I was surprised to see a biographical documentary of William Colby, CIA spymaster, on Amazon Prime streaming service. Colby was an extremely secretive man. Possibly the only person who could have put together remembrances of him is his son, Carl. Carl remembers him as being capable of more cruelty than anyone he had ever known.
The documentary tries to be favorable. A lot of the favorable testimony comes from his ex-wife, mother of his four children, whom he dumped soon after leaving the CIA in 1975. Others who were important in the State Department in the 1970s, give their kind reminiscences. The facts, however, are too strong to be overcome by good intentions.
Colby joined the intelligence service during World War II. In the aftermath, he was the man with the suitcases of money and connections with the Pope that “saved” Italy from its popular communists. Colby ran the CIA’s involvement in imperialism’s attempt to keep Vietnam from independence. He personally created and directed the Phoenix Program that used mercenaries to torture and murder progressives. He directed the CIA during most of the horrors documented in the book, “Jakarta Program” (reviewed in this blog). A million Indonesians were murdered by imperialism, then the pattern was used to murder progressives in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries.
The documentary alleges that Colby did not agree with imperialism’s heavy-handed military aggression in Vietnam. He thought they could have won with big-money subversion. He may have been right, because imperialism certainly succeeded time and again in overthrowing progressives in Latin America, and it’s doing a jim-dandy job for imperialism in Ukraine today without direct military intervention.
A lot of the documentary is taken up with Colby’s testimony to Congress after Watergate. That’s where the most video was available. Colby admitted to some of the CIA’s atrocities during that period, and the documentary credits him personally for doing it. However, those of us who lived through the period remember that the Watergate period was followed by a series of exposures of horrors by the FBI, CIA, and other mechanisms of imperialism. They didn’t admit to anything that hadn’t already been exposed, and the “reforms” didn’t even last a decade before the so-called “intelligence” people went back to spying on citizens and worldwide murder and torture.
Colby was a cold-eyed monster. After he drowned in a river, his son speculates that he may have been despondent over his career and just “gave up.” I certainly hope so.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. My “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts are on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site
Taylor, Clarence “Reds at the Blackboard. Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union,” Columbia University Press, 2013.
There once existed a powerful teacher organization that fought for every progressive aspect of education in New York City. The American Federation of Teachers today, which has advanced in social unionism far beyond the bad old days of President Albert Shankar, is still miles behind the Teachers Union of New York of 1935-1964.
They represented teachers with grievances, they fought for better pay and working conditions as unions do, but they also challenged the basic racism and corruption of education in their times. They fought hard, for example, to expose the explicit and implicit racism in textbooks. They did everything they could think of to improve school materials. They fought for integration of students and faculty. They fought just as hard for gender equality.
Their greatest accomplishment may have been to make the schools part of the communities they served. These were not nominal PTA’s holding fund drives, but honest hard-working community organizations working for community improvement — especially among the most downtrodden constituencies.
One important aspect of school racism was new to me. After Brown V Topeka in 1954, the main physical change in education was to shut down all the segregated Black schools and lay off their teachers! Most of those teachers stayed laid-off because they couldn’t get jobs in the so-called “integrated” schools. The Teachers Union of New York fought hard to get jobs for Black teachers! If anybody else did, I hadn’t heard of it.
While they were bringing social unionism to its heights, the Teachers Union had to fight off management’s attempts to undermine it. Male chauvinism and anti-semitism were useful tools for the bosses, but their big cudgel was anti-communism. Social unionism was the Communist Party’s program and a some of the Teachers Union leaders were reds.
Management, like bosses everywhere after 1947, were able to get a lot of people fired and a lot of careers destroyed. The American Federation of Labor kicked the Teachers Union out over anti-communism. They joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations and continued to thrive as social unionists. However, after 1947, the CIO joined the anti-communist wave and kicked the Teachers Union out again. The Board of Education managed to have the Teachers Union decertified as representatives of their members, so they could no longer settle grievances nor negotiate for job improvements.
Even then, they didn’t quit. The Teachers Union survived as an important voice for social unionism, especially for civil rights and community cooperation, until 1964. They need to be remembered.
Two recent history books are shaking the United States to its political foundations. The truth has a way of doing that. Republicans are in such a fury that they are banning books on a scale not seen since Nazi book-burnings. The more they ban books, the higher they go on best-seller lists, and that is as it should be. My enthusiastic recommendation may not carry the weight of Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s raving condemnation, but I add it just the same.
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books—books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon? ‘” – attributed to Winston Churchill
“An Indigenous” recounts the same history we’ve always studied, but it adds a framework that makes sense of it all: Europeans came to an inhabited continent and took it over. Anybody who opposed them was enslaved, killed, or otherwise subjugated. If one were being kind, they might say abstractly that a superior economic system displaced an inferior one. If one were being truthful instead of kind, they would have to call it plain genocide.
“1619” simply recounts the history of slavery in North America. It is a collection of facts, essays, and poetry by various authors. It paints a picture rather than telling a single narrative. Instead of treating slavery as incidental to American history, it shows how fundamental and critical it really was. For example, the 1860 dollar “value” of American slaves was greater than all other capital investments in the nation! The legal structure of the United States evolved, not as high-minded ideology of far-thinking founding fathers, but as a series of compromises to placate enslavers!
That’s the explanation for the undemocratic Senate and the even more undemocratic Electoral College.
Some people may like to think that the enormous crimes of genocide and slavery occurred only in the past and that they are over now. But these two books show that the repression was and is an ingrained part of American life today. Every time that people of color began to recover, whites used every excuse to rob them again. One example occurred close to my home, in Sherman Texas in 1930.
The Texas State Historical Society has an account of a lynching of a young Black man who was accused of having raped an unnamed white woman. While Texas Rangers stood aside, the mob burned the courthouse to the ground. Just to show that the accused man was not really their target, they burned down the rest of the black-owned businesses in Sherman.
This is from their account, “More than 5,000 people filled the courthouse yard and lined an adjacent street. The militia had left. The lynched man’s body was dragged behind a car to the front of a drugstore in the Black business section, where it was hanged from a tree. The store furnishings were used to fuel a fire under the hanging corpse. The mob also burned down the drugstore and other businesses in the area and prevented firemen from saving the burning buildings. By daybreak of May 10, most of the town’s Black businesses, as well as a residence, lay in ashes. Among the businesses burned were the offices of a dentist, a doctor, and a civil rights lawyer, William J. Durham.”
In all of American history, the only serious attempt to allow freed slaves to get a foot on the first rung of the economic ladder came from General Sherman during the Civil War. He took over vast tracts of plantation land and allotted it, 40 acres at a time, to the families who had freed themselves and were following Sherman’s army. But President Andrew Johnson, as soon as Lincoln was assassinated, ordered all that land to be taken away and restored to the confederate traitors!
Native Americans only received land in a back-handed way. When their great lands in the East were stolen, they were given Oklahoma. When Oklahoma was taken away, individual families received parcels that, one way or another, they soon lost. The Osage once held Kansas and great swaths of the middle part of the United States, then were forced into a tiny, rocky reservation in Oklahoma.
There are a few examples of wealthy individuals or, under freakish circumstances, whole tribes. The Osage found oil under their reservation and were, for a few years in the 1920s, extremely wealthy. But the government appointed white people to manage their money. I’m presently reading “Killers of the Flower Moon” that tells how wealthy members of the tribe were systematically murdered.
How Are These Things Today?
You can get this from Google: African American households today have 10 cents for every dollar owned by whites. The average Native American household has 8 cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth for the average white American household. As of 2017, 22% of Native Americans were living in poverty compared with 8% of white Americans.
The great value of studying true history is that it explains the problems we have today in America and in most of the world. Brown and Black people continue to suffer as they did in the past, and descendants of Europeans continue to profit. Understanding problems helps point to solutions.
I can’t keep quiet any longer. For a month now, I’ve listened to “news” accounts, even on NPR, heck, ESPECIALLY on NPR, demonizing Russians and glorifying American foreign policy. I expected that, but I didn’t think it would work because we surely, by now, know a little bit more about Russia and about American foreign policy. From my friends’ Facebook posts, I’m afraid it has.
My marketing teacher used to say that the emotional appeal will always be more effective than the practical appeal. I’ve always wished he were wrong.
I see “brutes,” “beasts,” “monsters,” “dictators,” and “autocrats” when the posts look east, and “standing up to bullies,” “freedom,” and “democracy” when they look at NATO and the United States. The problem isn’t exactly that people don’t have information. The problem is that they don’t have a useful framework for their thinking.
Looking for “bad guys” and “good guys” is just silly. The only way to understand what is happening and chart a course for action is to look at reality and the likelihoods of different outcomes. In the present case of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a lot of people are going to get killed or maimed. Working people the world over will pay in blood and economic deprivation. A lot of American fossil-fuel magnates are going to get rich(er). That much is certain. The obvious course is to oppose the war, but that’s just an abstraction. The real question is, “what should you do?” That’s always the question.
Well, posting about monsters, saviors, and evil/good intentions is obviously not helpful. It makes sense for people in Russia to demonstrate against the war. It makes sense for people in America to demonstrate against NATO and American support for the war. There’s no good/bad here, there’s just what is going on and what can you, given your situation and resources, do about it.
Think of your possible courses of action. Think of the likely outcomes. Then go to work.
Dark money from the U.S. is supporting truck riots in Canada. Can you see why?
Can you see why Republicans block legislation that would benefit their districts? Some Republicans even try to take credit for beneficial legislation that they voted and campaigned AGAINST! Why? Why did the Republican National Convention condone the January 6 insurrectionists? Why are Republican think tanks supplying scripts for crazies who disrupt school board meetings? Why are apparently sane Republicans who get vaccinated arguing that other people shouldn’t? Why take the side of disease over good health? Why underwrite chaos?
The reason that normal Americans can’t understand today’s political events is that nothing like this has ever happened in our country before. It is outside our experience. The only historical precedents are from other countries like, say, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Spain, and Germany. In those countries, chaos was used to help bring down participatory government to benefit autocrats. Possibly the best example for us, because a number of us are old enough to remember it, and because we know more about it, is Chile in 1973.
If you think about it, you might see that, for certain politicians, chaos is a good thing. It worked for the CIA and General Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973. Truckers were involved then, too, as some of them are now. Google “Trucks AND Chile.” Read the New York Times article from August 18, 1973, “Chile Calls Truck Strike ‘Catastrophic.'”
It says that a 23-day trucker’s strike has had “catastrophic’ repercussions on Chile’s already ailing economy.
“This is a political strike aimed at overthrowing the Government, with the help of imperialism,” said Gonzalo Martner, Minister of National Planning and one of the chief policy makers for President Salvador Allende Gossens’s socialist government.
I’m not sure how reliable the Times’ account is, because they were probably in on it. But it is well known now that the chaos in Chile was designed and abetted by the CIA, United States of America! For would-be dictators, chaos has its uses, then and now!
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. My podcast, “Workers Beat Extra” is posted on Soundcloud.com every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
In 1985, I had a tiny role in a part of the revitalization of American labor. I’d like to get it written down.
After a wonderful upsurge that started around 1932, labor leaders lost their way in 1947 and became isolated. Fortunately the membership couldn’t be ignored for long.
The revitalization actually began well before my time, in the 1960s. It was an extension of the civil rights upsurge that began around 1954. African-American unionists carried the lessons and tactics of the civil rights movement into their unions. For the most part, they were rebuffed by their leaderships, but nothing is ever completely lost in the progressive movement. People learn. People remember.
The newest, possibly most important, twist in the labor reform movement happened in 2021 when over 60% of United Auto Workers members and retirees voted to do away with the old delegate system of electing top leadership and move to the more democratic “one member one vote” method.
It was a setback to the old Administrative Caucus that has dominated the UAW consistently since 1946. I think a look back at earlier reform efforts gives some perspective to today’s important developments.
REFORM IN THE MINERS AND STEELWORKERS UNION
Reform was strong in the Miner’s Union after Jock Yablonski and his family were murdered December 31, 1969. In the Steelworkers, reform was clearly on the agenda when Ed Sadlowski ran for president around 1975. I think Sadlowski might have been the first union candidate since 1947 to allow reds to help him campaign, and that was a very big deal. I campaigned for Sadlowski, but my real role in labor’s reform was a lot later and in my own union.
NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE UAW
For me, it was 1985-1992 and the New Directions Movement in the United Auto Workers. My part, and the origin of the New Directions Movement, started in the middle of a contract fight with LTV Corporation in Grand Prairie, Texas. The fight started in March, 1984. The first 9 months or so showed everything that was wrong in the UAW and in most of the labor movement.
Our union, Local 848, didn’t have a clue about carrying out a fight. The blame for that goes back to 1947 when the anti-union Taft Hartley law passed. It outlawed the most progressive unionists and left the opportunist “business unionists” in charge. Business unionists had no fight in them. They put their full confidence into working with management and gave up on informing and mobilizing their union members.
Local 848 members, like most Americans, had never fought for anything and certainly not for a contract. “Unionism” consisted of working with management for crumbs from their table, then working on a grievance procedure to keep them from stealing their crumbs back during the life of the contract.
But LTV was a profitable corporation when it offered giant takeaways in 1984 contract negotiations. The Assistant Director of UAW Region 5, Jerry Tucker, was experienced in plenty of fights – not necessarily in unions but in the civil rights movement. He pushed the Negotiating Committee to turn down the contract and design a new strategy for a fight.
Tucker called the strategy “Running the Plant Backward” or “Work to Rule” and called it a new strategy. History-conscious workers, of whom there were hardly any, recognized it as an old-fashioned slowdown. Union members were asked to do exactly what they were required to do and nothing else. “No contract, no overtime!” was our big slogan starting out. On May 21, four workers and I were fired for refusing to work overtime. Tucker had previously arranged to call a walkout when/if anybody got fired. Later, a few dozen more were fired, mostly for participating in the walkout.
Initially, it didn’t work at all. Our local union leadership hadn’t the slightest idea of how to run a slowdown. The membership certainly didn’t know. I don’t even think Jerry Tucker had a clear idea. The big walkout and rally on the day after we were fired netted no more than 300 workers. I counted them carefully. That was about 6% of the bargaining unit! I knew then that we were in a lot more trouble than anybody was saying.
The company implemented their “last and final offer,” which included their takeaways. Then they stopped collecting our dues for us.
WE HAD NO IDEA HOW TO COLLECT UNION DUES!
American unions in 1984 did not have the first clue on how to collect their own dues. They had “dues checkoff” from companies since before World War II. In 1941, Mr Ford voluntarily GAVE dues checkoff to the UAW, because he wanted the union to depend on him financially. It worked.
Local 848 made its biggest, nearly fatal, mistake as soon as it was clear that we had to collect our own dues. Leadership assumed that people would voluntarily come to the union hall and pay their monthly dues.
Let me pause to brag: I told them that people are not accustomed to paying their bills in person. I asked them to send out a monthly bill, but the Financial Secretary told me, “If they won’t come over here and pay their dues, they don’t deserve this union!” I heard that over and over again for the rest of the year while my union went broke. By Christmas, fewer than 20% of our members were caught up on dues. Insiders said it was 10%.
Our financial disaster was hardly the worst part of the story. Our program of “No contract, no overtime” fell flat on its face on the day I was fired. Even though I organized pickets every Saturday morning through that winter, our members grabbed up the overtime. Our top officers did, too. I found out later that the Chairman himself was telling top officers to work overtime!
My part, up to the end of 1984, had been to organize the 65 fired workers and keep them in the struggle. I had zero leadership role in directing the struggle, but I made sure that the firees were not forgotten by getting a big bunch of us to every meeting, by picketing the plant when people went in to work overtime, by publicizing our events, and by helping a series of publicity stunts to keep people thinking about our fight.
December was a miserable time for everybody, but especially for the 65 fired workers. Only about 30 of the 65 were doing anything to keep up the fight. News from the International Union was particularly depressing. Leadership told us that the International UAW wanted us to take the concessions and end the struggle, even if some of the firees were sacrificed. One “settlement,” we were told, was negotiated between our UAW International Financial Secretary and LTV management on a golf course!
President Carroll Butler and Assistant Regional Director Jerry Tucker weren’t giving up, but they were certainly ready for some new tactics.
THE LOCAL MAKES A TURN
Our local union leadership did a major turnaround in January. They decided to collect dues inside the plant. Elected union stewards were issued receipt books and every activist we could find was asked to help get the members to pay up.
It wasn’t just a financial decision, or a minor organizational change. It was a turn toward mobilizing the membership – exactly what the union movement hadn’t been doing since “business unionism” took over. It worked, too. Our “percent” of dues-paying members rose steadily from January until we won our victory in July.
As the receipts and cash dollars started pouring into the hall, we bogged down as accountants. Fortunately for the local, I had accountant training, computer training, and I could type. I rigged up a Commodore 64 – it had 64 kilobytes of memory – to two floppy disk readers and kept track of all dues. An extra benefit was being able to tattle on the elected leaders as to who was collecting their dues and who wasn’t. Every time Tucker visited, I could present him with graphs showing which departments and which job families were “on the program” and which weren’t.
By June, 1985, we still didn’t have an impressive “percent” in plain numbers, but my trusty little computer could show that we were pretty solid in certain critical units. For the first time in the entire struggle, we thought we might have the potential to shut LTV down. Leadership called a strike. Management asked for a settlement before we even went out, so the strike lasted only 11 hours!
On July 5, 1985, all the fired workers put on our union shirts and lined up at the LTV gate. We stayed in line while Chairman BJ Meeks took us, one by one, to our proper departments and let us go back to work. I posted a video of this. Our little battle was won!
I have a longer account of the 1984-85 struggle on http://lilleskole.us. On my “GeneLantz” youtube account, I have 52 videos about it. Each has “struggle” in the title.
Our victory was celebrated all through the union movement. I was given credit and a new nickname, “golden fingers” for my typing, accounting and computer work.
I guess that some of us thought we had really helped curve the union movement in a good direction, but we were disappointed in due time.
The most bitter part for me personally came almost immediately. When the 1985 contract was settled, I hoped to keep our super-active fired union members together. But we fell out over how to deal with demands from the International UAW. The new contract penalized the firees by withholding 3 months from our full back pay. We were told, though, that we would not have to pay back the strike pay that we had accepted while we were outside. It balanced out.
But the International UAW demanded that we pay back every cent, immediately! When I protested, a toady little International Rep called me a “freeloader!” I had been standing outside the plant and fighting for my union for one year, one month, one week, and one day; but he called me a “freeloader!”
The firees broke up over this demand. Some of them said they would never pay it because it was grossly unfair. Three of them even got out of the union and became scabs. Some of the better-off firees had the money and paid off right away. I circulated a petition to get a year’s delay while we paid it off in monthly installments, and that’s what I did. But I was not able to get the other firees on that program. We never pulled together again.
I resolved then and there to join a reform movement, if there was one. And there soon was. Riding on the success of Tucker’s “new” tactic at Local 848, he launched the New Directions Movement and ran for Regional Director.
He won that election, but the International was able to keep it all tied up in court, so that Tucker was only able to serve about 1 year of his 3-year term of office.
Meanwhile at Local 848, the International provided an even bigger problem. When we elected officers, we expected our top leaders who had worked with Jerry Tucker to win, to ride their popularity into re-election.
I remember that one of the people who was most against Jerry Tucker’s fightback program ran for local union president right after the 1985 contract was settled. His son was on the Election Committee. A particularly nasty cartoon was circulated against Carroll Butler, the President who carried us through the big 1984-85 fight. I called up the printer to see who had created such a nasty and underhanded attack. The printer told me candidly that it was an International Rep!
The good guys won the election, but, acting on a complaint from the losing candidate’s son on the Election Committee, the UAW International ruled the election illegal and made us hold it over. When a local is forced to hold an election over, the incumbents look bad. President Butler held his office barely, but Chairman BJ Meeks lost. We were furious! My notes at one meeting read, “BJ says int’l forced this local into another election… ‘you have not seen people as vicious as this International!’”
New Directions supporters started holding meetings around the country. At Local 848, we held our meetings after the official union membership meeting. I attended them and, compulsive note taker that I am, kept a lot of notes. I also attended several national NDM meetings.
We had some terrific supporters. Paul Shrader, a close assistant of Walter Reuther’s, supported us. Film maker Michael Moore, fresh from his success with the satirical movie about the UAW, “Roger and Me,” gave us $1,000 and a very nice endorsement speech. Our really big gun was Victor Reuther. The Reuther Brothers were associated with some of the UAW’s biggest historic successes. People told me that Victor was “the best of them.” He certainly stepped up to help Local 848 and was totally committed to New Directions.
Victor made speeches at fund raisers for us. I was pleased to serve as Master of Ceremonies at one of them. Victor also made cheeseboards that we auctioned off to raise money.
A related historic event occurred in the period. The Canadian section of the UAW, carrying some of the same reform program as New Directions, split off and formed the Canadian Autoworkers Union. Victor infuriated the International by speaking at their first convention.
Jerry Tucker always referred to New Directions as “the real Reutherites,” even though the Administrative Caucus (UAW leadership) we were trying to defeat had been set up by Walter Reuther. It was hard to argue with Jerry Tucker when he had the only surviving Reuther brother standing right there with him!
New Directions had a very clear program and solutions to the major issues in the union movement: outsourcing, runaway plants, whipsawing, ”team concept,” new technology, democracy in the union, and giveaway contracts. NDM especially hammered on the idea of “one member, one vote.” As everyone knows, we won that in 2021 in a government-supervised election. I’m glad to get it, but I’d rather that the members had chosen it by voting for New Directions 30 years earlier.
I can’t claim to have been a leader of New Directions. I certainly wasn’t, but I played a role. I tried to line up an obscure UAW Local in the Southern Part of Dallas. It was a battery plant with maybe 50-60 workers. I took the union president out to Steak and Ale at my own expense. I gave him a sales pitch for change, but he voted with the Administrative Caucus.
At Local 848, I wrote and distributed our own New Directions pamphlet called “The Arrow.” I still have a few copies. Jerry Tucker put out a 3-fold pamphlet with parts of the NDM program on it. I have a few copies, including one devoted entirely to “one member one vote.”
At one national meeting, we discussed going all-out to reform the UAW. The argument was over whether or not to run Jerry Tucker for International President. I remember speaking strongly in favor. In fact, I think I made the motion nominating him. Maybe I just motivated for the motion. I remember saying that if Jerry was willing to take all the chances for our cause, why would any of us want to stand in the way?
WHY THEY WERE/ARE AFRAID OF THE UAW INTERNATIONAL
Even though we like to think about the UAW’s great history in organizing and standing up for all workers, especially workers “of color,” the main business, practically the only business, of local UAW officers after 1947 was contract negotiations and enforcement. The International, with their expert reps, lawyers, and top researchers, usually dominated.
For example, take the problem of terminations. When companies terminate a UAW member, we grieve it. Usually, the company forces us to grieve it all the way to arbitration. The professional UAW International Reps and the legal staff, experts that they are, handle most of those arbitrations. Without them, local union officers would feel pretty helpless, and companies would soon be firing anybody they wanted to, especially union officers!
The International UAW sat on top of union democracy, too. I have been told that professional union business agents/reps are not allowed to attend union conventions, but in the UAW they sit right at your table and watch every move you make. Or, worse, they stand behind you. International Reps tell the members when to make a motion, when to make a second, and when and how to vote. Anybody who steps out of line is carefully noted, and they can expect trouble during their next elections, negotiations or arbitrations.
I attended my first convention during the New Directions period. Our International Rep sat at Local 848’s table through the entire convention. BJ Meeks and others bravely voted their own convictions, but the intimidation was heavy. Years later, I attended another national convention, and the International Reps orchestrated literally everything that happened.
Have you ever heard of the Praetorian Guard? They were crack soldiers who were charged with guarding the Roman Emperor after democracy had disappeared. They did a great job. That’s how I see the legions of International Reps in the UAW.
So, one may very well ask, how did UAW active and retired members work up the courage to defy the UAW International and vote for “one-member-one-vote” in 2021? Because the government ran the election and gave us a secret ballot. Secret ballot!
At the convention, Jerry Tucker failed to win the presidency. Our vote counters had expected it, but they were sure that we would win the directorship of Region 1 (mostly California). In an excruciating evening of hand-counting the votes, we lost that one, too. I took an historic picture of Victor and Sophie Ruther, glassy-eyed in defeat, as UAW President Owen Bieber announced the result.
The UAW then disbanded Region 1, so New Directions lost its strongest foothold. Anybody who had supported New Directions braced for the wrath of the UAW International, from Victor Reuther to the smallest.
As I was never in the circle of leadership, I don’t know what discussions and decisions came about, but I had a personal experience that pointed downward for me. Here’s how I remember it:
UAW Local 848 President Carroll Butler, the stalwart of our 1984-85 contract fight, one of the strongest supporters of New Directions, and I were standing on a hotel veranda looking out over San Diego. Out of the blue, he handed me two $100 bills. He told me to donate it at the next New Directions meeting. He wouldn’t be attending, he said, and he didn’t want anybody to know where the $200 came from.
In other words, one of our bravest and strongest men was disassociating from New Directions. That’s when I knew it was over. I kept trying, but the rigor mortis was already setting in. I still have a copy of a letter I wrote to Jerry Tucker dated October 29, 1992: “Dear Jerry. ND activities at Local 848 have stopped altogether.… Wish I had better news. In solidarity, Gene.” I didn’t get a reply.
SOME NOTES IN MY FILES. Folder dated 12/19/92 and titled “New Directions.”
3 copies of “The arrow.” I scanned one in Pictures/arrow1192.jpg
I scanned 4 photos: tucker-jerry, tucker-mrsjerry, reuther-victor,
I found a photo of Butler with Roy Kinney & Pancho. Another with Silva. They are in “pictures” now.
Copy of “The Arrow,” January 1991 //I wonder if that’s an error and it was 1992?// “Don’t blame Local 276!” about the whipsawing battle where GM in Arlington beat out Willow Run, Michigan. //I had completely forgotten that I wrote and published “The Arrow” to build New Directions in North Texas. It was a 1 page, letter sized, newsletter. Looks like my printer was a dot-matrix.//
Handwritten notes from 7/21/91 NDM meeting starting at 15:15. “There are 18 folks here.” “Dot goes to St Louis meeting next Thursday. Dick proposes that our cake sale money go to Dot for her expenses. Passes.” “Urges New Directions meeting at 2 on 3rd Sunday of August. Passes” 23 people here.
Handwritten notes from 8/18/91 “Joe Silva says agents in Local 148 are circulating an anti-Tucker leaflet that says Tucker negotiated a contract here that cut out overtime. Butler sent back a a letter pointing out that 1) we still have overtime 2) tucket didn’t negotiate it.” “BJ [Meeks] gives history of NDM: fightback at 848 was origin. Int’l made deals, agreed to give up COLA. Afterward, we decided int’l should be accountable, just as a local is… Not just Jerry Tucker… “Really what NDM is all about is fightback” –BJ Meeks.
“Dot reports on national coordinating meeting. Ken Fout of TDU, Ray Rogers [subject of movie Norma Rae], Dan LaBotz, Jane Slaughter all there helping to formulate ideas and experiences.”
“ND campaign platform 1) internal democratization & reform 2) collateral bargaining 3) organizing 4) pol action and relations with other unions 5) internationalism” “Vote was 14-3 in favor of a national candidate. 3 felt the movement had not come far enough along.” “Glen Plankett of Local 148 reports that they want no less than 7 days to review contract.”
“Nov 2nd in Detroit will be national meeting of ND” “Ralph says we must stop automatically endorsing democrats. Says reactionary Republican Dick Armey is the best rep he ever had.” “BJ mentions possibility of getting Arrow out through interplant mail.” (never happened)
Copy of “The Arrow”: October 1991 “Local 848 getting ready to win” includes a short article “New Directions national conference. UAW members are invited to attend the 3rd Annual National Conference of the New Directions Movement in Detroit November 1-3. “The discussion going on in the New Directions Movement is designed to reverse the general downward trend in strength of our international union. NDM has proposed positive solutions to problems of outsourcing, runaway plants, whipsawing, team concept, new technology, democracy in the union, and giveaway contracts. Registration for the conference is $35 per person. Hotel reservations have been arranged for $39 per night. Air fares are cheaper when reservations are made as early as possible. For more information call (3140 531-2900 (NDM office).”
Copy of “The Arrow,” November 1991 Headlines: “The Race is On! New Directions will challenge International in 1992!” It advertises a ND meeting at 848 on Nov 17 “after the membership meeting.” “Checks should be made to ‘New Directions’ and sent to PO Box 6876, St Louis, Missouri, 63144” //I could scan this//
Copy of “The Arrow”: May 1992 Calls for a May 17 NDM meeting on May 17 “after the union meeting.” Includes a call from Jerry Tucker to support 13,000 Caterpillar workers who had struck through the winter.
Excerpt from “A Troublemakers Handbook” named “Inside Strategies” The story of contract victories the UAW leadership does not want told.” Reprinted by New Directions Educational Fund. There are some quotes from Jerry Tucker. There are a lot of quotes from Joe Silva, who was always carried away with his fantasy version of what was really happening. It paints a much rosier picture of the struggle. In this version, everything we did worked great. In reality, it was a lot harder.
Inside strategies, in this version, were first developed by Tucker at Moog, then at Schweitzer and Bell Helicopter before it was successful at LTV.
A NDM three-fold leaflet. UAW a “one-party state.” “Steelworkers, Mineworkers, Mailhandlers, and now even the Teamsters have one-person, one-vote elections for national officials. Why not the UAW?”
Another 3-fold leaflet. This one has a quote from Vic: “Our union is drifting aimlessly. No longer democratic. Trapped in the corporate agenda. Unwilling to fight for our members today. The UAW needs new policies and new leadership. Through the fight for true democratic voting rights at the rank and file level, and for a true vision of a new direction, we can fulfill our historic destiny and restore real accountability and solidarity.” Signed “Victor Reuther, UAW Co-Founder”
This leaflet is all about “one person one vote.”
Three lightly printed sheets showing contributions to NDM from Elaine and me. Includes our $5/month contributions and my record on button sales.
Very lightly printed letter dated 10/29/92 from me to Jerry Tucker. “Dear Jerry. ND activities at Local 848 have stopped altogether. …one page single spaced… Wish I had better news. In solidarity, Gene”
Tioga is 50 miles north of Dallas. Politically, it may be in another world.
When we made our little road trip, the first thing we noticed were the big campaign signs for Don Huffines hanging on barbed wire fences. He seems to think that Governor Abbott is a liberal. HIs main slogan for getting votes in rural areas, based on an outright lie, seems to be “Stop Giving Our Money to Illegals!”
Our second clue came when we arrived at Tioga and stopped for barbecue. By the way, we liked the food, and apparently lots of other people like it, because the crowd was pretty good for a town with population 803. While we were scarfing it down, though, we noticed that we hadn’t seen a mask anywhere on the trip. Pandemic or not, they just don’t wear them up around Tioga!
After the restaurant, we tried to fit in by taking off our masks for our walking tour. We went right down Gene Autry street. We thought there might be some kind of statue, plaque, or other tribute to the great singing cowboy who is, among many other things, who I’m probably named after. The tribute is probably there, because being the birthplace of Gene Autry is Tioga’s only claim to fame, but we couldn’t find it. Right next to the street sign where we paused for a photo, a sign hung from a tree: “Trump: Make America Great!”
By then, we city people had begun to get a little uneasy. A couple of blocks further, we saw our first “Trump 2024” yard sign of this political year. By the time we got to Race Street and saw a certain house, we were downright nervous.
When we saw the confederate flag and the posted threat of violence, we decided that it might be good to get back to the car before anybody noticed my “Bernie” bumper sticker. As soon as we got back to City Hall, where we had parked, we checked the car for possible painted swastikas. Then we got out of Tioga.
On the way home, we wondered if there were any dark-skinned people in Tioga. More importantly, we wondered why people in the rural areas of Texas seem committed to the Republican Party despite all facts and information. We think it might be racism.
Erik Loomis “A History of America in Ten Strikes,” The New Press, New York, 2018, 301 pages
I got my Kindle copy free through the Dallas library. People might think it’s just a blow-by-blow account of ten very interesting and dramatic strikes, but it’s more than that. Each strike is put in its economic, political and historical context. One couldn’t, for example, understand the Bread and Roses textile strike without knowing, first, that New England farmers were so desperate that they were willing to give up their daughters. One couldn’t understand the success of the Flint Sit-Down without knowing, first, that labor’s political efforts had paid off beforehand.
Every history has a framework. Usually, they are based on the idea of “great men” who “made” history. This book’s framework is much more realistic. Its ribs are certain especially interesting contests between working people and their bosses. Its spine is the class struggle in America. It’s a very good way to make history understandable.
Since the book was submitted for publication, we have seen a nascent strike wave in America. People who never could organize before are joining unions. That includes techies, retail workers, and even Starbucks employees. At the same time, a recent (2022) poll said that we have lost another half-percent of the total workforce. I assume that brings us down to around 10.4% as we descend down a ladder of destruction that began in 1947 when we had about 35%.
One could argue that I am being completely subjective, but I don’t agree with the book’s conclusions. The author seems to think that the future for American labor lies in organizing in the service sector, whereas I cling to the older idea that basic industry and transportation are primary. The difference has to do with how one thinks change might come about.
Most activists today, whether they would admit it or not, believe that labor’s role is to strengthen progressive electoral efforts. The more people that join unions, the stronger our voting power. Once we have enough voting power, we will win elections and depose the bosses. I think that major union leaders share that view, but I don’t.
Labor’s strength goes far beyond electoral statistics and is, in fact, a matter of confrontation. Service workers have never been able to confront the bosses fundamentally and never will. I’d love to have more of them in the union movement, and I’d love to win elections, but only basic industry and transportation can shut the bosses down.
I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. KNON publishes my “Workers Beat Extra” blog Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site where I put my life’s lessons.
Every New Years, I’ve tried to get people to make predictions. Hardly any of them will. The best I have received so far is a stock broker who called KNON. After I prodded him, he responded, “The rich will get richer.” That’s about the safest prediction I ever heard.
My 2022 Predictions:
Massive evictions will put millions into the ‘homeless’ category.
Vigilantes and illegal militias will flourish.
Political violence will become commonplace.
Police will tend to allow the anti-worker outrages to flame, while suppressing any activity of pro-worker forces. This was the precedent set in Germany in the 1920s and has generally held.
Poverty and hunger will grow, especially among children.
The formal educational system will continue to deteriorate as Republicans undermine them with schemes like “charter” schools and assaults on officials. More and more parents will begin to seek out internet solutions.
Big corporations will try to privatize the internet and everything else, including all utilities and municipal services.
Persistent inflation will force the federal reserve to cut back on “quantitative easing” and near-zero interest rates. Stocks and bonds will crumble but the “real economy” won’t be hit so hard.
Little if anything will get done about the environmental crisis. Freak weather disasters will increase and worsen.
As world economies teeter, governments will advocate new wars.
Omicron will hit early and hard. After it peaks early in the year, a solid majority of Americans will have some immunity from vaccination or from having already suffered through COVID. By late summer, it will no longer be the top of every news story
The democratic party will continue unraveling while the Republican Party will grow more homogeneous and harder.
Independent movements, particularly the women’s movement, will grow. We will see a revival of unemployed and homeless advocacy groups similar to those of the 1930s.
These independent movements will be larger, better informed, and better integrated than anything we have ever seen in history. This is because people are better informed and have infinitely better communications.
Unions will not initially lead these powerful independent movements. Unions will be drawn into the larger movement. They will play an important role in guiding and financing the movement.
The 2022 elections will show people voting increasingly for 3rd or 4th parties, Greens, Working Family, Democrats, and Independents.
One thing that the strong progressive organizations will agree on is this: vote for no Republican!
Americans will begin to experiment with the kind of political strikes that have been known in other countries.
And slowly, the way forward will begin to show itself.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. The program and a supplemental “Workers Beat Extra” are podcast on Soundcloud.com every Wednesday. My January 5 podcast includes these predictions. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site