritically threatening disinvestment. If the government had had the foresight in advance to offer the compromise option on the ballot paper of “devo-max”, that would surely have prevailed. Now they find themselves forced to concede so much that, apart from the vital psychological impact of separation – a political symbolism which would be devastating for British imperialism – in real practical terms, given also the minimal programme of the SNP, the actual material consequences of either a YES or NO vote are hardly distinguishable.

And yet even a narrow victory for NO will still leave British capitalism damaged forever. This manifestation of deep-rooted mass hatred for the British ruling class has dealt it an unforgettable shock. It is a token of its impotence, and a source of hope for future far more substantial victories.

Finn Geaney writes:

It would be a mistake for socialists to support the demand for Scottish independence. Irrespective of the level of support for a ‘Yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum the stance that ought to be adopted by socialists should not be determined solely by the mood within the working class, even that within the organised labour movement. Nationalism has nothing to offer workers or society in the advanced industrial countries, and an independent Scotland will not improve the living standards of Scottish workers nor will it make easier the growth of socialist consciousness within the labour movement in Scotland, in the UK as a whole or internationally.
The current demand for indepence was fomented initially by the Scottish Nationalist Party, an organised body of Scottish Tories. While they might affect an air of radicalism now, that will change quickly should independence come about. What will be the response of comrades when living standards begin to fall and social services and jobs are cut in the period following ‘independence’, should it come about! For such will be the inevitable outcome. It will be no defence then to proclaim that the mood amongst workers was in favour of independence prior to the referendum.
A ‘yes’ vote would not easily be reversed, for restoration of the UK would require two referenda, one asking UK citizens whether they favoured reunification.
Socialists argue in favour of workers’ unity whatever stance is taken on the referendum. Yet in concrete terms how could one call for unity within the labour movement while at the same time withdrawing a large percentage of Labour representatives from the UK Parliament.
Anybody who is seeking arguments against the futility of nationalism in the modern epoch need look no further than Ireland, where living standards have collapsed and mass unemployment has become the norm. Incidentally a few years ago Alex Salmon used to point to Ireland as an example of the successes that could be achieved with independence.
Moods can change. The fact that many thousands of workers have attended meetings in favour of an independent Scotland is not an argument. The failure of the labour leaders to present an alternative to the ravages of capitalism has created the climate in which nationalism can grow. The same is true for the rise of backward religious movements in many areas of the world.
Socialist activists are unfortunately at this stage unable to influence events. That is all the more reason for clarity of ideas. Many areas of the globe have been riven by nationalist divisions. Only an international socialist movement can combat this trend. In the meantime it is essential to maintain unity of working class, regardless of the apparent short-term advantages.
The Scottish people have the right to vote for independence and they have a right to self-determination. But that is not to say that socialists always support the exercise of that right.

 

Posted in Europe, Workers International Network | Leave a comment

What is happening to our cities?

Here (http://darkarethedays.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/capitals-image-of-seattle/) is an excellent study of how Seattle has changed, how it has become gentrified. In describing Seattle, the writer (Jordan Martinez, a member of Socialist Alternative in that city) is also describing what has happened, or is happening, in many other US cities. What he explains leads to some practical conclusions for socialists and others who want to change things (for the better). Or, as Karl Marx said: “Philosophers before me have only tried to interpret the world. The point, however, is to change it.”

In the past, these cities were industrial centers. Following WW II, we saw the “white flight” from these centers. Now, in many areas, they are reflecting a shift in the US economy – away from industrial production and towards finance, on the one hand, and high tech on the other. Together with that shift, we are seeing a reversal of that “white flight” and towards gentrification. This is what Jordan describes in his article, which could as well have been written about San Francisco (where that process has been pretty well completed) or Oakland (where it is just starting to get underway.)

What this means for socialists

What this means for socialists: Jordan notes that “the Seattle left” was generally absent from the protests about the police killing of the young Latino man, Oscar Perez Giron. As he notes, the politics involved were complicated by the fact that it seems Oscar had pulled a gun, but there were all the surrounding factors, including the fear of being deported. And in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, there were no such complicating factors, and yet the socialist left was just as absent.

The producers of this blog site believe that capitalism is at the root cause of the crises that we all face. This includes the question of racism, or, as Malcolm X put it: “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” In the 1960s, this idea was widespread, as Malcom X’s comment shows, and many young people were dedicated to building a movement that would resolve all these issues by overthrowing capitalism itself. This included thousands of black and Latino youth. But things were a lot more complicated than many of those youth (of all colors and backgrounds) thought at that time, and partly because of this, the ideas of socialism were thrown back.

Now, those ideas are starting to get a new hearing, but we have to be honest with ourselves: Most socialist groups are made up mainly of white, college-educated people who work in professional or semi-professional jobs. That is not a condemnation of those groups; it’s just the way it is and it is caused by a variety of factors, many of which are beyond the control of these groups. But we have to be very conscious of this shortcoming – not in the sense of feeling guilty or “inferior”, but simply aware that the experiences of a large sector of the working class does not fully penetrate the thinking and activity of our different socialist groups. But yet it is exactly their thinking and consciousness that makes those most oppressed layers the most potentially revolutionary in US society.

Campaigns

Some socialists might claim that campaigns like that for a higher minimum wage, or the campaigns around fast food build the links with these most oppressed layers. But that is not true as they have been run. “15 Now” in Seattle, for instance, did precious little to actually draw in minimum and low wage workers, such as grocery clerks. And the present SEIU-run fast food campaigns suffer from the same lack. In how many cases have the fast food workers at some McDonalds or KFC actually gone out on strike to shut down their work place?

Something to offer; something to learn

Conscious socialists – those who have devoted their adult lives to this cause – of course have something to offer. But they also have a lot to learn from those whose lives have been so different, especially those living in the margins of US society.

 

▶ Show quoted text

 

 

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Which Way for British Labour Party?

One of the major differences between the workers movement in the US and in the European countries is that we have never had a mass workers’ party in the US (which, incidentally, is also why we don’t have any kind of socialized medical care). In the last few decades, though, with the ongoing crisis of capitalism, all these parties in Europe have turned sharply to the right. They have also been hollowed out of worker involvement. So much so, in fact, that some people argue that they are now capitalist parties. Some socialists used to argue that when the British workers arise, they will move into and transform the Labour Party, but now these same socialists say that things have changed and that a new mass workers’ party in Britain is more likely to be built. Roger Silverman, a long time British socialist and member of the Workers International Network, who used to take the position of a transformation of the Labour Party, explains the different perspective below:

We note the modest gains made by the “centre-left” in elections to the national executive committee of the Labour Party. Alongside the public sector strikes, the hundreds of thousands on TUC marches, the mass meetings organised by the People’s Assembly and the Coalition of Resistance, the formation of Left Unity, etc., the beginning of a modest polarisation within the Labour Party represents yet another small sign of the growing tensions caused by the government’s savage attacks on living standards.

I had not heard before of the “Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance”. Somehow its name reminds me of the new party once founded by the Czech revolutionary satirist Jaroslav Hasek: “The Party Of Moderate Progress Within The Bounds Of The Law”. Nevertheless, the fact that it has won a few seats, albeit on a Labour Party committee which has long ago been stripped of any political power, does represent another small sign of the pressures building up.

Len McClusky

Another is the warning by Len McCluskey of the trade union UNITE that his union may break away from Labour and pour both the funds from its political levy and the energies of its activists at regional and local level into the founding of a new party.

We should not dismiss out of hand the prospect of a breakaway from the Labour Party by one or more trade unions. Those comrades who are sympathetic to the Labour Representation Committee are adamant that Labour will be reclaimed for socialism by its rank and file. Those who support the Socialist Party (Committee for a Workers Iinternational) put their faith in the evolution of their electoral slate the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition into the nucleus of a new workers’ party. Both schemas would be exploded if Len McCluskey were to take practical steps to put into practice his repeated warnings that unless Labour under Miliband delivers, UNITE will take steps to launch a new party. So when further evidence appears that this might really happen, those from diametrically opposed points of view categorically rule out any such development. From opposite angles, each brushes aside a possibility that threatens to undermine their own preconceived pet templates.

New World Situation

But life has changed. Workers across Europe are being driven back into the pauperism, repression and violence of the first half of the twentieth century. In Britain, 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.

One way or another, a resolution must come to the historic paradox of the Labour Party. Whether through a victorious reclamation by the trade unions (which would mean 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 by the trade unions, either of these variants would represent a major new beginning.

“Something has to Give”

Something has to give. If Labour loses the next election (a clear possibility), then inevitably mass resistance will manifest itself through other channels. On the other hand, if Labour wins, then an explosion is all the more likely. A Labour government which continues the same programme of austerity and repression can expect to retain the loyalty of its voter base only for so long. 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, and those trade unions representing the most victimised working-class families will be at the forefront.

Socialist activists are all 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.

“Hedging Bets”

I have been criticised for “hedging my bets” (paradoxically, at the same time as for making predictions that were too categorical), but either way the contradiction between the pro-capitalist leadership and the trade-union base of the Labour Party break will certainly lead to an explosion; and in my opinion, almost certainly through a breakaway by several trade unions, probably following the next general election.

Next British Election

The next election is “too close to call” in terms of which party will win how many seats in parliament. However, the election can hardly be characterised as a “neck-and-neck” race when it hinges so completely on differential desertions, on a balance of respective apathy: how many Tory voters will vote UKIP, how many former Labour voters will feel motivated to vote, the likely beneficiary of the Lib-Dem wipe-out, etc.

“Two Party System” Already Broken

It has been argued that the traditional “two-party” electoral system in Britain rules out the formation of any new workers’ party because, they say, it crowds out minority parties and inhibits people from “wasting” their vote. They are blinding themselves to the fact that the traditional two-party system is already irrevocably broken down, due to mass disgust by the electorate at the performance of both parties.

In 1951 the two main parties between them received 96.75% of the votes. In 2010, this had shrunk to 65.04%. In the same period, the share of the LibDems, which had been virtually wiped out before the First World War and been reduced to little more than a historical relic, had grown from 2.55% to 23.03%, reaching within six percentage points of Labour. The vote for other even smaller parties had risen from 0.7% to 11.93%.

Never mind a “two-party” system, even to talk about a “three-party establishment” is becoming outdated. Even leaving aside the 56 Lib-Dem MPs, how do comrades explain the recent election victories of other minor parties? The Scottish Nationalists have six MPs; Plaid Cymru, three; Independents, three; Respect, one; and the Greens, one. All of these were elected under the so-called “first-past-the-post” system which is designed to exclude “fringe” parties.

 

That’s before we even mention UKIP (note: a right wing nationalist party), which will almost certainly win a bye-election next month, and which seems almost certain to pick up at least a few more seats at the next general election.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland (admittedly under the special circumstances of armed conflict), the same process has gone even further. Both of the two traditional mainstream communal parties (the Ulster Unionists and the Social-Democratic Labour Party) have been eclipsed by new, even more sectarian, alternatives: the Democratic Unionists (who have eight MPs in the Westminster parliament) and Sinn Fein (five MPs). In addition, expressing a direct rejection of both traditions, the Alliance party also has one MP.

Scottish Independence?

And, last but not least, what about (excuse the cliché) the really monstrous “elephant in the room” that no one so far has even mentioned? The most glaringly obvious sign of the terminal crisis of the traditional establishment parties: the imminent threat to the very survival of the United Kingdom. A generation ago, the Scottish National Party was regarded as a quaint folk curiosity. Now it doesn’t just dominate Scottish politics; it has come to the very brink of marching Scotland straight out of the union with England as an independent country, in just two weeks from now.

“Left Unity”

Among all the other molecular changes, the formation of Left Unity represents just one of many halting steps along the road to a new political representation of the working class… but a significant one. It may be a clumsy rough-and-ready tool, which still needs to be sharpened in action, but it is our duty 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 considered themselves “left”, but whose livelihoods and futures are under attack now as never before, and who find themselves abandoned, defenceless, disarmed and gagged by the historic defection of the Labour Party from its historic objectives. Left Unity can be a pioneering forerunner and a significant strand of a new or revived mass workers’ party.

I hope that the French comrades will spare us some time from their very energetic and successful activities to keep us informed of the momentous events within the French Socialist Party: both the breakaway by the newly-formed Left Socialist Party and the split in the outgoing government. We could all learn a lot from their experiences. (Note: This last paragraph is a reference to the international socialist e mail discussion list that Roger’s comments come from, and a request that some French socialists who are on the list comment with what is happening in France.)

 

Roger Silverman

 

 

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The Democrats, from Ferguson to Gaza

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, Congresswoman Barbara Lee held a fund raiser here in Oakland. Lee, a member of the Black Congressional Caucus, is one of the most liberal members of the US Congress. She also says on her web page that she is a “friend of Israel,” which is certainly true as she just recently voted in favor of an additional donation of US tax dollars to help fund Israel’s war on the Palestinian people. A short time ago, Lee had held another fund raiser which also drew protesters against her support for Israel. This time, she added a new twist:

She had Congressmember Keith Ellison come also. Ellison, the only Muslim member of the US congress, was one of the few who voted against funds for Israel. At the fundraiser, he gave the protesters a “thumbs up” sign. But if he is so opposed to US support for this terrorist state, why is he helping Lee raise money?

The fact is this: The Democrats always have a few members on the outer “left” edge in order to try to prevent any protest movement from taking political independence. These  representatives act to try to convince people not to give up on the Democrats, not to build an alternative. They act to draw these movements into the Democratic swamp, where it ultimately loses its way and drowns.

As they say, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Keith Ellison and Barbara Lee are the “honey”.

"Ferguson to Gaza: No to racism No to war crimes

“Ferguson to Gaza: No to racism
No to war crimes

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Sunday 8-17: Tear gas fired on protesters in Ferguson

Here is a scene from the night of Sunday, 7/17. Things were spirited and angry but totally peaceful, until the police shot off their tear gas. They first claimed that molotov cocktails had been thrown at them, but this lie was too blatant for even the “news” media to repeat so then they changed and claimed they’d had shots fired at them. Lying Don Lemon faithfully repeated this lie the next day on CNN but admitted off air that the shots he claimed he heard had come from a totally different direction and after the cops shot their tear gas.

This police tear gas riot was then used the next day as an excuse to stop people from gathering in the QT lot, or anywhere else. That had been the goal all along – either through the “Respected Leaders” or by brute force.

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“The unions should come out and help us…”

“The unions should come out and help us…. and as you know, in all the plants where they have unions is where minorities do the best.”

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Keeping the people off the streets

Malik Shabazz promises to keep the people off the streets.

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“It’s needed now…”

“It’s needed now because a lot of the social issues have been covered up over the years.”

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A Young man nails it

This young man in Ferguson explains it all in a few sentences.

Another of the young leaders rising up.

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Youth leadership

A new leadership is rising up, and that’s why the cops and politicians wanted to nip it in the bud… But they will fail.

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Sunday night tear gas attack

Here is a short video of the police tear gas attack against protesters on Sunday (8/16) night. The police excuse was that there had been gun shots – an excuse that the CNN lie caster repeated on air, but when he got off air he had to admit to me that the shots he heard came from way in the distance and, more important, came after the tear gas attack.

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Retake QT Lot?

standing along side streetQuestion to the people in Ferguson: Does it make sense to organize to retake the QT lot? When I was there it was such a center for everything. That’s why they shut it down. But now it seems the politicians are realizing that they can’t just tear gas everybody off the streets. Is it possible to take advantage of that to retake the lot and use it as a center once again (without all the craziness – in an organized way)?

And while we’re at it, why not demand that in addition to prosecuting the cop, that money be provided to make that property a people-run community center?

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Ferguson: Monday and Beyond

Ferguson: Monday and Beyond

%22Killer cops WMD%22

A struggle is going on in Ferguson, MO. It is the struggle for the hearts and minds of the youth, especially the black youth. And as that youth goes, so goes the youth of America.

Until now, the main strategy a combination of propaganda and outright intimidation repression. The propaganda came from the TV, the radio and “respectable” society, which preached that the only goal in life should be money, cars, and good times. Since millions of black youth knew that this was denied to them, then intimidation and outright repression was needed on a mass scale. From the little daily acts of disrespect and intimidation to the beatings and murders, the war against black and Latino youth has been unrelenting.

But in Ferguson, something snapped, and after the police tear gas attack Sunday night, it was clear they had to do something. The main goal was (and is) to get the uncontrollable youth off the streets, or at the very least to get them under some degree of control and to control the crowds in general.

QT Lot

standing along side streetUntil Monday, the gathering at the lot of the burned out QuikTrip (“QT”) store was as much the heart and soul of the protests as was Oscar Grant Plaza for Occupy Oakland. That was where people hung out, exchanged thoughts, shared food and water, and stood along the sidewalk with their signs, expressing their thoughts.

people making up their own protest signs in the QT lot

people making up their own protest signs in the QT lot


Out in the street, hundreds of cars passed, almost every single one with horn honking, young people hanging all out the car, standing up through their sun roofs, with the new sign of defiance – hands up in the air. Those cars passing by with the youth – it was a real people’s street theater, the street theater of the hood. And it inspired people; it was as much nourishment for the “soul” as the food they distributed was for the body.

standing in sun roof

people on sidewalk bySo it had to be stopped.

During the Civil Rights movement days, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ main goal was to get the people off the streets. That was because the tear gas, fire hoses and police dogs didn’t look good to all the newly independent African nations, and elsewhere around the world, especially not with the Soviet Union hovering in the background. And it’s the same thing now, especially with all that’s happening in Gaza, Iraq, etc. So they came together – all the elements of official society – to put a stop to it.

On Monday morning the police announced that we could no longer gather in the QT lot and could not stand on the sidewalks. We had to keep moving. At the same time, some “respected” leader (nobody I talked to knew who he was) held a press conference (why did the press even pay attention?) in which he announced that he was going to herd the protests into a church that night, in order to keep things peaceful. (Since I never did find out his name, I’ll just call him the Respected Leader.)

Out of sight, out of mind.

The People Gather

But the people of Ferguson had a different idea. The crowd was very thin Monday morning, but by later in the afternoon it started to gather. All along, the mood was “enough is enough”. As one young man said, “This has been going on for years. Michael Brown’s murder is the last drop of water in the glass.” So just because the cops had tried to drive people off the street with tear gas, just because some “respected community leaders” wanted people people off the street… Well, the people had a different ideas, so here they came.

Up and down N. Florissant we wandered. Sometimes a small crowd would group themselves together and start chanting. “Hands up! Don’t shoot! One side of the street is all stores set well back to leave room for parking. From time to time, groups would gather there just to hang out. After awhile the cops would come by. “Folks, you’re going to have to keep walking. You can’t just stand there.” Off we would move, with much grumbling. “They just want to tire us out so we’ll go home,” several people said. And they were right, not just tire out our feet, but also our spirits.

Peace Without Justice?

Along with the respected leader from the morning press conference came a cohort of preachers. Their focus was on “peace”, but you know how the chant goes, “no justice…”

Dusk deepened and the crowd swelled further. Up and down the sidewalk we marched, but with the growing numbers and also just naturally, it started to overflow off the sidewalk. Continuing efforts by Mr. Respectable and the lieutenants of the ministers to provide order by getting us back onto the sidewalk. Then it happened: Mr. Respectable had promised he’d get us inside a church, but maybe due to his being from out of town possibly, he maybe didn’t know that there were no churches in that immediate area to lead us to, or maybe he just hadn’t been thinking that morning. For whatever reason, he had to make do with second best, which was a fenced-in parking lot behind a closed business – right at one end of N. Florissant where the cops were lined up and across the street from the press gathering point. As the sky darkened, the Respected Leader with one of the only bull horns the crowd had, led us back to this parking lot.

There was some resistance, and a few people – especially some youth – left just as soon as they entered, but most people stayed for awhile. There we were subjected to one speech after another about the need for a plan, the need to be smart, that “they wanted an excuse to arrest us, but we have to be smarter than that,” etc. They were right in the abstract, but remember what his promise had been that morning: To get us off the streets. (During the Civil Rights movement days, that was the entire goal of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.) He promoted himself as a national police brutality expert. To cover for his plan, he and others with him tried to sound militant by shouting “black power!” The youth in the crowd were clearly unhappy with this, but they had no clear alternative, no clear plan.

People were frustrated and started to drift away, first in ones and twos and then in a stream.

Still There

Rumor had it that they were going to chase us off the streets when night fell, but night had fallen and we were still there. I would have given a lot to hear what negotiations were going on behind the scenes between all the respected”community leaders”, top local law enforcement and politicians as well as a representative or two of the Obama administration – maybe from the (in)Justice Department. The overall agreement was clear, though: That what had happened Sunday night was not acceptable, especially with Corporate America trying to keep a lid on what was happening in Gaza, Iraq, etc. “Of course, we can’t let these young crazies out rioting,” they might be saying, “but it’s best to let the respected community and “faith community” leaders control things.”night 3 night 4

And try they did. When they couldn’t keep us penned in, they tried to keep us on the sidewalk as we marched up and down. Without our central gathering spot of the QT lot and without the street theater of the hood of the car show, people were frustrated. So a different outlet was needed.

Back Onto the Street

Clearly, the cops had been told to cool it so with our growing numbers they couldn’t stop people from going out onto the street altogether. At one point, people surged out into the street en masse to confront this police line. Shouting and curses. The respected leaders did their best to get us back away from the line of cops, who stood there impassively. The fact that the cops didn’t use gas at that point showed that a new tactic was in place. As it was, under the urging of the respected leadership the crowd reluctantly drew back. Into this gap a few plastic water bottles started flying.

Again, the majority in the crowd seemed to see that there wasn’t much sense in just confronting the cops. We weren’t about to overthrow them or drive them off the street. But at the same time, what was the sense of just marching back and forth, up and down West Florissant?

Move Back! Do Not Throw Objects!”

“Move back! Do not throw objects at the police,” came the booming voice of the cops’ loudspeaker. Then some sort of high-pitched, piercing sounding siren they use started going off. That was the warning or threat that tear gas was going to follow, and most people drew back even further, leaving a smaller band of youth confronting the cops. The respected leadership was able to get a march of the large majority going, back down the street. As the larger crowd marched off, the most militant youth started to follow. The moment was over… for the time being.

Up and down we marched. Except by now it tended to overflow even more into the streets. As does the union leadership in similar instances, a group of lieutenants did their best to herd us back onto the sidewalk (bear in mind there was absolutely zero traffic at this time). Meanwhile, in the parking lots on the side of the street little crowds would gather. The peace-keepers came by at one point to warn us that we would be arrested if we remained there, and at that point people all moved. Later in the evening, as a new crisis arose, the disobedience of gathering in these open parking lots was completely ignored by everybody – the crowd, the peace-keepers and the police.

Shots and CNN Lie

At one point we heard shots fired off at some distance. Sunday night, this was the excuse for the tear gas, even though the shots were after the tear gas. Monday night, some cop cars went racing off to wherever the shots sounded from, but there was no tear gas. (An interesting incident: I heard a CNN lie-caster speaking about those events on Sunday night. He was commenting about the shots and the tear gas. He clearly left the impression that it happened in that order if he didn’t directly say so, which maybe he did. In other words, the shots were what caused the cops to shoot off the tear gas. When he got off camera I asked him if he heard shots and if so from where. He said he definitely did and they came from “back there” – pointing in the exact opposite direction from the police line from which the tear gas had been fired. He then admitted to me that the shots were after the tear gas – the exact opposite of the impression he’d given on camera.)

Defending Turf vs. Respected Leader

Sometime later – maybe around 10:00 – a crowd of these youth gathered in the QT lot. They were carrying out the slogan I saw on one shirt: “Defend your turf.”

A police line formed at that end of the street. This included what looked like armored personnel carriers. (Although there was the announcement of the National Guard being called up I never saw them. Again, how would that look to the world, with the Obama administration making all that noise about different rulers – those not in the US camp – repressing their own people?) Some youth gathered on the QT lot – their turf. Then they uprooted a “Yield” street sign and dragged it out onto the street along with some traffic delineators and a few other things.

The police loudspeaker boomed: “Move off the lot. If you do not move off the lot and out of the street, you may be subject to arrest of other enforcement measures. Do not place objects in the street. Do not remove street signs. Do not throw objects at law enforcement. (Nothing was thrown at them, most definitely not any molotov cocktails, contrary to later police lies.) If you do not comply with police orders you may be subject to arrest or other enforcement measures.” Over and over, the police loudspeaker repeated this message. And still the youth held their ground. The Peace Keeper came rushing down the street. “Hold off,” he shouted at the cops through a bull horn. “Please… be quiet and let me do my job (!),” he repeated, nearly in a panic that the cops would make a move and he and his team would lose control. There they stood, trying to convince the youth to abandon their post. He and his team failed totally.

Smoke Bombs

What did convince the youth, after maybe a half hour of this, was a barrage of smoke grenades (rather than tear gas this time). Down the street everybody fled. (I caught a fair few whiffs of this stuff and it’s no fun but nowhere as near as bad as actual tear gas. Again it showed the new strategy.)

Some Conclusions

In effect, there was a struggle waged between the respected leaders on the one side and the angry youth on the other for the vast majority in the middle. The respected leaders clearly had a goal and strategy: They want the struggle off the streets, as explicitly stated by the The Respected Leader that morning. The angry youth want to keep it on the streets, but where to go from there and for what goal? Everybody agrees that a common goal is to have Darren Wilson arrested and tried for murder. There was also a general consensus that the problem was way beyond Darren Wilson. What to do about that? A common call – one made by both the black chief of the state police as well as by some in the community – is for more black police. There was also talk about requiring that Ferguson’s police live in Ferguson. But in other parts of the country we have more black cops and women cops. Has that changed anything? Really, will where they live make a real difference?

Angry Youth vs. Moderates

Clearly, some real steps to solve all the problems lie not in gathering in a church or back where nobody can see in a parking lot and listening to some respected community leaders. Nor will the federal Department of (in)Justice solve the problem. They are part of the problem.

There are another group of respected leaders – the leaders of the unions. I met a few union members over the few days I was in Ferguson – members of the Painters Union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Postal Workers. But they were all there on their own. In fact, the UAW member told me that his leadership had told him “it’s not our problem.” Can you imagine that?

Just imagine if the union leaders called out their members, and there were hundreds of union members marching up and down West Florissant with their union banners. But those who control the unions are another wing of the respected leaders. They are completely tied in with the (Democratic) politicians and with the bosses on the job.

Another part of the problem is how Hollywood along with the education system and others have managed to squash the real traditions of the Civil Right Movement. It’s as if we almost have to start all over again.

Those who resisted the respected leaders had to win the hearts and the minds to a different goal and a different strategy, but what could that be? Many people have no problem with the idea of a “revolution”, but where to begin and where to go from there?

Tentative Program

Of course Darren Wilson should be put on trial for murder. But will that solve the problem?

And as some said who I talked with, there are also the other problems – no decent jobs, an education system that is collapsing, etc. What other steps can and should the movement take?

Only having been there a few days, all I can do is ask: Would it make sense to organize to hold a public meeting – maybe at the QT lot – about police abuse? Of course, this would mean mobilizing to retake the lot, but people proved they can do that. And it would reverse the police offensive.

Is it possible to get some of the young people to go to work places where other community members work and together try to get an even larger crowd out to the QT lot every afternoon?

Change

What we saw was that the only constant is change. From day to day, from hour to hour, in the heat of a battle things change quickly. We are also at a disadvantage since the media always lies and distorts. So we urge any people in Ferguson to contact us, let us know what is happening now and what they think has to be done.

Together, we can join the world revolution.


%22silence is not an option%22

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“It’s building. It’s a revolution”: Voice from Ferguson

Three youth in Ferguson capture it all…

Posted in Ferguson, rebellion, youth | 2 Comments

Sunday in Ferguson

First I should say this: The most impressive thing about what is happening here is again the huge number of young people who are coming out and really taking the lead. Their leadership is in ways that old timers like me never would have thought of, and the main thing is in revving up and keeping the spirit going. People gather in the lot of the QT that was burned to the ground, but they also line the street. From time to time, a young person will march up and down the street leading chants. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is the main one, but “No justice, no peace!” is also changed.

Then there are the carloads of young people slowly driving up and down the street blowing their horns,, hanging out the doors and windows, hands raised…

It all really looks like a new movement being born.

This afternoon there was a huge rally at a church a couple of miles away from the main gathering point for the protest.  The big names spoke there – Al Sharpton, local Democrats, etc. The way it was set up, and given that the cops block off the main street where the protest is, even before it was over it was impossible to drive back to the protest and difficult to drive anywhere near it.

Could it be that that was the plan – to try to keep people off the street?

If it was, it didn’t work very well, because by nightfall the crowd was at least twice the size of Saturday night. Up and down the street we marched. Until suddenly the people at the front came running back. The cops had shot off tear gas. As far as I could see, this was totally unprovoked, as the mood was angry, yes, but also festive and there was absolutely no vandalism or anything like that.

There was massive confusion, but also order in the confusion.

I would like to write more and also post photos and video, but it’s late here and it’s been a long day. I will have a lot of photos and video up on a day or two, so to all of those I met in Ferguson: Please check back later. 

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Oakland protests whitewash in Ferguson

The first night after the Ferguson Grand Jury decided to let officer Darren Wilson get away with murder, Oaklanders protested by blocking the freeway.

Posted in Ferguson, Oakland, rebellion, United States, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment