“Holding the Mayor Hostage”: 15 Now Tacoma

15 Now Tacoma has proven a central point: That the best way to win reforms is not by allowing the compromisers-to-big-business — that is, the union leadership — to set the agenda for the movement. Instead, they have organized independently for what is needed. In the process, Corporate Tacoma, through their Chamber of Commerce, has gotten so worried that they are pressuring the mayor to come up with a plan to increase the minimum wage. The web site “Darkarethedays.wordpress.com” has published a new article on the groundbreaking campaign of 15 Now Tacoma and the fact that 15 Now nationally has instituted a news blackout on them. Here is their article:

Who is 15 Now Tacoma? The national 15 Now website carries no campaign updates with the exception of one sentence posted in March of last year, no reposted news articles, and no information outside basic contact information of an external website, phone number, and a Facebook page. Yet, this very same 15 Now local group has been causing political waves in the third largest city in Washington State, just 32 miles southwest of Seattle. A recent flurry of mediaattention has cast a spotlight on the 15 Now Tacoma ballot initiative, filed earlier this week. This ballot initiative would jump the city’s minimum wage to $15 at the beginning of 2016 for businesses with gross revenues greater than $300,000, faster than any other city in the country, and raise the legal penalty of wage theft to a felony, equalizing with the charge for workplace theft. 15 Now Tacoma has been described as holding the mayor hostage with their uncompromising campaigning for 15.

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Elections and the workers’ movement

In 1831, Nat Turner led a slave revolt that shook up the entire slave owning South. His revolt was just one of many. It was followed 28 years later by John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, intended to spark another revolt of slaves. The constant threat of revolt of the slaves was a major factor in US politics during the entire period leading up to the confrontation and eventual overthrow of the slave owning class through the Civil War.

Rebellions of the slaves were one of the driving forces leading to the abolition of slavery.

Rebellions of the slaves were one of the driving forces leading to the abolition of slavery.

“Jayhawkers”

Meanwhile, during part of this period (the 1840s), the “Jayhawkers” in Kansas carried on a vicious border war with pro-slavery settlers and raiders in that state-to-be. The Jayhawkers ultimately became the base for a new political party – the Republican Party – whose rise to power led to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

A group of Kansas "Jayhawkers." Their open clashes with the pro slave militias led to the formation of the anti-slavery Republican Party.

A group of Kansas “Jayhawkers.” Their open clashes with the pro slave militias led to the formation of the anti-slavery Republican Party.

Workers’ Struggle

Fast forward to the revolt of the US working class in later years. From the Ludlow Massacre (of striking Colorado miners and their families in 1914) to the sit-down strikes of 1937, nothing changed for workers without mass uprising, confrontation  and defiance of the bosses and their representatives.

Engels and Workers’ Party

In 1886, Frederick Engels wrote that “the first great step of importance” for the US working class was “the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers party…” He thought that step was about to be accomplished in the US at that time. Obviously, he was mistaken; that step has yet to happen, but it is still the main task of the day.

Frederick Engels, co-thinker with Karl Marx. Regarding the US working class, he wrote: "The first great step of importance for every country newly entering into the movement is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so  long as it is a distinct workers' party." It is exactly this step that the "progressive" wing of the Democrats is dedicated to preventing.

Frederick Engels, co-thinker with Karl Marx. Regarding the US working class, he wrote: “The first great step of importance for every country newly entering into the movement is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers’ party.” It is exactly this step that the “progressive” wing of the Democrats is dedicated to preventing.

Elections and movement from below

Especially in the US, where class relations are so much played out in the streets, such a party will not simply gather workers up every two years to put a scrap of paper in a ballot box or put a voting mark on a computer screen. Elections can’t be and won’t be ignored (no matter what some idealists would like), but a real working class political party will link the collective struggle in the streets, work places and in the unions with voting. Election campaigns will not be a substitute for mass confrontation and defiance; it will help clarify the program and aims of the struggle and in so doing help lead it forward. (It can also be used to help consolidate gains, but that is a secondary purpose.) In other words, a true mass workers party will combine and help coordinate the struggle in the streets, communities and work places with electoral politics, rather than try to replace one with another.

Clearly, we are not anywhere near the stage where such a party is being built. But we do have to see things through those lenses – what helps lead in that direction, in the direction of workers forming their own, independent organization/party to lead the movement forward vs. what helps confuse or obscure that path? What is a diversion?

Bernie Sanders and Liberal Democrats

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency is an example of such a diversion. According to reports, Sanders has gotten thousands to sign up and to donate to his campaign. Although the rhetoric is different, Obama accomplished something similar in 2008. He built a strong campaign infrastructure, with many people who genuinely saw his candidacy as a means of fighting racism as well as of changing US politics. Some at that time claimed that this infrastructure could later be used to carry the movement forward, but the Democratic Party machine had control of it from start to finish and they never allowed that to happen.

More recently, we saw the liberal wing of the Democrats – MoveOn.org – lead a campaign to try to convince US Senator Elizabeth Warren to challenge for the Democratic nomination. Just as with the Obama machine, MoveOn is controlled from the top to be sure that everything was channeled into and through the Democratic Party. They may help lead a Bernie Sanders campaign, but whether they do or not, his machine will play the same role, since Sanders himself has never been involved in or helped build any movement from below. (We may be sympathetic towards some of those caught up in the Sanders campaign, but we cannot mince words about what role it plays.)

US Senator Bernie Sanders: It is a mistake to call on what are essentially capitalist politicians like Sanders (no matter how liberal they may be) to lead the workers' movement, including building a workers' party

US Senator Bernie Sanders:
It is a mistake to call on what are essentially capitalist politicians like Sanders (no matter how liberal they may be) to lead the workers’ movement, including building a workers’ party

Sanders is not unique; from the local level to the regional and state level, there will be all sorts of candidates who will claim to challenge the system. But for all of them, just as for Sanders, the question to ask is: How do they propose to change things? Do they claim, or even imply, that electing them can bring about the change? Is their candidacy a step towards building working class independence from Corporate America and its two parties?

Workers’ Leaders 

What are the criteria to decide if they should be supported? Here are some thoughts:

  • Does the candidate have a clear record of helping build the movement from below – the mass confrontation and defiance – and does he or she make clear that they will use their office to help further that movement?
  • Does the candidate clearly separate her or himself from the Democrats and make clear that their campaign is a step towards workers building their own political party in the sense we describe above?
  • Does the candidate make clear that workers and young people must not have to pay for the economic problems of capitalism itself, that they oppose all cuts in wages, social services, etc.?
  • Does the candidate make clear that they do not see the private “free” market – private investment for private profit – as the be all and end all, as the only way that people’s needs can be met? Does he or she make clear that public investment, based on taxing the rich and the major corporations, is the real avenue to solving the lack of housing, infrastructure, education facilities, etc, and does he or she oppose all privatization of public services?

If the answer is not “yes” to all of these, then the candidate and their campaign will not help build the movement of workers, the specially oppressed and the youth.

Local Candidates

Especially at the local level, there may be candidates who are fairly new to electoral politics who  may be very appealing but don’t meet these qualifications. Some of them might be genuine, they might have the best of intentions and really want to make a change in the system and believe they can. There will be a strong impulse to support these candidates, and maybe some of them might move in the direction of actually trying to help build a workers’ movement and build an opposition to the Republicrats. But before those of us who are committed to building that movement support them, we should be sure that such local candidates are open to this and that they make an open commitment in that direction. Because otherwise, if they get elected, the system will overtake them, no matter what their intentions.

The entire history of the United States shows that.

Posted in Marxist theory, politics, Uncategorized, United States | 2 Comments

Britain after the elections

With a new Conservative (= Republicans in the US) government, there are some changes in the British Labour Party. In some ways the Labour Party is similar to the US Democratic Party, but it has a different tradition. It was built by the unions there, which made it a workers’ party in the past. Now, as the Labour Party moves further to the right, there are increasing pressures for the unions to split from the LP and build a new party. If the unions, or any one or two major unions, do that, it would start to raise that issue here in the US.

images

Dan Armstrong writes:

The UK media have already talked themselves into a panicky campaign about the support for Andy Burnham as the new “front runner” in Labour’s upcoming leadership contest. Not that Burnham is a leftwinger but he has had the temerity to “talk” to Len McCluskey, leader of the large Unite union. Burnham has been at pains to emphasise that he would unite all wings, i.e. labour and capital, in the LP if he were elected.
Meanwhile a propaganda campaign is underway to warn of the dangers of thousands of union members joining the party as individual supporters which would give them a vote in the coming leadership elections.

There is unfortunately at present no candidate worthy of support by socialists but if the unions do succeed in establishing a majority of votes, any future leader – and indeed individual sponsored members of parliament
– would necessarily be subject to working class pressure and run the risk of being voted out at the next opportunity.

Dan Armstrong

Roger Silverman comments:

How shameful that Blair’s former health minister Burnham looks like the least worst option! Every one of the candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party is chanting the same sickening mantra about the need to stop speaking up for the rights of “the poor”, to become the party of “aspiration”, to distance the party still further from the trade unions, etc. As one of them put it before the election: “Labour is not the party of people on benefits“. The reason that there is no left candidate standing for the leadership is that apparently there are only 18 Labour MPs who might even consider nominating one – and 35 is the minimum number required. It is certain that under a new leader, the Labour Party will drift further right than ever.

Under this Tory government, the working class will suffer even more ferocious attacks than under the coalition: welfare and benefit cuts amounting to a further £12 billion; a virtual legal ban on strikes; the scrapping of the human rights law; accelerated privatisation of health and education; the dismantling of all the last surviving relics of the postwar settlement. And it can expect no serious resistance from the Labour leadership.

The class tensions within the Labour Party can’t be reconciled; sooner or later it has to come to a split. The workers have no choice but to fight back; they need a political voice. If Labour MPs refuse to represent them, then the trade unions will have to find another route, just as they did more than a century ago.

Last April, the General Secretary of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, Len McCluskey, threatened in so many words to disaffiliate Unite from Labour and launch a new workers’ party if Labour lost the 2015 general election. Yesterday he repeated his warning that Unite’s affiliation to Labour could be “reconsidered” unless it showed it was the “voice of ordinary working people… the voice of organised labour… It is up to them. If they don’t, if they kind of inject more disillusionment in the party, then the pressure will grow from our members to rethink.

So far this is mere words. No doubt McCluskey is hoping to exert enough pressure on the new leadership to avoid the need for a decisive break. But there is no room for compromise. The demands of the capitalist crisis are unrelenting.

Comrades have asked whether people are apathetic about politics in England. Yes, of course; how could they become interested when they see no substantial difference between the only alternative parties, and when no one speaks up for them? Look at the dramatic contrast in Scotland, where 85% of the electorate voted in the independence referendum – a full twenty percentage points higher than in the British general election.

Once Unite and some other trade unions make a decisive break from the Blairite clique in the Parliamentary Labour Party and place themselves firmly on the side of the millions of workers on squeezed wages and zero-hours contracts, the nearly two million unemployed, the million relying on food banks, the dispossessed welfare claimants, the students weighed down with debt, the homeless, etc., that’s when politics in Britain will get really interesting!

Roger Silverman

A homeless family in Britain: As in the US, the poor are ignored by the politicians.

A homeless family in Britain: As in the US, the poor are ignored by the politicians.

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“If the working class is the class that works, what do the other classes do?”

15 Now Tacoma is making waves.

Just last week, the Tacoma Business Examiner – organ of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce – reported on  a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce in that city to discuss the threat of 15 Now Tacoma. They quoted all the usual sob stories about small businesses that say they can’t afford to pay a $15/hour minimum wage. (How about those that would exist if the minimum wage were lowered to $2.50? So should we lower it that far in order to give them a helping hand?)

But it’s clear what’s really scaring the large businesses just as much as paying a wage increase and, therefore, taking a small hit to their profits: That is how the radical 15 Now Tacoma will stir up the pot and help bring to the fore all the repressed anger that millions of workers are feeling. They showed this video below of a 15 Now Tacoma rally.

They actually showed this at their own meeting — and then they went on to advocate that the mayor of Tacoma start to take steps to raise the minimum wage!

Posted in Minimum wage campaign, rebellion, United States | 1 Comment

British Elections: What Happened?

From London, Roger Silverman analyzes the results of the recent elections in Britain and what those elections say about the mood and consciousness there:

Some initial hurried reflections on the general election result…

The Labour Party was the political creation of the trade unions. At its peak it won 48% of the votes. That was in the days when Britain’s economy was primarily based on manufacture, and there was a large concentrated industrial proletariat. There were massive confrontations like the seamen’s strike of 1966, the miners’ strikes of the 1970s and ‘80s, repeated Ford workers’ assembly line strikes, etc. Today there are virtually no coal mines, steel works or car factories; the industrial backbone of Labour is gone. Trade unionism today is largely confined to the public sector; and, due to privatisation, outsourcing and massive cutbacks, this is a shrinking work force.

In my earlier predictions of the election result, I noted that it was 23 years since the Tories had won a majority at a general election, and drew mistaken conclusions from that. What I had overlooked is the fact that, for three of the four general elections that had been held since then, the ruling class had actively favoured a New Labour victory.

It is 40 years since Labour won an election (actually, two successive elections) in clear defiance of the wishes of the ruling class. That was on the crest of the miners’ strike and Heath’s rash gamble on going to the country on the issue of “who runs Britain?” The 1974-9 Labour government was a period of economic crisis and political confrontation, when there was alarm and open speculation by the ruling class about the need for extra-parliamentary measures, the veiled threat of military manoeuvres at Heathrow airport, favourable comment on the Chilean coup,  etc.

For a period, under the New Labour clique, Labour really was the preferred political instrument of the ruling class. The Tories had become so discredited by 1997 that money came pouring into Labour funds from big business donors, while the Tories were starved of funds and became the object of derision in the Murdoch press and similar media outlets. This arrangement continued right up to the time of the financial crash in 2008. The ruling class reverted to support for their by now rehabilitated traditional Tory team. New Labour had served its purpose and was now tossed aside with contempt. Brown in particular received no gratitude for his services and was humiliated.

Miliband had drawn from the experience of New Labour the conclusion that the only way he could regain office was by reassuring the ruling class that he too was responsible and worthy of trust; hence his commitment to an “austerity-lite” programme and his short, feeble, miserable list of very minimal reforms.

Along with everyone else, I had wrongly trusted the opinion polls, which had unanimously and consistently put Labour and the Tories neck and neck – even though that didn’t tally with the bad feeling I was getting about the outcome from the fact that this time, unusually, I kept coming across people who were actually prepared to admit without shame their intention to vote Tory. I added a cautionary postscript to my initial writings about the election campaign once it had become clear that the ruling class had taken a firm decision, no matter what, to push all out for a Tory victory. All the press and media (apart from the Guardian/Observer and the Mirror), including even the Independent, were campaigning hard for the Tories, with relentless crude scare stories, despicable taunts against Miliband personally, etc. This is because the ruling class were genuinely scared of the constant pressure that would be exerted on a minority Labour government by the SNP.  (NOTE: The SNP is the Scottish National Party, which advocates for an independent Scottish nation. They have also criticized the austerity measures of the Conservatives and Labour.) They weren’t concerned about the risk of a “break-up of the UK”, as they pretended; they were alarmed at Nicola Sturgeon’s highly effective and popular calls on Miliband to end austerity. And, with their monopoly control of all mass sources of information, the ruling class can normally count on getting, by and large, the result they want.

It is true that there are special factors that explain the obliteration of a century of Labour tradition in Scotland; but this political earthquake has powerful lessons for the future in Britain as a whole. If Labour can be wiped out overnight in its former rock-solid red-belt heartland, then how can it be considered secure anywhere else?  Labour can’t simply continue to rely on the automatic loyalty of the working class – even more so when the conclusion of the next Labour leadership will undoubtedly be to move even further to the right. Already they are openly blaming the defeat on Miliband’s few fleeting gestures to the left in the late stages of the campaign.

What does this result mean? It is a catastrophe. There will be more suicides, more scapegoating and more riots; despair and outrage, sudden explosions, but all blind and impulsive. The best hope is still that at least some key trade unions will at last break free from the still overwhelmingly Blairite Parliamentary Labour Party, assume their rightful role helping to harness the rage that will be sweeping the millions, to unify the hundreds of currently atomised protest groups, to mobilise the forces for a mass movement against capitalism.

Roger Silverman

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The Democrats and “Faith in the System”

“Faith in the system is the bedrock of the system. Without it, the system is drained of its inviolable authority. This is the danger America now faces.” So wrote the N.Y. Times on May 4, just days after mass protests that included property damage and attacks on the police rocked the city of Baltimore.

From Ferguson to Baltimore

The events in Baltimore were not alone. From similar protests in Ferguson following the police murder of Michael Brown, to protests in Oakland and elsewhere, the black community, with support from some whites and others, is starting to signal that enough is enough. This mood is furthered by the internet and smart phones/camcorders. Video after video of police brutality and murder – Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and countless others – are rocketing around the internet, proving to millions what many in the black community have known and experienced for years.

Police

People think in images, and the image of the “tough but fair” cop, the one who protects women from abuse, protects little children from sexual predators and serial killers – that is the image peddled by the media, Hollywood, and the politicians, and it is starting to give way to an image that better suits reality. Above the law, racist, shoot-first-ask-questions-later – that is the new image that is starting to take hold throughout society, and it is leading to a breakdown of “faith in the (entire) system”, as the NY Times fearfully commented.

Right Wing Populism

Already, this weakening of faith in the system has spawned a populist movement, but to the right, as represented by the Tea Party. Corporate America succeeded in capturing this movement and channeling it back into one of their two main parties – the Republicans. This has caused some problems within the Republicans, but the thinking is: Better that than have these right-wing nuts run completely out of control and more clearly reveal their racist and chauvinist/xenophobic character. Better that than racist physical assaults, assaults on union activists, etc. That would spark a counter mobilization that Corporate America strives to prevent. (They are holding the more widespread racist assaults in reserve and will unleash it on a wider scale when the crisis becomes even more acute and even more desperate measures are needed.)

Democrats

Now, a similar task confronts the Democrats, and their “progressive” wing is attempting the same task. So it was that just two days after the defiant protests in Baltimore were put down by the National Guard, Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that the six police involved in the murder of Freddie Gray would be charged with various felonies. “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ’No justice, no peace,’” she commented. “I will seek justice on your behalf,” she added.

Marilyn Mosby “There are barriers of distrust within the community and law enforcement. And we’ve got to find ways to bring down these barriers." But it's not a matter of distrust or a few rogue cops; the problem is that the police are there to enforce the economic exploitation, oppression and racism that is inherent in the entire system.

Marilyn Mosby
“There are barriers of distrust within the community and law enforcement. And we’ve got to find ways to bring down these barriers.”
But it’s not a matter of distrust or a few rogue cops; the problem is that the police are there to enforce the economic exploitation, oppression and racism that is inherent in the entire system.

And on the same day, “socialist”-but-Democrat-in-all-but-name US Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In doing so, he will be providing the “left alternative” competitor that the Democrats have long sought for their all but certain ultimate nominee, Hillary Clinton. As with the charging of the six Baltimore cops, Sanders’ move is aimed at seeking to restore faith in “the system” and preventing an independent movement on the left from developing.

(Note: Many may have differences with Sanders but still have faith in his basic decency, as shown by the comment on an MSNBC article “”I’m happy about Bernie running. He is such a decent, good man…” One simple issue disproves this: Sander’s full support for the racist, expansionist State of Israel. It’s impossible that a US Senator doesn’t know about the crimes against humanity of which the State of Israel is guilty. To continue to support them shows a lack of basic human decency; it shows the cynicism that is the basis for capitalist politics.)

US Senator Bernie Sanders: This "decent man" supports torture and mass murder in Israel/Palestine.

US Senator Bernie Sanders:
This “decent man” supports torture and mass murder in Israel/Palestine.

There is a long, long tradition of the Democrats acting as the “shock absorbers” for the movement from below. In this writer’s lifetime, it goes all the way back to the candidacy of Gene McCarthy for the Democratic presidential nomination back in 1968. That was at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and millions of young people were becoming increasingly disaffected with corporate politics. So McCarthy was thrust forward as the peace candidate, and a whole layer of the youth adopted the slogan “neat and clean for Gene”, shaved their beards, removed their beads and put on bra’s and were drawn into his campaign. The result? Of course, he was bound to fail and, after the murder of Robert Kennedy, the establishment liberal Hubert Humphrey won the nomination and McCarthy did his level best to turn his campaigners into active Humphrey supporters.

Sanders has already announced that he will do exactly the same thing, that he will support Clinton or whoever else wins the Democratic nomination.

To draw the movement into the Democratic Party, the “progressive” wing will have to produce something, and that won’t be so easy. Decades of glorifying the police and of giving them a free hand has made them believe they are above the law, and they will continue to resist all attempts to rein them in. Also, all the propaganda about “violent criminals,” “law and order,” and the “war on drugs” (code words for “blacks and Latinos are the problem”) have increased the already semi-latent racism within a large layer of white society. This means greater conflict from below and also from above.

Struggle in the Streets

This means increased struggles on the streets, including more of what is called “violence” and activity by “thugs”. As an article in Salon.com put it: “After nearly a week of resistance—including the occupation of Baltimore by heavily-armed National Guard—Maryland state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby stepped into the fray, announcing charges against six officers and admitting that her hand had been forced by the streets: “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’”….

Riots work, so why do so many well-meaning voices continue to insist that they don’t? The argument that they harm communities makes intuitive sense, but doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny: the Maryland Insurance Commission has estimated the uninsured losses from the riots to be a paltry $1 million. Meanwhile, foreclosures from the recession cost Baltimore $1.5 billion (with a B) from 2008-2010, and $13.6 million in tax revenue in 2010 alone. And as many are quick to point out, the city has paid out more than $5.7 million to settle police abuse lawsuits since 2011. The police—not to mention capitalism—have done far more to damage Baltimore than any riot could.”

As the article points out, though, the arrest of the six police officers is only a partial and temporary victory as they are already out on bail and on paid vacation (“administrative leave”) while 18-year old Allen Bullock is in jail on $500,000 bail for being accused of having broken in the window of a police car.

So, yes, “riots” can lead to temporary and partial concessions, but these can as easily be taken away, and also the forces of the criminal (in)justice system will be even freer to crack down even more.

Come Together

While black people (and others) are rising up from Baltimore to Ferguson, others are taking up outright resistance and defiance on other issues, especially the issue of fracking. (This is the destructive practice of pumping poisonous chemicals into the ground to fracture oil-bearing shale rock to pump out the oil. This practice is poisoning the air and water of those who live in the immediate area and beyond. For a background article on fracking, see here.) Residents in town after town have voted to ban fracking, despite the fact that these bans are illegal. This campaign to ban fracking is in general carried out outside of the main, liberal environmental groups, just as the uprisings in places like Ferguson and Baltimore are carried out outside of groups like the NAACP, as well as the leadership of those like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Hopefully, the activists in such movements can come together and develop a strategy and goals – both short term and long term – and build an organization to carry this forward. This direction would help avoid the trap set by the “progressive” Democrats by developing as an independent, working class movement and party to establish a real alternative to the two main parties of Corporate America and the crisis-ridden, oppressive capitalist system these two parties represent.

Frederick Engels, co-thinker with Karl Marx. Regarding the US working class, he wrote: "The first great step of importance for every country newly entering into the movement is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so  long as it is a distinct workers' party." It is exactly this step that the "progressive" wing of the Democrats is dedicated to preventing.

Frederick Engels, co-thinker with Karl Marx. Regarding the US working class, he wrote: “The first great step of importance for every country newly entering into the movement is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers’ party.” It is exactly this step that the “progressive” wing of the Democrats is dedicated to preventing.

Posted in racism, rebellion, repression, United States | 8 Comments

May Day in Oakland

This May Day, the longshore workers (ILWU Local 10) voted to shut down the Port of Oakland to protest the police crime wave that is sweeping the country. This was a positive step as labor has been largely missing in action from the movement that has developed since the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson last August. In fact, one member of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) in Ferguson reported at that time that his union leaders had told him that “this is not our battle.”

A coalition formed to organize a protest and march based on this shut down of the port. A small rally was held at the port, then a march through West Oakland and then the main rally at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland. Speaker after speaker praised the ILWU for their support of this movement. And speaker after speaker denounced the violence and racism of the police. However,  what none of the speakers at the main rally did was to put forward a perspective, including explaining why labor had been missing in action up until now and what was necessary for the labor movement.

That was left up to two speakers at the pre-event rally. Here is a video that summarizes May Day in Oakland.

 

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Oaklandsocialist speaks at May Day at Port of Oakland

The major event in Oakland this May Day was the rally and march from the Port of Oakland to City Hall. The ILWU Local 10 had voted to shut down the port in a May Day protest against the police crime wave. There were many speeches given saluting Local 10 and labor in general.  Unfortunately, the only speech that pointed out the different direction labor must move in was given by Oaklandsocialist. In the next day or two, we will put up a lengthier video of the May Day event here, but meanwhile, ere is the speech of Oaklandsocialist.

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Port Shut Down: A Good First Step

The longshoremen’s union – ILWU – Local 10 has voted to shut down the Port of Oakland on May Day (May 1) to protest police racism and murders and brutality. This is a very good first step, but it is only a first step. It should be followed by a shut down of the entire city of Oakland, as Occupy Oakland did. This follow-up would be a step towards building a more long-lasting movement.

May 1 leaflet Port of Oakland Today 2

Posted in labor, Oakland, racism | 1 Comment

Appeal from Greece

Through the Syriza-led Greek parliament, a “Truth Commission on the Public Debt” has been established. That commission is sending out this appeal. The questions it raises – such as who is profiting from the public debt – are generally known, but it will help to get more specific details.

Meanwhile, throughout the eurozone governments have been moving to make their economies more competitive. That means holding down social benefits, making it easier to fire workers, etc. In other words, boosting profits, which can only be done at the workers’ expense. This means increasing the competition between workers around the world. The only answer is international solidarity. That why this appeal for international unity is important. We urge all working class fighters to sign on to it and notify the comrades in Greece. Notification can be sent to: giorgos.mitralias@gmail.com

 

To the people of Europe and the whole world!

To all the men and women who reject the politics of austerity and are not willing to pay a public debt which is strangling us and which was agreed to behind our backs and against our interests.

We signatories to this appeal stand by the Greek people who, through their vote at the election of 25th January 2015, became the first population in Europe and in the Northern hemisphere to have rejected the politics of austerity imposed to pay an alleged public debt which was negotiated by those on top without the people and against the people.  At the same time we consider that the setting up of the Greek Public Debt Truth Commission at the initiative of the president of the Greek Parliament constitutes a historic event, of crucial importance not only for the Greek people but also for the people of Europe and the whole world!

Indeed, the Truth Commission of the Greek Parliament, composed of volunteer citizens from across the globe, is destined to be emulated in other countries. First, because the debt problem is a scourge that plagues most of Europe and the world, and secondly because there are millions and millions of citizens who are rightly posing basic and fundamental questions about this debt:

“What happened to the money that made up this loan? What were the conditions attached to it? How much interest has been paid, at what rate? How much capital has been repaid? How was the debt allowed to accumulate without benefiting the people? Where did the capital go? What was it used for? How much was diverted, by whom, and how was this done?

“And also: Who took out this loan and in whose name? Who granted the loan and what was their role? How did the state become involved? By what decision, taken with what authorisation? How did private debts become ‘public’? Who set up such inappropriate schemes, who pushed in this direction, who profited from them? Were offences or crimes committed with this money? Why has penal civil, criminal and administrative responsibility not been established?”

All these questions will be subjected to rigorous analysis by the commission, which has an official mandate to “gather all information relevant to the emergence and disproportionate increase in public debt, and to subject the data to scientific scrutiny in order to determine what part of that debt  can be identified as illegitimate and illegal, odious or unsustainable, during the period of the Memoranda, from May 2010 to January 2015 as well as in the preceding years. It must also publish precise information – which must be accessible to all citizens, provide the evidence to back up public declarations, raise awareness among the Greek population, the international community and international public opinion, and finally draw up arguments and demands calling for cancellation of the debt.

We consider that it is the most basic democratic right of every citizen to demand clear and precise answers to these questions. We also consider that refusal to reply constitutes a denial of democracy and transparency on the part of those at the top who invented and use the “debt system” to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And even worse: we consider that by jealously keeping for themselves the monopoly right to decide the fate of society, those at the top deprive the overwhelming majority of citizens not only of their right to make decisions but above all of the right to take their destiny and the fate of humanity into their hands!

This is why we are launching the following urgent appeal to all citizens, social movements, ecological and feminist networks and movements, trade unions and political organizations that reject this ever less democratic and humane neo-liberal Europe: Show your solidarity with the Greek resistance by supporting in action the Greek Public Debt Truth Commission and its work in identifying that part of the Greek public debt which is illegal, illegitimate, odious and/or unsustainable.

Defend it against the outrageous attacks it has been subjected to from all those forces in Greece and the rest of the world who have an interest in keeping the truth about the “debt-system” hidden from view.

Actively take part in the citizen debt audits that are being developed throughout Europe and elsewhere.

Share your support and solidarity on your social networks, since this support and international solidarity is the only way to thwart the ruling powers’ plan to suffocate Greece and the people who are fighting against our common enemy: the politics of austerity and the debt that is strangling us!

We are confronted by an experienced adversary, united, well-coordinated, armed with extraordinary powers and absolutely determined to pursue its offensive against every one of us to the bitter end: we who constitute the overwhelming majority of our societies. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of resisting separately, each in his own corner. So let us unite our forces in a vast movement of solidarity with the Greek resistance and support for the Truth Commission of the Greek Parliament, multiplying such debt audit commissions everywhere where that is possible. Because the struggle of the Greek people is our struggle, and their victory will be our victory. Our unity is our only strength. United we stand; divided we fall.

Posted in Europe, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“War with Iran is probably our best option”

Josh Muravchik has been called “maybe the most cogent and careful of the neoconservaitve writers on foreign policy” by the Wall St. Journal. So when he writes an article  “War with Iran is probably our best option” it should not be dismissed as the ravings of a lone lunatic. In his piece, he writes “only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq… can accomplish what is required.”

Is he even right that the Iranian regime is trying to move towards building a nuclear bomb?

If so, can the deal Obama & Co. reached with that regime head them off?

If it can’t, does Muravchik represent the future of US policy?

We need to know, because a possible war with Iran would not be a simple matter; it would likely involve the use of “tactical” nuclear weapons, and would have vast economic and environmental (never mind human) consequences.

Iran a nuclear power?

With its enormous oil reserves, why would Iran invest all that money in nuclear research just for nuclear power? After all, the average nuclear plant has a working life of about 30 to 40 years and after all the costs are accounted for, it only provides a net energy surplus of about 18 years.

Clearly, Iranian capitalism is striving to become a regional power, the rival of Israel and Saudi Arabia. That’s why it is apparently supporting the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, just on Saudi Arabia’s southern border while at the same time reportedly resurrecting its support for Hamas in Gaza (despite the fact that Hamas is Sunni-based while the Iranian regime is based on the Shiite wing of Islam). It has also increased its influence in neighboring Iraq, where it is helping the Iraqi regime battle the Sunni-based Islamic State there.

And in today’s world, when even small, weak, impoverished states like Pakistan and North Korea have nuclear weapons, no capitalist power can seriously strive to become a regional power without being nuclear armed. But it is exactly this – the rise of a rival power in the region – that US capitalism is determined to prevent. The nuclear potential of the Iranian regime is simply a symptom of this larger problem.

George Bush presidency

In the last years of the George Bush presidency, when neocons like Muravchik were riding high in the saddle, it seems a military attack on Iran was being seriously considered. The well-connected reporter Seymour Hersh reported on this in the New Yorker. “There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontaiotn with Iran is regime change,” Hersh wrote in 2006.It was thought that a military attack would lead to the downfall of the Iranian regime, but more serious heads held sway. Hersh writes that one “former defense official” had commented “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘what are they smoking?’” According to Hersh, even members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were threatening to resign in protest against these plans. These top military people always have the closest links to the tops of the US capitalist class.

Obama replaces the neo-cons

The costs and dangers of an attack on Iran terrified major wings of Corporate America. That was why they arranged to defeat the mad bomber John McCain and put Barak Obama in the White House in 2008. Obama represented the diplomacy approach to US corporate strategy. He believed and believes that US corporate interests cannot be furthered world-wide without allies, and to keep allies Corporate America cannot resort to war as the first and only option. With Obama’s victory, the top capitalists world-wide breathed a sigh of relief. They immediately bestowed on him one of their top prizes – the Nobel Prize for Peace (!), as a way of encouraging his diplomatic strategy. But as far as Iran, the goal remained the same: As Hersh reported one “high-ranking diplomat” had commented in 2006 “The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.”

Temporary success

Until now, Obama has been able to keep the economic sanctions against Iran going fairly successfully. He and Corporate America have had success because they have been able to keep all the major capitalist powers together. One major reason has been the increased supply of oil and natural gas, due to fracking. This has meant that the oil supplies from Iran weren’t all that needed. Another reason for the success has been the extreme statements of the previous Iranian president, Ahmedinijad. Despite these economic sanctions, though, the Iranian regime seems to be holding things together and be developing its nuclear potential.

Agreement with Iran

Now a deal seems to have been reached. (See box for details.) That deal, though, is unlikely to prevent the Iranian regime from developing its nuclear potential.

 

Negotiators of the accord with Iran. The accord's basic terms include: Iran’s commitments •Halt production of near-20-percent enriched uranium and disable the centrifuges used to produce it. •Start neutralizing its near-20-percent enriched uranium stockpile. 	•	Refrain from enriching uranium in nearly half the installed centrifuges at its Natanz site and three-quarters of centrifuges at its Fordow site. 	•	Limit centrifuge production to what’s needed to replace damaged machines. 	•	Refrain from building additional enrichment facilities and advancing research and development of enrichment. 	•	Refrain from commissioning, fueling or adding reactor components to its Arak reactor and halt production and additional testing of fuel for the reactor. 	•	Refrain from building a facility capable of reprocessing, which would allow Iran to separate out plutonium, which could be used to make nuclear bombs. P5+1, EU commitments 	•	Suspend implementation of sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and on goods imported for use in its automotive industry. 	•	Suspend sanctions on Iran’s import and export of gold and other precious metals. 	•	Shelve efforts to further curtail Iranian crude-oil purchases by P5+1 countries. 	•	Free up Iranian money to help pay the educational costs of young Iranians, many of whom are attending U.S. colleges and universities. 	•	Raise tenfold the ceilings for money transfers to and from Iran. 	•	Take actions to ease Iran’s access to $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian funds in several installments. The first installment of $550 million in frozen assets will be released to Iran in the first week of February

Negotiators of the accord with Iran. The accord’s basic terms include:
Iran’s commitments
• Halt production of near-20-percent enriched uranium and disable the centrifuges used to produce it.
• Start neutralizing its near-20-percent enriched uranium stockpile.
• Refrain from enriching uranium in nearly half the installed centrifuges at its Natanz site and three-quarters of centrifuges at its Fordow site.
• Limit centrifuge production to what’s needed to replace damaged machines.
• Refrain from building additional enrichment facilities and advancing research and development of enrichment.
• Refrain from commissioning, fueling or adding reactor components to its Arak reactor and halt production and additional testing of fuel for the reactor.
• Refrain from building a facility capable of reprocessing, which would allow Iran to separate out plutonium, which could be used to make nuclear bombs.
P5+1, EU commitments
• Suspend implementation of sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and on goods imported for use in its automotive industry.
• Suspend sanctions on Iran’s import and export of gold and other precious metals.
• Shelve efforts to further curtail Iranian crude-oil purchases by P5+1 countries.
• Free up Iranian money to help pay the educational costs of young Iranians, many of whom are attending U.S. colleges and universities.
• Raise tenfold the ceilings for money transfers to and from Iran.
• Take actions to ease Iran’s access to $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian funds in several installments. The first installment of $550 million in frozen assets will be released to Iran in the first week of February

Similar steps were taken with the North Korean regime. In 1994, the US and North Korean regimes signed an agreement that North Korea would not develop nuclear weapons. There followed a series of negotiations, violations of various

agreements, culminating in the North Korean regime’s announcement in 2005 that it had developed a nuclear bomb and, in 2006, the successful testing of ballistic missiles as well as of a nuclear bomb underground. Why should any agreement with the Iranian regime end up any differently?

But what are the alternatives?

An attack on Iran would almost certainly lead to the immediate closing of the Straits of Hormuz, which would disrupt global shipping, especially of oil supplies. Such an attack would immediately boost the credibility and influence of the Iranian regime throughout the Islamic world. And a single attack is not likely to succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities. That’s why even the former war hawk, former “Defense” Secretary under Bush, Robert Gates, commented “If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.” And Muravchik, who advocates such an attack, explained that a series of attacks over time would be necessary and would probably lead to Iranian counter-attacks throughout the region. In other words, the ongoing wars that have become the norm in parts of the region (Syria, Yemen, Libya)  would spread and intensify. Not only that, but some strategists for US capitalism reckon that the use of “tactical” nuclear weapons would be necessary. This would mean massive, long term environmental damage in this oil-rich region, meaning disruption of oil supplies. Maybe more important in their calculations is that once this threshold has been crossed in these ongoing conflicts, it would be difficult to pull back. Entire regions could become uninhabitable, thus cutting into the profits and stability of the capitalists. (The human suffering doesn’t matter.)

Russia and Iran

And even the “success” of the military option is now threatened:

The Putin regime has linked with the Iranian regime to wage a war by proxy in Syria. Now, horror of horrors, they are offering to upgrade Iran’s anti-aircraft defense with the more modern S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system. As a Newsweek article explained, this “represents a fundamental shift in military power for the region. For over a decade, the United States and its allies have been able to take freedom of action in the Middle Eastern skies for granted…. This was especially true of Iran, whose air defenses have suffered greatly due to sanctions. The arrival of the S-300 changes this…. Overcoming this type of system will require a large deployment of air, sea, and land assets, including our most capable—and expensive—airplanes and missiles.” In other words, once this system arrives and becomes functional, neither the Israeli nor even the US military will be able to attack Iranian nuclear installations with impunity.

US Capitalism a waning power

The basic issue is that the power of US capitalism to control the world is waning. On the one hand, we see the increased influence of its main rivals: Russia and China. (The latter is rapidly increasing its influence in South American and Africa as well as in Asia itself, with the threat to control vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea, among other things.) Along with this is the disintegration of societies throughout the world and the rise of  rogue, “extremist” forces like the Islamic State. As the Wall St. Journal has complained, the US has gone from controlling events to responding to them. The installation of the Bush regime represented a determination of US capitalism to reverse this process by crude military means (invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq). That only accelerated the process, so they moved back to “diplomacy” with the installation of the Obama presidency. At some point, they will veer back again to the military option, this time probably on an even more devastating level.

That is the future that capitalism has to offer.

What capitalism has to offer

What capitalism has to offer

Posted in Middle East, Uncategorized, United States, war | Leave a comment

Ferguson: Interview with grassroots activist

“People want change. They don’t want the illusion of change. They don’t want the appearance of change. They understand that the system is broken, it’s corrupt, it’s racist. And change cannot come from within that system.”

So speaks Bgyrl4life, grassroots activist in Ferguson as she reflects on the events of last summer there, on what’s happened since, and on the political scene in the US in general.

Posted in Ferguson, racism, Uncategorized, United States, videos/documentaries | 1 Comment

ILWU Tentative Contract: Organize to stop concessions!


On Tuesday, March 31, a meeting in San Francisco was held with longshore workers and others to discuss and explain the failings of the recent tentative agreement over a new contract between the ILWU and the employers. All unionists should be concerned about this contract and, even more important,
what can be done about it. 

The maritime industry on the US West Coast is just about the only major industry in the country that is still strictly union.

That is why Corporate America as a whole must have been eying this industry, determined to break the union’s grip. The results of the tentative agreement between the union (the ILWU) and the employers goes a way towards achieving the employers’ goal. (See graphic at right for a summary.)

Among the key points stressed at this San Francisco meeting are: The new agreement gives a large raise to the highest paid workers (33% over 5 years) and relatively little to the lowest paid. This will increase the divisions within the union. The agreement allows non-ILWU truck drivers vastly increased freedom to operate within the shipping yards. This is a potential dagger to the heart of ILWU control over the docks. The agreement basically paves the way for destroying the ILWU tradition of not crossing a picket line. (It does so by mandating that the employers and the union must meet first before a picket line is declared genuine. So all the employers have to do is fail to show up and the picket line isn’t genuine!) The agreement provides no protection against automation. In an era when computerization is increasing rapidly, it is nearly certain that the cranes will be computer operated in the future, thus vastly cutting into the jobs of some of the highest paid longshore workers.

Among the key points stressed at this San Francisco meeting are:
The new agreement gives a large raise to the highest paid workers (33% over 5 years) and relatively little to the lowest paid. This will increase the divisions within the union.
The agreement allows non-ILWU truck drivers vastly increased freedom to operate within the shipping yards. This is a potential dagger to the heart of ILWU control over the docks.
The agreement basically paves the way for destroying the ILWU tradition of not crossing a picket line. (It does so by mandating that the employers and the union must meet first before a picket line is declared genuine. So all the employers have to do is fail to show up and the picket line isn’t genuine!)
The agreement provides no protection against automation. In an era when computerization is increasing rapidly, it is nearly certain that the cranes will be computer operated in the future, thus vastly cutting into the jobs of some of the highest paid longshore workers.country that is still strictly union. That is why Corporate America as a whole must have been eying this industry, determined to break the union’s grip. The results of the tentative agreement between the union (the ILWU) and the employers goes a way towards achieving the employers’ goal.

There’s hardly a union contract around nowadays that doesn’t include major concessions. The key question is what to do about it?  Unfortunately, not much was said directly about this beyond just rejecting this proposed contract. However, one speaker, Dan Coffman, former president of ILWU Local 21 in Longview WA, provided some of the answer, although he did so unintentionally. As president of his local, Coffman had led a major battle against the grain shipping companies back in 2011. This included open defiance of the police by blocking the trains with mass pickets at one point, an action for which Coffman (and others) were arrested.

Despite this, though, Coffman ended up signing a terrible contract at that time. It’s true he was directed to by the International, but he could have refused, and last night, when he spoke at the SF meeting (via Skype), he said he regretted having signed the contract. But it wasn’t only that. When he spoke, he explained that he’d been called away from the battle in Longview and to San Francisco by the International at a crucial time. According to him, he was called to S.F. to keep him away from Longview because had he stayed there he would have been able to implement a strategy that might have blocked the ship coming in. He also explained that “my International had a gag order on me where I couldn’t speak to the press.” What must be asked, though, is why if his presence was so crucial in Longview at that time did he agree to come to San Francisco, and why did he obey the “gag order”?

The only way to answer this is to look at the balance of forces. Coffman may have had the moral backing of his local members and some in Local 10 (San Francisco), but that was all; the support wasn’t organized to fight the International. That would have had to include internal organization beyond their one local. Whether he wanted to or not, Coffman alone could not take on the entire ILWU International. It’s like one individual trying to stand up to a tsunami. It’s a rule of war, including the war within the unions, that if one side is organized and the other isn’t the former will win.

What does being organized mean for the rank and file?

It means understanding not only “who” you are opposing, but also why – what are their policies, who their allies are, what is the alternative program and strategy and who your potential allies are. In this regard, there are a few points.

As our article last year on the longshore (largely fanciful but completely accurate) made clear, the main issue is the “team concept” or “partnership” that every single union leadership operates by. On the job, they think they have to keep the bosses happy and help them make profits, and the only way to do that is to give ground on wages, working conditions and union power on the job. Politically, the same concept is applied through their total dependence on the corporate controlled Democratic Party.

The Mood inside the unions

Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting referred to the lack of willingness of many members to really fight. As one speaker commented, “The power we have on the water front is not being exercised…. A lot of our brothers and sisters just don’t get it.” Well, of course not. The union leadership has had over 75 years of trying to repress the fighting traditions of the union struggle, including the 1934 San Francisco general strike. Because that power that the speaker referred to has not been called upon by the leadership, like an unused muscle the power has atrophied. Not only that, but the union leadership has done everything in its power to isolate, intimidate and even if necessary run out of the industry any members who still hold to and advance those fighting traditions.

Ferguson and a Break in the Mood

In every single union, those who want to see a real fight report how isolated they feel, how the rest of the membership “just doesn’t care”. In other words, the 75 year campaign waged by both Corporate America and the union leadership has had a huge effect within the union membership. So where will a break in the mood come from?

Despite the fact that this was a meeting called to discuss this particular union contract, several of the ILWU speakers themselves referred to something that on the surface seems completely unconnected: Ferguson. This shows that what’s happening there, and related events around the country, has deeply penetrated the consciousness of many workers – especially black and Latino workers. The battles that are being fought around that issue are immensely important for all union members.

That’s why one UAW worker in Ferguson reported to this writer last August that his own local union leader had told him “this is not our battle.” The reality is that the leadership is terrified of how this struggle will affect “their” members.

Conclusion

One speaker at Tuesday’s meeting urged the membership to “speak up, ask questions” about the contract. He was right, of course, but we have to go beyond that; we have to organize opposition caucuses within the unions. Organize within the unions for:

  • Oppose the “team concept” – the idea that the bosses and the workers are on the same team; this only adds to the race to the bottom.
  • Instead, unite all workers in any industry, regardless of what union they are in, or if they are in no union, and also regardless of what country they work in.
  • Link up with the community struggles, including the struggle against racism and police brutality and the community-based struggles against destruction of our environment (especially fracking. (See this interview, for example)
  • For a return to the traditions of the 1930s – open defiance of the police and the courts, mass picket lines, work place occupations, etc.

That is the outline, the beginnings of a program that can start to unite those inside the unions see the need to change their unions and build a real workers’ movement to reverse the bosses’ offensive.

Posted in labor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cliff Willmeng: Interview with a “Fractivist”

Fractivist Cliff Willmeng speaking on behalf of the Colorado Community Rights Initiative.

Fractivist Cliff Willmeng speaking on behalf of the Colorado Community Rights Initiative.

We interview Cliff Willmeng, one of the leading anti-fracking activists (“fractivists”) in Colorado. In this video, Cliff explains several points:

  • How communities in Colorado are moving to ban fracking and, thereby coming into direct legal conflict with the entire political structure
  • How the corporations really control the political and legal system and how the anti-fracking movement has come into conflict with Corporate America in general.

He discusses the Colorado Community Rights Initiative.

  • “The Colorado Community Rights Amendment would be the natural class interests of the working class.”

He explains the relationship between fracking and capitalism.

  • “Fracking is a natural extension of capitalism.”

He comments on the Trans Pacific Partnership:

  • “It’s our obligation to make those kinds of trade agreements fully unenforceable.”

He explains his view of the relationship between his struggle and the struggle in Ferguson:

  • “If you don’t have the right to walk down the streets without being shot by the police, there’s really no community rights at all.”

He discusses his previous strategy for his own life and that of his family:

  • We had no concept, absolutely no concept, that we were going to be moving out here (to Colorado) onto a shale formation and essentially be undertaking the fight of our lives.”

Those wanting to contact the Colorado Community Rights Network can e mail them at: CoCommRights@gmail.com

Watch Video:

Posted in environment, Ferguson, videos/documentaries | 2 Comments

The “Team Concept” and the Race to the Bottom

There’s an article in today’s Wall St. Journal about the increase in outsourcing of work in the auto industry; increasing amounts of parts are being made in Mexico and other low wage countries and then installed in “American built” cars in the US. Simultaneously, the wages for auto workers here in the US have dropped drastically – down to as low as $10/hour for new hires.

John Childers and Chrystal Varty (pictured here with their children from previous marriages) work for American Axel & Manufacturing and make $10/hr each. "Lower class is what we are. Let's be honest," says Childers.

John Childers and Chrystal Varty (pictured here with their children from previous marriages) work for American Axel & Manufacturing and make $10/hr each. “Lower class is what we are. Let’s be honest,” says Childers.

Instead of linking up with the Mexican auto workers to raise the wages of all, by joint strikes if necessary, the UAW leadership has bought into the idea of competing with them to see who can make greater profits for the employers. This “race to the bottom” destroys the entire purpose of having a union.

The article brings to mind a discussion we had with a union activist recently about the “team concept”, meaning that workers for one company are on the same team as their employer and must join the competition of their employer against other rival companies. What it means in effect is that the workers have to compete with each other for who can work cheapest. Here’s the way the conversation went:

Comment of union activist:

As long as unions are embedded in capitalism  they will have a left and a right wing. If they are democratic both wings will find a way to express themselves. I think this is important because leftists need to recognize that as long as competition for jobs is a fact of life, business unionism will find an echo in the rank and file. People are required to compete at the same time as they need to cooperate to earn their daily bread. People will run with solidarity up to a point, then the tide will turn and people will move back toward competing with other workers. This ebb and flow will continue as long as we have capitalism. Right?

So unless a union is a revolutionary union, which I don’t think they can be, their entire purpose will never be to eliminate competition. Although it may be the entire purpose of whatever revolutionaries are in unions. I guess my point is that people will generally not take solidarity to the point that they destroy the company they work for. But they might do it if they thought every one else was going to do it, and that would be a revolution. 

Reply from Oaklandsocialist:

Workers organized unions to stop the undercutting of one worker against another. It spread from individual work places to cities to the entire country and within entire industries. The old UAW was a prime example. In its heyday it controlled the entire auto industry, thus preventing workers from Ford, let us say, from competing with and undercutting the workers from GM, thereby boosting the standards of all.

When outsourcing really got underway, along with runaway shops – first to Mexico and then elsewhere – this competition reared its ugly head again in a new and more generalized form. In the building trades, which is my background, it was simply the growth of non-union (“open shop”) construction. What was the response of the union leadership?

In construction we were told we have to help “our” contractors compete with the non-union by holding down our wages, or taking outright cuts. What this really meant was that we had to compete with the non-union construction worker for who would work for less. But since the non-union contractor always pegs his pay at a percentage of the union scale, when we took a cut, then the non-union would take a cut. And down we all went. In one memorable clash in our building trades council, I asked the council secretary where this would all lead. After trying repeatedly to avoid my question and my insisting on an answer, he threw up his hands and said, “I don’t know where it’s all going to lead! Oaky?”

We’ve seen the same thing in the auto industry, where the NON-union pay scale has gone down and down as the union scale for new-hires drops.

The thing is that the union leadership has closed the door and locked it with unbreakable locks to the idea of returning to the methods of the ’30s. So it makes them incapable of really organizing, meaning incapable of reversing this cycle. At the same time, since they cannot conceive of a real break with US capitalist politics, they feel duty bound to represent the interests of US capitalism overseas, so serious international solidarity is also ruled out. As a result, even if they didn’t think they were responsible for helping assure that the employer makes a profit (or, in the case of public workers, that the budget is complied with), they wouldn’t be able to stop the never-ending downward spiral.

A union doesn’t have to be a “revolutionary union” to break with the team concept and break with sticking strictly with legality. In fact, the whole concept of a revolutionary union is an impossibility. The union has to include all the workers in any work place – or strive to do so – but by definition the great majority of workers will not be revolutionaries except in the most exceptional of situations, meaning a revolutionary situation. 

In an earlier period, workers went from local struggles to national ones as capital went national. Now, the unions have to go a further step and go international, not just in words but in deeds. This means organizing global strikes if necessary.

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An Open Letter to Food And Water Watch

We have received this open letter to the Big Green environmental NGO, Food & Water Watch. It takes F&WW to task for taking credit (and money) for the activism organized by local people and groups.

"If the judge won't allow us to ban fracking, then we shouldn't listen to the judge." 5 Year old Sasha Willmeng speaking at a public hearing.

“If the judge won’t allow us to ban fracking, then we shouldn’t listen to the judge.” Six Year old Sasha Willmeng speaking at a public hearing.

From the Colorado Community Rights Network

CoCommRights@gmail.com

March 18, 2015

Over the preceding years in Colorado the issue of oil and gas development and the community efforts opposing the inherently dangerous process have driven a state and national discussion.  The nature of the discussion has traditionally contested the possibility of  “safe” fracking, or the idea that oil and gas development can be conducted with a degree of responsibility. These talking points, which were originally argued by politicians of both parties and major national environmental groups like the Sierra Club, contended that better regulations of the oil and gas industry could provide adequate protections for our public health and environmental safety. These talking points were refuted by many in the scientific community, local people aiming to protect their municipalities, and by your organization, which has publicly called for a ban on the practice of fracking. We commend you on seeing through the false idea of safe fracking, and for promoting the elimination of the industrial practice altogether.

While we appreciate this position of Food and Water Watch, there are at the same time increasing areas of concern regarding your role in addressing the issue of oil and gas development, and how you identify the leading actors in the movement against fracking.

Colorado Governor Hickenlooper confronted by angry Coloradans after he threatened to sue any community that banned fracking.

Colorado Governor Hickenlooper confronted by angry Coloradans after he threatened to sue any community that banned fracking.

We feel that these concerns need to be publically stated as the failings in Colorado’s state government and its general neglect and hostility toward our local communities now requires an independent, honest, and clear discussion, while new strategies need to be created and employed.

It is the position of the Colorado Community Rights Network that the issue of fracking cannot be separated from the larger problem of the legal system that is exploited by the oil and industry to force fracking onto communities. This system of legal privilege has meant oil and gas industry lawsuits against Front Range communities recently delaying or banning fracking in places like Longmont, Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Lafayette. While these lawsuits may be new to many, they are not new to Greeley, Colorado, which had their ban on oil and gas activity overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court as long ago as 1992. We notice that in your literature and public statements, the full body of legal privileges owned and regularly employed by the oil and gas industry go without mention, which leaves a vacancy in the public understanding of the true depth of the problem, and which allows actions based on a superficial analysis. And as the same legal privileges have been used against communities attempting to protect themselves from a spectrum of inherently dangerous corporate activities, the omission has the effect of isolating the people and issues that could normally come together in a united front against fracking, mining, injection wells, GMO’s and other dangerous industrial projects.

Of an equal or greater concern is our experience with the long-standing pattern of fund raising emails distributed by your organization. In these emails, Food and Water Watch has regularly taken credit for the numerous bans and moratoria accomplished by communities through heroic local effort. While Food and Water Watch may have assisted

Residents of Lafayette, CO, celebrating election victory of ballot initiative banning fracking in their community. They are the ones who did this, not F&WW or any other Big Green group.

Residents of Lafayette, CO, celebrating election victory of ballot initiative banning fracking in their community. They are the ones who did this, not F&WW or any other Big Green group.

some of these communities at times, it is not the work of FWW that created these tangible local successes, but the work of volunteer community members fighting for their families, neighborhoods, and environment. We have read these fundraising emails for many years, and called increasing attention to what we consider misrepresentation of your organization as the engine behind local efforts fighting oil and gas development. This pattern is not limited to Colorado, and has misappropriated measures that have passed in California, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas, possibly among others. We contend that the credit and resources needed to build and defend our communities from the oil and gas industry must go to the local organizations doing the real work, and that Food and Water Watch promotions neglecting these genuine grassroots groups are both opportunistic and unethical.

There is an additional point on the description of the efforts against fracking that needs to be made. To the extent that Food and Water Watch claims itself as the force behind local efforts, this false claim will be gladly exploited by the oil and gas industry, that is only too happy to misrepresent the real local nature of the movement against fracking. Energy front groups like Energy In Depth have already begun to take Food and Water Watch at face value, and are helping to eclipse the communities behind the banner of national professional environmentalism.

We can do better than this.

It is the position of the Colorado Community Rights Network that the effort to ban fracking formally recognize that which we have already known to be true:

1. That fracking can in no way be made safe, and the practice has to be permanently banned.

2. That the authority for decision making in protecting the public health, welfare, and safety, and the advancement of the rights of individuals, communities, and nature, has to recognize the superiority of communities above corporations, and that where the law does not recognize this, it is therefore illegitimate and needs to be changed.

3. That the fight against fracking continue to be led and recognized as a grassroots movement, built by the volunteer efforts of common people in frontline communities. As such, these communities must be given direct credit for their efforts, so that the defense of their local laws and actions can be fully assisted and reinforced.

As our communities across Colorado continue to learn through our collective experiences with politicians, industries, and the corporate legal system that unites them all, the fight against fracking necessitates a civil rights movement. Like any movement, there will be differences in both analysis and strategy. And while these differences can be honored, we believe the above points of unity should be self evident, and offer them in an effort to build mutual aid as a means to end fracking, and the system that forces it upon us. As the movement progresses in its understanding and its reach, it is imperative that the elements joining it act both honestly and openly.

Sincerely,

The Colorado Community Rights Network

Drinking fracked water: It will only be stopped by mobilization from below.

Drinking fracked water: It will only be stopped by mobilization from below.

Oaklandsocialist comments: The problem with the Big Green environmental organizations is that they are so closely tied in with Corporate America. Food and Water Watch,  for instance, is linked with Richard N. Goldman, Republican business man and husband of Rhoda Haas Goldman, member of the Haas family and heiress to the Levi-Strauss fortune. They are also linked to Roy Hampton Park, former co-founder of Hines-Park Food and former top executive at Proctor and Gamble as well as founder and owner of the communications conglomerate Park Communications. Park was listed as the 40th richest person in the US by Forbes.

 

Posted in environment, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

“This is not what I joined Socialist Alternative for.”

Today, more young adults think positively about socialism than do about capitalism. Sadly, socialism in general is lacking a public face. The one exception is Seattle city council member, Kshama Sawant, an open socialist. She’s the most prominent socialist in the United States. That’s why what she does and what her group, Socialist Alternative does, matters for the entire socialist movement. We carry below an open letter from a member of Socialist Alternative. The letter criticizes Kshama Sawant.

Larry Gossett

Several weeks ago, socialist city council member Kshama Sawant was confronted by pickets at a fund raiser for liberal Democratic city council member Larry Gossett. The pickets were there because Gossett had supported a new youth prison. Sawant, however,

Larry Gossett (second from right) endorsing fellow Democrat Bruce Harrell. He serves as a conduit into this corporate-controlled party.

Larry Gossett (second from right) endorsing fellow Democrat Bruce Harrell. He serves as a conduit into this corporate-controlled party.

had come to support Gossett. She engaged in a debate with the pickets, in which she said that Gossett is not really a part of “the establishment” and that he’s been fighting for working class people for years. (Note: the debate was caught on video, but for some reason it has since been taken down from youtube.)

In fact, the liberal wing of the Democrats is in some ways the more dangerous wing. They are the ones who serve as the bait for the trap, the ones who lure the workers movement into the corporate-controlled Democratic Party, thereby preventing the workers’ movement from developing its own party and its own, working class position on the different issues.

Union Leadership

This confusion around the liberal Democrats is directly connected with Socialist Alternative’s refusal to have any sort of break with the union leadership. On the one side, this leadership brings the views of the employers into the union, with the leadership’s support for the idea that the workers and the employers are on the same “team” and that the union has to look out for the profits of the employers. This was the position of the leadership of the hotel workers’ union at the 2014 15 Now national conference. There, this leadership argued that the employers could not pay a minimum of $15/hour and continue to pay full health benefits too. Unfortunately, the SA leadership, including Sawant, agreed with them. On the other hand, these same leaders represent the Democratic Party inside the unions.

Inevitably, the support for the union leadership’s team concept has led Socialist Alternative to support individual Democrats too. The damage that is done is shown by the letter below from Socialist Alternative member Sarah Morken. Sarah should be congratulated for her honesty and integrity. She writes:

Letter from Socialist Alternative member

Last week I almost talked myself into attending a fundraiser for a local Democratic party political candidate. 

I almost justified this to myself, even though Socialist Alternative stands for breaking with the Two Parties of Big Business. I have been a dues paying member of SA Tacoma for 3 years. I am firmly and openly critical of the Democratic party to anyone who will listen. If I almost broke with those principles, I wonder how many other SA members/socialists/progressives were influenced by the latest move by Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant? How many other people will say, “well this democrat might help me with …… if I support their campaign,” “quietly attending their fundraiser as their friend won’t hurt anything,” “attending a fundraiser doesn’t mean I’m endorsing them.”

From “What We Stand For” in SA newspaper: “Unions and social movement organizations should stop funding and supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties and instead organize independent left wing, anti-corporate candidates and coalitions as a first step toward building a workers’ party.” 

Guess why I almost justified going to this democratic party candidate’s fundraiser?

A new political party recently started by some activists who I know. I was going to ask them what their orientation will be towards the Democratic Party. I am 99% sure of what their orientation will be, based on what I know about the people who created the new political party. 

But, then I thought, “do I really want to go there right now?” Do I really have a leg to stand on considering that Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant recently attended a fund raiser for one of Democratic party’s “progressive” gatekeepers? She was caught on camera defensively justifying it? I did watch the video myself, but it has since been removed from the internet. 

Kshama is in the leadership of Socialist Alternative and she is the most famous “socialist” in America. Several of my fellow marxists have said that Sawant and SA have become like European Social Democrats. SA is no longer acting like a revolutionary socialist organization in my opinion.

I sent Kshama a private message regarding my concerns. 

In the last few years I have had several political disagreements with Socialist Alternative. Nonetheless I have stayed in the organization because, despite the disagreements, SA seemed like the most viable left political party that had firm principles regarding the democratic party. 

Kshama attending King County Council Member Larry Gosset’s fundraiser and her defense of him is a significant breach of principle. It just continue’s the pattern that I have observed, of SA leadership spending more time and energy trying to appeal to middle class voters and build relationships with union leadership and democratic party leadership than they do on building a base among workers, youth and the poor. 

I know that Kshama is facing a fight to keep her seat on the city council. SA is thinking they must build coalitions with people like Gosset in order to do that. Three Democrats have announced they are running against Sawant. In my opinion it would be better to remain firm on the principle of not supporting Democratic candidates. SA could emphasize to Gossett’s supporters, “Look, Gossett should leave the democratic party if he really is so progressive. His party is running candidates against the only socialist, woman of color on the city council! “ 

Kshama Sawant is betraying our principles in an attempt to hold onto that city council seat. I have been told before by SA leadership that our political candidates are a reflection on our entire organization.

This is not what I joined SA for.

Posted in socialist movement, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Israel’s Election Results

Like every other struggle, the fight against racism is international. That’s doubly true for the State of Israel, which has accurately been compared with apartheid South Africa. And that’s why we should consider yesterday’s elections there.

Yesterday’s Election Results

After trailing in the polls, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party came out with more votes than any other party, winning 30 seats in the Israeli parliament (“Knesset”) out of 120 vs. 24 for its closest rival, the “Zionist Union”. (There never has been a government that had an outright majority in the history of Israel.)

Israel's election results: many of these smaller parties are outright racist, advocating ethnic cleansing, etc.

Israel’s election results: many of these smaller parties are outright racist, advocating ethnic cleansing, etc.

Israeli politics are a corrupt and confused mess, as is to be expected of a racist, colonialist state. “Bibi” Netanyahu is widely hated by a large sector of the Israeli electorate, as much for his proven corruption as anything else. (He and his wife, for instance, were so petty as to keep money due the government for government-purchased recycled plastic bottles!) Now, this war criminal will almost certainly add to his reign, this time by relying even more strongly on the far right racist parties like Shas.

War criminal Netanyahu pounding his message home before US congress

War criminal Netanyahu pounding his message home before US congress

Ali Abounimah has clearly explained the lack of an alternative in his article, “Why I’m Relieved Netanyahu Won”. The main “opposition” was from the team of Tsipi Livni and Isaac Herzog. How much of an alternative they are is revealed by the fact that Herzog criticized Netanyahu for not attacking Gaza strongly and soon enough in Israel’s recent slaughter there and Livni has expressed policies that imply ethnic cleansing and was responsible for the criminal war against Gaza known as “Operation Caste Lead”.

As it is, Netanyahu won based in part on the promise that there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he is in office. On the alternative, Abounimah writes: “Had the Zionist Union (Herzog/Livni) won, there was a very grave danger that the Palestinians would have been dragged back a decade into fruitless Oslo-style “negotiations” that would have served as a cover for continued sugbjugation and colonization….

“Such negotiations have provided the principal excuse for the so-called international community to endlessly defer holding Israel even minimally accountable.”

Abounimah’s entire article is well worth reading for anybody who fights against racism and oppression as, among other things, it clearly explains the fantasy of the idea of a separate, independent Palestinian state. However, he is mistaken as far as the election outcome outcome: It is based on a strategy that revolves around the governments of the Western states (including the United States) forcing a change on Israel. It fails to reckon with the fact that every wing of Corporate America, including its most liberal representatives, supports Zionism in one way or another. The liberal economist Paul Krugman, for instance, claims that Israel “was built on the socialist ideals of the kibbutz system,” and while he decried the increased economic inequality in Israel, he ignores the most sharp inequality – between Israeli Jews and Israeli palestinians. US Senator Elizabeth Warren, the great hope of the liberals, has commented, “America has a very special relationship with Israel…. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world…. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.” (Whether Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from land and water theft, mass murder and other war crimes Warren didn’t comment on, of course.)

The real Elizabeth Warren

The real Elizabeth Warren

Abounimah’s view also shows no appreciation for the potential role of any sector of the Israeli working class, even including the Palestinians in Israel. It is hard to imagine that these results will not further demoralize the Palestinians, both in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, and thereby make building a movement even more difficult.

Israeli Poverty

The opponents of Israeli racism and oppression tend to ignore the sharp increase in poverty and inequality in Israel. In fact, the increased opposition to Netanyahu was largely based on the fact that a layer of the population for the first time tended to focus on this issue rather than on the issue of “security”.  Many of the poorer Israeli Jews tend to be the most racist, similar to poor white Southerners in the US. But this has a twist: This is not simply a matter of “white supremacy” as a disproportionate number of those poor Israeli Jews are Sephardic, or West Asian (non-white), Jews.

Homelessness in Israel

Homelessness in Israel

US Capitalism & Israel

Today, Israel is one of the most racist societies in the world. The only hope for change is to connect the issue of poverty at home in Israel – that is to say, the class struggle – with the issue of racism and oppression. It won’t be easy. That was proven by yesterday’s elections. And possibly the only hope is linked with the international struggle, including in Western Asia and Northern Africa. Maybe a real class struggle and a struggle for socialism throughout the region will help start to break through the deep-seated racism within Israel. That, connected with the ongoing efforts to isolate racist Israeli society globally. But whatever it takes, it certainly can’t be argued that the present ignoring of the class divisions within Israeli Jewish society has been very successful. What is the alternative?

There’s a lesson to be learned there for the movement in the United States.

Note: For a more comprehensive explanation of the rise of Zionism and how it relates to the crisis of capitalism as well as the failure of the reformists of all stripes, see this pamphlet.

Posted in Middle East, racism | 2 Comments

Israel: What goes around comes around

Here is an interesting story from the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz about the mistreatment of a sick elderly Jewish man in an Israeli hospital. (Note: You will have to register with Ha’aretz to read the full article, but it doesn’t cost anything.) It’s much too long, but worth reading the first part, which reveals the gross inhumanity (and corruption) that apparently pervades every part of Israeli society. For instance, here’s the writer’s description of what happened after her father died in the hospital:

“After that point, no nurse or doctor talked with us, offered an explanation of what had happened, or did what ordinary human beings do in such situations: show compassion for loss. The only person who spoke to us was the cleaning person who had responsibility for putting the room in order. In a matter of a few minutes, we had entered the realm of an unknown distress for which we had no preparation, no known recipe, no prewritten script.”

Of course, what do you expect of a society that is based on racism, brutality, mass murder and theft? As they say, what goes around comes around.

Posted in Middle East | Leave a comment

Marxism and the Struggle in Greece

The Marxist economist Michael Roberts has an interesting and important piece on the economic plans of the present leadership in Greece and also the criticisms of the main left opposition there. The lessons he draws should be followed by the struggle against oppression and poverty the world over.

Roberts repeatedly refers to Greek capitalism’s lack of competitiveness, and capitalism is of course based on competition. But in any competition, there are necessarily winners and also necessarily losers. The capitalist economy of some country will inevitably be less competitive than others. In the EU Greece, for whatever reasons, is one of those. The entire drive of the EU commanders is to make Greek capitalism more competitive through driving down living standards, which means increasing the surplus value* extracted from the working class. If they succeed, then some other country would be less competitive, and then they would be forced to install similar measures.

The Greek Minister of Finance, Varoufakis, repeatedly claims he’s a Marxist, but that “Marxism” won’t work in the short term. That brings to  mind the old joke that nuclear fusion is the energy source of the future… and always will be. It also brings to mind Trotsky’s comment on workers’ leaders who reserve their socialism for holiday speechifying. It’s got no relevance for today. Or, to put it another way, they have no sense of the transitional  method, meaning seeing what immediate steps can be taken that lead to the longer term solutions.

This relates to maybe the most important point: The Tsipras/Varoufakis leadership of the ruling party in Greece, Syriza, seems not to base itself on a mobilization of the working class. That appeared to be so over a year ago on a completely different issue: the rise of the fascist Golden Dawn, who at that time were assaulting the immigrant community. The main Syriza leadership simply saw electing a left government as the solution. Granted, that was part of it, but that didn’t answer the immediate crisis for immigrants in Greece. For that, a mobilization at the base to stop Golden Dawn in the streets was needed. The Tsipras leadership didn’t see that. Whatever the issue, whether it be street thugs or nationalization of the banks, it cannot be resolved from above. But neither the present leadership nor the main left opposition seems to be committed to mobilizing the base.

 

Posted in Europe, workers' struggles | Leave a comment

Macron’s Law: “It’s called global capitalism for a reason.”

Some 40 years ago, this writer got into a debate in the Alameda County Building Trades Council with that council’s executive secretary. The executive secretary was pushing the line that our unions should help “our” contractors compete by cutting wages and benefits. “If we cut our pay, then the non-union will cut theirs and we’ll have to cut some more,” I asked. “So I want to know where it’s all going to end.” After repeated unsuccessful attempts to avoid the question (I refused to let him change the subject), the executive secretary finally threw his hands up and declared in frustration, “I don’t know where it’s all going to end. Okay, John?”

That was about back in the 1970s, and there’s still no end in sight. It’s the infamous “race to the bottom”, except now it’s a global race, and anybody who thinks that what happens “over there” (meaning anywhere outside the borders of the United States) doesn’t affect them had better think twice.

In the United States, we’ve seen a slight increase in employment in the last few months. The reason is that wages have been cut so much that it’s often more profitable for businesses to invest in the US than elsewhere (including Canada). Other countries are following suit. In France, for example, we see the beginning of the same process.

In that country, economic growth was been limited to 0.1% in the last quarter, meaning high unemployment and high budget deficits. The reason? France is attracting less capital investment than Germany because profits are lower. (And Germany’s economy is sluggish enough.)

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron: This former investment banker wants to run the French economy

Emmanuel Macron: This former investment banker wants to run the French economy

So now, the former investment banker turned economic minister in France, Emmanuel Macron, has a solution: He wants to cut pay, cut business taxes, increase work hours and cut workers’ rights. He convinced French president Hollande to push through a law that would do such things as

  • Give bosses the ability to violate labor law without fear of going to prison.
  • Make it easier to lay workers off.
  • Increase the work week from the present 35 hour week.
  • Allow employers to force many retail workers to work on Sundays (traditionally a real day of rest for French workers).
  • Allow private bus companies to compete with the public railways by cherry-picking the most profitable transport routes.

This comes on top of a $43 billion business tax cut pushed through recently. When Hollande’s own Socialist Party deputies rebelled against Macron’s Law, Hollande simply used a constitutional measure to declare it by decree. Nor should French workers – or anybody else – think this is the end; just the opposite. Macron has declared  “We need to go faster in structural reforms in France.” And in one sense, he is right. A Wall St. Journal article explains: “Germany revamped its economy over a decade ago, and its reforms—particularly to improve flexibility in labor markets—have been credited with making its economy more competitive. Spain, which reformed its labor markets in 2012, has emerged from its slump much faster than Italy and other southern European countries that have been slow to restructure their economies.”

Macron is counting on the French equivalent of that Building Trades Council official mentioned at the top of this article. “The idea is to restore a dialogue with reformist unions to clarify and simplify worker representation,” he said. 

Greece & Germany

As this blog site has recounted, Greek workers and youth have been on the forefront of this race to the bottom. The capitalist propaganda has been that the Greeks are lazy and don’t want to work and that German and other workers will have to pay for the Greek workers’ benefits. Many German workers have bought this line, but as the Wall St. Journal article

result of "race to the bottom" in Greece

result of “race to the bottom” in Greece

quoted above shows, they, too have seen their living standards cut in this never ending race to the bottom, and the planned cuts for the Greek workers will only accelerate the process in Germany.

Similar Propaganda in US

Haven’t we seen something similar here in the US? Aren’t white workers told that they will have to pay for the people on welfare (meaning mainly black people) who supposedly “don’t want to work”? And isn’t big business meanwhile cutting everybody? And haven’t the big business media and the big business politicians here sowed the divide and conquer line with its propaganda about “violent criminals”, the very same propaganda which leads to giving the police a free hand to brutalize and kill black people almost at will?

And as far as France and the European Union: The more they cut living standards, the more capital will be invested there rather than elsewhere, including the United States. The only answer is to learn the lessons globally and link up the struggle globally.

Its Called Global Capitalism

It’s called global capitalism for a reason. Today, the slogan “workers of the world, unite!” has more meaning than ever. It’s the starting point of reversing the race to the bottom.working class one fist copy

Posted in economics, Europe | Leave a comment

More on Netanyahu Speech

War criminal Netanyahu pounding his message home before US congress

War criminal Netanyahu pounding his message home before US congress

Here are some excerpts from a Financial Times article on the fallout from Netanyahu’s speech to congress – one arranged on a “partisan” Republican basis:

“Ten Democratic senators with generally hawkish views on Iran said on Wednesday that they would vote against an Iran bill that some of them helped author because they objected to the tactics of the Republican leadership that is trying to fast-track the legislation.”’

“Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is one of the members of Congress most sceptical about the talks with Iran, said he was “outraged” by the manoeuvre, however. “I must ask the majority leader [Mr McConnell] what happened? Where’s the bipartisanship part?” asked Mr Menendez. “We are back to politics as usual.”

“Although he is one of the authors of the bill, Mr Menendez said he would vote against allowing the legislation to proceed. With the Iran nuclear talks expected to continue until a June deadline, he said there was plenty of time for committees to examine the bill.

Along with eight other Democrats and the independent Angus King who usually votes with the Democrats, the New Jersey senator later sent a letter to Mr McConnell, accusing him of trying “to score partisan political points” on a day that should have been defined by “serious discourse about Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons programme”. The 10 senators had all previously said they would support the bill.”

This is the first time that there has been a Republican/Democratic split over the issue of Israel. They will do everything they can to heal this breech, and maybe they will succeed, but maybe they won’t. After all, what lies behind this is the ever-weakening position of US capitalism in that region, as exemplified by the increased influence of Iran and the rise of the Islamic State. In such a situation, splits at the top inevitably appear. And such splits inevitably lead to increased debate from below.
Posted in Middle East, United States | Leave a comment

Netanyahu Speaks to US Congress: War Criminal Given Hero’s Welcome

That two-bit hustler and war criminal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke before the US congress yesterday. He was given standing ovation after ovation, as he denounced US President Obama’s proposed deal in the making with the Iranian regime. Some 50 members of congress boycotted the speech, not because Netanyahu is a war criminal and a racist and war monger, but simply because it was arranged by the competing political party (the Republicans) and behind the backs of the Democrats and the president. In other words, it was a partisan event.

Capitalist protocol

In US capitalist politics, the president takes the initiatives as far as pushing the interests of Corporate America around the world (otherwise known as foreign policy). That includes setting relations with other heads of state. The fact that the opposing political party would take this initiative, behind the back of the president, is highly unusual. So unusual, in fact, that some 50 Democrats boycotted Netanyahu’s speech, despite the fact that congress members usually worship at the feet of Israeli prime ministers like children do at the feet of Santa Clause.

Netanyahu speaking before US congress in 2002. At that time, he swore that Saddam Hussein was “pursuing with abandon, with every ounce of effort, weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons … Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs as fast as he can." “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have enormous positive reverberations around the region,” he promised. We know how well that worked out.

Netanyahu speaking before US congress in 2002. At that time, he swore that Saddam Hussein was “pursuing with abandon, with every ounce of effort, weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons … Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs as fast as he can.” “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have enormous positive reverberations around the region,” he promised. We know how well that worked out.

 

Iran “Charging into the void”

Netanyahu denounced the expansionist tendencies of the Iranian regime. “As states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void,” he said. He cited Iranian intervention in Syria and Yemen. “At a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations…. We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror,” he said to applause. (The fact that the Israeli regime is the one most busy gobbling up land from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in Syria is never considered.)

He went on to denounce the human rights violations in Iran – repression of women, of gays, etc. (No mention of labor rights, of course.) Again to more applause.

This denunciation of the human rights record of the Iranian regime is, of course, just a fig leaf since the record of war crimes and crimes against humanity of regimes like Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s are ignored. The real concern is the fact of a new bully on the block, a regime that is not allied with Western capitalism that threatens to become a rival power in this oil-rich region.

US Capitalism Weakened

Obama criticized Netanyahu’s speech as “offering nothing new”, and he is right. But, on the other hand, so is Netanyahu as far as his criticism of Obama’s proposed deal – a deal that will not stop Iran from potentially developing nuclear weapons. In other words, it’s one more example of the general trend of world capitalist relations: US capitalism is increasingly unable to control events and is increasingly seeing rivals strengthen themselves and defy the US. Back during the last year or so of the Bush presidency, there was a growing trend towards a military attack on Iran to try to crush its nuclear aspirations. Had McCain gotten elected, that probably would have happened. The dangers were too great, however, and that is a major reason why Corporate America saw to it that Obama was installed in the White House.

Since then, Iran has gotten even stronger and there is nothing US capitalism can do about it. Bombing Iran would not stop them; a ground invasion would be necessary, and that would be an even greater disaster for US capitalism than was the invasion of Iraq. But the economic sanctions has not stopped them either.

Israel, too, is powerless to stop it. As one on-line Israeli news agency pointed out: “Though Netanyahu has been in power for six consecutive years, and has claimed Iran as his number one priority, the Islamic republic has made significant headway during this period – both in terms of its nuclear program and in terms of strengthening its regional hold, as Netanyahu himself has repeatedly claimed.”

Effect of Speech

What effect is this speech likely to have?

It will shore up congressional opposition to any nuclear deal with Iran that Obama may negotiate. In fact, it is nearly certain that any such deal will not be approved in the Republican-controlled congress.

But Netanyahu’s visit comes with a cost, also: Among many, it will be seen for the blatant attempt that it is to undermine the Democratic president and strengthen the Republicans, especially as the US enters into a new presidential election cycle. For the first time, the slavish support for everything the Israeli regime does is likely to be weakened a little bit.

Exactly for this reason, there were serious doubts in Israel, itself, as far Netanyahu making this partisan visit. The Wall St. Journal reported (3-1-15) that close to 200 former military and intelligence officials, including six retired generals, have criticized this visit because it is so outside the normal capitalist diplomatic protocols.

As for Iran itself, there is every reason why this capitalist regime would want to develop nuclear weapons. How else to become a regional power, after all? And there is every reason for their rivals – from the US to Israel to Saudi Arabia – to oppose that development. What this clash of capitalist interests shows, once again, is the disaster that capitalism has in store for the entire planet.

Posted in Middle East, United States | Leave a comment

A New Act in the Greek Drama

What happens when a public entity – a school district, a local government or even a national government – is bled dry by the capitalists? It is taken over by “technical experts”, meaning direct representatives of the banksters, who use this “patient critical” situation to bleed it even further. “Kick ‘em when they’re down” is the idea. To be specific, this means more wage cuts, more cuts in public services, attacks on union rights, attacks on the youth, and more privatization.

That’s what happened when the Oakland Unified School District went “bust” and was placed under control of the State of California back in 2003. More recently, the entire city of Detroit was put under the same gun. And now? Now it’s an entire country – Greece – that they’re trying to do this to.

“Like taking a bone from a pit bull”

poverty in Greece

poverty in Greece

In previous articles, we described some of the background to the election of the radical Syriza Party in Greece. Syriza pledged a reversal of all the austerity measures – privatization, wage and pension cuts, elimination of union bargaining rights, etc. But they were and are faced with a problem: How to get money. It’s like trying to pry a bone out of

The capitalists won't give up their profits any easier than will this pit bull give up this bone.

The capitalists won’t give up their profits any easier than will this pit bull give up this bone.

the mouth of a pit bull; you need a lot of strength to get it. Sweet talking or mere threats in words accomplishes absolutely nothing. (This writer knows. He has a dog that’s part pit!)

And that was and is the problem for the new Syriza regime, as represented by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. Round Europe they went, hoping to isolate the more hard line governments, especially the Germans, and create a division in the European capitalist class. But why should any wing of the capitalist class really back off as long as it felt it was in the driver’s seat, as long as it didn’t feel threatened? The Spanish, Portuguese and Irish regimes – which are cooperating with the same austerity programs in their own countries – have a reason to stay the course. If Greece escapes the clutches of the banksters, then this would encourage support for left wing opposition parties like “Podemos” in Spain, for example. Meanwhile, the Greek regime was running out of cash. Literally – at least if it was going to make its loan payments.

Deal Reached

So it was that Tsipras & Co. met with their counterparts last week and arranged a deal: They would backtrack on their election promises (the “Thessoloniki Statement”) in return for getting a new loan. A part of that agreement included submitting a new “reform” plan this last Tuesday (Feb. 24) for approval. That has been submitted and tentative approval seems in the offing. The plan includes ending its opposition to privatization, especially of the Port of Pireus (just outside Athens), which will likely be taken over either by Cosco, a Chinese company, or Maersk, a Danish one, and which surely will lead to further layoffs and wage cuts; increased taxes, including a “Value Added Tax” or VAT, which is a form of sales tax and, as such, is completely regressive; backtracking on raising the minimum wage and restoring union collective bargaining rights.

In any struggle of the working class you have to negotiate with the enemy unless the outright overthrow of capitalism is under way. That’s just the reality. And no struggle is guaranteed of victory. But to paint a partial defeat as a victory is a serious mistake. That’s what Varoufakis did, when he commented, “Greece has turned a page… We are going to write our own script on the reforms that need to be enacted.” That is simply untrue; they agreed that any steps they take will be agreed to by the Troika. Along with this, the Varoufakis/Tsipris team changed their wording. Previously they had correctly made the Troika (of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF) absolutely hated in Greece. So what did Tsipris/Varoufakis do? They rebranded the Troika as “the Institutions.” And as for these vicious capitalist regimes like the German or Finnish ones? They are now “partners”.

Meanwhile, the European capitalists are celebrating. Wolfgang Schauble, the hard line counterpart to Greece’s Varoufakis, commented, “The Greeks certainly will have a difficult time explaining the deal to their voters….Being in government is a date with

Wolfgang Schäuble. Would you want to place your future in this man's hands?

Wolfgang Schäuble. Would you want to place your future in this man’s hands?

reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream.” In other words, he and his allies are going to do everything they can to rub these concessions in and, thereby, weaken Syriza. And these are the ones Tsipras/Varoufakis call “partners”.

Participating in Elections

Some will claim that these retreats show that the movement of workers and youth and anti-capitalists in general should never participate in capitalist elections because if elected you will inevitably sell out. This claim ignores the heroic examples of people like Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, revolutionary members of the German parliament who opposed Germany’s entry into WW I (a colonialist war) and were ultimately murdered by the German capitalists as a result. It ignores the role of socialists like Eugene Debs in the US, whose campaigns for President before and during WW I did a lot to help popularize socialism and who won nearly a million votes for that office from the prison cell, where he was placed for opposing US entry into that war.

Strategy Needed

No, the real problem is that Tsipris & co. came into office with no real plan for mobilizing the Greek working class and youth and using that as a springboard to help build a region-wide struggle against austerity. Their whole strategy rested on the belief that austerity was bad for capitalism, that increased income for Greek workers would help the Greek economy recover and, by inference, that this would increase the profits of the capitalists. This is like the union leadership, who thinks that the workers and the employers have a common interest and therefore never really mobilizes their members or the working class in general.

Austerity: What It’s Really About

Austerity never was about helping the Greek economy recover; it was about cutting labor costs so low in Greece that it would be more profitable for international capitalists like Cosco and Maersk (and others that are looking to take over Greek electricity and telephone services). They will then use this to threaten the German and other workers, “you see what’s happening? If you don’t accept more cuts, you’re going to lose even more jobs to the Greeks.” And while it’s true that austerity helped accelerate the rate of collapse of the Greek economy, increasing social spending is not a solution either. After all, who’s going to pay for it? If it’s the capitalists, they will send their money out of Greece. And if it’s the workers, then it’s merely shifting the money from one pocket to another. And if it’s by simply amping up the printing presses – that is, printing more money (which would only be possible if Greece leaves the eurozone), then it will lead to rapid inflation.

Mobilizing the Working Class

Instead, the Syriza regime should have focused its efforts on mobilizing the Greek working class, including occupying and taking over the banks. They should have used this renewed movement as a selling point to the rest of the European working class, explaining that the austerity in Greece will be used to drive down living standards throughout the European Union and beyond.

Racism and Terrorism

There’s another issue to consider: Greece is the entry point for many thousands, possibly millions, of refugees from Africa, Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It has a large immigrant population of Africans, Syrians, Libyans, etc. These immigrants came under physical assault from the Greek fascist (literally) Golden Dawn party. To its credit, one of the first steps Syriza took was to pass a measure granting citizenship to the children of all these asylum seekers. But a lot more is needed. Don’t forget that the refugees from many of those countries – such as Syria and Libya – suffered from the same austerity programs imposed in their home country that the troika is pushing in Greece. And they surely are suffering from it as immigrants in Greece.

Recent years have seen an increase in racism and sectarianism on all sides. On the one side, this includes Greece’s Golden Dawn, on the other the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups like ISIS (or IS). If Syriza were to really organize a widespread class-based fightback, this would have global implications; it would be a huge step in undermining these racist and terrorist groups and the mentality that leads to their support.

Global Struggle

It’s impossible to know from here how things will shake out in this struggle. Some of the plan submitted by Tsipras/Varoufakis has been somewhat vague and they might not go as far as European capital wants them to. The IMF along with a wing of German capital is pushing for even more definitive commitments for “reform”, meaning austerity. Over 80% of Greeks are reported as supporting this deal, but what the real mood on the ground is we don’t know. And what’s the basis for this support? Is it that the concessions aren’t clearly understood (yet), or has a temporary mood of discouragement increased due to the lack of a clear strategy of the Syriza leadership? There is a left in Syriza that is opposing this deal. How strong are they and is the deal be rejected by the Greek parliament either now or further down the road? A lot is unanswered.

One thing we do know for sure: Today, capitalism is more global than ever before. So are all the issues, from economic survival to police brutality to racism. Greece in many ways is a focal point for the struggle on all these fronts. Socialists and revolutionaries in the United States should pay close attention to what is happening in Greece and lend whatever support they can to the struggle there. Their struggle is our struggle and any victory (or defeat) they experience will affect our movement here.

Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

Charter schools & budget busting raises – for the top people

Jack Gerson (http://schoolsnotbanks.blogspot.com) follows up his article from yesterday, with a report on the fat raise given to the school chief in San Francisco as well as a report on who is behind the charter school drive.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Who’s Behind the California Charter Schools Association?

The Schools Matter blog today posted a great visual unmasking some of the big corporate billionaire deformers behind the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Just plain folks like Walmart heir Carrie Walton Penner. CCSA director Jed Wallace helps himself to $335,000 / year, which is no strain on the CCSA budget, since the Waltons and their friends provided CCSA with more than $2.2 million in revenues last year. Check it out here, and be sure to click on their graphic to see more of where their money comes from and where it goes.
S.F. schools supt. Richard Carranza

Yesterday’s post was all about the gross inequality, patronage and nepotism in the Oakland Unified School District, where the school board helps the new superintendent to shovel money to the top (creating several brand new $150,000+/year jobs and filling them with cronies for Denver; handing out generous raises to other high-paid bureaucrats) while sharpening his ax to cut lower-paid (but more important) support positions.  Well, as always, San Francisco won’t stand idly by and let itself be outdone by its East Bay neighbor. So San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker reports (click here) that the San Francisco school board just voted  — unanimously — to give a $65,000 / year pay hike to SF schools superintendent Richard Carranza.  As of July 1, Carranza will be hauling down a cool $310,000 / year in base pay alone.

As Tucker reports, Carranza’s pay increase alone is about equal to the average annual salary of San Francisco teachers. The SF school board laughingly justifies the raise as helping to overcome instability and inconsistency caused by superintendents jumping to other, more lucrative, opportunities. They, like the Oakland school board, are far less troubled by the destabilizing effects of teacher turnover.

Tucker quotes San Francisco teacher union president Dennis Kelly as saying, “With wage reopeners less than 18 months away, and teachers continuing to get priced out of the city, we hope this is a signal from the Board of Education that more money for the people in the classroom is also on the way.”  Well, Dennis, we hope that there’s “more money on the way” for teachers, but also for clericals, custodians, cafeteria workers, and the other school workers who have more and more trouble making ends meet. And we hope that there’s more money for the kinds of resources schools really need. But “hoping” won’t make that happen. That’s going to require a united fight by school workers and the community against the school boards and superintendents, and the powerful corporate interests for whom they front — in San Francisco, Oakland, and around the country.

Posted in education/childhood | Leave a comment

Oakland Schools: Pad the Top, Chop from the Bottom

We repost an article by retired Oakland school teacher, Jack Gerson, from his blog, http://schoolsnotbanks.blogspot.com/2015/02/oakland-school-supt-cuts-bottom-feeds.html#comment-form

Antwan Wilson’s Idea of Cutting Administration: Pad the Top, Chop From the Bottom
by Jack Gerson
Have you ever wondered why the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) regularly breaks the law by violating the state education code mandate that at least 55% of educational expenses go to classroom instruction, when virtually every other district in the state meets this stipulation year in and year out?  Have you ever wondered where the money goes, if not to the classroom? Well, I just looked over the salaries of new superintendent Antwan Wilson and his top administrators, and it sure says a lot about where some of that money is poured. And about the priorities of a school board and administration that pretends to turn its pockets inside out and cry, “We’re cash-strapped!” to explain why they pay teachers at the bottom of the county and near the bottom of the state. What are those priorities?
Grossly overpay top administrators? CHECK.
Create high-paying positions for your friends and bring them in from over a thousand miles away. CHECK.

Oakland school superintendent, Antwan Wilson

Oakland school superintendent, Antwan Wilson

Pad the payroll with redundant positions by hiring several,people to do the same job, and then paying them all exorbitant salaries.  CHECK.
Give nearly all administrators pay hikes from last year’s salaries far greater than the total raise for teachers over the past 12 years. CHECK.
Continue to outsource at double the state average, and make sure some of your old buddies from Denver get a cut of the action.  CHECK.
Superintendent Wilson says otherwise.  He claims that “we are directing every new dollar we can to our teachers and classrooms to better serve our children”. Is that so? He’s clearly overlooked a few dollars — in fact, he’s overlooked several millions of them. For starters:
—Antwan Wilson, Superintendent of Schools: salary $280,000 / year ($30,000 / year more than Gary Yee was paid last year as acting superintendent).
—Allan Smith, Chief of Schools: Salary $175,000 / year — brought in by Antwan Wilson from Denver Public Schools.  “Chief of Schools” is a brand new title created by Wilson for Allan Smith.
—Yana Smith (spouse of Allan Smith), Chief of Organizational Effectiveness and Culture: Salary $155,000 / year — brought in by Antwan Wilson from Denver Public Schools.  “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness and Culture” is a brand new title created by Wilson for Yana Smith.
We don’t need both a Superintendent of Schools (Antwan Wilson, $280,000 / year) *and* a Chief of Schools (Allan Smith, $175,000 / year).  And we have absolutely no need to pay $155,000 / year to a “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness and Culture” (Yana Smith, spouse of “Chief of Schools” Smith).
But wait, there’s more.  Vernon Hal’s title used to be “Chief Financial Officer.” Now he’s the Deputy Superintendent for Business.  We don’t need both a deputy superintendent for business (Vernon Hal, $193,000 / year) and a Chief Financial Officer (Ruth Alahydoian , $150,000 / year).
Then there’s Brigitte Marshall. Four years ago, she was in charge of the Adult Ed program, and presided over its destruction, shutting down 95% of that formerly vital program. Based on this atrocity, since then her career has taken off and she has received promotion after promotion and raise after raise. Now her title is “Chief Talent Officer” (I am not making this up!) and her base salary is $160,000 / year.
And let’s not overlook two more colleagues  Wilson brought in from Denver:
—Bernard McCune, for whom he created the post of “Deputy Chief, Post Secondary Readiness”, with base salary of $157,500 / year.
—Devin Dillon, the new Chief Academic Officer, raking in $175,000 / year.
Superintendent Wilson also displayed his priorities by filling the vacant OUSD Chief of Police position — hello Jeffrey Godown, goodbye $150,000 / year plus benefits.
This is just a sample. The story is similar for the two dozen highest paid administrators. Indeed, the cumulative base pay for the inner circle (“chiefs”, deputy and assistant superintendents, etc.) has gone up by nearly $1 million between last school year and this one — from $2.81 million last year to $3.76 million this year. This increase comes from a combination of generously increasing salaries and creating five new “chief” titles (including the above-referenced “Chief of Schools” and “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness”.}
So if Wilson is cutting the central administration budget, much of the cuts are likely coming from the lower paid administrative support. This would be a repetition of what Randy Ward did in 2003 – 6 when the state came in. He brought in all kinds of Broad Foundation graduates and residents at the high end (Troy Christmas; Jonathan Klein; and many others) and promoted some ambitious locals, while laying waste to central services — eliminating central copy services, almost annihilating maintenance (electricians, painters, window repair, etc.) and thus forcing schools to buy services from the likes of Kinko’s. Randy Ward made other cuts “away from the classroom” — of clerical, cafeteria, custodial, and other essential school classified staff positions.
Today, despite all of Antwan Wilson’s rhetoric, we hear reports that although Oakland High projects increased enrollment for next year, it is scheduled to lose several FTEs. So when Antwan Wilson says that he’s “budgeting for the classroom”, please excuse us for thinking, “Shades of the state takeover. More, needless, high-level and high-salaried administrators; salary boosts at the high end; chopping classified staff and low-level administrative support jobs.” Unacceptable.
If Antwan Wilson means what he says, here’s what he could do:
(1) Eliminate high-end bloat. Start by cutting redundant dead wood. No need for a Chief of Schools — there’s already a Superintendent of Schools. No need for a Chief Financial Officer — there’s already a Deputy Superintendent for Business. No need for a “Chief Talent Officer” (I trust no explanation is needed) nor a “Chief of Organizational Effectiveness”. Eliminating those four positions alone would save over $800,000 in combined salary and benefits. And that’s just a start. Other cabinet posts could be eliminated.
(2) Give up that $280,000 / year base salary. Instead, cap all district salaries at teacher maximum salary (currently $84,000 / year if annualized to a 12-month basis). We hear  from the board, and from folks like Wilson, about how important teachers are. But when it comes to compensation, the well’s dry — virtually no raises since 2002. Why should administrators be paid more than teachers and staff? Why should we tolerate this gross and widening inequality?  Reducing the salaries of Wilson and his cabinet to teacher max, combined with cutting redundant cabinet positions, would save close to $3 million / year in salaries and benefits. And beyond the cabinet, there are 200 – 300 additional administrative positions salaried above teacher max — many of them $50,000 / year or more higher in base salary alone.  My rough estimate is that capping all salaries at teacher maximum would save in the neighborhood of $12 million / year.
(3) Systematically review and reduce outsourcing to private consultants. We’ve noticed that Antwan Wilson is not shy about bringing in folks who worked for him in Denver and either creating high paying district jobs for them, or giving them lucrative contracts.  Nothing new here. For years, OUSD has been even more generous to private contractors than it has been to its high-paid administrators — and that’s generous indeed. In fact, five years ago OEA and CTA presented data to the Public Employee Relations Board’s Factfinding Panel showing conclusively that proportional to its size, OUSD had twice the administrative overhead and twice the outsourced contracting of the average California school district. OUSD ought to be able to cut back in this area by as much as $20 million / year or more — and where feasible redirect the work to unionized district employees.
So adding it up, we’re talking $30 million / year or more. And that ain’t chump change. Heck, with that, even the inept and malevolent OUSD administration could probably abide by state law and devote at least 55% of educational expenses to classroom instruction, providing (at last!) adequate raises to all schoolworkers, while at the same time preserving and even cutting class size (by hiring more certificated staff) and increasing support (by hiring more classified staff).
Posted in education/childhood, Oakland | Leave a comment

Fracking, the Democrats and the Union Leadership

On Feb. 7, there was a march in Oakland, CA to oppose fracking. One of the main banners of the march was to call for “climate leadership.” This has been the slogan in appeals in the past to California Governor Jerry Brown – that he should show climate leadership. How is that possible, when he’s a completely corporate politician, member of a corporate party, and he’s received something like $6 million from the oil industry? It’s like appealing to a lion to show vegetarian leadership. Here, Oaklandsocialist interviews the president of UNITE-HERE Local 2850 and we ask her about exactly that. The fact that they completely support the Democrats means that they have to continually drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes.

For a more extended explanation of this contradiction and its results, see this pamphlet.

Posted in environment, labor | Leave a comment

What is Revolution?

A new movement is underway in the United States. Many of those who make up this movement are looking for a road to revolution.

From the introduction to this new pamphlet:

Revolution, which is part art and part science, is a complicated process and not all movements that start down the path towards revolutionary change end up that way. And with capitalism being more of a global system than ever before, now more than ever revolutionaries have to study the process globally. We hope that this pamphlet can make a small contribution towards understanding the “science” part of revolution and that it can be part of a larger dialog on what has worked and what hasn’t.

Read and/or download full pamphlet here:What is Revolution? 5

What is Revolution?

Posted in Ferguson, Marxist theory, Middle East, pamphlets, rebellion, repression, workers' struggles | Leave a comment

Greek Update: What’s at Stake For Us All

It has been a scarce two weeks since the Greek working class put the radical Syriza party into power in Greece. They did that to put an end to the starvation there – to 65% youth unemployment, to thousands having to pick through garbage cans for food, to living without electricity. In doing that, the Greek working class took front and center in the global struggle against capitalism’s attacks. That’s why all workers, and all those involved in the struggle against capitalism, should take an interest in what is happening there, and learn the lessons.

Debt Crisis

With a situation similar to the Latin American “debt crisis” of some decades ago, the Greek government will run out of money by the end of February. So far, they have been bailed out mainly by the European Union bankers, at the cost of being forced to cut and cut and cut some more. Syriza and its central leader, Alexis Tsipras, came to power on the promise of reversing that. But what are his plans? He and his government cannot rehire laid-off government workers if the government has no – literally no – money. Nor can they reinstitute government services.

Traveling Throughout Europe

So the solution of Tsipras has been to travel around Europe, meeting with and negotiatingwith various leaders of European capital. Yesterday, he was in Brussels, meeting with Jean-Calude Juncker, president of the European Commission. On Tuesday, Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis was in Italy to meet with his Italian and British counterparts. He will also be meeting with the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.

Alexis Tsipras (l.) with Jean-Claude Juncker (r.)

Alexis Tsipras (l.) with Jean-Claude Juncker (r.), the representative of European capital.

All around Europe these two are traveling, trying to convince European capital that Greece cannot and will not continue down the same road. The hope, presumably, is that they could divide the enemy, getting some of the European capitalist governments to agree to granting Greece additional time and money. So far, things are not going well.

European Working Class

But a key player has been left standing on the sidelines: The working class of the rest of Europe. While Tsipras and Varoufakis are traveling their rounds, negotiating with the enemy, they seem to be ignoring their most important ally in those countries – the workers.

The central fact is this: So far, European capital has made some headway in cutting the living standards of European workers, but nowhere near enough by their standards. While austerity in Greece has not restored the Greek economy, that was never its main purpose. Its main purpose was to use newly introduced Third World living standards in Greece to batter the living standards of German, French, Belgian, etc. workers. In other words, the old race to the bottom.

There is nothing wrong with the Syriza government negotiating with European capital. Even enemy generals negotiate with each other. But to do so without mobilizing the potential troops is a serious mistake at the least. Everywhere Tsipras and Varoufakis go, Syriza should also be sending representatives to help rally the workers of those countries to explain what is at stake, to explain that it is not “Greece” against “Germany” or any other country; instead it is the race to the bottom, a race in which all workers lose.

The fact remains: The Greek working class cannot stand up to the united European capital no more than could the Greek army stand up to the armies of the rest of Europe. And the stakes are high: If Tsipras backs down, this will hugely demoralize the Greek workers. And if he doesn’t, then by early next month if European capital isn’t forced to make concessions, then the Greek government will be out of cash, causing a really huge crisis for Greek workers. Nor is Greece leaving the EU a solution, as that would provoke a similar crisis, plus mass inflation to boot.

Racism and Nationalism

The global struggle against racism is also involved. Greece is a central entry point for refugees into Western Europe from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Every hot spot – Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Congo – sees thousands of people fleeing, many of whom pass through – or settle in – Greece. Syriza has taken a positive stance on immigration, but their support could collapse overnight if they are unable to show a way forward. Waiting in the wings is the fascist (literally), and racist Golden Dawn party. In the past, they carried out

A Sudanese immigrant in Greece displays the scars on his back from an attack by Golden Dawn

A Sudanese immigrant in Greece displays the scars on his back from an attack by Golden Dawn

physical assaults against immigrants in Greece. They and their allies would make a come-back if Syriza fails. If that happens, it will give an impetus to racist forces throughout Europe and, in fact, globally.

So there’s a lot at stake in Greece for all of us.

Posted in economics, Europe | 2 Comments

“Run, Warren, Run”: To Where?

The real Elizabeth Warren

The real Elizabeth Warren

I went to a meeting of “Run, Warren, Run”  a couple of days ago. This is a group organized by Moveon.org, which is the “left wing” of the Democrats. They are trying to push Liberal US Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against Clinton for president.

Prior to the meeting, we were getting all sorts of e mails asking people to bring extra chairs as way over 50 people had committed to coming. As it turned out, there were twelve present at the back of an  auto shop in an industrial area in deep east Oakland. Of the twelve, there were three who could be called political players. One had just gotten back from “overseas”. It turned out he’d been in Jordan and Afghanistan where he’d been working as an advisor to civilians who work for the US military. It’s not impossible that he worked in some way with the CIA. He also said he’d worked on both Obama presidential campaigns.

Then there was a woman maybe in her mid 40s who was a staffer for SEIU 1021. This is the largest and most influential union in the east bay area. She was there with a slightly older guy who had set up a non-profit with her a few years ago to consult with the union leadership. The woman had been involved in different campaigns before.

When it became clear that just a dozen people were going to be there, these three left. They didn’t even stay for the home made red beans and rice and dim sum that was set out! The others who were there were mainly an assortment of misfits. Mostly over 50, although there was one young couple. The organizer said he was a scientist who consults for NASA on their drone program (!) He described how his research was going to be taken by NASA and then handed over to private industry. He also talked a lot about his experience with Moveon. He said they are totally centrally controlled, including the fact that there is no means for Moveon supporters to communicate with each other online; they can only communicate with the central leadership. On three separate occasions in the past, he’d organized some meeting for them around some election campaign or another and then each time been told to stop everything he was doing. He was even called up by a lawyer who threatened him. He was asked if Moveon had a longer term strategy and he said that if they do he didn’t know what it was.

As we got to talking, some things came out. They all more or less agreed that Warren was not going to win the nomination, but their hope was that by running they would push Clinton to the left. I also asked the organizer of the meeting what was his longer term strategy. He said, “we need to do to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party has done to the Republicans!” Later in the discussion, I pointed out that what the Tea Party had done was accomplished with the financial backing of major rich people and corporations as well as one entire TV network – Fox TV. Where would we get such resources? Nobody could really answer this.

A big issue – the main reason for support for Warren according to the organizer of the event – was the fact that she wants to build “Main St.” as opposed to the domination of “Wall St.” The meeting was being held in a building that was built during WW II to house small industry, and the organizer recounted the history of all the small industrial plants that had sprung up during the war to further the war effort. He said that now, Wall St. had come to dominate and that what Warren wants is to sufficiently regulate Wall St. to restore the balance. I pointed out that every regulatory body is controlled by the industry it’s supposed to regulate, and his reply was that the problem is that the SEC and similar bodies have been gutted and they need to hire more regulators. He cited the Savings and Loan scandal of the 80s, and how some top bankers went to jail as opposed to what happened recently.

There was a lot of flowery talk about Barbara Lee and her having been the sole vote against war, etc. I raised the story that went round about when Pres. Bill Clinton was pushing NAFTA through the Senate and a few senators told him that they were going to vote against it, but if their vote was needed for it to pass, they’d vote for it. I wondered how much the dissident votes like Lee’s were like that. Nobody commented.

We went around the circle and talked about why we were there. I had to be honest, and I said that I was just there checking it out but that I had some issues. I raised the issue of Warren’s support for Israel. At that point, the organizer – who was a very nice, friendly guy – cut me off and vigorously argued that she doesn’t really support Israel, etc. etc. He didn’t interrupt anybody else, and I suspect that he did with me because they know that Warren is really indefensible on that issue.

I also talked some about the prospects for Warren to run. My view is that if there is a real development of the movement in the streets, if it really sinks roots and spreads further, then she might run to draw it into Democratic Party politics but that what I thought what was needed was a new, mass left party.

At that point, one of the guys said, “so why are you even here?” I replied that I could leave if people wanted me to, but everybody else was too nice to say so. At that point, things started to get pretty boring – just repetition of what other liberals were saying. So I waited ten minutes and then left.

At least here in Alameda county, the Warren movement doesn’t seem to be growing much legs. As I say, if the present movement in the streets really seems to be sinking roots and threatens to be longer lasting, then the “left” wing of the Democrats could throw more resources behind Warren.

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Greece and the revolutionary movement in the US

New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets crowd

New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets crowd

On Sunday, January 24, national elections were held in Greece. Many young revolutionaries in the United States, caught up in the struggle here, may not have followed those events so closely.

They should.

Income Inequality and a “Police State”

The struggle against police murders and brutality here is directly linked with “income inequality.” As self-styled “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer said: “You show me a highly unequal society and I’ll show you a police state.” In the US, as the economic attacks on all workers increased, so did all the propaganda about “violent criminals” and the idea that the police are the “thin blue line” that stand between the upstanding citizens and mayhem and murder, and all the racist images that go with that propaganda. So for those who recognize that to end police murder and racism we need a complete change in society, the lessons of other struggles are vital. And right now, Greece stands at the epicenter of the battle against international capital in Europe.

Background

Greece has historically been a weak link in the European capitalist chain, and as a result the traditions of working class militancy are powerful. (See this article.) In 2009, a debt crisis arose in Greece. Part of the European Union and the eurozone (the zone where all countries use the same currency – the “euro”), European capital, as dominated by German capital, put Greece on short rations. Extremely short. In exchange for a loan program, they demanded that Greece cut public employment and public services, cut the minimum wage, etc. Today, there is something like 65% unemployment among Greek youth, for instance, and total poverty and outright hunger is rampant. It was these conditions that led to the rise of a new, radical party, Syriza.

Syriza and Electoral Politics

Syriza promised to reverse all these austerity cuts. In some ways, the leadership has moderated its program in recent years, but this simple promise has huge meaning for Greek workers and youth, who voted Syriza in as the largest party by far on January 24. This election outcome has further emboldened masses of Greeks and helped the movement advance.

One important lesson to be learned from this is that participating in electoral politics is an important tool in revolutionaries’ tool box. How can we continue to simply protest what the capitalist politicians are doing, instead of engaging in the struggle to replace them? There are some who say that we can never make any change through elections. But the great majority don’t see it that way, so it’s necessary to participate in order to help people see the shortcomings. As Greece shows, as the working class moves, it will form its own mass party. In most cases – as in Greece – that party may not be a revolutionary one, but that’s beside the point. In any case, that party will participate in elections. It is exactly through this process that a revolutionary tendency will often develop. And anyway, it’s not completely true that elections don’t produce any change.

The election outcome in Greece is inseparable from the massive street demonstrations and strikes that have happened since 2009. And within days of coming into power, the Syriza government restored the public jobs, ended privatization, and restored the minimum wage.

Syriza also decided to grant citizenship rights to the children of immigrants. This is an important step for two reasons: First, parallel with the rise of revolutionary urges has been the rise of outright fascism in the form of the Golden Dawn party. Golden Dawn sports a modified form of the Nazi swastika and has carried out violent attacks against immigrants in Greece (who are mainly from the Arab world and Africa). Syriza has always called for immigrant rights, and this is an important first step.

Complicated Victory

Syriza’s victory is complicated, though, by the complex government system in Greece. Like many other European countries, the party that wins the majority of parliament’s seats forms the government. If no one party gets a majority, then usually a coalition of parties – led by the largest one – forms the government. In this case, Syriza almost got the majority of seats, but not quite. It would have had the option of trying to form a minority government and try to pressure some other parties to vote for it or at least not vote against it. The most likely candidate would have been the Greek Communist Party (KKP). However, this party held an extremely sectarian position and refused to cooperate with Syriza. In the event, Syriza formed a government by bringing in a small, nationalist party called ANEL. This party has strongly opposed the austerity program of the EU.

African immigrants in Greece demand their rights.

African immigrants in Greece demand their rights.

Many, including this writer, were dismayed by Syriza bringing in ANEL, especially because of the anti-foreigner position of that party. With Syriza’s granting of citizenship to immigrants’ children, though, it seems that Syriza may not be making concessions to ANEL along those lines.

Confrontation with EU Powers

Meanwhile, the Syriza government is locked in a battle with the rest of the EU. They are demanding more time to pay off their loans and refusing to back down on the issue of austerity. The major players in the EU, especially the head of state in Germany – Angela Merkel – are demanding that Greece tow the line and threatening to kick Greece out of the EU if they don’t. Other countries are in conflict. In Spain, for instance, a new left party called Podemos (“We can”) is growing. Podemos is similar to Syriza and has links with them. The main capitalist parties, fearful of a Podemos victory, are lining up with Merkel.

Greece Out of EU?

Expelling Greece from the EU would mean a crisis all around. The continued stability of the euro (which is already wobbling), never mind the EU as a whole, would be in question. Nor would it be all rosy for Greece. If they were forced to return to their own currency (the drachma), it would mean an immediate and sharp increase in prices in Greece. But what is the alternative? If concessions are made to Greece, then who is next? And if Syriza backs down, this would mean an immediate crisis within the party. It looks like the irresistible force meeting the unmovable obstacle.

Russia

One other issue: The new Greek government has threatened to veto any further EU economic sanctions against Russia. This relates to the struggle for influence in Ukraine. If Greece is expelled from the EU, would Russia come to its economic aid? Would it be able to?

This is just a very general summary of what is happening in Greece. Watching the events there helps show how the struggle to overthrow capitalism as a whole relates to both electoral politics as well as putting forward partial demands. The Syriza leadership has moderated its program in recent years. will they continue down this road, to the point of capitulating to Merkel and the EU?

Nationalism vs. International Workers’ Solidarity

One last point: The Syriza leadership has raised elements of nationalism and patriotism. One example of this is their call for Germany to pay Greece reparations for the damage it caused in WW II. But who in Germany would be paying those reparations? Most certainly the German working class. What the Syriza leadership has not done is to explain that what is happening in Greece shows the plans for the working class of all of Europe. If Greek living standards are permanently driven down to starvation levels, then the low wages there will attract capital from the rest of Europe. Workers, including those in Germany, will start to lose their jobs and the demand to cut wages and benefits in Germany will increase. In other words, the infamous “race to the bottom.”

This is what Syriza should be campaigning around throughout Europe. As part of their struggle against austerity in Greece, they should be starting to build direct links with workers throughout not only the EU, but also the entire Mediterranean and beyond. Greece has been the portal of immigration from the Arab world and Africa into the rest of Europe. They stand in an excellent position to create exactly such direct links.

Nowhere is the fate of the working class of any one country more tied with the fate of the world’s working class than it is in Greece. But they are not alone. In the end, the same holds true for workers and youth here in the US. And that includes the struggle against racism.

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Greece: Revolutionary traditions

We reprint here some comments of Roger Silverman on the political traditions of Greece)

Reformism never acquired the stable mass base in Greece that it had achieved historically in the rest of Europe. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Greece was subjected to a succession of wars, mass migrations, coups and military dictatorships; and its wartime and postwar history is closer to those of the Philippines and other South-East Asian countries than to Western Europe. Having first driven out the army of Italian fascism and then waged an indescribably heroic guerrilla struggle and popular resistance which single-handedly overthrew the Nazi occupation regime, the Greek population then suffered years of civil war against first the British and then the US army, followed by a period of repressive rule under a pro-American quisling regime. Then – with a renewed revolutionary upsurge once again gathering pace – came the brutal dictatorship of the colonels, which was itself eventually overthrown by a mass youth uprising. It was not until the election of the first PASOK government in 1981 and accession to the EU that an era of liberal reforms, bribes and handouts came, a pale imitation of the substantial welfare gains won over generations of struggle by workers in Western Europe.

Pasok
That explains why, when PASOK was founded after the collapse of the dictatorship, by a member of the longstanding liberal Papandreou political dynasty seizing the chance to fill the gap between Stalinism and conservative authoritarian, he had to proclaim the new party as “a socialist party, not a social- democratic party” and present a radical face. Forty years later, the party is already in shreds, its collapse as spectacular as its earlier brief rise.

Papandreou

Now, George Papandreou has walked out of the party his father had created with such bombast, and – in an apparent ruse to siphon off enough votes from SYRIZA to deprive it of a crucial margin – declared yet another new party. It is hard to imagine this universally despised figure regaining enough credibility to succeed. The fate of PASOK was doomed once it had departed from initial radical slogans and tried to achieve the stability of a Western reformist party without enjoying the material economic base to sustain it. There is a lesson there too for SYRIZA.

Like PASOK between 1974 and 1981, SYRIZA too has materialized with lightning speed from obscurity to become the most popular party in Greece. Like PASOK did originally (although with a less compromised origin), it has inspired a new generation with radical slogans. To a far greater degree, SYRIZA is a classic centrist party, comparable to parties like the ILP and POUM in the 1930s. Such parties are like fireworks or radioactive elements: volatile, subject to explosive contradictions, destined either to transform themselves into revolutionary parties or to fizzle out. We have to be clear: the election of a SYRIZA government will be nothing like the election of an Hollande in France or a Miliband in Britain. If SYRIZA comes to power – and if it wins a plurality of votes, then surely it would be senselessly, unthinkably provocative for the other parties to block its path to office – then it will have a very brief chance to seize the opportunity.

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Capitalism: Kill it quick before it murders us all!

images-1

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports that Chevron is driving to increase its production of oil and gas, especially in deep water wells in the Gulf of Mexico, in order to compensate for the collapse in oil prices. That is typical of the historic boom-and-bust cycles of the oil industry.  And how much is fracking responsible for the collapse in oil prices?

The same WSJ article reports: “Meanwhile, smaller companies have moved faster, poking enough holes into US shale rock-formations to deliver about 3.5 million barrels of oil a day above 2010 levels. That increase, almost as much crude as Chevron and Exxon Mobil produce combined, has added fresh capacity to the global oil market and contributed to the nose-dive in prices.”

In other words, the more they frack, the more the oil prices drop, and the more those prices drop, the more oil they pump to compensate for the low prices. Meanwhile, California is beset with its fourth year of severe drought while the North East is experiencing a tremendous blizzard. To say nothing about drought in Brazil, etc.

Capitalism and global climate disruption, anybody?

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Has the Tide Turned Against Pegida?

(Note: We have carried a series of reports by Dan Armstrong on Pegida – the right wing anti-immigrant and racist group in Germany. Here is his latest report.)

25,000 turned out to protest the racists

The expected rift in the anti-immigration movement in Germany began or became visible yesterday. After a concerted series of very large and determined counter-demonstration and a media onslaught, the numbers attending the Pegida rally in Leipzig (called Legida) signalled a peeling off of thousands of looser supporters, possibly appalled by the growing virulence of some of the leaders. As reported in the press, the main spokesman Bachmann threw in the towel after his selfie posing as Hitler went viral on the net. His co-organisers, including Kathrin Oertel, who I wrote about elsewhere, closed ranks against the damaging leader whose views most marchers would reject and find offensive.

To make things worse for them, after the boast about being able to mobilise 60,000 for yesterday evening’s rally in Leipzig, only around 15,000 actually appeared. And these were outnumbered by a 19 separate counter demos that mobilized about 25,000 in all. Leftwing groups prevented the importation of rightwingers from Dresden by barricading autobahn approach roads and setting fire to dumpsters on the main railyway line. A tight counter demo also built a knot at the exit to the railway station, preventing travellers from joining the  Legida demo.

What is happening is that the broad populist movement, superficially against immigration but in reality against low pay, poor public and health services and the like, is starting to vomit out the neonazis who gleefully helped to build Pegida and it is reverting to the control of petit bourgeois and declassed elements who see no political party with power fighting for their interests. The party they regard as closest to their views is the new anti-Euro AfD party which has now a foothold in a regional parliament and which has embraced the movement. A quick survey of marchers about their voting intentions revealed that if they represented the whole population, the next parliament would have 95% AfD and 5% NPD lawmakers. Fortunately of course, there is only little sympathy for Pegida outside a small area of east Germany.

The state has mobilised both political, moral and physical force against the movement. The political parties and Merkel have turned vocal in their rejection of the colour of the movement. Chat shows discussed and rediscussed the issues with Pegida consistently refusing to take part. Economic institutes explained the industrial and financial need for immigration. The churches and the unions made decisive public statements. Public institutions turned off the illumination of great public buildings, the normally conservative Bild newspaper carried a series of exposures and finally a large “round table” forum was set up to discuss with the rank and file. Cleverly the state also launched raids against Salafist nests. Add to these measures the mass active opposition on the streets of most major German cities, not just once, but repeatedly, and the physical defensive measures blocking and delaying of marches and we can understand the reasons for the abandonment by a mass of confused people of the pegida marches  led by  loose cannons of neonazis capable of insane tactics.

It may take some weeks, but the tide seems to have turned. We can expect the growth of the AfD as the future political spokesmen to win seats in local parliaments.

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Nigeria: Black Lives Matter There Too!

Devastation in Baga after Boko Haram attack

Devastation in Baga after Boko Haram attack

The Nigerian government claimed it was “only” 150. Others said as many as 2,000. That’s the number of people killed by Boko Haram (the name means “Western Education is Sinful”) in their Jan. 3, 2015 attack on Baga in Northeast Nigeria.

When the Coulilaby brothers attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the media went into a feeding frenzy. Dozens of foreign dignitaries came to Paris to march in support of Charlie Hebdo. But the murder of as many as 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram has been nearly ignored. Evidently, black lives don’t matter so much, especially when they don’t live in a region where there is oil. But it’s more than just this. The rise of Boko Haram springs from the disaster that capitalism has been for the entire African continent. And now, Boko Haram (BH) itself is further adding to that disaster for the people of Nigeria (and neighboring states including Cameroon, Chad and even as far away as Mali).

Nigeria’s 500 Ethnic Groups

A country that was cobbled together by British imperialism, cursed with vast oil wealth in one region that drew investors like sharks drawn to blood in the water, and today feeling the effects of all the crises of modern-day capitalism — that is Nigeria today.

Originally recognizing only 3 states, today Nigeria is composed of 36 states which have a high degree of autonomy. This is a recognition of the 500 different ethnic groups that populate the country. Since capitalism has meant from the outset little but looting by the industrialized world, the economy was not really developed in a way that could integrate all these different ethnicities. And hovering over the different ethnic conflicts is the fact that the north of the country is mainly Muslim while the south is mostly Christian – leading to conflicts between these two religious groups. (See this article for more.)

Capitalism a Disaster for Africa

The corruption, ethnic and religious rivalries and regionalism have all combined with the inability of capitalism to develop society meaning vast unemployment among the youth, among other things. Hardly anywhere is this disaster worse than in northern Nigeria, where 70% of the population subsists on less that $1.00 per day. And although Nigeria is a major oil producer and exporter, half of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no access to electricity whatsoever.

When Islam Comoes Everyone Would be Happy”

Entering into this crisis has been the world crisis – the breakdown of US capitalism’s domination along with the continuing weakness of the world’s working class to assert itself as an independent force. One result of this has been the rise of islamic fundamentalist groups, which appeal to some youth who are seeking an avenue to rebel against those they see as their oppressors. As the same article reported: “Poor people are tired of the injustice, people are crying for saviors and they know the messiahs are Boko Haram,” a group spokesman told the Guardian. “People were singing songs … saying: ‘We want Boko Haram.’ … If the masses don’t like us they would have exposed us by now. When Islam comes everyone would be happy.”

This was the basis of the founding of Boko Haram by Muhammed Yusuf in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the north-east state of Borno in Nigeria. He established a religious complex and school that attracted poor Muslim families from across Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The center had the political goal of creating an Islamic state, and became a recruiting ground for jihadis. By denouncing the police and state corruption, Yusuf attracted followers from unemployed youths.” (Wikipidia)

At that time the group was largely non-violent, although they did have a few clashes with the authorities. In 2009, Yusuf was arrested and killed by the police “while attempting to escape”, they claimed. Abubakar Shekau succeeded Yusuf to leadership of Boko Haram, although some claim that the group is very decentralized with different

Abubakar Shekau

Abubakar Shekau

leaders and councils running things almost independently.

Attacks of Boko Haram are further destabilizing that part of Nigeria. As one reporter wrote: (The State of) Borno’s peasantry has flooded into the state’s capital at Maiduguri and nearby towns since the 1970s, as the rapid growth of Nigeria’s oil sector and the country’s increasing integration into the world market has disrupted the local economy and traditional social structure. In conditions of unending mass unemployment and economic crisis, the flood of rural poor into the cities and towns has led to the emergence of an underclass of homeless youth, students and even professionals with no prospects of securing normal employment, providing fertile ground for the growth of extremist militias.”

Fulani

Apparently BH has its main base among the Fulani people of that part of Nigeria. The Fulani are traditionally pastoralists who rely on cattle herding, and there have been historical conflicts between them and other groups in the region. This has included raids on towns by some Fulani. Accounts of those raids sound similar to the BH raids, except these are purely ethnic aimed. Exacerbating these tensions has been the fact of global climate disruption, which has caused drought in those parts of Nigeria. As a Nigerian explained: “The desert has claimed over 350,000 sq. km of the land area in Northern Nigeria affecting the lives of 28 million people and 58 million livestock. The North has 90% of the cattle stock in the country.” Since the Fulani, who live in the North, traditionally moved their herds from one place to another to find pasturage, they have come into conflict in doing this with settled villagers, especially since now they have to move over greater areas due to the drought.

Although there are no claims to this effect, it certainly seems that these ethnic conflicts would play into the religious warfare of BH, at least as far as creating a general climate of violence. As one Nigerian observer wrote: The general crisis in the country has also created a context in which criminal gangs have jumped into the bandwagon of rural criminality and cattle rustling creating a negative label for the Fulani who constitute the majority of the nomadic community.”

Boko Haram’s Funding Sources

The funding source for any such group is always important and tells a lot about political connections. They reportedly get some of their money from bank robberies and kidnappings, but that cannot be and is not all. There is also evidence that wealthy and important politicians in the region are connected with and have financially supported BH. There are also reports that the group has been involved in the drug trade, sending cocaine and other drugs from South America up to Europe. But another reported source has serious political significance:

According to several reports, BH is partly funded by al Qaeda and “charitable” funds linked to them, one of the most important of which is the al Muntada Trust Fund. This is a Saudi-linked “charity” fund, headquartered in the UK, which grosses millions of dollars per year and helps finance Wahabbism throughout the Muslim world. Through this religious fundamentalism – similar in many ways to the Christian fundamentalists who plague US and Latin American politics – Saudi capitalists spread their influence and power. Just as Christianity was used by Western capitalism throughout the former colonial world, so Saudi capitalism uses Wahabbism in the Muslim world today. Reportedly, Boko Haram has close ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), Libya Islamic Fighting Group as well as possible links with the Islamic State.

The world political instability has played a major role in this. Both AQIM and the Libyan group developed through the US-engineered overthrow of Qadaffi in Libya.

France and the US

Partly as a response to the rising tide of these Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, major Western powers are increasing their military presence in the continent. French troops, for instance, are reported to have recently fought Boko Haram in Cameroon, where they (BH) have bases, and the US is beefing up its military presence throughout the continent. However, lying behind this is the growing rivalry between US and Chinese capitalism for which power will get to further loot Africa of its enormous mineral riches.

State of Emergency”

The Nigerian government has responded to this crisis by declaring a state of emergency in the region. This won’t help. The rank and file of the Nigerian military is severely underpaid, poorly fed, badly clothed, often having to scrounge for firewood just to cook their meals. Under these conditions, and with the corruption at all levels of the military, they are unwilling to risk their lives.

Workers’ Movemen

Then there is the other crisis: The crisis of the workers’ movement. Nigeria has a potentially powerful working class and several unions, which have formed the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). The problem with the labor movement can be seen in the comment of Ayuba Wabba, who is a candidate for its presidency. A “reform” candidate, Wabba praises the NLC policies that “earn the confidence of the worker and also that of the employer.” At the same time, Wabba criticizes the “neo liberal policies that are imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.” But first and foremost among those policies is the myth that workers and employers have common interests, which is exactly what Wabba claims!

Conclusion

According to the Wall St. Journal, Amiday Coulibaly – one of the two brothers alleged to have carried out the attack against Charlie Hebdo in France – was an impoverished youth, engaged in petty crime, who was won to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism while serving time in prison. Nearly 3,000 miles away, youth in Nigeria – also

Aftermath of BH bomb attack in Abuja Last year, 8400 people in West Africa died from Ebola. In the same time period 10,340 died in northeast Nigeria in Boko Haram related violence and  1.5 million were displaced.

Aftermath of BH bomb attack in Abuja
Last year, 8400 people in West Africa died from Ebola.
In the same time period 10,340 died in northeast Nigeria in Boko Haram related violence and
1.5 million were displaced.

impoverished and feeling without hope – are being won to the same ideology, and by the same forces. No amount of repression can reverse this. No amount of hand wringing or denunciations of “intolerance”.

Only a renewed mass movement against the ravages of capitalism, and against capitalism itself, will do.

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Germany: Broad rightwing populism as an antechamber for fascists

We carry a new report from Germany by Dan Armstrong:

Yesterday the largest rightwing street demonstration in the history of postwar Germany took place in Dresden. This time  the Pegida anti-immigration movement mustered over 30,000, some say 40,000, for its 12th Monday march through the city. Heartening was the fact that in total over 100,000 counter demonstrators  could be counted across the whole country with 30,000 in nearby Leipzig, the heart of the anti-stalinist demonstrations in 1989.

Pegida has so far failed to sink serious roots in any other city apart from Dresden and their failure has led to many of their Dresden particpants being bussed in from outside.

That said, we should be observing the way that this movement has been developing. Going back a year or two, we saw the tiny English Defence League staging rallies and riots but participation was largely confined to already committed rightwing activists and hooligans, spoiling for a street fight.
Further attempts at mobilisation by EDL, BNP and UKIP included marches against pedophiles, the siting of psychiatric clinics, Roma camps. There have been similar demos against same-sex marriage in France and Russia, Roma in Hungary and so. The crowds have proved fruitful recruiting grounds for entrist fascist grouplets but the new groundswell of anti-islamism in Germany has reached a wider audience and has proved to be longer-lasting than earlier movements.

Pegida has only existed for a couple of weeks as an actual organisation. But has mobilised ever growing numbers of marchers for 12 (twelve) Monday demonstrations in Dresden so far. The demos mobilise hardliners and many thousands of the periphery of the rightwing parties such as NPD and AfD, but more importantly unorganised workers, students and often pensioners who gather around the nonsensical slogans of stop the compulsory wearing of the veil for German women (!) or the  introduction of Sharia law but also the following demands:
stop uncontrolled immigration,
immigrants should be compelled to integrate themselves,
islamists should be deported,
the people should decide policy through referendums,
the warmongering against Russia should be stopped (this is aimed at Linke voters),
internal security should be strengthened.

As you can see, there are demands there which many people can support without being fascists. But the fascists are active in finding recruits amongt the crowds, leading chants about the “lying press” and “we are the people”.
Difficult to understand are the two facts that Dresden has a lower unemployment rate than much of east Germany and that there is an extremely low presence of immigrants of under 2% of the population (London has 40%!) It may be that the local people are yearning for the old stability of both the stalinist DDR (which was also xenophobic in practice although not in words) or even the 3rd Reich or the 2nd Reich or the Kingdom of Saxony; they have basically hardly ever lived under bourgeois democracy and with every generation there has been complete disruption of their lives.

The two elements aiding the right are 1) the use of facebook etc to call for action and also to bombard any opponents (individual or in the media) with a hail of abuse arguments and threats. WIth only a cadre of ten people sometimes using extra fake IDs, the appearance can be gained of a mass movement. And 2) the pitching of the demands broadly enough to draw in a wider periphery of possible recruits.
As it stands, the actual Pegida will snap and shatter into different currents fairly soon but not before the right has made substantial gains.

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Charlie Hebdo attack

The terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo are in direct conflict with the interests of all workers everywhere. These same methods are also used against the workers’ movement, for instance against the Awami Workers’ Party in Pakistan.

(NOTE: This article has been edited. Originally, we commented that it appeared to us that some cartoons in Charlie Hebdo appealed to anti-Muslim bigotry. We clearly said that this in no way justified the attack, but it does now appear that this view was mistaken. We have received this article, for instance, which says that CH had numerous cartoons attacking Israel’s war in Gaza, etc. Comrades in France appear to agree with this view. From this distance, and not speaking French, it is impossible to be definitive. However, in a majority Christian – and imperialist – country [France], we tend to think that “insulting” Christianity is not the same as “insulting” Islam. Also, as socialists, we have to ask what is the best way of breaking the working class from various capitalists and of uniting all workers. Given all the circumstances, we think that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons lampooning Muhammed do not help; we think they will only strengthen the hand of the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist leaders and further divide the working class.)

Beyond that, though, our task is to understand, and we can’t make sense of this situation without some review of history. Why did these brothers who apparently were responsible for the attack on Charlie Hebdo turn to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as a means of expressing their anger against Western imperialism’s interventions in the predominantly Islamic world?

This foot was taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the occupation during the "Arab Spring." This man is a devout Muslim. He and a friend gave the author of this article (pictured here) a long lecture about how Zionism controls the US. (Once they said "Jews" and several people in the crowd corrected them and said "Zionism", not all Jews.) They said that the US had invaded Iraq at the insistance of Israel.Our reply was that Israel was important to US capitalism to keep control over the region and the region was important because of oil. If it weren't for oil, US capitalism wouldn't care so much about Israel. They talked about the crimes of the US government in the region - how the US "hates Muslims, and I replied by listing many of the crimes of this government throughout history - slavery, genocide against the Native Americans, machine gunning striking US workers, coups in Latin America, Vietnam, etc. It was nothing against Muslims in particular, it was just the striving for world domination on the part of the most powerful capitalist state. After all of this, this man above told me he hopes I read the holy Koran one day. I thanked him and said I hope he reads the Communist Manifesto, to which he agreed. (That got a good laugh from everybody, including him.) He then said I'd "entered into his head" (evidently meaning I'd made a strong impression on him) and insisted on having this photo of the two of us taken.

This photo was taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the occupation during the “Arab Spring.” The man on the left is a devout Muslim. He and a friend gave the author of this article (pictured here) a long lecture about how Zionism controls the US. (At first they said “Jews” and several people in the crowd corrected them and said “Zionism”, not all Jews, to which they agreed.) They said that the US had invaded Iraq at the insistance of Israel.Our reply was that Israel was important to US capitalism to keep control over the region and the region was important because of oil. If it weren’t for oil, US capitalism wouldn’t care so much about Israel. They talked about the crimes of the US government in the region – how the US “hates Muslims”, and I replied by listing many of the crimes of this government throughout history – slavery, genocide against the Native Americans, machine gunning striking US workers, coups in Latin America, Vietnam, etc. It was nothing against Muslims in particular, it was just the striving for world domination on the part of the world’s most powerful capitalist state. After all of this, this man above told me he hopes I read the holy Koran one day. I thanked him and said I hope he reads the Communist Manifesto, to which he agreed. (That got a good laugh from everybody, including him.) He then said I’d “entered into his head” (evidently meaning I’d made a strong impression on him) and insisted on having this photo of the two of us taken.

First there was the increased role of these reactionary forces – especially al Qaeda – in Afghanistan, mainly through the support of the CIA and their counterparts in Pakistan, in the struggle against the Soviet Union’s role in Afghanistan. In the first place, al Qaeda got funding which helped them recruit, train and indoctrinate thousands of young men from different mainly Muslim countries in West Asia and northern Africa. Also, when the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan and an Islamic state was founded, this further boosted the prestige of al Qaeda throughout the Muslim world. Now, we are seeing the continued influence of al Qaeda and similar groups.

Islamic fundamentalism also got a huge boost with the rise of Khomeini to power in the late ’70s. That occurred through the triumph of counter-revolution in a revolutionary situation, following the fall of the Shah. That counter-revolution involved a classic case of the role of Stalinism, through the Tudeh Party. Although the Iranian working class was striving towards a workers’ revolution, their party, Tudeh, held them back and led to the triumph of the reactionary mullahs.

On a wider scale, we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and also the decline of an independent role of the working class. All of this led to a situation where it was almost impossible for millions of people to see the workers movement as a force that could counter the attacks of global capitalism.

But on a wider scale, who is there to put this sort of perspective forward? Do the “representatives” of the US working class – the labor leaders? Don’t make me laugh.

The other point is this: Whether intended or not, the CH cartoons do nothing to discourage racist bullies. They and the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist terrorists actually rely on each other. They would find it much more difficult to exist if the other side didn’t.

Posted in Middle East, racism, rebellion | 2 Comments

The Greek Crisis, Past and Present

Note: The mounting crisis in Greece threatens to destabilize the entire European Union and, therefore, world capitalism. It will, therefore, have an effect even here in the US. And the struggle there is rich in lessons for activists and revolutionaries around the world. Here, Roger Silverman, comments:

The collapse of PASOK is rich in lessons for SYRIZA in the period ahead.

Syriza supporters. Many are willing to make "the greatest sacrifice"

Syriza supporters. Many are willing to make “the greatest sacrifice”

Reformism never acquired the stable mass base in Greece that it had achieved historically in the rest of Europe. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Greece was subjected to a succession of wars, mass migrations, coups and military dictatorships; and its wartime and postwar history is closer to those of the Philippines and other South-East Asian countries than to Western Europe. Having first driven out the army of Italian fascism and then waged an indescribably heroic guerrilla struggle and popular resistance which single-handedly overthrew the Nazi occupation regime, the Greek population then suffered years of civil war against first the British and then the US army, followed by a period of repressive rule under a pro-American quisling regime. Then – with a renewed revolutionary upsurge once again gathering pace – came the brutal dictatorship of the colonels, which was itself eventually overthrown by a mass youth uprising. It was not until the election of the first PASOK government in 1981 and accession to the EU that an era of liberal reforms, bribes and handouts came, a pale imitation of the substantial welfare gains won over generations of struggle by workers in Western Europe.

That explains why, when PASOK was founded after the collapse of the dictatorship, by a member of the longstanding liberal Papandreou political dynasty seizing the chance to fill the gap between Stalinism and conservative authoritarian, he had to proclaim the new party as “a socialist party, not a social-democratic party” and present a radical face. Forty years later, the party is already in shreds, its collapse as spectacular as its earlier brief rise.

Now, George Papandreou has walked out of the party his father had created with such bombast, and – in an apparent ruse to siphon off enough votes from SYRIZA to deprive it of a crucial margin – declared yet another new party. It is hard to imagine this universally despised figure regaining enough credibility to succeed. The fate of PASOK was doomed once it had departed from initial radical slogans and tried to achieve the stability of a Western reformist party without enjoying the material economic base to sustain it. There is a lesson there too for SYRIZA.

Like PASOK between 1974 and 1981, SYRIZA too has materialised with lightning speed from obscurity to become the most popular party in Greece. Like PASOK did originally (although with a less compromised origin), it has inspired a new generation with radical slogans. To a far greater degree, SYRIZA is a classic centrist party, comparable to parties like the ILP and POUM in the 1930s. Such parties are like fireworks or radioactive elements: volatile, subject to explosive contradictions, destined either to transform themselves into revolutionary parties or to fizzle out. We have to be clear: the election of a SYRIZA government will be nothing like the election of an Hollande in France or a Miliband in Britain. If SYRIZA comes to power – and if it wins a plurality of votes, then surely it would be senselessly, unthinkably provocative for the other parties to block its path to office – then it will have a very brief chance to seize the opportunity. The comments reported in this article* by various SYRIZA MPs show the possibilities and also the dangers ahead.

* – NOTE: Roger refers to such comments as these: “‘They are convinced that we will eventually compromise, that time is against us, so they won’t be too hostile in the beginning.’ Giorgos Chondros, director of Syriza’s department for environmental policy, expects negotiations to drag on for a while. ‘We will not only have to fight the Greek elites, but also the European ones. This makes our situation much more difficult. We’ll need the support of movements in the whole of Europe.’ John Milios anticipates ‘psychological warfare’ from EU elites and creditors. ” 

Posted in Europe, History, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Greg and SS “I Don’t Know Her Name”

Oakland “On the Waterfront”

Since we did this video, Greg has upgraded his vessel and has added two crew members. However, we have to say that they appear severely undernourished.

Since we did this video, Greg has upgraded his vessel and has added two crew members. However, we have to say that they appear severely undernourished.

Posted in Oakland, videos/documentaries | Leave a comment

Repression, Resistance, Renewal

Here is an excellent report from Seattle about the movement there and the police response. A question that begs to be answered is this: Seattle is the home of the only openly socialist city council member – Kshama Sawant. What has she had to say, where has she been in the face of this escalating police violence?

Repression, Resistance, Renewal.

Posted in rebellion, repression | Leave a comment

More on the Liberal Democrats

We previously posted an article with Wall St. Journal comments that helped expose the role of the liberal Democrats. Now, the Wall St. Journal is at it again, and as many people as possible should benefit from their writing. Yesterday (Monday, 1/5/2015) they had an article on the lack of challengers to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Party leadership would like some more liberal candidates. Some of what the WSJ writes explains why:

“State Democratic officials also want a contested race because that boosts the party apparatus and fundraising. Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign attracted scores of volunteers who remain active in the party. Various presidential hopefuls, moreover, serve as star attractions for fundraising dinners and barbecue cookouts across the state.”

In other words, the liberal wing serves to help fund raising, attract more attention to the Democrats, and draw in activists. As far as making any real changes? Not so much.

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Pegida: Neo Nazis in Germany

Dan Armstrong reports from Germany:

 

Pegida marching. Their banner says "Without Violence & United Against Religious Wars on German Ground"

Pegida marching. Their banner says “Without Violence & United Against Religious Wars on German Ground”

images

You may have read that German cities have been witnessing public marches and demonstration around the question of immigration. Starting in November with a bizarre little huddle of neonazis on the steps leading down to Dortmund railway station, via Facebook rallies have been called and have grown massively calling for an end to immigration and also to the presence of the existing muslim minorities in Germany. The organising kernel of neonazis have clothed themselves in Christian garb and call for an end to religious intolerance, using the useful public face of the Salafist fanatics who handed out copies of the Koran and engaged youth in conversation and later clashed with the police, this has allowed the neonazis to whip up passive anti-muslim feeling into street marches under the weird archaic banner of Pegida, the partiots against the islamification of the west.

To their credit, many thousands of liberal, left and progressive citizens and groups have taken to the streets to oppose those marches. The echos for each side for differed wildly.
On balance there are now far more anti-Pergida marches than the rightwingers. Last night in Cologne 5000 antis opposed 700 pros. After a long delay the political parties have condemned the strange populist grouping. And the deacon in charge of the mighty Cologne cathedral, following the example of the Opera in Dresden, plunged the centre of the city into darkness by switching off the cathedral illuminations. Having listened to her advisors for 3 months who point out that immigration is essential for the   German economy and the financial health of the nation’s budgets and pensions, Merkel has finally made a public statement opposing the right.

In nearly every part of Germany there is huge resistance to the rightwing demos. Munich in particular but also Berlin, Hamburg and Düsseldorf have held huge public demonstrations supporting multiculturism and defending the minorities.  In truth the rightwing groups are confined to very few places. Their main support is Dresden where yesterday allegedly 18000 demonstrated for Pegida. This city has had an NPD group of councillors and regional parliamentarians for over ten years; these behave like thugs inside and outside the parliaments, carrry weapons and most have been in jail for violence. Leaning on the depressed economy of the border areas, they have a certain base in the population of around 4-5% of the voters. These NPD voters plus a number of supporters are the ones marching. The city, on the extreme eastern border of Germany, laughably has only 2% immigrants, probably the lowest number anywhere in any German city.

The opposition is very heartening indeed. But we are reminded of the lines from Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui about a fictional would-be dictator: Do not cheer too soon …

“Ihr aber lernet
“Ihr aber lernet, wie man sieht statt stiert
Und handelt, statt zu reden noch und noch.
So was hätt einmal fast die Welt regiert!
Die Völker wurden seiner Herr, jedoch
Daß keiner uns zu früh da triumphiert –
Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch.”

“But you are learning how to see and not just to stare
And to act instead of just talking, talking.
This is what once almost ruled the world!
The peoples drove it back but
Do not cheer too soon –
The womb from which it sprang is still fruitful.”

Posted in Europe, racism | Leave a comment

Oakland’s New Mayor

Libby Schaaf was sworn in as the newly elected mayor of Oakland today. The entire city council is controlled by the real estate and other corporate interests, as their campaign finance disclosure reports show. But in Schaaf’s case, she won the election because she was the best-connected candidate. A brief glance at her campaign finance reports show that.

There’s also one other point: There are two liberals on the city council (Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb). They are up there for window dressing. Sometimes, when it’s clear the real estate interests are going to win, they will vote against the majority. That’s what they did, for example, in the issue of giving away 58 acres of precious public park land for free to the corporate controlled Oakland Zoo for them to develop into a theme park. But the one thing they won’t do is really expose the others for who they are. They always are sure not to burn their bridges behind them, always sure to maintain friendly relations with the more out-and-out corporate representatives. They are the friendly public face of a corporate-controlled political system.

When we get working class representatives elected, they must not compromise, they must not get sucked into keeping a friendly, “working relationship” with these representatives of Corporate America.

(Added note: $4-700 donation may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that $700 is the maximum allowable donation.)

Libby Schaaf

Posted in Oakland, pamphlets | 2 Comments

The Liberal Democrats

As the movement against police brutality and police-involved murder moves forward, it will have to clarify how it sees the Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing. This has always been a stumbling block for all popular movements in the US, from the old Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the present day labor movement (the unions).

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio - a liberal Democrat

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – a liberal Democrat

A few articles in a recent (12-23-14) issue of the Wall St. Journal – the main newspaper of Corporate America – makes clear what the role of the liberal Democrats is.

The first article is a news report on New York City’s Mayor de Blasio. It writes “de Blasio’s pledge to enact a liberal agenda while leading the nation’s largest city is testing his ability to govern as a representative of the Democratic Party’s activist wing as he moves to heal rifts with the police department…” The article concludes by quoting Steven Cohen, a professor of International and Public Affairs at N.Y.’s Columbia University. “The mayor needs to understand he’s not an advocate anymore. He’s an executive, and that means he has to act more as the mayor of the entire city than as the leader of the faction that helped him become mayor.”

“Giving voice to anger,” vs. “Governing”

The second is an opinion column by William Gallstone, a regular writer for the WSJ. Just the title itself is a giveaway:How to Stop a Damaging Cycle on Policing… Giving voice to anger when you know your supporters are already angry is irresponsible.”

Gallstone criticizes Patrick Lynch, the head of New York’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association: “Giving voice to anger when you know your supporters are already angry is irresponsible…” he writes. Then he criticizes de Blasio for a similar “sin” when he (de Blasio) in effect implied that the police treat young black men differently. “How can the mayor hope to govern effectively, let alone heal his city, if he questions the motives of

NYC cops turn their backs on de Blasio. Taking responsibility for administering capitalism in the city, de Blasio has to concede to the forces of "law and order".

NYC cops turn their backs on de Blasio. Taking responsibility for administering capitalism in the city, de Blasio has to concede to the forces of “law and order”.

those who uphold public order?” he writes.

These articles make it clear: While running for office, a candidate can be “an advocate”, but as mayor he has to “govern”, meaning he has to administer capitalism. This means he has to cool things off. Bring the movement in the streets to an end – which is exactly what de Blasio tried to do when he called for an end to the protests until after the funerals of the two slain cops. (After which, they hoped, the movement would have been on the downward slope.)

How can we ever reconcile ourselves with this?

How can we ever reconcile ourselves with this?

In the past, the movement was co-opted into supporting the de Blasio’s of those days. That was the death of the movement. Is there an alternative? What is that alternative? The answer to that question will force itself on this growing movement.

Posted in Ferguson, politics, racism, rebellion, United States | Leave a comment

“You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

A mid west carpenter reports having several discussions with co-workers about the Michael Brown case. He says that the co-workers (all white) at first defend the police. “Are you kidding?” he asks them. “Brown was unarmed. He didn’t have a weapon! How can you justify shooting somebody who is unarmed?” Then, he says, he goes on to tell them that they shouldn’t think that what happened to Brown will only happen to black young men. “What the police do to them, they will also do to whites.”

“That gets them thinking,” he said.

In fact, of course, he’s right. We know that the police shoot black people a lot quicker than whites, but nobody is safe. Just ask Dillon Taylor,  for instance. Well, actually, you can’t ask him because he was shot and killed by the Salt Lake City police just two days after Michael Brown was killed. And in his case, he was shot as he walked away. And there is video of it. And the cop was completely exonerated.

Or take the case of James Boyd, a mentally disturbed homeless man who was shot by the Albuquerque cops, who then sicced a dog on him as he lay dying on the ground.

Again, it would be very wrong to deny that black people bear the brunt of police brutality and police murders. But it’s not purely a matter of racism, and for most white people – for most people in general, in fact – they have to see how their self-interest is involved. And there is little that can be clearer: If the police are given a free hand to brutalize and kill any one group of people – black people, in this case – then nobody is safe from them.

And there’s another issue: The reason why the police are allowed to run wild in the US.

Ever since the 1980s, the US economy has not allowed for the “American Dream” for increasing numbers. So big business has had to find a way to confuse and divide millions of people. The main way they do this is by sowing fear and distrust, hostility and suspicion. Everybody is out to get you. Everybody is out to rob you or worse. And the police are all that stand between you and “mayhem” as the Wall St. Journal put it. Of course, given the

"You can't have capitalism without racism." Malcolm X. so what does that tell us for today?

“You can’t have capitalism without racism.” Malcolm X. So what does that tell us for today?

history and traditions of the US, racism is an inherent part of this.

But in the end, we should never forget what self-styled “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer wrote, “you show me a highly unequal society and I’ll show you a police state.”

This is why the struggle against racism as related to the police is directly related to the economic struggle. It’s why Martin Luther King said, “we are engaged in the class struggle,” and why he died while (maybe because) he was organizing a poor people’s march on Washington.

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

Thoughts on the Human Brain

(Note: There is a discussion on the Socialistdiscussion e mail list about a review of the film “Lucy”, which led to a discussion on the workings of the human brain. Below are a few random thoughts on the question by Julian Silverman.)

Under capitalism science made amazing, stupendous discoveries that have transformed the world and vastly increased man’s capacity to harness nature. But – especially now in its degenerate phase – it tends to reduce nature to a series of measurable quantities – objects to be ‘consumed’ – commodities to be bought and sold rather than continuous ever-changing processes.

Life is a process of destruction and construction. It comes and goes. For example every day your body will kill off and rebuild 300 billion cells!. Life is a process like keeping a candle alight  in a storm [and in animals its energy is the product of a slower version of the same oxidation].

Life is a material process. That is to say it uses quantum subatomic ‘random’ processes to extract energy in the form of electrical impulses…..Conscious life is a part of the whole. It has a material basis but it is not preprogrammed. It has been reckoned that there are, say, 100 trillion neuronal connections in the human brain. It makes no sense to talk of ‘using 10% or 20% 40% etc. of the brain’ since what counts is not only the number of connections but what they represent. For example without language even 1000 trillion neuronal connections won’t give you much more knowledge. Language, number, then reading/writing, printing, radio, computers etc. have expanded the symbolism available [ = culture: the main factor in present-day human evolution]. The important thing, at this level. is not how many neuronal connections but how much they mean and here there is no intrinsic limit.
A Scientific American article goes:

A single neuron sits in a petri dish, crackling in lonely contentment. From time to time, it spontaneously unleashes a wave of electric current that travels down its length. If you deliver pulses of electricity to one end of the cell, the neuron may respond with extra spikes of voltage. Bathe the neuron in various neurotransmitters, and you can alter the strength and timing of its electrical waves. On its own, in its dish, the neuron can’t do much. But join together 302 neurons, and they become a nervous system that can keep the worm Caenorhabditis elegans alive—sensing the animal’s surroundings, making decisions and issuing commands to the worm’s body. Join together 100 billion neurons—with 100 trillion connections—and you have yourself a human brain, capable of much, much more.

That tiny-brained arch reactionary self-satisfied dogmatist, Steven Pinker, says:

We are not the same as cats, so it follows we must have some innate circuitry that allows us to talk and to be self-aware. All our behaviours are a result of neurophysiological activity in the brain.

But the contrary can just as well be proved: i.e.  that neurophysiological activity in the brain is the result of our behaviour [For example, in one experiment, rats were given an ‘enriched environment’ .i.e 20 minutes free run-around out of their cage and then killed and their brains opened. “Through studies conducted since the 1960s, it’s been revealed that rats raised in enriched environments have larger, more substantial brains than those raised in impoverished environments”. The report goes on:“…enriched rats display quicker thinking and higher intelligence, performing problem-solving tasks better than impoverished rats. They display better memories and are less likely to display depressive behavior. [This is the substance of Engels’ point]

Of course we have ‘innate circuitry’ that allows us to do crossword puzzles, fly rockets to the moon, make jokes, do somersaults, come up with evolutionary psychological theories etc. . but the capacity to do all these things is not ‘written in’ to the circuitry. There is no drug or computer programme etc. which will create these abilities. They have been learned. they are our cultural inheritance.

Regarding computers, I like  the quote from Picasso; “computers are useless. All they can give you is answers”. How one sees, depicts and represents the world is something learned and struggled for – not without difficulty. Looking at a picture or watching a film is an invitation to share that difficult experience. But the current phase of failing capitalism calls for minimum brain-labour power on our part. It encourages infantile demands that everything be available for immediate consumption – including complete knowledge of the world[?!], untold-of brainpower etc. Commodity fetishism has gone so far as the idea of seeking ‘immortality’ by downloading one’s life experiences on to a hard disc!

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An Incredible Statement

“When these funerals are over, those responsible will be called on the carpet and held accountable.” Patrick Lynch, head of NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association referring to New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio

With this single arrogant statement, Lynch raises the question: Who is running the city government? Of course, we know that behind both the mayor and the cops stands Wall St., the banks, the real estate speculators, but still…

Can you imagine a general making a statement like this? He or she would be fired immediately. But when Corporate America’s number one newspaper, the Wall St. Journal, takes the position that the police are the thin blue line “between civilization and mayhem”, this gives the police an added authority and a degree (limited for now) of actual independent political power.

At the same time as Lynch made this comment, he also gave orders to the police not to respond to calls in single cars. Can anybody imagine if a union leader told his or her members how to conduct themselves at work and told the mayor that they were going to be “called on the carpet and made accountable”? Can you imagine the furor that would result?

Truly, the police are getting close to out of control.

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

“Thin Blue Line” Returns to the Offensive

It was inevitable that they would counter-attack.

After the exoneration of Darren Wilson (who killed Michael Brown) was announced, everybody from President Obama to the Wall St. Journal hoped that would be the end of it. Their line was that we are a nation of laws and that we must respect the legal process. Then the reaction set in. For weeks, thousands took to the streets, the freeways and the shopping centers to protest the non-prosecution of the cops who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Cop Supporters Silenced

The Wall St. Journal’s editors were silenced. Obama made some proposals about police wearing body cameras. (What good would that do? We already have enough videos of police brutality and murder and nothing is done.) Others, closer to ground zero, such as New York’s mayor de Blasio, actually met with some of the protesters. And with a few exceptions, the police were held in check to a degree. Throughout the country, protesters swarmed onto freeways to block them and, in general, they weren’t arrested. The Wall St. Journal (12/5/14) reported that “Police departments around the country are racing to develop new training rules on the use of force, a response that has gained urgency amid scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department and an emerging consensus that law-enforcement practices need to be reviewed and revamped.”

And in the face of these protests, the criminal (in)justice system was on the defensive. Even the mass media was starting to recognize the misdeeds of Ferguson prosecutor Bob McCullough, who knowingly allowed a “witness” to lie on the witness stand.

Never Easy

But it was never going to be that easy, and it’s not just a matter of the individual racists in the police departments throughout the United States. Ever since the campaign against “violent criminals” was inaugurated by the Nixon administration,  “law and order” has been a staple of US politics. It’s used to confuse and divide tens of millions of workers. It’s used to strengthen the apparatus of government repression.

Fear and distrust, hostility and suspicion became a steady part of the US political diet, as seen from the politicians, the “news” media, and Hollywood. It is necessary in order to justify allowing millions to go hungry while a few wallow in wealth. It is necessary to turn private sector workers against their sisters and brothers in the public sector. It’s necessary to divide the unemployed from the employed. And given the traditions of US society, racism is a central and necessary part of this.

And the police, themselves, are a central part of the political system in the United States. As New York political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, a lobbyist and one of New York’s movers and shakers who has advised New York mayors from Michael Bloomberg to the current Bill de Blasio, said, “Mayors tend not to do well when the police department and its officers are not happy.”

“Thin Blue Line Between Us and Anarchy”

Police brutality in the United States is the logical and necessary outcome of this mentality that has been created by the corporate controlled media and the corporate controlled politicians. It is deeply rooted in US politics. As the head of the NYC police department put it, the police represent “that thin blue line between us and anarchy.” So following the shooting of the two New York City cops, the forces that have aided and abetted this brutality and murder returned to the offensive.

“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” said former New York mayor Rudy Giulani. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”

The former mayor also criticized President Barack Obama, Holder, and Al Sharpton for addressing the underlining racial tensions behind the failure to indict the white police officers who killed Garner and Mike Brown in Ferguson. “They have created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities. For that, they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.

Edward Mullins, president of New York City’s Sergeants Benovelant Association commented that “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.”

The Wall St. Journal was even more rabid. Their editors wrote: ‘What do we want? Dead cops!” So chanted marchers at one of the protests organized in the last month against the failure of grand juries to indict white officers in the death of black crime suspects Michael Brown and Eric Garner. (This writer never heard such a chant.) On Saturday they got their wish… this double assassination is also a moment of clarity about how thin the line in any society is between order and anarchy. America is full of Brinsleys who no longer abide the norms of civilized behavior, if they even know what those norms are. They need but the slightest excuse to take justice into their own hands and go on a rampage.

“Especially in urban America, the police walk that line between civilization and mayhem every day. Yet since the Garner and Brown episodes, the progressive leaders in New York and Washington have talked and behaved as if the police are society’s main problem…. this double assassination is also a moment of clarity about how thin the line in any society is between order and anarchy. America is full of Brinsleys who no longer abide the norms of civilized behavior, if they even know what those norms are. They need but the slightest excuse to take justice into their own hands and go on a rampage.

“Especially in urban America, the police walk that line between civilization and mayhem every day. Yet since the Garner and Brown episodes, the progressive leaders in New York and Washington have talked and behaved as if the police are society’s main problem…. The progressive campaign against police must stop before it has even uglier consequences.”

De Blasio beat a hasty retreat, calling for an end to the protests.

Of course, all of this is pure hypocrisy. A nation of laws? What about the justification of torture of prisoners of war on the grounds that the ends justifies the means? What about the torture of children Where are those soldiers now? How many of them are on various police forces throughout the country?

The “thin blue line standing between ‘us’ and anarchy?” What are the police unleashing on black people and on poor people every day? What do you call it when they can get away with shooting a 12 year old child (Tamir Rice) or choking a man to death as he pleads for his life (Eric Garner)?

But hypocrisy and lies have never stopped Corporate America and their representatives, from the police to the elected politicians.

Up until now, in some ways the protest movement has been similar to the Occupy movement in that it has subsisted on a steady diet of militant protests and mass defiance of the law. This is a positive and necessary step, but no movement can survive on mobilization alone. Already the media is reporting that the protest size has been dwindling, at least in New York City. Where, then, does this movement against police brutality go from here?

That is what has to be decided, especially since it will be meeting with increased resistance and repression from here.

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

Two New York Cops Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religious fanatics groups: the fascists in the making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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