August 29, 2006

Three Important Things To Do

First, this Sunday, September 3, A March in Support of Immigration Reform will be held in Portland. Here are the specifics:

Sunday, September 3rd, 2:00pm at the South Park Blocks (corner of SW Salmon and Park)

The demonstration is being organized by: Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition, VOZ Workers' Rights Education Project, CAUSA, JwJ, PCASC, AFSC, SEIU Local 49, SEIU Local 503, AFSCME Council 75, Latino Network, Oregon Farm Workers' Ministry, Center for Intercultural Organizing, PCUN, Hermandad Mexicana, Social Activist Youth, Jefferson Center for Education and Research, Escuel Magdalena Mora.

Second: On August 28 (yesterday), 107 Australian construction workers went on trial for the crime of going on strike. The original incident involved a job action by the 107 in support of a union delegate who was fired for pressing safety issues on a railroad construction job. Each of the 107 is facing fines up to $28,000 (Australian Dollars).

Folks should be aware that Australia's Howard administration leads the industrialized world in anti-union and anti-worker legislation. Collective bargaining is just about dead in Australia, having been replaced by a system of individual contracts involving direct contracts between individual workers and the employer. The role of unions appears to have diminished to advising individual members as they attempt to work out a deal with the boss. As far as I know, individual strikes are still legal (meaning you can quit).

The 107 Australian workers need your help. Please send a message to the Australian government in support of the 107. This is an important message, however it will take no more than 30 seconds of your time. Please do ASAP!

Third: On Saturday, September 16, Portland Jobs with Justice will be holding a training on Immigrant Rights. The event, How to talk to Co-Workers and Fellow Union Members About Issues of Immigration, will be held at the SEIU Local 503 union hall at 6401 SE Foster in Portland (where SE Foster and SE Holgate cross). This event will begin at 10:00am and end at 3:30pm. Lunch will be provided. For further info contact Portland Jobs with Justice at 503-236-5573

August 28, 2006

Wal-Mart, Schmal-Mart

Quite deservedly, Wal-Mart has found itself to be the poster-child target of a number of pieces of local and State legislation. With pressure from Jobs with Justice, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and a number of African-American and Latin community organizations, The Chicago City Council recently passed living wage legislation aimed at Wal-Mart 's operations in Chicago. In particular, Wal-Mart will now be required to pay a living wage in the poor and working class neighborhoods where it is expanding its operations.

Earlier this year, the State of Maryland passed legislation requiring retail employers of a certain large size, read Wal-Mart, to provide health insurance benefits to all its employees. Similiar legislation is at least pending in other states. By the way too, Wal-Mart has taken some big hits in the courts with a number of discrimination, overtime and other hours of work violations.

Try as I might, I can't find it in my heart to cry the blues for Lee Scott CEO, and the Beast of Bensonville. You reap what you sow, eh?

Still, I'm a little concerned. While we've all been busy trimming the Beast's feathers, some other, and far more major stuff has slipped out of the gate with barely a murmur from our political leaders, the press, and the union hierarchies.

Folks might have heard that a Federal pension reform bill has recently passed and been signed by the #@$%^@$^ in the White House. Without exaggerating, this piece of legislation signals the end of retirement benefits as we know them. Currently defined benefit pension plans, the only kind of retirement plan that provides a guaranteed income until the retired worker dies, are underfunded to the tune of about $450 billion.

Some poor innocent souls might be concerned that $450 billion in the hole means that a whole lot of workers out there won't get the pensions they earned. This concern is not however our government's concern. The government's concern, as recently demonstrated with its pension reform bill, is to help eliminate the only type of retirement plan out there that provides real economic security for retirees. Why? Because defined benefit plans are a costly liability for the corporations and the government ain't interested in picking up the tab when the employer defaults.

So, what is the pension reform package? Simply (Very simply. Pensions are complicated, but I do stand by my conclusion) a whole new pile of options allowing corporations to bail out of their pension obligations. Want to know the score as our Congress voted on this important issue? House of Representatives, 279 to 131; Senate, 93 to 5. The unions, by the way, took no unified stance on this issue and either OKed the package, or opposed it , based on its projected effects in each union's industry.

Meanwhile, while corporations are getting bailed out of their pension obligations, the courts are helping corporation void their other costs through the wonders of the bankruptcy courts. Northwest flight attendants recently ate a 40% cut in wages and benefits, as mandated by the bankruptcy court. Not being too pleased, flight attendants were ready to go on strike last Friday at midnight... That is until the Bush administration issued an injunction barring the strike.

Bankruptcy law is about to go into effect against Delphi workers too. Delphi, GM's major parts supplier, is sticking its workers with a roughly 70% wage and benefit cut. The case is still pending, but there is little hope given that bankruptcy law is designed in the interests of corporations, by corporations. UAW Delphi workers are arming for war, but their allies are few... in government and in the wider labor movement.

So, I'm concerned.

For me, Wal-Mart isn't the problem. It's one of the symptoms of the problem, and I do grant that Wal-Mart has taken corporate greed to systematically new heights, but it is not the problem.

For me, the problem is capitalism and its organization of society in the interests of property and wealth. Thus, while going after Wal-Mart may be fun, the attention that it is paid only detracts from the wider analysis of a society that beats workers up across the board.

August 27, 2006

UK Airliner Bomb Plot: Trust No One!

"Trust No One!" This was the theme of the old 90s TV show, The X-Files. I always liked The X-Files. The ambiance portrayed; the secret government committees, paranoid conspiracies, bureaucratic spin and cover-up; all seemed to ring true to the current methods of governmental and institutional power.

It's an old saying, but if anything is true about the 21st century it is indeed that, reality is stranger than fiction.

A couple of weeks ago the British announced the uncovering of a major "plot" to blow up airliners over the Atlantic. On both sides of the Atlantic, the terrorometer jumped, and everything from bottled water to books hit the contraband list. Government spokespeople and the press reminded us once again that, "we are at war."

Something felt fishy about the whole thing. Maybe it was the lack of substance to the press reports as the suspects were rounded up. Maybe it was a native distrust of anything the UK or US government had to say, given their recent track records on the truth. All the same, I was skeptical.

Seems that there are more than a few odd ducks like me out there who feel something was a little fishy about the "plot."

Craig Murray, the author of the article below, is a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. Being a lot closer to the machinery of government than most of us, Mr. Murray’s sense of fishiness around "the plot" has far more substance than my amorphous mistrust.

So, read on! And remember, "trust no one."

Spectrezine Webzine: August 21, 2006 17:53 by Craig Murray

I have been reading very carefully through all the Sunday newspapers to try and analyse the truth from all the scores of pages claiming to detail the so-called bomb plot. Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.

So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled.

We then have the appalling political propaganda of John Reid, Home Secretary, making a speech warning us all of the dreadful evil threatening us and complaining that "Some people don't get" the need to abandon all our traditional liberties. He then went on, according to his own propaganda machine, to stay up all night and minutely direct the arrests. There could be no clearer evidence that our Police are now just a political tool. Like all the best nasty regimes, the knock on the door came in the middle of the night, at 2.30 am. Those arrested included a mother with a six week old baby.

We will now never know if any of those arrested would have gone on to make a bomb or buy a plane ticket. Most of them do not fit the "Loner" profile you would expect - a tiny percentage of suicide bombers have happy marriages and young children. As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity - that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.

In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.

Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.


Thanks to Craig Murray and Spectrezine for the above article.

August 20, 2006

Woodburn and Immigrant Rights: Serve The People

Yesterday two of us from our Salem-area socialist group drove up to Woodburn, Oregon to help put together the building which the regional farmworkers' union, PCUN, will use to house their new low-power radio station. Several more volunteers showed up to help from the union we work for.

I had a conflict in values over going to Woodburn late on Friday. We heard that the Oregon Minutemen were doing an action yesterday against immigrant day laborers in Cornelius, Oregon and I wanted to be there with others to resist them. I see from going through the blogs that that action came off and that they're claiming victory. I went to Woodburn because we had made a collective decision to do this and because we need to set a strong example for our co-workers and others in local solidarity.

A media conference was being held at the PCUN offices while a few of us worked on the building. I wasn't sure if we would, or should, participate in that conference. The crowd attending was predominately young, white and media savvy while we're older and used to physical work. I felt that it was more important to get the work done. We watched the young people and felt some cultural distance, but I'm glad that they did their work and made their connections. We got to meet a few of those good folks.

The station is KPCN. It will run at 100 watts at 96.3 FM in Woodburn. We hope that it will be a strong voice for the working class. PCUN claims about 5000 members and is a force in the community and in state politics. It maintains its position, I think, through its ability to mobilize and serve the community.

Last week we hosted a benefit for the VOZ day laborer project in Independence, Oregon. We raised about $700 and had a great time doing it. Our crowd was small but generous, and with a few new faces. Our base remains older union members.

Going to and coming back from the Woodburn work, we had the opportunity to speak with a local progressive labor leader. We talked about the internal life of unions--the issues no one discusses enough--and the broader picture and context we all live and work in. Whatever disagreements we may have over goals and a broader radical strategy, I have nothing but respect and love for this union leader. She's focused on doing the work her position demands and doing it well. It remains the task of good union leaders to get the most they can with and for the rank and file and to not lose principles while doing it. The temptation, created inherently by the system we live in, is to rely on people and forces who are, by nature, unreliable--the Democrats and liberal organizations and bureaucracies--and to cut corners when that seems necessary. When we can, we try to build lasting union power. Where we may disagree with our sister union leader is on the object or goal of that power, cutting corners and how independent our power needs to be.

We talked briefly about the extent to which we build, correctly or incorrectly, a relationship of reliance between workers and the union and the relative value of institutionalizing our work. We all agreed that we need to build unions, not egos. Believe it or not, this is a radical point of view for a union leader to take.

My Party comrade and I got to talk a little about the directions we want to see our local socialist organization take. I move between favoring working as a collective or building a local or regional non-electoral party based on social movements; we can't have both at the same time, but I wonder if we need the former to create the latter and how we can make this decision. I'm clear that it needs to be a conscious decision made by our group.

These events, the discussions with our sister and with my comrade and some of the reading I'm doing put in mind the slogan "Serve the people!" which came to us from Mao. I would add to that slogan "Love the people! Trust the people! Organize!" and I take what Tito did as an example of loving and trusting the people.

Check out http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_19.htm to see more of what I'm thinking about here.