June 30, 2009

Forum in Salem on Health Care Reform

A crowd of at least 50 people showed up tonight at the Marion County, Oregon Democrats' office for a forum on health care reform. (See announcement here.)

The discussions were wide ranging, and one thing is clear to me: the issue is both complex and simple.

It's complex in the details of how the USA compares to other nations in health care spending in relation to actual health outcomes (not well - for example, the USA is 14th in the world in infant mortality); complex in tracking where a significant amount of our health care premium money goes (a large chunk to administration, marketing, and profits); complex in sorting out how health care policy is made (it was suggested to read Common Cause's article "Legislating under the Influence"), etc.

It's simple in the fact that the health care and the pharmaceutical industries are operating rationally within a for-profit capitalist system: these industries act in ways to continue to make profit, and more profit.

After two hours of discussion, the question was posed: while we know we need reform, badly, what do we do/what do we ask for --- should we try to push for what may possible at this present moment (i.e. a public option, with some hoping that single payer will come incrementally after a public option is established) - or work for single payer now in this window of opportunity.

Some single payer advocates are organizing a meeting with Senator Ron Wyden (who apparently has not committed to support even a public option yet).

For more single payer info, see Physicians for a National Health Program at www.pnhp.org.

State Workers Rally

I attended a small but determined state worker union rally on the Capitol Mall today. I believe that there were similar rallies in other locations around Salem and around the state today. The rallies were held to mark the expiration of the main state worker union contracts and to build mobilizing for a fair contract. You can follow the story here.

The main Salem march started at the Human Services Building and proceeded south, picking up gathered state workers along the way. The end-point was the State Library, where the Governor now apparently has his offices. The Governor is the target now that the legislature is out of session: he needs to show leadership in directing the state negotiators to settle the state worker contracts and to minimize program cuts and job losses.

We're in an odd moment. The demonstrating workers were calling for necessary union contract concessions and budget cuts in the face of a governor who wants more and worse or whose practical inaction threatens to make matters worse. Some state workers--a vocal and activist cadre of union members--no doubt see themselves as making a sacrifice for the state and the people of Oregon. It does not seem at all abstract to them: what is at stake for them is a deeply held conviction that they will eventually win as the public recognizes their willingness to sacrifice and sees also how entrenched and unfair the governor and corporate interests are. This may indeed be a necessary step in the class struggle.

True enough, a number of union members are resigned to accepting concessions and will do so without a fight. Many union members are disengaged for any number of other reasons. A certain number do not share the sense of a need for sacrifice. The most vocal components of this latter group need an explanation or analysis of the crisis, but are not always open to thinking which calls into question their basic world assumptions or forces them to act; these are the people most easily given over to blaming the unions and are the people the far-right seeks out to disrupt the unions. For now, then, it is the union members who are engaged and willing to accept concessions who are most important and who define so much of the struggle.

Kulongoski, the centrist Democrats, the Republicans and the right-wing and their corporate backers also do not see this as abstract, but do see it in very different terms than activist union members. They're trying to drive down the cost of labor-power and what it takes to maintain labor-power as a way of solving the crises. Cut wages, cut social spending, beef up the prisons and cut benefits as far as possible and without a worry about the quality or quantity of services past a (yet undiscovered) minimum--that's the program, and it is a dangerous game indeed. They certainly disagree amongst themselves over important issues like taxes, revenue streams, prison construction and social policy--these differences are important--but, in the main, they all know what side they are on.

The cold reality of the crises comes smack up against the hopes of state workers and the people they work to help. Most people who attended the rally today had a great time and left with the justifiable feeling that they had accomplished something worthwhile. As times change and the reality of the crisis is driven home, illusions about sacrifice and appealing to the public should fall away. The union contracts which will eventually be signed will contain concessions, but they will also provide a platform from which to fight in a more determined way for a future workers' and peoples' political agenda.

More Notes From The Legislature

We are coming out of this legislative session still counting wins and losses, but knowing for certain that Oregon's conservative forces and their corporate allies have already started a counter-attack and that much of our immediate future will be taken up in beating this counter-attack back. It becomes, then, a fight to keep centrist Democrats from caving in to the right, broadening whatever coalitions and alliances exist so that the fight to hold on to what we won and get more serves people's real interests and moving workers into leading the fight against the right.

Unions lost on legislation to protect the rights of workers through improvements in the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. HB 2831 would have allowed temporary workers to join a bargaining unit after 90 days on the job, protected public employees from permanent replacement if they go on strike and clarified the definition of supervisory employees. All of this would have worked to the good in day-to-day union-state relations. This went down with a 16-14 vote. All Republicans voted against the legislation, as did Democratic Senators Betsy Johnson, Rick Metsger, Jo Anne Verger and Martha Schrader. These are a few of the so-called centrist Democrats to worry about. Their sidestepping on important issues makes politics in Oregon more complex than it needs to be.

Senators Chris Telfer and Larry George tried to move a proposal Saturday to have state workers take a $291 Million cut in wages and benefits. This would have rescinded any raises or step increases or increased payments for health insurance that most union members have received since 2007. Fuzzy thinking and fuzzy math brought the proposal down with an 18-12 vote on the Senate floor along party lines. Telfer, George & Co. are just anti-worker, but their last-minute effort was probably intended to signal the right and test the waters.

The right-wing hate radio deejay assault continued yesterday, but included odd calls to Republicans to save or convert conservative Democrats in the Senate for the next election cycle and the next legislative session in 2010. Hitting back on the "tax the rich" legislation that passed, worker rights and social spending seem to be on the tops of their lists. They're also tied down by Mannix's mandatory sentencing ballot measures and are taking a do-it-or-die approach here that could force serious state budget cuts if they ever get the chance to go through with Mannix's full program.

What are they attacking? Chief among their targets is DHS. Let's look at the reality of the new DHS budget. This new budget contains some serious cuts and shortfalls, but is nowhere near as bad as what we were looking at six weeks ago and provides for some advancements in worker or care provider rights and benefits. In that budget adult foster care providers get no COLA increase, but they also get no pay cut and they win the ability to have union dues check-off. Home care workers take no cuts in pay or hours, keep current healthcare benefits, get no funding for any increase in health care costs and see their HUBB reserves raided. Nursing homes workers see a cut to the formula for setting home rates that amounts to a virtual freeze in rates or little increases. Nursing homes pay raises this fall, though important, will not be as high as expected. The budget funds some CNA staffing improvements. Child care providers will not have a salary cut for the time being, and the Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) program has survived largely intact, but ERDC eligibility will shift in the summer of 2010 to includen only parents leaving TANF in last 24 months. This last item is really a step backwards.

Progressive forces in Oregon are generally not confident of the legislative playing field, and for good reason. This has almost nothing to do with what Oregonians are thinking about or what we want. Did you hear Courtney this morning trying to sound like an elder statesman and tripping over himself? On the other hand, the effort to work with or win over individual Republicans on even isolated issues while the Republican leadership is good with attacking workers' wages and health care and rights at work, and while Republican followers tolerate it, is usually a lost cause and detracts from efforts to defeat the right. It also overlooks all of those Democrats who are anti-worker and bad on peoples' issues. Democratic leaders may block the worst of these attacks, but it's not certain that their followers will line up behind them to support workers, or even the separate pieces of a peoples' agenda. Even when this does happen, the cost to unions and progressive groups is enormous.

June 29, 2009

Salem Forum On Healthcare Tomorrow

Dear Friends,

I would like to invite you to a forum this week -- on Health Care Reform. It is happening this Tuesday, June 30, from 7-9 PM. Location for the forum is the Marion County Democratic Office which is located at 250 Liberty St SE in Salem (on the west side of Liberty SE and across the street from the Phoenix Grand Hotel). Speakers at the forum include:

Peter Mahr MD -- Physicians for a National Health Plan (single payer)
Michael Grady MD (from Silverton) representing the Archimedes Movement, a health care reform effort founded by former governor John Kitzhaber
Carol Robinson, a member of the Oregon Health Fund Board

They will discuss the various health care reform proposals.

The forum will also discuss the activation of a grassroots effort in Salem to join the growing national grassroots effort to enact a strong and vital national health plan by the fall of this year. This grassroots effort is needed to counteract the voices of vested interests who have the ear of congress -- particularly the senate.

As an Obama volunteer and a Democratic Party activist, REAL Health Care reform is my top priority (emphasize REAL meaning public option or single payer only). As an activist in my 60's, I am one of many Americans who have crusaded for health care reform their entire lifetime. Many of our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers also fought for a national health care plan. Despite all our efforts, a national plan has eluded us and those who preceded us for a century or more.

As a longtime political activist, I have also learned that the opportunity to enact national health care has often presented itself only once in a generation. The year 1993 presented the last opportunity we had as Americans to enact real health care reform. At that time, I was 45 years old and the father of two children aged 10 and 13. Those children are now grown aged 26 and 29 and neither has full access to the quality of health care that they need.

Let's not wait another 16 years to get real health care reform enacted. Let's build a strong grassroots here and across America to send a loud message that we want health care reform now and we want that health care reform to revolve around a plan that includes a strong public option or is a single payer system.

I do not want to wait until the next opportunity that arises -- maybe 16 years from now -- when I am 77 and my children are 42 and 45.

Join me and get involved this summer to bring about true health care reform by the fall of this year. If not, we may have another long wait until the chance arises again.

Andy Bromeland
Salem, Oregon 97301

e-mail: bromelan@earthlink.net

A Quick Report On Oregon State Worker Union Contract Bargaining

This year has turned out much differently than anyone in the labor movement expected. There is a line in the Oregon state budget with $32 million specifically for increases in state workers’ health insurance costs. There is also a line called “Miscellaneous Savings.” That line includes a list of areas in which state agencies are expected to find a total of $130 million in savings. Savings from union contracts are included in that line, since unions went into negotiations with a philosophy of shared sacrifice in mind, along with a number of other items. The state overestimated inflation, and there are savings because the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Justice still provide services to other agencies and are reducing the rates they charge agencies for those services.

Over the past few weeks, state worker unions have had good reason to become increasingly concerned about a few things. The higher the number in that miscellaneous savings line, the harder it will be to reach a good union contract settlement. Second, the Governor seems to expect unions to come up with most or all of the $130 million, even though the budget document specifies that state employee compensation is only one of the sources for that savings.

Unions have been lobbying on this item extremely hard and have won some kind of legislative committment that when they finalize the budget they will include a budget note stating that no more than half of the $130 million “Miscellaneous Savings” line should come from state worker compensation changes.

The good news for state workers is that while it would mean further compromise and sacrifice, the savings target of $65 million (half of $130 million) is one that unions could find a way to reach. The bad news is that the presence of the budget note does not prevent the Governor or the Oregon University System Chancellor from going after deeper savings, despite the budget, which they will probably both do. The potential is there for a drawn-out political struggle between labor and our allies, on the one hand, and the centrist Democratics and reactionary Republicans on the other hand. We wonder if allies will be in place if service cuts come down and the unions look good with that.

State worker unions are far from reaching contract settlements. The legislature has weighed in through a budget note on what they think a possible union contract settlement might look like and that is extraordinary. They went even further by weighing in with a number that is closer to current union proposals than to the Governor’s numbers and that is something more than extraordinary. The oiutstanding concern for us is that this not degenerate into a scramble for crumbs and cuts to needed social services. The unions have used the political process to our short-term advantage so far; we want to go further and make it a people's agenda based on real social solidarity.

Higher Ed Bargaining Moves Forward - Keep Up Pressure For Continued Progress! Call The Chancellor Tuesday!

Last Thursday and Friday, at the University of Oregon, the Oregon University System (OUS) management team dropped its demand that all classified workers absorb general wage cuts of 4.6%, and instead proposed a 3-tiered scale of up to 24 furlough days. Management also agreed to a Union request to extend the contract beyond the June 30expiration date for another month, to July 31st. Both of these developments are encouraging.

Despite these positive signs, it is important to note that other devastating management proposals remain on the table. Winning the contract extension and the removal of the wage cut proposal are positive steps, but solidarity with higher ed workers is still needed. The union went into bargaining accepting a philosophy of shared sacrifice in hard times. Predictably, OUS wants to push this beyond what is absolutely necessary.

In order to keep up the momentum, please participate in Union events at the campuses on June 30th or call Chancellor Pernsteiner at (503)725-5700. Tell him: "Thanks for the contract extension and for removing the wage cut proposal, but we need you to do more. There are still excessively harsh proposals from OUS on the table. Worker sacrifices have to be limited to what is absolutely necessary."

The union bargaining team decided to recognize management's positive steps with a counter-proposal on furloughs, contingent on management's removal of its unlimited furloughs proposal. The union is suggesting up to 48 hours (6 days) of mandatory unpaid time off, also in a tiered system with lower-income workers taking fewer hours off unpaid, and with many other conditions.

Before presenting this counter offer, union members and bargaining delegates made clear to management that the 24 furlough days called for in management's proposal exceed by a long shot union members' definition of acceptable sacrifice, even in these tough economic times. Many union members have submitted statements expressing the hardships unpaid time off would mean for them. These quotes were posted on the walls around the bargaining table and read out loud to management to drive home the seriousness of the consequences of what was being proposed. Management stated that they also hear from workers directly with similar comments, and recognize the difficulties people face coping with the economic downturn.

Union members were very visible throughout last week's bargaining, from a noon-time rally on Thursday, with more than 170 members, faculty, and students led in chants by University of Oregon Local President Lois Yoshishige, to presentations to the bargaining teams from members supporting selective salary increases.

Bargaining at U. of O. also produced six new tentative agreements and/or withdrawn articles and resolution of three proposed Letters of Agreement. One of the main changes was management's withdrawal of its proposal to remove standby duty compensation for FLSA-exempt employees.

Fidel Castro On The Coup In Honduras

Fidel Castro on the coup in Honduras:

Three days ago, in the evening of Thursday 25th, I wrote in my Reflections: “We do not know what will happen tonight or tomorrow in Honduras, but the courageous behavior adopted by Zelaya will go down in history.”

Two paragraphs before I had indicated that: “The situation that might result from whatever occurs in that country will be a test for the OAS and the current US administration.”

Read more here.

June 27, 2009

Support Samaritan hospital workers

Support Samaritan hospital workers

SEIU Local 49 members at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center (Corvallis) and Samaritan Albany General Hospital are fighting for a fair contract that allows them to focus on quality patient care. During difficult times, our community needs to know that we can count on our local hospitals to continue to provide safe staffing levels and high-quality patient care, as well as fair wages and benefits that allow caregivers to care for their own families.

The contract for workers at these two hospitals expires June 30th. Please join us at upcoming contract actions to support the workers:

Samaritan Contract Unity Vigils:
Tuesday June 30
2:30 - 3:30 pm at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center,
3600 NW Samaritan Drive, Corvallis

6:30 - 8:00 pm at Albany General Hospital
1046 Sixth Avenue SW, Albany

For more information contact Greg Gordon 541.971.7174

June 26, 2009

Late Legislative Report From Salem

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed by a 43-16 vote union-backed Contractor Accountability legislation. HB 2867 shines a light on the processes used for contracting out state work and state jobs. It requires cost-benefit analyses before projects are contracted out. If the cost-benefit anlysis determines that the only reason it is cheaper to contract out the service is because the contractor pays lower wages and benefits, then the state agency involved will have to provide the service in-house. The bill is headed to the Senate where it has a decent chance of passage. Contracting out processes are frequently abused by state agencies.

The Oregon Youth Authority got a second shot with House Bill 3508. The bill was re-written in a Ways and Means Sub-committee and was passed out with funding for both the Burns and Hillcrest OYA facilities. It passed the House Floor today with 40 votes, exactly the two-thirds majority needed. This creates savings in the kid prisons, also known as the public safety system, by phasing-in the implementation of Measure 57 and increasing earned time for people serving prison sentences for non-violent offenses. Passage of this bill marks a positive shift in thinking, but it also includes some "sentencing enhancements" and a change in parole board policy that most progressive people here will oppose. It is a step forward, but not quite the leap we need. I expect passage in the Senate. Union pressure got Rep. Cliff Bentz (from Burns) back in support of the proposal.

There is also the following:

HB 2831 improves the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. Awaiting action in the Senate (already passed through the House). This has several provisions, most notably allowing temporary workers to join bargaining units after three months and banning the permanent replacement of striking workers.

SB 897 carries PERS improvements. This was passed out of Ways and Means on Monday. It is now awaiting action by the Senate.

The legislature can end any day between Friday and Monday.

June 25, 2009

Message from Iranian Workers' Free Trade Union

Message from Iranian Workers' Free Trade Union
The Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers
June 24, 2009

Forty-eight days have passed since the suppression and arrest of workers' gathering on International Labour Day May Day. During this time our country has witnessed important events and we witness widespread and amazing changes in the social movement.

During their televised debates the presidential candidates repeatedly accused each other of violating citizens' rights, embezzlement, theft, mismanagement, and incompetence. But none of them had any objection to the laws that have allowed the disastrous events affecting the majority of the population. None of them had any objection to legislation that takes away a worker's right to strike, sets his wages at a quarter of what is the government's poverty line, takes away the workers right to set up their own organisations, allows mass lay-offs, forces workers to sign blank contracts a one-month temporary contract.

The presidential candidates failed to take up issues regarding freedom of speech, the right to choose one's dress, and hundreds of other inhuman laws that today govern our society. When they raise any issue it was in a superficial way, every one of them attempted to clear himself and accuse the others, as if his opponent had been more strict than himself. In all those debates, clearly and in confronting each other, the candidates themselves proved that they accept all the current laws and conditions and that their only quarrel is on who should be in power.

Therefore, we workers, under the present conditions, when social protests have taken the form of a mass and a huge movement has come on the scene to achieve its demands, see it as our right to put forward the demands of fellow workers and to raise our banner. These demands are as follows:

1. Immediate increase in the minimum wage to over 1 million tomans [$1010] a month.

2. An end to temporary contracts and new forms of work contracts.

3. The disbanding of the Labour House and the Islamic Labour Councils as government organisations in the factories and workshops, and the setting up of shoras [councils] and other workers' organisations independent from the government.

4. Immediate payment of workers' unpaid wages without any excuses.

5. An end to laying-off workers and payment of adequate unemployment insurance to all unemployed workers.

6. The immediate release of all political prisoners including the workers arrested on May Day, Jafar Azimzadeh, Gholamreza Khani, Said Yuzi, Said Rostami, Mehdi Farahi-Shandiz, Kaveh Mozafari, Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, and an end to surveillance and harassment of workers and labour leaders.

7. The right to strike, protest, assemble and the freedom of speech and the press are the workers' absolute right.

8. An end to sexual discrimination, child labour and the sacking of foreign workers.

Workers! Today we have a duty to intervene, to pose our demands independently and by relying on our own united strength, together with other sections of society, to work towards achieving our human rights.

The Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers

Vidovdan Is Saturday

Vidovdan--St. Vitus's Day--is Sunday. It is a special day for people in the Balkans, or for those of us with roots there.

On June 28, 1389 Ottoman and Serbian armies met at Kosovo Polje for battle. Legend has it that the Serbian Prince Lazar was told in a dream that he could have a kingdom on earth or one in heaven and that he chose the latter. Lazar was killed and the Serbs lost the battle. An assassin later killed the Ottoman Sultan Murad I in the Ottoman camp. This soon became the stuff of legends.

On June 28, 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Hohenberg in Sarajevo. World War One, that extended quarrel between Europe's ruling families, might have started anyway, but this assassination was used as a pretext for that slaughter.

On June 28, 1948 a condemnation of the Yugoslav government and Communist Party was published by the associated world communist parties. This marked a break in relations between Socialist Yugoslavia and other socialist nations and a disatrous turn for the world communist movement.

On June 28, 1989 the opportunist Slobodan Milosevic gave his infamous speech in Kosovo. To my knowledge, this speech has never been correctly or fully translated into English. Twelve years later to the day Milosevic was deported to stand trial.

Other events have taken place on June 28, of course, but the commemoration of the Battle of Kosovo remains an important event for many Serbs. The meaning and content of the day has changed with the times.

Clerical and nationalist forces in Serbia have had as their dominant historic project the blending of royalty, state, church and nation. This cannot be accomplished easily and without contradiction or conflict. There are, after all, economic and political interests at stake and development requires the shedding of the old fetters placed upon society by these forces and the development of new class and political relationships. This helps to explain the alternating chaos and stasis present in Yugoslavia prior to 1941 and the course of the struggles which took place from the invasion of the country to the formation of Socialist Yugoslavia in 1946.

These clerical and nationalist forces have written their own fables and myths over the story of the Battle of Kosovo. In their most recent tellings, Lazar unites in his death the heavenly kingdom with the elusive Serbian state. The image of the Maiden of Kosovo--the beautiful suffering woman giving respite to a soldier on the battlefield as painted by Uros Predic--assumes in their hands a kind of religious significance and becomes an image for Serbian women to emulate. The battle is marked as both a victory and as a defeat, making Serbian nationalists one of the few groups in the world to celebrate a national loss. The sense of Serbs as resentful losers is then built deeply into Serbian nationalist consciousness.

Serbian claims that Kosovo is part of Serbia and that it has been illegally seized and separated from Serbia and that the attack on Serbia by international forces was a criminal act is essentially correct. In the hands of the church and the nationalists, however, these charges become part of a recipe for powerlessness because they are confused with myth and an idealized recasting of the country's history. These myths and this recasting of events, dependent as they are on anti-communism and the long-developing economic crisis in Serbia, isolates Serbia from the world anti-imperialist bloc. The nationalists have seized so much of the country's political space that it has become quite difficult to separate legitimate political questions from their story-telling and then form principled anti-imperialist alliances.

From our perspective, Vidovdan marks the temporary triumph of one kind of society--imprecisely understood as Ottoman feudalism--over declining ancient or pre-feudal Serbian society. The labels are imprecise because the western model of social evolution did not take root in the Balkans and because Serbia and the Ottoman Empire did not exist then as we most often think of them today. Still, we should see the Battle of Kosovo and its outcome in these general terms and seek a better understanding of how the means of production and distribution and markets emerged in the Balkans.

We appreciate Vidovdan as myth as well. Vuk Karadzic, the great Serbian linguist and ethnographer, gathered many of the old accounts of the Battle of Kosovo and published them. In his time Karadzic was something of a humanist and his collecting of the myths, stories and songs demonstrated his attraction to the Enlightenment and his distance from church and state. His collections remain inspiring and interesting. In many of the fables Karadzic collected, and in the famous "Mountain Wreath" as well, relations and battles between Turks and Serbs are less mystical and more practical, more a matter of regional and clan order and less about nation-building.

If we think of the Battle of Kosovo as part of a national and class struggle, with its outcome predetermined by the relatively sophisticated economy of the Ottomans and the practical absence of a national Serbian economy and market, and if we remember Karadzic's essential humanism and the real content of his collections, we are immediately in conflict with the Serbian clerical and nationalist ideologues.

We should also remember that there was once in the US the progressive Vidovdan Congress of American Serbs and the Serbian Vidovdan Council. The Council was a part of the left-led United Committee of South Slav Americans. Prominent in that movement were people like the great writer Louis Adamic and many Yugoslav community and union leaders. They were all attacked during the McCarthy years and the left ethnic organizations and press were shut down. The American government then favored the reactionaries and nationalists forced to flee from eastern Europe and the Balkans over the patriotic Yugoslavs who had given so much to help win the war. These new US favorites were the people who had actively or passively supported fascism. In time we have seen how much damage they can do.

In their day the Vidovdan Congress and Council probably had to use terms and imagery familiar to working class Serbs and they could use Vidovdan creatively to rally support for the anti-fascist effort during World War Two. The Serbian loss at Kosovo could be recast in those years to remind people that the Royal Regent Paul and the old Yugoslav government had caved in and were sacrificing the country to the invading fascists. The almost bloodthirsty and inconclusive end of the "Mountain Wreath" easily became in the hands of the left an inspiration for those fighting for Yugoslav freedom. The Congress and Council both sought to build bridges between peaceful post-war Socialist Yugoslavia and the US.

Vidovdan does indeed have lessons for us. And there are lessons as well in how the myths surrounding Vidovdan have been used.

June 24, 2009

The Rosenbergs

The executions of Ethel and Jules Rosenberg continues to stir controversy in the US even 56 years after the act. Robert Meeropol, one of the Rosenberg sons, has the courage and heart to write about the executions of his parents here.

Attacks on the Rosenbergs and their defenders have changed focus quite a bit over the years, as have the ways in which we explain or defend their actions, the legal options they chose and their right to life. The myth persists that they were convicted of being spies and for treason while the fact is that they were instead convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.

The right has been generally successful in using the case to cast public doubt on liberal and left-wing motives and as a way of marginalizing us. This has happened not because the facts of the case might lead reasonable people to distrust liberals and the left, but because the Rosenbergs were first convicted in the media during the Cold War and because so many liberals over the years have sought the easier path by distancing themselves from the left. Weighing in on the guilt of the Rosenbergs and their executions became, for awhile at least, a kind of right-wing litmus test of liberals.

People on the left are again reminding us--quite correctly, I believe--that there was a political moment in the US when assisting the Soviet Union was a patriotic act. If the Rosenbergs engaged in some form of industrial espionage in that period, their motivations must be measured against the promises and terrors of the times. Just so, their arrests and executions must be understood as part of the Cold War, which is to say the deliberately created hysteria aimed at redividing the world after World War Two and rolling back the New Deal.

A committe to reopen the Rosenberg case still exists. Visit their website here.

June 23, 2009

Basic Marxism---Twenty-Four

From Marx:

Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand. As if someone were to say: Seen from the perspective of society, there are no slaves and no citizens: both are human beings. Rather, they are that outside society. To be a slave, to be a citizen, are social characteristics, relations between human beings A and B. Human being A, as such, is not a slave. He is a slave in and through society.

June 22, 2009

UE Union Members Need Our Solidarity

Members of the United Electrical workers union need our help....

WELLS FARGO BANK - ROADBLOCK TO RECOVERY: Please take action to assist the sisters and brothers of UE Local 1174 now battling to save their jobs at Quad City Die Casting company in Moline, Illinois. The giant Wells Fargo bank has cut off the line of credit to the company, despite taking more than $25 billion in taxpayer bailout monies. As a result, after more than 60 years of operation, the company may be forced to liquidate. Please take a moment to visit the web pages at www.ueillinois.org and www.ueunion.org which contain background information and updates.

On Tuesday, June 23rd, demonstrations and actions in support of these UE members will take place in these and other cities across the country: Baltimore, Boston, Cedar Rapids, Charleston, Chicago, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, Costa Mesa, as well as Atlanta, Denver, Erie, LaCrosse, Orlando, Portland, and Washington, DC. See the full list with contact information at

Send a message to Congress in support of the Local 1174 members at http://www.ueunion.org/ue_qc_main.html.

June 21, 2009

Fr. James Coleman, Reactionary Cold War Priest, Visits Salem

(I generally use "reactionary" to indicate a person or idea that looks backwards and rejects the positive political and scientific progress made since the Enlightenment and the democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. On the other hand, I generally use "progressive" to describe people and ideas that anticipate further social progress based on the Enlightenment, science and these revolutions. Reactionaries reject even the possibility that thought and activity can be united to create real human freedom while progressives dedicate themselves to the kinds of democratic and peaceful coexistence which can unite theory and practice in liberating humanity.)

Fr. James Coleman visited St. Vincent de Paul Church in Salem today looking for funding for a Church mission in Bolivia. He used much of his time in the pulpit to denounce the Bolivian government and appeal for funds.

Fr. Coleman comes from Salem. I believe that his home parish is St. Joseph's. He recalled without critical comment a time when missionary activity at St. Joseph's was funded with appeals to "ransom a pagan baby."

Today's appeal focused first on political conditions in Bolivia, with the priest tying together the governments of Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. In Fr. Coleman's hands this was an attempt at sensationalism or playing to fears. He implied that the Bolivian government is especially corrupt and organizes and sanctions violence against its opponents and the Church. He backed these implied charges up with sensationalist news items and provided no context for events now taking place in Bolivia.

The priest then attacked President Morales' claims to his ethnicity in passing and implied that President Morales is corrupt and at least passively involved in drug trafficking through his leadership of the cocoa growers' association. He took the often-used path of reactionary priests--and reactionaries generally--by saying that Christ's true followers can expect violence and repression and drawing a picture of himself and the Church as (potential) victims. He ended by saying that he would use the collected funds for adding on to a church and helping the poor--and he didn't deal with how or why or under what specific conditions so many people in Bolivia are impoverished.

It was a homily that could well have been written by Michael Novak, Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly. It was the kind of Cold War era and pre-Vatican II propaganda that is making a come-back in some Catholic circles as the Church in the US struggles with the scandals, priest shortages, financial crises and no-vision hierarchs which have come to afflict it. The Church was making progress from the 1960s through to the 1980s and this is the reaction to that progress. Sermons such as this serve to attack the progress made since Vatican II as well as to distract parishoners from other crises.

The dominant liberal reaction to these kinds of sermons, and to the priests who deliver them, is to say that politics does not belong in the pulpit. In fact, politics is firmly entrenched in the pulpit and always has been. The necessary questions to ask are what kinds of politics are being advocated and whose interests are involved.

Using the pulpit to denounce a foreign government which is trying to meet the needs of the poor and the oppressed is a poor use of whatever religious or spiritual authority this priest has. It seems to go very much against the spirit and word of the Gospels, which are essentially liberatory and give a clear preferential option for the oppressed. Those theological questions aside, this sort of political taunting of authority masked as spirituality can only make matters worse for all.

The Bolivian government will struggle as any government will in reacting to denunciations by the clergy. They can ignore this nonsense to a point, search for compromises, risk a confrontation with the Vatican and other governments by banning reactionary foreign priests or act to curb the power of the Church hierarchy in Bolivia. The sort of rhetoric we hear from today's reactionaries makes compromises almost impossible. Even when they take up real human rights issues they do so for transparently self-serving ends and they increasingly do so in ways which creates no safe space for negotiation.

The people sitting in the pews here are searching for something and are in great need of solidarity, healthy social relations and involvement in struggles which change their lives and help clarify their values. They will not ultimately find what they need and are looking for from a backward-looking, Cold-War-driven clergy. They will leave the churches, angry or bored or lost, before they give in to a theology which is complicit in their oppression.

What's really going on in Bolivia? Start here to learn.

June 19, 2009

Basic Marxism--Twenty-Three

From Marx:

As to the limitation of the working day in England, as in all other countries, it has never been settled except by legislative interference. Without the working men's continuous pressure from without that interference would never have taken place. But at all events, the result was not to be attained by private settlement between the working men and the capitalists. This very necessity of general political action affords the proof that in its merely economical action capital is the stronger side.
As to the limits of the value of labour, its actual settlement always depends upon supply and demand, I mean the demand for labour on the part of capital, and the supply of labour by the working men. In colonial countries the law of supply and demand favours the working man. Hence the relatively high standard of wages in the United States. Capital may there try its utmost. It cannot prevent the labour market from being continuously emptied by the continuous conversion of wages labourers into independent, self-sustaining peasants. The position of a wages labourer is for a very large part of the American people but a probational state, which they are sure to leave within a longer or shorter term. To mend this colonial state of things the paternal British Government accepted for some time what is called the modern colonization theory, which consists in putting an artificial high price upon colonial land, in order to prevent the too quick conversion of the wages labourer into the independent peasant.

But let us now come to old civilized countries, in which capital domineers over the whole process of production. Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it.

The same law obtains in another form. With the development of the productive powers of labour the accumulation of capital will be accelerated, even despite a relatively high rate of wages. Hence, one might infer, as Adam Smith, in whose days modern industry was still in its infancy, did infer, that the accelerated accumulation of capital must turn the balance in favour of the working man, by securing a growing demand for his labour. From this same standpoint many contemporary writers have wondered that English capital having grown in that last twenty years so much quicker than English population, wages should not have been more enhanced. But simultaneously with the progress of accumulation there takes place a progressive change in the composition of capital. That part of the aggregate capital which consists of fixed capital, machinery, raw materials, means of production in all possible forms, progressively increases as compared with the other part of capital, which is laid out in wages or in the purchase of labour. This law has been stated in a more or less accurate manner by Mr. Barton, Ricardo, Sismondi, Professor Richard Jones, Professor Ramsey, Cherbuilliez, and others.

If the proportion of these two elements of capital was originally one to one, it will, in the progress of industry, become five to one, and so forth. If of a total capital of 600, 300 is laid out in instruments, raw materials, and so forth, and 300 in wages, the total capital wants only to be doubled to create a demand for 600 working men instead of for 300. But if of a capital of 600, 500 is laid out in machinery, materials, and so forth and 100 only in wages, the same capital must increase from 600 to 3,600 in order to create a demand for 600 workmen instead of 300. In the progress of industry the demand for labour keeps, therefore, no pace with the accumulation of capital. It will still increase, but increase in a constantly diminishing ratio as compared with the increase of capital.

These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

At the same time, and quite apart form the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!"
After this very long and, I fear, tedious exposition, which I was obliged to enter into to do some justice to the subject matter, I shall conclude by proposing the following resolutions:

Firstly. A general rise in the rate of wages would result in a fall of the general rate of profit, but, broadly speaking, not affect the prices of commodities.

Secondly. The general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages.

Thirdly. Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. The fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.

June 18, 2009

Basic Marxism--Twenty-Two

From Marx:

In all the cases I have considered, and they form ninety-nine out of a hundred, you have seen that a struggle for a rise of wages follows only in the track of previous changes, and is the necessary offspring of previous changes in the amount of production, the productive powers of labour, the value of labour, the value of money, the extent or the intensity of labour extracted, the fluctuations of market prices, dependent upon the fluctuations of demand and supply, and consistent with the different phases of the industrial cycle; in one word, as reactions of labour against the previous action of capital. By treating the struggle for a rise of wages independently of all these circumstances, by looking only upon the change of wages, and overlooking all other changes from which they emanate, you proceed from a false premiss in order to arrive at false conclusions...

...Having shown that the periodical resistance on the part of the working men against a reduction of wages, and their periodical attempts at getting a rise of wages, are inseparable from the wages system, and dictated by the very fact of labour being assimilated to commodities, and therefore subject to the laws, regulating the general movement of prices; having furthermore, shown that a general rise of wages would result in a fall in the general rate of profit, but not affect the average prices of commodities, or their values, the question now ultimately arises, how far, in this incessant struggle between capital and labour, the latter is likely to prove successful.

I might answer by a generalization, and say that, as with all other commodities, so with labour, its market price will, in the long run, adapt itself to its value; that, therefore, despite all the ups and downs, and do what he may, the working man will, on an average, only receive the value of his labour, which resolves into the value of his labouring power, which is determined by the value of the necessaries required for its maintenance and reproduction, which value of necessaries finally is regulated by the quantity of labour wanted to produce them.

But there are some peculiar features which distinguish the value of the labouring power, or the value of labour, from the values of all other commodities. The value of the labouring power is formed by two elements -- the one merely physical, the other historical or social. Its ultimate limit is determined by the physical element, that is to say, to maintain and reproduce itself, to perpetuate its physical existence, the working class must receive the necessaries absolutely indispensable for living and multiplying. The value of those indispensable necessaries forms, therefore, the ultimate limit of the value of labour. On the other hand, the length of the working day is also limited by ultimate, although very elastic boundaries. Its ultimate limit is given by the physical force of the labouring man. If the daily exhaustion of his vital forces exceeds a certain degree, it cannot be exerted anew, day by day.

However, as I said, this limit is very elastic. A quick succession of unhealthy and short-lived generations will keep the labour market as well supplied as a series of vigorous and long-lived generations. Besides this mere physical element, the value of labour is in every country determined by a traditional standard of life. It is not mere physical life, but it is the satisfaction of certain wants springing from the social conditions in which people are placed and reared up. The English standard of life may be reduced to the Irish standard; the standard of life of a German peasant to that of a Livonian peasant. The important part which historical tradition and social habitude play in this respect, you may learn from Mr. Thornton's work on over-population, where he shows that the average wages in different agricultural districts of England still nowadays differ more or less according to the more or less favourable circumstances under which the districts have emerged from the state of serfdom.

This historical or social element, entering into the value of labour, may be expanded, or contracted, or altogether extinguished, so that nothing remains but the physical limit. During the time of the anti-Jacobin war, undertaken, as the incorrigible tax eater and sinecurist, old George Rose, used to say, to save the comforts of our holy religion from the inroads of the French infidels, the honest English farmers, so tenderly handled in a former chapter of ours, depressed the wages of the agricultural labourers even beneath that mere physical minimum, but made up by Poor Laws the remainder necessary for the physical perpetuation of the race. This was a glorious way to convert the wages labourer into a slave, and Shakespeare's proud yeoman into a pauper.

By comparing the standard wages or values of labour in different countries, and by comparing them in different historical epochs of the same country, you will find that the value of labour itself is not a fixed but a variable magnitude, even supposing the values of all other commodities to remain constant.

A similar comparison would prove that not only the market rates of profit change, but its average rates.

But as to profits, there exists no law which determines their minimum. We cannot say what is the ultimate limit of their decrease. And why cannot we fix that limit? Because, although we can fix the minimum of wages, we cannot fix their maximum.
We can only say that, the limits of the working day being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to the physical minimum of wages; and that wages being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to such a prolongation of the working day as is compatible with the physical forces of the labourer. The maximum of profit is therefore limited by the physical minimum of wages and the physical maximum of the working day. It is evident that between the two limits of the maximum rate of profit and immense scale of variations is possible. The fixation of its actual degree is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction.

The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants.

June 17, 2009

Basic Marxism---Twenty-One

Daniel Rubin is a leading member of the Communist Party and the author of quite a few books, pamphlets and articles. His latest work is Can Capitalism Last?

In a recent interview Rubin said:

The Marxist theory of economic cycles, which I deal with in the book, starts from some of the basic building blocks of Marxist economics. One is that under capitalism there is private ownership of the means of production, and that in itself produces anarchy, that is, it is produced by the lack of knowledge of one set of capitalists of what other capitalists are doing, and by an inability to plan in an economy that is getting ever more interconnected, an economy that needs knowledge and interdependence. That is one of the building blocks.

Another is the labor theory of value, which explains how capitalists are able to extract surplus value and turn it into profit. Once you have that basic understanding, then you move on to the efforts of the capitalists constantly to maximize their profits. That can be done basically in terms of one class as a whole being pitted against another class as a whole, and greater profits can only be achieved by greater exploitation of the working class.

Now if you put those two things together in the theory of economic crisis, you come up with something that is inherent in the capitalist system, namely that capitalists, each pushing for maximum profits, will, starting in the recovery phase of the cycle, go at it overboard, not knowing what the others are doing, and trying to gain a greater share of the market, until a point is reached where clearly whatever they are producing is beyond the capacity of consumers to consume. At that point you get into the crisis phase.

You also have to look at how the major developments in capitalism have influenced the economic cycle. The imperialist stage – monopoly capitalism – brings together a world market. It brings together not only a market based on material commodities, which are overproduced and underconsumed, but it also brings forms of capitalist investment that create certain changes and deeper crises in a world that is increasingly interdependent.

That is when, within the framework of monopoly capitalism, you move into the phase of state monopoly capitalism, which involves the state intervening both to help maximize profits, but also at times to ameliorate social conditions, as we saw in the Great Depression in the US with the New Deal.

Next comes globalization, where you have much greater interdependence in the world market, and therefore greater synchronization when a crisis does break out, although you also have the possibility that in the world market, before there is a full crisis, prosperity in one section of the world can offset problems in another, which can change the shape of the cycle and postpone things.

Then you come to financialization. A major feature of financialization is that commodity production of material goods, and even of immaterial goods, becomes less and less important to the financial sector of the capitalist economy. Today, for instance, on top of the crisis in construction and housing and the relative over-production because of the endless seeking of maximum profit and the anarchy of production, you also have all these financial instruments that are being traded back and forth for the purpose of maximizing profit in an anarchistic situation. Sooner or later that comes to a point where the production of these financial products is also out of line with their possible consumption. The result is an even more complex and highly-centralized collapse of the capitalist system in the crisis phase of the cycle.

These things have, as indicated very briefly here, produced changes in the cycle, it is still basically the same underlying causes that the fundamentals of Marxist economics and political economy show, although they are more complicated and made worse when you have the financialization of everything.

Read the entire interview here.

Dreamers And Fighters: Teachers, Communists And Unions

From the exciting Dreamers & Fighters website:

The documentary originated with Sophie-Louise Ullman as an effort to honor the members of the New York City Teachers Union. Her parents, and many other New York City teachers, were members.

The Teachers Union was founded in 1916, and forced out of existence in 1964, a victim, together with many of its members, of a blacklisting effort that parallelled the one conducted in Hollywood. Far less known than the show business red hunts of the McCarthy years, the effort by New York's Board of Education to weed out teachers it considered politically unfit to teach the city's children ultimately led to investigations of some 1,100 teachers. More than 400 were forced out of their jobs through forced resignations and retirements and outright dismissal.

The Teachers Union and its members sought, and fought, to improve the education and better the lives of the children in their classrooms. They fought for better pay and better working conditions for teachers. At no time in the two-decade campaign against them were any of them charged with bringing their politics into their lesson plans.

Dreamers and Fighters will tell their story, and the story of their union. And as this website develops, it will add information on what they went through and how they fought back. We welcome your participation in building it, and we welcome your stories and your memories of some very tough times.

Go here to see this great website.

Basic Marxism---Twenty

From Marx:

All of you know that...capitalistic production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis, and stagnation. The market prices of commodities, and the market rates of profit, follow these phases, now sinking below their averages, now rising above them.

Considering the whole cycle, you will find that one deviation of the market price is being compensated by the other, and that, taking the average of the cycle, the market prices of commodities are regulated by their values. Well! During the phases of sinking market prices and the phases of crisis and stagnation, the working man, if not thrown out of employment altogether, is sure to have his wages lowered. Not to be defrauded, he must, even with such a fall of market prices, debate with the capitalist in what proportional degree a fall of wages has become necessary. If, during the phases of prosperity, when extra profits are made, he did not battle for a rise of wages, he would, taking the average of one industrial cycle, not even receive his average wages, or the value of his labour. It is the utmost height of folly to demand, that while his wages are necessarily affected by the adverse phases of the cycle, he should exclude himself from compensation during the prosperous phases of the cycle. Generally, the values of all commodities are only realized by the compensation of the continuously changing market prices, springing from the continuous fluctuations of demand and supply. On the basis of the present system labour is only a commodity like others. It must, therefore, pass through the same fluctuations to fetch an average price corresponding to its value.

It would be absurd to treat it on the one hand as a commodity, and to want on the other hand to exempt it from the laws which regulate the prices of commodities. The slave receives a permanent and fixed amount of maintenance; the wage-labourer does not. He must try to get a rise of wages in the one instance, if only to compensate for a fall of wages in the other. If he resigned himself to accept the will, the dictates of the capitalist as a permanent economical law, he would share in all the miseries of the slave, without the security of the slave.

June 16, 2009

Fighting Back

Most Progressives know the President will need to be pushed if we are to see the changes we want become reality. But the silence has been loud and the protestations mild. EFCA? Not really.. Single Payer? Mild. But now FIGHT BACK is coming with a passion and a strategy.
When he was campaigning Barack Obama said he would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) and he said he would be a "fierce advocate" to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
But now he says he will not stop DADT. The Commander In Chief will wait for Congress. Harry Reid said he will not move DADT legislation. But the final straw was June 14th when the President's Justice Department argued in Federal Court FOR DOMA. Their brief stated that same sex relationships were comparable to pedophilia and incest. Using examples such as an uncle being able to marry his niece.
FIGHT BACK - There is a planned high profile Gay Fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in a couple of weeks. The most conservative national Gay organization is the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC Field Director announced he would not attend the $1000.00 a plate fundraiser. This created a steady stream of high profile leaders who will not attend because of the homophobic brief used to defend DOMA. The Washington D.C. Gay newspaper the Washington Blade has announced it will be staking out the fundraiser and will have reporters with cameras and video at the hotel entrance to record and publicize any attendees. At the same time there are plans for a massive March on Washington in October
FIGHT BACK - For months we have heard about an Executive Order from the President giving
same sex partners of Federal Employees health benefits. Today a DNC fundraiser is threatened and tonight it is announced that tomorrow the President will sign a Memorandum (not an Executive Order) granting "some benefits".
The gay blogs are hot tonight and responding: "Welcome to 1999" " The Administration, Congress, DNC need to see the LGBT ATM shutdown". The discussions about whether to March on D.C. or not are over! Everyone is going.
There are lessons to be learned here. Labor Movement, Single Payer Advocates. Watch and learn.....

Cuban Caravan Launch In Portland July 5

Cuba Caravan Launch
July 05, 2009
Portland Central American Solidarity Committee PCASC
MORE INFO: www.pcasc.net

20 Years of Friendship and Resistance!

We invite you to share food, music, and friendship, as we launch the Cuba Caravan from Liberty Hall! We'll hear from speakers Alicia Jrapko, and Nita Palmer, both former Caravan-istas. We'll enjoy music by David Rovics, "the musical version of Democracy Now", according to journalist Amy Goodman.

When: Sunday, July 5th 2009
6pm until 9pm
Where: Liberty Hall
311 N. Ivy St.

Guest speaker Alicia Jrapko is a Bay Area human rights activist who was born in Argentina and left during the brutal military dictatorship of the seventies. She has been working to change US policy toward Cuba and is a member of the International Committee for Freedom for the Cuban Five, who for more than ten years have been political prisoners in the US.

We'll also be joined by Nita Palmer, a solidarity and social justice activist from Vancouver, B.C. Nita is active with Free the Cuban Five Committee - Vancouver, and writes for the internationally distributed newspaper, Fire this Time

Basic Marxism---Nineteen

From Marx:

We have till now supposed that the working day has given limits. The working day, however, has, by itself, no constant limits. It is the constant tendency of capital to stretch it to its utmost physically possible length, because in the same degree surplus labour, and consequently the profit resulting therefrom, will be increased. The more capital succeeds in prolonging the working day, the greater the amount of other peoples' labour it will appropriate.

During the seventeenth and even the first two thirds of the eighteenth century a ten hours working day was the normal working day all over England. During the anti-Jacobin war, which was in fact a war waged by the British barons against the British working masses, capital celebrated its bacchanalia, and prolonged the working day from ten to twelve, fourteen, eighteen hours. Malthus, by no means a man whom you would suspect of a maudlin sentimentalism declared in a pamphlet, published about 1815, that if this sort of thing was to go on the life of the nation would be attacked at its very source. A few years before the general introduction of newly-invented machinery, about 1765, a pamphlet appeared in England under the title, An Essay On Trade. The anonymous author, an avowed enemy of the working classes, declaims on the necessity of expanding the limits of the working day. Amongst other means to this end, he proposes working houses, which, he says, ought to be "Houses of Terror." And what is the length of the working he prescribes for these "Houses of Terror"? twelve hours, the very same time which in 1832 was declared by capitalists, political economists, and ministers to be not only the existing but the necessary time of labour for a child under twelve years.

By selling his labouring power, and he must do so under the present system, the working man makes over to the capitalist the consumption of that power, but within certain rational limits. He sells his labouring power in order to maintain it, apart from its natural wear and tear, but not to destroy it. In selling his labouring power at its daily or weekly value, it is understood that in one day or one week that labouring power shall not be submitted to two days' or two weeks' waste or wear and tear. Take a machine worth 1000 Pounds. If it is used up in ten years it will add to the value of the commodities in whose production it assists 100 Pounds yearly. If it is used up in five years it will add 200 Pounds yearly, or the value of its annual wear and tear is in inverse ratio to the quickness with which it is consumed. But this distinguishes the working man from the machine. Machinery does not wear out exactly in the same ratio in which it is used. Man, on the contrary, decays in a greater ratio than would be visible from the mere numerical addition of work.

In their attempts at reducing the working day to its former rational dimensions, or, where they cannot enforce a legal fixation of a normal working day, at checking overwork by a rise of wages, a rise not only in proportion to the surplus time exacted, but in a greater proportion, working men fulfill only a duty to themselves and their race. They only set limits to the tyrannical usurpations of capital. Time is the room of human development. A man who has no free time to dispose of, whose whole lifetime, apart from the mere physical interruptions by sleep, meals, and so forth, is absorbed by his labour for the capitalist, is less than a beast of burden. He is a mere machine for producing Foreign Wealth, broken in body and brutalized in mind. Yet the whole history of modern industry shows that capital, if not checked, will recklessly and ruthlessly work to cast down the whole working class to this utmost state of degradation.

In prolonging the working day the capitalist may pay higher wages and still lower the value of labor, if the rise of wages does not correspond to the greater amount of labour extracted, and the quicker decay of the labouring power thus caused. This may be done in another way. Your middle-class statisticians will tell you, for instance, that the average wages of factory families in Lancashire has risen. They forget that instead of the labour of the man, the head of the family, his wife and perhaps three or four children are now thrown under the Juggernaut wheels of capital, and that the rise of the aggregate wages does not correspond to the aggregate surplus labour extracted from the family.

Even with given limits of the working day, such as they now exist in all branches of industry subjected to the factory laws, a rise of wages may become necessary, if only to keep up the old standard value of labour. By increasing the intensity of labour, a man may be made to expend as much vital force in one hour as he formerly did in two. This has, to a certain degree, been effected in the trades, placed under the Factory Acts, by the acceleration of machinery, and the greater number of working machines which a single individual has now to superintend. If the increase in the intensity of labour or the mass of labour spent in an hour keeps some fair proportion to the decrease in the extent of the working day, the working man will still be the winner. If this limit is overshot, he loses in one form what he has gained in another, and ten hours of labour may then become as ruinous as twelve hours were before. In checking this tendency of capital, by struggling for a rise of wages corresponding to the rising intensity of labour, the working man only resists the depreciation of his labour and the deterioration of his race.

June 15, 2009

Cuban 5

The AP reported today:

The Supreme Court has refused to review the convictions of five Cuban intelligence agents who say they did not receive a fair trial because of strong anti-Castro sentiment in Miami.

The justices, acting Monday, are leaving in place the convictions of the so-called "Cuban Five," despite calls from Nobel Prize winners and international legal groups to review the

The five -- Ruben Campa, Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Luis Medina and Antonio Guerrero -- were convicted on charges of acting as unregistered Cuban agents in the United States and of espionage conspiracy for attempting to penetrate U.S. military bases.

For information see http://www.freethefive.org/.

The Uprisings In Iran

We have repeatedly criticized the regime heading the Iranian government, called for solidarity with working class leaders and women who have been persecuted by the regime and have sought to understand and communicate the need for solidarity from below as an alternative to war and militarism in the region.

Reports in the US media regarding the situation in Iran are frustrating. The first question reporters ask are how this new situation will affect the US and the Obama administration, once more seeing the world through the imperialist context. The second issue they raise is the possibility that the uprisings now underway are a new Iranian revolution.

The US media reported widely on a number of violent attacks which took place in Iran leading up to the elections. There have also been interviews in the US media with articulate supporters of Ahmadinejad who accuse demonstrators of indiscriminate property destruction and violence. The pre-election violence could easily have been manufactured by external forces, the secret services of foreign powers, and aimed at destabilizing Iranian society, a kind of protracted strategy of terror. Violent attacks attributed to demonstrators could just as easily be carried out by supporters of Ahmadinejad or people paid by the hostile foreign powers who have infiltrated the ranks of the demonstrators. Obama's hands-off statements are reassuring, but he may not know everything being done on his watch or he may be covering for American involvement. These possibilities seems o escape the US media. In any case, it seems unlikely that this is a new revolution. The US media does no one in Iran a service by imposing on the situation there a revolutionary imprint.

Our comrades in Tudeh, the Communist Party of Iran, are not calling the situation there revolutionary, but they are calling upon the people of Iran to take part in mass demonstrations and protests. They understand and are expressing a nuanced view of the copmplex situation developing in their country. Read their views here and here.

Oregon State Workers Say Our Legislature Takes Steps Backwards & Forwards

Union member activism has given Oregon public worker unions some victories at the legislature. The June 7 Portland rally organized by SEIU Local 503 came as union members were pressuring the legislature to pass a budget good for human services and worker rights. That event was organized under the broad appeal for quality public services. Public workers have spent much of the last several months in lobby days, rallying at the capitol, phonebanking other union members and legislators and in contract negotiations. Most key SEIU public worker contracts expire at the end of June.

This legislative session could end as early as this week and will be back in a special session in February. Landmark tax reform, health care expansion and the preservation of thousands of public sector and healthcare jobs show the results of this activism.

Not all is bright for the unions, of course. Some state worker and healthcare worker layoffs will come and contract concessions will follow. There will be cuts in more public services. The state has backed away from an aggressive push to implement some furloughs and paycuts, but most union contract settlements still seem headed to arbitration.

The Statesman Journal reported part of the story here in its usually dismal and defeatist ways. There is, in fact, much for workers to pay attention to and mobilize around here. State worker activism has its(usually successful)limitations; a militant movement of state workers and other working class people could accomplish much more. We on the left refer to this activism as "trade union consciousness." We don't want to take anything away from that or press too hard on it, but we also want to project really militant class consciousness onto the situation we're facing in order to win more for everyone.

The Oregon Senate voted to enact an increase in the corporate income tax and also an increase in the personal income tax on families making more than $250,000. The Senate also voted to table the corporate tax increase, but the bill came back for re-consideration and passed. Both measures passed by understandable and expected 18-11 margins, along party lines.

The bills now go the Governor and are most likely to be signed there. These two measures raise about $770 million per biennium. The corporate tax tilts towards larger corporations. The personal income tax raises taxes on individuals earning more than $125,000 and couples earning more than $250,000. There is also an additional, temporary, tax increase on those who earn more than $500,000. The corporate income tax increase is permanent. The legislature may pass an additional bill that would, starting in 2013, earmark a portion of the corporate tax increase to the rainy day fund.

The revenue decisions will help to balance the budget to include the following:

*Preserving jobs for homecare providers and, for one year, child care workers
*Preserving health care for homecare workers
*Creating new jobs at the Department of Revenue
*Preserving jobs at Blue Mountain Recovery Center
*Adding staff to help with increased workload at Department of Human Services
*Adding jobs at the Oregon State Hospital

The budgets are likely to be voted on in the next several days.

The threatened 38% cut in homecare hours has been reversed. 3,868 jobs been saved here and thousands of people in the program have less to worry about now. Health insurance benefits for homecare workers is maintained. These benefits had been up for a 90% cut -- $16.7 million -- and that was completely restored. Health care premium increases are not covered, demonstrating why we need national healthcare.

The Ways and Means Human Services Sub-Committee voted to retain current eligibility standards for Employment Related Day Care through June 30, 2010. This means that 3,592 families (about 6,100 children) will not lose their child care subsidies. No family in the program will see their co-pay rise. Most child care providers will keep their jobs: 1,800 child care providers would have lost their job if the cuts had gone through. These workers -- many sub-minimum wage -- were also slated for a 10-14% pay cut. That cut may or may not take place.

The legislature expanded the Oregon Health Plan to cover 80,000 more children and 30,000 more adults. This is paid for by a tax on hospitals and health insurance companies. These funds are matched $2.64 to $1 by federal funds provided by Congress and the Obama administration. The money is then repaid to hospitals and other health care providers and to insurers to cover and treat 110,000 Oregonians who are currently uninsured. Again, national healthcare could permanently solve this crisis.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 519 – the Worker Freedom Act. This bans employers from requiring workers to attend mandatory meetings urging workers not to form a union. This bill is still moving through the House and could be voted on as early as today.

SB 702 protects and expands the rights of 6,400 homecare workers who currently are denied the right to bargain collectively. Their rights are being denied because the state has established homecare programs out of compliance with Measure 99, which voters approved in 2000. This bill will likely die. What is needed here is a legal decision that determines that these programs will need to be brought into compliance.

OYA will come under more scrutiny. At the Youth Authority, internal auditors were blocked from investigating serious problems because corrupt managers prevented them from doing the audits. This problem is now largely fixed. The other remaining staffing issues at OYA are due in large part to Measure 57 coming back to haunt us. That Measure passed as the alternative to Mannix's lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key nonsense. The bill for Measure 57 is now creating real headaches for people trying to fund human services.

Child care providers will now have mandatory orientations. This should improve the quality of child care.

The following areas will see significant job losses or closures:

*DAS night shift janitors
*Portland and Eugene state Motor Pool
*Oregon School for the Blind
*Forestry Department

Nursing home workers working in union facilities are unlikely to see their next scheduled pay raises.

There is still an on-going fight to preserve jobs at the Oregon Youth Authority. Legislators are still seeking a way to cut $78 million from the Public Safety budget. There is also a struggle in higher ed to save as many jobs there as possible. The contractor accountability bill, House Bill 2867, is still alive. This bill expands the definition of “responsible contractor,” allowing state agencies to choose the best contractor, and prohibiting contracting out if the only reason a contractor is cheaper is because they pay sub-standard wages and benefits. Local governments have been lobbying hard on this bill. Passage would be a victory for workers. This bill is in Ways and Means and still needs to pass both chambers.

HB 2500 improves transparency in contracting. It will create a statewide database with general government information. All currently available information regarding contracts will be available through the website. DAS and ODOT will put information about terms and costs of contracts. It will be a snapshot of the data, updated on a monthly basis. HB 2500 also sets up a transparency board that will continue to look at how to increase transparency in government. This bill has passed the House and is in the Ways and Means Committee.

House Bill 2831 improves the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. It has passed the House and is scheduled for a Senate vote Wednesday. There is major legislative and employer opposition. The bill also bans the permanent replacement of public employees when on strike.

Senate Bill 897 makes some improvements to PERS. It is in Ways and Means Committee and still needs to pass both chambers.

We need to see a strong showing of public worker and working class anger on June 30!

Basic Marxism---Eighteen

The values of necessaries, and consequently the value of labour, might remain the same, but a change might occur in their money prices, consequent upon a previous change in the value of money. By the discovery of more fertile mines and so forth, two ounces of gold might, for example, cost no more labour to produce than one ounce did before. The value of gold would then be depreciated by one half, or fifty per cent. As the values of all other commodities would then be expressed in twice their former money prices, so also the same with the value of labour. Twelve hours of labour, formerly expressed in six shillings, would now be expressed in twelve shillings. If the working man's wages should remain three shillings, instead of rising to six shillings, the money price of his labour would only be equal to half the value of his labour, and his standard of life would fearfully deteriorate. This would also happen in a greater or lesser degree if his wages should rise, but not proportionately to the fall in the value of gold. In such a case nothing would have been changed, either in the productive powers of labour, or in supply and demand, or in values.

Nothing could have changed except the money names of those values. To say that in such a case the workman ought not to insist upon a proportionate rise of wages, is to say that he much be content to be paid with names, instead of with things. All past history proves that whenever such a depreciation of money occurs, the capitalists are on the alert to seize this opportunity for defrauding the workman. A very large school of political economists assert that, consequent upon the new discoveries of gold lands, the better working of silver mines, and the cheaper supply of quicksilver, the value of precious metals has again depreciated. This would explain the general and simultaneous attempts on the Continent at a rise of wages.

June 14, 2009

Basic Marxism---Seventeen

From Marx:

We have seen that the value of the labouring power, or in more popular parlance, the value of labour, is determined by the value of necessaries, or the quantity of labour required to produce them.

If, then, in a given country the value of the daily average necessaries of the labourer represented six hours of labour expressed in three shillings, the labourer would have to work six hours daily to produce an equivalent for this daily maintenance. If the whole working day was twelve hours, the capitalist would pay him the value of his labour by paying him three shillings. Half the working day would be unpaid labour, and the rate of profit would amount to 100 percent. But now suppose that, consequent upon a decrease of productivity, more labour should be wanted to produce, say, the same amount of agricultural produce, so that the price of the average daily necessaries should rise from three to four shillings. In that case the value of labour would rise by one third, or 33 1/3 percent. Eight hours of the working day would be required to produce an equivalent for the daily maintenance of the labourer, according to his old standard of living. The surplus labour would therefore sink from six hours to four, and the rate of profit from 100 to 50 percent. But in insisting upon a rise of wages, the labourer would only insist upon getting the increased value of his labour, like every other seller of a commodity, who, the costs of his commodities having increased, tries to get its increased value paid. If wages did not rise, or not sufficiently rise, to compensate for the increased values of necessaries, the price of labour would sink below the value of labour, and the labourer's standard of life would deteriorate.

But a change might also take place in an opposite direction. By virtue of the increased productivity of labour, the same amount of the average daily necessaries might sink from three to two shillings, or only four hours out of the working day, instead of six, be wanted to reproduce an equivalent for the value of the daily necessaries. The working man would now be able to buy with two shillings as many necessaries as he did before with three shillings Indeed, the value of labour would have sunk, but diminished value would command the same amount of commodities as before. Then profits would rise from three to four shillings, and the rate of profit from 100 to 200 percent. Although the labourer's absolute standard of life would have remained the same, his relative wages, and therewith his relative social position, as compared with that of the capitalist, would have been lowered. If the working man should resist that reduction of relative wages, he would only try to get some share in the increased productive powers of his own labour, and to maintain his former relative position in the social scale. Thus, after the abolition of the Corn Laws, and in flagrant violation of the most solemn pledges given during the anti-corn law agitation, the English factory lords generally reduced wages ten per cent. The resistance of the workmen was at first baffled, but, consequent upon circumstances I cannot now enter upon, the ten per cent lost were afterwards regained.

June 11, 2009

Late Word From The Legislature

The Oregon Senate voted today to enact an increase in the corporate income tax and also an increase in the personal income tax, carrying forward the call to tax the corporations and tax the wealthy. Yesterday, the Senate voted to table the corporate tax increase, but then brought the bill back for re-consideration today. Both measures passed by 18-11 margins, along party lines. Senator Atkinson was absent. Mark Haas was finally moved and voted correctly. Right now it looks as if after 4 years, some of the corporate tax revenue will go into the Rainy Day fund.

The bills now go Governor Kulongoski, who has pledged to sign them. These measures raise about $770M per biennium. The corporate tax tilts towards larger corporations. The personal income tax raises taxes on individuals earning more than $125,000 and couples earning more than $250,000. There is also an additional, temporary, tax increase on those who earn more than $500,000. Let's try to hold on to this temporary tax.

The corporate income tax increase is permanent if Kulongoski is good on his word and if the right-wing and their corporate sponsors don't eventually overturn it.

These are big steps forward and they enable the legislature and state agencies to stretch towards balancing the budget in ways which can help Oregon's poorest workers, human services and unions. Incomplete as this budget is, it reaches towards the following:

*Preserving jobs for homecare and child care workers
*Preserving health care benefits for homecare workers
*Creating new jobs at the Department of Revenue
*Preserving jobs and services at the Blue Mountain Recovery Center
*Adding staff to help with increased workload at Department of Human Services

We may not get much further than this during this legislative session. We need to win, or make a stronger mark, on stopping the closure of the School for The Blind and the commissions and public services not being helped by this budget, stopping the Guard from being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, stopping prison growth and incarceration, worker and union rights, settling public worker union contracts without concessions and healthcare for all. If this legislative session highlights the obstinacy of Republican forces, it also shows that mobilizations and unity among progressive forces can push the majority of weak-kneed Democrats forward. With stronger unity and more inclusive mobilizations we could have won more--we could have, and we will!

Stop ICE--Stop The Raids--Support Immigrant Workers

Presentation of the film, “Frozen Dreams”

Saturday, June 13th, 2:00 and 4:00pm, PCC Cascade Campus, Terry Hall 122, 705 N. Killingsworth in Portland – A video documentary that tells the story of a group of mothers who were detained during an Im­migrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on June 12, 2007 at the Del Monte produce plant in Portland and the experiences they faced. As a result of the raid, more than 160 people were ar­rested the majority of who were deported. In the aftermath of the raid, as the documentary shows, victims remaining in Portland came togeth­er to form the Committee for Solidarity and Mutual Support (CSAM), thus becoming human rights advocates. $10 – supports the work of CSAM. For more information, call (503) 230-9427 or email csamcomite@yahoo.com.

Picnic Potluck Commemorating the Del Monte Raid--Sunday, June 14, 3:00pm, Columbia Park, Picnic Site “C” in North Portland – Come with a dish of your choice to share. Organized by the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC) and the Cross Border Labor Organizing Council (CBLOC). For more information call (503)-236-7916 or email info@pcasc.net.