Unions are doing so many things right nowadays that one hesitates to make any suggestions. I enjoyed a recent posting by the International President of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal) union. He outlines some of the positive changes they have made.

I’d go so far as to say that the main labor federation, AFL-CIO, has made great strides since the “palace coup” changed the leadership in 1995. I love working with them.

Unions are inherently revolutionary, even though they do everything in their power to not be. They can’t help but oppose capitalism, even though they are solely defensive organizations, because capitalists can’t stop attacking them. Unions will never take power anywhere, but they can’t help trying.

But Unions Face Tremendous Problems

In my opinion, America’s unions could go a long way toward solving their problems if they’d just start with an historical analysis. As long as they continue to ignore the great mistakes they made between 1947 and 1995, they’ll find it harder to go forward. That’s one important thing.

Another one is that unions need to free themselves from being chained to the worst part of their members. Any union official can tell you that they spend most of their time handling petty grievances. The best union members rarely file a grievance, because they are not only the best union members but also the best workers. The worst workers, the ones who can’t show up half the time, the ones who are drunk on the job, the ones who abuse one another — those are the ones that file most of the grievances and , consequently, take up most of the union officers’ time.

In fact the biggest time consumer of all is the termination grievance. Somebody gets fired and the union feels obligated to try to get their job back. Management is not likely to take them back before all options are exhausted — and there are a lot of options in labor/management relations. The best union members, the best workers, rarely get fired.

That’s just the way the job works and nobody is actually complaining. If you don’t take care of the worst workers, you can’t take care of all the workers. If management can get away with abusing some workers, they’ll try to abuse all. So it’s not a waste of time, just a big consumer of time, to deal with grievances.

Union officers would like to spend time organizing, educating, and strengthening the union movement — but they usually don’t because they don’t have time.

There Are Tremendous Solutions

I believe that progressive union leaders are finding and applying solutions to these problems. I heard once that the Service Employees have some kind of centralized national grievance-handling process where grievances are called in by phone. I have no idea if this is true, nor do I know how it works.

But I imagine a big round table with grievance experts sitting at computers all around. Each of them has a headset. Each computer has access to labor law and, more importantly, every pertinent union contract. Members from all over the country call in their grievances. The expert types up a proper report and offers immediate advice. Then they contact management and begin to “handle” the grievance. They use three-way calling when appropriate.

When contracts expire, a complete digital record of the old contract and all grievance settlements is available to the negotiators. One of the experts from the round table I described might even sit in on negotiations to make sure everything is done properly and legally.

 What Is Needed?

Unions need cooperation. The utopian grievance handling proposal I outlined above could be used by the AFL-CIO to handle ALL grievances, not just those of a single union. Or maybe we could have one “grievance center” for public workerfs and one for private workrers. Maybe another one for private workers under the Railway Labor Law, as opposed to the National Labor Relations Law.

Unions are cooperating now more than anytime since 1947. They are not only cooperating with one another, they are even merging with one another. That’s good, but it could go a whole lot further. They could, for example, centralize their organizing departments, their education departments, and maybe some other departments.

Unions need organizers. The best organizers nowadays work with entire communities. The union man standing in front of a plant handing out leaflets, they say, has already lost. People get organized from their homes and communities. I’d go further to say that the best union members are going to be organized through a series of meaningful activities like the “Fight for Fifteen” effort to raise the minimum wage.

The internet, and, especially, social media need to be harnessed in labor’s campaign. We can organize that way and we can educate that way. Unions need educators.

Unions need activists. Every time a union man or woman assists in a community problem, they advertise the importance of joining the union.

None of these ideas is exactly new, except insofar as new technology is applied. My own union, the Autoworkers, wasn’t organized in the plants. It was organized during the frequent periods of plant shut downs in the auto industry. It was organized by the great Unemployed Councils, by marches, rallies, and protests.

And that seems like a good place to stop because it brings me back to my original point: unions need to assess our own history and learn from it!

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Movie review: “Birth of a Nation,” Directed by Nate Parker, Written by Nate Parker, Starring Nate Parker. 2 hours


Everybody in America needs to know about slavery. If right were right, we’d probably be required to attend a showing of Nate Parker’s new movie. Unfortunately, that may be the only way it would get a wide viewing. We don’t necessarily WANT to know what we NEED to know.

Nat Turner was a preacher who led an important slave rebellion in 1831. It led to a panic in the Old South. When white people panic, black people die. The title “Birth of a Nation” is famous in America because a silent movie long ago laid the emotional foundation for a re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan. If a person knew why Parker chose this title, one might also understand why audiences may not like his movie.

I don’t think anybody will complain about the technical aspects. Audiences feel right there with the slaves when they are shot, raped, tortured, humiliated and confined. They won’t complain that the actor wrote and directed himself, because the movie doesn’t fall victim to the self-indulgence of so many artists. But I don’t think people are going to come out of the theater feeling uplifted or enlightened the way they do when they come out of a really great art experience.

I think people will feel that they’ve been through an ordeal. It might be good for us, but so is going to the dentist. I’m not sure why the movie doesn’t make the connection it needs to make. The Pulitzer winning book by William Styron did. It’s possibly because it seems that the filmmaker took the Hollywood route of made-up romances, personal entanglements, and emotions that aren’t likely part of the record.  Maybe viewers couldn’t connect because they felt manipulated?

There were only 6 of us in the theater when we saw a matinee performance. I saw 4 go in for the next showing. I hope it does a lot better than that.

–Gene Lantz

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The 2016 elections confuse and dumbfound me.

I think I may have predicted the wrong winner in every presidential election since Goldwater in 1964. I was pretty sure Dukakis would beat Reagan because “people just aren’t that dumb,” as I used to say.

A year ago, I’d have bet money that the 2016 race would be between Hillary and Jeb Bush, so certain was I that we live in a plutocracy. Jimmy Carter said we live in a plutocracy, so it made sense that the plutocrats would be picking both candidates.

Today, I don’t think that corporate America picked Donald Trump. I don’t even think that the Koch brothers right-wing fascist trend of the Republican party picked Trump. When I was certain it would be Jeb Bush,  I underestimated the extent of America’s limited democracy.

Two days ago, when the newspaper ran side-by-side articles with scandals against Clinton and Trump, I thought that Clinton’s close association with Wall Street billionaires would weigh more heavily against her than Trump’s dumbass sexism would hurt him, but I’m apparently wrong about that, too. I don’t think anybody even remembers, two days later, that Clinton made all those cozy statements to the bankers, but the news is full of Trump’s groping women.

Today, while high-profile Republicans are abandoning Trump everywhere, the polls and pundits all say that Hillary Clinton will be our next president. I’m afraid to agree with them for fear I might put a hex on labor’s candidate. It’s been demonstrated over and over that I am usually wrong. Don’t listen to me, friends!

I Actually Do Know One Thing

I know which side I’m on.

Even though I may not be so smart, I am at least persistent. I’ve been on the side of working people all my life and quite consciously for almost 50 years. Reagan may have beat the workers black and blue, but some of us constantly worked against him. Right now I’m working for labor’s candidates and causes, win or lose.

Sooner or later, all of us will have a choice to make. We will either lapse into fascism and court the destruction of the planet or we will give up superstition and idealism and form a rational society for ourselves and our children. Average people, maybe some but not a lot smarter than me, will choose the same side I chose.

–Gene Lantz

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A caller on my radio show on at 9AM this Saturday morning paid us a great compliment.


Bonnie Mathias and I are on, 89.3FM, every Saturday at 9AM Central Time

He said that we were passing on worthwhile knowledge, just a little drop at a time. He compared the “drip drip drip” of our contribution to water eroding away a big hard rock of ignorance.

The “Workers Beat” program has been on KNON since it started in Dallas 30 or so years ago as a part of the ACORN community organizing group. When it had to go independent, and even after the government cut all funding for community talk radio, KNON managed to keep “Workers Beat” on the air.

It is one of three pro-labor radio shows in the entire southern half of the United States! As I put on the KNON web site, “Almost everything you see and hear comes from the bosses, or was approved by them. Employees don’t control the movies, the book publishers, TV, or the radio stations. Bosses do. The outlook and opinions of the bosses are expressed, everywhere and all the time. The outlook and opinions of workers get almost no expression. KNON “Workers Beat” talk show is an exception.”

Should We be Proud?

I guess that Bonnie Mathias and I can be proud that we prepare for the program and show up every Saturday without getting paid, but we can’t take credit for the wisdom in today’s caller’s compliment. The truth is that we don’t say a lot. KNON wants us to run an open mike talk show, not spout off our own opinions.

Even though today’s topic was the way that the City of Dallas is joining in the international game of sacrificing the right to retire, and even though I have very strong feelings about our losing the right to retire, I didn’t actually say “Vote NO on Proposition One on the Dallas ballot.” I just outlined what Proposition One would do and asked the radio audience for their opinions.

Callers were against Proposition One, by the way.

But the point is that the wisdom that working people get from the “Workers Beat” radio program isn’t coming from the hosts. It’s coming from the workers themselves! KNON just provides the forum, and working people call in, each with their own wise observations. Their observations are the “drip drip drip” of knowledge that is eroding away the rock of mass ignorance.

We’re just proud we could help!

–Gene Lantz

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Tartt, Donna, “The Goldfinch.” Little Brown, New York, 2013


The old story goes that a guy sought the meaning of life. So he had to climb the highest mountain to ask the Great Guru “What is the meaning of life?”

It wasn’t easy climbing the mountain. There were a rock slide, an avalanche, and several mountain lions before, exhausted, he climbed up to the Great Guru. With all the breath he could still muster, he finally got to ask his question, “Oh Great Guru, what is the meaning of life?”

The Guru answered solemnly, “Spinach.”

The guy went berserk. He screamed, “I climbed this high mountain, I faced mountain lions and a rock slide and an avalanche to get up here, and now you tell me that the meaning of life is spinach?”

Distraught, and with tears beginning to form in his old eyes, the Guru said, “You mean it’s not spinach?”


“The Goldfinch” comes highly recommended. Wikipedia says it was a big hit when it first came out in Dutch, and the English version took the Pulitzer prize for 2014. In it, Theo Decker ages from 13 to mid-twenties and interprets the meaning of life as he experiences it, particularly from his love of the fine arts. One particular painting, of a small bird chained to its perch, becomes the axis around which the rest of his experiences revolve.

It’s not the same as climbing a mountain, but it seems like a very very long book to try to figure out Theo’s ideas on the meaning of life, especially because there were so many references to the fine points of fine art of which he seems to know just about everything and I know almost nothing.  I had to look up “aesthete”: es-theet or, esp. British, ees-] noun.

1. a person who has or professes to have refined sensitivity toward the beauties of art or nature.

  1. a person who affects great love of art, music, poetry, etc., and indifference to practical matters.

I decided that Theo, or at least author Donna Tartt, may be an aesthete and I’m not.

In my thinking, an aesthete is someone who would go ga-ga over a painting of a bird for decades, but would walk right by a dozen mockingbirds without looking nor listening. Without all the painted beauty that he describes so exquisitely, life would be pretty meaningless, or at least that’s what Theo seems to think.

I like paintings ok, but real birds are terrific, too. What I really like is everyday living. I like fixing oatmeal in the mornings for my wife. I sing a little song sometime, as I slice the apples and pour on the cinnamon, “Fixin’ breakfast for you!”

My wife has never once complained about my oatmeal. She always eats it. When I brag that I have some special talent and refer to myself grandly as the “Oatmeal King of the South,” she never contradicts me. In fact, she’s told other people that I make really good oatmeal.

So “The Goldfinch” book may be a good way to learn how to comment on some of the fine arts, and maybe it will interest people searching for the meaning of life. But it’s a long uphill climb to find out.

It’s like the guy who climbed up the mountain and was disappointed at the end. I could have told him that the meaning of life is not to be found in “The Goldfinch.” It’s not spinach, either.

It’s oatmeal.

–Gene Lantz

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I’ve been raving about this book for months, but it has a giant hole in it. There’s no treatment of what’s happening to the right to retire!


Senior Day at the Texas Capitol

I’ll put some of my notes about his fine book at the end. In a nutshell it explains that inequality went wild once the American workers movement — especially the unions — allowed themselves to be isolated and neutralized. Around 1980 — after the unions had chased away all the communists and all the international friends and all the progressive movement and, finally, each other — the corporations and their government lackeys were able to privatize, deregulate, un-tax themselves, attack progressive organizations and subvert democracy at will. They’re still doing it even though the weakened unions started wising up in 1995.

Conquerors attack their enemies at their weakest point. That means that the general attack against all working Americans tended to focus on the most vulnerable. In our case, the most vulnerable are the children and the seniors. The book talks a little about the corporate onslaught against public schools, but it doesn’t mention seniors at all!

Fight for the Right to Retire

The right to retire was put on firm footing in America with the passing of the Social Security Act in 1935. Medicare/Medicaid was added before 1980 Reaganomics became policy. In the 1960s, Americans could look forward to resting their “golden years” on a three-legged stool of personal savings, pensions, and Social Security. Now in 2016, the first two have been decimated and Social Security is under multiple threats every time Congress is in session.

In 2002, the new and progressive AFL-CIO leadership put together the Alliance for Retired Americans. It consists of a lobbying office in Washington DC and far-flung supporters here and there around the nation. We usually meet in union halls and most of our initial supporters are union retirees, but we reach out to all seniors and, for that matter, anybody and everybody who wants to save the right to retire in America before it’s too late!

In 2006, we faced a major challenge because President Bush made it his top priority to privatize Social Security. He came close, but we stopped him. Since 1980, there have been a succession of crazy proposals to do this and do that with retiree benefits. All of them are obscured in language, but in the final analysis they all mean cuts for seniors.

Around 1986, it became possible for corporations to disregard their responsibility for pensions in bankruptcy proceedings. In 2015 Congress decided that trustees of multi-employer pensions could solve their budget problems by cutting retiree benefits. The budget for administering Social Security has been cut so severely that many offices had to be shut down and many counselors laid off. Corporations and anti-worker politicians come up with some new attack every few weeks.

Here in Dallas, voters will find on their November 8 ballot a proposal to slash the pensions of City employees. The Dallas newspaper already endorsed it as sound policy!

It’s fight or die!

–Gene Lantz

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Some notes from the book:

Leopold, Les, “Runaway Inequality. An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice.” Foreword by Chris Shelton, President of CWA. Labor Institute Press, 817 Broadway, NY NY 10003, 2015

I think I put 3 references to this book on I found it very exciting that CWA was holding classes and giving away copies of a book on more-or-less radical economics.

pg2 (shelton) “We’ll see data showing that elected officials rarely act on the agenda most Americans support.”

pg4: “Most of all, the media turns a blind eye to the fact that we live in a capitalist system.”

pg4: “…there is, in fact, a fundamental conflict between employees and owners, between the rich and the rest of us.”

pg5 “Economic elites will only give up power and wealth when they’re forced to do so by a powerful social movement.”

pg29-30 (Leopold) list of reasons for economic crisis of late 1970s, including competition from industrialized countries.

pg194 “…American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

pg204 “This policy of military Keynesianism led to an unofficial partnership between the government, large corporations and labor unions. These groups worked together (more or less) to prosecute the Cold War.”

pg 288 “…Wealth inequality and unionization levels are intertwined.”

pg288: List of “what happened to unions” begins, “The decline of unionism started when unions started cooperating with the government ‘anti-red’ efforts during the McCarthy era.”

The book doesn’t actually generalize, but it does show that the entire process of rising  inequality was a result of union isolation —  first from the world movement, then from the domestic progressive movements here at home (anti-war, civil rights, etc) and finally, with the merger of the AFL and the CIO, from one another. “Solidarity” was still a good song, but it wasn’t really practiced 1947-1995 in the American union movement.

pg 289: “…Unions and the rest of us are on the losing side of a gigantic class war — a war that we have to recognize, discuss and address if unions are to grow again.”


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Two big questions are in the news: Should mega-whistleblower Edward Snowden be pardoned? Should 9/11 victims be allowed to sue Saudi Arabia?


Both questions have to do with the nature of the state. By “state” I mean what most people call “nation” or “government,” not the kind of state we say when we talk about the sorry state we’re in.

Do You Love Snowden?

The new Oliver Stone movie “Snowden” makes a strong case for national hero status. In it, the central actor talks to journalists and directly into a TV camera. The earlier movie, “Citizen Four” was a documentary consisting almost entirely of those recordings that Snowden actually made with the journalists while all of them hid in his Hong Kong hotel room. Of the two films, the documentary is the better movie and makes the stronger case for hero status because Snowden explains, in his own words, why he did it.

It was for love and respect. He says he loves and respects himself and thus has the same regard for all others. We are, in plain truth, all pretty much alike. If we care about anybody, we have no excuse for not caring for everybody. Snowden realizes that. He explains it well to the camera. When he did, I was in love!

It’s Harder to Love the Saudis

A bill to allow 9/11 victims to sue any country that they think was involved in the attack on the Twin Towers in New York sailed through both houses of Congress. Then President Obama vetoed it. Then the congresspersons, whose collective wisdom has earned them the lowest regard of any Congress in American history, decided to override the veto. They did it, too, just today! (Click here).

Their argument was that the victims should get more compensation. The President’s argument was that they’re opening a can of worms that will end up with the United States being sued all the time by foreigners. The real question is whether or not individuals in a given state should be allowed to conduct negotiations with other states.

In Snowden’s case, the real question is whether or not an individual can reveal state secrets.

Unions Prohibit Individual Negotiations

If one were a union member, he/she would be discouraged from negotiating with any entity outside the union — especially not with management. Union members are also expected to keep silent about union business. If one were helping negotiate a contract, for example, one would be sworn to secrecy until negotiations had concluded and formal announcements were made. There’s really no other way to run a union!

So, if the analogy between a union and the United States holds up, citizens shouldn’t be suing Saudi Arabia and Brother Snowden should have kept his mouth shut.

It Depends on the State

Socialists believe that states will eventually wither away because they won’t be necessary once class divisions are finally behind us. So far, that has never happened, but it’s still the general idea. Socialists may be all in favor of unions, but not in favor of states.

So, if you love your state the way I love my union, Congress and Snowden are both wrong. But if you don’t think so much of this government, the opposite opinions prevail.

Let ’em sue anybody they want to! Let’s join the movement to pardon Edward Snowden! I wouldn’t call him a “national” hero, but definitely a world hero!

–Gene Lantz

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