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.

Posted in capitalist media, Ferguson, racism | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Middle East, racism, rebellion, repression, United States | Leave a comment

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!”




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.

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”.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.


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.


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.


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.)


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….


“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.”


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.

Posted in Marxist theory | Leave a comment

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.
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.


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.


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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.

Posted in Ferguson, racism, rebellion, videos/documentaries | 1 Comment

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?


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. 

Posted in racism, rebellion, repression | 7 Comments

Report from Ferguson

This was my first day in Ferguson, MO. It seems that the entire town is involved. There were maybe 1000 or so people out in the streets, but almost every car that passed by was honking the horn, people hanging all out the cars with the new symbol – “hands up!” The other thing is that it is all generations – from six and ten year olds to teen agers to grand parents.

(Note: I took a lot of photos and video, but it seems to be painfully slow uploading it to this page. People who want to see some of the photos: I suggest you look at the Facebook page for Workers International Network.)

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From Pakistan, Solidarity with Ferguson

We have received the following message of solidarity with the people of Ferguson from Farooq Tariq, one of the leaders of the Awami Workers Party of Pakistan:

Awami Workers Party Pakistan condemn the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It was an act of sheer racism that black youth often met in US cities. The mass anger after death shows the discontent among the working class against such acts of barbarism. The bitter resentment among many local black population about their treatment at the hands of an almost white police force and local authorities will not die down after this unfortunate incident. Racism is used to confuse the white working class to divert attention from the real issues confronting US capitalism.
We express our deep solidarity with the family and friends of Michael Brown and those carrying out struggle against racism. We agree with the slogan, ” no justice no peace” the fight is on
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Ferguson erupts

images-1 images-2Unknown

After unarmed, 18 year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by the Ferguson police, the town (just outside of St. Louis, Missouri) erupted. The government responded with even more repression, as these pictures show.

images-4 images-5 Unknown-1

This is a new day, though, and the world is united as never before. As this story reports, people in Ferguson were getting tweets from people in Gaza. A new day is dawning.

  • More repression? Check!
  • More poverty? Check!
  • More racism and communalism? Check!
  • But also more international unity than ever before!

The struggle of working class people is growing around the world. And right before out eyes, under our very noses, working class internationalism is starting to develop and a mass, working class international is struggling to be born.

*Note: Oakland Socialist and the Workers International Network urges workers and youth to send messages of solidarity to the people of Ferguson. We will help ensure that any sent to us will be received in Ferguson.

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

Block the Boat – End Israeli Apartheid


What’s happening?
The world has watched in horror as Israel has continued to bombard and devastate Gaza. Millions around the globe have come out in support of the Palestinian people and against the Zionist regime, holding massive marches, demonstrations, and actions. Palestinian General Federation Trade Union (PGFTU), have called on workers around the world to refuse to handle Israel goods. Palestinians throughout Gaza, the West Bank and 1948 Palestine have demonstrated their unity in the struggle against Apartheid Israel and have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands, bravely facing Israeli military armed with US made weapons to call on the international community to stand with them as they resist Zionism throughout all of historic Palestine.

Picket the Port of Oakland!

Ask the longshoreman to stand with the people of Palestine as they have done in the past!

No business as usual for Israel in Oakland and everywhere!

Every Saturday, the Israeli owned Zim shipping line docks and unloads its cargo at the Port of Oakland. Let this action be the beginning of a sustained campaign to stop the Israeli ship from ever unloading in our town.

From Seattle to Oakland to Los Angeles – turn the Israeli ship around!

Join us in ensuring that Zim ships are not welcome anywhere.

Not in Palestine!

Not in the Bay Area! Not Anywhere! Stand against apartheid and racism everywhere!

Meet 5:00 a.m. at West Oakland BART and march to the Port of Oakland

From Oakland to Ferguson, Missouri, to Gaza:

The fight against racism is global!

Endorsed by:
AROC: Arab Resource & Organizing Center
Arab Youth Organizing (AYO)
Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)
US Palestinian Community Network
Palestinian Youth Movement
American Muslims for Palestine
General Union of Palestine Students – SFSU
Students for Justice in Palestine – Cal
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
International Jewish Anti Zionist Network
ANSWER Coalition
Queers Undermining Israeli Terror
Catalyst Project
Freedom Archives
Haiti Action Committee
Jewish Voice for Peace
Global Women’s Strike
International Action Center
Workers World Party
American Friends Service Committee
International Socialist Organization
NorCal Friends of Sabeel
Friends of Deir Ibzi’a
Totally Radical Muslims
Xicana Moratorium
ONYX Organizing Committee
Justice for Palestinians

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He has to find it first…

IS on the march in Raqqa, Syria: Who can US capitalism rely on who opposes Assad?

IS on the march in Raqqa, Syria: Who can US capitalism rely on who opposes Assad?

On the day after the Obama administration started bombing the Islamic State (IS – formerly ISIS) in northern Iraq, the Wall St. Journal wrote an editorial on how to defeat them. Among other things, they wrote, “If Mr. Obama finally armed a serious non-Islamist opposition (to Assad) in Syria, he could put pressure on ISIS there too.”

Yes, but the problem is that he has to find such an opposition first.

And that, exactly, defines the crisis that US capitalism is entering. As a US diplomat said in relation to the 2011 crisis in Egypt “We can’t dictate events, we can’t prescribe what’s going to happen.” That should be the motto for US capitalism world wide, and it certainly is true for its role in West Asia/North Africa.

First, they had to accept Nouri al-Maliki as Prime minister of Iraq, despite Maliki’s long time history as a politician who based himself on Shi’ite politics. It should have come as no surprise that al-Maliki suppressed the Sunni minority there, causing a vast divide in the country and opening a space for Sunni communalism.

This opened the way for IS (at that time calling itself ISIS) to win a base of support and enter western Iraq. (See this article for background.) Now they are advancing further. They’ve captured the area around the Mosul Dam, which is a huge problem for several reasons. One is that the dam controls the water supply for much of southern Iraq. Another is that the dam has inherent structural weaknesses that require daily injections of grout into its base or else it will ultimately collapse, sending a sixty foot wall of water down onto Mosul. It is unclear whether this maintenance is going on since IS has seized control.

Mosul Dam: If it collapsed, or if it were sabotaged by IS, it would send a 60' wall of water down onto the city of Mosul

Mosul Dam: If it collapsed, or if it were sabotaged by IS, it would send a 60′ wall of water down onto the city of Mosul

US capitalism is now arming the Kurdish nationalists to resist IS, but in doing so they are weakening the central government and possibly antagonizing them. They would like to oust Maliki, and as of this date it looks like that might happen. Their problem is that Maliki spent long years fighting Saddam Hussein, traveling from Iran to Syria and back again. He endured much hardship and is no weakling. He is not giving up power easily, and if a struggle develops between him and al Abadi, the chose successor to Maliki, this will strengthen IS.

Everybody admits that air strikes alone will not defeat IS, and already US “advisors” have been sent to Iraq. A major reintroduction of ground troops doesn’t seem likely, though.

As for the other crisis in the region – Israel’s attack on Gaza – it seems this will give them an even freer hand. After all, this new crisis in Iraq has underlined the fact that the only regime in the region that US capitalism can count on is Israel.

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Finkelstein on Gaza

This is a 45 minute video but it’s well worth listening to. Finkelstein shoots down one argument after another of the defenders of Israel. If you know anybody who is confused about the issue, get them to watch this. (NOTE: For some reason, the embed does not work with this; it shows a news short about the death of Robin Williams, so you will have to click on the link to watch it.)


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Debating With Defenders of Israel

Gaza under attack

Kshama Sawant was on the radio the other evening arguing for her position on Israel/Palestine and the massacre in Gaza. Unfortunately, she allowed herself to be put on the defensive for most of the discussion, and her performance offers some valuable lessons for those who get into debates on the issue. Time and again, her interviewer raised the issue of Hamas – they are terrorists, they want to exterminate the Jews, they have been putting Israel under a “siege of rocket attacks.” Time and again, this was not answered adequately.

What is the answer to these arguments?

“Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals is due to Hamas storing rockets right nearby,” was the interviewer’s first argument. Here is how we think she should have responded and how a subsequent debate might have gone:

ANSWER: “No, let’s get this straight,” should have been the answer. “Just one incident shows what the real intent is: That is the shelling of six little boys playing soccer on the beach in Gaza. The pictures show without a doubt that the Israeli soldiers were targeting those little boys, that they were after them, trying to kill them.”

“Israel is investigating that incident.”

ANSWER: “Investigating? What do you mean ‘investigating’? They are completely covering it up and haven’t said a word since nor will they say a word. In fact, that targeting of those little boys is completely in line with what is being said by prominent Israelis. The Chief Rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba called on the Israelis “to exterminate the enemy”, and bear in mind that “the enemy” is all “Arabs”. In fact, there have been marches after marches in Israel under the slogan “kill the Arabs.”

And it is a condemnation of the US corporate media that they completely fail to cover this sort of thing. Remember Sadam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’? Remember how the corporate politicians and the corporate media had the American public convinced of that? It’s the same thing now.

“Earlier this year, the Times of Israel actually published an article entitled ‘When Genocide is Permissible’. And Ayelet Shaked, the whip in the Knesset (parliament) for the Jewish Home Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, recently advocated for the killing of ‘the entire Palestinian people… including its elderly and its women… otherwise, more little snakes will be raised.’ And there was no outcry against that.”

Ayelet Shaked: Behind those green eyes lies a murderous ideology.

Ayelet Shaked: Behind those green eyes lies a murderous ideology.

“Well, every country has its extremists. You can’t blame all of Israel for the comments of just a few people.”

A: “Can you imagine what would be the reaction here if any elected official called for the extermination of an entire people and called their children ‘little snakes’? No, they are not just isolated extremists. Consider the funeral last October for Ovadia Yosef, the former Chief Rabbi for all of Israel. 800,000 people turned out to mourn his passing. 800,000! This was to honor the same individual who had said that Palestinians ‘should perish from the world’ and that ‘it is forbidden to be merciful to them.’ (You want to talk about fatwah’s, by the way. That was a fatwah.)”

“Okay, granted, there may be a lot of prejudice in Israel, but that’s because of what Hamas and other terrorist groups are doing. Do you deny that Hamas is a terrorist group? Doesn’t your position really mean defending that terrorist group?”

ANSWER: “Defending Hamas? You want to talk about defending Hamas? I never supported the pro-capitalist Hamas, which is more than can be said for the State of Israel. Just like the US helped finance and support al Qaeda in its early years, Israel supported and helped finance Hamas… But let’s go further. You want to talk about terrorism? What is it when you never know, from one moment to the next whether you will be snatched up by the Israeli military, beaten, abused, thrown in prison for months on end without any formal charges brought against you? Now, Palestinian people are at risk just walking down the street in many places under the threat of gangs of Israeli thugs.

“You want to talk about Hamas? How about the rise of the openly fascist gangs of youth in Israel? Gangs that use the same slogan that the neo-fascist gangs use in Europe – ‘good night, left sector.’ And this isn’t some idle slogan. They are assaulting not only Palestinians, but also Israeli leftists, peace marches, etc. And all without any police response. How about them?”

“Well, if it weren’t for the history of terrorism by Hamas and Fatah before them, this sort of thing wouldn’t have developed.”

ANSWER: “Oh, really? And what do Africans have to do with this, then? Do you know that there is a whole group of African asylum seekers in Israel and that 32% of Israelis support physical assaults on them and 80% support locking them up in concentration camps (their term)?”

“Sure, war is ugly, and it can bring out the worst in us, but you are still defending Hamas and their rocket attacks. You always try to get away from that. Israel has a right to defend itself. You cannot deny them that right.”

ANSWER: You talk about Israel having a right to defend itself; Israel is the aggressor. How about the Palestinians – do they have a right to defend themselves? How about that?

“Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist living in the occupied territories, explained the situation. Writing in the Israeil daily Ha’aretz, she explained: ‘Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS (boycott, divest, sanction). Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line (into the West Bank), expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?’

“And let’s look at how this present massacre (it’s hardly a war) developed: In 2012, Israel agreed to lessen the siege in exchange for Hamas ending its rocket fire. While Hamas did try to stop the rockets (and bear in mind, they aren’t in total control in Gaza; there are other groups there), Israel tightened the siege even more. They use live ammunition against Gaza fishermen who venture out just a few hundred yards beyond their own coast line, for instance. Then, on April 30, Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader in Gaza, even while the rocket firings continued to decrease. On June 11, a seven year old Palestinian boy was killed by Israel. This was followed by the kidnapping and murder of the three settler teenagers. And we should note that while Hamas was widely blamed for it, all the evidence is that they were not responsible, that it was some small, independent group.

“What happened next? First some 200 or more Hamas members in the West Bank were imprisoned. Then, coming from one of the marches which demanded “death to Arabs” a group of settler thugs kidnapped a Paletinian teen, forced gasoline down his throat and burned him alive from the inside. Can you imagine that? Sure, murder is wrong, and it was wrong to shoot those settler teens. But it’s one thing to shoot somebody and it’s something entirely different to burn them alive from the inside out. Can you imagine the sadistic sickness of those people who did that? And what was the response? Was there a general revulsion, a questioning inside Israeli society that they could produce such monsters? No, the first response was for the authorities to try to cover it up, then there was a little bit of tut-tutting, and then it was forgotten, while a ‘charitable’ tax deductible non-profit defends these accused monsters.”

“Well, sure, things are pretty ugly over there. But the Jews and the Arabs have been fighting for hundreds of years. It’s almost like it’s in their DNA, and the Jews need their own homeland. That’s what the Palestinians have to accept.”

“In the first place, it’s completely untrue that they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. In fact, before Britain went in there as a colonial power 100 years ago, the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine lived together in relative peace and harmony. But as a colonial power, the British knew that they needed to find a base of support in Palestine, so they supported the then-tiny Zionist movement to bring Jews over there from Europe to form, as they called it, their ‘loyal little Jewish Ulster.’ Zionism was a reactionary movement from its inception that always depended on a larger, colonial power and never would have gotten any significant support from Europe’s Jews had it not been for the crisis of capitalism (Hitler) as well as the crimes of Stalinism. Isreal, itself, was founded on terrorism. Don’t forget the town of Dir Yassin, where in the war of 1948 Israeli forces went in and killed every Palestinian man, woman and child they could find and then bragged about it to help terrorize the rest of the Palestinian population and drive them out.

“And what has changed today? Do you know about the tweets from young Israelis supporting the killing of Palestinian children? Do you know about the Israeli sniper who has openly bragged about how many children in Gaza he’s killed? It’s that entire history which is why Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, has labeled Israel a terrorist state.

“I want to get back to my earlier point: You talk about Israel’s right to defend itself. I want an answer: Do the Palestinian have a right to defend themselves? Do they?”

The way you’re talking, there will be nothing but war and death forever. You have no answer, no solution.

ANSWER: “I notice that you avoid my question, but never mind. What I’m talking is fact, actual real-live events. You and the supporters of the terrorist state of Israel have no solution. The solution lies in what was started with the Arab Spring – a mass movement of workers and youth to overthrow all the rotten dictators and their capitalist class throughout the region. On that basis, the barriers between Palestinian and Israeli workers can be overcome, but only on that basis. In other words, a socialist federation of North Africa and Western Asia.”

Socialism failed. It failed in the Soviet Union and China is turning its back on it too. You are living in the past.

ANSWER: “Socialism failed? I haven’t noticed that capitalism is such a roaring success! It’s certainly not in that region nor is it even here in the US, where the majority of people think the country is headed in the wrong direction and a plurality of young adults think positively about socialism – more than do about capitalism. What is happening in Israel/Palestine – and what is happening in Iraq too, for that matter – that shows what capitalism has in store for us in the rest of the world.”


That is the sort of response we wish Kshama Sawant had taken. Instead, she based herself on what would bring Israel “peace and security.” One could pick out a few comments here and there where she more clearly condemned Israel, but overall she allowed herself to be put on the defensive. Can it be that she was simply uninformed, or that she was overconfident and didn’t prepare properly? Or is it that she didn’t want to alienate liberal Democratic city council member Nick Licata with whom she seems to be working closely?

Whatever the reason, we all make mistakes and we hope that she and Socialist Alternative have learned from this one and will take a more bold, aggressive approach in the future. Her introduction of the letter criticizing Israel in the Seattle city council has opened up an opportunity to more fully expose Israel and Zionism, but not if she allows herself to remain on the defensive.

working class one fist copy

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Letter from Barbara Lee

A while back we had a confrontation with Barbara Lee about her support for funding for Israel’s military. Since then, we wrote to her criticizing her for her vote for additional funding. Here is her reply:


unnamedAugust 7, 2014

John Reimann
,Dear Mr. Reimann:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concern regarding the escalating crisis.. I appreciate your input on this matter.

Last week, I cast  a vote in support of Iron Dome, which is a defensive anti-rocket missile system that saves civilian lives.

I would not have supported funding for offensive military weapons in the midst of this horrific crisis. I continue to mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in Gaza and Israel.

I have called and will continue to call for a sustained ceasefire to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis, end the blockade of Gaza and stop the loss of civilian lives.

All parties need to get back to negotiations that can lead us to a two state solution.

You may also be interested in an earlier statement on the topic: http://lee.house.gov/newsroom/press-releases/congresswoman-lee-expresses-concern-over-escalating-crisis-in-the-middle

As a longtime advocate for global peace and security and international cooperation, I will continue to work towards policies that reduce conflict, end war and address the root causes of violence.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please visit my website http://www.lee.house.gov where you can also sign up for my electronic newsletter, and receive periodic updates on my activities as your Representative in Washington.


Barbara Lee
Member of Congress


What disgusting hypocrisy. Even a blind person could see that any money Israel gets for “Iron Dome” will be used by them to add their money to offense. And anyway, if that is really Lee’s main concern, then why doesn’t she call for an equal amount to be donated to the people of Gaza for them to defend themselves from Israel?

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US capitalist class and Israel

Gaza under attack

Some in the US claim that the influence of the Israel lobby is the reason that the US supports Israel so strongly. It is true that this lobby is extremely powerful and can and has determined the outcome of particular elections. However, that is only within the limits of what the US capitalist class wants. The comment from Henry Kissinger that “oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs” is the real reason, and if Corporate America wanted to counter the Israel lobby it could easily do so by swinging public opinion through their control over the media.

This is what they did with apartheid South Africa. When the struggle against apartheid threatened to overturn capitalism itself, the US capitalist class decided that South Africa must reform. Their media here in the US regularly published reports about the brutality of the South African regime and the movement against it. They helped build support for the movement in South Africa.

It’s clear that the major wings of the US capitalist class would like to see an “independent” Palestinian state – the two state “solution.” That this would be as much of a solution as the reforms in South Africa, where poverty is just as great or greater now as it was under apartheid – that is beside the point. Such a state would be under the economic, political and military domination of Israel, but it would mean greater stability in the entire region.

Now, it appears that the US media is starting to play a similar role with Israel. Whereas never before did it report on the continuing land and water theft, the brutality in the West Bank, etc., now it is starting to highlight some of what Israel is doing in its attacks on Gaza. It has actually gotten to the point that Israel is starting to worry. And this seems to be having an effect on public opinion here. That, in turn, will make it easier for some US politicians to start to criticize Israel.

They know that this is a risky business, which is why the main reporting still favors Israel. (That reached comic proportions when Nika Brzezenski interviewed the Israeli ambassador to the US on the MSNBC morning show called “The Morning Joe.” After the interview, she committed the Freudian slip of referring to the show as “The Morning Jew.” Watch it here.) The danger is that once the door to what the Israeli regime is doing starts to open just a crack, all kinds of other information can start to get out. Another question is after all these years of portraying Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East” and putting forward the need for Jewish people to have their own homeland because of the holocaust, can the American public be swayed so easily? That should not be too great of a problem; that public has proven itself to be fairly easily manipulated so far.

More difficult is whether Israel can be reformed. It would stand to reason that some major capitalists in Israel would oppose the current policies. If relations could be normalized with the surrounding states, then major profits could be made through investment and trade. However, as others have pointed out, the military industrial complex is extremely powerful in Israel, maybe even more so than in the US, and they profit mightily by these periodic attacks on Gaza. They use these attacks as a means of selling their latest weaponry, which they can point out have actually been battle tested. Well, not really battle tested, but tested on real live human beings anyway.

The other issue is the political situation within Israel: With the influence of the settlers, the prevalence of open and unashamed outright racism, the rise of even neo-fascist groups — is it politically possible for Israel to reform? Don’t forget, the comparison that many make between Israel and South Africa is wrong in one important way: The South African white working class was only a small minority whereas the Jewish working class in Israel is the majority.

This leaves completely aside the question of what reform could accomplish. In South Africa poverty is just as great or even greater than it was under apartheid. In Israel/Palestine reform means a separate Palestinian state. But such a state would never be truly independent; it would perpetually be under the economic, political and military domination of Israel, as long as capitalism rules. That is a different issue, though.

Tahrir Square during the "Arab Spring" - a wider workers' movement is desperately needed.

Tahrir Square during the “Arab Spring” – a wider workers’ movement is desperately needed.

All of this makes the development of a wider working class movement in the region and throughout the world all the more important.

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Perspectives for War on Gaza

It is hard to see how Israel’s attacks on Gaza will not escalate.

On the one side, it does not seem that Hamas can back down from its demand that the blockade must end. If it did back down from that, it would likely lose a lot of support. On the other hand, if Netanyahu were to agree to end the blockade, this would appear to be a massive retreat for him, and it would come at a time when we are hearing repeated reports of mounting racism, of a rising far right movement within Israel. This includes calls for “death to Arabs”, celebration of the burning of alive of a Palestinian teenager, and assaults on both Palestinians and leftists in the streets of Israel. And none of this is condemned by the prominent public figures in Israel – prominent politicians, rabbis, etc. This means that the far right pressures on Netanyahu are increasing.

Given this, is a further ground assault on Gaza not possible?

But that would resolve nothing. And already we have heard talk of a return to permanent military occupation of Gaza along certain “corridors”.  But even a “limited” reoccupation would have to spread as the Israeli occupying troops would inevitably come under attack.

From the outside, we get the impression that the war on Gaza has strengthened the racist far right in Israel. If that’s true, then would an occupation give them even more strength? Is it possible that some of them would try to rebuild settlements in Gaza, and if so how could these not come under attack? If they did, then it is almost certain that the Israeli military would respond with their typical brutality.

It is hard to see how this would not set off even more turmoil within not only both Israel and the West Bank, but also the region as a whole. In Egypt, for instance, the military regime has more or less allied itself with the Israeli regime. Would such developments possibly lead to renewed support for the Muslim Brotherhood and renewed turmoil in the country? As for Turkey, the Erdogan government has tried to ally itself with Israel, but every time it tries, some new event like the present war gets in the way. It seems that both the Turkish and the Iranian regimes would see an opening to try to increase their regional roles.

In other words, it seems this assault on Gaza could spread and really become a crisis for the entire region.

Of course, it already is a crisis for the people of Gaza themselves, but who cares about them? All the rulers of the region (and beyond, certainly including Obama) have proven they don’t.

Posted in Middle East, racism, war | 2 Comments

$ Talks: US Congresswoman Barbara Lee & US Aid to Israel


Barbara Lee presents herself as a “renegade for peace and justice”, and claims to support the rights of the Palestinian people. Despite this, she writes on her own web site, “The Congresswoman is committed to maintaining the long-standing friendship between the U.S. and Israel.”  She made that clear when she voted for Obama’s request for an additional $200 million in US military aid to Israel several years ago. (This was one of the few times when US aid to Israel was voted on separately.) Nor has she ever called for an end to all US support for Israel.

On Saturday, July 26, Lee held a fundraiser in Alameda, CA and a group of pickets came out to protest her support for military aid for Israel. Since many of her constituents oppose Israel’s policies, Lee had to come out and present her case to the protesters. Here is a video of that. Note that, like a typical liberal, she totally avoided the main issue: US military aid to Israel.

Update:  Since this confrontation with Lee, she has voted for additional funding for the Israeli military in a special measure that all but four Congress members voted for. This shows the true, murderous nature of all these liberals.

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Israeli treatment of African asylum seekers approaches Nazi Germany

52% Israeli Jews agree that African refugees in Israel are “a cancer”; 32% support physical assaults on Africans and African businesses. Politicians openly advocate “concentration camps” for and “gassing” of African asylum seekers. And our government supports this regime.
A one hour video, but definitely worth watching.

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Oakland Socialist Disrupts The Process

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

When the process is criminal, only accomplices remain silent.

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The New Apartheid: The rise of Zionism and the founding of the Israeli State

Now updated

deir-yassin Unknown

pictures: left – victims of Deir Yassin massacre; right – Vladimir Jabotinsky, pro-fascist Zionist leader

Today, Zionism is a major force amongst the world’s Jews. Probably the great majority within the Jewish community here in the United States sympathizes with the State of Israel and its policies to some degree or another. This was not always the case, however. Up until the 1930s, Zionism was seen as a fringe movement within the Jewish communities of Europe and elsewhere.

This was because the idea of a national Jewish state did not reflect the material conditions of the Jews; they did not make up a true national grouping, as do the Kurdish or East Timorese people for instance. They were spread out throughout the entire world, often speaking different languages, eating different foods, having different cultures. While they were brutally oppressed in many regions (such as Eastern Europe and Russia), the idea of building a new nation thousands of miles away did not reflect their experiences or conditions. Those young Jews who wanted to fight against oppression of their people, in the main, turned to social democracy and later to Communism as the solution. They saw the oppression of Jews as being integrally liked with the oppression and exploitation of capitalism itself and did not see any solution within the confines of capitalism. The largest and most influential Jewish political force at that time was the Bund. (The Bund was a social-democratic, or reformist socialist, organization that existed throughout Eastern Europe.)

read more: New Apartheid 2014 edition

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1999 SF Bay Area Carpenters Wildcat Strike

1999 SF Bay Area Carpenters Wildcat Strike

by John Reimann

In May of 1999, some 2000 San Francisco Bay area union carpenters stood up and collectively shook their union officialdom by the scruff of the neck. They were supported in this by some 3,000 of their fellow building trades workers. This struggle holds some important lessons for union activists and for all workers today.

Building Boom

These were the days of the booming 90s. In the Bay Area, a union carpenter basically had to hide under the bed and pull his or her phone out of the wall if they didn’t want to go to work. Carpenters could quit a job in the morning, drive down to the union hall and go back out on another job that same day. (I know; I did it.) But at the same time, our wages were not keeping up with inflation – especially the cost of housing. Especially the younger carpenters were working long hours – ten and 18 hours overtime – just to pay their house notes. On top of that, many had bought homes 50 miles or more from the Bay Area and would have two hours driving time to and from work. It would not be uncommon to call a fellow carpenter at 8:30 in the evening and be told, “oh, Dad’s already asleep.”

This meant a lot of pressure as far as paying the bills, but also a certain self-confidence – a willingness to take job action.

The main reason for the low wages was that the union leadership had been selling the carpenters cheap over many years prior to this. They had been told by the unionized contractors that the union had to help these contractors compete with the non-union contractors. In reality, this meant that the union carpenters had to compete with their non-union brothers and sisters for who would work cheapest and who would bring home the greatest profits to the contractors. The fact that this destroys the very reason for having a union (to eliminate this competition) never dawned on the union officials. And given their cushy benefits, they did not have to suffer from the results of this policy.

Casey Agrees to New Contract

In early May of 1999, the word got out that the head of the Regional Council (NCCRC), John Casey, had agreed to a new five year extension of the already existing contract. He agreed to a $1.25 raise in each year of the contract. Feeling both pinched in the check-book and confident due to the full employment, many carpenters were outraged at this settlement, once they heard about it. On top of this, Casey bowed to the ruling of the Union’s general president, Doug McCarron, that a membership referendum on the contract could not be held. (In fact, of course, they were working hand-in-hand; McCarron’s ruling was just a convenient cover for Casey to hide behind.)

As a cover, Casey called for a special meeting of the NCCRC delegates to vote on this contract. Word got out shortly before this event and a leaflet was put out by some members of Local 713 (Hayward, CA) explaining what was in the contract and calling for a protest at the Council meeting (to be held on a Saturday).

Some fifty to seventy-five members and their family showed up at the protest, which was prior to the meeting. One or two rank and file delegates spoke at it, as well as numerous other working carpenters. Different speeches were made and some of the officials were heckled as they went into the meeting.

Then the NCCRC meeting got started and this carpenter went in as a delegate, with the agreement that after the meeting was over we would report the results and decide what to do next if the contract passed. Inside the meeting, things started off “smoothly” enough. There were numerous speakers both for and against the contract. One thing should be understood: The delegates were elected as delegates by their local members. However, about half the delegates present at the meeting were also full-time officials appointed by John Casey. They were beholden to him for their jobs and their weekly pay checks. Not one single full time official delegate spoke up against the contract. Not one single working carpenter spoke up in favor of the contract. Just as the debate was getting started, a stunning event occurred:

The Membership Crashes the Meeting

The entry doors crashed open and those who had been protesting outside forced their way into the entrance, chanting “No! No! No!” The whole meeting went into chaos, with some of the union officials trying to force the protesters back out. The protesters were not willing to be locked out of their own union’s deliberations about their very future. In the previous 25 years, nothing like this had ever happened before. What it was, in effect, was the signal of a new day in the Carpenters Union; it signaled the tremendous gap that had developed between the working members and the officials. There had always been a gap, but it had grown to a proportion that had not been so obvious up until then.

Eventually, “order” was restored and the debate continued inside the meeting. On a standing vote, the contract was passed by a slim margin. Outside, after the meeting, it was agreed to go back to work on Monday and hold an after-work meeting in the Local 713 parking lot on that afternoon. Having seen this sort of movement rise and fall in the past, this particular carpenter expected some 35 or so to turn up to that meeting. There was also another issue: At Saturday’s protest, one carpenter had called for a walk-off, but nobody else took up this call. Several carpenters and some other union activists met the next day (Sunday) to talk about what would likely happen on Monday. The general consensus was that there was not a mood for a mass walk-off. On both counts, this could not have been more wrong. By the time this particular carpenter arrived there, there were already some 50 carpenters waiting. They were all talking about walking off. By the time the meeting got started, there were at least 75 present.

Planning for the Wildcat

The great majority of these were from the SF airport expansion job – a huge project, said to be the largest construction job in the US by some. In part it was the work situation, and in part just the sheer size of the work force there that gave these members the militancy they felt. We went round the group – every single one of these members agreed that the overwhelming feeling on this job was to walk off. At this point, it was crystal clear that this was not only possible, it was necessary!

A point was put to these brothers: We have to understand that we will be fighting a war on two fronts here – one against the contractors and one against our own union officials. Since most of these brothers were pretty young and new to the union struggle, it was important to at least warn them as to what they were getting into. “yes, yes, we understand” was the reply. In fact, it is most likely that the great majority had not fully thought this all through. They just knew that they were angry, that they deserved more, that they were in a position to win more, and they wanted to do something now about it. This is how almost all such workers’ struggles get started – anger is a great force for change when it’s aimed in the right direction.

The next question was how to organize a walk-off. The proposal was made that we put together a leaflet calling for a general walk-off, that the leaflet be produced by the next afternoon and that the walk-off, the wildcat strike, start on Thursday. “Yeah,” one carpenter explained, “but we’ve been talking about this for days now. If something isn’t done now, people will get discouraged and give up.” This is an important point. The brother who pointed this out had a better understanding of the necessity to keep the workers’ morale up than do the union officials. (Maybe they understand it too, but they just don’t want to do it.) “Well, if you explain to them what the plan is, that we’re trying to organize a wildcat for the general area starting on Thursday, would they accept that? Would they still be discouraged?” This was the question asked, and the brother who raised the question agreed that in that case it would be okay.

One little detail was yet to be arranged: Financing for copying off some 5,000 leaflets. We passed the hat and the fives, tens and even twenties were jumping out of the carpenters’ pockets. It was a most visible demonstration of the feelings that existed. It is difficult to describe the exhilaration that was caused by this very concrete expression of commitment.

A Key Debate

The next day we met to get copies of the leaflet. By that time, the world was already out to the officials what was up. One of the Local 713 business agents met us in the parking lot. This particular individual tried to pawn himself off as a more independent official, as something of a militant. “This contract is shit,” he said. “I voted against it. And if you want to wobble a job, go ahead and wobble a job. But you guys are shooting yourself in the foot by walking off the airport job. This is a high profile job with a project labor agreement. If you walk there, you will make yourselves very unpopular.” (NOTE: A “project labor agreement” in construction is one whereby the general contractor agrees that the entire job will be built union and in exchange the contractor gets certain concessions on such matters as overtime pay and additionally the signatory unions agree that even if there is a strike in the industry that this particular job will not be struck.)

A long debate followed. His basic point was that it would be unpopular, be seen as weakening the union, and it would weaken us politically with the judges and the politicians. The answers were that the airport job was the center of this movement and there would either be a walk-off there or not at all. As far as the judges and politicians, the unions were not built by them; they were built by workers like us. “When we are strong and united, we will be our own ‘Project Labor Agreement’.”

The arguments might have been sound, but concern and self-doubt written all over the faces of many of these brothers nevertheless. They suddenly came to realize that anger might be a good starting point, but it wasn’t enough. Finally, a “low blow” (you could say) was struck. It was necessary to reveal this business agent for what he really was. “Okay, Tom, I hate to get personal, but I have to ask you this: You say this contract is shit, how terrible it is, but why didn’t you get up and say that at the Council meeting on Saturday? You could have changed the outcome of the vote if you , a business agent, had spoken up.” All of a sudden you could see the self-doubt of the carpenters who were listening melt away like a snowball in mid-August. Tom gave some weak excuse and slunk away. The strike was on.

These little “details” show how important the consciousness and the mood of the rank and file is at all times.

The Wildcat Gets Underway

The plan was to meet at a parking lot by the airport (Staging area B, it was called) at 5:00 a.m. on Thursday. It was still dark, cold and windy as carpenters started to gather. A pickup truck was used as a platform and various carpenters gave speeches about how important this strike was, the contract, etc. We had to decide how to organize ourselves. It was agreed that we’d picket some five different jobs that morning. How would we decide who went where?

One young brother, fresh out of the Marines, used his previous training. “Okay, everybody line up,” he said. “Okay, now count off from one to five.”

One,” “two,” “three,” “four” five,” “one”… Every carpenter gave themselves a number as they counted off.

Okay, now, all the ‘ones’ will go to ___ job; the ‘twos’ will go to ___ job.” That’s how he got us all organized.

But the majority of the carpenters stayed there to picket the airport. Off we marched, down to the construction entrance, some fifty to a hundred of us. Tumult, yelling, chanting, impassioned speeches to our brother and sister construction workers why they should not cross the line. We marched back and forth in front of the construction entrance. At one point, a cop in charge came up and told us that we couldn’t cross the entrance; we’d have to stay on either side. A bit of an argument followed. Finally, this same ex military brother interjected:

Bullshit!” he roared. “We have every right to walk in the crosswalk, and that’s what we’re going to do. Come on, everybody, follow me!” With that, he turned his back on the cop and started off across the entrance. Dozens of carpenters flocked to follow him and the cop-in-charge was left speechless. (It was interesting to note that this brother, who played such a key role in this first day of the strike later applied for a job with the NCCRC and left the wildcat movement.)

The strike was a roaring success. Almost all the other trades workers honored our unsanctioned picket line and walked off. The truth is that the carpenters are seen as the weakest ones of most of the trades. This is due to the role of our leadership, but this isn’t immediately understood on the job. So many of the other trades workers were immensely impressed at seeing the carpenters standing up like we were. They also understood that if our union leadership could pull this on us, that they would be next. So off the job they came.

Open Air Meetings

We planned to meet at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon to get reports on what was happening on the other jobs and where to go from here. The meeting was an interesting one. An agenda was agreed to. No sooner was it agreed to, then it was broken. Just as one person would stand up to give a report from some job or another, then another brother would get up and give a long impassioned speech about how important this strike was and how we had to keep it going. This would then lead to a long discussion about how rotten the contract was, what a particular business agent did at a particular time, whatever…

It was a symptom of the fact that the great majority of these carpenters had little or no experience in union meetings. Given the extreme suspicion of anything that even sounded or looked like suppression of free speech, it was impossible to really try to force people to speak to the subject at hand. The amazing thing was to see how quickly things changed – almost entirely on their own. In a pressure cooker situation like that, every day seems like weeks, so the change didn’t feel like it came quickly. But in fact, within just a few days, people were starting to observe the agenda that had been agreed to.

Another issue was electing an official leadership of this strike movement, including the chair of the meetings. Some very learned lefts approached this writer, who was chairing the meetings just by virtue of the situation, and suggested that he should hold an election for chair immediately. The problem was this: It was difficult if not impossible to finish all the business that really had to be finished at those open-air meetings. If the meeting lasted more than an hour and a half, most of the strikers would start drifting away. But these daily strike meetings were essential for making plans for the next day and keeping the strike going from day to day. So we could have spent half (or more) of a meeting electing a chair and other officers, but officers of what? It was not ruled out that the strike could simply peter out if we had not accomplished what had to be accomplished at each meeting. This shows how “democracy” is not an absolute thing.

Every day the picketing continued. The heart of the strike was the SF airport and masses of pickets would gather there daily. We fanned out from there to other sites, shutting down major sites throughout the SF Bay Area. This included the Pac Bell (SF Giants) ball park, then under construction, as well as construction for hospitals and other large jobs.

A major step forward was the building of a flying squad of pickets. Historically, this has always been used in major strikes that have been spread out, such as the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike. Even the 1973 carpenters wildcat against Nixon’s wage controls was based on such a flying squad. The 1999 carpenters wildcat followed in these footsteps. Every day the flying squad would invade new jobs. On entering the job, a general discussion would break out amongst the carpenters on the job and the strikers. Often times the flying squad members would convince the carpenters to drag up.

A Weakness of the Wildcat

The wildcat strike started on a Thursday. It continued through Saturday (most major jobs were working Saturdays at that time), but there was a major problem: We were usually successful in shutting jobs down, but the problem was keeping them down. When the carpenters walked off the job, they just went home. It was a major effort to get enough people to come out and join the picket lines. The main reason for this was the decades of inactivity in the union. Especially younger carpenters were just not used to taking action on their own. Every evening, after the picketing and after the open air meeting, a small group of the real hard core would get together to figure out where to picket the next day and to organize to make phone calls to get more people to come out. By Saturday night, we were close to a breaking point. We simply weren’t getting enough people out. We discussed it and agreed that on Sunday we’d make one last major push to call people and get them to come out to picket. We agreed that if on Monday we didn’t get enough people out, then we would recommend that we go back to work. Better to go back as one organized whole then straggling in bit by bit, we figured.

Monday came, and the turnout for the picketing was no greater than on Saturday. Maybe even less. That afternoon, we held the meeting in the parking lot of Local 713. We put the issues before the meeting. A general discussion developed, with some favoring staying out and some favoring going back. In general it was a very friendly and open discussion. (One heated point came when a business agent showed up who’d played a very ugly role. Several carpenters said that he’d called their homes and threatened their wives and daughters that their children would not have any future, would not be able to go to college, if their husband/father didn’t go back to work. It was clear that this b.a. was on the verge of getting beaten up so he quickly made his exit.)

Vote to Return to Work

In the end we voted about 2-1 to return to work the next day, but the whole campaign was not yet over. Local 22 (San Francisco) had voted to hire a lawyer and challenge the NCCRC vote in court, due to some irregularities in the voting procedure. Before that could happen, Carpenters General President McCarron ruled in our favor and ordered a new vote be taken. He required that three months notice be given to the delegates before the vote, so this gave a new lease on life to the wildcat movement. This movement continued, but mainly through the union meetings, until the Regional Council vote.

However, it was pretty clear that our power lay out in the streets. Having to go back to work did not mean that all was lost, but it did mean that this particular contract was going through.

After we went back to work, the main action shifted to the union meetings. Meetings at Local 713 went from an average attendance of some 25-35 prior to the strike to about 250 in one instance. These meetings were heated and long. A real telling point came at one meeting when a motion was passed overwhelmingly to instruct the delegates to the council to vote against the contract. Then the question was put to the delegates: “How are you going to vote?” The senior business agent replied by saying, “I’m going to vote ‘yes’ and if you don’t like it, you know what you can do about it.” Naturally, this nearly brought the house down, but what could the members do?

The main activists of the wildcat also attended local meetings throughout Northern California. Many of these meetings were far more sparsely attended, and quite a few times we got a generally hostile response. But even then, there were inevitably a few members who were very happy that we’d come.

Some Conclusions

The 1999 carpenters wildcat strike came just months before the “Battle of Seattle” where a crowd of young people and some union workers basically closed down the meeting of the WTO. Although the WTO protests were much more widely covered, both these events signaled a new day. No longer would the movement be confined to mere safe, legalistic protests. Workers and young people were starting to recognize that in order to win, they were going to have to go outside the limits set by the official establishment. The tip-off to this, as far as the wildcat strike, was the invasion of the NCCRC meeting in May.

As pointed out, this writer was caught by surprise by this invasion. It was not as if I was obsessed with going through official channels. In fact, I was involved in two other wildcat strikes as well as numerous other pickets of the union hall, etc. But union activity, in the main has a certain rhythm. In the main, this centers around going to meetings, having debates on the floor of the meetings, etc. This also involves observing the rules of order and the like. There are positive aspects to this, as the lack of order and self-discipline of the first meetings of the strikers showed. But it is also all to easy to get into a certain groove. It is also too easy to fail to see it when a new mood has developed. This was what the invasion of the Council represented.

The carpenters wildcat strike also helped clarify how the unions is likely to be changed in the future and how the workers movement is likely to develop. The union officialdom has gotten such a strong grip on the official channels that it is impossible for a real workers’ movement to change the unions strictly through them. When a movement of workers develops, they are not going to want to wait for the years and years (literally) it takes to hold official elections to change the leadership.

In some cases, workers are likely to simply physically force the existing leadership out. In others, new bodies – rank and file committees and the like – will be formed which will in some way or another start to take on the role of a union. Maybe in some cases this will be combined with working through the official channels, but the main thing is this: The unions will not be changed without a huge uprising of the rank and file. Whenever this uprising occurs, it will not simply wait for union elections. It will move to start to make the changes right away, or not at all. An important part of this movement will be new and even bigger wildcat strikes.

This is not to deny the importance of working through the official channels. Even during the height of the wildcat strike, when the strikers defied every single union official in Northern California to keep the strike going – even then they were going in the hundreds to their union meetings. It was vitally important that there be even a small group of union activists who knew how to work in the meetings.

This is also not to deny the importance of working through the official channels before any such uprising. In the first place, the experience gained in debating the ideas of the leadership is invaluable. Also, having even just one or two people in officially elected positions can be an enormous help to a movement. (Just an organizational detail – but one that was vital: It was the presence of one such officially elected official in the strike made possible the photocopying of literally tens of thousands of different leaflets that were distributed.)

Another issue that surfaced during the strike and that was developed after the strike was the role of the appointed, full-time officials. Carpenters instinctively distinguished themselves from these full timers by insisting that the name of the group had to be “Working Carpenters for a Stronger Union.” In other words, a division from these appointees was clearly felt. In further discussions, it was clarified that if the officials are appointed, then they have to do the bidding of the person who appoints them. In Local 713, which in many ways was the center of the strike, a caucus developed after the wildcat movement was over. A basic point of principle was that the caucus would not allow any to represent it who did not agree that they would not accept such an appointed position.

Finally, there is the issue of program and political clarity. In the main, the main driving force of the strike was anger and adrenalin. This was able to accomplish a huge amount. But there were certain key times when mere emotion was not enough. This was because in their heart of hearts, almost every striker knew that they were going to have to deal with wider issues, such as how to stop the non-union construction. The emotions were needed to spur the strike forwards, but in the end the strikers had to consciously understand and believe in what they were doing, they had to have an answer to the arguments of the union officials.

After the contract was finally settled, the “Working Carpenters for a Stronger Union” held a half-day meeting to hammer out a program. About 30 or so carpenters came and a very interesting discussion developed. Some points were raised like a return to the days when we had every other Friday off from work. Some carpenters objected on the grounds that the contractors could not afford this if they were to compete with the non-union contractors. This was exactly the whole starting point of the union officials – the same officials who had brought us the rotten contract. And these were the very same carpenters (or some of them) who had rebelled with everything they had against the consequences of this thinking. In the longer run, it was necessary to really clarify what this thinking meant. (In this particular case, in the end the great majority voted for the shorter work week.)

Role of Labor’s Militant Voice

The 1999 carpenters wildcat strike was a genuine movement from below. But this doesn’t mean that a leadership was not necessary. I think it is most likely that without the organizing efforts, there would have been some sort of walkout – maybe for one or two days at the SF airport job. But the fact that it started on an organized and spread-out basis was the result of a conscious leadership. Labor’s Militant Voice had two members in Local 713. One of them was serving as the local’s recording secretary at the time of the strike. It was the LMV members who put out the call for the first rally at the NCCRC. It was the LMV members who provided much of the key tactical decisions and leadership, including the leading of the flying picket squad. We can justly be proud of the role we played, and see it as strong evidence that our approach to how we become part of the working class movement is right.

Posted in labor, United States, workers' struggles | 1 Comment

Scottish Independence Reconsidered

Through the international e mail discussion list organized by the Workers International Network (WIN), a discussion on the Scottish independence vote has arisen again. This is not a simple question and it seems to us that valid arguments can be made on both sides. We reproduce some of the discussion below:

Nov 17 (2 days ago)
to socialistdiscu.


The recent rapid rise in support for the Scottish National Party poses a serious problem for socialists. It highlights yet again the role that nationalism plays in modern society and brings once more into focus the failure of labour and trade union leaders to present an internationalist and socialist alternative for working people and their families.

It is necessary to revisit the experience of the recent Scottish Referendum on Independence in order to avoid the mistakes that were made then….

The dust has now begun to settle on the Scottish Referendum but the damage caused to the labour movement will take a long time to be repaired. Gordon Brown and Ed Milliband in presenting a common front with the hated Tories played a scandalous role. But it was a mistake for socialists to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote… The real winner in the process is the Scottish National Party (SNP). Inevitably the SNP was the dominant element in the ‘Yes’ campaign. Since the Referendum, membership of the SNP has tripled…. Support for SNP candidates will not enhance the prospects of defeat for the Tories in the next Westminster election, to put it mildly. The Scottish National Party, Scottish Tories, are now targeting Labour seats in the forthcoming Westminster election.

The call for Scottish Independence contains the implicit idea that Scottish capitalists, unlike their counterparts in England, are capable of advancing living standards and conditions of life for Scottish people. The ‘Yes’ campaign circulated a paper in Glasgow promising that families across Scotland would be £5,000 better off should its side win in the Referendum. The SNP leader Alex Salmond promised that Independence would project Scotland into the top twenty economies of the world. Immediate and tangible improvements in living conditions following Independence were promised by left-wing people in the Referendum campaign.

While all socialists should support the right of peoples and nations to self-determination that does not mean that everywhere and in all instances socialists should advance or support such a demand. At the beginning of the twentieth century Scotland was a global economic power. In 1913 for example one sixth of world production of ships were launched from yards on the Clyde. Today its leading industries have declined or disappeared entirely, or have become foreign-owned. Economic stagnation has predominated while emigration has become the lot of many families….

The cause of socialism received a major boost with the Labour victory in the Westminster General Election of 1945. The massive swing to Labour gave the Party a majority of 200 or so seats. Following that election victory the National Health Service was set up and a programme of major and widespread nationalisation was carried through. The organised Scottish working class made a huge contribution to that victory. The Labour Party continued to hold the majority of seats in the country. Even in the General Election of 1979, when Thatcher achieved her first majority, the Labour Party in Scotland won extra seats and the number of seats held by the SNP fell from eleven to two.

The period of Conservative rule, particularly under Thatcher and John Major, imposed policies on the people of Scotland that were completely at variance with voting patterns in the country. But the devastation of Tory rule was equally felt in Liverpool, Newcastle and Cardiff. While the Tories were routed time and again north of the Border with England, Thatcher flatly refused to even discuss devolution for Scotland. Yet Devolution has now been achieved. A victorious Referendum on September 11th 1997 led to the Scotland Act that restored the Scottish Parliament in 1999. And during the Tory years massive strike movements developed, involving organised workers in Scotland, Wales and England, working together towards a common goal. The 1979 Referendum on Devolution was a disaster for Labour. A majority of Scottish voters supported Devolution. Their wish was denied through an electoral trick…..

Nationalists present class division as being alien to Scotland. This approach is not unique to Scotland. A similar critique was advanced by Irish nationalists during the struggle for independence here. Nationalism tries to build a base amongst the working class by creating illusions, trying to create a new consciousness, a sense of decline from a time of greatness, looking to a putative noble past. We are well used to that in Ireland where the great socialist leaders of the past are side-lined in public discourse and the pursuit of Ireland’s destiny is presented as a noble cause beyond class politics, an eight hundred year-old quasi-religious struggle against ‘perfidious Albion’. A sense of national pride, memories, however embellished, of past achievements and glories, and ancient wrongs and injustices can never be a justification for dividing workers along national lines…..

Nations and peoples have the right to self-determination. But that does not mean that socialists must always and in every instance support the exercise of that right. There was a time when pursuit of national consciousness could play a progressive role in the fight against royal absolutism and the dominance of religious powers, such as in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But even then the role played by representatives of the various national capitalisms was inconsistent and often treacherous. Today it is nonsense to expect local capitalists to put the interests of ‘the nation’ above their own quest for profits on a global scale.

…. The way to solve today’s problems does not lie in placing faith in that same (Scottish) capitalist class.

If Scotland is the oppressed nation what then is the dominant nation? The ‘Westminster elite’ is not an imperial power. Such demagogic terms were used throughout the Referendum campaign to create a smokescreen and to hide class politics. Centralised control and marginalisation of local communities has become a feature of rule in modern capitalist states. The negative effects of disempowerment are felt as keenly in England and Wales as they are in Scotland. And what does the term ‘Westminster Parties’ mean? Or the ‘South East’? The rolling farms of Kent and the quaint villages of Buckinghamshire constitute but one corner of England. Does the South East not also include the working class areas of Bermondsey, Stoke Newington, Brixton and Camden in London? Or Dagenham in Essex? And what of the great working class centres of Manchester and Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham! Are they just simply parts of England? Organised workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales have common organisations; together they send their representatives to Westminster to defend their interests. They are being let down in that, but how would abandoning Westminster advance their common cause! Separating the working class along national lines has always been resisted by socialist leaders. The advocacy of Scottish separation retards the advance of socialism across the United Kingdom. It is one thing to support the right to self-determination, it is quite another to campaign for Independence.

A common programme must be put forward to defeat the Tory Government at Westminster and socialist policies must be advanced to solve the problems of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. The demand must be put forward for ending the rule of the English Monarchy and for abolition of the entire Honours System of patronage that creates knights, viscounts, dukes and so-called nobility of all kinds. And the House of Lords, with its coterie of bishops and hereditary peers should be abolished as well! The royal properties in Scotland, such as the estates at Balmoral and Edinburgh, should be taken into public ownership without compensation: and similarly all the Duchies throughout the United Kingdom. Balmoral in Scotland was bought by Prince Albert in the 1840s and covers around 80,000 acres.


FD replies: 

I am still a surprised to hear Finn’s views on this.

The cause of the scots working class is our priority. A political movement committed to their needs and to the ending of capitalism is  required but I suspect they are closer to building that than the English (and the Irish?)

The labour party  at least at present is irrelevant to that. They have damaged themselves terribly. They may recover but for now they are poison to many.

The unions are quiet.

In the referendum people saw a glimpse of a  possibility better world. Like in 69/69 in the North of Ireland  people began to talk and think to strategize and to hope; the poorest began to think they too had a say.

The Radical Independence campaign (RIC) has a conference of more than 5,000   largely socialist activists  scheduled for next weekend. Its probably going to be live streamed Why not watch it?

If another mass movement of the Scottish  working class is going to come I suspect these will be the people leading it. Some have joined the SNP, some the SSP, some remain independent socialist

They (RIC) are who talked to the working class youth on the  housing schemes; they are who set the people talking.

John Reimann
Nov 17 (2 days ago)

Thanks to F.D. for forwarding this link. I think it’s the best argument in favor of a “yes” vote. However, I also note one failure: In their statement “moving forward” there is no mention of the issue of an alternative to an economy based on private investment, the profit motive and the “free market”. In other words, no mention of socialism. Especially in today’s world, silence on these issues leads opens up all the doors to pressure to accept the capitalist (no matter how liberal) point of view on them.

Another, relevant point, I suspect, is taking a position regarding the SNP. Given the meteoric growth of the SNP, it would seem to me that any left/socialist independence group or party would have to make clear their position on the SNP and I would suspect that position should be open opposition to them (as opposed to Tommy Sheridan’s position)….

P.B. writes

I don’t understand Finn’s position especially coming from Ireland. It seems so far removed from the superb position developed by James Connolly which was to integrate the struggle for Irish independence with the struggle for socialism. This was the position that brought me into socialist politics. Has this position now been abandoned?

The argument about whether a nation is objectively oppressed today is not the key question. Nationalism has often been an irrational idea and is mixed up with complex cultural and historical factors. But who can deny its power to move masses of people. The key question surely is about the consciousness of the working people of Scotland which appears to me to be moving in the direction of independence. And the increasing misery being doled out from Westminster for the foreseeable future can only increase support for independence. The question then is, do you stand aside from this movement or join it and fight to give it a socialist content and leadership?


…. (Consider) the Scottish Socialist Party (and to a lesser extent the CWI, the SWP etc.). Here I think it is unfair to say that they do not campaign for socialism or criticise the SNP. Just look at their material. One can certainly critique how they are doing it and suggest improvements but to say that they are not doing so is not an accurate reflection of the situation.

Incidentally, our old description of the SNP as “Tartan Tories” does not correspond with current reality and finds no echo in Scotland today. With the move of Labour to the right and its abandonment of social democratic politics the SNP has moved in to fill the vacant space. It would be more accurate to describe the current policy of the SNP as “Tartan Labour”. But of course, in an independent Scotland this would change again as the SNP would be forced to show their true colours. But that is the natural course of any struggle, isn’t it?

I just had a look at the Radical Independence Campaign and see that their slogans are:

  • “another Scotland is possible”
  • “a people’s democracy”
  • “a society of equality”
  • “a just economy”

We all know that these are code words for democratic socialism and certainly offer a strong platform from which the socialist left can campaign for its more explicit alternative.

‘Ed Bober’ 


“Organised workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales have common organisations; together they send their representatives to Westminster to defend their interests. They are being let down in that, but…”


Much as I respect (Finn’s) political opinions on many questions, I think, on this issue (he is) out of touch. The vast majority of working class people under the age of 40, including union members,  see themselves as having no representation in Westminster. Working class people are looking for alternatives to Labour because they want an opposition. This referendum politicised people who had previously regarded themselves as un-political. One of the reasons was that you could vote against the establishment without having to vote for some other corrupt bastard.

I think… (David Walters) is right to point out that: “The fight never starts out with the last task in mind”

We have to support any movement that arises against the establishment provided that it helps develop political consciousness amongst the working class, even accepting that in its first phases it may have limitations. There were many trade union activists working for the Yes campaign.

As for the Labour Party, wherever we find a trace of socialism inside it of course we should support it. Some of those comrades will play a part in developing a new socialist movement.  But the collapse of Labour in Scotland is only to be expected. Is it not the start of a process that all revolutionaries will understand: that the onset of a pre-revolutionary crisis, the first tremors, consists in a loss of confidence on the part of the masses in the “middle ground” politicians?

dan armstrong


The nadir? Or is worse yet to come?

Content-less anti-Labour opportunism from the SSP:

Scotland: Socialists call for ‘independence alliance’


SSP spokesperson Colin Fox.

For more on Scotland | Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

By Ken Ferguson

November 11, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) national spokesperson Colin Fox has written to Scottish National Party (SNP) leader elect Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Green Party leader Patrick Harvie inviting them to support “Independence Alliance” candidates from the Yes campaign in the 2015 Westminster general election.

In his letter, he wrote:

The energy and engagement generated by the Yes campaign was unprecedented and the subsequent growth of the three parties shows there is an enormous appetite for continuing with our united action to hold the Labour Party to their “Vow”.

I believe the Labour Party could be defeated in several seats in Scotland if we field a single Independence candidate. This can best be advanced by fielding single candidates on an alliance ticket as it were in those areas that voted Yes on September 18.

This could break the stranglehold Labour has had in such areas for generations and challenge its austerity policies. Allowing voters a choice which goes beyond narrow party interest is bound to be more attractive.

Such an approach has the best prospect of maximising the numbers of MPs supporting the fullest transfer of powers to Edinburgh. And it is supported well beyond the SSP’s ranks. Many Yes campaigners back the alliance idea and the suggestion was endorsed recently for example by Highland MSP John Finnie in a recent article in the Scottish Socialist Voice.

I urge the SNP and the Greens to join with the SSP in standing “Independence Alliance” candidates in 2015, put our own individual interests to one side, and break the Labour Party’ historic stranglehold on Scottish politics. Let’s not lose what we have built.First: When we had this discussion before the vote, (I was taken to task) for pointing out that the national oppression in Scotland is different from that of other national minorities (and sometimes national majorities)…. The fact is that there is a qualitative, not simply a quantitative difference between the situation of the Scots and others. Take, for instance, the Uighurs. In China a Uighur can get a life sentence for merely advocating Uighur independence. (Can you imagine a similar vote in Uighur land?) Or the Kurds, whose national language was banned for many years in much of Kurdistan. (That might have been the case in Scotland in the past, but that was a completely different period.) Or the Kashmiris, where their houses get broken into, mass arrests, torture, etc. Oh, and one other group – the Palestinians. It is simply a completely different situation. Not simply a matter of degrees in the slightest.

John Reimann

Regardless of whether socialists should have called for a “yes” or a “no” vote, I think there are several basic points.This gets back to David’s point about socialists supporting movements against national oppression. It simply is not the same thing. Comrades have correctly pointed out that it is not for outsiders like myself to determine how the Scots feel. I agree. But whether or not they are in a comparable situation to national groupings like the ones I mention above… Well, they simply are not. Period.

Those comrades on this thread who support a “yes” vote in the main tend to admit as much, since their support revolves around the struggle against Labour and the Conservatives. In other words, they see it as a means of building a movement against austerity. Fair enough, but that leads to the question of whether the campaign for Scottish independence helped raise the class consciousness and helped build an independent movement of the working class.

(Consider the slogans of the RIC):

  • “another Scotland is possible”
  • “a people’s democracy”
  • “a society of equality”
  • “a just economy”

… (These are not”code words” for democratic socialism.) This is the sort of language that the Naomi Klein’s of the world (and she is a Keynesian, not a socialist) would use. They are the slogans of the non-profiteers, etc.

Then there is the SSP and their desire to form an alliance with the SNP. This is popular frontism and the two stage theory carried out into practice. There are no other terms for it. And, quite frankly, from what I’ve seen the Radical Independence Campaign is not that far behind, unless there’s something I don’t know about (which is most definitely possible). As I pointed out before, those socialists who advocate independence cannot just ignore the role of the SNP, which is the main driver behind this campaign and the main beneficiary of it. If “silence means assent” on issues, then in this case it means going along with the SNP, and apparently the RIC is as silent on the issue of the SNP as they are on the issue of socialism. And just because the SNP might be the “Tartan Labour” vs. the Tartan Tories of the past… Well, that is not exactly a high recommendation for them either, is it?

I still think that the main point is how this issue could have been used to raise the class consciousness, and I am not impressed with any of those on the “yes” side. That doesn’t mean I would have supported a “no” vote, but it’s clear that the “yes” side made a lot of principled compromises, that they compromised class politics.

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