January 30, 2009

"Literacy is the Road to Communism"

This image from 1920 was found at the New York Digital Library.

Having coffee with a comrade today, we were discussing how Bolivia's literacy rate has soared due to a "Yes I Can" national campaign, and the country is essentially free of illiteracy.

An article regarding this from "Cuba News" can be found here.

Corvallis--Palestinian Solidarity

A Celebration of Palestinian Culture
Music & Poetry
Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center
Saturday, February 7
5-7 PM
Donations will benefit the Middle Eastern Childrens Alliance
Call 541-766-8229 for more info

The Oregon FOR newsletter & Political Affairs

The new issue of the Oregon Fellowship of Reconciliation is out. You can read it here. Featured are several interesting articles on the meaning and impact of the November elections.

The new issue of Political Affairs has a short story which goes very well with the FOR newsletter. Read the story here. Take a look at the PA table of contents here.

January 29, 2009

Buy American?

One of the more controversial parts of the stimulus bill passed by the House last night is a provision that bars most foreign-produced steel and iron from the infrastructure projects laid out in the economic package. The Senate version of the package requires that almost all of the stimulus-funded projects use only American-made equipment and goods. The argument here is that these provisions will guarantee US jobs and help save the American economy. Sectors of multinational capital and finance capital argue that these provisions strike against free trade and help to worsen the global economic crisis. The new administration is probably divided over the response to the economic attack from the right and they have no interest at this point in having a public fight over trade policy. Note also that the public Republican attack on the stimulus package has so far not highlighted trade issues.

I have doubts that rebuilding heavy manufacturing in the US is possible or even desirable at this point. Much of heavy industry is gone and opposition from corporations like Caterpillar, General Electric and the domestic aerospace industry means that the capitalists and corporations who could rebuild industry simply will refuse to do so. This refusal may cost them some lost contracts and profits in the short-run, but it also puts them on a collision course with the Obama administration--a fight they probably think that they can win--and they can make up losses elsewhere in the world or in other economic sectors.

This is not protectionism as we have known it, but it does create some problems for the US relationship with the World Trade Organization. Here's hoping that President Obama has a good strategy when the US loses the almost-inevitable challenge to these provisions before the WTO.

There is a rational fear out there that foreign-owned banks, multinational capitalists and foreign governments will get what they can from the stimulus package and the bailouts and run home with the money. It can be argued that this provision in the stimulus package will encourage that, if only as a revenge-driven response. On the other hand, the US is not a bad long-term investment for multinational capital and capital itself is so globalized that it seems impossible for most money to reside in only one country or system for very long. The capitalists make money and increase profits through exploitation, after all, so money and investment have to circulate. The barriers now being put up to this mobility of capital around the globe defy the very logic of capitalism and will either be wiped out by capitalist growth and renegotiation or by some systemic disaster. The US cannot argue that these provisions are legal and okay while arguing that Chinese subsidies for steel production are illegal.

A loss for the US in this area could mean a rollback of "buy American" preferences enacted into law in the 1930s and 1980s, but the risk of matters getting that far or the US taking such a loss even-handedly seems remote to me. Also, the logic that the US can produce and use steel produced at higher costs than steel made elsewhere for very long also seems faulty to me. A more realistic approach would be to work on raising the wages and living standards common in other countries, stopping the slide in real wages here in the US and changing production methods or eliminating some products altogether in order to help save our planet.

Workers have little long-term economic interest in trade fights, despite what the two sides we hear in the media debating this have to say. Global economic expansion means imperialism and that only reinforces the power of the capitalists at home and abroad. It creates more transnational migration as workers are forced migrate for survival or a better deal and capitalists look to maximize profits and the rate of profit through increased exploitation of workers and the environment. Trade disputes frequently lead to wars and in those wars its the workers who die.

National economic expansion in a capitalist country, on the other hand, is more mythic than real and depends on a capitalist class with patriotic motivations--and those people and forces simply do not exist. It presupposes a relatively self-contained national economy, which also does not exist. It leaves domestic capitalists with the power and subordinates working class interests to abstract national or patriotic myths. Either way we lose.

Granted that the US is not starting from scratch--we have some basic industry left and the US steel industry was nearly at full and profitable capacity until the middle of last year--but the mini-mill system of steel production is inadequate to meet full US needs and the huge plants of yesteryear are either gone or are incredibly inefficient. There is also a shortage in the US of skilled workers needed to fill he jobs which might open up if mass steel production did resume.

Carpenters' Local 247 Endorses HR 676

Carpenters' Local 247 has endorsed HR 676, the single-payer healthcare legislation introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI).

An informal group of union members from different crafts, calling themselves Cross Trade Solidarity, has organized to push for endorsements of the Conyers' legislation in Portland-area locals.

HR 676 would institute a single-payer health care system in the U.S. by expanding a greatly improved Medicare system to every resident. It would cover every person in the U.S. for all necessary medical care including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, primary and preventive care, emergency services, dental, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including for substance abuse), vision care, chiropractic and long term care. It ends deductibles and co-payments. HR 676 would save billions annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs.

In the 110th Congress, HR 676 had 93 co-sponsors in addition to Conyers. It is an important piece of legislation with wide backing on paper, but the media rarely reports on it and healthcare "experts" tend to dismiss it. It is common wisdom or urban legend that single-payer can't work in the US, but most people--and certainly most working class people--will back single-payer when they know the facts and see a movement working for it.

The economic crisis is pushing many workers to lower our expectations and hopes and our organizations have not done a good job of keeping HR 676 front and center. We are arriving at a situation where people and organizations will hedge our bets and endorse HR 676 as well as other legislation which hardly provides what 676 does or perhaps give up entirely. A bold movement fighting for 676 needs to take off.

HR 676 has been endorsed by at least 481 union organizations in 49 states.

For further information, a list of union endorsers, or a sample endorsement resolution, contact:

Kay Tillow
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551
Email: nursenpo@aol.com

January 28, 2009

Workers and Obama Today

For much of this week, right-wing hate radio has been playing the race card and has put an especially hard edge on things by taking the line that the new administration's plans to rebuild infrastructure will come with strict affirmative action requirements which will put white construction workers on the dole. This is racist nonsense, of course, and shows what is probably a deliberate misunderstanding of federal laws and union rules by the hate-radio broadcasters.

Obama has clearly outsmarted and out-maneuvered the right by inviting leading Republicans to conference with him about the stimulus package. If this causes some problems for Obama supporters, it also splits the right. The hate radio deejays like Limbaugh fell back on accusing the administration of including the right so that Obama can pass the buck if, or when, the plan doesn't work. Their confusion only deepened when the administration cut some liberal add-ons to the package. The fall-back position for the right then became intensified racism.

We began to hope today that the administration is working towards a recovery and reinvestment plan which will enable economic recovery without doing more harm to workers, and will create meaningful jobs and invest in infrastructure. At least, we expect the administration to move in this direction; we know that it remains with unions to organize for investment in our communities and workplaces.

Doubts and pressure should have grown last week when the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment in the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" that would require all businesses and public private entities that get stimulus money to use E-Verify, a federal program that promotes workplace discrimination. It especially harms workers who are either falsely denied work or are targeted by employers who abuse the E-verify program. It also plays to the right by signaling that there is an opening for them on this issue and that liberals might be prepared to sacrifice immigrant workers and their communities for some possible greater good.

Unions correctly believe that we have a president who is willing to play to working class and middle class organizing and pressure. Obama's administration may not fully share this willingness to concede to the pressure that we can bring, but we won't know the extent of the administration's resistance to our idea of progress until we test it. The fight over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)--weak and limited as EFCA is--is one means of testing the administration. Obama supported EFCA during his campaign. How strong is that support today? And can EFCA and other changes be won in ways which do not play into the right's hands and which confront their racism?

Momentum may well be on our side, but this situation will not last for long and it needs to be tested.

Midway through the day, news came that reactionary forces were increasing their pressure and moving to block Rep. Hilda Solis’ (D-Calif.) confirmation as labor secretary. They are clearly testing the center and they're using the fight over EFCA to do that. Solis symbolizes for so many union members what change looks like without disturbing their comfort zones: she comes from a union family, has a strong record on union issues and broke ground as the first Latina elected to California's state Senate. She co-authored the Green Jobs Act, which authorized $125 million for workforce training programs targeted to veterans, displaced workers, at-risk youth, and individuals in families under 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Its positive effect on working class communities and on communities of color no doubt upset right-wing interests. She took a special interest in supporting farm workers, garment workers, and janitors--most often people of color--and has said that she will prioritize green jobs if appointed to the labor secretary position. A defeat on Solis, then, becomes a defeat for workers who are moving cautiously towards activism. Such a defeat might also work to push the new administration to the right. The right-wing knows this.

We are ending the day hearing that the House approved a stimulus bill with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the plan. Concessions were made to the right, but we don't yet know the extent of these compromises in practical terms. It is not the tax-the-rich, nationalize-the-banks and put-nature-before-profits package we need, even if we keep infrastructure repair and help for the unemployed and for states in sight. Republicans went into lock-step in voting against the bill and were joined by 11 Democrats who need to wake up. Obama's rush to move the package is probably not helping to mobilize real support for either the package or the administration's better angels among working class people.

Debate in the Senate on a similar package will begin on Monday and there will be more meetings and compromises struck between the administration and the Republicans as this debate moves forward. Meanwhile, we can expect more negative economic news as layoffs continue and unemployment grows. This can translate into panic in the administration and despair among workers or it can translate into real organizing and mobilizing for a working class program or political agenda. An opportunity to improve the bill and push for it and against the right will be lost if this organizing and mobilizing isn't attempted. The right wing will use every opportunity to argue that the bills will not help to create more jobs and they will certainly continue to play the race card into next week. The Republican alternative bill lost, but we should have expected and worked for an even wider margin of defeat for it. We can make up lost ground by pushing for the Solis appointment and a better economic package.

Angela Davis is coming to Portland!

Angela Davis will be speaking at Reed College's Kaul Auditorium on Saturday, February 21 at 7:00 PM.

Angela Davis is an internationally known writer, scholar, and activist who has been deeply involved in the struggle for economic, racial, and gender equality in the United States. Angela has taught at San Francisco State University, Mills College, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Vassar, the Claremont Colleges, and Stanford University. She has spent the last 15 years at UC Santa Cruz, where she is professor of the History of Consciousness, an interdisciplinary Ph.D program, and professor of Feminist Studies. Her most recent books are Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire and Are Prisons Obsolete?.

This is a great opportunity. Please turn out to hear Angela speak!

January 25, 2009

Listening To Bernice Johnson Reagon In Salem

Two of us went to hear Bernice Johnson Reagon at Willamette University on Friday evening. We can't call what she did performing, singing or lecturing because she went beyond all of this and engaged us with what was essentially a short course on how to struggle for change and power with a mix of music and spoken word.

Bernice Johnson Reagon is an intellectual in the sense that we marxists most often use the term. She carries the history of people's struggles with her, refines and communicates our experiences for us and pushes us to a higher level of struggle through her work. She was a founder of Sweet Honey In The Rock in 1973, she is a writer and she has made a number of recordings which help to fill out the history of the civil rights movement. Her academic, scholarly and cultural work is something more than impressive.

I thought that Bernice Johnson Reagon was at her best on Friday evening when she challenged us to give our lives meaning by joining in the struggle for freedom and making her case for this through song and storytelling. I heard names and was reminded of people and events that I have not thought of in many years. What I heard on Friday evening helped me to grasp something of the past in a new way: people take on struggles for human freedom without being fully formed in ideology or world view and we often don't know or cannot consider where these struggles will take us. We carry much from our pasts with us as we embark upon the new, and it takes others to push our work to its logical conclusions that we often cannot see. It was gratifying to hear Professor Reagon say that she accepted that she might be wrong about many things but still right in her fundamental desire for change. Our facts may not always be correct or in place, but our desire for liberation can serve as a corrective for our errors. Finally, Bernice Johnson Reagon reminded us that at least a few of us in the room are old enough to have breathed in the same air as did so many heroic people born into slavery and born into the historic struggles of the past. We do indeed have a responsibility to teach what we have learned.

The sales table at the event carried a number of great recordings. I bought the CD recording of "Give Your Hands to Struggle," which was first recorded by Paredon Records in 1975. Paredon was one of those small companies which carried on a tradition of recording and distributing people's music. This was raw movement music which I took for granted at the time. During the '70s there was a too-brief period when this music and the small collectives or companies that recorded it flowered before burning out. The music followed the fortunes of the movement. Perhaps we are seeing the rebirth of people's songs with people's movements.

I last heard Sweet Honey In The Rock in the late '70s in Michigan. Many women and gay people I knew flocked to that concert because it was considered "safe space" for them and security was needed escorting people to and from the concert. A bomb threat or a threat of violence had been phoned in. On Friday night I saw many gay couples at the event and I didn't have to worry about a bomb or disruption. Certainly, as Professor Reagon reminded us, there will be casualties as movements demanding freedom grow, but our collective struggles over the past 80 years have won some victories.

If there was a downside to the evening, it was hearing the Up Top group of singers perform before Willamette University President M. Lee Pelton took the stage to introduce Bernice Johnson Reagon. The Up Top young people are talented and sincere, but much of their music seemed out of place and, more seriously, I often wonder if white people doing historically grounded music from Black liberation struggles is not a kind of blackface which works against our movements.

Take every opportunity that you can to hear Bernice Johnson Reagon.

January 22, 2009

Great Music In Salem And Portland

Portland: Anne Feeney and Rebel Voices play in Portland tomorrow (Friday)evening at Carvlin Hall (just north of SE 17th and Division) at 7:30 pm. Doors at 7 pm. Admission: $10 PFS members, $12 Non-Members, $5 ages 12 to 18, Children under 12 FREE.

Salem:Bernice Johnson Reagon performs tomorrow(Friday)evening at Willamette University's Smith Auditorium. Cost is $5. This is songtalking and this is an event that you should not miss!

January 21, 2009

How much are you worth?

A news report on yesterday's stock market dive said that "thousands of the people who attended the inauguration were worth less at the end of their day than they were in the morning." It's a stunning analysis.

Most people who attended the inauguration and gathered in groups to watch it around the US probably did so because they reject, implicitly or explicitly, that very logic. Think of the "I Am A Man" signs in the early civil rights struggles, the appeal to the conscience and the remarks made about character in the "I Have A Dream" speech and the strength of the "Yes, we can" slogan and why it so reverberates among working class people and people of color.

But in a capitalist society we do indeed have a monetary worth and value attached to us by the system itself. Add up your bank account, whatever other savings or wealth you may have and the pennies under the sofa cushions. Factor in your projected all-important ability to learn skills, work and create goods or services of value for your employer: this is the main thing. Now subtract from that your debts and the cost of maintaining yourself so that you can continue to create those goods and services for your employer. That figure--which goes into negative numbers for most of us--is what you're worth under capitalism.

It sounds cruel and mercenary. It is. Unemployment pays you some fraction of that amount to maintain you for awhile between jobs. So does the welfare system. The minimum wage--despite all denials to the contrary--is a baseline amount based on this kind of computing. Workers' comp and insurance payments derive from a "scientific" application of this principle so that even limbs and consciousness have price tags.

Under a socialist society we would see a gradual move away from this kind of thinking. The real costs of maintaining people and protecting nature would be factored into production and wages, with support given to enable everyone to contribute in some meaningful and healthy way to society. In return everyone would get a fair share of what society produces and has to offer and would share in the necessary sacrifices to make this real. Types of property and kinds of production--co-ops or government-owned or directed services or collectively owned production and distribution facilities or privately-held companies--could be planned, managed and prioritized for development by society. People would gradually find their worth and satisfaction in contributing to society and receiving benefits directly and indirectly from society. The struggle for complete equality between people would necessarily form a basis for such a society and the achievement of equality would hopefully be its outcome.

Under a communist society this principle of contributing to and receiving from society would be extended and would deepen in content and form. Private property and government as we know it would disappear and be replaced by new forms of human solidarity which would find expression in the enhanced well-being of every person. The concepts of worth and value would be radically altered or would disappear altogether.

We would never hear in socialist and communist societies that we are worth less at the end of a day than at its beginning. We would be so separate from the market and market relations--in actual direct control of these relations, in fact--that we would finally be able to relate to one another as human beings with fully developed characters. The long-stated vision of the civil rights movement would be realized then.

January 20, 2009

What Else Happened Today

We heard today that unemployment in Oregon hit 9 per cent and that the employment offices are so overwhelmed that the best way--in practical terms the only way--to apply for benefits is to do it by computer. Forget going into a state building and talking to a human being--that state worker is probably standing in line in front of you, or getting ready to.

The stock market took a record dive for the last two months and for any previous inauguration day. The message from finance capital was clearly expressed by their spokesmen who called today for immediate compromises by President Obama with them. Their hostile comments, reported in foreign media, went to the effect that the president will be judged immediately on his willingness to compromise with finance capital and that it will be this that determines what the president will be able to accomplish.

Meanwhile, the question of how the European Union might survive the current crisis was raised today in the context of what may happen if members of the EU default on their obligations and essentially go bankrupt. Four key EU states may be in this situation soon. Nervous bankers and EU spokespeople are saying that there will be a bailout for any country defaulting, but what happens if several countries default on loans and debts?

The Oregonian morning edition delivered to our homes ran a banner headline about Sam Adams' affair with a young man. This somehow is more newsworthy than Obama's inauguration or the new unemployment numbers. The right wing hate radio shows picked up the theme, got buddy-buddy with Willamette Week and used it to try and sideline the news that hundreds of thousands of people--millions?--made it to DC in a demonstration of hope for the future and anger at the Republicans.

People in many worksites stopped work today to watch the inauguration. Single parents I visited in their homes today were watching it. I saw people weeping and heard many people saying that today should have been declared a national holiday.

January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Silverton

Silverton People for Peace gathered about 30 people at Silverton's Rolling Hills Bakery for an evening commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work for justice and peace. A few people did readings, soup was served and we watched an A&E documentary on Dr. King's life and work. SEIU Local 503 member-leader Rob Sisk led much of the event.

I think that it takes some courage for most people to stand up and read something or give even a short talk and that it takes some courage for white people--and the small crowd was overwhelmingly white--to renounce whiteness, or what is often called "white skin privilege," if only implicitly. The group did this. A comrade who attended with me was less impressed, pointing out that it's easy to do this in an area or in a situation in which people of color are largely absent or not perceived as a threat to white privilege.

The crowd seemed to be moved by the readings and Dr. King's message. The crowd was multi-generational and crossed class lines. I was reminded of King's "beloved community" as I watched people assemble for the event. This is an activist group with a good record on justice and antiwar issues. The bakery provided a good environment for the meeting.

Two questions came to my mind as I listened to white people read powerful poems and statements by people of color this evening: at what point do we cross the line of solidarity and head into Black face? And what would happen if we spent a day or an evening in a guided confrontation with racism in ourselves and in our communities?

Regardless of the weaknesses of the event or my questions, it is a good sign that groups like Silverton People for Peace exist and are open and welcoming. We had the chance to attend the Silverton meeting or an event at Willamette University this evening and we chose Silverton in order to be supportive of small-town organizing and on-going political work at the local level. We made the right choice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Justice, Capitalism and Socialism

From Jobs with Justice:

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From Paul Street writing in The Black Commentator:

How many know the King who told the SCLC that "the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people," King elaborated for his colleagues. "And one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there forty million poor people in America?' And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question you begin to question the capitalistic economy."

"We are called upon," King told his fellow civil rights activists, "to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day," he argued, "we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that [radical] questions must be raised .....'Who owns the oil'...'Who owns the iron ore?'...'Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?'”

How many know that King was a democratic socialist who thought that only "drastic reforms" involving the "radical reconstruction of society itself" could "save us from social catastrophe"? Consistent with Marx and contrary to bourgeois moralists like Charles Dickens, King argued that "the roots" of the economic injustice he sought to overcome "are in the [capitalist] system rather [than] in men or faulty operations."

In Gaza Today

This morning KBOO ran a great live interview with Al Jazeera journalist Ayman Mohyeldin about the situation in Gaza. Besides describing the situation in Gaza today, Ayman Mohyeldin took questions from listeners. One of the predictable and important questions had to do with the role of the Syrian and Saudi Arabian governments in the recent disaster and their roles in helping to rebuild Gaza. Both governments have promised massive aid to Gaza. Will that aid materialize, will it really help and why is it coming now? Ayman Mohyeldin seemed to say that these questions are also being asked in all of the Arab states as well. Is it possible that solidarity with Palestine can become an engine to drive changes in the Arab states now?

Journalists, UNRWA workers, Amnesty International representatives and activists are all coming forward with news and proof of Israeli atrocities committed in Gaza during the incursion. The ceasefire is not being respected by Israel: at least 11 Palestinians have died from Israeli rocket fire since Israel announced its ceasefire and humanitarian aid to Gaza is being blocked once more. Palestinian casualties have gone past 1250 people, more than half of them non-combatants. You can go here for the excellent Democracy Now report done on Friday. Congressman Kucinich is leading on these issues.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is correctly calling for the following:

1) An immediate an unconditional cease-fire

2) Unimpeded humanitarian access to the occupied Gaza Strip and an end to Israel's blockade of it

3) Accountability for Israel's misuse of U.S. weapons in violation of the Arms Export Control Act and the imposition of the required sanctions for violating this law

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has continued to maintain accessible background information which will help people in the US understand the issues and join in practical international solidarity efforts. The Hadash websites in Arabic and Hebrew show that there is significant organizing being done our comrades in Israel.

If you have not made a call about Gaza and the Israeli occupation to a politician or representative by Wednesday, please do so then. As the US Campaign points out, returning to the pre- December 27 status quo in the occupied Gaza Strip is not acceptable. It's fair to demand and expect that the new administration take positive action for justice for Palestinians.

January 18, 2009

KBOO:Eyewitness in Gaza program to air on Monday

KBOO public affairs hosts a special ONE LAND, MANY VOICES broadcast this Monday morning at 8:00 AM: EYEWITNESS IN GAZA: AL JAZEERA CORRESPONDENT AYMAN MOHYELDIN.

Tune in at 8:00 AM Monday morning to KBOO community radio for a conversation with the reporter that Israeli columnist Gideon Levy calls "My hero of the Gaza war," Ayman Mohyeldin. Reporting from the front lines of the current Israeli assault on Gaza, this courageous young reporter is one of the few voices providing first hand news of the devastation and suffering as the people there face the violence of the most powerful military in the Middle East. Below are links to several of Mohyeldin's reports via YouTube:




Join us Monday morning at 8:00 AM on community radio, KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland, 100.7 FM in Corvallis, 91.9 FM in the Columbia Gorge, and streaming live at www.kboo.fm.

January 16, 2009

Fighting Racism The Marxist Way

From comrades in Minnesota--
Comrades, Brothers and Sisters,

We stand on the eve of MLK day and Black History Month (February). In an essay about Black History Month, the great Communist Gus Hall once said that we must "honor history by making history." And we must learn, and explain to others, that "the roots of racism are in the exploitative system of capitalism." (Gus Hall, Basics)

I am proud to send you the latest article from the Gus Hall Action Club blog (http://gushallactionclub.blogspot.com/) entitled Racism: Instrument of Capitalist Class Rule, Weapon of Big Business. Hopefully, the blog article both provides Marxist-Leninist education and inspiration.

And you might want to check out our other blog pieces, too. (Note: new pieces about "middle class" workers, the role of the Party, Marxism and psychology, homelessness, etc.)

Cheers and solidarity, Michael Wood

Read more here

January 15, 2009

The Oregon Meltdown

I have never before seen daily front page newspaper columns given over to listing companies going into bankruptcy or out of business or announcing major layoffs, but I'm seeing them now in Willamette Valley newspapers.

It seems to me that most of the companies mentioned are in trade-sensitive and export- or import-sensitive and manufacturing sectors of the economy. It also seems to me that Oregon's much-celebrated role in Pacific Rim development and trade is running down after having helped postpone some of the worst effects of the global recession for a few months.

In fact, we just came through a four month 18% drop in imports and exports in the US and this trend seems to be continuing. Imports of goods into the US took the biggest hit. Japan immediately felt the slowdown and cut its imports by 14% and the domino effect--the result of a certain kind of capitalist globalization--then hit most of Asia.

This same sort of capitalist globalization is making this an international crisis, of course. Trade losses in Europe are staggering.

It may be true that these international losses are reducing the US deficit and causing sharp drops in oil and gas prices, but the connection between the production of needed goods and services and the purchase of these goods and services is being broken internationally and the gross domestic product of every developed or industrialized nation is falling. The daily human cost of these events is mass impoverishment and political crises.

When I hear Governor Kulongoski or US Congressman Keith Ellison (D.-MN.) give their analysis or what's happening and what needs to be done, I'm struck by how unprepared liberals are to face this crisis. Our problems are not only that eight years of Republican rule have brought about a redistribution of wealth to the benefit of the rich and the dismantling of government and government services, but that at some point the capitalists decided that it was better for them to extend credit to us instead of paying higher wages and better benefits or allowing the government social sector to expand at their expense. This was, I believe, a calculated set of decisions and these decisions came with attacks on unions and social movements, increasing militarization and wars, artificially created divisions between workers, real drops or cuts in living standards for most people and the restructuring of education. In other words, the problem is systemic. And the liberals can't quite grasp that. We can see this very clearly in the outlines of Oregon's current crisis and the weak response from Kulongoski.

A good short-term solution would be to force massive across-the-board pay raises for workers, sharp tax increases for the wealthy, tax cuts for the poor and for workers and national public works projects. Take back the credit cards,forgive working class debt and reconfigure global trade so that the US is no longer the dominant imperialist empire.

Two Portland Actions Supporting Palestine

ALL WOMEN, please---

Join with Women in Black

Stand together with women to call for an end to Israel's massacre in Gaza--stand for an immediate cease fire--stand for peace--stand for a just settlement in Israel and Palestine---stand for the children who have been killed or wounded.

Women together are a powerful voice for peace and justice. Women from all faiths, or not affiliated with any, all ages, all backgrounds, come together to say


When: THIS Friday, January 16th from 12 noon to 1:00PM.
Where: Across from the Federal Building at SW 3rd and Madison

For more information: call Yvonne 503 288 8958

Please pass this on to other women who care about peace and justice.


LET GAZA LIVE! Jan. 17 Demonstration at Pioneer Courthouse Square!

As the death toll from Israel’s 19-day assault on Gaza tops 1,000, plans for the next local demonstration calling for an end to the massacres are set for this Saturday, January 17th, at 3:00 PM at Pioneer Courthouse Square. “In the past nineteen days, Israel’s military has killed more than 1,033 Palestinians, including 335 children, and injured more than 4,850,” said Hala Gores, a volunteer with Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights and one of the organizers of Saturday’s protest. “Many of the dead are still under the rubble of schools, mosques, markets, police stations, and apartments.”

“Our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza are crying for the world to demand an end to the massacre and an end to Israel’s war crimes,” said Gores. “Our flags and our signs will send the message that all Palestinians are under attack; we are calling on Oregon’s Senators and Congressmen to demand an immediate end to the bloodshed.”

This Saturday’s demonstration has been called by Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, Sabeel North America, American Jews for a Just Peace, Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land - A Ministry of Central Lutheran Church, American Friends Service Committee and others.

For further information, contact Hala Gores at (503) 307-9339, Nael Saker at (503) 805-0205, Peter Miller at at (503) 358-7475, or PPRC at (503) 344-5078 or pprc@riseup.net. Please visit the AUPHR and PPRC websites for updates: www.auphr.org and www.pprc-news.org.

January 14, 2009

Letter to the editor - Gaza

We noted today that the Salem Oregon newspaper published a letter signed by several Willamette Reds people. The letter follows and can be read at the paper's site here.

Invasion motivated by elections

January 14, 2009

The Israeli government's attack on Gaza is part of that government's ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The illegal sanctions and attacks carried out against the Palestinians by the Israeli government amount to war crimes. They strengthen the most rigid forces on both sides of the conflict.

The Israeli government is hoping to win now what it might lose in real negotiations later. Israel's Likud party is facing a tough election in February and needs to lead aggressive military actions in order to gain votes. Israel has become an apartheid-like state. The Israeli incursion has little to do with missiles fired by Hamas soldiers. It has everything to do with Israeli elections, stopping a peace initiative potentially moved by Arab and European states and backed by the incoming Obama administration and making life untenable for Arabs living in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. The Israeli far-right and their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt can live with this.

We need to support a solution to the conflict that gives Palestinians a secure, secular and democratic homeland and which leads to an equality of states and peoples across the entire region.

— Bob Rossi, Independence, and five others

Unions and Palestine: US and Canadian unions compared

Friends and co-workers of mine frequently raise the question of how the killing in Gaza and the occupation of Palestine relate to us as union members. Some people do not see any relationship at all and others see very strong relationships. Some people object to our union activists even raising the issue or the possible relationships by e-mail in our workplaces while others think that we need to raise the issues even more directly.

I argue that there are direct and indirect relationships between our unions and what is occurring in Palestine and Israel. On a general level, of course, union members in the US rarely have a good reason to support a war and the taking of lives, let alone humanitarian disasters. We do have a long-term material, political and humanitarian interest in constructing the kind of world solidarity which makes war impossible and which confronts injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. The broader question of why we do not always recognize our long-term classwide interests in international solidarity is a discussion for another time.

Workers lose in every war. With skyrocketing unemployment in Palestine and a need there for real economic development and, at the same time, a serious decline in living standards for the entire Israeli working class we might hope and work for the kind of solidarity which rejects war and builds working class power for Palestinian and Israeli workers.

In the short-term, however, we must admit that US union workers derive some benefits from the occupation of Palestine and that our unions are often complicit in imperialist domination. Most union members are not aware of this, of course. US union pension funds are heavily invested in Israel and have been for many years. In almost every US union there is a staffperson or officer whose job it is to direct funds and support to Israel. Since Israel does not have an independent labor movement generally separate from the country's economy, any support going to Israeli unions directly or indirectly builds the zionist state and helps fuel its war economy. Attempts to change this course in the past have met with serious suppression of Palestinian solidarity activists within US unions. Union conventions routinely pass resolutions of support for Israel or leave it to executive boards to do this work. So it is that we do not see US unions either leading or taking part in the struggle for Palestine. This state of affairs is a holdover from the cold war.

In Canada a number of key unions have taken better positions. World labor, in fact, does often lead or take part in the struggle for Palestine. This can become a union issue with good organizing and a consciousness of solidarity.

Below is a statement from the British Columbia Canadian Union of Public Employees on the Gaza crisis.

CUPE BC Statement on the Gaza Crisis

BURNABY—CUPE BC strongly condemns the Israeli bombardment and attacks on the defenseless people of Gaza. The targeting of schools, universities and medical centers, and the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, is totally unacceptable and must stop immediately.

Gaza is a territory which is about the same size as the City of Surrey but, unlike the City of Surrey, is occupied territory whose borders are controlled entirely by Israel. One and a half million Palestinians are imprisoned in this territory surrounded by barbed wire and the sea. There is no exit. For the past two years, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) blockaded the Gaza Strip, letting in just enough supplies to prevent starvation, but that is about it. There is no economy, no hope, and no real life in Gaza. The Israeli blockade is a flagrant violation of international law.

The Palestinians resist this blockade by throwing up rockets which land indiscriminately in Israeli territory. The firing of such rockets by Hamas is also contrary to international law, and is condemned, because citizens of Israel are affected. Over the past seven years, 14 Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza. During the same period, Israel has killed more than 5,000 Palestinians using some of the most advanced American-supplied arms in the world. While no rockets are fired from the West Bank, another Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, 45 Palestinians have died there under Israel’s hand this year alone. The issue is not just the vast disparity in weapons and power, but that Israel is the occupier, the Palestinian people are the occupied.

It is the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories which is the primary cause of the current situation in Gaza.

CUPE BC calls on the Canadian government and the international community to do everything possible to put an end to this massacre. There must be an immediate ceasefire and an end to the blockade of Gaza by Israel.

January 11, 2009

A letter from Palestine

This is a slightly edited letter from Sam Bahour in Palestine. You can read more from Sam at his blog at http://epalestine.blogspot.com/.

I watch in shock, like the rest of the world, at the appalling death and destruction being wrought on Gaza by Israel; and still it does not stop. Meanwhile, we see a seemingly never-ending army of well-prepared Israeli war propagandists, some Israeli government officials, and many other people self-enlisted for the purpose, explaining to the world the justifications for pulverizing the Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Curious about how Israel could justify a crime of such magnitude against humanity, I turned to my Jewish Israeli friends today to hear their take on things. One after another, the theme was the same. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis has apparently bought into the state-sponsored line that Israel was under attack and had no other option available to stop Hamas’ rockets. More frightening is the revelation that many Israelis—-including one person who self-identifies as a former “peace activist” —-are speaking of accepting the killing of 100,000 or more Palestinians, if need be.

I have a problem with this logic.

I am a Palestinian American based in Al-Bireh in the West Bank. I can see how an observer from abroad could be blind to the facts, given the blitz of Gaza war propaganda orchestrated by the Israeli military. But I know better. Like all other Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, I am not an observer from abroad. We live every day under the bitter burden of Israeli military occupation and we know that this question, presented as rhetorical-—did we really have an option?-—has a rational answer. Allow me to touch on some of the other options that could have been chosen. Moreover, many of them will be forced on Israel anyway, sooner or later, whether after the next “war,” or in the coming days under the ceasefire agreement and the Egyptian-sponsored implementation mechanism being discussed as I write this. Meaning: all this death and destruction could have been easily avoided.

Dear Israeli citizen, short of ending the occupation, you could have:

1.Opted to agree on how to disagree: There are two bodies of law that deal with international relations in this world, International Law and the Law of the Jungle. Until today, your government—-and maybe you-—refuse to accept the global consensus that the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are all militarily occupied territory. The occupying power is Israel—as attested in dozens of United Nations resolutions over the past four decades. By ignoring this fact that Israel is an occupying power, thus removing (unsuccessfully, of course) any internationally recognized baseline for the conflict, you have created an environment that can only be described as the “Law of the Jungle,” where might is right and where, as we see in Gaza now, anything goes. You could have accepted international humanitarian law, as stipulated in the Fourth Geneva Conventions regulating occupations, and avoided many of the seemingly impossible positions you find yourself in today: from the albatross of the settlement enterprise to the reality of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.

2.Opted to allow for an international presence in the occupied territory: For over 30 years the Palestinians have begged the international community to create and maintain a serious presence in the occupied territory, something to stand between us and protect the civilians on both sides. Israel repeatedly refused to consider this. Instead, your government chose to deal with the Palestinian territory as if it was its own, always behaving in line with its meta-objective: getting a maximum of Palestinian geography with a minimum of Palestinian demography. You could have avoided dealing directly with the natural reaction of any occupied people to resist their occupation, by allowing international players to get involved and serve as a sort of referee between you and those you are occupying militarily.

3.Opted to accept lawful non-violent resistance to your occupation: For over 40 years, Palestinians have tried everything to remove the Israeli boot of occupation from our necks: tax revolts, general strikes, civil disobedience, economic development, elections, and on and on. Your response every time was to rely on violence, on control; your message was that you respect nothing other than your own desires. Your children on the front line in Gaza may be too young to recall, but you might remind them, so that they will at least be informed as they march ahead to your drummers: Let them know you deported duly elected mayors back in the 1980s; let them know that you closed down entire Palestinian universities for years on end; let them know that you have imprisoned over 650,000 Palestinians since your occupation began, creating a virtual prison university for the resistance movement and stunning any possibility for a new leadership to arise; let them know that even after Oslo you prohibit Palestinians from building fully independent utilities—-not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. You could have tried a little harder to understand that people under occupation do not throw flowers and rice at their occupiers and resolve to surrender to a slow death.

4.Opted to accept the results of Palestinian democracy: For Palestinians, and for Israelis too, the best thing that happened in the recent past was when Hamas was chosen in peaceful elections to take over the governance of Palestine. Prior to those elections, where was Hamas? They were in their underground bunkers carrying out atrocities that were disrupting your daily agenda-—and mine-—with absolutely no accountability whatsoever. When they accepted the Oslo process and ran for office and were duly elected, they stopped attacking inside Israel (by which I mean, inside the Green Line). Your citizens become significantly safer! Your government (and the U.S.) responded by refusing to accept the results of our elections and imposed sanctions on the elected Palestinian government. This was long before any violent infighting took place in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah. How did the Palestinians react to your intransigence? They pressed Hamas to replace its Hamas-only government with a unity government that had all the significant Palestinian political factions represented. You were thus presented with an accountable body that encompassed all Palestinian political flavors. Your government again responded by refusing to accept the results of our elections and continued with sanctions against the Palestinian government, repeating over and over the mantra that “there is no partner.” Beyond that, the Israeli government intensified its campaign of assassinating and arresting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and introduced a whole new range of draconian punitive measures against the Palestinian public at large. Like what, you ask? Well, one such measure was that your government began blocking foreign nationals from entering or doing business in the occupied territory, thus hindering any real chance to create a new, forward-looking reality. You could have accepted Palestinian democracy instead of propping up your own version of a failed Palestinian leadership.

5.Opted not to interfere in Palestinian internal politics: When Hamas violently struck at Fatah in Gaza your government chose to punish all 1.5 million Palestinians by installing a hermetic seal on Gaza and allowing only a trickle of normal traffic to go in or out, meeting only a small fraction of Gaza's needs. Lest you suspect me of indulging in empty clich├ęs, I shall explain. International agencies have estimated that Gaza’s daily basic needs amount to 450 truckloads a day. For 18 months prior to your aggression on Gaza, your government allowed 70 truckloads a day on average. And these were allowed to enter only when the border crossings that you control were open, which was only 30% of the time. You could have chosen not to use food, medicine, education, cement, water, electricity, and so forth, as tools of repression. If you saw yourselves accurately as the occupying power you are, you could have kept in place a lawful security regime on the borders without creating a humanitarian disaster which led to irrational acts (such as missiles being lobbed over the border) by those you tried to starve into submission. You could have made a firm distinction between your political desires and your humanitarian obligations as an occupying power.

The fact of the matter is that you had a long list of options open to you! So many, indeed, that it boggles the mind that your government has apparently been able to blind you to all of them…so that today, as the bombs shriek over Gaza, you can say, and evidently sincerely mean it: We had no other option.

Nevertheless, even with all these options effectively invisible to you, there is nothing on this earth—-not law, not politics, not even a desperate and lengthy campaign of rockets creating widespread fear and even some civilian deaths on your side of the border--that can justify, by Israel or any other country, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response.

You accepted your government’s path to separate unilaterally from occupied Palestinians; you accepted an illegal barrier to be built on confiscated Palestinian lands; you accepted a unilateral disengagement that simply redeployed your occupation from the heart of Gaza to its perimeter, on land and sea and in the air, rather than actually removing it; you accepted the continuing expansion of your settlements and their systematic harassment of their Palestinian neighbors while talking peace; you accepted, and sadly continue to accept, a consensual blindness to the fact that the majority of Palestinians live as refugees, far from your occupation (practically, not geographically), and feel much more rage than you have lately been creating in the Gaza Strip. I urge you to stop acquiescing in this policy of managed unreality. I urge you to open your eyes and wake up. If not for our sake, then for your own.

You may not see us over the Separation Wall you built; you may not see us from the cockpits of your F-16s or from the inside of your tanks; you may not see us from the command and control center in the heart of Tel Aviv as you direct your pilots to launch their ton of munitions over our heads. Still, I can assure you of one thing. Until you wake up and demand that your leaders choose a different path, a path toward a life as equals and neighbors instead of trampler-on and trampled-on, you and your warrior sons and daughters will continue to see us—-all of us, living and dead—-in your nightmares, where we will continue to demand peace with justice.

January 10, 2009

Protest in Portland against violence against Gazans

Several hundred people gathered today in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland Oregon in very cold weather to strongly protest the violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

It was especially inspiring to see so many young people there, and especially so many young people from Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and other countries. It was also good to see so many union members at the rally. The call for a total boycott of all Israeli-produced goods got full support. The parallels between the struggle in Palestine and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, generalized and unspecific as that comparison may be, were deeply felt by the crowd. This is an international movement that is constructing solidarity at the grassroots.

We sold kuffiyas and Palestinian flags and made over $300. All of that money will go to Palestine.

AUPHR was the anchor. Their on-going activism and the push from the Arab community are making these rallies happen and grow.

January 8, 2009

Salem Protest Against The LNG pipeline

PROTEST: Salem protest against the proposed LNG pipeline

A rally intended to encourage the Oregon State Legislature to reject a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline will be held on the steps of the capitol building, 900 Court St. NE, in Salem from 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. on Jan. 13.

The proposed Williams-Northwest Pipeline project would run a 229 mile,36-inch diameter pipeline from a terminal in North Bend to California, passing through Coos, Douglas, Jackson, and Klamath Counties. A portion of the route is through private lands, raising questions whether and to what extent eminent domain would be invoked to secure the right-of-way.

For more information on the LNG pipeline, or to get information on bus or carpool transportation to the rally, call 866-211-7335 or visit the Southern Oregon Pipeline Information Project website at www.NoCaliforniaPipeline.com.

January 7, 2009

End the slaughter in Gaza: protest in PDX

PROTEST: Saturday January 10, 3pm at Pioneer Square
Our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza need us to take to the streets and demand an end to the massacre.

This morning, we woke up to the news that the Israeli military has slaughtered 30 and wounded 55 Palestinian civilians taking refuge at the U.N. School. The bombardment from land, air and sea is continuing and the death toll nears 600 Palestinian men, women and children and over 2,500 wounded.

Come down to Pioneer Square this Saturday, January 10 at 3:00 p.m. and make your voices heard.

Bring your Palestinian Flags and Signs, and tell your Friends and Neighbors

Called for by Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, Sabeel North America, American Jews for a Just Peace and other organizations.

For further information, contact Hala Gores at Hala@goreslaw.com or (503)307-9339 or Peter Miller at Pmiller@auphr.org or (503)358-7475.

January 5, 2009

Hadi Saleh--Murdered Iraqi Trade Unionist

From Labourstart:

It has now been four years since the murder of Hadi Saleh, the international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

I had the honor of meeting Hadi not long before his death when he visited Britain. We discussed the trade unions in Iraq and ways in which we could give them support and solidarity.

Not long after Hadi was killed, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Britain published a book in his honor entitled "Hadi Never Died".

"On January 4, 2005," it began, "masked assassins broke into his home, bound his feet and hands, and blindfolded him. Then they tortured and burned his body and, finally, strangled him with an electric cord. A life of idealism and selflessness, filled with solidarity and love for his family, country and the labour movement, came to this terrible, pain-filled end."

The book does much more than describe Hadi's murder. It tells the story of death and re-birth of the Iraqi trade union movement.

"Hadi Never Died" is a large format, full-color paperback and LabourStart is pleased to be able to offer it to our readers for £10.00 (about US$14.50) -- with free shipping to anywhere in the world.

Please order multiple copies for yourselves, your co-workers and other members of your union.

To order "Hadi Never Died" securely go here:

Thank you.

Eric Lee

January 4, 2009

Willamette Reds To The Statesman-Journal: Get Gaza Right!

Our letter to Salem's Statesman-Journal:

To the Editor:

The Israeli government's attack on Gaza is part of that government's ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The illegal sanctions and attacks carried out against the Palestinians by the Israeli government amount to war crimes. They strengthen the most rigid forces on both sides of the conflict.

The Israeli government is hoping to win now what it might lose in real negotiations later. Israel's Likud party is facing a tough election in February and needs to lead aggressive military actions in order to gain votes. Israel has become an apartheid-like state.

The Israeli incursion has little to do with missiles fired by Hamas soldiers. It has everything to do with Israeli elections, stopping a peace initiative potentially moved by Arab and European states and backed by the incoming Obama administration and making life untenable for Arabs living in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. The Israeli far-right and their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt can live with this. We need to support a solution to the conflict which gives Palestinians a secure, secular and democratic homeland and which leads to an equality of states and peoples across the entire region.