October 31, 2013

A reply to the sectarianism of Bill Onasch and Socialist Action

“We need a party that understands and explains the class divisions in society, which are the real driving forces behind politics—a party that champions the interests of the working class against those of the bosses and bankers who presently rule. The kind of party we require would not only pursue electoral politics but would also be involved in day to day struggles of working people in workplaces, communities, and campuses.”

I have no beef with the above quote from Socialist Action member Bill Onasch, from the posting on this blog dated 10/27/2013.  The US lacks a mass working class or mass socialist party, and sorely needs one.  However, there is longstanding division within the left on how we get there.

I am one of those leftists that reject the position that we dare not, on principle, have anything to do with the Democratic Party. There have been previous attempts at establishing Labor or People’s Parties, that unfortunately, have not succeeded in taking root and establishing itself as a viable mass alternative in the US.

Apparently, I am not really a leftist. Note that Onasch puts quotation marks around the term ‘leftists’ that he disagrees with throughout his piece. I’m not completely sure who he is really talking about. Perhaps when he is talking about “giddy” leftists he is really talking about liberals.

Many of Onasch’s criticisms of the Obama administration are spot on, such as Barack Obama’s evolution from single payor supporter to championing ‘reform’ that left the insurance industry in charge - albeit with some new rules that did help millions of working class people.

I cannot speak for all people who consider themselves on the left who “dabble” in Democrat politics, but I think the recent Gallup polling on the mass dissatisfaction with the two parties is pretty encouraging. But dissatisfaction alone will not get us to the place where we can affect a fundamental political realignment in this country.

Ultimately, a successful and viable mass people’s party will by necessity contain a significant chunk of the forces and constituencies that still see the Democratic Party as the electoral vehicle for fighting back against the most extreme section of US ruling circles and the right.

I voted a second time for Obama, but I don’t defend the litany of outrageous positions that he has taken.  I and others like me point out that we live in complicated times. I don’t hold back on my critique of the Democratic Party as an institution. However, we operate in a larger political context where the reaction from the right is white supremacist at its core. It matters that there was an electoral majority that prevented the Republican Party, with its substantial neo-confederate block, from re-taking the White House.

I have no interest in tactical alliances with the forces of white reaction, and I am disappointed that sections of the white left persist in holding onto their own historical white blinders. I am also disappointed when organizations such as Socialist Action so casually write people like me out of the left because they disagree with my positions on strategy and tactics.

Apparently, some have learned absolutely nothing from the destructive behavior of previous generations of left sectarians.



October 27, 2013

Polls Show No Confidence in U.S. Political Establishment: What Does This Mean For Workers?

by Bill Onasch
Amid the government shutdown, 60 percent of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of [Gallup asking] this question. A new low of 26 percent believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans. — October 11, 2013 Gallup Poll summary.

This is the latest spike in a trend confirmed by other pollsters since the run-up to the 2010 midterm Congressional elections. The working class majority in the USA is questioning the “divine right” of the two capitalist parties to rule. Some liken them to selfish, tantrum-prone children, but more recognize that it is mainly the rich who seem to gain even when bipartisan spirit prevails. Many are outraged, eager to protest, while others are turning off and dropping out. This is a remarkable turnaround from a resurgence of hope and expectation in the system just five years ago.
Si Se Puede
In 2008, at the onset of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, America elected the first African-American President. Barrack Obama not only exuded a rock-star like persona that appealed to youth but also an air of integrity that reassured older voters. The early enthusiastic endorsement by Ted Kennedy legitimized his campaign and opened many doors of the party faithful—and ruling class financial backers.
A mild critic of the Iraq war, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize even before being sworn in to office.
His relatively brief political career, first in the Illinois legislature, and then as a U.S. Senator, showed convincing liberal credentials. The “left” that dabbles in Democrat politics became giddy as they started comparing Obama to their patron saint Franklin Delano Roosevelt and speculated about what their new hero might accomplish in his First Hundred Days.
Comparisons to the FDR myth are something most of those “leftists” would prefer to forget today. The war in Afghanistan was greatly escalated. The one-time champion of single-payer turned his health care “reform” over to the insurance company robber barons. His watch has seen the greatest number of deportations of immigrant workers in history. In a cameo appearance after picking up his Nobel Prize he wrecked the best chance for meaningful international cooperation on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009. Along with his Chicago neighbor and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan, the President has mounted the most serious attack on public education and teacher unions ever—while student loan debt has surpassed credit card and even car loan debt. Obama imposed a devastating bankruptcy on workers at General Motors and Chrysler as well as approving the decimation of the U.S. Postal Service. And he persists in working for a Grand Bargain with the Republicans to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In Obama’s fifth year income has been redistributed from workers to the top One Percent and 22 million are still looking in vain for full-time jobs.
His evolution is as shocking as Disney’s wholesome Hannah Montana into MTV’s soft porn star Miley Cyrus. The liberal first Black President is leading the most reactionary administration in living memory.
Whiners and Saboteurs
The leaders of our unions, civil rights groups, antiwar coalitions, feminist forces, immigrant rights activists, pale green environmentalists—and even his “leftist” supporters—have at times bitterly complained about particular betrayals. But nearly all supported Obama’s reelection and still defend him to this day. So did and do the mainstream of America’s One Percent ruling class.
The official opposition Republican Party has been the traditional favorite of Big Business. But most of the ruling elite correctly understand that the Democrats can more safely take on big transformational projects that could possibly provoke big struggles if pursued by the GOP. It took Bill Clinton to clear the path for Globalization with NAFTA as well as “ending Welfare as we know it.” The ruling elite has now become much more ambitious about using Obama and his Democratic Party wing of the bipartisan consensus to achieve their ends.
This has left the Republicans nowhere to go but to the right of saccharin-coated Reaction. With generous donations from a handful of deep pocket ruling class mavericks the loony-right Tea Party faction has effectively taken control of the Grand Old Party of Lincoln. Their basic strategy is obstruction and sabotage of the Democrats’ ability to govern.
The claim of the cracked teapots that they represent grass roots sentiment in America is bogus. In both the 2010 and 2012 elections the Democrat congressional candidates collectively won far more votes than the Republicans. The Right won their House majority because of skillful gerrymandering of districts by state legislatures. And all opinion polls show strong support for the Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Food Stamp programs the cracked teapots want to privatize and/or destroy—rather than slowly strangle, as Obama proposes to do.
What Kind Of New Party?
The sentiment expressed in the Gallup Poll can be used to open an urgently needed discussion about fundamental political realignment in the USA. A third party that aims to be a new improved version of the present two, more honest, more competent, more “transparent,” more “accountable,” would only be a new detour in efforts for a just resolution of the crises we face today.
We need a party that understands and explains the class divisions in society, which are the real driving forces behind politics—a party that champions the interests of the working class against those of the bosses and bankers who presently rule. The kind of party we require would not only pursue electoral politics but would also be involved in day to day struggles of working people in workplaces, communities, and campuses.
The USA is the only industrialized “democracy” that does not have at least one mass working class party. While those parties for the most part no longer—in some cases never did—promote the Marxist goal of a classless socialist society, with socialized production to serve human needs, not profit, they have kept class consciousness alive as well as winning substantial reforms for workers that have never been achieved in the richest country in the world. Even a reformist mass working class party would be a giant step forward for American workers.
A Potential Base Is At Hand
While we lack a mass workers party we still have mass class-based organizations—our unions. Though organized labor has been declining, our unions still represent sixteen million workers and have billions of dollars in assets. They are recognized as a political force—unfortunately presently misdirected in support of boss party candidates.
The historical lessons of the formation of the British Labour Party a century ago remain instructive for us. The unions were the foundation of the party that quickly supplanted the Liberal Party as the main contender against ruling class Conservatives. But the party also accepted affiliation of allied organizations and built branches open to all who agreed with the party perspective in the communities.
The recent AFL-CIO convention reached out to allies with mass memberships such as the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and the Sierra Club. That could be a good thing. These are constituencies that belong alongside organized workers in the battles that need to be fought. But these organizations, like most of our unions, are dominated by a top-down bureaucracy also still loyal to the Democrats. They too are long overdue for a soul-searching debate about their failed strategy.
A Recent Example
There has been interest in a labor party as long as there have been unions in this country. A hybrid Farmer-Labor Party dominated Minnesota state politics for two decades before it was liquidated into the Democrats. Another skewed variation was the American Labor Party in the state of New York that elected some candidates of its own while also endorsing Democrats and even Republicans during the 1930s-40s.
The most significant national organization of labor party sentiment arose about twenty years ago. A remarkable union leader, Tony Mazzocchi, convinced the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers to sponsor a probe of union interest in a labor party, in the early 1990s. It was called Labor Party Advocates (LPA), and soon drew substantial support—especially after Clinton drove through NAFTA.
LPA issued a call for a Labor Party Founding Convention in Cleveland in June 1996. More than 1,400 delegates representing unions and LPA community chapters showed up. A basic program, as well as a constitution, was enthusiastically adopted. A second convention held in Pittsburgh drew about the same number of delegates. For a few years the new party grew in size and influence and seemed on track to establishing a new political alternative.
But events outside the control of the fledgling party brought a series of ultimately fatal setbacks. The merger mania among unions absorbed some key supporting unions into ones dominated by officials hostile to the Labor Party project. Many union officials irrationally blamed Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for Bush’s theft of the 2000 presidential election. Even though the Labor Party never ran or endorsed any candidates, it too was dismissed as a “spoiler,” and union bureaucrats poured more support than ever into campaigns of perfidious Democrat “friends.” Union material support for the Labor Party—essential to its success—steadily dried up. Eventually it had to be acknowledged that the party had little claim to speak for labor and it quietly gave up the ghost.
But the 1996 Labor Party project left a valuable legacy. Though it could use some updating here and there after seventeen years, the basic program remains as timely as ever, taking up most of the major questions facing the working class today. The electoral policy, putting it in context of a range of other forms of struggle to take political power, is still spot on. The organizational principles are a guarantee of worker democracy.
Some of us who went through the Labor Party experience, from the early 1990s up through 2012, have argued we should keep this heritage alive by regrouping once more as Labor Party Advocates. We’re admittedly a long way from having sufficient support in the unions or allied organizations to relaunch a labor party. But the almost failed-state collapse of government in Washington, with the resulting rejection of the political Establishment by the majority, should offer us a much wider receptive audience for the labor party perspective.
If this makes sense to you, Kansas City Labor Party Advocates would like to hear from you. Drop us a line at kcalpa@kclabor.org
Bill Onasch, a retired ATU bus driver, was an early member of the original Labor Party Advocates. He served on the Labor Party Electoral Policy Commission and at the party’s last convention was elected to represent Midwest chapters on the Interim National Council—the equivalent of a National Committee.

October 23, 2013

Recent Changes in the AFL-CIO and the Future of Labor: A debate

It's been no secret for some time now that Labor is in trouble. Most on the left would agree that the labor movement as a whole has been too slow to respond to the life and death situation it has found itself in.

Below are three articles, the first of which is witten by labor journalist Steve Early, sizing up the recent national AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles.  Early is highly critical of the conference.  Veteran labor activists Jeff Crosby and Bill Fletcher take issue with Early's view of the recent steps taken by the AFL-CIO.  This is then followed by an additional prespective by veteran labor activist Peter Olney.  All three viewpoints are well worth a read.

House of Labor Needs Repairs, Not Just New Roommates|Labor Notes
by Steve Early
As AFL-CIO leaders packed up to leave their Los Angeles convention last Wednesday, they basked in the glow of favorable media coverage. Cribbing from Labor Notes’ own 30-year-old slogan, a union president told the New York Times that the federation had finally “put some movement back in the labor movement.”
Writers Guild of America-East President Michael Winship claimed he had just witnessed the “the most radical restructuring of labor since the AFL and CIO merged nearly sixty years ago.” Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson agreed that the AFL-CIO had made a “strategic shift.”
Feedback was also quite positive from the hundreds of invited guests from worker centers, labor support coalitions, public policy groups, student, feminist, and community organizations, and “social change” foundations—present in larger numbers than ever before.
These enthusiastic “solidarity partners”—from constituencies younger and more diverse than the delegate body—got to make “action session” presentations, hold press conferences and side rallies, and network with unions and foundation funders. Sometimes, rank-and-filers from “alt-labor” groups like worker centers even got airtime on the main stage, for moving celebrations of their difficult organizing work among fellow immigrants.
Who wouldn’t like to believe that a more exciting convention format prefigures a turning point for labor? Unfortunately, greater inclusiveness, closer ties with non-labor allies, and the adoption of pleasingly progressive resolutions only begin to address the real organizing challenges facing labor, whether “alt” or traditional.
Missing from the festivities were strategies for defending and re-energizing labor’s existing members.
Given the extreme attacks both union and non-union workers are suffering, the convention’s heavy emphasis on conventional political strategies and growth through diluted forms of membership was not “transformative” enough to meet the challenges of the day.

Post-Convention Rebuff on Obamacare

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka had hoped to avoid an embarrassing convention outbreak of public criticism of Obamacare. But irate labor leaders, mainly from unions with multi-employer (Taft-Hartley) health plans, insisted on having their say.
Delegates passed a compromise resolution detailing the “fixes” needed in the Affordable Care Act. Without these changes, union-negotiated health coverage will be “regressed to the mean,” as one congressional staffer predicted in a meeting with D Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE.
Two days later at the White House, though, Trumka, Taylor, and other labor officials received an embarrassing post-convention rebuff. The administration still intends to deny union members in multi-employer plans the access to income-based subsidies that will be offered to other lower-income workers through state insurance exchanges.
The same AFL-CIO media operation that was going full-blast for five days in Los Angeles—and for six months before that—suddenly fell silent on Friday. The AFL-CIO had “no comment” on the White House dismissal of labor’s concerns.
The proceedings did have a progressive buzz and grassroots sheen not seen since “New Voice” candidate John Sweeney won the federation’s first contested presidential election in a century, in 1995. Sweeney’s team, which included now AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, pledged to promote new organizing and political initiatives, community-labor alliances, and anti-globalization efforts, while expanding the role of women, immigrants, and people of color.
Yet, as former AFL headquarters insider Bill Fletcher reported in his book, Solidarity Divided, these reform efforts ran out of steam as early as 1998. For the next decade or more, AFL-CIO restructuring was more rhetorical than real.
Last week, with two younger-generation staffers (both in their 40s) on Trumka’s new leadership team, the convention re-adopted New Voice ideas from 20 years ago. Delegates again embraced the need for community-labor coalitions, greater independence in politics, and, of course, more members—preferably in the millions.
It was taken as given that these additional working Americans can’t be recruited into traditional bargaining units. The new thinking is that labor can boost its membership stats—and political clout—through closer structural ties to the Sierra Club, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, or MomsRising. This would enable the house of labor to count as members people on those groups’ mailing lists, too.
The other method is to count as new members anyone ever solicited on their doorstep by a canvasser from the AFL-CIO’s own, soon-to-be-expanded alt-labor vehicle, Working America.
This outfit, set up originally for political action purposes, now claims 3.2 million “members.” Almost none pay dues or have any workplace connection to each other. The federation spends more than $10 million a year on Working America, which is also subsidized by national and local union donations.


To keep convention messaging on track, AFL headquarters prepared helpful “talking points.” The most frequently heard refrain was, “This convention will be the most innovative and diverse in history. It’s an exciting time as we open our doors and engage with allies and the non-union community as never before.”
Unfortunately for federation spin-doctors, some avatars of the AFL’s more traditional labor organizations didn’t stay on message, and their political influence was still much felt behind the scenes.
For example, Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger warned, in an interview with The Nation, about the AFL becoming “the American Federation of Progressive and Liberal Organizations.” Schaitberger didn’t want a labor movement that’s “an extension of one ideological part of our society.”
Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers ranted at length about the Sierra Club’s betrayal of labor, because it opposes the Keystone XL pipeline favored by the building trades and the Teamsters.
But O’Sullivan did make one constructive suggestion: “We came here to talk about a new movement,” he said. “But let’s not forget about the old movement.”


Trumka has made his questionable new focus quite explicit. “The labor movement needs to be not where we’ve been but where workers are most in need,” he told a conference of labor academics in June.
The federation’s de-emphasis on union members’ workplace problems was reflected in what proposed workshops were scheduled (or rejected) at the convention. Judging by the content of the “action sessions,” dealing with employers in traditional workplaces is barely on labor’s to-do list at all.
You could learn much about the health and safety needs of workers in Bangladesh, but there was no brainstorming about strengthening local safety committees here. Fighting givebacks and speed-up, organizing strikes, mobilizing members on the job, creating a “stewards’ army” face to face (as opposed to online) were all given little play.
Labor’s most important public sector struggle since the 2011 “Wisconsin Uprising” was allotted a single presenter on the one panel (out of 50) that dealt with contract campaigns. Chicago Teachers Union organizer Matt Luskin recounted how reformers won office, rebuilt their local, and worked with the community as a precursor to last fall’s successful nine-day strike against Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his school board.
As dissident academic Stanley Aronowitz noted several months ago, “Organized labor is still more than 15 million strong…. Why not seek reform of the existing unions?” Encouraging this course of action is, of course, not part of the AFL-CIO agenda, this year or any year.


One thing is certain. U.S. unions aren’t going to meet the challenges they face by further abandoning the workplace terrain still occupied by their own members or by workers strategic to the future of important industries like telecom.
Generic “associate member” programs, like Working America, may be useful for building political mailing lists, conducting voter registration, and doing voter education and turnout. Maybe next, promoting labor-endorsed insurance plans in the state insurance exchanges?
But dumbing down the concept of membership, in the process, is not a “strategic shift” so much as a shell game. It has little in common with existing serious, long-term efforts to build workplace organization in the absence of employer recognition and bargaining rights.
One instructive example—the decade-long “minority union” campaign at T-Mobile—was given some airtime in L.A. last week. The plenary and workshop presentations by fired T-Mobile worker Josh Coleman and Communications Workers President Larry Cohen provided a much-needed reality check: building and sustaining TU, a voluntary membership organization of T-Mobile workers, has not been easy.
Even with help from the German union at T-Mobile’s parent company and much CWA local union and member-organizer involvement, it has taken 10 years of work to recruit 1,000 TU supporters in a union-eligible workforce of 20,000.
Only 15 T-Mobile workers in Connecticut have been able to win formal bargaining rights thus far. But workplace education, cross-border networking, direct action, publicity, legal complaints, and community support have produced some important non-contract gains.
For similar union-building candor, plus in-depth discussion of organizing, bargaining, and strikes, readers should consider attending Labor Notes’ national conference, April 4-6 in Chicago. It won’t change the world of labor all by itself either, but it will have the workplace perspective so MIA from the AFL convention.
Alt-laborers and “old union movement” members alike will find common ground—more solid than labor’s official terra firma in La La Land last week.
As a longtime staffer of the Communications Workers, Steve Early assisted CWA-backed alt-labor experiments like the Massachusetts High Tech Workers Network, the Alliance @ IBM, and WAGE at General Electric. His new book, Save Our Unions, forthcoming from Monthly Review Press in November, contains an account of CWA’s ongoing “minority union” campaign at T-Mobile.
For debate on the significance of the AFL-CIO Convention, look here and here.

AFL-CIO Convention Repositions Unions to Speak for All Workers

By Jeff Crosby and Bill Fletcher Jr.
The AFL-CIO Convention in September took an important turn to reposition unions toward speaking for all working people in the United States. This was a correction to the narrow focus on its dues-paying members and traditional electoral work that has cursed the movement for most of its history.
To argue that this turn represents an abandonment of current members, as Steve Early does here, is factually false and politically wrong.
It helps to understand what the federation is and is not. It is a collection of unions “held together by a rope of sand,” as a former federation president put it. From the central labor councils to the national organization, affiliates that don’t like the turn of events just quit.
And the federation is forbidden by its bylaws from engaging in collective bargaining without the specific invitation of an affiliated union. So expecting a convention that focuses primarily on collective bargaining makes no sense.
What the convention did do was focus on new forms of bargaining and organizing. The heroic organizing campaign by the Communications Workers at T-Mobile and the powerful strike by the Chicago Teachers Union were hardly the only examples promoted.
Organizers for domestic workers were honored from the stage on opening night. Immigrant “dreamers” hired to organize traditional bargaining units in car washes, grocery stores, hotels, and construction in an L.A. County Federation pilot program were likewise headlined the next day.
The president of the New York Taxi Drivers Alliance was added to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, and is getting Steelworkers and federation support to organize in other cities.
Workshops focused on international campaigns and organizing in the South. Day laborers, previously seen as the enemy of the building trades, have been welcomed into the house of labor in their own organizations. Worker center partnerships with unions in Texas and other states were featured in workshops and on the convention floor.
How exactly this amounts to “It was taken as given that these additional working Americans can’t be recruited into traditional bargaining units” is hard to comprehend.
It was simply impossible to dismiss these developments at the convention unless you had your mind made up before you went there.
The false charge that “the new thinking is that labor can boost its membership stats—and political clout” by “counting as members people on those groups’ mailing lists” (referring to the Sierra Club, the NAACP, etc.) was never even proposed at the convention, never mind adopted. It surfaced in the press a few months ago, but was dismissed.
Much of the political focus of the convention was oriented to improving conditions for current members as well as non-members. Does the fight against privatization, or defeating right-to-work laws, count as in the interest of current union members? Or is this somehow a part of what Early calls “further abandoning the workplace terrain”?
Working America, another target of Early’s disdain, does not “dilute” the current membership of the AFL-CIO. It adds folks to whom current members can reach out for solidarity.
In Lynn, Massachusetts, for example, the labor council built a several-thousand-strong Working America membership. When the council wanted to help pass a bond for a new middle school, we had double the number of folks to reach out to. We won the vote, and this helped our union teachers and building trades—not to mention the working-class children of Lynn. (Of course, those kids don’t pay dues.)
Working America membership is not at all the same thing as traditional union membership—something that WA organizers and skeptics inside the AFL-CIO would agree on. But it is a tool to expand our reach, and WA is experimenting with building traditional workplace organization in New Mexico with the stagehands union, IATSE, and building rooted community organizations in Pittsburgh. In Lynn, a small group of WA activists meets monthly on a campaign to raise the minimum wage.
Perhaps the most telling part of Early’s trashing of the AFL-CIO convention is when he quotes what he refers to as one of the more retrograde leaders in the movement. The Laborers’ president said, “We came here to talk about a new movement. But let’s not forget about the old movement.”
Early then agrees with the call to return to more focus on the current dwindling membership. Pedal harder, fight, fight, fight?
This raises a more fundamental question—not just what convention are we talking about, but what country?
Labor’s history on fighting white supremacy has been poor. We are a labor movement that promised to kill Senator Wagner’s National Labor Relations Act in 1935 unless he eliminated anti-discrimination language. Our federation refused to endorse the 1963 March on Washington, although all unions claim that legacy today. Until very recently unions were openly hostile to immigrant workers joining our organizations and even hostile to those workers’ efforts to organize themselves.
This convention marked a long overdue strategic shift. The shift is to speak for the whole working class.
Nothing was more indicative of the shift than a resolution condemning private prisons and mass incarceration of peoples of color. This was a response to internal pressure from AFL-CIO members, the inclusion in pre-convention committees and discussions of representatives from worker centers and academics like Stephen Pitts of UC-Berkeley, President Rich Trumka’s influence, the Teachers union responding to widespread criticism of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and intense discussions with AFSCME, which represents correctional officers.
For the AFL-CIO to speak out on the current system of racial oppression is a dramatic step, particularly in the face of decades of racist crime-baiting by the right. You can’t unify the working class by ignoring the divisions that exist.
The convention did not abandon current members or the workplace, although no one has a blueprint for the future relationship between current collective bargaining structures and new forms of organizing.
The convention recognized that there is no way forward for current members without a re-direction of the movement, to construct an alliance of working class forces and allies to change the country.
Launching such a strategic offensive while our movement is under siege will be, needless to say, extremely difficult. But this is the context in which we can rebuild collective bargaining, even as we scratch and claw to defend our current position.
Jeff Crosby is president of the North Shore Labor Council in Massachusetts. Bill Fletcher, Jr. is co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice.
The AFL - Path of Least Resistance? Response to Bill Fletcher & Jeff Crosby
by Peter Olney
It is true as Jeff and Bill point out, that the AFL-CIO's Convention's focus on new alliances with formerly excluded workers is a healthy and a positive development, it is also true that the Convention was unwilling to grapple with fundamentals that are crucial to its long term growth and viability.
Fletcher and Crosby state that "The federation is forbidden by its bylaws from engaging in collective bargaining without the specific invitation of an affiliated union" While very true, that statement could be extended to any activity. The federation is not affiliated with the Blue-Green alliance because of the controversy among its affiliates on the Keystone Pipeline. It is also true that if the Federation were to attempt to adopt a more powerful resolution on local hire in urban construction markets to redress historical racial inequities it would face a rebellion from many of the trades.
The operative phrase here is "path of least resistance"
It is far easier to deal with external alliances or affiliations than the cruxes of our crisis. Our federation and our state and local bodies are not equipped to carry out their original charge which is class wide solidarity. Are we swarming to the defense of workers in major contract fights, strike and lockouts? With few exceptions we are not. Therefore we lose those battles, and every loss resonates in the broader working class as a defeat for workers and organization just as our precious wins resonate in positive fashion.
Ultimately the alliances with external groups and organizations are built on the backs of the resources and members of existing unions, the dues money of our existing affiliates and their members. If the unions can't show power for its own members, how do those members play a meaning full role on a broader stage? How does the organization of workers appear attractive to the new group we are allied with or new workers we are working with?
Our "national" trade unions exist to exert industry wide solidarity and power. The whole concept of national unions is built on that outlook and foundation. It is all fine to pursue the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart or car wash workers but how are we doing with giant national supermarket chains we represent or the steel contracts that we still have. Are we condemning our local unions to bargain on an individual or regional basis without national coordination or action? Often we are.
Further our federation and its affiliates are not ready to confront the challenges of using our existing base in certain industries to grow in non-union sectors of those industries and linked industries. Those discussions and strategies require challenging the inertia of the status quo. They are difficult discussions that challenge the power and positions of our elected trade union leaders.
The interplay of the old and the new is one of the keys for renaissance as it was in the 30's when old AFL unions played a crucial role in birthing the new with their money and members.
The ban on bargaining that Crosby and Fletcher cite is not a ban on the hard discussions and debates that need to happen to redirect our resources, empower our existing members and win some of the key defensive fights in an offensive way. These debates cut to the heart of unions, their leaders and their strategies. Do we allow industry contracts with two tier wage scales as a way to preserve jobs? Does that enable us to organize non-union workers in the same industry? There is no legal or structural bar to these debates. It is all a matter of political will and leadership?
Fighting a defensive battle in an offensive and community minded way is the lesson of the Chicago Teachers Union. You can be sure there were deep discussions in the Chicago Central body and among other unions on how to win that battle, and they were uncomfortable and difficult discussions because some affiliates had their relationships with the Mayor and the powers that be in Chicago. Nevertheless those obstacles to difficult discussions, subjects and decisions can be and must be overcome with strong leadership.
It is great to see the convention focus on new and long overdue alliances particularly with organizations based in communities of color, but that is no replacement for confronting the difficult questions in the family about survival and growth.
Peter Olney has been a labor organizer for 40 years working with trade unions and community organizations focused on the organization of immigrant workers.

October 22, 2013

A Manifesto: Feminism Is 'Pro Life'

— BARCELONA — The debate in political circles and in the media in recent decades around the question of abortion has been accompanied by a growing monopoly ownership of the defense of the right to life by the Right, in a way that skillfully counter-poses it to the feminist demand of the right to choose.
Although we as feminists have defended ourselves against these Sibylline accusations of egoism and/or infanticide, coming from the propaganda machine of the Catholic Church and its secular followers, we should recognize that our attempts at questioning the defense of life as the exclusive instrument of the Right have so far produced very few results. As “anti-choice” as they may be, the anti-choice activists are known by everyone as “pro-life,” and as pro-life as it may be, the feminist movement is still identified as “pro-abortion.”
However, apart from its calculated polarization, this logic is wrong. Feminism defends life. And it always has done. And that is why at a time when the paragons of traditional morality come out of their burrows to attack once again freedom and the right to decide, in a context where the cuts and the caverns combine to resurrect the vision of women as submissive and full of abnegation, it is more than ever necessary from a strategic perspective to assert feminism as being profoundly pro-life and to get rid of the semantic corset that is being imposed on us from outside.
A feminist pro-life manifesto does not only strengthen the demand for women’s freedom and autonomy as key elements of women’s struggle: it also allows us, at a time when the Right is back on the offensive, criminalizing us and robbing us of our rights, to assert and substantiate our re-appropriation of life as emancipatory path and guiding principle. Here is a first draft:
A question of rights…
1) Feminism defends the right of women to terminate their pregnancies in a safe manner. As the World Health Organization stresses, the prohibition of abortion only serves to increase maternal mortality; today, on a world scale, 47,000 women die each year because they terminate their pregnancy in a clandestine way. Thirteen percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, and the majority of cases occur in countries with restrictive legislation on abortion.
The number of voluntary terminations of pregnancy does not diminish when legislation is harsh; on the other hand, the number of dangerous abortions increases. It is out of respect for the memory of all those women who, while trying to exercise their right not to have a child, have found themselves in unsanitary situations, have risked their lives or indeed died, that feminism is pro-life.
2) According to the UN, the term “clandestine and unsafe abortion” refers not only to risks to the health and the lives of women, but also to the negation of their right to information, to life and to freedom. Thus, this type of abortion does not just represent a health problem; it is first and foremost a question of human, social, and economic rights.
The many obstacles that prevent women from accessing abortion in a free and equal way—for example, the fact of having the means necessary to travel and/or pay for a discreet private clinic, their age, place of residence, country of origin or administrative position—are not only patently hypocritical, they are also discriminatory. If all of these barriers still exist in the present legislation of the Spanish state concerning abortion, they will increase if the Popular Party carries out its threat to reform that legislation. It is because it is determined to eliminate these barriers that feminism is pro-life.
3) The main factors that promote the reduction of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among young women are the increased use of contraceptives, better access to information and better sexual and relationship education: all that has been demanded for years by the feminist movement.
In spite of the fact that this same Right that calls us “anti- life” is opposed to our young people having safe, free, and intelligent sexual relations, it is necessary and urgent to create and transmit a model of sexuality that is rewarding, mature, and safe. We will not succeed in doing that by hypocritically advocating abstinence or by silence, but rather by ensuring that young people’s choices are increasingly based on information, freedom, and mutual respect. It is by its firm defense of the prevention of unwanted pregnancies—and therefore, of abortions—on the basis of the transmission of values of equality and autonomy that feminism is pro-life.
… for everyone, men and women!
4) In his delusional crusade against women’s right to choose, the minister Gallardón threatens to make the present legislation even more restrictive than it was in 1985, and he proposes suppressing the criterion of fetus malformation as a reason for abortion. He does so with the argument that all those people who have been born or are “about to be born” with any kind of disability must have the same rights as other citizens.
As feminists, we can already wonder how the right-wing forces at the head of and in the shadow of the government have the impudence to proclaim themselves heroic saviors of a section of society to which they deny any kind of dignified existence through their measures of austerity and privatization in the services, programs and other forms of support to people with limited autonomy.
Is the Popular Party not rather seeking to create a situation where it is families, and women in particular, who take sole responsibility for those that the PP forces to be born, but in whom it loses interest from the very first minute of their lives?
The same families and the same women that they drive into poverty because of their fraudulent rescue of the banks and their destruction of the Welfare State?
It is by its firm denunciation of this imposture, which pretends to defend social rights from Monday to Thursday while destroying them by their decrees just before the weekend, that feminism asserts itself, today more than ever, as pro-life.
5) The Popular Party not only forces women to become mothers against their will, it also prevents many other women, who want to be mothers and feel prepared for it, to actually become mothers. It does this through the defense of forced sterilization of people with psychic disabilities, despite the opposition of social organizations and the recommendations of the UN. It does so by opposing before the Constitutional Tribunal marriage between people of the same sex, because it considers that only the heterosexual family is the “natural” framework for raising children.
And it does so by preventing women living alone and lesbians from having access to public services of medically assisted reproduction in order to have a child without the direct intervention of a man.
The government thus divides women into “good” and “bad” mothers, good and bad women, and it decides who can start a family and who cannot. Gallardón says that motherhood makes women really women, but he forgets to make it clear (such forgetfulness!) that he is only talking about those women who have an adequate sexual orientation, who want to form the correct type of family (nuclear, heterosexual, etc…), and who do not have any kind of mental disability.
Only the God of Rouco Varela (Archbishop of Madrid and president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference) knows what might happen if we allow children to be brought up among “queers” and “dykes” or if we guarantee that persons with physical handicaps will have full autonomy in decisions concerning their bodies and their sexuality. It is, finally, in its determination to defend the rights and freedoms of all people, and to do so from Monday to Sunday, that feminism is pro-life.
A more just and a freer society
Feminism is pro-life because its raison d’être is to build a more just and a freer society, one which places welfare and common good at the centre of everything; a society which does not condemn its poorest, youngest and most vulnerable women to bleed to death because of a clandestine abortion; a society which does not aspire to domesticate people’s bodies and their lives and to force them into moralistic little pigeon-holes; a society that educates its young people in principles of reason, responsibility and truth, so that their actions will not have negative impacts on themselves or on other people; a society that integrates, cares for and genuinely respects people with functional diversity: that accepts freedom for all human beings to make decisions concerning their feelings and their desires and that does not say one thing and are do another.
Nevertheless, it is the prohibitive and anti-choice discourse that has the advantage today. We do not have much time: new attacks are being prepared. Let us take to the streets, let us take back possession of what is ours and go on the offensive. Feminism, today and always, is pro-life.
Sandra Ezquerra is currently a sociology professor at the Universitat de Vic (Barcelona). She is also an active feminist participant in the !5-M movement of Barcelona. Photo: Barcelona anti-austerity protest on Oct. 15, 2011 / Emilio Morenatti.

October 20, 2013

All Out For Sea-Tac Referendum 1

Union members in this small community are making the push to Get Out The Vote for Referendum 1 which will mandate SeaTac Airport workers and surrounding businesses implement the $15.00/ minimum wage, sick days, full time work for part-timers before more part-time workers are hired, tips go to workers, and 90 day protection for workers when contractors change.  This does not apply to small businesses and many are supporting the referendum as it has been estimated that it will add $54 million per year to this small local economy. It is also estimated that this will affect more than 6,000 workers in the area.

There are about 300 volunteers converging here who are spreading out through this very diverse low income community. They have an exclusively mail ballot system and the ballots are beginning to arrive for the Nov. 5th election.  The first day we knocked on more than 6,000 doors.
The first morning a Teamster organizer spoke about their attempts for 10 years to organize baggage handlers and other non-union airport workers. After facing anti-union laws and regulations, targeting of union activists and retribution from management they decided to go to the community with this referendum.  In addition airports are under the Railway Labor Act which means they would need to organize a number of airports at the same time including in Hawaii.

The Teamsters joined with HERE who organize the large hotels near the airport (small hotels with less than 30 employees are exempt) and SEIU who are organizing in Seattle for the $15 minimum wage. They all are here and believe a victory here will be an impetus to struggles across the country. 

We will all be watching the election returns on November 5th for Sea-Tac Referendum 1 !

October 16, 2013

Malala Yousafzai Lectures Obama Family On Drones

October 11, 2013 by Lesley Clark, McClatchy

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and Malia Obama met in the Oval Office Friday with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakastani girl who was shot in the head on her school bus by Taliban gunmen for criticizing their rule, including banning education for girls.

The White House says the first couple invited Malala -- the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize -- to the White House "to thank her for her inspiring and passionate work on behalf of girls education in Pakistan."

In a statement, the White House says the United States "joins with the Pakistani people and so many around the world to celebrate Malala’s courage and her determination to promote the right of all girls to attend school and realize their dreams."

In a statement released after the meeting, Malala said she was honored to meet with Obama, but that she told him she's worried about the effect of U.S. drone strikes. (The White House statement didn't mention that part.)

"I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees," she said in the statement. 

"I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism.  Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people." 

October 15, 2013

Cyber-Shield: Brazil Announces Government System To Block NSA

Brazil is creating an email system intended to shield the government from NSA spying. The country is set to vote on a cyber-security bill following revelations the US spy network had infiltrated the highest levels of Brazil’s administration.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tweeted the news, stressing the need for greater security “to prevent possible espionage.” 

Rousseff said the Federal Data Processing Service (SERPRO) had been charged with creating the spy-proof system for the Brazilian government. 

“This is the first step toward extending the privacy and inviolability of official posts,” Rousseff said. 

Furthermore, Brazil’s Minister of Communication Paulo Bernardo said that the new system would most probably be put to the test at the end of the month. SERPRO is also developing an email security system that will be freely available for the Brazilian public. 

The initiatives are part of a number of measures being introduced by the Brazilian government to shore up internet security. It comes after security leaks by former CIA employee Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been spying on the communications of the Brazilian government. 

The classified cables obtained by American journalist Glen Greenwald and published by Brazilian newspaper O Globo revealed that the US spy agency had infiltrated the state-run oil giant Petrobras. The NSA had even managed to hack into President Rousseff’s email account. 

Canada was also implicated in the scandal for spying on Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy and then disseminating the data among the others in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network – the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia. 

“They [Five Eyes] are sharing all the information, handing over documents to let other countries know exactly what they are doing,” Glen Greenwald told Brazilian current affairs program Fantastico. 

President Dilma condemned the NSA’s spying as a breach of Brazilian sovereignty and made it clear that Brazil would not tolerate such activities. She called on both Canada and the US to cease the ‘cyberwar’ they had started against Brazil. 

“Without respect for [a nation’s] sovereignty, there is no basis for proper relations among nations. Those who want a strategic partnership cannot possibly allow recurring and illegal action to go on as if they were an ordinary practice,” she said in a speech to the UN in September. 

In retaliation, Dilma postponed an official visit to Washington and announced that Brazil will host an international conference on internet governance next year. 

Meanwhile, the White House has released a statement saying President Barack Obama had ordered an investigation into the US intelligence program in Brazil. 

"As the president previously stated, he has directed a broad review of US intelligence posture, but the process will take several months to complete,” said the informant. 

October 10, 2013

Janet Yellen: Not About Gender Just The Same Old, Same Old

There was a lot of talk among women about whether Obama would pick the first woman to be Federal Reserve Chair over that old sexist pig Larry Summers. Well yes he picked Janet Yellen but no the policies are the same ones that hurt women and everyone else in the working class. Jack Rasmus makes it all very clear.

OCTOBER 10, 2013
Bernanke's Backup Gets the Nod
On Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair
On October 9, 2013, President Obama appointed Janet Yellen, current vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, as the new Fed chair, to replace Ben Bernanke expected to retire at year’s end. Obama’s appointment, subject to Senate confirmation that is likely, comes after a general consensus in recent weeks that Yellen would be Obama’s choice.
That followed prior weeks of heated public debate and maneuvering involving Yellen, as favorite of liberals in and out of Congress, and Larry Summers, favorite of Obama administration staffers and in-siders. Summers withdrew his candidacy several weeks ago, however, under pressure from conservative elements, who viewed his role as former Obama adviser, as too liberal on fiscal spending in Obama’s administration, and liberal elements, who viewed his role as former Clinton administration Secretary of the Treasury as too accommodating to bankers and financial deregulation.
It has been interesting to watch how liberals, within and without the Obama administration in recent weeks organized aggressively on behalf of Yellen. Yellen was the ‘Fed Dove’, willing to continue Ben Bernanke’s generous free money policies of QE and near zero interest rates. In contrast, Summers was the monetary ‘hawk’ that would likely accelerate a withdrawal from QE faster. Of course, both profiles were mostly spin.
Noted liberal economists, like Paul Krugman of the New York Times, fell completely into the Yellen camp, praising her policies and more liberal credentials. Even progressives of the moderate persuasion fell for the ‘Yellen as Fed Dove’ fiction.
But a closer inspection would have revealed that neither Summers nor Yellen would have departed much, if at all, from current chair Bernanke’s policies.
Those policies, in the form of QE (quantitative easing) and ‘zero bound interest rates’, since 2009 have had little if any impact or effect on the real economy—and therefore on housing recovery, jobs, or middle class incomes.
In the course of four years of both QE and zero rates, the Federal Reserve has pumped more than $13 trillion in liquidity (money) into the US and global banking system (and shadow banking system) to bail out the banks. In terms of QE alone, this occurred in at least three versions—QE1, QE2, and now currently QE3—which together will have provided by year end 2013 (along with QE 2.5—called ‘operation twist’), nearly $4 trillion of liquidity injections to bankers as well as individual wealthy investors seeking to dump their collapse subprime mortgage bonds on the Federal Reserve.
QE and the $13 trillion resulted in record booms in the stock and bond markets in the US and globally. Much of that likely flowed out of the US economy into the global, serving to stimulate real growth in emerging markets and even more in generating financial asset speculative bubbles around the world since 2009. There is in fact a very high correlation between the announcement, introduction, and conclusion of QE programs and stock-bond, derivative, and other financial asset booms and declines since 2009. Conversely, there is virtually no such connection between housing, jobs, and other real sectors of the US economy.
Bernanke Fed monetary policies have thus boosted financial capital gains and in turn the incomes of the wealthiest in the US and globally, as real disposable income for US households has consistently declined for four consecutive years. As recent data on income distribution from studies of economists at the University of California have shown this past summer: The wealthiest US 1% households have accrued for themselves no less than 95% of all the income gains in the US since 2009.
Yellen has been perhaps the strongest supporter of out-going Fed Chair, Ben Bernanke’s policies of QE and zero bound rates, which have directly resulted in this lopsided income inequality. So why were liberals so impressed with her as the preferred choice for next Fed chair? It certainly wasn’t for her policies. Or was it?
Perhaps they still labor under the false notion that, in the world of 21st century global finance capitalism, that low interest rates create jobs? But that academic economics fiction no longer has evidence in reality. It belongs in the same trash bin with other fictions, like more business tax cuts create jobs. Or that more free trade agreements , like the pending Transpacific Partnership, pushed by the Obama administration and liberals, will create jobs. Here again, the empirical track record shows that neither have, or will, create jobs. But liberals nonetheless adhere to these false notions, believing in the various forms of ‘trickle down’ economics.
Yellen as Fed Chair will do no more for jobs and real middle class-working class incomes than Obama’s appointment of General Electric’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, did for jobs since 2010 by getting the Obama administration to pass new free trade agreements with Panama, Columbia and Korea, or more tax cuts for multinational manufacturers like GE, Microsoft, or big pharma have done for jobs.
But Yellen was given the ‘dove’ tag and therefore the liberal endorsement.
Yellen as Fed Chair will continue policies no different in content than has Ben Bernanke. Yellen will continue to pump QE into bankers and investors, stocks and bond markets, global speculators and offshore investors, as had Bernanke. If she really were liberal, she’d take the $1 trillion given them in just the past year of QE3 liquidity injections and use it to fund a government direct job creation program. That would create 20 million $50k a year jobs, and jump start the economic recovery overnight.
But the Bernanke-Yellen policy of giving that $1 trillion (and $12 trillion more) to bankers and investors will instead continue to prop up the stock, bond and other speculative financial markets. And just as Bernanke ‘chickened out’ this past summer when he rapidly backed off suggesting the $85 billion a month QE3 injections might be reduced by modest $5 billion, so too will Yellen go slow, and reverse course quickly as necessary, when the bondholders revolt again at any such suggestion.
There will be no fundamental change, in other words, from a Bernanke Fed to a Yellen Fed. As currently structured and led, the US Federal Reserve is an institution serving bankers and wealthy investors. Before the Fed can ever begin serving the rest of the economy, the country and its citizens, it will have to be radically restructured and its leadership democratically chosen.
The Federal Reserve will have to be democratized and the bankers and investors totally marginalized from its operations. The Fed will have to become an institution that functions as a ‘public banking entity’, not a private banking conduit. It will then provide low money cost loans to households, small businesses, students, and workers—instead of wealthy investors, bankers, and speculators.
And instead of issuing QE for the latter, it can then issue QE to create jobs, raise incomes, and generate a sustained economic recovery for all instead of a perpetual subsidized recovery for the 1%. But that won’t happen under a Yellen Fed, or under a government led by the dual one-party system in the US today. It will take a new, grass roots movement for real democracy in the US, and a new party based upon that movement.
Dr. Jack Rasmus is the author of the book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”, published by Pluto Press, London, April 2012. He is the host of the weekly internet radio show from New York, ‘Alternative Visions’, on the Progressive Radio Network, prn.fm. His website is www.kyklosproductions.com and he blogs at jackrasmus.com. His twitter handle is drjackrasmus.