Support South African Miners

Striking miners shot down in Marikana, South Africa

Striking miners shot down in Marikana, South Africa

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We have received the following appeal:

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

Comrades,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bank:
Account Name: Account Number: Branch Code:

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

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

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

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

Rehad Desai
Posted in Africa, labor | Leave a comment

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

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

Corporate Seattle Fears a Cut in Profits

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

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

Will 15 Now Lead to Cut in Jobs?

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

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

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

Seattle: One Big Happy Family?

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

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

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

“WTO Moment”

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

Capitalist Counter Attack

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

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

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

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

Workers Must Struggle

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

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

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

“Labor Lieutenants of Capital” & Team Concept

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

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

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

Building an Opposition Within the Unions

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

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

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

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

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

working class one fist copy

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

Seattle Ballot Initiative Filed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“15 Now”: A Socialist Program and Strategy

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

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

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

Low Wage Workers

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

The movement must fight all poverty in America

The movement must fight all poverty in America

UFCW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigrant Workers

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

The militancy of these immigrant youth must be tapped into.

The militancy of these immigrant youth must be tapped into.

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

Police

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

“Free” Market vs. Socialism

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

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

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

Break with Union Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

Organizational Steps

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

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

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

Will it Win?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Obama Biden Boehner

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

Union Leadership

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

Sea Tac

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

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

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

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

Olive Branch” to Employers

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

David Rolf pumping up the Democrats

David Rolf pumping up the Democrats

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

Team Concept

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

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

Kshama Sawant and Pressuring the Democrats

Sawant speaking

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

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

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

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

 

Working With” the City Councilors

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

Making Concessions

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

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

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

Predicament

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

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

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

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

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

Open Up 15 Now

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

Would This Succeed?

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

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

Win at all Costs vs. Building the Movement

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in labor, United States | 3 Comments

Fred Phelps is dead; the truth is stranger than fiction

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

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

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

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

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

Westboro Babptist Church in action

Westboro Babptist Church in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the interview with LaPointe:

Posted in politics, United States | Leave a comment

Kshama Sawant speaks on March 15

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

 

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

Ukraine: Can West Get Situation Under Control?

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous forces have been set loose.

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

Posted in Europe, world relations | Leave a comment

Open Letter to Kshama Sawant

 

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$15 an hour supporters at the March 15 rally

$15 an hour supporters at the March 15 rally

 

Dear Kshama Sawant:

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

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

“Phase In”

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

Union Contract Exclusion

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

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

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

Unemployment

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

 

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

Socialism

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

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

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

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

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

In Solidarity,

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

Cheryl Zuur, former President, AFSCME Local 444

Sonja E. former branch secretary, Voran, Germany

Posted in socialist movement, United States | 1 Comment

Documentary: Bosnia and Herzegovina in Spring

oaklandsocialist:

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

Originally posted on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files:

View original

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Why I Like Oakland

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

A Sad State of Affairs

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

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

That is a sad state of affairs in our unions.

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

Fracking is serious business

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ukraine, Syria and Power Politics

ukrmap

map of gas pipelines running through Ukraine

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

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

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

What is happening here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

Don’t Count on the EPA…

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EPA Chief Gina McCarthy: Kissing up to the oil industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

protests

by John Reimann

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

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

 National Struggles

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

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

This is exactly what is happening now.

Hitler and Stalin

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

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

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Russian peasants starved to death under Stalin

Crimean Tatars

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

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

Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars: For generations they maintained their traditions

What did they find upon their return?

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

Collapse of Stalinism: Aftermath

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

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

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

Western Ukraine

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

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

McCain Tahnybok

John McCain with Tahnybok

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

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

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Far right neo fascists in Kiev

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

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

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

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

Russian Forces Invade

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Russian troops in Crimea

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

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

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

US Capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

egypt strike

Egyptian textile workers on strike

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

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

Endocrine Disruption conference

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

Endocrine Disruption: Widening the Scope

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

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

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

RSVP here for the March 19th teleconference call.

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

Previous presentations are available as MP3 recordings:

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

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

Posted in environment, Human health | Leave a comment

Anti war protest in Moscow

Meanwhile, in Moscow, anti war protesters are arrested.

Posted in repression, world relations | Leave a comment

Obama statement on Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Europe, world relations | Leave a comment

US “Democracy” in Action

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

Here’s the video:

Posted in United States | Leave a comment

Brainwashed

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Uri Avnery is one of Israel’s most thoughtful capitalist commentators. Despite the fact that he is unable to see past capitalism, he often has penetrating commentaries on Israeli politics. This includes his harsh condemnations of the increasingly racist direction of official politics there, as well as the rise of neo-fascist groups.

In his most recent column he comments on a new German film about life in Germany under the Nazis. He explains how ordinary people, just like those we know (and maybe not all that different from ourselves!) went along with one of history’s greatest crimes. He writes:

Even worse is the deadening atmosphere of universal agreement. From the highest officer to the lowliest maid, everybody is repeating endlessly the propaganda slogans of the regime. Not out of fear, but because they believe every word of the all-pervading propaganda machine. They hear nothing else.

It is immensely important to understand this. In the totalitarian state, fascist or communist or whatever, only the very few free spirits can withstand the endlessly repeated slogans of the government. Everything else sounds unreal, abnormal, crazy…. 

It is this element of the situation that is difficult for many people to grasp. A citizen under a criminal totalitarian regime becomes a child. Propaganda becomes for him reality, the only reality he knows. It is more effective than even the terror.

What he misses, of course, is that we see the same thing under capitalist democracy. What is the meaning, after all, of the indifference to the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or our regular prisons, for that matter (psychological torture through solitary confinement)? Or the murder of civilians with drones? Or the long term disaster that is developing through climate disruption?

It requires a shock to force people to stand up to the entire system. Those shocks are developing, and millions will be forced to reconsider everything about the world around them. But we have to hurry. Due to environmental destruction, we do not have unlimited time.

Oh, and by the way, Avnery’s column is well worth reading in full.

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

Crying for Lac Megantic… and learning the lessons

fireball tanker cars & devastation

On February 24, Marilaine Savard, from Lac Megantic Canada gave a presentation in Pittsburg, CA, on the train tanker car explosion that rocked that little town last July, killing 47 people (it would have been far more if it had been later in the morning) and destroying most of downtown. The explosion was of Bakken crude oil, the most explosive oil being pumped nowadays. The Obama administration has ordered “emergency safety rules” for transporting Bakken crude. Those rules are merely that the oil has to be pre-tested for explosiveness. That means absolutely nothing, and even if they did impose more rules, they will not be enforced, if simply by underfunding so there aren’t enough inspectors (a very common trick). From the well head to the refinery and all along the way, fracking is deadly. And that doesn’t even include how it adds to global climate disaster – global warming.

Here is a video of  Marlaine’s presentation:

Posted in environment, videos/documentaries | 2 Comments

Pittsburg Youth Step Up

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Posted in environment, rebellion, videos/documentaries, youth | Leave a comment

Tennessee auto workers turn down (company) union

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Frank Fischer, the chairman and CEO of the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, left, and Gary Casteel, a regional director of the UAW, hold a joint press conference on Feb. 14. Can workers tell the difference?

Tennessee VW auto workers have just rejected being “represented” by the UAW by a vote of  626 to 712. But the back story explains a lot:

A Wall St. Journal article: “Volkswagen is interested in having the UAW represent its workers to enable the plant to establish a works council, a committee of both blue and white collar employees who negotiate work conditions with management. [In fact, it's far more than that; it's clear that this is a version of the "team concept" -- the idea that labor and management are on the same team and that their basic interests are the same.] It appears that a works council is only possible under U.S. law if workers are represented by an outside union.” VW management helped the UAW organizers campaign by allowing them to do so inside the plant.

There is no doubt that the UAW leadership had made commitments to management that they would do everything in their power to prevent a local union from developing that really fought for the members. It’s certain that in one way or another they communicated this to the VW workers. So the workers were faced with a choice: Either kiss up to management on their own or do so through a union. Or, to put it another way: Any feelings of the need to unite as a group and stand together for their interests were certainly discouraged by the union leadership. But without that, what on earth is the incentive to have a union?

The amazing thing is that over 600 workers actually voted for a union.

 

Posted in labor, United States | 1 Comment

Michael Dunn Trial… The past isn’t past.

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Michael Dunn – a respectable murderer

Back in the bad old days, white people could kill blacks with complete impunity, especially in the South. Have things really changed?

In November of 2012, 47 year-old Michael Dunn (white) got into a dispute with a group of black teen agers in a gas station in Florida. They were in separate cars and Dunn went over to their care and told them to turn down their music. He then returned to his car, got a gun out of his glove compartment, and fired some 20 shots into the car of the black teen agers, killing 17 year old Jordan Davis. Following that, Dunn drove off (fled the scene) and went to a motel with his girl friend where they shared pizza and beer.

During the trial, Dunn claimed that he feared he was threatened by the teens and claimed that he thought one of them was about to pull a gun on him. (There was no gun in the teens’ car.) He claimed he’d said as much to his girl friend, who was in his car, but she denied that in her testimony in the court.

Dunn was found guilty of second degree attempted murder, but there was a hung jury (couldn’t decide) on the main charge of first degree murder.

At least something has changed, in that 75 years ago, Dunn probably wouldn’t even have been brought to trial, but how much has changed really?

Watch the commentary below. According to these legal experts, the prosecution basically blew it. Because the defense brought in character witnesses, this gave the prosecution the ability to raise the evidence of Dunn’s racism as well as the view of some that he was very aggressive in general. They didn’t bring that in. But even without that, it is pretty clear that Dunn is outright lying. If the situation had been reversed, if the shooter had been black and the victim white, there is no doubt whatsoever that he would have been convicted on all counts. (It is also significant that the media has been pretty silent about this case. They want to cover up for the racism of the system.)

 

 

Posted in racism, United States | Leave a comment

America the Paranoid

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Yesterday, as I was leaving a parking space, I saw that my ticket had quite a bit of time left on it. (In Oakland, the parking meters issue a ticket valid for a certain time period (based on how much you put in).) Two cars over, a young woman was just starting to get out of her car, which she’d just parked. I went over and, standing at least eight feet away, I called out, “excuse me, would you like my parking ticket? I have quite a bit of time left on it.” As soon as the young woman heard my voice, without looking up, she moved to close her car door. Her immediate reaction was that she was about to be attacked. Then, when she saw me holding the ticket up, she changed, but the distrust and fear in the US is rampant.

Later that evening, I was watching the “news” on TV. The first story was about the trial getting ready to start for some young man accused of murder. Then there was another story along similar lines. Then there was a story about how BART (the local rapid transit system) riders in a certain area had been exposed to a very serious disease recently. It was revealed at the end that the disease was measles, and a rider some weeks ago had come down with it. This last item alone took up about a minute, which is a long time on the news, and the total must have been five minutes or so.

And we wonder why there is so much distrust in the United States – so much fear of others.

Incidentally, what’s interesting is that studies show that those who see crime and violence as the greatest problems tend to be exactly those who are least likely to be victims of it.

Posted in capitalist media, John Reimann's personal blog, United States | Leave a comment

US Economic Recovery & Fracking

fracking

When the US economy collapsed in 2007-2008, many people thought it signaled a long-term economic crisis. That does not seem to have happened, so far. Although the recovery has not been very strong, it has been stronger and lasted longer (so far) than many expected. Consider the statistics…

US economy & Fracking

Posted in economics, environment | Leave a comment

Are Cell Phones Dangerous to our Health?

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Are Cell Phones Dangerous to our Health?

Book review of “Disconnect” by Devra Davis

It may come as a surprise to today’s teen agers, but just 20 years ago cell phones were a rarity. And now? As of 2010, there were over five billion cell phone subscribers world wide and one financial consultant has written, Mobile today is by a wide margin, the fastest-growing giant industry on the planet.”1

In the mad rush to cash in on this growth industry, the possible damage to health has been covered up. And this is really criminal because some simple, easy steps can be taken to at least lessen the dangers. (See end of this article.)

“Disconnect” by Devra Davis documents both the dangers as well as the cover-up by the industry.

Basically, cell phones emit a type of radiation known as non-ionizing radiation. This means the radiation isn’t powerful enough to remove electrons from an atom; it can only excite the electrons. The radiation emitted by a cell phone is the same frequency and wave length as that inside a micro-wave oven, except that it is a lot less powerful. Therefore, the assumption by the regulators is that this radio frequency radiation (called radio frequency “energy” by the industry so as not to arouse concern) can only damage by causing heat. Davis cites study after study that disproves this assumption.

  • Studies on rats show that the same radio frequency radiation (rfr) as emitted by cell phones can break up the DNA in the brain cells of rats and is associated with the formation of free radicals within the DNA. (Free radicals in the body are associated with cancer.)
  • Another study showed rfr’s are associated with the weakening of the brain/blood barrier and the leaking of fluid in the brain into the blood stream.
  • Studies have shown that from rats to children, exposure to cell phone radiation can affect learning ability and ability to retain information.
  • Studies have shown that cell phone radiation can weaken the male sperm.
  • There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of brain cancer associated with high and prolonged cell phone usage. This includes the fact that the country in which cell phone usage is highest – Israel – has also seen the highest rate of increase in brain cancer.

Scientific Studies

Then there is the experience of scientists who studied the issue. Take Franz Adlekofer, who received a multi million euro grant in 2000 from the European Union to conduct a study in his privately owned REFLEX laboratories. He commented: What little I knew about it (before he started) told me it had to be safe…. Our a priori opinion was that we would find no health effects at all from radio frequency radiation.” But what did he find? “We ran the work again and again, exposing the cells to RF (radio frequency) and looking inside at their DNA. And again we found the very same effects. The DNA from the exposed cells looked sick. We saw an increase in DNA strand breaks… We were astonished.” He also found that the effects were ten times higher from 3G phones than from 2G’s.

Or take Dr. Lennert Hardell, an expert in field in Sweden: “In my studies I find one pattern over and over again. Those who have used their phones the most and for the longest, have more malignant brain tumors than others.”

Cell Phone Industry Response

The response of the industry has been something that might rival the cloak-and-dagger maneuvers of a James Bond movie. In the case of Adlekofer, a research assistant named “Elisabeth” supposedly came forward and said the results were faked. Adlekofer, who had worked with her for years tried to get in touch with her but she had disappeared. Over a year later, he did get in touch with her and she denied having ever said it and, in fact, several independent bodies checked Adlekofer’s statistics and found they were accurate. Meanwhile, a Professor Alexander Lerchl from the private Jacobs University in Bremen sent a letter denouncing Adlekofer’s research. Lerchl, however, failed to reveal that he had received over one million euros for five different rfr studies from cell phone industry and that his university has as a major funder Vodaphone foundation.

Research into the health effects of cell phone radiation has followed the pattern of similar research into the health effects of asbestos, tobacco smoking, etc. The industry uses its economic and political clout to stifle independent research.

  • A paper written as early as 1997 by a researcher for Motorola, Jerry Phillips, showed cell damage. At the end of his paper, the following sentence appeared: “The damage is probably of no physiological consequence.” Phillips did not write this and according to him, he was asked to include it by a Motorola official. When he declined, it was added anyway.
  • Om Ghandi was a similar researcher. Very highly thought of, he chaired the Institute for Electronics and Electrical Engineering and actually testified as an expert defense witness for Motorola in one of the earliest law suits against the industry. His subsequent research showed cell damage and he lost his positions and his funding. “Now there is no money for independent research at all,” he says.

Industry Studies

There have been some studies that claim to show no harm from cell phone usage. One of the best known was conducted in Denmark in 2006. In that study, the looked at the health records of “private users” of cell phones – meaning those who used cell phones for private vs. business use – between the years 1982 and 1985 and then looked at their health records through the year 2002. They found no significant difference between cell phone users and non-cell phone users. Davis shows the flaws in that study: Why did they not look at business users – those with far more frequent use of cell phones? Why lump all users together, putting those who might have made a single cell phone call a week with those who used the phones more often? Why stop collecting information on brain tumors in 2002? Use of cell phones has grown more than fourfold since then in many countries.”In addition, as Adlekofer has shown, the more recent 3G phone (and presumably the even more recent 4G) have a greater impact.

The response of the industry – denial, defunding, constantly calling for “more studies” – is similar to big business response to other health or environmental threats – from the effects of tobacco smoke to global warming/global climate disruption. In the case of cell phones, it is obvious that they are not going away.

Government “Regulators”

While not mentioned in the book, the government bodies that are supposed to regulate the industry are, in fact, controlled by the industry. For instance, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, a former venture capitalist and former leader of different wireless trade groups. This is typical, so little can be expected from the government unless and until the health effects reach crisis proportions – that is, until there is a sea change in US politics.

Safety Measures

However, research into how they could be made safer by shielding their antennas, for instance, is put on the back burner if it’s conducted at all. That is because the industry doesn’t want people to worry about possible health threats. Better to let them risk dying than lose profits. Even as it is, however, there are some very simple steps that people can take to lessen the threats. These include:

  • Use the speaker phone or a head set. The strength of the rfr’s decreases more than exponentially with just the slightest distance between the ear and the phone. As far as a wireless (bluetooth) head set – blue tooth rays are far weaker than are the rfr’s of the phone itself.
  • As much as possible, avoid using the phone in the car or any similar metal-enclosed area (like the elevator). The metal enclosure acts to bounce the cell phone radiation off of it. If you must use it regularly in a car, try to get an exterior antenna for the car to connect up to your phone.
  • Do not carry the phone right next to your body. Some women, for instance, when they go jogging put the phone inside their sports bra. Unusual cancers, forming in an unusual location on the outside of the breast, right where they keep their cell phone have been found in women recently. Also, don’t carry your phone in your pocket. A holder outside the clothes is better and in a separate bag (purse, etc.) is even better.
  • Pregnant Women: Don’t carry your cell phone next to the body. Duh!
  • Men, keep your cell phone as far from your genitals as possible, especially if you are trying to make a baby. Studies show the rfr’s damage sperm cells.
  • Don’t carry the phone with the antenna facing you. If you absolutely must keep it in your pocket, be sure to have the screen of the phone facing you since it is the antenna that emits the rfr’s..
  • Texting is better than talking. As a member of the older generation, I have a prejudice against text messaging, but it turns out that texting creates weaker rfr’s than does talking. But, students: If you text during class, and you have to hide the phone in your lap, especially for boys this could be harmful! So if you’re doing so, then at least rest it on a book to shield your body from the phone!
  • Don’t charge your cell phone by your head at night. There is some thought that cell phonerfr’s disturb sleep, and anyway, why not get away from the rays at least while you sleep? Do you use your cell phone for an alarm clock? Come on, people! Do you remember those things called an alarm clock?
  • Do not – Do Not – let children under the age of 14 or 15 or so use a cell phone regularly! This is a really big one. A child’s brain and their skull are still developing and the rfr’s affect a child’s brain more. Also, since the skull provides some degree of shielding, it is even more unsafe for them to use a cell phone.

There is a tendency to ignore any danger that we can’t feel, hear, see or smell. But there is enough evidence that cell phones are dangerous. Every precaution possible should be taken when using one. And don’t overuse it. The life you preserve might be your own.

John Reimann

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Corporate America Speaks: President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Obama Biden Boehner

Near the opening of his state of the union speech, and sprinkled throughout it, US President Barack Obama bragged about the increased production of fossil fuels in the United States. In doing so, he labeled himself and the force he represents – Corporate America – as being guilty of crimes against the planet and of posing the greatest threat to future generations that the world has ever known.

There was, of course, more to it than that. After all, the mainstream of Corporate America (the US capitalist class) put a Democrat in the White House in 2008, and then again in 2012, for a purpose. The main purpose was to oppose the more ideological and less compromising sector of their class, but in such a way as to ensure that that sector’s credibility and influence is not destroyed. One important aspect of this is to co-opt and deflect the frustrations, insecurity and anger of US workers. Another, equally important aspect, is to advance the strategic goals of US capitalism globally in such a way as to be minimally disruptive both domestically and globally. This means the use of “diplomacy” – meaning blackmail – before using outright force. (Of course blackmail is not possible if the threat of force is not credible.) Finally, he must try to reinforce a base of support for the main strategic goals of US capitalism as for the system as a whole. Within this broader context, the president must try to reinforce the ability of his or her particular gang of swindlers, liars and thieves (meaning the Democrats or Republicans) to get elected or reelected so that they can continue to loot the government treasuries and obtain bribes from corporations.

Read more:Obama’s State of the Union Speech

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“This is a war that we must fight”: Struggle continues in Pittsburg, CA

Pittsburg residents and their supporters gather outside the Pittsburg City Hall to express their opposition to the WesPac oil terminal and then speak at the City Council meeting. They heard a message of support from Durban, South Africa.

Support from Durban for Pittsburg  20140121_193728

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Pittsburg, California, residents get support from South Africa

The struggle against pollution is global. After viewing the video we produced of the protest in Pittsburg, community and environmental justice organizers in Durban, South Africa, have sent the following message of support.:

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Warm greetings, from the Durban, South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za), from one who spent a sabbatical at U.Cal-Berkeley in 2010-11 and who for 7 years has lived in the South Durban basin. 

Here, we have the world’s highest-recorded astha rate at a primary school, one located halfway between two massive refineries (Shell, BP, Engen) in Africa’s biggest oil complex. And offshore oil exploration is moving ahead here too, helter-skelter. The damage done by a $25 billion port-petrochem expansion now underway in South Durban can be seen in this 6-minute video produced two months ago. 

Your struggle for local environmental protection plus climate justice in Pittsburg is vital. We all know there must be a ‘Just Transition’ to a post-carbon world, if our planet is to survive the excessive greenhouse gas emissions cooking the poorest parts, and causing your worst-ever recorded water shortage now in California, in the wake of the worst fires in living memory late last year. 

When you take your struggle for local environmental injustice to the global level, you also unite closely with us in South Durban, fighting oil, fighting refining, fighting excessive imports shipped in on new post-Panamax ships with filthy bunker fuel which kill local industry, and fighting the disease and poverty that goes side-by-side with the poisonous fossil fuel industry. 

These fights we often seem to be losing, and nature is screaming out in protest – but by linking up more and more like this, with us becoming aware that there’s a “Global South” of eco-injustice stretching into the working neighbourhoods of Pittsburg, we know we can move forward to victory, together.

Hold strong, the oil industry is a dinosaur, kick it over there, it’ll help us do the same here!

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Stop WesPac: Pittsburg Workers Stand Up

marching 3 teens

Pittsburg, California, is a solidly working class town if there ever was one. Like workers in other parts of the country and the world, residents here are building a working-class environmental movement, in this case to stop the construction of a facility to receive and store the highly volatile oil from the Bakken deposit. Here is a video of a protest on January 11 in Pittsburg.

This movement is taking up the most immediate effects of the destruction of the environment – from pollution of the air, water and soil to threats posed by tanker car explosions. Much of this threat is due to capitalism’s determination to burn every last drop of fossil fuel, and ultimately this working class environmental movement will have to take up the struggle for the alternatives.

Posted in environment, videos/documentaries, workers' struggles | Leave a comment

Brain washing, torture and child development

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In “The Shock Doctrine”, Naomi Klein makes the comparison between shocking an entire population and the psychological theory that was popular in the 1950s that a traumatized individual could be shocked out of the trauma. The theory was that what the psychologist could do was basically tear down the sufferer’s personality and then rebuild it, minus whatever was troubling them. This theory was actually linked with CIA practices of attempted brain washing and interrogation methods. To whatever extent it was even intended to help an individual, as opposed to playing god or using them as a guinea pig, it was a total failure and actually left people so traumatized that they could no longer function at all. A byproduct of the rebellions of the ’60s was the discarding of these methods.
Now similar methods are making a comeback including a small rebirth of the practice of lobotomy. But one of the main arenas where these methods of attempted total control are gaining use is in child rearing, or to be more exact in the “education” system. On the one hand, the drugging of children has reached epidemic proportions in the US. Of course, in part this is simply induced by the pharmaceutical companies who are ever on the lookout for expanding markets. But it also fits with the total control ideas of modern education.
Now, a new and equally horrific method is being introduced: The use of “calm down” rooms, which are nothing but padded cells. Rather than calming down a child, they do the opposite. In one case, a child had to be taken to the hospital due to a panic attack he suffered in one of these “rooms” (actually a padded closet).  This also seems to be related to privatization of education as these padded cells apparently are being used in that wing of the “education” system.
You cannot gain total control over a child and any attempt to do so simply forces the child to act out in other, even more extreme ways. But these methods are useful in assuring that children don’t grow up into adults who will be able to rebel in an organized, systematic, and conscious manner.
Posted in education/childhood, repression | 1 Comment

Save Knowland Park

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South Korea – towards a general strike

Here is a video of the struggle of railroad workers in South Korea against privatization. After a mass police assault and mass arrests, there is now a move towards a general strike there. Isn’t it interesting that we never hear news of this sort of thing?

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Exchange with Global Warming “Skeptics”

As a sailor, I like to read the free sailing magazine published here called Latitude 38. While it has excellent coverage of sailing-related issues, the publisher/editor is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun politically; he is a die-hard “free” marketeer. As such, he gives credence to the global warming deniers. In their current issue, they published the following letter of mine, along with their reply:

 

 

WHEN WILL WE KNOW? 

Oh lord, here we go again with the global warming “skeptics.” In the December issue, Latitude wondered, “What’s with the 62% increase in Arctic ice over last year?”

True, you said that you “give the benefit of the doubt to the overwhelming majority of scientists who believe in climate change,” but that “we should know in 30 years or so.” Wrong. We know now. First of all, it took me all of 13.5 minutes to do a little research about the growth of “Arctic” ice. (You can do it, too, as there is this website called ‘google dot com’ that you can use for such information.) It turns out that it’s in the Antarctic where sea ice (vs. land ice) has been increasing — despite the warming of the Southern Ocean. There are several reasons: Freshening of the ocean, changed wind patterns, decrease in the ozone layer. But not a cooler ocean! 

Read more:letter to Latitude 38

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Kshama Sawant inaugurated

Here is a video of the inauguration of new city officials in Seattle. Sawant’s speech begins about 30 minutes into the ceremony. The other speeches are typically canned and boring, but it’s worth watching just a little bit of them to get a real feel for the contrast between them and Sawant. She makes no pretense of representing “all of Seattle”; she says she will represent workers, the poor and oppressed and disenfranchised. She doesn’t pretend she can do it on her own; workers must “shout their demands from the rooftops and organize en masse.” She continues “working people need a new political party – a mass organization of the working class run by and accountable to themselves.”

“I will bring the needs and aspirations of working class people to every table I sit at… There will be no back room deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sellouts of the people I represent. I wear the badge of socialism with honor.”

What a breath of fresh air!

http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=5011401&file=1

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Holiday Greetings

What better way to commemorate this holiday season that to recall this day 99 years ago, when British and German troops used Christmas to declare a truce. If just one or two soldiers in one of those front lines had stepped forward and urged the troops to refuse to fight any longer, what would have happened?

For this absence, we must thank the the leaders of the Second International – the social democrats – who supported their own capitalists and supported the war. All of history would have been different had the Christmas Truce of 1914 been built upon.

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

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

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

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

read more: The New Apartheid

 

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Refugee protest in Israel

Here is a video of several thousand African refugees protesting their treatment in Israel. One points out that in the past, Israel was established as a country for refugees. Another comments that they are protesting just like others are doing all over the world. Another holds up a sign saying “What would Mandela do?”

Posted in Africa, Middle East, racism, rebellion | Leave a comment

The mood in Chicago

Apparently, Al Sharpton called a town hall meeting in Chicago related to the corruption of local politicians. The video shows the mood that is building up there.

Several speakers blamed the voters for continuing to vote in these same politicians. However, the issue is “what is the alternative”? It doesn’t take much for people such as those at this meeting to get together and decide to run their own candidate. That is the next step, as Kshama Sawant showed in Seattle.

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The Demise of the WASP

Today’s Wall St. Journal has an incredible article on the demise of the “WASP” – White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant – as the unchallenged ruling stratum in the US. They describe how in the past, it was this stratum that ruled the nation unchallenged. “WASPs were a caste, closed off to all not born within it, with the possible exception of those who crashed the barriers by marrying in,” they write. The article explains how this caste dominated public life in the US in the past. And of what did WASP culture consist? They quote author Richard Brookhiser approvingly: “success depending on industry; use giving industry its task; civic-mindedness placing obligations on success, and antisensuality setting limits to the enjoyment of it; conscience watching over everything.” The article continues: “Under WASP hegemony, corruption, scandal and incompetence in high places weren’t, as now, regular features of public life. Under WASP rule, stability, solidity, gravity and a certain weight and aura of seriousness suffused public life. “

 

They are talking about the days prior to WW II. Are they serious?

 

These were the days when “public servants” – the politicians – were openly bribed by the “captains of industry”, when the railroad barons hired gun thugs to defeat their rivals and unashamedly received thousands if not millions of acres of public land for free, when black people were lynched at will in the South, when…

 

Well, you get the picture.

 

And now?

 

The article bemoans the “meritocracy” that supposedly exists today, that is, people advance, especially rise into high government office, based on merit. The problem: “As a ruling class, today’s new meritocracy has failed to provide the positive qualities that older generations of WASPs provided…. What our new meritocrats have failed to evince—and what the older WASP generation prided itself on—is character and the ability to put the well-being of the nation before their own…. Trust, honor, character: The elements that have departed U.S. public life with the departure from prominence of WASP culture have not been taken up by the meritocrats.”

 

Ahh, for the good old days when the noble elite ruled over the rest of us with nothing but the interests of “the nation” at heart! Instead, today’s modern “meritocracy” has led us to a sorry state of affairs. Here is how the article portrays it: “Trust, honor, character: The elements that have departed U.S. public life with the departure from prominence of WASP culture have not been taken up by the meritocrats.” The article concludes: “The WASPs’ day is done. Such leadership as it provided isn’t likely to be revived. Recalling it at its best is a reminder that the meritocracy that has followed it marks something less than clear progress. Rather the reverse.”

 

In reality, what has changed is this: On the one hand, the risings of the working class in the ’30s and of women and black people in later years brought down the more blatant aspects of the American WASP nobility. They can no longer live in their  private enclaves, reserving certain schools and areas of the country as well as political influence exclusivly for themselves. They have also been forced to admit non-WASPs into the ruling stratum, the elite of the US capitalist class. Meanwhile, the US capitalist class has undergone a change that reflects the change in US capitalism: We have seen the change from the domination of industrial capital to the domination of finance capital, the change from profit-making from actually producing something to profit-making from mere speculation.

 

It is a degeneration of capitalism and the class that rules this system.

Posted in capitalist media, United States | 1 Comment

A Woman Ahead of Her time: My Mother, Miriam Wolf Wasserman

by John Reimann

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Every year around this time of year I think about my mother. Had she lived, she would have been 95 this Christmas Eve. Her death (from breast cancer) in itself is part of the story of her life – a life that deserves to be appreciated as well as understood.

Born with a series of health problems – mainly due to allergies – she was a constant source of worry to my grandmother, who herself was given to worrying as well as loving. As a young woman, my mother was intellectually precocious in a time when women were supposed to be passive. She graduated from Barnard College and got married at a young age in order to get out of the house, she told me. Then in the mid 1940s she met my father, conceived a baby with him (my older sister), divorced her first husband and married my father – all in that order. As you can imagine, this was nowhere near the norm for a woman at that time.

Single Mother

Her marriage to my father was a stormy affair, with regular shouting arguments, my father storming out of the house and my mother lying weeping on her bed. I still remember that scene. Around 1951 or ’52, when I was around 5 or 6 they separated and eventually divorced. Again, life was not easy for a single mother in those days, no matter what kind of money she might have. In my mother’s case, it was not very much. She worked as a copy editor for Harcourt Brace & co., and I still remember her having to go to work on Saturdays. I also remember her saying that she did most of the work for the (male) editors and received very little of the money….

(My mother wrote a book – “The School Fix” – on the New York City school system at a time of crisis in that system.)  In it, she explained that the problems in the schools had nothing to do with educational theory. It was simply a matter of politics, which is to say power – who has it and who doesn’t. This power is then played out in the form of personal relationships – how administrators behave towards teachers, how teachers relate to students and parents, etc. And there is a clear hierarchy, starting with the top administrators and filtering its way down to the teachers, who are on the next-to-lowest rung. Below them, on the bottom rung, are the students and their parents, especially if those parents are black or Puerto Rican in New York. Each layer treats those below them in a condescending and oppressive manner.

Read more:My Mother

Posted in John Reimann's personal blog, women | Tagged | 2 Comments

South African Working Class in the lead again

In the 1980s, the black South African working class led the world. Now, in the age of capitalist offensive coupled with the betrayal of the working class by its own organizations, it seems that the black South African working class may be poised to take the leading role once again. Here we forward reports from the National Union of Metalworkers of  South Africa (NUMSA):

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Numsa to mull Zuma resignation call

December 17 2013 at 03:32pm 
By Genevieve Quintal

THE National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) on Tuesday got down to the gritty business of deliberating its future in politics, with its acting president, Andrew Chirwa, setting the tone.

Mr Chirwa told delegates to the union’s special national congress in Boksburg that the alliance between the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party had “evaporated long ago”…..

Adopted by NUMSA Special National Congress. Adopted unanimously by 1,050 delegates. 

Resolution on Challenges Facing the Alliance



1. Noting that;
1.1. The Alliance is dysfunctional, in crisis and paralysed. It is dominated by infighting, factionalism and fails to meet regularly.


 

    1. Although there are protests everywhere and every day in the country, the Alliance is not an instrument in the hands of these struggling masses nor does it provide leadership to these struggles which is largely leaderless struggles. The reality is that there is a political vacuum and the working class is on its own.


      1.3. The Freedom Charter which we understood as the minimum platform of the Alliance has been completely abandoned in favour of rightwing and neo-liberal policies such as the National Development Plan (NDP).


Read more: NUMSA to mull Zuma resignation

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Just the Facts – but the Selected Facts

 

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A forest fire is raging in California’s Big Sur region. Forest fires in this time of year (normally the rainy season) are unheard of, but California has experienced several years of drought, making it vulnerable to such fires. This is a result of global climate disruption/global warming. Yesterday, the main newspaper in the Bay Area – the San Francisco Chronicle – published a leading article on the Big Sur fire. I had the following exchange with one of the reporters who wrote the article:

 Me

I read your article on the forest fire in Big Sur. This was just after I read this scary article by the excellent journalist Dahr Jamail on global climate change.

As is typical of almost all articles on drought, forest fires, unusual storms, your article has not a mention of the obvious fact that this forest fire in Big Sur is the result of the global climate change. Maybe you mentioned it and your editor removed it. Or maybe, knowing it wasn’t wanted, you didn’t bother to mention it because doing so would be harmful to your careers. Whatever.

read more:Big Sur fire reporting

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“Caged”

Unknown-8 Unknown

Here is a commentary by  Chris Hedges. It reviews a play written by a collection of prisoners about their life inside. I hope you read it.

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Fracking Hearing

Fracking can no more be regulated to be made safe than can mass murder be made humane. But it’s not only for scientific reasons; it’s also for political ones.

Also attached is a leaflet we distributed there.Don’t Believe the Hype

Posted in environment, United States, videos/documentaries | 2 Comments

Farewell to Madiba

Your Departure Ends The Era of National Liberation Politics!

On Sunday, 14th December 2013, Madiba will be laid to rest in his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape. The DLF stands with the people of South Africa and the world to mourn, celebrate his life and bid him a respectful farewell.

In the 1960s as the Rivonia trial came to a close, Madiba’s life could have been cut short. The prospect of being hung, together with his co-accused, for waging the armed struggle against the apartheid regime did not deter his commitment to political principle. He, together with his co-accused, used the moment to place the apartheid regime on trial and declared an uncompromising commitment to a democratic and non-racial South Africa.

Fortunately, Madiba and his co-accused were not given the death penalty but instead he spent 27 years of his life in prison as a militant in the cause of national liberation. This example of principled commitment and sacrifice for the emancipation of all South Africans shall never be forgotten. It places Madiba amongst the greatest of our leaders.

read more

 

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Republicrats

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The corporate politicians are starting to worry. First the Pope gives a left wing speech. Then Obama takes up the issue of economic inequality in the US. Now, there is a story that US Senator Bernie Sanders is considering running for president. For those outside the US: Sanders is the only senator who is not a member of either political party. He calls himself a socialist, although he’s a totally different kind of socialist from Kshama Sawant. He’s a left liberal and he sits with and votes with the Democrats in the Senate.

What the article doesn’t make clear is that evidently if he decides to run, he’s considering running for the Democratic nomination, rather than as an independent. At the same time, he’s evidently encouraging US Senator Elizabeth Warren to run. Like Sanders, Warren is a left liberal.
So what we see here is the beginnings of a return to the more traditional role of the two parties. As previously noted, the mainstream of Corporate America is now taking steps to reassert itself in the Republican Party, over the populist Tea Partiers. In the Democrats, it seems that a liberal wing may revive. We see this in these events as well as the victory of a left liberal for New York City mayor just last month.
It’s as if the US capitalist class is deciding that the right wing populist Tea Party is too disruptive and also that it’s not serving the purpose of preventing a left populism – even socialism (gasp!) – from developing. So the “left” of the Democrats has to be revived.
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