May 31, 2011

Migrant workers in Qatar and UAR

New International Trade Union Confederation multimedia report uncovers the human cost of the huge migrant labor force in the Gulf States of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

(View shorter version here.)

CAMP BARCELONA DECLARES VICTORY

PLAZA CATALUNYA


On May 27th the Police in Barcelona cracked down on the 20,000 youth protesters in the Plaza Catalunya under the pretext of cleaning the square. There were 99 injuries which motivated outbursts of solidarity from throughout the Spanish State and the neighborhoods of Barcelona. In Madrid there came the chants of "Barcelona Is Not Alone" and the protest movement of youth has now spread to 150 Spanish cities and towns. More than 12,000 Catalans joined with the thousands who gathered at the statue of Columbus to successfully march back to retake the square.

Esther Rivas an eyewitness participant wrote that the camps and occupations are not ends in themselves. They have become a base of operations. There are organizing collectives for those who have been evicted to demand decent housing for all. It includes workers from Telefonica who are fighting the proposed 6,000 layoffs and student and University workers protesting cuts in higher education. They are building assemblies in their neighborhoods and increasing efforts to seek ties to workplaces in struggle. They are also organizing toward June 19th as a date for global mobilization which is being launched by Camp Barcelona.

It is interesting to note that while there was 24/7 coverage of Tahrir Square on CNN and MSBNC..there is a blackout of coverage of the youth and working class revolt in Spain.

May 30, 2011

West Bengal: Collapse of the Left Front government and the way ahead for India's left

We are hearing much about the defeat of the Left Front government in West Bengal and, predictably, about the collapse of socialism and socialist parties internationally. The People's World ran a dispiriting article, for instance. The following comes from Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, by way of Links. I believe that that this article has strong implications for our own movement here in the US.   

May 24, 2011 -- The inevitable has finally happened. The Left Front government of West Bengal, the longest-serving government in India’s parliamentary history [34 years], has been trounced quite miserably in the recent assembly elections. The defeat certainly has not come all of a sudden – all recent elections, including the 2008 panchayat elections, 2009 Lok Sabha [national parliament] elections, 2010 municipal elections and several by-elections had clearly revealed that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) led dispensation had been losing ground quite alarmingly. The April 18-May 10, 2011, state assembly elections marked the culmination of this process of decline of the CPI (M) in West Bengal.

Large sections of the mainstream media, in West Bengal as well as elsewhere, have tended to treat the defeat of the CPI (M) and its allies in West Bengal as a turning point signifying an end of sorts for the left in India. They also understandably rush to attribute it to the left’s dogmatic opposition to neoliberal policies and Indo-US strategic partnership. The advice naturally follows that if the left has to stay relevant it will have to shed its dogma and reduce left politics to just providing better governance without challenging the policy environment and the politico-economic direction chosen by the ruling elite.

'Brand Buddha'
The problem with this analysis is that it has nothing to do with what has actually happened in West Bengal. In fact, the Left Front government of West Bengal had precisely begun to follow this much advised path of ruling-class wisdom. A few years ago, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the greatest darling of the corporate media, much like Chandrababu Naidu [chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh from 1995 to 2004] in his heyday or Narendra Modi [current chief minister of Gujarat state, from the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)], Naveen Patnaik [chief minister of Odisha state] and Nitish Kumar [chief minister of Bihar state] in their current phases. Some media houses had even enthusiastically elevated Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to a new brand of left politics in India, "brand Buddha" as they fondly called it. The CPI (M) has not gone down in West Bengal resisting the LPG policies, it has just paid the price for daring to implement those policies by trampling upon the rights and interests of the rural poor and the labouring peasantry.

Let us look at the context and circumstances of the CPI (M)’s ouster in West Bengal. Its government has not been toppled by a hostile central government. Nor has the ouster been scripted by the Tatas [the Tata Group is a huge Indian multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Mumbai] or some major corporate lobbies for being denied entry into West Bengal or being driven out of West Bengal through militant trade unionism.

Read more here.

Guatemalan banana union leader murdered - act now!

From the IUF:

Violence against banana unions in Guatemala is escalating. On May 26, Joel Hernandez Godoy, finance secretary of the IUF-affiliated banana workers union SITRABI, was shot dead by a gunman on motorcycle while driving through the village of Cristina to the union headquarters in the town of Morales.

This brutal assassination follows on the April 10 murder of SITRABI officer Oscar Humberto Gonlalez Vasquez, killed by two men on a motorcycle in Nueva Chiriqui, Morales. SITRABI leader Marco Tulio Ramirez was murdered in September 2007.

Act now! - click here to send a message to the president of Guatemala Álvaro Colom Caballeros to condemn this latest murder of a banana unión leader and demand that the perpetrators be swiftly brought to justice.
Ron Oswald
General Secretary, IUF

International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF)

8, rampe du Pont-Rouge
1213 Petit Lancy, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 793 22 33
Fax: +41 22 793 22 38
web-site: www.iuf.org

May 29, 2011

Palestinian Political Prisoners

May 27, 2011

Oppose Hate Crimes & Anti-Gay Violence In Portland On Sunday

Last weekend a gay SEIU Local 503 member was attacked while walking across the Hawthorne Bride while holding hands with his partner.

Cascade AIDS Project, Basic Rights Oregon, Q Center, Pride NW, and HRC are coming together to host a peaceful event to show solidarity with those who were attacked last Sunday for holding hands while crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. Here's a recap of the horrific assault here: http://blogout.justout.com/?p=33508. Please join us Sunday at 7:30pm at the Hawthorne Bridge and have a strong SEIU presence at this important event. Let's show everyone we stand together in solidarity, unity, support, and love.

Another lengthy, detailed recap here: http://www.katu.com/news/local/122623369.html

ILWU Rally In Portland June 3

Subject: If you join the ILWU rally, please also join the BBQ afterwards
** BBQ invitation below **

You've probably seen your invitation to the "Respect the Union Waterfront!" rally next Friday, June 3 at 11:30 AM in Portland.

We hope you'll join us if you can, and ILWU Local 8 would like to invite you to join them afterwards for a BBQ at their longshore dispatch hall. Here's the information:

ILWU Local 8 BBQ

Friday, June 3

The rally starts at 11:30 AM at the fountain at SW Salmon and SW Naito Pkwy.

The BBQ starts at 1 PM at ILWU Local 8, at 2435 NW Front Ave.

Please carpool if you can -- Parking at Local 8 is limited.

Free hot dogs, chips, soda, etc. for everyone after the rally.

Hope to see you there!

In solidarity,

Jennifer Sargent
ILWU Coast Longshore Division
assisting ILWU Local 21

More On Trumka's Speech

In another post I reported on a speech by Rich Trumka and expressed my doubts about labor's independence now and in the 2012 elections.

Roger Bybee and In These Times takes a different approach than I did. Bybee says:

Last Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered a thunderous speech to the National Press Club that captured wide attention for its forceful assertion of labor’s political independence, widely seen as a warning to President Obama and Democratic members of Congress, and especially aimed at Democratic governors.

But it was also, in my view, an extraordinary step forward in the AFL-CIO’s transformation under Trumka's leadership toward a social movement with a strong appeal to America’s insecure middle class and struggling poor people.


Read the article here.

May 26, 2011

Union Member Discount To See "A Wrinkle In Time" In Portland

From IATSE:

A WRINKLE IN TIME

The seminal children's sci-fi novel pulses with new life in Oregon Children's Theatre's production. Join us for spectacular special effects as three brave children venture through time and space on an urgent rescue mission. Three enchanted sisters lend their help, but the children soon learn they must rely on their own resources to battle the dark forces they encounter.

UNION WEEKEND SPECIAL OFFER: Union members can get $9 or $12 tickets to the June 4th or June 5th shows (both at 2pm). Call 503-228-9571 and mention that you area union member.

Learn more here:http://www.octc.org/onstage/wrinkle_in_time
Watch a preview video here: http://www.youtube.com/octportland

Oregon PeaceWorks

Oregon PeaceWorks recently "migrated" its Facebook page from an old-style "personal" page to an organizational "fan" page. This allows more flexibility in what they can bring their Facebook fans (formerly "friends") and is easier to manage. At their new page you will find:

A gateway to OPW's entire online presence,
Videos they like,
The Earth Charter (the comprehensive peace vision we all need),
OPW's Twitter stream,
Peace Fun ideas.

Please visit OPW on Facebook and "like" their page. Forward the page to your friends too so OPW can reach them as well and - if they are not already on the OPW email alerts list - they can sign up right there on the page.

Will Oregon State University Faculty Organize?

It's been talked about for years and, at one point, OSU faculty had a real, functioning union. There seems to be renewed interest on campus now--enough that Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, could come to campus and speak and attract a crowd and some interest.

Read more about it here.

May 25, 2011

Confluence: Willamette Valley LGBT Chorus to perform Pride & Praise

Confluence: Willamette Valley LGBT Chorus performs Pride & Praise---a choral celebration of who we are, praise for life, and the power of music to make you smile, help you heal, tap your feet, and rock out, all in one concert. The program ranges from the opening Buddhist mantra “Gate Gate” to “Somewhere” from Westside Story, and includes “I Want You to Know Who I Really Am,” “Gloria” from the Misa Criolla, “Acclamation” from The Gospel Mass, and Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There."

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We will have a raffle for a weekend at the Wave Catcher condo in Waldport, convenient to Yachats and Newport. Tickets will be sold at all three concerts with the winner announced on Sunday, June 5. Tickets will also be available from chorus members. You need not be present to win. Go to http://www.wavecatcherbeachrentals.com/ for details.

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Tickets
In advance are $15 General Admission, $12 for Students & Seniors (62+); $18 and $15 at the door. Tickets are available in advance from chorus members or online at http://www.confluencechorus.org/ Tickets purchased online up to noon on Sunday March 13 will be held at the ticket desk.
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Times and Locations
Friday June 3, 7:30— Salem, First Congregational Church, 700 Marion St.
Saturday June 4, 7:30—Portland, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1244 NE 39th Ave.
Sunday June 5, 4:30—Corvallis, UU Fellowship of Corvallis, 2945 NW Circle Blvd.

For directions and maps go to http://www.confluencechorus.org/pages/concerts.html

Confluence: Willamette Valley LGBT Chorus
http://www.confluencechorus.org
Building Bridges Through Song

Like to sing? Ask any chorus member about how much fun they have singing with Confluence. Next term starts September 11.

Sponsored by Oregon AFSCME.

Working Families Party Causes Major Shake-Up

From a Working Families Party (WFP) activist:

Hi folks,

I want to give you a WFP update from somewhere other than Oregon for a change. You may have heard in the news that a political earthquake just hit upstate New York yesterday as the results of the "Save Medicare" special election became known. In the deeply red House District 26, Democrat-WFP candidate Cathy Hochul won a close congressional race in which Karl Rove's American Crossroads organization spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What you may not know is that the Working Families Party played an integral part in this victory. The WFP is widely considered to have the best grassroots field operations in New York state. Together with MoveOn.org, the NY WFP raised $130,000 and knocked on tens of thousands of doors in a massive "get out the vote" effort that made the difference in the election.

New York also has what we refer to as "full fusion" (as compared to "fusion lite" which we have in Oregon.) What this means is that New York voters could choose to vote for Kathy Hochul as a Democrat on the ballot, or as a nominee of the Working Families Party. Early returns show that 5% of voters voted for Kathy Hochul on the WFP line. Hochul looks to have won by about 6% of the vote.

All of this points to the fact that the Working Families Party is changing the debate locally AND nationally. John Nichols of The Nation magazine wrote yesterday:

"DC Democrats barely paid attention to the candidacy of Kathy Hochul....If anything, the Working Families Party, which also backed Hochul, was working harder for her election than the Democrats in Washington."

I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the hard work of our brothers and sisters in New York, and as we start to gear up for the 2012 election season I look forward to talking and working you to do just that.

Wisconsin's struggle continues: A big labor rally in Madison highlighted both continued activism and the debates about how to take the struggle forwar

From the Socialist Worker:

"Potentially, it means the revitalizing of the labor movement in a bottom up sort of way," Imbrogno said. "It could potentially throw out the old model of doing things, and create a new fighting labor movement. As activists in our local, our job is to raise questions about other models of organization."

Recently, many grassroots coalitions have formed in Wisconsin to combat the Walker budget. Some of these groups, like the new coalition Wisconsin Resists, have joined with U.S. Uncut, to plan local direct actions. These actions are usually attended by only a couple hundred activists, but tend to be much more radical and militant than the larger rallies.

Recent actions included "Tax the rich day," and "Reverse robin hood day," where activists marched on local banks, demanding fair taxation and shutting down banking business for up to an hour on certain occasions.


Read more here.

The Fukushima nuclear crisis and capitalism: The word from Japan

From the Japanese Communist Party:

This profit-first policy is driving the present nuclear power industry. Successive governments have also left the entire question of people’s safety up to industry, thus what we are witnessing now in the Fukushima accident is the worst-ever case of “capitalism without rules”. We need to think about whether we can afford to keep the situation as it is or not.

Read more here.

Celebrate Juneteenth Independence Day with the Salem-Keizer Chapter of the NAACP

Celebrate Juneteenth Independence Day with the Salem- Keizer Chapter of the NAACP at its 3rd Annual JUNETEENTH Picnic , Saturday, June 18, 2011 at the Riverfront Park Pavilion, Salem, 10 A.M. till 4 PM; no admission fee.

Please join the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in this family oriented event for all ages. Help us celebrate African American Heritage. Juneteenth is the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reaching the last vestiges of slavery in Galveston, Texas after the end of the Civil War.

Games and activities for the entire family, food, beverages and more!

Blessing by Pastor Brooks of To God Be the Glory Church. Music by the Pauline Memorial Church Youth Choir. Brief presentation of what Juneteenth means and why we celebrate it.

For more information or to volunteer to help contact: Marilyn Williams @ 503-391-4384/marilynawilliams@msn.com.

May 24, 2011

Retirement

LONG-FORGOTTEN AND UTTERLY REMARKABLE

Playwright Tony Kushner, best known for writing "Angels in America" in the midst of the AIDS crisis, believes history matters. This is particularly true of union history. In his newest play an ex-longshoreman and union activist pronounces of a long-forgotten strike, "We did something utterly remarkable then, which no one appreciates now".

That is the way I feel, and maybe you do too.
If you were a member of SEIU 503 in 1987 and participated in our first strike you know that it seems long-forgotten. Or at least the lessons seem long-forgotten.

Prior to 1987 the union always "caved". Our middle name was "CAVE". As our contract was about to end, you could count on it. The Union yelled, "We give in".

But in 1987, we were prepared. We had staff that organized for a strike. Not staff who tamped down expectations. The rank and file and staff organized for a fight together. No one said, "the public won't like it". We said, "We demand respect". And we got it! That strike defined us. After the strike, whenever new staff were hired, they were given a copy of, "The Nine Days That Shook Oregon". It was the defining history of the union they were joining. Today if you go to the SEIU 503 website and search "strike" or even "1987" it will come up: "0 results available".

And in 1995 we went on strike again. We had a sit-in in Governor Kitzhaber's office. Yes, the same Governor Kitzhaber we have in 2011. We struck a second time as we remembered how "utterly remarkable" we were. We knew our history and we demanded respect. And that was much more important than maintaining a one-way friendship with a Democratic Governor.

Do most of our current members know we are a union with an "utterly remarkable" history of strikes? I am with Tony Kushner -History Matters. But the lessons of that history are what matter more. And they seem as long-forgotten as the strikes themselves.

Sam Webb: Which Way To Socialism?

In the folklore of my home state, Maine, a story goes that a lost traveler trying to get to a tiny rural town asks two old men sitting on the porch of a country store, "Which way to East Vassalboro?" The two men look at each other and then one replies, "You can't get theyah from heeah."

Hopefully, if asked about the road to socialism, people of socialist inclinations can give a better answer than the two Mainers did to the lost traveler.

While any answer will be speculative to a degree, it still is a question that socialist-minded people have to address.

So here is what I think.

The transition to socialism will be a complex and long process. There will be pauses as well as surges. Unforeseen events will upset political calculations on both sides of the class and social divide. Advances will combine with setbacks. Momentum will shift hands. One phase of struggle will give way to another. And turning points will occur during which the balance of power will shift decisively in favor of the working class and its allies.

Working people - those who create the wealth, make things run, invent new technologies, educate our children, care for the sick and build the future - will democratize and transform the state - the government structures, courts, military.

But of crucial importance is that, at the same time, they will also breathe democratic life into every sphere and institution of society.

All this will hinge on building up the political and organizational capacity of the working class and its allies, on sustained mobilizations at the grassroots and nationwide, on an ability to resist and block attempts to illegally and unconstitutionally reverse working class and people's power, and on a sound strategic policy at each stage of struggle.

It will also depend on the presence of an experienced, tactically flexible, and united leadership (including parties and social movements) that fights for breadth of alliances, takes advantage of the slightest differences among its adversaries, seizes the initiative, shapes the popular discourse, adopts timely and appropriate policies, and above all, fights for broad working class and people's unity.

In recent years, radical social transformations have occurred in relatively peaceful circumstances in Latin America. In a number of countries, an organized and overwhelming majority of working-class and indigenous people led by left coalitions (in which communists are a part) have democratically won political positions in state structures and then utilized them to isolate elites, dislodge discredited neoliberal governments, and enact democratic and socialist measures.

The left and socialist movement in the United States should study these experiences closely. Broadly speaking, the transition to socialism in the U.S., I would argue, will likely follow (and we should struggle for) a similar path, differences notwithstanding.

The traditional imagery of the revolutionary process - economic breakdown, insurrection, dual power, bloody clashes, "smash the state," and direct path and quick rollout of socialism - provides few insights in the present era. In fact, it is disabling strategically, it dulls and dumbs down the socialist imagination, and it fails to understand the overriding necessity of a peaceful (which does not mean passive) transition in today's world.

Rather than one insurrectionary event - the "great revolutionary day" - a series of turning points will define the road to socialism. During these turning points, the relationship of forces, structure of the economy, and people's consciousness will change quantitatively and qualitatively. In other words, the transition period to socialism will be composed of multiple building-block moments in a protracted process, during which socialist relations will become organically embedded, in a certain sense "naturalized," in the politics, economics and culture of our society.

Underlying this outlook is the notion that the state isn't simply a monolithic and seamless (capitalist) class bloc and weapon to be employed against the forces of anti-capitalist and socialist change. While the capitalist class is dominant over the capitalist state, the state is filled with internal contradictions and is a site of class and democratic struggles. It is not just any site, though, but a crucial and decisive site that the movement for radical change ignores at its peril.

Thus the nature of the struggle isn't "the people against the state" as is sometimes suggested. Rather an overriding task is to win positions and influence in the state through mass democratic struggles, and then utilize those positions, in conjunction with masses of people in motion, to transform the state and society along socialist lines.

Now some will say that this is highly unlikely, even utopian. But one has to ask: has the idea of the seizure of power and quick dismantling of the existing state in favor of a new "out of the ashes" socialist state been borne out by historical experience? I don't believe so.

I would go further and say that the path I have outlined isn't utopian at all. It's the only road to socialism in our time.

It's the way we can get there from here.

Trumka Says He Wants A Strong, Independent Labor Movement

From the AFL-CIO:

In a major address at the National Press Club, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said working people want an independent union movement. Trumka also highlighted Alex Hanna (bottom, far right), a graduate assistant at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and his participation in demonstrations in Cairo and Madison. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker (applauding) joined Trumka.

In a major address at the National Press Club today, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka charted an aggressive independent approach by working people and their unions to build the power of working people in the workplace and in the political sphere. Trumka told the live audience and thousands of viewers on C-SPAN and other news outlets:

Working people want a labor movement strong enough to help return balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our families and moral and economic standing to our nation. Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.

It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside—the outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be—now, in 2012 and beyond.

Read the entire speech here.

An independent voice is crucial, Trumka said, because the ongoing attacks on working people’s rights, new efforts at curtailing voting rights and calls for austerity on the backs of seniors, children and the sick are not just mean-spirited politics. They are the battle lines of a moral challenge for the soul of America, he said.

… these events signal a new and dangerous phase of a concerted effort to change the very nature of America—to turn this into an “I’ve got mine” nation and replace the land of liberty and justice for all with the land of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

Politicians like Govs. John Kasich (Ohio) and Scott Walker (Wis.) campaigned promising to take action on the nation’s jobs crisis, only to reveal when they took office that their “jobs” agenda was to make them disappear, Trumka said. But their real passion was for eliminating the rights of working people and destroying their unions—who are standing in the way of their agenda.

In response, working people took to the streets. On April 4th, under the banner, “We Are One,” we came together all across America, and then we did so again on May 1st—when we stood together with our immigrant brothers and sisters saying again that we truly are one.

Trumka cited Alex Hanna, a graduate assistant at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a co-president of the Teaching Assistants’ Association/AFT, as exemplifying how the United States is not a nation of isolated individuals, but a land of communities. Hanna, whose family is from Egypt, was in Cairo rallying for the freedom of Egyptian workers when he heard about Scott Walker’s attempts to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. He returned home to join the mass demonstrations at the Wisconsin state Capitol. Hanna, who was in the Press Club audience, says the Cairo and Madison experiences, though different, show that when people overcome their fears and stand for what they believe in, they can succeed.

Powerful political forces are seeking to silence working people, Trumka said, and their ultimate goal is to “unravel the fabric of our common life in pursuit of greed and power.” In this environment, working people and our unions must do more than just protect our own right to a voice in the life of our nation, he said. “We must raise our voice to win a better future for all working families here in America and around the globe.”

We know that only a dynamic, effective movement of working people working together can reclaim the value of work. Our unions must reach out to every working person in America—to those whose jobs have been outsourced and down-sized, to carwash workers in Los Angeles, to domestic workers who have few legal rights, to freelancers and young people who have “gigs” rather than jobs. And together with the AFL-CIO’s construction and manufacturing workers, pilots and painters, plumbers and public employees, bakers and others, we will be heard.

People's World Exposes IKEA'S Sweatshop

The People’s World is running a series of articles that exposes how IKEA pays workers in Europe $19 an hour, yet has gotten away with paying poverty wages in America.

At the same time, IKEA pays lawyers $1,000 an hour to intimidate unrepresented workers, and prevent them from trying to form a union.

These articles are helping to give voice to the workers the company is trying to silence.

May 23, 2011

NATIONAL LABOR-COMMUNITY CONFERENCE TO DEFEAT THE CORPORATE AGENDA AND FIGHT FOR A WORKING PEOPLE'S AGENDA










NATIONAL LABOR-COMMUNITY CONFERENCE TO DEFEAT THE CORPORATE AGENDA AND FIGHT FOR A WORKING PEOPLE'S AGENDA

Working people across the country - from Wisconsin and Ohio to New York, Oregon, and California -- are facing unprecedented attacks by corporations and the rich with the help of the federal, state and local politicians that they fund.

The corporate agenda is clear: It is to bust unions and cut workers' pay and benefits -- both in the private and public sectors. It is to erode and privatize Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It is to dismantle the public sector and social services by denying funds for job creation, education, health care, environmental protection, and rebuilding the infrastructure. It is to ensure that taxes on the wealthy are constantly lowered while the bite on workers and the poor is constantly increased. It is to perpetuate U.S. wars and occupations whenever it serves the interests of the multinationals. It is to divide the working class by race, gender, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation. It is also to limit and restrict constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. The list goes on.

In state capitals, communities and workplaces across the country, workers are fighting back. But if we're going to be successful in pushing back the attacks on collective bargaining, stopping the budget cuts and concessions, creating jobs, and defending social services and education, we need to build unity within our movement, including forging stronger ties with labor's allies: communities of color, students and youth, single-payer advocates, environmentalists, antiwar activists, immigrant rights supporters, and other progressive forces.

Relying on politicians to defend us -- the so-called "friends of labor" -- has proven to be disastrous. During the past three decades, working people have suffered a dramatic decline in their standard of living while the rich have amassed an unprecedented amount of wealth at the top, regardless of which of the major parties was running the government. We have had every combination imaginable: Republicans occupying the White House with a majority in Congress, Democrats occupying the White House with a majority in Congress, or some kind of “divided government.” But in each case the result for working people has been the same: conditions got worse for workers while the corporations prospered even more. Why should we continue this vicious cycle?

The working class has the power to put an end to this situation. And as the debate over the debt and the deficit intensifies, the need has never been greater for an organized campaign to demand “No Cuts, No Concessions!” whether in regard to social programs or workers’ wages and benefits. We say place the burden for solving the financial crises squarely where it belongs: on the rich. They caused the crisis, let them pay for it!

The Emergency Labor Network (ELN) was initiated earlier this year at a historic meeting of 100 union leaders and activists from around the country. Join us June 24-26, 2011 at Kent State University in Ohio for a national labor-community conference to spur the campaign to build a more militant fight-back movement and to launch a national campaign for an alternative agenda for working people. Together we can move forward on both fronts.

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This conference is open to all who agree with its purpose, as explained in this Call. To register for the conference, please go to our website at www.laborfightback.org. Write emergencylabor@aol.com or call 216-736-4715 for more information.

2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla II

The 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, consisting of 12 boats, is gearing up to embark for Gaza, Palestine.  They will sail with aid for Gaza and a message of solidarity with Palestine from the US.

One of the two largest boats in the flotilla is the ship of the International Committee to Break the Siege of Gaza. The Free Palestine Movement is one of four partnering organizations aboard this boat.

The delegation from The Free Palestine Movement have raised the funds to pay for their airfare and lodging, but still need to pay for the cost of the ship ($6,400 per passenger).  Some money has been raised but the delegation still needs to raise $55,000 by the end of May, 2011.

Click here to donate to the flotilla.  Break the siege of Gaza!  Free Palestine!

May 20, 2011

Relevant Unionism

Unions now represent between 9 and 12 per cent of the US working class. Despite this small percentage, and the loss of union power since the immediate post-World War Two days, these numbers still provide for union contract bargaining strength in some sectors and can make the difference in a tight election. They provide relative security for millions of retirees. Millions of people would like to join a union, but intimidation by bosses, labor laws stacked against workers and union ineptness often work against union growth. We have covered many union victories on this blog and I am certain that union growth will pick up as workers push back against the continuing redistribution of wealth upwards in the US. It is possible that the 2012 elections will open the floodgates of union growth if pro-worker candidates step forward and if positive labor law reform can be put back on the political agenda.

Whatever the dynamics of the 2012 elections and economic recovery turn out to be, any new unionism that arises will not be like the old unionism we have known. The future of the unions is very much up for grabs, especially so since the protests in Wisconsin took off and some unions cautiously began to take on the banks nationwide and more union contracts came up for negotiation. So we have a contradictory situation--union fight-backs occurring while the economy is on the skids and while contract negotiations, particularly in the public sector, are a contest over union concessions. What happens in 2011 and 2012 will impact unions for years to come.

For what its worth, the left generally believes that unionism must be militant and democratic. I'll add "politicized" and "relevant" to the list.

Militant:We should be all about the long-term interests of the working class, here and internationally. We should be looking at our contracts, and our struggles to win contracts, as the shared concern and work of the entire working class. We should see each battle as a human rights battle and we should politicize each fight by using these fights to educate and organize more workers and build a workers' political party. When the labor movement has gained critical mass we must use the general strike and a matching political strategy to win more concessions from the bosses, be they private or public employers.

Democratic:The unions should be a place for free discussion by workers and the empowerment of "ordinary" workers and should institutionalize the open election of all leading officers and directing bodies of the unions. No union member should be passive or lulled into passivity or left uneducated in union functions and union values. Democracy requires that each union member own and control the union directly and through the open election of leaders who speak for active majorities of members. Union members should have the means and the education needed to initiate and carry through growth and change in their unions.

Politicized:Labor now generally sides with the Democrats and has been able to get something back for this support in better times. Even today we can point to some key appointments and some pro-labor policies at the federal and state levels as a result of this cooperation. Moreover, labor's allies in the communities of color, the environmental movement and other social struggles still define their politics in relation to the Democrats. This is unlikely to change for the better soon, but it is not enough. Our first fight is against the ultra-right, the banks and the monopolies: once these forces are on the defensive, or are defeated, a world of possibilities will open up for us. Labor should be putting forward one program with the Congressional Black Caucus and progressive allies within the Democratic party while looking outside of that party for other options. We need a workers' party in the US. That party should be built from the fight against the ultra-right, the banks and the monopolies.

Relevant:Unions need to be where people live and work, a part of our culture and values, tied to every major social struggle, the first place workers turn when they have a problem at work. Unions do not do workers any favors when they refer workers' problems to attorneys or promise more and better in future contract negotiations. A working class-wide discussion should be held about what it is that most deeply affects workers about our situation and what some possible solutions could be.

Turkey criminalizes union action with mass indictments of union leaders - Act Now! to defend trade union rights

The Turkish government has filed criminal charges against 111 union leaders, members and supporters which carry prison terms of up to 5 years in connection with a 2010 demonstration in Ankara.

The list of those indicted by the Ankara Public Prosecutor include TEKGIDA-IS President Mustafa Turkel along with 4 other national officers and twelve branch presidents, the current and former heads of the national center DISK, two former leaders of the public sector confederation KESK and other prominent union and social activists.

Click here to learn more and send an urgent protest message to the Turkish government

Ron Oswald
General Secretary, IUF

International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF)

8, rampe du Pont-Rouge
1213 Petit Lancy, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 793 22 33
Fax: +41 22 793 22 38
web-site: www.iuf.org

OSU Coalition Of Gradutate Employees Union To Hold Party

It's a party in the park - CGE provides grilled things (both veggie and not), plenty of things to drink of all kinds, organized games of softball, soccer and kickball. Open to all CGE members, your friends and family, and other AFT-OR and Corvallis union locals. What more could you want?

Organized recreational sports start between 2 and 4 PM (we'll let you know)!
Grill lighting @ 6 PM!

Sign up for sports (so we know which ones to organize): https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dEM3UVo1cmZJM202cjZsMXU0MGxCSmc6MQ

Map and directions from campus here: http://cge6069.org/wp-content/uploads/Directions-to-Thompson-Shelter-in-Avery-Park1.jpg

Information about the shelter here: http://www.ci.corvallis.or.us/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=414&Itemid=943#location

May 19, 2011

DEMOCRATS ATTACK UNIONS NATIONWIDE

This article is based on one written by Shamus Cooke with my added comments about Oregon.

There is a long list of states where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks by Democratic governors: Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland, New Hampshire - and of course Oregon. These Democrats have tried to separate themselves from the Republican Governors of Wisconsin and Ohio. Democrats hide their attacks behind a "deep respect for collective bargaining". Like a thief who will steal your car, but out of respect, will not target your deceased grandma's diamond earrings.

The anti-union Democratic governor of Connecticut is demanding $1.6 billion in cuts from State Workers but lauds his respect for the collective bargaining process. The anti-union Democratic governor of Washington uses similar language in talking about pay cuts and paying more for health care. And of course we know that the anti-union Democratic governor of Oregon is asking for 20-25% pay cut and he actually spoke at a Union rally at the Capitol last month noting that he was not going to move to end collective bargaining rights because he will get the concessions across the bargaining table (with mutual respect). He expects us to have historic amnesia remembering that in 1995 we had to sit in at his office just to get him to come to the bargaining table.

All this garbage normally wouldn't fool a 4th grader, but some labor leaders play dumb, in the hopes that the attacks will not ruin the long standing friendship between unions and the Democrats. Of course such hopes are an illusion: workers are not so blind as to not notice that the governors they campaigned for are now demanding their wages and benefits be destroyed in an unprecedented attack.

As SEIU 503 is preparing for a state-wide mobilization of its workers to rally in Salem on May 20th, I was told, "It will be very low key. Our members know what the public thinks of us". Really? Low key? Talked to any workers lately?

On the one hand the leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change To Win look at Wisconsin and say, "Labor is in the fight for its life". On the other hand both federations make excuses for the anti-union Democratic Party.

SEIU has been out in front with its "Fight For A Fair Economy" campaign. However, without waging an energetic battle to prevent massive concessions, the campaign will fail. Workers who make massive concessions will be demoralized and not take the Union campaign seriously because it failed to address their most pressing needs. If public sector unions demanded no cuts, no concessions, workers would energetically join the union's cause. Without being aggressive across the country unions will wither. With aggressive fight back strategies unions will grow. This is historically how "The Union Makes us Strong" becomes a reality.


May 18, 2011

Picket New Seasons In Portland On Thursday



STOP ART CENSORSHIP AT NEW SEASONS

EVENT:  Demonstration to protest New Season's decision to remove photo exhibition featuring images from Palestine.
DATE:  Thursday, May 19th, 2011
TIME:  5:00 PM
LOCATION:  New Seasons Grocery Store, SE Division & SE 20th, Portland, OR
CONTACT:  Peter Miller   503-358-7475  peteskitoo@gmail.com  

Local Palestinian Solidarity Groups Cry Foul as New Seasons Shuts Down Photo Exhibition.

Local groups advocating on behalf of Palestinian rights, including a newly formed chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, are raising objections to a recent decision by New Seasons to shut down a photo exhibition at their SE Division store.  "Coming on the heels of the recent controversy over CUNY University refusing an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner on the basis of his critical views on Israel, we're concerned that an overly cautious New Seasons manager has taken a dangerous decision to suppress a local artist and censor an important discussion in our community," said Will Seaman of Jewish Voice for Peace.  "And it is ironic that the decision to take down a photo exhibit that had previously been approved and displayed at the SE Division store's community center involves a Jewish artist."  The artist in question is Stephen Kerpen, a local photographer who has traveled extensively throughout Israel and Palestine.

The exhibition includes nearly forty photographs of Bedouin and Palestinians who are struggling to maintain their communities and culture in the face of land dispossession and population transfer as the result of policies carried out by the state of Israel.  The village of Israeli Bedouins that Kerpen portrayed has been demolished over seventeen times in recent months by the Israeli government.[1] Kerpen said  "One of the roles of art is to reveal truths or as Paul Klee said "Art does not reproduce what we see, rather it makes us see."  I was excited about placing these photographs in what was described to me as a community space so that there might be public debate of the contentious issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict especially since so many of our tax dollars are being spent to support Israel's policies that create enormous human suffering."
 "We are especially troubled by the fact that in this case it appears that a complaint from a single customer resulted in the immediate removal of several photographs from the exhibition, and within a few hours the entire collection had been taken down," said Wael Elasady, a member of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights.  "In contrast, we know that hundreds of customer comment cards have been submitted to New Seasons politely asking that they stop carrying products produced in the apartheid state of Israel and they have refused to even meet with us to discuss the issue."  The campaign referred to by Elasady is part of the so-called Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) movement which targets Israeli imports at local businesses with the aim of pressuring Israel to end discriminatory policies and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.  The movement models its strategy on the divestment and boycott campaigns of the 1980s that targeted apartheid South Africa.   "It's hard to believe that this same grocery, which on so many issues is a beacon of progressive thought and action here in Portland, has taken this misguided action to prevent even the images of Israel's victims from being seen in their store."

 Kerpen said that store management told him that the New Seasons policy is to avoid controversy, but that when asked to see the policy, they said that such judgments were left to individual store managers' judgment.  "It is understandable that New Seasons would like to believe that carrying Israeli products and barring photographs of the victims of Israeli policies is being 'neutral', but we think many of their customers and the broader Portland community will disagree," said Mr. Kerpen.  "They dropped the Rockstar energy drink because the company was started with the help of that bigoted, homophobic KXL hate-radio host, Michael Savage;[2] we hope that this latest controversy will help New Seasons see that social responsibility sometimes requires tougher decisions than that, it has to include a willingness to talk with groups with which they may disagree, and it surely includes respecting artistic freedom, even when it's controversial."

 The local groups protesting the decision to take down Kerpen's photographs include Jewish Voice for Peace - Portland Chapter (JVP), Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights (AUPHR), and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER).  They are asking New Seasons to reconsider, and to meet with them to discuss the grocery chain's policy on Israeli goods.  For more information, please call Peter Miller 503-358-7475.

 [1] "Palestinian Bedouins in al-Araqib: 'We won’t leave'", Charlotte Silver, The Electronic Intifada, March 17, 2011,
http://electronicintifada.net/content/palestinian-bedouins-al-araqib-we-wont-leave/9268
"Israel to Sue Bedouin Residents of Demolished Village for Demolition Costs",
Alternative Information Center (AIC), March 3, 2011,
http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/topics/jerusalem/3368-israel-to-sue-bedouin-residents-of-demolished-village-for-demolition-costs-

[2].  "In Oregon, Thinking Local", Marian Burros, January 2, 2006, New York Times.  ("But the chain has stopped selling the Rockstar energy drink, and not because it is made with caffeine, sugar and corn syrup. Rockstar's chief executive is Russell Goldencloud Weiner, who developed the company with the help of his mother and his father, Michael Savage, the far-right talk radio host. Mr. Rohter said he made the decision because he vehemently opposes Mr. Savage's views. "We have a few products we choose to make a stand on to help influence the direction of our community," he said. Mr. Savage did not respond to a message left at his workplace and could not be reached at home.")

May 17, 2011

Another Way To Be Union

From Marxism-Leninism Today:

There is a kind of institutionalization of class collaboration, facilitated by the capitalist state (e.g., through the NLRB) channeling workers' complaints into grooves that help misdirect the entire class. When the AFL-CIO's misnamed "Solidarity Center," with ample U.S. government funds, "educates" unionists from around the world (many of whom come to the 47-acre suburban campus of the National Labor College near Washington, DC for this purpose), it infects other peoples, through a sort of globalized disorientation process, with the ways of the yellow- and CIA-oriented unionism long entrenched in this country.

The working class and its allies fight valiantly in Wisconsin and other states to preserve the right to collective bargaining. As it were, they're fighting to keep their chains. Collective bargaining, as it exists in the U.S., objectively restricts workers' struggles, thereby limiting them to manageable proportions.  Thereby, the opportunity for Communists in the trade unions to build class and revolutionary consciousness is minimized. Admittedly, the present collective bargaining system represents "chains" less painful to the workers than the actual handcuffs with which extremist state and federal legislators aim to shackle unionists in Wisconsin and elsewhere, when they resist the abolition of public sector collective bargaining.
 
The mistake is to assume the present inadequate form of collective bargaining is forever. Not so. It developed under concrete historical circumstances. It can change. The workers' movement therefore must go beyond merely reaffirming collective bargaining rights won in the mid-20th century. Regrettably, for now, many leaders of U.S. trade unions, given their economism (i.e., the confining of struggle to mere economic demands), seem unable to give adequate answers to the questions raised by Wisconsin, except recall petitions.

Read more here.

City of Portland Equity Initiative Community Forum

City of Portland Equity Initiative Community Forum:
Wednesday, May 18 at 6:30pm
Location: Portland Building, 1120 SW 5th Avenue, 2nd floor Auditorium

Socialism in the USA?

We spend much time on this blog talking about socialism and what it might look like in the USA. We do this because we want to be honest and clear with people about our hopes and goals.

The socialist society I envision would be fundamentally democratic for workers, the disabled, women, youth, people of color, gay and transgendered people, farmers and rural people, the First Nations and others. Excluded from that democracy would be the various kinds of profiteers, the exploiters and the people who engage in truly anti-social behavior. This democracy and these democratic principles would find their clearest expressions in how property is owned and controlled, how education and work are made available for all, how peace and justice are created and maintained between people and in how sustainable higher standards of living are set for all and by all and made available to all. We may indeed find that human solidarity and the needs of the environment require that large numbers of people in the US and other developed nations live with a bit less---less material wealth and less power to rule the world in their immediate and privileged interests---so that everyone in the world can have enough to live on and exercise long-term and immediate control over their lives.

Fundamental to this vision, I think, is economic planning carried out by workers, new ways of compensating people for the work they do, everyone working fewer hours and state-financed "social consumption funds" which pay for education, depress housing costs, provide healthcare and pensions, provide daycare and generally work to abolish the market economy, at least in areas where markets should not exist. Instead of taxing people through our wages, the enterprises we collectively own could contribute to these funds and high tax rates could apply to those few sectors of the economy which remain in private hands.

This is not utopian. It captures, I hope, the essential points of democracy and gives us something to hope for and aim for.

May 16, 2011

Labor & Allies To Hold "Rally For A Better Way For Oregon" On Friday

SEIU Local 503, AFSCME, OEA, Basic Rights Oregon and other allies will hold a "Rally For A Better Way For Oregon" on the front steps of the State Capitol on Salem on Friday. The rally will begin at 11:30 a.m. and a picnic will follow the rally.

The focus of the rally will be on finding a better way to solve the budget crisis which is forcing cuts on public services and schools and the programs which provide for youth, the elderly and the developmentally disabled.

Union contract negotiations which are now underway between the state and the main public worker unions are taking place with the budget crisis as a backdrop and as attacks on public workers and public services multiply throughout the USA. Oregon has been spared the worst of these attacks because of the high levels of public employee unionism in the state and because of the relative strength of progressive forces here, including many politicians who have been forced to defend public services and progressive policies by their most active constituents.

Still, even in Oregon we are facing a budget crisis brought on bankers and the banking industry, the flight of capital and the refusal of the big banks and financial institutions to lend money. Capitalism is reorganizing internationally and is going through one of its periodic and inevitable crises. The working class and the poor should not be paying for this and Friday's rally needs to communicate that message.

Thousands are expected at the State Capitol on Friday. We hope to see you there! 

Socialist Unity In Egypt

Egypt: Five socialist parties unite; Independent unions lead May Day march

By Mohamed El Hebeishy
May 11, 2011 -- Ahram online -- Five Egyptian political parties and movements unite to form the Coalition of Socialist Forces, they announced in a meeting on May 10, 2011. The newly formed coalition is made up of the Social Party of Egypt, the Democratic Labour Party, the Popular Socialist Coalition Party, Egypt Communist Party and the Revolutionary Socialists. It aims to include under its umbrella other socialist movements in Egypt, which are considered fragmented.

“We [social political activists] are optimistic that the Coalition of Socialist Forces will bring a stronger socialist presence onto Egypt’s political scene”, said Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist.
During the May 10 meeting, there were intense discussions regarding the recent turn of events in the country and how it impacts the revolution.

The Coalition of Socialist Forces has appealed to all Egyptians, irrespective of their ideologies, to amass in Tahrir Square on Friday May 13 in a bid to protect the demands of revolution and for national unity.

Egypt's leftist front, will it survive?

By Dina Samak
May 12, 2011 -- Ahram online -- For decades the word "socialism" has aroused scepticism in Egypt. After more than 15 years of Gamal Abdel Nasser's rule, the once esteemed doctrine that was adopted by the one-party ruling establishment until the early 1970s is considered by many as the cause of Egypt's misfortune in the decades since. However, now that Nasser's Arab socialism no longer exists, its adherents, emboldened by the revolution, are trying to find their way back into the political scene.

A few days ago five socialist groups and newly established parties united to form a "socialist front". According to Yehia Fekry, one of the founders of the Popular Democratic Alliance Party, the front aims at organising the efforts of different socialist groups already working on the ground before and after the January 25 Revolution in order to create a more dominant leftist force. The intention being that such an entity would be able to attract people who already sympathise with the politics and ideas of the left but don't identify themselves as leftists.

"Everyone is in the street", says Fekry, "the question now is who will win the hearts and minds of the masses. The left has a great chance to do so as one of the main demands of the revolution is social justice and one of its main forces are the workers. But will we be able to do this? It remains to be seen."

The new front includes:
  • The Popular Democratic Alliance Party, in which members of many leftist organisations united to form one leftist party. This mainly includes former members of the Tagammu Party (the only leftist legal party in Mubarak's Egypt) who left it and later joined the alliance after a split over the party's position on November's parliamentary elections.
  • The Socialist Party of Egypt, whose membership includes a number of the major figures from Egyptian politics since the seventies.
  • The Egyptian Communist Party that used to organise, mobilise and work through the Tagammu Party as it was considered an illegal party until Mubarak's fall.
  •  The Workers' Democratic Party, the first workers' party in Egypt founded by worker activists and social labour activists
  • The Revolutionary Socialists, a group of international socialists who worked for years under the umbrella of the Center for Socialist Studies.
The need for a left alternative according to many leftists had become a very important demand even before 25 January. "Wherever there is a capitalist system people need a leftist party", says Gamal Abdel Fattah, a socialist activist who welcomed the step of forming a united leftist front. "But now such a party is of great importance as those who made the revolution (the workers and the poor) are not yet in power and their interests are not well presented yet." But like many others, Fattah remembers that other attempts to create a united front for the left failed.

In 2006, different leftist groups tried to form what was known as the Socialist Alliance. This aimed at creating a leftist alternative to work on the ground, especially with the new wave of industrial action emerging at the time. Yet no sooner had the alliance been announced than the differences between its members paralysed its coordination on the ground.

"We all have negative experience with trying to create a united leftist movement", says Aida Seif, a prominent human rights activist and one of the founders of the Workers' Party. "But the current moment is different than any other that we passed through before. We are in a revolution and every one of us wants to get the best out of it."

Seif believes that the demands are clearer than ever and that any mobilisation based on them will succeed in attracting people to a leftist program. "All political trends are talking about social justice but what kind of justice is what really matters", she says. "Most of the new parties (now) and the state-controlled trade unions are committed to the defence of Egyptian capitalism. I can't understand why people take free market economy for granted after all that the workers suffered in the past decades."

For Seif, the main duty for the left right now is to help mobilise the working classes (to her this encompasses both blue- and white-collar workers) to defend their own rights. Other goals also mentioned in the socialist front's first statement include equal rights for all citizens and a democratic state.

But considering that the parties taking part in the front share similar programs, many ask why doesn't the left have one party instead?

"The whole idea of the Popular Alliance is to create one party for the left", says Fekry. Despite much effort to achieve this, he explains, other parties did not welcome the idea of merging "so we agreed that we should try to build an entity through which we can coordinate and work together."

The Socialist Party was one of those that did not welcome the merge. Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban, one of the party's founders, thinks that it is too early for leftists to start an argument about a united program. "All the parties need to elaborate a concrete program and then we can start talking about unity, but until this happens we need a high level of coordination between us all because this is the only way we can create a leftist pole", says Shaaban. "The existence of four or five leftist parties in a country with a population exceeding 85 million does not mean that the left has a problem in uniting its power. Look at the liberals, how many parties do they have?"
The left in Egypt has been a force on the ground since the beginning of the 20th century, but for decades affiliated organisations have had to operate underground. This is blamed for leftist groups not being able to recruit on a large scale. With a workers' movement that has been gaining momentum since 2006 and an open political ground for all groups to organise, the challenge is bigger than ever.

"We know that talking about a united left can be seen by many as an over blow, especially that every one of these organisations has a membership that does not exceed a few hundred", says Hesham Fouad of the Revolutionary Socialists. "However, there is a huge political opportunity on the ground and we can, with real organisation, be a true force with deep grassroots."

Fouad, like other socialists, believes that the global economic crisis that erupted in 2008 is deepening and that anger over unemployment, poverty and corruption is escalating due to the much reported ostentatious wealth of a narrow ruling elite backed by a political system impassive to the basic needs of the majority of the population. "People now believe that the whole system has to change, what we need, as the left, is explain to the people why this is true and where they can go from here. But after all, it is their battle and the left cannot win it for them even if it wins all the seats in parliament."

With an optimistic yet sceptical smile, Abel Fattah says: "People say that whenever two leftists sit together in the same room they end up disagreeing about something only they see as very important. But we can't afford to have this anymore."

Egypt Celebrates International Workers’ Day for First Time Since 1952

May 2, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- In Egypt, thousands of workers and activists poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square May 1 for the country’s first independent celebration of International Workers’ Day since 1952. People in the square celebrated the formation of labour unions independent of state control and the newly created Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions. A group of labour leaders and activists also announced the formation of a new political party called the Democratic Labor Party. Party member and journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy laid out some of its main demands.
Hossam el-Hamalawy, journalist and activist: "The main demand is definitely the re-nationalisation of all the privatised factories, a complete halt to the neoliberal program. The complete freedom must be given to the Egyptian working class to establish its independent unions. I mean, the workers in some sectors are still facing the old managers, who are trying to sabotage their attempts to establish independent unions and the national minimum wage. We have fought so long to raise our national minimum wage to at least 1200 Egyptian pounds a month. I would like to see those demands achieved as soon as possible.”

Egyptians celebrate first May Day since popular uprising

By Yassin Gaber
May 1, 2011 -- Ahram online -- Three months after the beginning of the Egyptian popular uprising which eventually led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and top officials of his regime, the country's workers and labour activists are celebrating May Day.

Absent from the festivities, however, will be the president of the republic and the chair of the official Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), both under investigation for charges of corruption and illicit gains. May Day, celebrated by socialist and communists all over the world since the late 19th century, was officially embraced by the Egyptian state in 1963 under Nasser, following a massive wave of nationalisations in 1961, and the founding of the Arab Socialist Union in 1962.

Nasser’s populist regime viewed Egypt’s working class as a necessary partner in its attempt to economically break away from colonial dependency and achieve self-reliance. During the 1960s the conditions of the Egyptian working class witnessed a great improvement in terms of wages and social benefits.

Kamal Abbas, head of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) in Helwan, says this year's celebrations are “historic” as they mark a new era of independence from the state-controlled ETUF. Workers from many industrial centres in the country, Abbas says, will join in today's celebrations, alongside figures from the newly ormed Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EITUF), and representatives of the International Trade Unions Federation (ITUF).

According to Abbas, apart from celebrating the recent triumph of workers, today's May Day celebrations will focus on three key messages. First, the free will of Egyptian workers to form independent trade unions. Second, “Besides having independent unions free from state control”, says Abbas, “we are calling for the dismantling of the ETUF”.

Third, workers will be calling for a structural readjustment of wages, raising the ceiling of minimum wages and linking it to prices increase.

The EITUF is not however the only organisation raising the banner of the working class in Egypt. A number of socialist parties are under construction at the moment, including the Workers’ Democratic Party (WDP), the Socialist Popular Alliance (SPA) and the Egyptian Socialist Party (ESP). These parties are working hard to articulate a socialist platform and to rally various leftist groups around them.

Among the issues most hotly debated in the meetings of these socialist parties is the role of the state in the economy and its development.

The WDP, for instance, has made strong calls for the renationalisation of a substantial part of the previously privatised industries. The SDP, on the other hand, is not calling for unqualified renationalisation. According to leading economist and SDP founding member Ibrahim El-Issawi, “The private sector has a role to play in autonomous development, but this role should be performed in accordance with a national plan.”

Nationalisation, however, is not the central demand of workers who have, in the spirit of May Day, been making vehement calls for better working conditions and an increase to the minimum wage, currently at LE400 ($70 a month), demanding at least LE1200 ($200 a month).
According to a 2010 report by the Solidarity Center entitled “The Struggle for Workers Rights in Egypt”, the basic monthly minimum wage was set in 1984 at LE35 or about $6 at the current exchange rates.

After much pressure by workers and legal action by Nagi Rashad, a worker at the South Cairo Grain Mill, [who] sued the government over its 2008 decision not to increase the national minimum wage, the minimum wage was increased in October 2010 when the National Council for Wages decided to push the wage up to the current LE400 ($70 a month) which is just above the World Bank’s moderate poverty threshold of $2 a day.

Calls for better wages and working conditions are at the heart of May Day's origins. The history of May Day stretches back to the late 19th century when US workers’ struggled for an eight-hour work day. The conditions of workers was dire with days stretching on for 16 hours or more in hazardous environments as men, women and children died in the thousands -- many in their early twenties.

In 1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labor Unions, the predecessor of the American Federation of Labor, announced in Chicago that by 1 May 1886, 8 hours would constitute the legal work day.

Two years later on what would later become May Day, hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets across the US, peacefully demonstrating for social justice. Within days, violence broke out and police began shooting into crowds of civilians. The “Haymarket affair”, which saw several people die, ended in the public hanging of four of the event's organisers.

These events and the subsequent celebrations of the “Haymarket martyrs” deaths eventually led to marking May 1st as international workers’ day.

In recent Egyptian history, May Day would traditionally see Nasser give a presidential speech, highlighting the importance of social justice and the necessity of increased industrial production.
The president, generally attending celebrations in one of Egypt’s focal industrial towns, would hand out his 15-day bonus to the great pleasure of workers who would interrupt their leader, chanting slogans of support and calling for further social rights.

Under president Anwar Sadat and even more so under Mubarak, the celebration become less and less about social reforms and more about the vanity of the state.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly ahead of the 1999 May Day celebrations, Kamal Abbas stated, “[The annual bonus] is LE120 this year. Some people will get it in bulk as it was always dispensed. However, this year it also became optional for management to pay the amount in LE10 monthly instalments. It is like putting an end to the idea that this day should be celebrated at all. It defuses the relevance."

El-Issawi of the SPA notes that “The workers are celebrating [their new union freedoms] on the 1st of May and of course they want to preserve these gains and transform them into legislation.”
He continues to explain that the these new found union freedoms are “new mechanisms for the working class to obtain their rights and protect their rights; the only way to do this is to affirm their right to negotiations”.

Appropriately, the May Day celebrations will begin with a 20-minute play on the central EIFTU stage which, according to Tamer Fatah, the international relations coordinator of the CTUWS, will serve to explain and educate workers on “freedom of association...and how independent trade unions can serve as a solution to worker’s [woes] by strengthening their collective bargaining powers."

Egypt's May Day celebrations end on sour note

By Yassin Gaber
May 2, 2011 -- Ahram online -- Egypt’s first independent May Day celebrations ended early today after dozens stormed the event’s main stage. The celebration organised in part by the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) took off around midday as different initiatives, parties and representatives from newly formed independent unions took their places in Tahrir Square and hung their banners, readying themselves for the day’s events.

Representatives of the Workers’ Democratic Party (WDP) alongside members of the Revolutionary Socialists and various unionists marched from Talaat Harb Square to Tahrir Square, chanting, “A workers’ revolution against the capitalist government.” Various voices called for renationalisation while others called for setting a minimum and maximum wage.

In one corner of the square stood the members of the Egyptian Communist Party (ECP) waving their red flags with the hammer and sickle emblazened in the middle. Hazem Arif, a member of the ECP, stated: “We are here both to celebrate May Day and the founding of our party on this day in 1921.”

However, the evening’s main events, which were to be held on the EFITU’s central stage and were to include speeches by union figure heads, poetry readings and a musical performance by Ali El-Haggar, ended in an ugly manner. Soon after speakers began to take to the stage, dozens of people, demanding an end to the celebrations, forced their way onto the stage.
The crowd, cursing and pushing their way through shocked bystanders, began yelling “Go away, go away” and “How can you celebrate when martyrs died here?” as they jumped on stage and began dismantling sound and light equipment. Kamal Abou Eita, head of the Independent Union for Real Estate Tax Employees, and Kamal Abbas, head of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), were among the union leaders forced to leave the stage. Abou Eita made several attempts to bring focus back to the now chaotic crowd.

Chanting against de-facto leader Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and for the release of political prisoners could be heard from elements of the gathering mob. Groups of inquisitive onlookers came to discover the source of the turmoil though no general consensus could be reached as to the identity of the new arrivals.

After the situation reached its high point, military police began to occupy the stage while even more walked through the hundreds still gathered, attempting to disperse them and force through oncoming traffic.

Today’s celebrations saw representatives from many groups, including the Socialist Popular Alliance (SPA), the Popular Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, a small gathering of anarchists, the Wafd Party and various independent trade unions. The presence of workers, however, was hardly felt. While unionist figures from various industrial sectors came to celebrate, the anticipated presence of tens of thousands of workers was nowhere to be seen. A Mahalla textile worker stated that the industrial centre would hold another celebration for the workers on May 5.

In addition to lacking any significant presence by Egypt’s millions of workers, the events were light on the commemorations generally associated with International Workers’ Day (or May Day)...

Nevertheless, spirits earlier in the day were high as thousands of activists and unionists called for “Dignity, freedom and social justice.” The most voiced demands were those for the restructuring of wages, the trial of corrupt union heads and legislation that would legitimise the formation of new independent trade unions.

Meanwhile the Egypt’s pro-Mubarak General Federation of Trade Unions marked Labour Day in a celebration held under the auspices of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawy, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The celebration was attended by Ahmed Hassan El-Sebaay, the minister of manpower, Abdallah Ghorab, minister of petroleum, Samir El-Sayad, minister of trade and industry, Mohsen El-Nomany, minister of local development, Ayman Abu-Hadid, minister of agriculture as well as Cairo’s governor, Abdel Qawy Khalifa and Ismail Fahmy, the acting president of the workers’ union...

Meanwhile, Essam Sharaf, Egypt’s interim prime minister, marked the day with a speech stressing the importance of social equality. Sharaf described social equality as one of the revolution’s main demands. He added that to accomplish the revolution’s demands the people should work with the government to help the country through a democratic transition which will guarantee all social backgrounds will have equal opportunities to express their demands. Sharaf also stressed that the government is working hard to rebuild the country’s economy, encourage investments and increase job opportunities.

The interim prime minister explained that the government’s current projects will include reforming the wage system by synchronising the minimum wage with the maximum wage and tying wages with productivity and merit, increasing trade union freedoms and increasing the role of small and medium enterprises.

May 13, 2011

What Could American Socialism Look Like?

The following is from Sam Webb:

Socialism isn't a stranger to the public square these days. And the principal reason isn't because of the rantings of Glenn Beck and his ilk, although their invective actually may have boosted socialism's popularity. People figure if Beck doesn't like it then it can't be all bad.

The main reason explaining this growing interest in socialism lies elsewhere: Capitalism isn't working for most working people. This feeling isn't new, but it is keenly felt today in the midst of a protracted and deep economic crisis that has no end in sight.

That is not to say that the majority of Americans are ready to embrace socialism. They aren't. But they aren't dismissing it out of hand either. In this climate, alternative ways of organizing society and the economy can expect to receive a fairer hearing by the public.

Read more here.

Figuring a living wage

Since 1994, this local bank has annually calculated the base wage on which to live a reasonable life in Ithaca, NY and area. For 2011, that hourly rate is $$24,271.50 annually or $11.67/hour for a full-time worker.

There are now more than 70 employers in the area which pay a living wage and which can proudly display their Certified Living Wage Employer certificate.

According to Leni Hochman, Chief Operations Officer of Alternatives Federal Credit Union: When people are paid enough to support themselves, they no longer need to rely on public assistance in the form of housing subsidies, medical assistance, food stamps and welfare, which are paid for in everyone’s taxes.

People earning a Living Wage pay more taxes and buy more goods and services in the local economy. Recent economic research concludes that there is little or no job reduction associated with wage increases, and the benefits far outweigh any negative consequences.

How about it, Salem? Which financial institution would take on this role in the mid-Willamette Valley?

May 12, 2011

The Latest From The People's World

Rutgers locks in demonstrators? Also: Labor, Obama and immigration; Ikea thinks union busting is American; and more.

Southern floods:

Mississippi flood leaves hundreds homeless
By Paul White

Wisconsin recalls:

Wisconsin Republicans fast-track right-wing bills as recalls loom
By John Bachtell

Immigrant rights/workers rights

Obama puts immigration reform back on the agenda
By John Wojcik

Unions link arms with advocates for immigrant workers
By John Wojcik

Ikea: Union busting is "how American system works"
By John Wojcik

Education:

"Study-in" becomes "lock-in" and a professor responds
By Norman Markowitz

Arts and Entertainment:

"Thor" hammers away at the box office
By Blake Deppe

"Brothers of Bella": Vintage music with a red tinge
By Chris Elliot

Oregon State Bank Forum In Albany Next Monday

Oregon State Bank Forum
Monday, May 16th, 5:30 PM
ALBANY - Steelworker's Hall
(1400 Salem Ave. SE, Albany)

5,391 new small business and farm jobs
$1.3 billion in new lending to small businesses and family farms
$155 million in Rainy Day Fund revenue

That's what the a fully operational Bank of North Dakota-style bank in Oregon would help generate, according to a recently released study by the non-partisan think tank Demos. You can read Putting Oregon's Money to Work for Oregon on the Demos website at:

http://www.demos.org/publication_list.cfm?research=1.

But what would it mean for Oregon small businesses? How would it work? What exactly does the current legislation entail?

Please come to our forum in Albany next Monday, May 16th, at 5:30pm, at the Steelworker's Hall on 1400 Salem Ave. SE. Find out about new developments from myself and Dan Lombardi, Coalition Coordinator of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, who will present results of a recent survey documenting unmet needs of small businesses around the state, and the support for an Oregon State Bank by small business owners.

Please pass this along to your friends! Help us spread the word about how Oregon can declare independence from Wall Street!

-Steve Hughes
Oregonians for a State Bank
www.OregoniansforaStateBank.org

May 11, 2011

Venezuela: Socialist party seeks shake up

By Federico Fuentes

May 1, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly -- Since January, tens of thousands of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) militants, together with activists from other left parties and social movements, have been debating the future of Venezuela’s revolution. Their sights are set on the crucial 2012 presidential elections.

This years’ pro-revolution May Day march will be the platform to officially launch Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s re-election bid.

The US-funded right-wing opposition is yet to decide its candidate, but the election will be critical to the future of a country undergoing a profound process of change.

A clear victory for Chavez — like the 63% he won in the 2006 elections — would give a powerful mandate to deepen the revolution.

However, the revolutionary forces face two key obstacles.

The first is US imperialism and its local allies in the opposition, who are desperate to get rid of Chavez.

Addressing a mass assembly of workers on April 26, Chavez warned that sections of the opposition dreamed of trying another coup or creating a scenario for a foreign intervention. “We not only have to win the elections, we also have to impede them from upsetting national peace”, Chavez said.

The second challenge comes from within the revolution. It is the danger represented by the bureaucratism and corruption undermining the self-organisation and motivation of the poor and working people that make up the revolution’s base.

These weaknesses help explain the declining Chavista vote since 2006.

In this context, Chavez, who is also PSUV president, released a document titled “Strategic Lines of Political Action” on January 21. The document has been distributed across the country and published in pro-revolution newspapers. It aims to “open up a great debate within our own ranks, in the ranks of our allies and in the hearts of the people” and build “a plan of action for the next two years”.

The document says it is necessary to “recuperate and regroup those forces that are dispersed, demobilised, demoralised or confused due to our adversary or our own errors”. Key proposals include the need to convert the PSUV from an electoral machine into a “party-movement” at the service of the struggles of the people that can help develop and strengthen popular power. It also proposes the formation a “Great Patriotic Pole” to strengthen unity with other pro-revolution groups, while internal working within the PSUV to eradicate what it calls “capitalist culture” among its ranks.

The results of discussions on the document will be presented to Chavez on May 7 at a PSUV assembly.

On March 28, Chavez delayed his departure to Argentina — the first stop on a regional tour — to take part in a mass assembly called by PSUV leaders. In a scathing attack on the vices plaguing the party, he warned: “The old way of doing politics is devouring us, the corruption of politics is devouring us … those old capitalist values that have infiltrated us from all sides.”
The Soviet Union failed, Chavez said, because its leaders “forgot their principles, they were corrupted”. The party needed to return to its principles to “recharge and refresh”.

Chavez called on those present to re-read the PSUV’s declaration of principles, program and statutes approved at the November 2009-April 2010 extraordinary party congress. Chavez said those documents “came from the grassroots, from an open discussion, from a splendid participation”. He said: “We held an extraordinary congress … because the party was going badly.”

Chavez said that it was necessary to govern “not by ordering, but obeying the people”. It is the people that must “order, challenge, scold, orientate and criticise us”.

Immediately afterwards, Chavez left to visit Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. The tour came days after US President Barack Obama visited Brazil and Chile.

In the face of growing imperialist intervention internationally, notably in Libya, Chavez used the tour to push the need for regional integration. He delivered the message not just to heads of states, but social movements.

Speaking alongside Bolivia's President Evo Morales at mass assembly of peasants and workers in Cochabamba, Chavez said: “The working class, miners, peasants, students, young people, soldiers, agricultural producers, intellectuals, social movements, indigenous people must always assume the vanguard of this struggle.

“This is the issue that I am insisting on with passion because I am conscious that time is passing and the danger lies in delaying. We cannot, must not hold back on [needed] strategic actions.”
Chavez stressed the importance of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), an anti-imperialist project for regional integration headed by Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia, as “the path for unity, for peace and the liberation of our peoples”.

He said there formally existed an ALBA Council of Social Movements, side by side with the presidential and economic councils, but criticised the fact it had not yet become a reality. He urged social movements to hold planning meetings to elect spokespeople for a planned ninth presidential ALBA summit.

The Uruguayan and Argentine governments have stayed aloof from ALBA. But in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, Chavez invited Uruguayan social movements to take in the summit.

May 10, 2011

IMF QUAKES AS EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION DEEPENS

In April hundreds of thousands gathered once again in Tahrir Square to demand that Mubarak and his clique be put on trial for their crimes. The next day the military attacked, but under pressure have now given into the demands that Mubarak and his two sons be arrested. No one is fooled after a month of attacks by the Military Council, with the slogan 'The Army and the people are one hand'. The new slogan is: "Revolution, Revolution Until Victory".
As Egyptian Workers are pushing ahead on the political and economic front they are demanding through their independent unions that their pay be increased and their working conditions improved.
We now start hearing from Global Capital. They are transparent and clear about their concerns with the Egyptian Revolution as it deepens. The former director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the Middle East, Mohsin Kahan stated, "My worry in the short run is the return to populist policy, back-tracking and undoing reforms." What he means by "reforms" is the high rate of privatization, the cutting of Government subsidies and the cutting of public services". He must have heard about the worker's in Mahalla who are calling for privatized companies to be returned to the public sector.