December 29, 2008

American and Israeli Communists condemn Israeli aggression in Gaza

The Communist Party in the United States has condemned Israeli government aggression in Gaza and is proposing serious and helpful solidarity actions. Go here for the full report.

Communists in Israeli have also condemned the aggression and are providing analysis of events there. To read more go here.

There is also an excellent report in Political Affairs on Gaza.

‘There is no alternative to socialism’

From an interview with Egyptian economist Samir Amin:

The financial collapse is only the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface there is a deep crisis of accumulation of capital in the real productive economy, and deeper even there is a systemic crisis of capitalism itself. Let us look at the tip of the iceberg first – the so-called financial crisis. This is not the result of mistakes or irresponsibilities of the banking system operating freely in a deregulated environment. This flawed analysis gives the impression that if regulations are put in place the crisis will be corrected. This has been the expected response of the G-20 in Washington, D.C. And this should not be surprising since the G-20’s feeble declaration has been prepared beforehand by the International Monetary Fund [IMF] in concert with the G8.

Read more here.

Portland rally against the Israeli attacks on Gaza

STOP THE MASSACRE IN GAZA NOW!

Emergency Demonstration
Tuesday December 30, 2008
Gather at 4:30 and Rally 5:00 pm
Where: Federal Building, Downtown Portland, SW 3rd & Madison
Called by Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, sponsored/ endorsed by many others.

December 28, 2008

The situation in Gaza--eyewitness accounts and Oregon solidarity actions

On Thursday it seemed that the Israeli government was loosening restrictions on Gaza and allowing some transit between Gaza and Israel and allowing some much-needed food and medical supplies in. Much of the world's attention was focused on other problems and caught in the Christmas-New Years doldrums. Then came the Israeli attacks on Gaza which have so far killed over 290 people (with more destruction promised), the predictable reaction from people in Gaza, a growing uprising on the West Bank and calls for peace from Arab and European states. The Israeli government clearly lulled people into a false sense of security, took advantage of the moment and counted on the lack of world outrage over the recent near-strangulation of Gaza to launch this attack. The Bush administration once more stands nearly alone in blaming the Palestinian victims for the latest Israeli atrocities.

Someone in Gaza had this to say during the first Israeli assault:

I've never seen anything like this. It all happened so fast but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable, even to me and I'm in the middle of it and a few hours have already passed. I think 15 locations were hit during the air raid on Gaza. The images are probably not broadcast in US media. There are piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit. As you look at them you can see that a few of the young men are still alive, someone lifts a hand here, and another raise his head there. They probably died within moments because their bodies are burned, most have lost limbs, some have their guts hanging out and they're all lying in pools of blood. Outside my home, (which is close to the universities) a bomb fell on a large group of young men, university students, they'd been warned not to stand in groups, it makes them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses to take them home. This was about 3 hours ago 7 were killed, 4 students and 3 of our neighbors kids, teenagers who were from the same family (Rayes) and were best friends. As I'm writing this I heard a funeral procession go by outside, I looked out the window and it was the 3 Rayes boys. They spent all their time together when they were alive, and now their sharing the same funeral together. Nothing could stop my 14 year old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends laying in the street after they were killed. He hasn't spoken a word since. A little further down the street about an hour earlier 3 girls happened to be passing by one of the locations when a bomb fell. The girls bodies were torn into pieces and covered the street from one side to the other.

These are just a couple of images that I've witnessed. In all the locations people are going through the dead terrified of recognizing a family member among them. The city is in a state of alarm, panic and confusion, cell phones aren't working, hospitals and morgues are backed up and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them, kissing their faces, holding on to them. Outside the destroyed buildings old men are kneeling on the floor weeping. Their slim hopes of finding their sons still alive vanished after taking one look at what had become of their office buildings.

160 people dead in today's air raid. That means 160 funeral processions, a few today, most of them tomorrow probably. To think that yesterday these families were worried about food and heat and electricity. At this point I think they--actually all of us-- would gladly have Hamas sign off every last basic right we've been calling for the last few months forever if it could have stopped this from ever having happened.

The bombing was very close to my home. Most of my extended family live in the area. My family is ok, but 2 of my uncles' homes were damaged, another relative was injured.
I don't know why I'm sending this email. It doesn't even begin to tell the story on any level. Just flashes of thing that happened today that are going through my head.


The Palestinian News Network is providing news updates. The ADC is also providing news and information on what can be done from here to help stop the massacre. Solidarity organizations are calling for protests.

There will be a protest on Monday (tomorrow) in Eugene on the Ferry Street Bridge approach to the parkway from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. The Portland Peaceful Response Coalition (503-344-5078 or pprc@riseup.net and www.pprc-news.org) has condemned the attacks.

AUPHR in Portland is providing helpful solidarity and news. This is our regional solidarity organization and they deserve our full support.

December 22, 2008

Oregon's Financial Crisis---Compete, Surrrender Or Resist?

Oregon is deep into a financial crisis that is rapidly turning into a political crisis. Our unemployment rate has passed the national rate. We are looking at a proposed Governor's budget which contains some major hits for education and social services. A concrete example of how bad this situation is can be found in the Oregon Health Plan, which is looking at some major cuts. Just a few months ago OHP had open rolls and was aggressively looking to sign people up and perhaps restart stalled programs.

The coming legislative session may see a scramble between unions, environmental groups, lobbies, trade associations, the law-and-order crowd, competing industries and social service agencies for available dollars. Unity at the grassroots now can prevent such a scramble and insure that more people get taken care of and more services are maintained. Without such unity, the hard work to create change that won in the November's elections may be squandered or set back.

We are not the only ones confronting this crisis, of course. This is an international and national crisis tearing the world apart.

Carl Bloice has an excellent piece on BlackCommentator.com about this economic-turned-political crisis. Read that great piece here.

The very wrong move--the one that I suspect that the banks and key industries are trying to push us towards--would be to respond to this crisis with increasing privatization, capitalist globalization and killing the public sector and the public sphere. The Bush administration is trying to push through last-minute changes which, if adopted, will negatively affect Oregon and the entire American west. Read about these efforts here.

December 21, 2008

The Struggle In Gaza

The struggle in Palestine does not get enough serious attention in the US or from the American left. The most recent crisis in Gaza has gotten very little attention and much helpless tongue clicking and that's about it. The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) continues to fight for Palestine and against anti-Arab discrimination here in the US, making it one of the few organizations to successfully combine international solidarity work and US community organizing and defense. Here is an editorial written by Yousef Munayyer, an ADC policy analyst, which appears in today's The Boston Globe.


THE LIGHTS are out in Gaza again and few are paying attention. The 1.5 million Palestinians living in the densely populated strip are being collectively punished once more, while Israel attempts to strangle the Hamas government. The UN agency that feeds hundreds of thousands of people is unable to get supplies in because the border is closed, and a plea from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has been ignored. more

December 19, 2008

Teamsters, Gaza, Science, Philosophy, Salem--Catch Up On Your Reading While It Snows

Remembering Ron Carey

RON CAREY, the most important union leader in the U.S. in the last decade of the 20th century, passed away December 11 in New York. He was 72 years old and died from the debilitating effects of lung cancer.

Carey will always been remembered as the leader of the great UPS strike of 1997, the most important victory by American workers since the beginning of the Reagan era. more

Gaza: The Untold Story

It’s incomprehensible that a region such as the Gaza Strip, so rich with history, so saturated with defiance, can be reduced to a few blurbs, sound bites and reductionist assumptions, convenient but deceptive, vacant of any relevant meaning, or even true analytical value.

The fact is that there is more to the Gaza Strip than 1.5 million hungry Palestinians, who are supposedly paying the price for Hamas’s militancy, or Israel’s ‘collective punishment’, which ever way the media decide to brand the problem.

More importantly, Gaza’s existence since time immemorial must not be juxtaposed by its proximity to Israel, failure or success in ‘providing’ a tiny Israeli town – itself built on conquered land that was seen only 60 years ago as part of the Gaza Province – with its need for security. It’s this very expectation that made the killing and wounding of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza a price worth paying, in the callous eyes of many. more

Why a Philosophy of the Natural Sciences is Needed

My answer to the question “Why is a philosophy of the natural sciences needed?” will take the form of several distinct components. Before enumerating them, I should point out that no separate Marxist philosophy of the natural sciences exists distinct from dialectical and historical materialism. Marxist philosophy of the natural sciences is the methodological application of dialectical and historical materialism to investigations in the various natural sciences. more

The Crash of 2008 and Historical Materialism

Understanding the impact of technological revolutions on major financial booms and busts, including the ongoing crash of 2008, from the standpoint of historical materialism allows us to understand the causes of economic crisis as well as what can be done to change the system we live in and reduce the turmoil.

Historical materialism has been the most lasting, and also most widely accepted, contribution of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to philosophy. Here is Engels classic definition of it from the preface to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:

"The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange."

Simply put, social changes are tied to economic developments and upheavals. Those familiar with historical materialism will be least surprised to learn that there are powerful historical precedents for such crises as the one in which we currently find ourselves. Those precedents show a profound inter-relationship between the periodic surges of technology we have come to call "technological revolutions," and the boom and bust cycles of finance capital. more

Salem Snaps

What Salem really looks like. Click here.

China, Socialism and Sustainable Development

China, Socialism and Sustainable Development

In May this year, I attended a two-day conference, "Marxism and Sustainable Development", took a trip along the Yangtze, visited the Three Gorges Dam and toured Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing, all to study sustainable development.

One reaction to the announced visit to the Three Gorges Dam as part of a sustainable development study said it all. I was met with laughter and incredulity and a view that the Three Gorges Dam was environmental vandalism.

The comments relate to the dislocation of villagers and the flooding of valleys. They play on the fear of dam construction and loss of flows downstream, although most views are centered around the general anti-China sentiment expressed in the Western media. more

Gaza: The Untold Story

It’s incomprehensible that a region such as the Gaza Strip, so rich with history, so saturated with defiance, can be reduced to a few blurbs, sound bites and reductionist assumptions, convenient but deceptive, vacant of any relevant meaning, or even true analytical value.

The fact is that there is more to the Gaza Strip than 1.5 million hungry Palestinians, who are supposedly paying the price for Hamas’s militancy, or Israel’s ‘collective punishment’, which ever way the media decide to brand the problem. more

The Crash of 2008 and Historical Materialism

Understanding the impact of technological revolutions on major financial booms and busts, including the ongoing crash of 2008, from the standpoint of historical materialism allows us to understand the causes of economic crisis as well as what can be done to change the system we live in and reduce the turmoil.

Historical materialism has been the most lasting, and also most widely accepted, contribution of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to philosophy. Here is Engels classic definition of it from the preface to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:

"The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange."

Simply put, social changes are tied to economic developments and upheavals. Those familiar with historical materialism will be least surprised to learn that there are powerful historical precedents for such crises as the one in which we currently find ourselves. Those precedents show a profound inter-relationship between the periodic surges of technology we have come to call "technological revolutions," and the boom and bust cycles of finance capital. more

December 18, 2008

Salem action for EFCA















McDonald's has taken a very vocal and visible attack against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

Because of this, Salem Oregon activists joined a national day of action at McDonald's restaurants to tell workers and customers about EFCA.

Activists went to the Center Street McDonald's in Salem, and while placing food orders, gave the workers information about EFCA and how they can gain a voice on the job. We let it be known that we don't agree that it is acceptable when workers are not earning a living wage for their very hard work - yet the CEO of McDonald's earns over $6,000 per hour...

When local managers asked us to leave the restaurant, we performed a skit outside the restaurant, then remained to provide information to people entering the restaurant, who seemed interested and took fliers. One of our activists had a respectful and informative conversation with the manager.

Medicare in the Pacific Northwest

This comes from Michael Munk:

Did you know that Medicare does not decide which medical procedures it will pay for? Instead, the NY Times reports today that because of "a policy principle as old as Medicare itself... officials in Washington leave many reimbursement decisions to the discretion of 15 regional contractors around the country." A dozen of those private for-profit contractors will pay for, as the story details, CyberKnife radiation treatments for prostate cancer, while three don't, saying that saying there is not enough evidence of its long-term effectiveness against prostate cancer. Decision- making by 15 separate deciders means that if you live in one state, you get different treatments paid for by Medicare than in another state. The reason?.

"The principle of local decision-making traces to the creation of Medicare in 1965. Because some doctors and lawmakers had argued that federal meddling in medical decisions would be tantamount to “socialized medicine,” Congress allowed for regional autonomy in reimbursements." [and let for-profit companies make the decisions!]

If you live in Oregon or Washington, your decider is Noridian Administrative Services of Fargo, North Dakota, a division of the Nordian Mutual Insurance Co. It is one of the three contractors who won't pay for CyberKnife. They may be right, but the reason Medicare does not pay for uniform healthcare --the ogre of "socialized medicine"-- is appalling.

ASK YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPS TO SIGN ON TO SINGLE PAYER HR 676. Jim McDermott is the only one from the NW so far on board.

Visit Michael's website at www.michaelmunk.com.

December 17, 2008

City Council Votes Unanimously On Tuesday For A Sweatfree Ashland

The good folks at Sweatfree Northwest have another victory in the anti-sweatshop movement. We have previously reported on their good work. I worked in many sweatshops and had family who did the same. Several years ago I was part of a determined effort at Oregon State University to organize against sweatshops and for a University policy which, we hoped, would have effectively banned sweatshop-produced goods bearing the OSU label from campus. OSU administration buried the report on the issue because it didn't go their way and the push we were making ended. Now there is a well-established group in our area who will do better. What follows comes from a just-out e-mail marking the latest victory in Ashland.

Oregon is seeing the second sweatshop free victory in the past few months! Last night the city of Ashland passed a sweatshop free purchasing policy for public employee uniforms and garments. A strong sweatfree movement is building in the NW as Portland just passed their sweatshop free procurement policy on Oct 15th.

All Ashland councilors voted "Yes" in support of "A RESOLUTION FOR A SWEATSHOP FREE PROCUREMENT POLICY" which is for the uniforms and garments the city purchases with public dollars.

You can watch the debate and the vote by the Ashland City Council on streaming video at http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=745. Go to the December 16, 2008 meeting link.

The Ashland Sweatfree Campaign ad-hoc committee is comprised of the following Ashland residents: Brenda Gould, Jason Houk, Rich Rohde, Steve Ryan, Pam Vavra, Wes Brain and Councilor Eric Navickas.

The Ashland Sweatfree Campaign has been a project of Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice (SOJwJ). Working in collaboration with SOJwJ has been "Sweatfree Northwest" and the campaign has included lobby visits with Mayor John Morrison and with individual city councilors. In addition it has been a community education campaign with the recent screening of the Emmy award winning documentary "Made In LA". The film was shown at Southern Oregon University which had as co-sponsors & campus hosts the Women's Studies Program and the Women's Resource Center. Read the "Made In LA" story here.

City of Ashland staff now have six months to come up with the policies and procedures to insure a "no sweatshop procurement policy" and bring it back to City Council. The city currently spends $80,000 a year for uniform and garment purchases according to City Administrator Martha Bennett. Bennett did say during the council meeting that Ashland would rely heavily on the ordinance developed and adopted October '08 in Portland Oregon.

You can learn about the Portland ordinance here.

The Rogue IMC is awaiting from the Ashland City Recorder the exact wording of the resolution passed and will provide it just as soon as it is received. To read more go to IMC webpage here.

End the Auto Crisis: Public Ownership to Save Jobs and the Environment

The following is a statement of the Communist Party USA

Union auto workers are fighting for their lives. For us the fight to defend the United Auto Workers union (UAW) and its members is immediate. It is estimated that over three million jobs are linked to the jobs at GM, Ford and Chrysler: including workers in parts supply, dealerships, steel, rubber, and many other supporting industries. Bankruptcy would have devastating effects on communities where these workers live. Whole regions rely on their purchasing power and the loss of taxes for local and state governments would cause an even bigger crisis. Bankruptcy will also destroy the pensions and healthcare for millions of retirees.

We join with labor and all its allies in demanding immediate action by the federal government to guarantee the loans needed to save these jobs. We are actively engaged in the growing fight to build solidarity and support for the burning demands of the workers and their union.

Even if/when bridge loans are given to the Big Three, the companies have announced there will be further plant closings and say they will permanently shed tens of thousands of their workforce. They do this while continuing to move production out of the country. GM has manufacturing operations in 32 countries around the world. And while the auto companies complain about competition from lower wage countries, they in turn threaten workers in Mexico, Thailand, South America and elsewhere to accept low wages as a condition of work.

Everything unions have fought for throughout our history is being challenged. Republican senators are demanding that unionized workers tear-up their union contracts and work for non-union rates. A forced bankruptcy would destroy the contracts of the UAW. Automotive jobs have been a pathway to a better life for all working people and their loss would hit African American and Latino workers particularly hard. Black workers in particular are more concentrated in auto than other industries.

To solve the economic crisis we need to put more money, not less, into the hands of working people. Republican attempts to force the UAW to take cuts will increase the wage gap; it is a continuation of Republican trickledown economics that voters rejected in the November election. These are the same economic policies that created the present economic crisis. It would lower the purchasing power of auto workers and would create a downward wage pressure on all workers

If we agree that the auto industry is too important to fail, both in terms of our nation's transportation needs and the need to move away from reliance on fossil fuels, then it is too important to be left in the hands of the CEO's.

And at the same time, given the overall economic crisis and the underlying failures of unbridled corporate greed and mismanagement, it is the time to look at more basic solutions also. Demands for public and government oversight raise the issue of democratic public ownership of the domestic auto industry.

The United States government could buy all the common shares of stock in General Motors for less than $3 billion. The worth of the companies is less than the aid they want from taxpayers. If the public provides the capital, why do decisions remain in private hands? Representatives from the unions, from engineers employed in the industry, from government, and the communities and states where the plants are located, are best able to make the key decisions. Representatives from management itself should have input but not control.

We have an economic crisis, but we also have a crisis of the environment and the two are interlinked. We face global catastrophe and the profits before nature philosophy of the auto executives is a major roadblock for building a "green," sustainable industry.

Cities all over the country are looking at the need for mass transit: from rail to subways, and buses. Public demand for environment friendly cars is also growing. We should demand that unemployed auto workers in Detroit and Michigan are put to work building all of the above.

Public ownership can work! From our postal service, to social security, to our public school system, Medicare, police, fire, and military, public ownership has been successful. In the early 70's the government took over a rail system in crisis, fixed it and then years later sold it to private owners at a profit.

The changes needed in our infrastructure to build and sustain the environmentally friendly cars of the future will require public money so why should the ownership of the companies remain in private hands?

In addition:

* We need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act to spur union organizing and to increase the wages and buying power of working people.
* We need National Health care, pass HR 676 – health care is a human right and it should be removed as a bargaining chip.
* We need an international minimum wage to stop the whipsawing of workers from one country to another.
* We need a law to stop tax breaks for companies that outsourcing our jobs.
* We need to get behind President-Elect Barack Obama's economic stimulus and public works jobs program.

December 16, 2008

Wage Labor & Capital Discussion In Portland

This event is not sponsored by us, but we do encourage people to learn marxist fundamentals.

Thursday, December 18th, 7:30pm. PSU Smith Center Room 238

Wage Labor and Capital by Karl Marx is an essay on economics written in 1847 that has been widely acclaimed as the precursor to Marx's masterpiece Das Kapital. The book is an in-depth economic and scientific observation on how capitalist economy works, why it is exploitative, and ultimately why it will eventually implode from within.

You can read Wage Labor and Capital online here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/index.htm. There is also a pretty useful study guide here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/guide.htm.

December 12, 2008

Some Good News For A Change

Workers at Smithfield, the world's largest meatpacking plant, finally got a union election scheduled and held and the union won. Read about it here.

This win follows the win at Republic Windows and Doors and news that United Auto Workers union leadership feels confident enough to stand up to Republican pressure and resist further union contract concessions. Auto layoffs and plant closures seem inevitable now, concessions or not and with or without a bailout. The question is which plants will reopen and under what terms. And despite all of the economic forecasts from hopeful capitalist sources, none of the economic news is good: unemployment is growing surprisingly fast while consumer spending dips. Jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 6 rose to a 26-year-high of 573,000,the highest level since 1982. About 1.9 million jobs were lost in the first 11 months of the year. U.S. companies eliminated 533,000 jobs in November, the most since 1974, and the unemployment rate is now at a 15-year high of at least 6.7 percent. Rising unemployment and the persistent credit crisis means that this recession will turn into the longest slump in the postwar era.

This bad news makes the union wins at Republic Windows and Doors and Smithfield all the more remarkable. Workers rarely organize unions or lead aggressive campaigns in our workplaces when the news is so bad. The big union drives have generally come when conditions are improving and when workers have some restored self-confidence, savings set aside and the sense that we can pick up another job if we get fired or laid-off. In fact, even public calls for union organizing campaigns are spreading. Read such a call here.

It took workers at Smithfield several years and a few contested elections to get a union voted in. We hope with every union victory in the south that we will see a springboard into union organizing across the entire south and breaking the political stranglehold of the ultra-right and anti-union forces there and nationally. This certainly seems more likely and within our reach now.

December 11, 2008

"We want to work, not to beg."













On the streets in Serbia, the working class and their families demonstrate.

Photo credit: B92.

VICTORY AT REPUBLIC WINDOWS AND DOORS!

Jobs with Justice and the United Electrical Workers are both reporting that the union has won in its occupation of the plant. For background coverage, please go here.

Even Sojourners, the liberal evangelical magazine, is reporting on this victory. A Sojourners e-mail quotes Heriberto Barriga, a nine-year Republic worker, as saying, "It was worth it. It was not only for us, it was for everybody nationwide, because they can do the same thing."

This is a great victory that we hope opens a new dimension for workers' struggles. The Sojourners story shows how deeply this struggle is affecting people. Was this possible six months or one year ago? Certainly not. The economic crisis, the political mobilizations over the past six months and the growing sense of self-confidence workers feel in the wake of the elections all contribute to helping at least some workers take on the corporations and demand more from the politicians.

UE remains one of the most progressive unions in the US. If this struggle could not have taken place six months or one year ago, it is also difficult to imagine a union other than UE leading the way as UE did in Chicago. As workers reflect on this victory, we also need to ask if all of our unions have the will and capacity to lead as UE does--and if the answer is negative, we need to create that capacity in every local union.

The occupation at Republic Windows and Doors also comes as strikes and protests are spreading across Europe. A mass strike is underway in Greece while union members, the unemployed and students are protesting in the streets in Serbia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France and Spain. Violent actions by European protesters are making headlines in the US, but in the main these strikes and protests are non-violent. The AP and MSNBC reports quote "experts" as saying that these are essentially anti-globalization protests taking place as unemployment rates climb steadily. Implied in these reports is the likelihood that the strikes and protests will continue to spread. In this context, then, appeals for calm and demobilization by the Greek social democrats are not helpful.

Anyway, we applaud UE and the workers' victory at Republic Windows and Doors--and we're looking forward to more of the same all over the world!

December 10, 2008

Human Rights Day in Salem


A group of union members and other folks from Salem - from the local Jobs with Justice chapter, SEIU 503, Willamette Reds, and/or the local Communist Party club - held an hour-long action in downtown Salem today to commemorate International Human Rights Day.

Our signs read "People's Bail-out Now," "Jobs are Human Rights," "Workers Rights are Human Rights," and "Jobs, Health Care, Education, Sustainable Environment, Housing are Human Rights."

We engaged passers-by briefly to remind them of Human Rights day, and offered a leaflet which included the text of the UN's 1948 Declaration, a quote from Gus Hall*, and a challenge to think about human rights.

While a brief and quickly-put together action, we felt it was still important to be out there, we believe that it will inspire some to consider our human rights, and at this turning point in US political history, be an invitation to work toward ensuring that we all have these rights.

*We used the following quote from Gus Hall as a kind of bill of human rights. The entire article can be found here.
  1. A life free of exploitation, insecurity, poverty; an end to unemployment, hunger and homelessness.
  2. An end to racism, national oppression, Antisemitism, all forms of discrimination, prejudice and bigotry. An end to the unequal status of women.
  3. Renewal and extension of democracy; an end to the rule of corporate America and private ownership of the wealth of our nation. Creation of a truly humane and rationally planned society that will stimulate the fullest flowering of the human personality, creativity and talent.

December 9, 2008

Human Rights Day In Portland

The Workers are "Key", Not the Banks!
No Bailouts for Union-Busting Banks!

Rally at the Bank!
Wed. December 10, 4:30pm
Key Bank, 726 SE Morrison St


Join Jobs with Justice for a week of action calling for a "People's Bailout" that fixes the real economy, restores a voice for working people in challenging corporate greed, provides emergency help to the victims of the crisis and begins building a fair economy that works for all, addressing crises in housing, health care, jobs, retirement security and the environment.

Key Bank was approved for $2.5 billion as part of the national bailout. But instead of using the money to give relief to those hardest hit in the current economy,

Key Bank is misusing their bailout money to buy other banks and underwrite Oak Harbor Freight Lines, a company that has violated workers' rights by coercing and intimidating striking workers, discriminating against minorities and women and cutting off health care for retired employees.

December 8, 2008

Human Rights Day in Salem, OR.

December 10th is the internationally recognized day to celebrate the fundamental human rights that belong to all of us.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Jobs with Justice Coalition would like to invite you to the intersection of Liberty and Chemeketa in downtown Salem as a show of support for the recognition of International Human Rights Day and the dignity that we all deserve:

*A life free of exploitation, insecurity, deprivation; an end to
unemployment, hunger and homelessness.

*An end to racism, national oppression, anti-Semitism; of all forms of discrimination, prejudice and bigotry. An end to the unequal status of women.

*Renewal and extension of democracy; an end to the rule of corporate America and the private ownership of the wealth of our nation. Creation of a truly humane and rationally-planned society that will stimulate the fullest flowering of the personality, creativity and talent of the individual.

--by Gus Hall

Come show your support for a more just world, send a message that working people need a bailout!

Location: The intersection of Liberty and Chemeketa in downtown Salem

Time: noon to 1 pm

Bring a sign that expresses your concerns

In Defense Of Autoworkers

IF YOU had an opportunity to address Congress about the auto bailout as a rank and file UAW member, what would you say? Would it go something like this?: read more here...

December 7, 2008

Workers occupy Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago--UE gets it right!

(Please go to the UE's website for breaking news of this important struggle. Media reports that the workers have won and that the struggle is over are incorrect. Yahoo News has an updated slideshow of the struggle. Peoples Weekly World coverage is here.)

In an exciting development, workers at a plant in Chicago are occupying their plant this weekend and picketing Bank of America offices as well. It is no surprise that these actions are being led by the United Electrical workers union, a rank-and-file driven union with a great history and a growing presence in the labor movement once again. We watch factories close and homes get taken by the banks without much protest. Someone just needs to light the match, as we have said on this blog previously. Occupy a workplace, move the furniture back inside a foreclosed home, give sanctuary to undocumented workers, refuse to fight against other workers in the midst of state budget cuts--just do something! We don't have to be victims.

WINS has great on-going coverage of the workers' struggle, complete with interviews. Go here for that coverage. The AFl-CIO blog has an item on the sit-in and accepts comments as well. This action is clearly inspiring people internationally. The Socialist Worker website has some support declarations and coverage.

Jobs with Justice is doing good updates. Look at them here. Monthly Review is also doing great coverage.

President-elect Obama has also voiced support for the workers. Read about it here.

What follows is a report from UE on the action.


National news networks CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and Fox News, as well as Chicago news media, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other news outlets, are reporting on the following dramatic developments involving UE members in Chicago.

Members of UE Local 1110 who work at Republic Windows and Doors are occupying the plant around the clock this weekend, in an effort to force the company and its main creditor to meet their obligations to the workers. Their goal is to at least get the compensation that workers are owed; they also seek the resumption of operations at the plant. See video below, and here, a slide show here, and read more here.



Support the workers' struggle here.

December 4, 2008

Labor protest at Willamette University

A labor struggle is happening on the campus of Salem, Oregon's Willamette University. If you are concerned about fair wages and fair working conditions the photo essay linked to below is well worth watching.
*****
Notes from the creator of the photo essay, Nathaniel I. Córdova:

In the early morning of Friday, November 21 the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters (PNRCC) held a protest against Delta Drywall -- in front of the Ford Hall project site. A student was lucky enough to get wind of this action and decided to capture photos and audio for a mini-documentary of that moment.

Here's the link to that photo-essay:
http://www.willamette.edu/~ncordova/pnrcc/

The photo essay has a brief audio statement by (Oregon) State Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene). My task was solely to document the event, and I offer that project for your enjoyment and information, and not as any kind of political statement. I wish I had been able to record more audio, and also to record representatives from Delta, but neither was an option at the moment. All audio and images are used with express permission of the participants. The photo-essay is approximately 3 minutes and 30 seconds long.

***
Also see our Willamette Reds' blog post on October 30, 2008 about this issue.

Jan Sobrino

Pax Christi recently honored Rev. Jon Sobrino, SJ. Fr. Sobrino is one of the leaders and founders of the movement for liberation theology. He is also the sole surviving member of the Jesuit community assassinated in El Salvador in 1989.

You can see a great interview with Fr. Sobrino here and a continuation of that interview here.

Odetta

Odetta's voice swept across several generations and gave many of us the means to see America in a new light. She was a child of the African-American working class and her love and her music challenged us to be better, to be more and to be more whole and to come together. She lived to see the victory in November and had hopes of playing at the inauguration. Now she has gone to the ancestors, joining Miriam Makeba and many other of our organic intellectuals and creators who have passed recently.

Read about her here in the People's Weekly World.

And check out the Pan-African News story. Pan-African news hits it almost every time.

Let's not be too abstract. Odetta would not want us to be. We have political prisoners in the US. Go here to read about three of them.

December 2, 2008

Justice at Providence: Build Portland labor solidarity this Saturday!

Join healthcare workers at Providence in their on-going efforts to win a union this Saturday, December 6, at 1:00 PM at the (Portland, Oregon) Providence Festival of Trees at the Convention Center (MLK Blvd. main entrance).

It's St. Nicolas Day, so come dressed in red or dress like an elf. Workers will be caroling for a fair union election.

Can't make it at 1:00 PM? The workers will be out there 'til 3:00 PM trying to win support for their efforts.

Please turn out and help these workers win!

Committees of Correspondence on the auto industry bailout

A statement of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

November 25, 2008

The unfolding crisis of capitalism is fraught with pain and suffering for working people. Job losses, declining wages, plant closings, shuttered small businesses, plummeting government resources for public services and physical infrastructure all remind us of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The first eight years of the 21st century have been marked with the "normal" economic crisis of capitalism: over-production and declining rates of profit. The crisis has been deepened by eight years of war and the largest military spending since World War II. Government polices of craven tax cuts and shrinkage of government services have led to a dramatic redistribution of wealth from the many to the few.

Key sectors of the US economy are in financial crisis. First, banking and investment houses, stock and bond markets, and various new financial networks designed to increase the riches of the wealthy began to collapse.

Now, CEOs from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler claim that their companies are near financial collapse. Congress voted a blanket $700 billion bailout to the financial sector in October. Auto executives have just completed the first round of their appeal to Congress for an additional $25 billion to save the auto industry from collapse.

The American people are faced with a contradiction. Capitalism which is based on the exploitation of the working class, demands that the working class bail it out. Yet, if the working class says "no bailout" to key sectors of the capitalist system, they will suffer the most.

Arguments from right wing circles are that UAW wages, claimed to be $75 an hour, are the problem. There is no truth in this assertion, as the UAW itself explains that huge concessions on wages and benefits have reduced the autoworkers" share of the value they create to the same level (or less) in comparison with the U.S. non-union auto worker sector (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc). This can only lead to further erosion of wages and benefits as workers in the non-union sector are forced to accept a new round of the downward wage spiral.

Anti-union company campaigns have defeated several UAW attempts to organize the non-union auto assembly plants. Outsourcing of jobs to non-union plants, increased productivity and moving production to other countries has reduced active UAW membership from 1.5 million in 1979 to 460,000 in 2007. The "jobs bank" that provided a measure of job security for laid off autoworkers was negotiated in the mid-1980s in lieu of wage increases and other benefits. Now the UAW is faced with mounting pressure to give it up.

It cannot be denied that if Congress refuses to act in support of some kind of bridge loan and allows the auto companies go bankrupt, there will be catastrophic pain and suffering far beyond the UAW membership. United Auto Worker (UAW) president Ron Gettelfinger estimates a loss of 3 million jobs, substantial cuts in pension and health benefits for 1 million UAW retirees and their dependents, and increased drains on public services at the same time as the tax base declines.

In testimony Nov. 19th before the House Committee on Financial Services, UAW President Gettelfinger called for a $25 billion loan "conditioned on stringent limits relating to executive compensation, as well as provisions granting the federal government an equity stake in the auto companies in order to protect the investment by taxpayers."

The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) agrees with the UAW, and adds the following for consideration:

The loan guarantees must be coupled with requirements that the industry immediately

a.Pursue the production of new energy efficient, environmentally friendly low-cost automobiles;

b.Promote the development of a single payer health care system (HR 676) to guarantee health care for all, regardless of employment;

c.End the outsourcing of production of new vehicles to non-union plants;

d. End the drive to cut UAW negotiated wages and benefits and support the drive for unionization and livable wages for all workers in the industry;

e. Guarantee current and retirement benefits;

f. Radically reconfigure CEO salaries to the levels of CEOs in other auto companies;

g. End the threat of bankruptcy proceedings, particularly as they might relate to breaking union contracts.

Additionally, we call on Congress and the White House to move aggressively to take over idle auto production facilities and utilize them for an expanded public transportation authority for building high speed rail and other mass transit systems.

Lastly, but importantly, the workers who make the cars have poured their skills, their knowledge, their sweat and their hopes for the future into the auto industry. Their experiences make them best able to counter the greed and incompetence of the industry's owners and CEOs who have brought the auto business to its current disastrous condition. The auto industry should be restructured to give its workers controlling equity and a strong democratic voice in meeting the enormous challenges that it faces.

CCDS offers these proposals to help stimulate debate. Our goal is to participate in a broad-based movement to protect the basic living conditions of the working class while we also work with others to create a new, humane society.

Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
520 Eighth Avenue, 14th Floor
New York, NY 10018
(212)868-3733
national@cc-ds.org
www.cc-ds.org

December 1, 2008

Bill Sizemore Goes To Jail, Tom Cole Sends An E-mail And The Beat Goes On

Bill Sizemore ended up in jail today in an almost-unbelievable turnaround in his on-going battle with public employee unions and, really, with the working people of Oregon. This is Sizemore's fourth time being found in contempt of court. You can read about it here.

Hate radio talk show host Lars Larson somehow missed getting his usual defense of Sizemore out on the air today. I don't like using military analogies, but in the general retreat of the right now taking place perhaps Sizemore will be left behind on the battlefield as a casualty not considered worth saving.

Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent out a blast e-mail this afternoon saying, "The first item of the Democrats' liberal agenda is upon us and we must stop it today! The big unions went all out to elect Barack Obama President and to strengthen Democrat majorities in both Houses of Congress. And now, Nancy Pelosi is attempting to push through their top legislative priority known as 'Card Check.'"

Cole is referring to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and the labor movement's legislative attempt to move labor law forward and step around employer intimidation of workers trying to unionize. EFCA gets mixed reviews from many labor activists at the grassroots and passage of EFCA may indeed be delayed until there is an economic upswing and President Obama knows that he can get it passed without a meltdown taking place in DC. Republicans may sense hesitation or division in Democratic ranks when it comes to dealing with labor's full political agenda immediately and Cole's message is a step in testing the waters and building momentum for that meltdown.

Cole's timing could hardly be worse for his side, however. Sizemore was on his way to jail just as Cole's e-mail hit. Sizemoe finds himself in all of this trouble after losing repeatedly to labor's mobilizations. The Republicans are showing no signs of uniting nationally and have bigger problems to contend with than unions. Georgia remains a battleground--sorry for that second military analogy--as Palin heads there to the yawns of Republicans almost everywhere and Jim Martin rallies African-Americans and labor to his campaign. Its that unceasing yawning that should concern Republicans.

Cole goes on to say, "With the decline in union membership continuing, we know the real answer to why big unions want to change the election process."

In light of what happened to Sizemore today, we might fill in "the real answer" ourselves--we hope that it's so that Sizemore and more right-wing crooks like him end up in jail and workers can win more from the bosses. That would be union dues money well spent, I think.

This underlines for me EFCA's real value and importance. It may or may not turn out to be a trustworthy mechanism for building union strength and working class power. However, pushing EFCA forward now and getting it passed will be a tremendous psychological victory for workers and just as much of a loss for the right. We should not underestimate or discount the importance of continuing to fight the right: the Republicans will eventually reorganize, conservative Democrats can derail change and "bipartisanship" can move us backwards if the fight against the right slows or stops. On the other hand, progressives can win space and time for their agendas by staying on the offense with core principles and some lasting wins. Moving EFCA forward also tests the labor movement's resolve and Obama's administration in making change early on. If led correctly, the fight for EFCA and its passage can give new shape, content and depth to the movements which united to win in November.

November 30, 2008

Carl Davidson on the election

American progressives have won a major victory in helping to defeat John McCain and placing Barack Obama in the White House. The far right has been broadly rebuffed, the neoconservative war hawks displaced, and the diehard advocates of neoliberal political economy are in thorough disarray. Of great importance, one long-standing crown jewel of white supremacy, the whites-only sign on the Oval Office, has been tossed into the dustbin of history.

The depth of the historical victory was revealed in the jubilation of millions who spontaneously gathered in downtowns and public spaces across the country, as the media networks called Obama the winner. When President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama took the platform in Chicago to deliver his powerful but sobering victory speech, hundreds of millions-Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American and white, men and women, young and old, literally danced in the streets and wept with joy, celebrating an achievement of a dramatic milestone in a 400-year struggle, and anticipating a new period of hope and possibility.

Now a new period of struggle begins, but on a higher plane. An emerging progressive majority will be confronted with many challenges and obstacles not seen for decades. Left and progressive organizers face difficult, uncharted terrain, a bumpy road. But much more interesting problems are before us, with solutions, should they be achieved, promising much greater gains and rewards. for the America of popular democracy....read more here.

November 28, 2008

Jason Goodwin DisOriented

Author Jason Goodwin recently made it on to National Public Radio to plug both his most recent book, The Snake Stone, and his forthcoming novel, The Bellini Card. The interview went well enough for Goodwin and his books seem to be selling briskly. He has received a great deal of favorable attention from critics and the media for three of his novels and for a popular history he wrote of the later Ottoman Empire.

The novels are murder mysteries set in the early 18th century in Istanbul. The lead character is a eunuch, Yashim, who is able to move freely between the Sultan's court, the European diplomatic community and the streets of Istanbul. His position as a knowledgeable and discerning outsider gives Yashim certain advantages in solving crimes, or at least in anticipating the chaos that they will create. Goodwin has created a complex lead character who functions in several different environments with his own angst, friendships and desires. All of Goodwin's other characters live in Yashim's shadow.

Yashim's life and times offer a set of good premises for a murder mystery series. Less than one century is left for Ottoman rule and modern nationalism is developing in Europe and spreading with new social relationships conditioned by rapidly emerging industrial capitalism. Some classes and individuals are stuck in the past while others are shaping the future. A complex character who moves between communities and classes in a time of approaching social crisis could engage readers. Goodwin and his characters never rise to that point of interest and engagement.

The problem is that Goodwin is an Orientalist of almost the worst sort. In the 19th century, if not before, some in the west showed an unsavory and pornographic interest in Ottoman society and produced pornography which tells us more about their twisted minds than about Ottoman society. Production of this pornography continued well into the 20th century. Goodwin continues on with this tradition. What are we to think when we read of Yashim making love with the wife of a Russian diplomat and she saying, "So take me, Turk!" and worse in Goodwin's The Janissary Tree?

Moreover, Goodwin is a lazy historian. He doesn't bother to grasp the complexity of relations existing between, say, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and others in the Ottoman Empire. He doesn't grasp the finer points of Syriac and Greek Orthodox theology or the mysticism of the Sufis. He doesn't understand Pan-Slavism and gives it a social role in his novels well before it developed. This laziness gives many of his characters flat, one-dimensional personalities that we recognize from modern spy novels and movies.

Goodwin also seems to have nothing good to say about the Greeks and never questions the economic or political viability of the Empire, based as it was on the subjugation of so many disparate peoples. In a typical passage in Goodwin's novels a Greek will say, "What you comes so late in the day, eh? Buying this old shit! Yous an old lady? Yous keeping rabbits now? I puts everything away." Greek independence is seen as a disaster and as the result of a conspiracy between other governments. No other national group is so disparaged in Goodwin's writing. The books also manage to insult Islam and the sense of time in Ottoman society by giving western dates and years instead of marking time and events with the Islamic calendar. Islamic theology is glossed over.

Goodwin gives to some of his characters the stereotyped voices and motives of the English working class. A Turkish watchman answers a question with, "Warm and bright, mate." A Turkish grocer uses a thumbs-up sign. A prostitute says, "All right, petal? Here's your kit. Shove it on, love, I'm done. Go on." The reader might wait for someone to turn on the tv or ask about Paris Hilton next.

This is not only bad writing and laziness. Capitalism holds its power to some extent because it convinces us that there are no alternatives and that human nature rebels against anything other than competition. It rewrites the past with its own unique concept of human nature so that past and the present always look remarkably similar and the future only offers more of the same. Goodwin and his Orientalism are complicit in this to the extent that they paint over another epoch and another society with the peculiar relations and sensibilities of the present. Ottoman society still offers us much to explore and learn from, and murder mysteries can be fun ways to stretch the mind and the imagination, but Goodwin and Orientalism fall far short here and don't satisfy.

November 26, 2008

Amin Maalouf's Origins

When I was a kid we referred to Lebanon as "The Lebanon." Like Argentina--"The Argentine"--we thought of Lebanon as more of a region than a country. Looking back, I can see that this served to deny each country its nationhood and self-determination. In Lebanon's case, it also echoed its diversity and its history under Ottoman rule.

Amin Maalouf has written in Origins (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, 404 pages, $26)an account of four generations of his family's history. This is also a story of Arab and Lebanese identity and emigration. As such, it holds a part of modern Lebanon's history and a plea for cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence in its pages. Maalouf is a skilled writer and an intellectual who has made his plea for respecting the world's diversity based on our shared and complex histories his life's work.

"Barely a hundred years ago," Maalouf writes, "Lebanese Christians readily proclaimed themselves Syrian, Syrians looked to Mecca for a king, Jews in the Holy Land called themselves Palestinian...and my grandfather Botros liked to think of himself as an Ottoman citizen. None of the present-day Middle Eastern states existed, and even the term 'Middle East' hadn't yet been invented. The commonly used term was 'Asian Turkey.'Since then, scores of people have died for allegedly eternal homelands, and many more will die tomorrow." This short passage occurs at the book's halfway point and the author could stop here, his point having been made. We are fortunate that he continues on with the story of his family and other similar observations.

The author's family spread from "The Lebanon" to Europe, the Americas and Australia. Maalouf's enigmatic grandfather, Botros, remained at home in order to fulfill his familial responsibilities and also in order to have some role in crafting an independent country. At times he remained at home as much out of spite as out of love, it seems. The family experienced great losses and divisions wherever family members settled and much of the book revolves around how Maalouf has been affected by this as he seeks to better understand himself and others. What stops this book from becoming merely one man's search for his identity and roots is the author's mixing of historical fact with family legends and his self-conscious push, articulated in the first pages of the book, beyond nationalism and identity politics. Maalouf is holding up a mirror, but in it we see ourselves as well as the author.

Maalouf is a humanist and he reminds his readers that he comes to his humanism through a family and a nation divided along barely-forgiving confessional and political lines. Rarely in his books will the reader feel that she is being preached at, although there is this constant reminder of the author's origins and world view. Much of Maalouf's argument is against fanaticism, particularly religious fanaticism, but in Origins he seems to finally fold in the face of it within his own family. He can be sentimental, but it is difficult to imagine anyone writing a family history without sentimentalism and nostalgia. He is more evocative than nostalgic or sentimental in any case. Maalouf also maintains a petty-bourgeois intellectual's studied skepticism of revolutionary movements and governments even when the reality before him contradicts this skepticism.

It is Maalouf's tremendous ability to put people and events in historical perspective, and then to forgive, which wins the reader over. There is no vanity in his analysis or forgiveness. Moreover, Maalouf is so anti-dogmatic that even his humanism provides a basis for self-criticism and critique by others. Maalouf is at his best when he pushes this forward with full-throttled eloquence and through good story-telling and it is then that he steps somewhere beyond his class position and towards a more revolutionary humanism.

This is not a book that the left should ignore. Maalouf's reading of history and his intellectual fight for diversity, free expression and self-determination in the face of globalization should not be left to the liberals. We should take up Maalouf's challenges to be better thinkers and better people in light of our historical experiences.

Disappearing retirement: a socialist view

Grim Retirement Prospects for Boomers ... and Pre-Boomers
Left Margin
By Carl Bloice
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

Let’s say you retired from your job some time over the past ten years or so and when you did you had about as much as, or maybe a little less than, what Governor Palin spent on her campaign outfit in your 401k- retirement account. First thing you did was roll it into an IRA. Right now you take a stiff drink before opening your monthly statement because you know your nest egg will have shrunk appreciably and if it keeps up at this rate you won’t be able to replace your 501s when they start to fall apart. A lot has been written and said about the pre-retirement baby boomers and their incredibly shrinking 401s but little about the pre-boomers who once thought they would move comfortably into their sunset years, well placed to replace their hearing aids and glasses and still have a little to spend on vacation. For many of them the situation is looking increasingly grim.

A little over 12 percent of the country’s population is 65 and over;58 percent of them are women. Of course, many of them don’t have concerns about retirement accounts. Some are well to do without them but a much larger group of retired workers are solely dependent on Social Security and Medicare to survive.

That’s not to say that the position of those born after 1946 isn’t precarious. I got an email from a distressed boomer the other day saying she lost $10,000 in September. That same day, at a union hall, a steelworker retiree in Ohio told BBC-TV he had lost 37 percent of his retirement money over the same month.

“Retirement and financial experts now predict that retirees and older workers who rely on financial investments for retirement income may suffer more than any portion of the American population in the coming years,” Rep. George Miller (D-Ca.) told a recent Congressional hearing. “Unlike Wall Street executives, American families don't have a golden parachute to fall back on. It's clear that their retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis. The current financial and housing crises are stripping wealth from American families at a record rate.”

Experts testifying at an October 7th hearing before House Education and Labor Committee, which Miller heads, said U.S. workers have lost as much as $2 trillion in retirement savings over the past year.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve been confronted with older worker and retirees’ lives being turned upside down; their panic tops off an already existing state of chronic anxiety about retirement futures,” Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at The New School for Social Research, told the hearing.

The home mortgage crisis is making things worse. One of the reasons working people jumped into the housing market so eagerly during the “bubble” was that home ownership was touted as a more profitable way of saving for the future than putting your money in the bank. For a while it seemed to be true. That is, until the illusion was shattered and it all fell apart.

A recent study, “The Impact of the Housing Crash on Family Wealth,” analyzed the finances of families headed by people between the ages of 45 and 54 in 2004 and projected the wealth of families headed by people who will be in this age group in 2009 and found that even if real house prices remain what they are today most of these families will have little or no housing wealth in 2009. “This extraordinary
destruction of wealth will have tremendous implications for millions of families as they enter retirement,” said report co-author Dean Baker. “Coupled with a very low personal savings rate, this means that many people will only have Social Security and Medicare to rely on in their retirement.”

Rep. Miller cited a recent poll that revealed 63 percent of the people in the country are worried that they will not have enough savings for their retirement. “Tragically, they may very well be right. Due to the collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis, trillions of dollars that Americans were counting on has been lost,” said Miller. “Americans were counting on much of this wealth for their retirement. Now it is gone - as is their ability to adequately fund their retirement.”

Or, for retirees to hang on to what they have salted away from their earnings or invested in their homes over the years.

Needless to say, meaningful action to arrest the wave of massive home foreclosures and ensure most people can remain in their homes would help greatly to alleviate the effects of the growing retirement funding crisis. House prices can be expect to continue to decline for some time, however, and the guarantee of a place to live would offset some of the precariousness brought on by the steady undermining of
retirement security.

Keep in mind the retirement fund checks those who have left the labor market receive each month are not entitlements. These are from 401k plans they were assured would leave them in a better position on leaving the workforce than the traditional pension plans employers have jettisoned with abandon over recent years.

“The current financial crisis has certainly highlighted the fact that 401(k) participants - whose 401(k) account represent their sole retirement savings-bear all the investment risk,” said Jerry Bramlett, CEO of BenefitStreet, Inc., an independent retirement plan administration firm. “The pain is particularly acute for those participants closer to retirement whose retirement income expectations have been significantly impaired possibly resulting in the need to postpone retirement.”

The newspapers and the airwaves are full of advice to people caught up in the retirement security crisis. It’s pretty much what financial advisers and benefit managers are telling folks all over the country:don’t sell, don’t leave the market, if you move your money to a place that may be more secure - but with lower rates of return - you will lock yourselves into the lower rate. How long it will take until the economy heals range anywhere from two to 10 years. That’s when it bottoms out and starts to improve. As one forward-looking retiree recently pointed out, the stock market recovered fully 25 years after the 1929 crash that heralded the Great Depression. The Dow Jones average didn’t return to pre-1929 levels until 1954. The reaction of some of today’s retirees is quite understandable: I should live so long.

Scanning the special media reports on retirement security and the advice being offered up for coping with the crisis there is one reoccurring theme: a lot of people have decided they cannot afford to retire and thus plan to–or wish to–remain on the job into their 70s. The problem is employers are more apt to lay off older workers before they retire because they are the most costly. But the reports seldom indicate fully why this is so. It is not just because they have been around long enough to receive wage raises. The employers can be expected to replace them with younger workers offering new hires fewer benefits, including retirement provisions. As unemployment rises they will have little problem doing so.

World capitalism is in crisis. There is going to be widespread deprivation and little illustrates the inequities of the system better than the differing prospects between those who have worked hard and saved as they were told to and those who can expect to feel none of the pain. Michael Winship, senior writer for Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, says a look at the recent financial sector bailout activity reveals that “The fat cats at the top had nothing to worry their pretty little whiskers about. Not only have most of their businesses been saved, for now at least, but they’ve already been pretty successful at protecting their high-rolling lifestyles, and finding bailout loopholes that allow them to keep hauling in the big bucks.”

By soon after these words are read, the county will have a new President-elect. A lot of hope is being placed in the community organizer dude from Chicago. Surely he is acquainted with the insecurity that plagues working people today in the face of jobs disappearing, homes being lost and retirement savings being decimated. It is not enough to merely hope that those assuming leadership will act with speed and vigor to rescue those affected, at least equal to that Washington has shown for the big banks and insurance companies. It won’t happen automatically. Working class families and individuals and the communities in which they live will have to insist upon it.

November 24, 2008

Could this happen in Oregon? Czech anti-Roma riots sound familiar.

Recent anti-Roma (Gypsy) riots in the Czech Republic seem far away and irrelevant to events here in the US. However, these riots form part of the on-going continent-wide repression directed against the Roma and they take place as the world economic crisis deepens. Much of the anti-Roma rhetoric sounds suspiciously similar to what hate groups like the Oregon Minutemen say about Spanish-speaking workers here. A few of the Minutemen leaders are tragically misdirected union members who might feel at home in an organization like the misnamed and so-called "Workers' Party" described below.

What follows is a press release from the European Roma Information Office and coverage of a recent riot.

The racist attack occurred today in the Czech Republic is just the last one of a series of anti-Gypsy episodes alarmingly spreading across the European Union in the last months. After Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Italy and Spain, now it is in Litvinov (a northern Czech town) where extreme right groups openly attack Roma communities.

Today, more than 500 persons from the extreme right Workers Party tried to assault a Roma neighbourhood but about 1000 policemen blocked their way. This attempt happened during a march whose route was abruptly diverted in order to attack the Roma neighbourhood with stones, batons and petrol bombs. Seven police officers were injured by the clashes.

It is unacceptable that similar events occur in today’s European Union, whose Member States are supposed to be homeland of human rights and minority protection. That’s why we are calling once again on the European institutions to set up an EU wide strategy for Roma protection and inclusion in the main society. “Nowadays – stated Ivan Ivanov, ERIO’s Executive Director – every country can decide on its own how to deal with the Roma issue, following its own model. But those violent attacks against Roma show once again that it is high time for the European Union to deploy a strong European Roma policy, so every Member State can provide the Roma community with the same guarantees of protection and respect of their fundamental rights. We hope that the Czech Republic, a country where a solution for the Roma issue is urgently needed, will do its best during its EU presidency in the first semester of 2009 to push for a Europe-wide strategy to counter racism and discrimination against Roma”.

See video from the riots and the story on BBC news here.

For further inquiries, please contact ERIO’s Executive Director: Ivan Ivanov, +32/473/823887.

Visit our website: www.erionet.org.

November 23, 2008

Communists on the auto bailout

Save jobs, and the planet: Don't leave Auto CEOs in the drivers seat!

by John Rummel

The Big Three auto companies may not like unions, consumers,environmentalists and the government having input into how their business is run, but with sales at a 25-year low, they would be in a much better position if they did.

General Motors is said to be facing bankruptcy. That would have large repercussions for the U.S. economy, particularly for the workers involved, and that's no small number: The grand total of jobs directly and indirectly created by auto manufacturing has been estimated between 5 and 8 million.

A loan to retool the companies to make energy-efficient cars gained congressional approval in September. It made good sense. Now larger loans are being considered. But they should only be provided if more stakeholders are brought to the decision-making table. Until now, a handful of owners have been disastrously guiding this core American industry.

In fact, what the auto companies’ bailout request shows is the need for more public input and control over the direction of industries that have such a large impact on our nation and world. If that had taken place with the auto industry 30 years ago, we likely wouldn't be in the position we are today. Government regulation has made GM and Ford successful — in Europe!

In the 1970s, after the oil embargo, with gasoline rationed and prices rising, U.S. auto companies finally started producing smaller cars. But as gas prices fell, they went back to making bigger cars and then began producing the SUV, whose size both foreign and domestic makers have continued to expand. They claim they were just building what the public demanded, but wasn't it the quick profits they reaped from selling heavily marketed, gas-guzzling SUVs that really dictated their decisions?

This gets to the heart of the problem.

Ignoring the harmful effects on the environment, they lobbied to waive or lower fuel economy standards for SUVs and trucks. The U.S. and Canada have the lowest fleet-average fuel economy standards and the highest greenhouse gas emission rates among “first world” nations. And the companies ignored the interests of autoworkers by shopping their jobs around the world to the lowest bidders.

The United Auto Workers union feels any additional loans should guarantee its recently negotiated retiree health care fund, and who can blame them? It’s a necessary ingredient, though we must also move toward guaranteeing health care and a decent retirement for all.

But fundamentally, even if gas prices remain low — and that’s doubtful— our economy and our planet require us to move away from reliance on oil, towards alternative energy sources and mass transit. Al Gore has drawn the link between restoring manufacturing jobs and urgent action to prevent global environmental catastrophe. In a New York Times op ed last week, outlining a plan to get all our energy from carbon-free sources in 10 years, Gore wrote,"We should help America's automobile industry...convert quickly to plug-in hybrids" that can run on renewable electricity available from a nationwide grid he foresees being built.

Gore argues that a major jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy quickly and sustainably. That goes against the grain of capitalism’s profits-before-people approach. Can the decisions required to rebuild our country, save auto and other manufacturing jobs and stop global warming be solely left to the CEOs? Doesn’t real democracy require the public to have a say in how our money is spent?

Any auto industry bailout must prioritize the twin goals of restoring manufacturing jobs and greening our economy.

In the national interest, any loans to the Big Three need to include requirements such as: 1) this money be used to develop and produce energy-efficient and alternative energy vehicles here in the U.S.; 2)Parts going into these vehicles be 70 percent or more U.S.-made; 3)priority be given to states with high unemployment where the workforce has long experience in the industry; 4) establishment of a "corporate responsibility board" with labor, consumer, community and government
representatives.

John Rummel (MichiganPWW@gmail.com) writes frequently for the People’s Weekly World and is the Michigan organizer for the Communist Party USA.

November 20, 2008

Who made William Donohue my spokesperson?

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is somehow managing to get serious media time denouncing Obama. He's on program with reactionary clergy like Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Diocese of Kansas City in Kansas, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis, Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and others. The media helps these forces by showing a surprising lack of interest in the resurgent Catholic peace and progressive groups, which are increasingly led by people of color and women. CNN won't even put on a progressive Catholic spokesperson to answer Donohue's alarmist claims.

Something like 54 per cent of Catholics voted for Obama. In many states this surge was led by Latino/as. The push from Donohue and the Catholic right risks permanently alienating the youth and people of color in the Catholic Church.

This push from the Catholic right is vaguely reminiscent of the Republican cave-in just before the elections. We see in both cases right wing leaders using hot rhetoric not supported by facts and this rhetoric increasing in tone and temper as their support at the base diminishes. Attention has turned instead to the economic crisis, ending the war, environmental problems and dealing with racism. The Church hierarchy is not leading in providing solutions in these key areas while rank-and-file parishioners are looking for help.

In this current dangerous rerun from the Catholic right we're hearing some church leaders say that they will close Catholic hospitals before they will allow these hospitals to perform abortions. The church hierarchy is distorting the record by claiming that the Obama administration will either force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or deny them all federal funding. This has the effect of causing poor and working class communities dependent upon Catholic hospitals to panic. It also exposes some of the hypocrisy built into how the church hierarchy views the hospitals: they most often refuse to intervene when workers in these hospitals try to unionize, claiming that they cannot affect labor relations policies at the hospitals, but they're talking about closing entire healthcare systems as they protest a non-existent abortion policy. It will be sadly ironic if Catholic healthcare systems are largely left out of plans for universal or national healthcare.

As a Catholic I protest Donohue's media-grabbing agitation and the Catholic right reaction to Obama's victory and the movement that made this victory possible.

More (and more) on the auto bailout

The media is talking about the proposed auto bailout "stalling" or "skidding to a halt." Something more than bad puns is at issue here.

From a labor point of view, it must be hard being United Auto Workers (UAW) president Ron Gettelfinger. It looks like the auto makers brought him along as an afterthought in their first public round of lobbying for a bailout. A predictable attack on Gettelfinger and UAW members came from the far right and was then joined by some of Gettelfinger's presumed liberal allies like Robert Reich. Reich went to some trouble to say that his views are his own, but his roles in the Clinton administration and in liberal circles make us wonder to what extent his views are shared by incoming Obama administration policy makers and advisers.

After that first public round, Gettelfinger seemed to take a backseat or to disappear completely from lobbying efforts. The media referred to him by his position, but not by name, or ignored him and the UAW completely. Only after the auto makers showed up in Washington without a plan detailing what they need did Gettelfinger get back in the picture. This arrogance on the auto maker's part is matched by their presumption that Gettelfinger and UAW members will be there for them come hell or high water.

In the meantime, of course, the attack from the right has spread, the industry is pointing at the union and the workers as the problem and foreign-owned companies with factories in the south are beginning to lobby against any bailout. Gettelfinger is reduced to pleading for worker healthcare and benefits and the weak contracts the union signed in the last Big Three negotiations. The industry scored $25 billion for retooling but now even that money is back on the table for renegotiation.

Lo and behold, it turns out that Toyota only has something like a $260 per-vehicle advantage over the American companies on American-made cars and in two or three years American and foreign-owned auto companies with plants in the US will have about-equal wage and benefit packages. No doubt wages will rise slightly in the non-union sector, but I believe that this has more to do with weakened UAW contracts. The right has been quite successful in building the myth of highly-paid union workers resistant to change and holding on to privileges in the face of progress and market forces.

What is at stake here is the widespread outsourcing and contracting out that the non-union foreign-owned companies do in the south and the "flexibility" this gives them in hiring and laying off people and avoiding the union. Most foreign auto manufacturers with plants in the US have been laying workers off and closing or cutting back plants in recent months without much negative impact on profits. Capitalism shows its real stupidity when these closed plants are mothballed and workers thrown overboard while competitors open new plants and train new workers in the same regions.

At some level, then, the fight over the auto industry bailout is a fight over capital's ability to behave stupidly. A section of multinational capital wants to maintain and extend its ability to outsource, contract out and move around the globe freely and without planning or social responsibility. The companies all want our tax dollars to finance this stupidity but are also competing with one another for that money and in the marketplace. It is not hard to argue that it should make no difference to workers and taxpayers whether companies are American-owned or foreign-owned when it comes to fleecing us. If industry wins this fight without compromise workers everywhere in the world lose. Contracting out, outsourcing, rewriting union contracts by legislative action, right-to-work laws and having taxpayers pick up the bill for multinationals will become more widespread. A win by the auto companies will also help the right and set back the movement that elected President Obama.

I believe that the foreign-owned companies do have some practical advantages over American-owned companies which need to be looked at before anyone raises the issue of UAW members giving up still more wages, benefits and healthcare. Foreign-owned companies can produce several different models on the same assembly lines and can retool a plant more quickly than American-owned companies can. Let's give capitalism credit here for establishing an almost immediate link between consumer demand and production.

But where did these companies get this expertise from? No doubt some of it came with them from Japan, Korea and Germany as they built plants in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. But much of it is also the results of state and regional subsidies--taxpayer money--given to the automakers to lure them into the non-union south. The reactionary southern politicians who offered the money and closed the deals with the manufacturers are now leading the charge against any bailout of the American-owned companies. Bush could act affirmatively in this situation but is unlikely to do so. The Republicans can afford to let this crisis deepen in the hopes of regaining lost ground in two years.

November 19, 2008

Labor and Obama: what helps and what hurts?

It now seems unlikely, though still possible, that Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern will get the Labor Secretary position in Obama's administration. Stern's appointment would be a logical extension of Obama's approach to politics and would help build something like a mechanism for organizing support and splitting opposition to the new administration. On the other hand, Stern's appointment would certainly antagonize other unions and the appointment process itself might coincide with SEIU's planned winter push for its national agenda in negative ways. Rumors that the Change to Win federation, which SEIU heads, would fold up shop have not come to pass. SEIU has already had a strong impact on the appointment process, but SEIU leadership is hoping for much more.

Randi Weingarten,president of the American Federation of Teachers, has publicly offered a "first step" from the union in talking about changing union work rules, seniority and merit pay. These issues may be raised by the union in contract negotiations or in legislative and lobbying efforts and this forms part of the union's approach to the economic crisis and the incoming administration.

The relatively liberal or progressive Campaign for America's Future has brought together AFL-CIO leaders, leading and ascending Democrats and a representative of the US Chamber of Commerce to talk about a renewed push to fund infrastructure investment and development. One of the arguments for pushing Obama's administration on funding large-scale infrastructure projects in its early days is that this can be built as a massive public works project at a time when so many people are losing jobs and liberals talk seriously about having to save capitalism from itself.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) received from Obama strong assurances before the election that the federal agencies they represent will be working with tougher regulations and better administrators under the new administration than they were under Bush. This should cover environmental and clean air policies, family leave issues, workplace safety and consumer rights if Obama is good for his word. AFGE and SEIU have been especially proactive in the transitional process and AFGE is publicly making its case for reversing the damage done by Bush in the agencies that that union represents. The union is also backing Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL-CIO for the Labor Secretary position just as Rich Trumka, now an AFL-CIO leader and formerly with the Mineworkers' union (UMWA), is also being mentioned for the post in competition with Stern. In fact, AFGE seems to be giving the impression that they are already accomplishing more for mine safety than the UMWA is.

Regardless of who is pushing change at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, both AFGE and the UMWA seem on their ways to a collision with the National Mining Association. The NMA has been an especially reactionary force and it will take a major united effort that no single union can afford to win against them.

I think that these four current examples of how labor leaders are trying to define their relationship to the new administration are noteworthy. Whatever her intentions, AFT president Weingarten's remarks are being taken by the media and policy wonks as an offer for union concessions in key areas and her remarks seem to have caught the National Education Association and many in the AFT off-guard. The push for long-term and national infrastructure repair and development as a public works project makes great sense, but I am not sure that the Chamber of Commerce or the contractors and transportation monopolies can be counted as true friends in the effort. It seems more likely that they will use us to get a few key projects underway and then continue to work against prevailing wage laws and union apprenticeship, closed shop and hiring hall systems. AFGE and SEIU seem to be making good progress while competition for filling the Labor Secretry job could disrupt or set back needed labor unity. This lack of unity between unions now means that we're fighting separately for sectoral or jurisdictional interests and risking taking hits in important areas because agendas conflict or do not have needed support. The temptation to concede something now in the hope of future gains for each union's membership in this situation will be very strong for union leaders.

November 16, 2008

Lower gas prices

I still can't afford to fill up my tank at one stop, but $20 does move the needle to the three-quarters mark on my gas gauge these days.

I have suspected all along that the oil and gas industries were engaging in massive speculation and trying to centralize capital and operations and that this is what accounted for higher prices at the pump. Like the banks and other financial institutions, the oil and gas companies were essentially on strike against society, demanding with higher prices what they could not win in Congress--deregulation, more drilling, exemption from already-too-weak environmental standards, intervention in Venezuela and Russia in order to capture other markets, long-term leases or ownership of reserves in the mideast and the ability to swallow up competitors.

Exxon Mobil is saying this week that they will make money whether pump prices are high or low. This is a one-hundred-and-twenty-six year old company, the world's largest corporation, and probably the most profitable US company by all standards. They are not budging from their position that their industry is the key driver of all economic progress. Despite what voters say and scientists and environmentalists show and predict, Exxon Mobil intends to keep mining, drilling and refining and putting their competition out of business. Their profit margin remains the best in the business. Only recently did the company back away from funding groups that argue that climate change is a myth. Company leaders say that they are not especially interested in renewable and alternate fuels or research and development in these areas, despite a few starts here. If the company can't maintain its profit margin in the developed world, the company says that it is positioned to intervene in the world's rising economies between now and 2030.

So it turns out that my worst suspicions were correct.

Why did pump prices drop? The damage to credit markets, the outcome of the elections, the refusals by the Russians and Venezuelans to give more and the market power of the largest oil and gas companies finally limited speculation to a smaller and wealthier number of companies. Exxon Mobil and the economists reporting on the company this week essentially agree on this.

Wholesale energy prices also dropped overall in October but these price drop did not make it to he consumer. This is also a form of speculation. Your electric, gas or oil bill didn't drop in October or November.

I do not expect prices to stay low or to drop much further.