February 17, 2014

New blog

Willamette Reds Blog is now closed.  We have moved our project to:

Oregon Socialist Renewal

Please check Oregon Socialist Renewal frequently in the coming days and weeks as we add more postings and information about this project.

February 9, 2014

Tar Sands Megaload permit Rally; Salem, Ore; Monday February 10, 2014; 10 AM


Rally to Support Court Action against Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) for Megaload Permits

Monday February 10, 2014
10:00 am
Marion County Courthouse
100 High Street NE, Salem, Oregon

From Leonard Higgins with ActOnClimate.net:

“Please join us at 10am Monday on the courthouse steps as we file in Marion County Circuit Court to require a court review of ODOT Megaload permits. Please bring your signs, warm clothes and you may need rain gear. We'll be taking pictures and video to help gather public input to ODOT. More information atwww.ActOnClimate.net.”

Megaloads are enormous machines to be used for extracting and processing tar sands oil, one of the filthiest and most climate disrupting fossil fuels. Too large to fit under an Interstate overpass, these machines are being transported by barge then via rural roads to Alberta, CA. They can only travel at night because they block other traffic.

After a years-long fight, the Nez Perce Nation won an injunction against using roads on their lands in Idaho for these megaloads. To bypass the prohibited area, the most recent megaloads travelled through Eastern Oregon in late 2013 under permits from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Several people were arrested in attempts to block the megaloads (Leonard was arrested after chaining himself to one of these monster machines) and many more turned out to protest the megaloads in Umatilla, Pendleton and in support demonstrations in Portland. 

ODOT claims that the public has “no standing” in regard to its permits. The court filing on Monday will address this issue.

See the video from the Megaload Forum and the power point presentations here: http://www.coalmarch.org/megaloads/

Also see All Against the Haul & Portland Rising Tide


---Coming Events:
   Monday February 10 Rally at Marion County Courthouse – Support Anti-Megaload activists filing suit against ODOT
   Friday-Saturday February 14-15 Transformation without Apocalypse Symposium OSU Corvallis
   Saturday February 22 No KXL Pledge of Resistance Training Portland
   Saturday-Sunday February 22-23 Citizens Climate Lobby Northwest Regional Conference
   February 27-March 2 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference U of O Law School Eugene
   Saturday March 1 Citizens Climate Lobby Monthly Meeting
---Take Action
   Submit Public Comments on Keystone XL Pipeline to State Department Now through March 7
   Megaloads – Send letters to ODOT demanding that citizen concerns have standing in re ODOT permits
--- News & Notes
   Salem Climate Activists were among thousands across the country saying No Keystone XL Pipeline
---Going Forward Let’s build a cohesive climate action movement in Salem
---Website, Facebook page and email address - check them out

Rally to Support Court Action against ODOT for Megaload Permits Monday February 10, 2014 10:00 am
Marion County Courthouse 100 High Street, SE
From Leonard Higgins with ActOnClimate.net. “Please join us at 10am Monday on the courthouse steps as we file in Marion County Circuit Court to require a court review of ODOT Megaload permits. Please bring your signs, warm clothes and you may need rain gear. We'll be taking pictures and video to help gather public input to ODOT. More information atwww.ActOnClimate.net.” 

Megaloads are enormous machines to be used for extracting and processing tar sands oil, one of the filthiest and most climate disrupting fossil fuels. Too large to fit under an Interstate overpass, these machines are being transported by barge then via rural roads to Alberta, CA. They can only travel at night because they block other traffic. After a years-long fight the Nez Perce Nation won an injunction against using roads on their lands in Idaho for these megaloads. To bypass the prohibited area, the most recent megaloads travelled through Eastern Oregon in late 2013 under permits from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Several people were arrested in attempts to block the megaloads (Leonard was arrested after chaining himself to one of these monster machines) and many more turned out to protest the megaloads in Umatilla, Pendleton and in support demonstrations in Portland. ODOT claims that the public has “no standing” in regard to its permits. The court filing on Monday will address this issue.
See the video from the Megaload Forum and the power point presentations here: http://www.coalmarch.org/megaloads/

Transformation without Apocalypse Symposium OSU Corvallis Friday-Saturday February 14-15
LaSells Stewart Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis. Free and open to the public.
Sponsored by the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State, the symposium will have a number of inspirational speakers including climate change activist Tim DeChristopher who spent over a year in federal prison for non-violently disrupting an auction of oil drilling leases on public land, authors Ursula K. LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Dean Moore, Rob Nixon and others, as well as workshops and a Radial Reimagining Fair involving over 30 organizations.  350 Corvallis will have a very creative exhibit showing choices for our future climate and their implications; they will also have a candlelight vigil before the evening session.
Learn more and register at: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/node/953

No KXL Resistance training Portland Saturday February 22, 2014 (rescheduled from January date)
If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved to carry tar sands oil from Canada into the US, more than 75,000 people have pledged to take part in non-violent civil disobedience. These actions are being led and coordinated by a coalition of organizations: CREDO, Rainforest Action Network and the Other 98% and endorsed by organizations including 350.org, Oil Change International, Hip Hop Caucus, Bold Nebraska and the Tar Sands Blockade.) - See more at: http://nokxl.org/who-are-we/#sthash.SmUujW9j.dpuf
In order to participate in a No KXL Pledge of Resistance action you must take part in a training for a specific location first. This training is for action in Portland. For more information, contact 350 Portland 503-705-1943.  If you want to coordinate travel from Salem, please contact me, Laurie Dougherty, at salem.climate.activists@gmail.com

Citizens Climate Lobby Pacific Northwest Regional Conference Saturday-Sunday February 22-23, 2014
Holladay Park Plaza, Portland Sliding scale Registration Fee For more information: http://cclnorthwest.wordpress.com/

32nd Public Interest Environmental Law Conference  U of O Eugene February 27-March 2
University of Oregon School of Law
This widely acclaimed conference provides a wealth of information and ideas for moving forward on environmental issues. The whole schedule has not been published yet, but James Hansen, former NASA climate researcher and still active advocate for urgent action based on the scientific knowledge of climate change, is one of the announced Keynote Speakers. Open to the public. Attend all or part.  This year’s theme is Running Into Running Out.

Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) Salem Chapter meeting Saturday March 1, 2014 from 9:30-Noon
Ike Box Café 299 Chemeketa Street NE (Cottage & Chemeketa Streets) Salem
Regular monthly meeting followed by letter writing.  “This rapidly growing organization working to slow climate change has shown how to lobby effectively for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.… (CCL) is a national group with over 180 local chapters, including dozens in the Pacific Northwest.” For more information, or to listen to an introductory phone call (every Wednesday at 5 pm) see www.citizensclimatelobby.org.
Submit Public Comments Opposing Keystone XL Pipeline to State Department Now through March 7.
Submit comments directly to the State Department here: http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/

Individual comments in your own words are most effective, however you can also sign on to the comment to be submitted by Friends of the Earth: http://action.foe.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15004

The State Department released its most recent Revised (revised several times due to flawed procedures) Environmental Impact Statement which again claims that the KXL pipeline will not add to global carbon emissions because companies will find another way to get the oil to market. This claim is made despite the fact that tar sands extraction (basically a strip mine operation) produces higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil drilling, rail transport is more expensive and dangerous, and other pipeline projects face serious opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry must make the final recommendation and President Obama must make the final decision. Tell them NO KXL.

Learn more about KXL with fact sheets & reports from NRDC
Killing more jobs than it creates, Dirtiest oil, Destined for export, links to many other reports

Megaloads Send letters to ODOT demanding that citizen concerns be taken into consideration before granting permits for megaloads on Oregon roads. See Coal March http://www.coalmarch.org/megaloads/ for information about Megaloads and advice for writing letters and where to send them. Please send a copy of your letters to Jim Powers in Albany, OR JimVsCO2@gmail.com so activists working on this can keep track of the campaign.

Thirty+ people turned out for Salem No KXL Vigil to send President Obama and John Kerry a message: No Keystone XL Pipeline on Monday February 3. Our vigil in front of the Marion County Democratic Party Headquarters was one of over 270 held across the country involving thousands of people.

GOING FORWARD There is building momentum among climate change activists up and down the Willamette Valley. In order to respond quickly and effectively to events and policy initiatives as they emerge, we need a cohesive, ongoing group in Salem.  In the next couple of weeks, I think we should have a meeting to pull such a group together. One option would be to form a chapter of 350.org (there are very active 350.org local groups in Corvallis and PDX).  CCL is becoming active here, but it’s focused solely on a revenue neutral carbon tax. We also need to move on other fronts: stopping coal exports, stopping the expansion of oil drilling and transport (by pipeline & rail), supporting renewable energy development and low carbon lifestyles and policies that encourage them. I have some ideas for a good video we could watch to kick off our meeting; let me know if you have suggestions.  Stay tuned for time and place. 

Salem Climate Activists website & blog.  Check it out, make comments and suggestions.  http://salemclimateactivists.wordpress.com/

Salem Climate Activists Facebook page. Check it out, submit ideas, share articles & links https://www.facebook.com/pages/Salem-Climate-Activists/210186279163882

Salem Climate Activists email address.  Let's keep in touch:  salem.climate.activists@gmail.com

January 26, 2014

Mass Line, Mass Work, Marta Harnecker, Willamette Reds & Why The Trotskyites Are Wrong

As you can guess from the title, this will be a long and meandering post. Nothing here will be particularly original or earth-shaking.

This post was inspired by a recent Willamette Reds meeting which was supposed to based on a discussion of Marta Harnecker's Instruments For Doing Politics. Present at our meeting were some folks from Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) and the International Organization for a Participatory Society. I hope that others will read the Harnecker pamphlet and that our friends from CCDS and IOPS will continue to show up at Willamette Reds meetings.

We did base some of our discussion on the reading. But, as with most discussions of this type, the discussion moved to questions which the reading did not address and which we seem to argue over at every meeting. At this point some of us feel like moving on. If this post has any original or novel thoughts at all, it is in my attempt to move things forward a bit.

Some Definitions

I want to start with some simple working definitions of "mass work" and "mass line" and go forward from there.

We get the most succinct picture of mass work and mass line from Mao in his 1944 essay "The United Front in Cultural Work." Mao said:

To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. Unless they are conscious and willing, any kind of work that requires their participation will turn out to be a mere formality and will fail.... There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for them.

This was drawn out by Mao in 1945 when he said:

Twenty-four years of experience tell us that the right task, policy and style of work invariably conform with the demands of the masses at a given time and place and invariably strengthen our ties with the masses, and the wrong task, policy and style of work invariably disagree with the demands of the masses at a given time and place and invariably alienate us from the masses. The reason why such evils as dogmatism, empiricism, commandism, tailism, sectarianism, bureaucracy and an arrogant attitude in work are definitely harmful and intolerable, and why anyone suffering from these maladies must overcome them, is that they alienate us from the masses.

and in 1948 when he said:

For over twenty years our Party has carried on mass work every day, and for the past dozen years it has talked about the mass line every day. We have always maintained that the revolution must rely on the masses of the people, on everybody's taking a hand, and have opposed relying merely on a few persons issuing orders. The mass line, however, is still not being thoroughly carried out in the work of some comrades; they still rely solely on a handful of people working in solitude. One reason is that, whatever they do, they are always reluctant to explain it to the people they lead and that they do not understand why or how to give play to the initiative and creative energy of those they lead. Subjectively, they too want everyone to take a hand in the work, but they do not let other people know what is to be done or how to do it. That being the case, how can everyone be expected to get moving and how can anything be done well? To solve this problem the basic thing is, of course, to carry out ideological education on the mass line, but at the same time we must teach these comrades many concrete methods of work.

These points are not true because Mao said them. They are true because human experience has tested them and born them out in practice over time. Liu Shaoqi expressed these points and gave them depth in an essay which can be read here.

In 2008 the Freedom Road Road Socialist Organization developed some helpful points on the mass line. That essay can be found here. In that essay the mass line is defined as  "the basic political/organization method of communists." The starting point given is Mao's famous quote that  “The people, and the people alone are the motive force in making world history.” We work from that point to a Marxist theory of knowledge, methods of work and leadership, the questions which come with working in united fronts and the whole matter of leadership.

In 2013  Jan Makandal gave this a specifically class-conscious emphasis in a helpful essay that can be read here. Most helpful for me in this essay is the line Makandal draws between mass line and mass work, on the one hand, and ultra-leftism on the other. I really like Maklandal's emphasis on focused collective work in the essay. And there is a good definition of mass line:

 A Mass Line is the principle guiding the relation between an organization and the masses, working people as a whole and the working class in particular. This principle determines that we go to the masses to return to the masses. What does that mean? It means we must have organizations rooted in the masses, organizations rooted in the struggle of the masses to go to the masses to return to the masses. It means we must take the correct ideas of the masses, synthesize them, and return them to the masses so the masses can identify with those ideas and apply them to their struggles. It means also to take erroneous ideas coming from the masses, synthesize them, define the correct way to combat them, outside any ultra leftist or opportunist orientation, so collectively the masses can reject these ideas in their struggles. But most importantly, it means to bring those ideas back to the masses so that the masses can exercise control over these organizations that are within their midst, these organizations that are in the mist of their struggles.

The Kasama Project brought up valid concerns about how the left might (mis)understand mass line and mass work in 2010. The folks at www.massline.info also took the trouble to compile some guiding documents on the issues of mass line and mass work. So a lot of work has been done in these areas and it shouldn't surprise anyone that a frame of reference has been created here. When it comes to organizing from a communist, left or progressive standpoint---and I know that these are really quite different standpoints to start from---we can say that the most basic work has already been done and the most important point or question is how to move forward from there.

It's necessary to ask ourselves what our mass line is and what our mass work consists of and to make the necessary adjustments over time in order to do our work better. And it's fair for us to ask everyone who shows up at our meetings what their mass line and mass work consist of.

Coming from a trade union background, many of us reject any kind of missionary activity or orientation and we have a clear or specific concept of organizing. Our concepts of organizing may or may not be correct or widely applicable and the concepts and contexts they arise out of and respond to may or may not be widespread. Still, there is a need for us to know our Marxism and take this in to the movements. It is a means of testing whether we are right or wrong and it is a barrier to opportunism and adventurism. Finally---and I think that this is true regardless of the specific methods we use to organize---there are some relatively easy victories that the left can win in the short-term and each victory will bring other victories as well. These points need to be stated up-front and I'll repeat some of these points later on in discussing values.

On the other hand, Harnecker makes two or three mistakes in her essay when she takes up what I am calling "mass work" and "mass line" here. First, she rejects using the phrase "the masses" because, to her, this "seems homogenizing" and she prefers to speak of "the people" or "the popular base." She uses this point to make a break with 20th century Marxism-Leninism.

I am left wondering how we have mass work and a mass line without the masses. I don't see the term as any more or less "homogenizing" than "the people" or "the popular base." Lenin at one point took the phrase with a grain of salt but also used it. So I'm left thinking that Harnecker is really trying to liquidate much of the experience of 20th century socialism. In fact, she uses "Stalinist" as a short-handed criticism in passing and also makes mention of "21st socialism" in passing. This seems to seal the point or concern that she is listing to the right, in an opportunist direction, by searching for a definition of socialism that is at odds with what we know real and existing socialism to be.

Harnecker is largely right, I think, in her use of military/political analogies. There is indeed a class and political war on internationally and the struggle has many components which can best be understood as aspects of either guerrilla or positional warfare. With all of this in mind, then, I tried to make two points at our Willamette Reds meeting. First, that organizing should be, at its base, for us a matter of knowing our Marxism and taking this in to the movements we are naturally parts of. Second, it may well be that a global strategy of encirclement is needed in order for the left to move forward dramatically in the US. That is to say that white skin privilege, the consolidation of an aristocracy of labor here and the consolidation of imperialism and imperialistic relations may have reached points where social change in the US will be as much a product of internal struggles as it will through the the isolation of the US internationally and the defeat of its allied and puppet regimes by popular forces and united fronts elsewhere. And if this is the case, then our anti-imperialist and global solidarity work needs to pick up.

I'll also make one passing note here. Opposition to the union bureaucracy by itself----in fact, the attitude that places one in opposition to nearly everything----is not a mass line and cannot become the touchstone of mass work without disastrous results. Bakunin's line that "I shall be an impossible person so long as those who are possible remain possible" has been transformed via Rosa Luxemburg's saying that "Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently" to the point that Trotskyites often misquote Lenin to the point or effect that ultra-leftism is the price to be paid for reformism or opportunism---and they do so with a particular smirk or snideness that justifies nihilism. We have almost 90 years of the Trotskyites railing against union bureaucrats as the centerpiece of their "mass line" or "mass work" in the trade unions, but where in the trade union movement have the Trotskyites assumed power or control for all of their ranting, done the necessary work that comes with taking power and hung in for the long haul? Where they have hung on the effect has been something terrible: Max Shactman, Martin Abern, Hal Draper, Jay Lovestone and James Burnham all did more than their share of damage to the working class movement.

Softball, Drinking Beer, The Democrats, Kshama Sawant, The Youth And The Machinists Union 

It seems to me that the answer to talk of mass line, mass work, organizing and so-called "hard Marxism" or "Stalinism" in our local socialist groups is to fall back on a number of "unsolvable" problems or frustrations that we probably all feel but experience in different ways.

There is much concern that the local left is rapidly graying and that we represent particular sets of concerns and particular methods of work which began to take shape perhaps 50 or 60 years ago and which were irrelevant by the 1990s. With this comes much conjecturing about where the young people are, what their concerns are and why they're not joining us.

There is a worry that is alternately expressed to the effect that we either do not have enough fun and do not socialize enough or that we don't know how to talk to "average" people and meet people at the points which are most important to them.

There is the (seemingly unending) discussion of our relationship to the Democrats. In the hands of ultra-leftists this becomes something like a rant against the union bureaucracy, the implication being that it is only the alliance between the Democrats and the union bureaucracy which is holding back a revolutionary movement within the trade unions.

And there is, more recently, some discussion about what happened at Boeing in the Puget Sound and the positioning of the union leadership and rank-and-file there.

Perhaps alongside of this we must also mention the conversations taking place on climate change, the tar sands issue and military recruiting. I think of these conversations in a very different category as they arise because we can see some movement here, locally and nationally. Perhaps we can also say that a certain point has been reached in conversations about environmentalism. For some people the worst news that really does confront us is both a springboard for organizing and a recognition that we have been right all along. For others, the emphasis on the worst news before us, at least as how the leading environmentalist groups have presented up to now, has been disempowering and demobilizing.

In a much different category there is a fascination with Kshama Sawant as the "first socialist" elected in a long time, the Ty Moore campaign in Minneapolis and the chances of repeating the Sawant win in other places.

Absent are real discussions on race, sexual preference and identity and gender and on the intersectionality of race, gender and class. This marks a fatal weakness in how we see and approach the world.

If there is an answer to the question of why youth do not participate in our groups as we would like them to it may be found in our mass line and mass work. What concretely is being done to engage with young people and how are the results of this engagement being analyzed and used to improve our work? What is the line and what is the work that we start with and where do we end up?

The young people I engage with weekly range in age from 18 to 25. They have, more or less, the same concerns that I did when I was in that age group. What is different is that they don't have the optimism and experience that being on the left in those years gave me. But if we don't have optimism and experience, how can we transmit it to others and/or build a movement that has optimism and experience as two of its principles and attractions?

Those of us who come out of trade union backgrounds have more time and ability to interact with "average" people than others do, perhaps. I say this with four points in mind, however. First, the use of "average" to describe anyone is certainly "homogenizing"---and is certainly much more so than using "the masses." Second, the labor left locally does not engage people on our terms in a structured way. If there is an absence of engagement, this is our fault. Why have we not built at least a local Jobs with Justice that is viable and sustainable?  Third, the skills we learn in the unions having to do with outreach, conversations and organizing are easily taught and learned. Is there a desire and a mechanism to teach these skills or not? Fourth, why do we tie this to socializing and "having fun" and then tie these things to drinking and sports?

There are negative stereotypes at work here. First, there is the stereotype of the left as funless and overly serious. This just doesn't hold up to reality. Second, there is the stereotype of "average" people, and especially of "average" working class people. Again, the stereotype doesn't meet reality. Working class people do all kinds of things with our time. The left should attract the most thoughtful, the most engaged, the most serious and the most  militant workers. Some of those people may drink, and some may play softball, but you can also look for us in union meetings, at concerts, in libraries, in the forests, in social movements not clearly connected to class struggles and in places of worship.

As an organizing principle, I think, it is demobilizing to emphasize drinking and sports when you have concrete political tasks before you to accomplish. Leadership, which is all-important to movement-building, functions best through example and through hands-on work. In our circumstances, then, good left leadership has to inspire people to put behind them the things which tie them to the worst aspects of this society and challenge them to do more and better for themselves and others. That means getting people to read and discuss and debate. Maybe these are not "fun" activities, but if our people do not learn how to do this we will not advance.

Regarding the connections between the Democrats and the unions, there really isn't much to say at this point. I suspect that the people who bring this up most often and harp on it from an oppositional point of view are doing the work of the bourgeoisie, knowingly or unknowingly. It has become a divisive argument---not even a conversation---in which the oppositional side rejects all commonsense.

No one on my side of the debate is wed to the Democrats or to the union bureaucracy, whatever that is. Still and all, we make the following points:

*The most advanced political position is usually the one we can organize most people around
*A socialist can run as a socialist within most Democratic races
*At this stage practical united front activity against the right is most important
*The core groups which are most key to building a revolutionary movement are generally represented within the Democratic party
*A patient strategy is needed to advance real radical political work and move the center leftwards and the left towards communism

Before giving in to the oppositionalism of the Trotskyites or the defeatism of the social democrats---two sides of the same coin----we need to take up these points and determine if they are true or not. Certain questions go with this and some of those questions are:

*Was it better or worse for imperialism that Humphrey lost and Nixon won in 1968? What was the role of the left in that election?
*Was the main left support for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 correct or incorrect? What opportunities did those campaigns present for the left and for labor and people of color?
*Is there an opportunity to build unity and consolidate a left movement based on the DeBlasio victory in New York, the national push by Bernie Sanders, the work done by Gayle McLaughlin in Richmond, Ca., Ras Baraka in Newark and Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, Miss. or not? What might make this building work possible and what might make it difficult?
*Have Americans ever opted for labor, progressive or radical movements when other forms of addressing problems were available to them?

The situation at Boeing and with the main union there, the IAM, has been tragic. The labor movement is reeling as the truth of how this settlement may impact collective bargaining nationally for many years to come hits home. It is not just that the IAM's top leadership tended to sound much like the company in forcing the settlement, or that workers were effectively whipsawed and played off against one another or that workers were forced into a pragmatic choice between giving concessions or perhaps striking without the support of top union leadership, but that the IAM leadership wasn't thinking in either a traditional trade union way or along the lines of broader working class interests when they intervened and got the company's offer passed with a razor-thin majority. A signal was sent to corporate America that contracts can be reopened and renegotiated, workers can be easily divided, guaranteed wages and pensions are not key fighting issues and even narrow craft interests won't be aggressively contested by union leadership.

The Trotskyites have been among the first to take the most oppositional tone in their analysis of the settlement. Calls for the use of eminent domain during the early days of the fightback at Boeing from that part of the left were badly misplaced and are examples of misleadership. The Trotskyite analysis since then has been only oppositional in character, not giving much or any historical background and not taking up the questions of craft unionism, struggles for workers' control among skilled workers, how communities form at work and how these communities can be alternately inclusive and exclusive and how this influences a union's bargaining and political options. Instead, a "one size fits all" analysis has been offered.

This happens as people---as workers---look at the Boeing settlement with much dismay and many questions about the way forward under new and unfavorable conditions. Even the AFL-CIO leadership shows signs of being willing to through the IAM national leaders under the bus. And some labor leaders are talking about trying to regain political momentum and win politically what has been lost with the disappearance of industrial and pattern bargaining. Under these conditions is it correct to call for a total break with all union leaders and the labor-Democratic alliance? Or is it more correct to use this opportunity to talk affirmatively about the need for classwide unionism and lead the charge politically and in bargaining other contracts and patiently work through the options immediately available to us? Which approach will have the most success among the most progressive trade unionists?

I have questioned elsewhere on this blog some of the key points surrounding the Sawant victory in Seattle. I have not meant to take away anything from the win there, but the points which I have repeated without answer are these: was this not a victory due in large part to Occupy and labor organizing? was this victory not made possible in part by Sawant adopting reformist slogans and issues? is this the content of "revolutionary socialism" now? what will Sawant's relationship now be to the Democrats?

More serious questions have arisen as we have looked at the Ty Moore campaign in Minneapolis. Is it really okay for a white leftist to run against a liberal person of color in a race where there has previously been a color bar established? Is there or is there not a possibility of using Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for progressive ends at this point? Is there a possibility or not of forming a united front for social change and against the right in the wake of the election? Why or why isn't the will there to do this?


The discussion at our last Willamette Reds meeting turned from Harnecker's writing to discussing our values and the place of values in our work. This is a good conversation to have. It's unfortunate that Harnecker did not do some work in this area.

Many years ago I did values clarification work in an industrial city and among industrial workers just as industry was collapsing around us. The unions were disarmed and helpless, there was no existing political alternative to the entrenched political machine and all of the forms of community stability and survival were quickly weakened. This seemed most apparent to me in the unions and in the churches. The suicide rate shot up.

The group I was a part of moved very quickly into organizing, but it was not the mass and regional organizing that was most needed then. We concentrated instead on putting together a relatively small group focused on taking militant actions which we hoped would force the political, church and labor establishments to act positively. This meant intensive work on clarifying our own values and building our capacity to take dramatic risks and survive the consequences. It also meant analyzing and exposing the weakest points of connection between the capitalists and church and labor leaders.

Many of us ended up going to jail as a result of taking part in on-going protests and disruptive activities. Several people lost their jobs for siding with us and have remained blacklisted since that time. One struggle led to another and so we were involved in efforts to democratize two leading unions. The power structure conceded very little in the face of our protests or in response to the more politicized left and labor groups working within the system.

The group I was with erred in not thinking regionally and politically and by being so dogmatic about the matter of values and the necessity to take symbolic and disruptive actions constantly. We took on a general anti-leftism and could be macho in our speech and actions. We tried to be rooted in both the churches and in the labor movement but found it difficult to root ourselves firmly anywhere.

Still and all, I learned a great deal about values, organizing, taking action and class in those days. Today I would frame the discussion around values, class and organizing in very different terms than I did 30 years ago. Today I say that the core values of commitment, courage, optimism, leadership and confidence come to us in their modern form directly from the Black Liberation Movement. I would also say that most good and lasting organizing is based in real human relationships and that such relationships always entail some vulnerability and risk. Some people never get past the phase of forming relationships and living with vulnerabilities while others get so involved in actions that the action become symbolic or are reduced to acts of witnessing and they lose sight of organizing. We need to distinguish phases or steps in the process and we need a collective to push us forward. This is where Marxism and criticism/self-criticism are invaluable.

It seems almost anachronistic to talk about values on the left and in radical ways---and to see leadership especially as a value---but it is necessary to do this, and especially so in the context of the Black Liberation Movement. It is a key area in which white people have to learn from Black people.

The "Marxism" of the ultra-left and the social democrats rejects all of this.

And the conversation does not end there. We certainly can test these values in our political struggles and in our mass work and mass line, but where else are they tested? Where is the real sincerity of our approach and the existential nature of what we try to be tested?

I still believe, as I believed 30 years ago, that we are tested most in the small and ordinary situations that we face daily and in the relationships which we have with others that we probably tend to take for granted. A person who cannot maintain sobriety is unlikely to be a reliable political comrade regardless of how much union or political work he does. A person who curses constantly and swaggers through life will not do good collective work. A person who cannot find balance in her personal life needs to find the right level of order before taking on political or movement tasks. A person who cannot work out a balanced commitment to another person or a family or a community probably can't work out a healthy relationship to an idea or to a party or movement. People whose first instinct is to walk out when they experience difficulties in their personal relationships will not stick around to see a revolution through. The capitalist logic we have been inculcated with works very much against healthy personal relationships and also against social relationships and political organizing. Trotskyism and ultra-leftism reflect capitalist morality to the extent that they pull people away from cooperation with a "my-way-or-the-highway" approach. Read Zhou Enlai's essay "Guidelines for Myself" to better understand these points.If this seems too esoteric or foreign then reflect on what so many of us have learned in the recovery movements and/or in the civil rights movement: maintaining balance, commitment and humility are key.

Something else that is crucial is at stake here. There is a tendency among some of us to go chasing off after our myths of "the workers" or "the people" or "the masses" and taking Mao (and maybe Harnecker) too literally and without some critical thinking. I did this 30 years ago and shared that path with many others. Politics devolves or dissolves into "values" and needed balance is lost. A correct approach is to hold that values and politics push each other forward in the context of social struggles just as social struggles and individual challenges can move one another forward. The near-guarantee of this working harmoniously is the existence of a revolutionary party which turns workers into worker-intellectuals and intellectuals into a force capable of fully serving the people. When the social democrats and the ultra-left reject forming such a vanguard party they are really saying that they have no faith in the lived experiences of working class people, in our values and in the potential of our values to fundamentally change life. Anything and everything which liquidates political organization and building working class leadership needs to be rejected. That said, we need to remember that organization and leadership must be drawn from many quarters.

The conversation about values has been appropriated by the middle-class. It needs to be taken back by the working class and the conversation needs to be led by Black workers.

People of my generation got some of these lessons from the places of worship that we attended as kids or from the military or from working in fully socialized production. Youth today do not have these opportunities in the main. I am less concerned about where someone learned organizing and relationship building and more concerned about how they take those lessons into the left. This gives the left a challenge and a role which rests fully in our political DNA: we can be the school that teaches healthy relationship building and organizing in a heartless and atomizing world. Surely the best young people will be attracted to that.

Tying It Together

What if Willamette Reds and Corvallis CCDS took on just a couple of regional projects and focused entirely on them? What if this meant specializing in a certain area of work, developing expertise, dividing the work so that all tasks were shared and everyone had the opportunity to grow and shine a bit? What if it came to require monthly analysis of the work and changes of course as were needed? What if it meant everyone taking on a teaching role at some level and if everyone were learning together as well? What if we took on these projects as Marxists and talked affirmatively about shared working values? What if we worked towards building a united front with those we disagreed with and formally commited, again on the basis of shared values and a Marxist approach, to seeing our allies through every step of the struggle without abandoning them? What if it meant taking dramatic actions and risks and if we had to do gut checks and support one another in the face of repression? What if we approached this with the mass line now taken by CCDS nationally at first and then built on this line locally and nationally?

What if all of this work and thinking shook us to the core of our white identities and caused us to question white skin privilege? Could we survive that?

I think that this would be a sure path to victories and growth, especially among young people. I think that the first people to criticize and react against it would be others on the left who seem vested in the left not organizing outwards. I'm not sure that most of us are fully capable of making this transition, but I think that we need to try.

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January 18, 2014

The Boeing Case Study: When A Union's International Calls The Shots, The Rank And File Lose

 In November, the International Association Of Machinists (IAM) District Lodge 751 showed the labor movement what a fightback looks like. The machinists organized, rallied, and received solidarity for their struggle against Boeing from unions throughout the Seattle area. Boeing wanted major concessions in the midst of their current contract and used threats to leave Washington and build the 777X in another state.
Boeing’s demands for big concessions on pension and health benefits started only days after Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee signed the biggest state tax break in history into law—a package that will give Boeing up to $8.7 billion in benefits through 2040.
The union called their bluff and rejected Boeing’s proposal 67% to 33%. Union members across the country took heart in the machinists’ victory. They are a union that has gone on strike five times, and Boeing was now coercing their members to accept concessions that included ending their defined benefit pensions. Since the current contract had not yet elapsed when this threat took place, the workers could not legally strike.
After the machinists had rejected the concessions, Boeing commenced a high-profile cross-country jaunt, meeting with local politicians in other states concerning deals to move operations to their areas. Armed with a renewed threat to relocate, they then came back to Seattle with another proposal for the machinists. The local leadership rejected the new offer, stating that it was not substantially different than the one they had just rejected. Thomas Wroblewski, president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, said, “Because of the massive takeaways, the union is adamantly recommending members reject this offer.”
District 751’s leaders opposed Boeing’s demand that the machinists approve a deal that would freeze their pensions in favor of less generous, riskier 401(k) plans, and eliminate pensions for new hires. These leaders also voiced dismay that the deal would increase out-of-pocket health spending (by as much as $4000 over 2011 levels over the life of the contract), and that it would include raises of merely 1 percent every other year.
But in December, the IAM International leadership stepped in and forced the local to hold another vote. They scheduled the vote for Friday, Jan. 3, before many members had returned from vacations during the holiday plant shutdown. Many machinists also say they were not being given enough time to study and discuss the revised proposal. The new vote was announced four days before Christmas. It passed 51% to 49%. The revised contract will ban workers from striking until 2024. To sweeten the taste of the concessions they demanded, the company will give each worker a “bonus” of $10,000 later this month, and another $5000 in 2020.
Jim Levitt, a 35-year machinist at Boeing, described the voting procedure in Everett, Wash., the location of the largest airplane assembly plant in the world: “Members needed an eligibility card, sent to them by mail, to obtain a ballot to vote on the contract. A huge number did not receive the card in time. They thus needed to obtain a ‘good standing’ card, requiring a stop at the front desk in the union hall. Problem: only two or three office employees were available at the Everett hall. There are only two or three computers for them to use to check the necessary rosters in any case. Result: thousands of union members spent two hours or more waiting in line out in the cold outside the union hall. I’m astonished there wasn’t an explosion.”
Jim Bearden, a spokesperson for IAM District Lodge 751, told the media that Boeing production workers “faced tremendous pressure from every source imaginable. The politicians and the media, and others, who truly didn’t have a right to get into our business, were aligned against us and did their best to influence our folks’ votes.”
Connie Kelliher, the IAM District 751 director of communications, commented that one-third of the workers were on vacation when the vote was called. Many members were still on vacation the day of the vote. Less than half the members voted, and many are calling for a revote or a recount.
She noted that by forcing a second vote the International gave Boeing time to start their campaign against the machinists. Starting from November, after the first vote was taken, they did a major campaign including round-the-clock radio ads telling machinists they would lose their jobs and be responsible for the financial ruin for the state.
Thousands of flyers flooded the factories in the days right before the vote. And because there is a contract in place for the next two years, the right to strike was taken away if there was a “no” vote. “We did not have that weapon,” Kelliher stated.
The request for the revote has to go to the International to decide, and they are the ones who chose the date in the first place.
Boeing executives chose to remain silent the day after the Machinists’ vote. But the Seattle Times stated that the top officials from the IAM National Headquarters who were in Gov. Jay Inslee’s office were “almost giddy.” “It’s going to be sunny in Seattle for another 40 or 50 years,” gushed Rich Michalski, who represented the International Association of Machinists (IAM) national headquarters in the 777X negotiations.
“Boeing is going to be here forever now. It’s all about being able to compete with the rest of the world,” he added, sounding just like a Boeing executive.
Local aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton says that though the 777X deal puts this state in a better position to win the work of building future Boeing airplanes, it’s “hyperbole” to talk about guaranteeing future work. When the jet-maker launches its next new airplanes, likely a 757 replacement around 2019 or a 737 replacement around 2020, “Boeing will take us through this all over again,” he said.
“Boeing will come back to the unions and say, ‘Give us more concessions,’ ” Hamilton said. “It will come back to the state and say, ‘Give us more tax breaks.’
Wilson Ferguson, president of Local A (the largest local within District Lodge 751), stated in a message to his members, “There is a lot of talk of pulling out of the International, that is a self-defeating proposition. Our best strategy is to remove Buffy (IAM President Tom Buffenbarger) from office. That campaign starts today. The loss of our pension is a big blow. Not only to us but to workers across the country.”  The new system places more of the risk of retirement security on the workers, leaving the company largely risk-free. It will match employee contributions up to a certain level, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t seek to cut that commitment in the future.
John Kleiboeker, a Boeing worker of 16 years and the president of the Machinists local Lodge 63 told The Oregonian, “I’ve got 15 years to retirement and I am looking at a loss of $250,000”.
There will also be a loss to the white-collar workers at Boeing, organized in the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA). Those 21,000 local members will clearly be next in line to have their pensions frozen when the union’s contract expires in 2016. Weakening Boeing’s strongest union will make SPEEA’s position much weaker.
Perhaps the most shocking concession of all—given the claims of politicians and IAM officials that this offer had to be accepted to preserve jobs building the 777X—is contract language that allows Boeing to outsource union work. It reads: “Boeing may contract or outsource certain 777X wing fabrication and assembly work packages in whole or part.”
This contract creates a new “normal.” Why wait until a contract is expiring? Just tell the union that it has to make concessions, and that it has to be done now, not during contract negotiations, in order to eliminate the right to strike.
Clearly, the anger against the International’s role in this travesty is boiling over. Jay Cronk and Karen Asuncion are running a reform campaign that calls for: Reducing the size and salaries of the Executive Council (Buffenbarger’s 2012 salary was $304,114, and nine other IAM International employees were paid more than $265,000), holding union elections every four years, ending practices of nepotism and cronyism in the union, and stopping spending on luxury items like $1 million a year to maintain the union’s Lear jet, among other proposals. For their complete platform, see IAMreform.org.
These are important reforms but hopefully after the Boeing defeat they will expand their platform to include new strategies that will be based in a class-struggle perspective that would have said to Boeing officials: You can’t escape us! If you flee to South Carolina or Alabama, we’ll follow you there, organize the workers, and make your corporate lives a living hell!
Boeing and the Machinists’ Union, Disappointed but Not Surprised…
 How could it be otherwise? Reopened contract? One week to vote? Election forced on them by the International, spearheaded by a retired (not accountable to future elections, former vice-president of the IAM). Boom. Politicians pressuring, pension stealing, health costs rising, eight-year concessionary contract accepted.
Giving up pensions for new hires means no one will have them in the future. It is also part of the relentless attack on unions that has been going on since Reagan’s destruction of PATCO in 1981. It is union busting on the installment plan, with a long-term perspective that will never stop. It is part of the plan to pauperize the entire working class and turn the clock back to the time of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and debtors’ prisons.
It is corporations and their government using the same divide-and-conquer strategy that pits worker against worker, union member against union member, local unions against international, region against region, young against old, Black against White or White against Brown (Arizona’s SB 1070), the future against the present, right-to-work states against closed shop, Washington against Utah, Texas, and South Carolina.
Unions, including my local, have been reeling from this strategy for years, most years, accepting concessions because of strategies that promote meek collaboration instead of courageous fight-back. On the shop floor it is “look out for yourself” individualistic self-interest instead of collective self-defense of all members. It is business unionism (you elected us to lead, go away and let us lead) instead of reliance on our collective strength.  In the political arena, our strategy means accepting a so-called compromise between Democrats (supposedly pro-worker) and Republicans (pro-corporate) where working people lose every time.
These types of concessionary contracts and losses will continue until unions reject individualistic self-interest, build independent political action and embrace solidarity of the entire working class.
“Workers of the world awaken. Break your chains, demand your rights. All the wealth you make is taken, by exploiting parasites. Shall you kneel in deep submission from your cradle to your grave? Is the height of your ambition to be a good and willing slave?”—Joe Hill
The assault on us, the working people, will never end until we end it.
Eduardo Quintana is a retired former president of IAM Local Lodge 933, Tucson, Ariz.
For Socialist Action

January 12, 2014

Salem, OR: January 15, 2014 event

Transformative Social and Economic Change in the 21st Century:
Building a More Resilient Future

with Noah Enelow, EcoTrust

Wednesday, January 15th
at Louck's Auditorium in the Salem Public Library
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Suggested donation: $5/person

The ability of social, ecological, and economic systems to support human well-being and provision for fundamental human needs like food, water, and energy is increasingly uncertain. More than 6 billion people share this planet and every major living system in decline.

It will require extraordinary effort and innovation to meet human development needs in the twenty-first century. We need to create greater capacities for resilience in the social, ecological, and economic systems we depend on to live well. To foster those capacities, we will have to adopt new ways of thinking, acting, and organizing our social and economic activities. The challenges are enormous, but so too are the opportunities to harness the wealth and ingenuity of humanity in the twenty-first century to create a far better world.

January 6, 2014

Kerry proposals aim to liquidate Palestinian right to return

 US Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to liquidate the right of Palestinian refugees to return through floating plans for “resettlement” in Australia and other countries, warned Dr. Rabah Muhanna, member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Kerry’s role in the region is working hand in hand with the Zionist occupation and its plans for Jerusalem and Palestine as a whole, Muhanna said, stating that Palestinian officials must end their involvement with the negotiations scheme. The goal of this project is to attempt to provide legitimacy for the Zionist occupation and its existence, directly or indirectly, in the Jordan Valley, the continued expansion of settlements and the control of major areas of the West Bank through settlement blocs, Muhanna said. Kerry’s treacherous resettlement plans are aimed at liquidating the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the core of the national cause, he added.

He noted that Saudi Arabia and Jordan and other Arab regimes are playing a role in supporting Kerry’s plan to concede Palestinian national rights. Muhanna urged mass Palestinian action to demand that Palestinian officials reject these dangerous plans and negotiations that will lead nowhere except for the threat of the birth of a new Oslo accord.


January 3, 2014

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio And His New Police Chief

On the west coast socialists and their supporters were celebrating the victory of Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council.  In the midwest we were celebrating socialist activist Ty Moore’s 42% of the vote in a very close race against establishment favorite Alondra Cano for a Minneapolis City Council seat. In Lorraine County, Ohio the rank and file union members pressured the Labor Council to run independent Labor Party candidates against the Democrats and succeeded in winning 24 Labor party council seats.

But the silence from the Liberal/Progressive mainstream press, television, websites and blogs was deafening during these campaigns. After the victory of Kshama Sawant there was finally some coverage. Even the close race in Minneapolis had a radio black out of the city council position in which Cano won a close race.  It was generally thought that the radio stations were concerned that if they interviewed Cano (the victor) they would have to point out how she almost lost to a socialist activist.

On the other hand the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City was proclaimed the agent of real change as he had campaigned against Stop-And-Frisk and against economic inequality in the Big Apple.  He received 97% of the Black vote.

So those who believed in his campaign promises must have been shocked when their new mayor announced that he was appointing Bill Bratton as Police Chief.  They knew him.  He had been police chief under Rudy Guiliani 1994-1996. An Amnesty International 1996 report on Bratton’s NYPD found “A serious problem with police brutality and excessive force.  Racial disparities appear to be most marked in cases involving deaths in custody and questionable shootings.”

In a December 5, 2013 New Yorker interview Bratton talked about Stop-And-Frisk. “Stop-And-Frisk is a basic tool of policing.  If cops are not doing Stop-And-Frisk, they are not doing their jobs.  If you do away with Stop-And-Frisk the city will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”

Both Bratton and Stop-And-Frisk are hated in communities of color.  In June 2012 there was a protest of New York City policing policies. Five thousand marched to Mayor Bloomberg’s home. On December 27th there was another protest this time it was against the new mayor’s appointment of Bill Bratton.  And this time it was in Harlem on 125th street. It was sponsored by Parents Against Police Brutality, Repression and Criminalization Of A Generation. Nellie Bailey an activist with the Harlem Tenant Council “This is a confirmation of the neoliberal pact that Mayor de Blasio will pursue.  This reassures the plutocrats that he has matters firmly in hand with the Black community and people of color...Bratton was the architect of Stop-And-Frisk”.

There were more shocks to come for those hoping for meaningful change from the Bloomberg administration.  Alicia Glen, a Goldman Sachs executive was appointed Deputy Mayor Of Housing And Economic Development.  The only response the mayor gave to his confused supporters was, “I don’t care about stereotypes or assumptions”.

For Budget Director, De Blasio chose Dean Fulsein who is experienced in negotiating many cutbacks in public services for past Democratic and Republican governors. He will begin negotiating with city unions, who are seeing $7 Billion in retroactive pay on long expired contracts.  De Blasio proclaimed himself “a fiscal conservative” at a meeting of business leaders.

Some people will say the new Mayor has to do all these things. But we know that is not true. We have an example in Seattle of a different way of governing. Someone who is unapologetic about being an advocate for the working class and understands that social change happens when social movements are independent of the two major parties. This was illustrated today when the new mayor-elect of Seattle announced that he was going to grant by executive order a $15 floor for city workers. Socialist City Councilor-elect Kshama Sawant quickly issued a statement congratulating him on his action but reminding everyone that this was only happening because of the growing movement to fight for $15. She then went on to say that this new floor for city workers should also be extended to all city contractors.  And by the way we are continuing to work to see a city wide minimum wage of $15 an hour for every worker in Seattle.  It is clear that we will see someone who will govern the same way she campaigned.  And this is why we should all support her calling for 100 independent working class candidates to run for office across the country in 2014.

January 1, 2014

Judge Signs Order To Free Lynne Stewart

 Jeff Mackler is the West Coast coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.
Lynne Stewart will be free! On Dec. 31, Federal District Court Judge John Koeltl ordered that the crusading attorney be released from prison. The judge’s order stated, “The defendant’s terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction” in the time she must serve of her sentence.
According to Lynne Stewart’s attorney Bob Boyle, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at long last had requested that Judge Koeltl grant Lynne compassionate release. Koeltl had previously stated in court that if the BOP made such a recommendation he would be inclined to approve it post haste.
As we go to press, Lynne’s husband, Ralph Poynter, was with Lynne at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. Lynne should be released into Ralph’s care, and is expected to reside in Brooklyn at the home of her son.
To date prison medical experts predict that Lynne’s Stage 4 cancer may allow her some 12-18 months to live. But Sloan Kettering Hospital has pledged to take charge of Lynne’s care immediately and to do their best to retard this metastasized cancer and extend her life even longer.
A million thanks to everyone who joined the international effort to press the BOP to grant compassionate release. We have always believed in Lynne’s total innocence and fought against the malicious 10-year sentence imposed on her for faithfully representing her client, the “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rachman, an Egyptian cleric who was similarly a victim of a U.S. government frame-up on terrorism charges.
Lynne was originally convicted on charges of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism stemming from her release of a press statement on behalf of Rachman. This alleged violation of a government-issued Special Administrator Measure (SAM), even if valid, usually carries with it the most minor of punishments—perhaps a letter of reprimand from a government official and a ban on attorney-client visits for a few months. In Lynne’s case, Judge Koeltl, who originally had sentenced her to 28 months in prison in 2005, extended the sentence to 10 years after federal prosecutors appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals with the argument that 28 months was too lenient.
Lynne should not have served a single day in prison. Having made that clear, her impending freedom will be nevertheless be our collective victory. Having her home, safe, and in the loving care of family and friends is the best that we could have hoped for in these very difficult times when civil liberties are being trashed as never before in recent memory.
Lynne’s release did not come easy, Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people demanded it—repeatedly calling, writing, and e-mailing the BOP and Justice Department head Eric Holder. We celebrate this victory and wish everyone well for a fighting New Year, where we must continue the battle for justice for all political prisoners and all who suffer the plagues of oppression that the U.S. government spreads around the world.