I asked my question: “How do you know the right thing to do?”

I was being allowed to help interview several candidates for a position of leadership in the progressive movement. We posed several questions to them, and that was mine.

All of the interviewees answered unhesitatingly, as they had with all the other questions. One of them began with, “My grandpappy used to say… and went on to spin a tale of rural wisdom.” Another began, “I have always felt… and went on to talk about being consistent in one’s attitudes.” The good one, my clear choice for the position, answered thusly:

“There is no right thing to do. To suggest following some “right thing” is to reveal our reliance on the world of abstract ideas, religion, superstition or, in plain language, our subjective feelings. No “right thing” exists, but some choices are better than others. When alternatives are weighed, I strive to get the best choice that fits the given time and situation for working families. Working families are our North Star, our guide.”

I thought that was a very good answer for someone who wanted leadership in the progressive movement. If we had been interviewing for something else, the answer might have been simpler. For example, if we were looking for someone to lead a corporation, they would have all said that “increasing shareholder wealth” was their guide.

My favorite then added more value to her response: “I have to add to my answer about finding the better choices. While I am choosing the better option, I have to also keep in mind that unfolding developments are the only sure way to test my choice. One cannot be certain of the future. When we make a choice, we have to remain open to pulling back, admitting failure, and gearing up to try something else.”

The other candidates disqualified themselves because they had not realized that mine was a trick question. There is no “right thing.” There are only choices that are better or worse. Additionally, even with the best of intentions, we may have to choose again.

–Gene Lantz

You can hear me on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

How do we choose what to do next? The movement for progressive change is in an upsurge. Most of us have far more opportunities than we can use.

Our little discussion group has been examining the current situation and some of the ideas of the great revolutionary thinkers of the past. We’ve been using the simple programmed modules at http://lilleskole.us/school.

Before today, we had already enlarged our understanding of “class” and asserted that only the working class can make the fundamental change that is so necessary. A good guideline for deciding what to do is: “Think of the class.”

Today, we discussed unions

The great revolutionary thinkers valued unions because they are a great training ground for the working class.

In America today, unions are the largest, richest, and most influential progressive organizations. Unlike most other progressive organizations, they are solidly working class. It is noteworthy that most union leaders come directly from the rank and file.

It is also important that American unions are the bedrock of democracy. They are formally democratic. Nearly all their problems could be solved if they had member participation.

BUT

BUT some activists misunderstand the nature of unions. Union leaders aren’t revolutionaries. They generally don’t take the offense on social questions or on any questions at all. Whole American organizations dedicate themselves to trying to turn unions into revolutionary battering rams.

The best and worst thing you can say about unions, like any other member organization, is that they represent their members. Do not confuse a union, or even all the unions, with the working class. They are a subset of the working class. Even if all working families were union members, they still wouldn’t be revolutionary, because they would still be divided.

Only 3 unions today support impeachment: National Nurses United, the Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees. Unions are divided or waffling on “Medicare for All.”

The great revolutionary thinkers of the past prized unions, or what they often called “combinations.” BUT they called them “Great training grounds for revolution.”

Rosa Luxemburg’s German revolutionaries, who were very close to the Russian Bolsheviks, caved in to the trade unions and removed the idea of a general strike out of their program. Luxemburg was furious.

The IWW’s program was to organize everybody into One Big Union, then take power, presumably through a general strike. It sounds so simple and easy, but is it?

For next time, we’ll go directly into how activists can decide what to do next. Knowing what to do next is the very definition of leadership. One of our activists has been studying the relationship between everyday reform activities and revolutionary work. She will lead our discussion on December 15. The Little School has no material on “Reform Or Revolution,” but the classical work of Rosa Luxembourg is on-line at:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/index.htm

Let me know if you would like to join us.

Gene Lantz

Contact me at genelantz19@gmail.com. I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Choose your favorite coming disaster:

  • Environment
  • Economy
  • War
  • Democracy

Strangling and drowning

Speeches and articles about the environment tend toward dry statistics, but the facts of drought, famine, and flood are talking louder. It’s hard to ignore climate change when your house is washing away.

Environmentalists have always been with us. They range from the driest academics to the eco-terrorists. Their arguments often involve human health, endangerment of species, and the general disappearance of our way of living. Their message grows more relevant with every weather report.

Poverty and famine

The latest figures indicate that 8 men, 6 of them in the United States, hold more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population. Rich men live 15 years longer. Inequality is rampant and growing. A few rich families enjoy untold luxuries while most children are underfed!

Contrary to what most economists tell us, the reason is deeper than what we can learn from a quick look at recent economics. Most of the analyses we see indicate that everything would be fine if we could just get back to the conditions in America in, say, 1955. Piketty debunks them.

Thomas Piketty’s collection of data shows clearly that the American situation around World War II was nothing normal. In fact, it was a complete exception to the rest of capitalist history. Except for that short period, inequality has always risen under capitalism. Piketty concludes not only that capitalism creates inequality, but that it always will.

Murder and genocide

Wealthy people protect and extend their wealth, just as they always have, with armed police and soldiers. No matter the prayers that we deliver and the songs that we sing, wars are caused by economic inequality. As inequality rises, so does the danger of war.

World War I and World War II, and all the little wars before, between, and since, were basically fought for economic advantage. The sole reason that World War III has not already started is the understanding that nuclear war will have losers but no winners. Even so, threats of nuclear belligerency have become so common that we barely notice them. And non-nuclear war takes up much more of our current history than peacetime.

Just because war is impossible doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Isolation and political impotence

The majority of us, here in America we casually call ourselves the 99%, are increasingly dissatisfied with the suffering side of inequality. In several countries today, the “have nots” are revolting against the governments that protect the “haves.” Today’s news talks about Colombia, France, and Bolivia, but they could as easily have mentioned half a dozen other countries.

The solution, for our side, is to take democratic control over foreign relations, economies, and environmental concerns. The tiny majority of rich people now controlling all those essential areas would rather we didn’t. Their massive propaganda machines are working to that end. They are also going to great pains to strip us of the partial democracy that we have won over the ages. Voter-rolls are being purged, polls are being closed, unions attacked, and burdensome conditions are being put on our right to speak for ourselves.

Increasingly, the rich are relying directly on their police and soldiers. We rely on the only thing we have, people power, to blockade their four roads to hell.

All my facts and figures come from today’s news.

–Gene Lantz, November 27, 2019

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, please check out my personal web site

Across the world and at home, we are learning how to improve our societies. At a breakfast meeting Sunday, November 17, we discussed the present situation and went over some of the lessons of the past.

The United States had more workers on strike in 2018 than in any year since the crackdown against the working class began in the 1970s. Working families in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Iraq, Iran, Spain, and Greece and other nations are holding massive protests. The progressive movement is far broader, that is that more disparate individuals and groups are practicing solidarity, than in recent history.

How do we make sense of it all and decide which of the many opportunities most merit our resources? We posed some interesting questions that, for most of us, are not easy to answer:

  • Why are there so many arguments in the progressive movement? What are some of the major divisions in the progressive movement today?
  • What is happening in Bolivia? In Hong Kong?
  • Are all the world’s protesters working toward similar goals?
  • Would you defend the right of the Ku Klux Klan to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of American armed forces to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of ISIS, Middle Eastern religious fighters, to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of your local police department to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you urge police associations to join organized labor federations?
  • Does America really need a revolution?

Will revolutionaries be elected into power?

Were the Bolsheviks correct in taking power in 1917, or has history shown that the Menshevik gradualists had a better understanding of their situation?

One would like to think that all progressive activists would agree, even on difficult questions. But the truth is that arguments have always racked and divided the movement. Our group tried looking at the time-tested ideas of great thinkers of the past. We were looking for guidelines, not specific directions.

For guidelines and to initiate discussion, we used the automated learning modules in the “ABC” section of the Little School at http://lilleskile.us/school. I am its author. So far, we’ve looked at the first nine lessons. The next one will be on trade unions. Some people finish a module in five minutes.

Here are some of the main points we’ve discussed so far:

  • Activists need to study in order to become more unified and effective
  • Almost everything we have been taught has been filtered by reactionaries
  • Of the two main branches of philosophy, idealism and materialism, materialism is the best guide
  • In general and in the long view, the human condition has improved
  • People’s views are strongly affected by their station in society
  • Different classes of people have strongly divergent views
  • Everything, including societies, is constantly changing

We plan to get together again on the morning of December 1. Let me know if you’re interested

–genelantz19@gmail.com

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

I am worrying that members may resign from the United Auto Workers because they see no way to overcome the union’s problems. Leaving the union would be a disaster for those individuals and for all their brothers and sisters. Better to stay in the union and force it to change.

Here is a short list of reform suggestions:

  • One-person-one-vote for critical decisions
  • End nepotism
  • No staffer control over membership deliberations
  • Join the rest of the labor movement, especially in politics
  • Full disclosure and cooperation with the membership
  • Meetings in most economical venues
  • Put “joint” activities under the same rigorous accounting oversight as regular union activities
  • Hold meetings in economical venues

The Longer Explanation

The new acting President of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is named Rory Gamble. His peers on the International Executive Board asked him to take over after they pressured the elected president, Gary Jones, to take a paid leave of absence. On UAW.org, Gamble writes: “…I know recent events concerning members of our leadership have disappointed and angered many of you….”

He is referring to federal indictments against a number of active and retired top union leaders and published allegations against some more, including Gary Jones. Newspapers also reveal that other former leaders are testifying in the federal investigation. Charges and allegations include embezzlement, corruption, and money laundering. Two former top staffers published an op-ed calling for the entire leadership to be fired.

The specifics in the newspaper articles say that union officials could not account for money spent on wrist watches, golf fees, expensive cigars, and fine liquors. I’d like to come back to that.

Union Busters and Their Friends

In these times, no one should be surprised to learn that the government is trying to destroy the UAW and its leaders. No one should be surprised that the corporate media is doing all they can toward that same end.

What is surprising is the commentary that follows the news releases. Writers who say they are union members are buying into the anti-union onslaught wholeheartedly. When Gary Jones stepped down, for instance, hardly anyone wrote on social media about whether or not he had actually done anything wrong. Almost all of the comments, instead, were calling for his head. The mildest among them were saying that his salary should be cut off immediately. This is before any official charges have been filed.

What Makes Unionists Anti-Union?

Some union problems are built in, even when the union is working well.

Union servicing reps and negotiators know that their efforts are unlikely to please any union member without pissing off another one. If the union wins a raise for someone, for example, someone else demands to know why they didn’t get the same raise, or a higher one.

The published results of union ratification votes in the recent General Motors strike reveal that 42% of those voting did not like the contract offer well enough to accept it. They must have known that they were voting to continue the grueling strike, but they bravely voted against the offer anyway. After the other 58% ratified the contract, that 42% was certain to be discontent. It’s built in to contract negotiations that somebody will be glad and somebody else will be mad.

In enforcing union contracts, servicing reps spend a lot of time, maybe the majority of their time, helping the very worst members. A worker who stays sober and comes to work on time regularly may not see his/her servicing rep for months on end. The drunk who screws up has the servicing rep on speed dial. There’s really no way around that.

When the union is working well, seniority is strictly observed. The first people to get promotions and raises are the ones that have been on the job longest. The first ones laid off are the newest. There’s no way around that, either, because the alternative would be to let the boss decide, and he will go with his nephew every time! But seniority creates a built-in problem for unions, especially during times like the last few decades, when more people are getting laid off than hired and the membership keeps aging.

Unions aren’t revolutionary. Hot-blooded young members with high ideals and little to lose are always wanting their union to take on and destroy the establishment. They are always disappointed because unions don’t want to destroy companies or systems. They just want better treatment for their members. It’s built in.

But There are Preventable Problems

Unions became increasingly isolated after the 1947 Taft Hartley law was passed over President Truman’s veto. The progressives in the union movement were kicked out en masse. The conservative union leaders then embraced “business unionism.” They stopped struggling for social programs like shorter working hours, increased Social Security, and national health care. Instead, they bought management’s suggestions for company-provided pensions and health care. The UAW, in what is often called the “Treaty of Detroit,” led the charge backward.

Most union members were glad. They started seeing their wages, pensions, and health care get better and better while people without unions could only enjoy a residual effect. Union officers learned to play golf with management while growing more and more isolated, not only from the working class at large, but from their own members. In the long run, it was a recipe for disaster, but in the short run, during America’s great post-war boom, it worked great for the members. To this day, many union members think the leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were some kind of geniuses.

Membership fell steadily after 1957. Disaffection, separation of union leaders from everybody else, grew worse. Membership participation in union meetings declined. Leadership became increasingly opportunist. That is, they took UAW staff jobs because they were really good jobs, not out of any commitment to the union (witness them today hurrying to testify for the union-busters). Nepotism is one of the uglier aspects of opportunism, and it is weakening the UAW.

Then came Reagan

By the late 1970s, the United States began to lose its economic hegemony over the rest of the world. Other industrial nations rebuilt the factories that were bombed flat during the war, and they started producing products that were as good or better, and often cheaper, than those made in the United States. Little foreign cars, for example, became quite trendy in America.

In the presidential election of 1980, the employers committed to a solid plan to drive down unit labor costs in America. They found an excellent spokesperson and mobilized the government, the media, and most of the establishment around him. With government help, they shipped the best American manufacturing jobs overseas. They automated jobs away. They busted unions when they could and passed anti-union legislation at every opportunity.

Unions, who had completely forgotten about the historic fight to shorten working hours in response to automation, bled members. Some of them tried to adapt through strategic mergers with other unions and by innovative approaches to organizing. A few of them did OK, but the UAW wasn’t one of them. Membership fell from 1,500,000 to around 400,000.

The UAW responded to the Reagan assault mostly by embracing the “Big 3” auto companies and declaring that the enemies of the union were not managers but, rather, were foreign workers, especially the very successful Japanese. They pushed “buy union-made cars,” without mentioning that most of the foreign auto companies were unionized. They immersed themselves into company-led “jointness” ventures and “team” production. Union editors were encouraged, even directed, to give up their union newspapers and join forces with management.

One result was that “joint” ventures created opportunities for corruption, and one direct result of that is some of the UAW leaders now in jail or under indictment. They are charged with stealing funds that were designated for joint training programs that had poor fiscal accountability.

The other result, far worse, was that UAW leaders were more than ever isolated from the members. Instead of interacting with members at work, they built a hierarchy of union staffers around them that completed their isolation. The union staffers, who have their own separate staff union, continued to get the best that the UAW could offer, while members’ wages and benefits eroded away.

One could argue that the UAW staffers, not the members, run the union. It is true that the UAW still has a good democratic constitution with regular elections and constitutional conventions. The problem with those conventions is that they are orchestrated by the staff. While some unions prohibit staffers from even being on their convention floor, UAW staffers literally lean over every delegation during conventions. Hardly anything happens at UAW conventions that was not planned out in advance by the top UAW leaders and executed by their paid staffers.

About Those Cigars

Readers of the many anti-UAW articles may have wondered what union leaders might have been doing with all those expensive cigars, golf fees, watches and bottles of liquor that they were supposed to have stolen. They couldn’t have worn that many wrist watches. They couldn’t have drunk and smoked that much while playing that much golf. The answer is pretty obvious. They probably used luxury items to guarantee, through small bribes, the continuing loyalty of the legions of staffers.

We end up with the situation in the UAW today. A significant number of union members are so confused and alienated that they actually vote for their own executioners. Others, possibly with the best of intentions and highest motives, are joining the media call for destroying the union!

On the Upside

No one should overlook the fact that the General Motors workers were able to carry out a successful 6-week strike even while the biggest and sharpest union-busting effort since the McCarthy period was directed against them. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW still has 400,000 intelligent members and several hundred million dollars. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW has one of the proudest and most progressive histories in America. No one should fail to notice that the American people are becoming more and more aware of just who their real enemies are and how to fight back. That’s a lot to build on.

Short-term Solutions for the UAW

It isn’t likely that President Rory Gamble is going to be able to pull the union together with a few worn platitudes about “solidarity in the ranks” and “a few bad apples.” Even if union leaders survive the government investigation, their alienation from the membership will continue to eat the union away.

There are two guys who think they have found a section of the UAW constitution allowing for the members to call a special convention and elect new leadership. They have a Facebook page with 12,000 likes. The two guys are arguing that members should join their effort rather than doing what has become almost traditional – “voting with their feet” – and leaving the union.

I hope they can pull it off, because it might help keep our union together. But just holding a new convention under the same old system isn’t really a long-term reform. For example, the convention delegates are already elected. Under the UAW Constitution, they are the same ones that attended the last convention, and they will be sitting in front of the exact same staffers.

Long-term Solutions

Our union needs an entirely new attitude toward its members. Staffers must stop subverting our democracy. Members must be consulted and listened to. Top-down thinking must go.

The union also needs a new attitude toward the public. More and better communications are needed. “Go it alone” must be condemned as a union strategy and “solidarity with all workers” must become our new guideline. We need to completely get rid of our isolated, separate, political program and join with the other unions in the AFL-CIO.

The United Auto Workers, once the most progressive and democratic union, must take its place again at the head of this wonderful new progressive movement that is sweeping America.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you care curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Gao Xingjian, “Soul Mountain.” English translation published by Perennial (Harper Collins) New York, 2001

You finally complete the 500 pages and you wonder why it is written mostly in second person. You wonder why it won the Nobel Prize. You assume it may be because the Nobel judges are eager to encourage dissent in China. You wonder if it might have been more poetry than prose. You wonder if it would have worked out if you had been able to read it aloud to the woman.

She said she didn’t want to hear it read aloud. She thinks it would be pretentious. You wonder if you only wanted to read it aloud because you are pretentious. Or is the book itself pretentious? Is it pretentious to think about being pretentious?

You say that she would have enjoyed it as a romantic experience. She says you have no idea what women might enjoy. Men only exploit women and never care what they want.

You say that women are not that different from men. She says they are different and that you are chauvinistic to say there is no difference. You challenge her to define chauvinism. She says she does not need to define it because you are before her and you are the finest example of chauvinism.

You say she is acting silly. You try to embrace her.

She warms a little. She says maybe you aren’t chauvinistic. Maybe you are only patronizing.

You say that you have wondered all over China and investigated many ancient cultural ideas. You say that you discover a great deal of Chinese culture and that it is in this book.

She says it only shows what a hopeless idealist you are. You aren’t even slightly interested in the real world, she says.

What is real, you ask her.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Jo Jo Rabbit” Directed by Taika Waititi, 108 minutes

A boy’s best friend is his Fuehrer. Yes, ten year old Jo Jo’s best friend is Adolf Hitler. They share all of each other’s secrets. Adolf gives Jo Jo confidence as he gets ready for Hitler Youth Camp. Jo Jo’s greatest aspiration is to someday be in his idol’s personal body guard. He is thoroughly Nazi.

But it’s already 1945 and Nazi dreams are almost run out. Even his personal Adolf, once invincible in the boy’s mind, is beginning to seem like a childish fantasy. His wonderful, charming, romantic mother is starting to seem a little less fanatic than the little boy would like. He is beginning to suspect that she doesn’t hate Jews nearly enough. The Russians and Americans are coming.

It’s hard to categorize “Jo Jo Rabbit.” It’s not a comedy. It’s hardly a romance, a war story, or a coming-of-age story. There are elements of many movie types juxtaposed in a surreal, very surreal, attempt to explain what it must have been like to be ten in Germany in 1945.

Needless to say, it isn’t going to be easy for Jo Jo. And it may not be easy for moviegoers, either. But few really worthwhile experiences are easy.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, please check out my personal web site