The Texas AFL-CIO convention was depressing, even though it showed continuous improvement in labor’s aggressiveness and strategic action.

If you aren’t subscribing to Ed Sills’ regular labor e-blasts (write ed@texasaflcio.org), then you aren’t staying up with Texas working people. Ed sent out a good comprehensive report and it was upbeat. I assume that eventually it will be on http://texasaflcio.org. Every participant I talked to was upbeat. “Pumped” was the word they used.

Some of the best parts of the convention were the resolutions passed and the opening speech by President Rick Levy. Levy said we are at a crossroads and it is time for Texas labor to “Go big or go home.” In other words, we are in an extraordinary situation with unusual problems and challenges that have to be met aggressively and with our best thinking. I really liked that.

The other thing I really liked was the resolutions. Ed Sills summarized all of them, but I’ll mention just one: “Support for the concept of Medicare for All.” That resolution put Texas out front.

Off the Record

I had two personal conversations that were real zingers. One of them evaluated how to measure success for a Central Labor Council and the other evaluated today’s possibilities for working people.

All of the Central Labor Council leaders, of course, were at the convention. One of them told me that the true measure of local work is whether or not they can shut down the economy. If a Central Labor Council can’t shut down its local economy, then it hasn’t reached its potential, he said. He agreed with me that none of them in Texas has, but that’s where the bar must be set.

There are a lot of professional organizers at these things, and nearly all of the speakers said that the labor movement must, in so many words, “organize or die.” No argument anywhere, BUT: When I talk to union leaders individually and off the record, they tell me that they really don’t have time to organize. The American labor movement is tied up with servicing their members, settling grievances, and negotiating with bosses. Organizing is almost an afterthought and is usually shunted off to one or two individuals, almost as a sideline. The best thing said at the convention about organizing was that we have to make every member an organizer. It’s true but it’s going to be really hard to do.

But one organizer had an entirely different story. A short informal conversation with him made the entire 3-day convention worthwhile for me. This guy talked about turning labor actions over to the members, about looking high and low for allies, and about all things being possible when the members come together and run their own show. The most prominent example of that recently has been the teachers of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. I talked about that in another blog. I was absolutely delighted to see another union applying those lessons so well!

I put all kinds of photos and videos on my Facebook page “Gene Lantz.”

So why was I depressed?

On the way to San Antonio for the convention, I was agonizing over the advances that fascism is making in America. We are heading for an awful crossroads and we will either emerge with fascism or a new, extended democracy. The other thing I thought about on the way to San Antonio was the youth of Puerto Rico, who were overthrowing their government with a general strike.

I expected the speakers to deal directly with the danger of fascism and the solution, nationwide labor actions. No matter how good the Texas AFL-CIO convention was, and it was certainly good by any usual measure, if it didn’t deal with those two phenomena, it worried me. These are not normal times.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9 AM every Saturday morning Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, glance over my personal web site

Book Review:

Blanc, Eric, “Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, New York, 2019.

The book is a collaboration between Verso Books and Jacobin magazine, jacobinmag.com

“In the Spring of 2018, teachers and school staff across the United States fought back and won.” That’s the beginning.

The book purports to tell how they did it, which is something that everybody in America needs to know.

Blanc mentions other labor actions, but his main reporting comes from the strikes by school employees in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. At the time, and even now, the victories seem incredible! In all of these states, what they did was illegal. None of them had a great deal of union density, and none of them had a single school employees’ union with a commanding majority of workers signed up. In West Virginia, there were three competing statewide unions claiming jurisdiction. (page 60)

Unity Sounds Easy, But Isn’t

Here’s the basic strategy on page 47: “…the basic challenge for a successful education strike is to close schools by building up and maintaining employee unity in action, while simultaneously seeking public support.” Would that every union and progressive organization in America take that to heart!

Overcoming Divisions

If working people could unite, we could win anything we wanted. Everybody knows that, but, so far, none of us knows how. Blanc treats some of the causes of our disunity: laws, racism, and red-baiting.

Page 54: “…at moments of struggle, legality comes down to a relationship of forces.” On page 76, Blanc says “Labor law in the United States is uniquely structured to divide working people.”

The number one divisive issue in American labor is racism. Blanc treats the problem around page 65 and concludes that it was not a major problem for the school employees.

The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign of 2016 had seriously changed people’s attitudes. Even though socialists took leading roles in the strikes, there was very little red-baiting. The bosses’ propaganda campaigns were not decisive. On page 80, Blanc says “…public support actually increased after the strikes began.”

Unions and Allies Cooperated

The strikes were generated from the rank and file employees, not by their unions. The unions, however, generally cooperated with the process. Other unions, such as construction workers in Oklahoma, significantly helped. As for the main school employees’ unions, Blanc says on page 84, “…though the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, and AFT unfortunately failed to organize any systematic national support campaign, solidarity messages and photos from individual unions across the country similarly bolstered the educators’ spirits. Churches proved to be no less politically important.”

On page 92, Blanc describes the reaction when major West Virginia union leaders announced that they had made a settlement and were calling off the strike. When details of the very inadequate settlement emerged, the strike went wildcat! Workers stayed away from work in spite of their unions!

Technology Changes Strategy

Traditional union actions may not have yet fully grasped the changes in communications technology, but the striking workers in this book did. The West Virginia strike actually began as a Facebook page. On page 115, Blanc says “Without social media, there’s no chance that the red state revolt would have developed as it did.” At the same time, it would be a big mistake to think that the entire campaign came about because of social media. On page 150, Blanc says flatly “…establishing real workplace power can’t be forged solely through Facebook.”

The “Magic” Was Hard Work

It is my considered opinion that Blanc’s main point is found around page 140: that success did not come from some magic formula, nor from social media, nor from brilliant leadership. It came from hard work. “Lost in the breezy national media reports were the months of organizing – and the political strategies that informed these activities – that made West Virginia’s success possible.”

Here is the concluding paragraph: “No one has any illusions that it will be easy to reestablish an influential Left rooted in a fighting working class. This will require patient organizing over many years. Our enemies are powerful – and we’ll certainly experience many defeats along the way. But never underestimate the ability of working people to turn the world upside down.”

–Gene Lantz

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

Book Review

Sanders, Bernie, “Where We Go from Here. Two Years in the Resistance.” Thomas ‘Dunne Books, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2018

Bernie’s second blockbuster book takes up where the last one left off, right after Hillary Clinton was declared the winner of the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2016. Bernie catches us up on what he’s done since then, which is an amazing list of progressive activities. The best value of the book, like the first book, is the way he explains what’s wrong in America and what has to happen for any kind of good outcome.

It begins, “…I stated over and over again that the future of our country was dependent upon our willingness to make a political revolution. I stressed that real change never occurs from the top down. It always happens from the bottom up.” In other words, even though the book is ostensibly about Sanders’ campaigns for the presidency, it’s really about something much greater.

Sanders’ election campaigns are only a component of a larger plan to develop a mass movement capable of making real change. That’s why his supporters are moving America forward. A few may have thought that their contributions in 2016 went for nought, but they are mistaken. Even when Bernie loses, he wins. The movement gets stronger, and the movement is everything. The election is, well, not so much!

My Favorite Parts

Everything about this book is encouraging. I picked out some of my favorite parts. On page 45 Sanders explains that Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices as the Veterans’ Administration does: “In fact, the VA pays about 24 percent less for drugs than most government agencies and about 40 percent less than Medicare Part D.”

Here’s a lesson for activists on page 75: “…we have since made social media central to the efforts of our office.”

If one word explains what is wrong in the world, the word is inequality. Sanders (page 78) says that 52% of all new income goes to the top 1% of Americans. He also says that 3 American billionaires now have as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the population!

Sanders knows a lot more about foreign policy than he is given credit for. I was surprised, and pleased, to read on page 90 that he is not a pacifist. So his opposition to the Iraq invasion was a practical matter, not an abstract or religious commitment. On page 183 he points out that “…the Department of Defense remains the only  major government agency not to have undertaken a comprehensive audit?”

As a radio talk show host, I was particularly pleased to see that Sanders views the corporate media clearly. On page 124 he says, “Corporate media is not ‘objective’; they are not the ‘referees’ trying to provide ‘all sides of the story.’ Corporate media are profit-making entities owned and controlled by the ruling class and some of the wealthiest people in the country. And, like all private corporations, they have an agenda.”

I also greatly appreciate his insights into our criminal “injustice” system. On page 125 and elsewhere, Sanders bemoans the fact that the United States has “more people in jail than any other nation.” Sanders has never received due credit for his commitment to equal rights for all. On page 191 he agrees with Dr King that “the inseparable twin of racial injustice is economic injustice.”

Don’t Look In the Wrong Place

A lot of American voters are trying to sort through the 20-odd Democratic Party presidential candidates. They are misled. They are looking at the wrong thing. None of those candidates, not even Bernie Sanders, even elected to the presidency, can make the fundamental change that is necessary today. It’s going to take a giant mass movement.

As Sanders says on page 179: “My view is, and has always been, that campaigns are not just about the candidate.”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio “Workers Beat” program 89.3FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Congress is raising a hullabaloo about what they are now calling “Big Tech” – by which they mean Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google. They are threatening to break out the old anti-trust laws and scatter each company into smaller ones. Their argument is that it would be more democratic to have smaller, less powerful, tech companies.

Here are my arguments against it.

Us old people saw this before when they broke up Bell Telephone. Does anybody remember their phone bills going down and their phone service improving? Nope. Nobody remembers it because it never happened. If anything, phone service costs went up and landline phone service became, well, what it is today.

Consider China

While American legislators are trying to tear successful enterprises apart, the Chinese are trying to build theirs up. One ought to think about the reasons for this difference, especially because the Chinese have clearly been operating the most successful economy in the world. Do you remember the phrase, “A Chinaman’s chance?” It used to mean no chance at all. In my lifetime, they’ve come from the least respected to the most feared economic machine.

I think that the Chinese want the obvious efficiency of giant enterprises, as almost anybody would. Apparently, the government over there thinks they can control them. Our government over here likes to pretend that they don’t interfere much in the economy. They say “let the market take care of itself,” unless, of course, their wealthy backers want another handout such as the giant tax break they just ripped off.

The pretense that the American economy can get back to some kind of individualistic entrepreneurial spirit is just that, a pretense. A capitalist economy develops the way it does because of its fundamental nature. The big ones eat the small ones. There’s no going back, and there’s actually no reason to go back anyway.

The Chinese government and the American government, both of them, can regulate big business. In fact, they can regulate big business better than they can regulate multiple smaller businesses for the simple reason that there are fewer people to watch and fewer books to audit.

Innovation?

Who can do research and development better than the government? Look at the pharmaceutical industry, for example. The problem with big pharma is not that they don’t take advantage of government research. The problem is that government doesn’t regulate them. Their cadres of lobbyists practically run the government instead of the other way around!

Consider the Postal Service

I’m afraid that the same people who want to break up Google are the same ones who want to break up the Post Office. We used to have the best postal service in the world, and it provided some of the best jobs we could get. Now, the good jobs are mostly gone and “privatization” is in every other paragraph. The same thing is true of what used to be the best school system in the world.

What Kind of Future?

We may daydream about a future that looks like our past. Young entrepreneurs wearing buckskins building up cattle empires on Native-Americans lands? Is that the model? Not likely. In my own sci-fi speculations about the future, revolutionaries try to build on the great accomplishments of capitalism, not tear them down. That’s for hippies.

The American government could regulate giant corporations on behalf of the people. They just don’t.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON”s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. 89.3FM in Dallas and podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

None of the candidates in the 2020 presidential race are going to put things right. Not even Bernie.

My idea is not original. I got it from Bernie Sanders. In every speech and message, Sanders tells us that fundamental change will only come from a great united movement. Not from any candidate.

A good example was Mr Obama. He was elected on a slogan of “change,” and I think he sincerely meant it. As president, I think he did about as well as could be done. Working people certainly benefited.

But my old friend George Meyers was completely correct when he taught me that every victory for working people has to be won over and over as long as the employers are in charge. No matter what we win, they can, and will, always take it away.

So none of the candidates, not even Bernie, can fix what’s wrong.

Learn from history

I think that voters knew that in 2016. I think that some of Bernie’s voters crossed over to Trump in their desperation for anything other than business as usual. If the Democrats nominate another humdrum establishment politician, Trump is likely to win again.

A vote for Trump in 2020 is a vote for fascism, but don’t forget that Hitler was also elected by a population that was desperate for something different.

What needs fixing?

There are two major problems underlying our crisis: 1) America’s waning economic power and 2) Unrestricted capitalism which, by necessity, piles up the wealth for a diminishing few while exploiting the many. In order to continue unrestricted capitalism under these circumstances, the employers find it necessary to erode and, eventually, destroy democracy.

Mr Trump is certainly not going to fix either one of these problems. In fact, by exploiting them for personal power, he’s making them much worse. It may be true that “anybody but Trump” is the right election choice for 2020, but elections are only one part of power politics.

How do we fix them?

Major social changes are not and never have been made by well intentioned individuals or small groups. It takes a united mass movement. That’s what Mr Bernie Sanders is working toward. His presidential campaigns are only a part of building that movement. Even if he loses again in 2020, support for him and his movement is still the right course. In fact, it’s the only positive course.

–Gene Lantz

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

Book Review: Woodward, Bob, “Fear. Trump in the White House.” Simon & Schuster, New York, 2018

Most of the people who can read already have a low opinion of Donald J Trump. What they find in Woodward’s careful documentation of White House conversations is not likely to change many opinions. It will confirm, and strongly confirm, those with the opinion that the President of the United States is a lazy, prevaricating, egomaniacal, loose pistol with one finger on his Twitter feed and the other on nuclear war.

The book extensively explains that Trump believes that power is fear. But I don’t think that’s the reason for the book’s title. I think Woodward is talking about the world’s fear for its own safety.

If one wanted to take Trump’s view of things, or if one yearned for the vacuous “neutrality” nonsense to which most journalists pretend, then one could credit Trump with being loyal to his original plan. In other words, he really is against free trade, globalization, immigrants, and foreign entanglements. If those ideas are twisted and spun well, a lot of Americans would agree with him on those fundamentals. In fact, a lot of Americans voted for him and will vote for him again.

The popular idea that any Democrat could beat Trump in 2020 is just as unreliable a belief as the 2016 national conviction, supported by scientific polling, that he didn’t stand a chance against Hillary Clinton. Nobody believed that Trump would take power, even though they had the clear precedent from Nazi Germany.

Understanding Is Needed

It is not enough to dislike Donald J Trump as we prepare for 2020. It is not enough to quote Bob Woodward from this book to convince people to look elsewhere for a president in 2020. If we are to make progress in the 2020 elections, we need to carefully explain what is happening and what must be done.

Certain truths need to be faced and understood. Begin with the clear fact that we are reaching the end of America’s economic dominance. The reasons for that dominance grew out of World War I and World War II. Those reasons are long gone. American continues to dominate the world militarily, but not economically. Donald Trump did not make that happen. He exploits it, but he didn’t make it happen.

Springing directly from America’s waning economic domination and continuing military domination is the growth of immigration numbers. After all, if the United States hadn’t created the Syrian military crisis, millions of people would have stayed home. In other countries, it may take two sentences instead of one to explain why families leave home, but the military and economic factors, both springing largely from the United States, are the root cause. Donald Trump exploits that situation, but he didn’t create it.

Hitler exploited the 25% unemployment rate in Germany and the failure of the social democrats to reform society. He didn’t create the misery, but he exploited it.

Speaking of Hitler and Trump, it is especially important to note that they had a lot more power afterward than they did when they were first elected. Hitler was eventually able to do away with the German legislature entirely. Trump hasn’t gone that far, but Trump and the Trump supporters have eroded the power of the legislative branch. Their control over the judiciary is even more obvious and more scary.

The Solution Goes Far Beyond Personalities

As 2020 draws near, progressive voters are asking, “Which Democrat has the best chance of beating Trump?” That question barely scratches the surface of what is needed. No one person, even a president, will change the underlying problems we face. The president that we elect, and all the down-ballot politicians that we elect, are going to have to contribute to actual solutions: organizing for fundamental change.

Gene Lantz

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

Why am I still smiling?

In Dallas, the “business elite,” a euphemism for “unscrupulous greedy rich people,” won the June runoff elections for City Council and School Board. Turnout was among the lowest in the nation.

Elections are absolutely critical, but we always find that the winners we support (think Obama) can’t really save us from everything and the ones we worked against (think Trump) can’t really do as much damage as we feared. So elections are not entirely completely totally about who won and who lost.

To understand politics, we have to look beyond candidates and try to understand trends. For example, the Dallas election turnout was 33% higher than the last comparable election. The runoff election, which should have had a much lower turnout than the first round because there were far fewer candidates, was the same as the first round!

What does it mean? It means that we may have a very low level of political consciousness in Dallas, but that it’s dramatically improving! That’s one thing to smile about!

Another trend worth noting is the humongous amounts of money that rich people are paying to win elections. Positions that they used to buy for a few thousands are now costing them millions! Money still wins elections, but it takes more of it!

Another very good trend sounds like a bad trend: the political stooges of the rich-and-greedy are trying every possible way to end democracy, especialy as it applies to elections. Voter suppression is obvious in many state legislatures, especially ours. If they weren’t running scared, would they be publicly shaming themselves so?

The rule of the rich-and-greedy is becoming precarious, and they know it!

Some other good things are evident in Dallas’ local elections. In the past, it was difficult to pick the candidates to vote for. Nowadays, the Dallas AFL-CIO has perfected the most comprehensive screening process ever available for working families. Many Dallasites haven’t realized it yet, but the information is there for future elections.

And, speaking of information, the Dallas AFL-CIO is steadily improving its ability to inform and activate the progressive population. In the last week of the runoff election, we were finally able to establish a Digital Organizing Committee that will be the beginning of a progressive information network. Our goal is to organize everybody, and, thanks to the farsighted National AFL-CIO leadership, we have the tools to do it!

Thanks for reading this. You’re proving my point! If you share it around, you’ll prove it even more!

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site