This morning on KNON.org and 89.3FM, a caller called me a policeman. He really started warming up then and called me a Republican.

The problem began with the previous caller. My guest, Kenneth Williams, was saying that the Democrats should impeach President Trump. The caller said that it didn’t matter because we would still have capitalism and we need socialism. He basically said that nothing matters in American politics and that there is nothing we can do.

I didn’t disagree with him, but I asked him what we should be doing. I think that President Roosevelt’s great quote, “Do something,” is an admirable guide. He kept talking anti-capitalism and pro-socialism and I kept asking him what kind of action he would recommend. Gridlock.

Then the phone rang again. This one was the name-caller. He, too, said that capitalism is bad and that we have to have socialism. So I asked him what we should do. He said I was trying to change the subject. I said I wasn’t changing the subject but, if we need something different, how do we get it? It seemed to make him even more angry, so that’s when he called me a Republican.

Actually, he had a point

I’m not good at hiding my opinions, and I think the second caller figured out that, truly, I do not like armchair socialists. An armchair socialist is a pseudo-intellectual who rejects everybody else’s proposals but has none of his/her own. At least, they have no proposals that they are willing to act on. Noam Chomsky strikes me as such an armchair socialist. Even though I often agree with his criticisms, I’m not fond of him overall.

Almost the opposite of an armchair socialist is a knee-jerk activist. This is somebody who takes “do something” to heart so much that they get involved in every issue without thinking. They don’t even know which side they are on.

Politics may seem like a game to some people, but not to me. It’s a matter of life or death for everybody on this planet, and it merits some serious thinking and committed action.

But, of the two, I prefer the activists. They are at least right part of the time. The armchair socialists are a drag all the time!

–Gene Lantz

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

I love my union dearly. The United Auto, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is largely responsible for some of the greatest leaps forward in the history of the American labor movement. But I’m terrified that we’re in trouble today.

Sing the union’s praise!

The UAW’s main contract, and one of the most important union contracts in America, expires September 14. They have decided to target General Motors then demand the same contract from Ford and Fiat/Chrysler. It’s called “pattern bargaining” and it has made the autoworkers some of the best-represented workers in American history.

Workers in Aerospace, like me, and other UAW-represented workers have done pretty well, too, but not as well as the auto workers. 151,000 of them face the contract expiration that looms over us right now. They voted by impressive margins to authorize strikes if the union negotiators decide it’s needed.

Trouble in the News

Just making everything worse, FBI and IRS agents are investigating the possibility of corruption at the highest levels. I believe 9 from the upper echelons of the union have already been convicted or pled guilty. It is fascinating to speculate on how people will react to this bad news.

I know how the Trotskyites of the 4th International feel, because I read several of their posts. They are full of glee. They call the union a “criminal conspiracy” and, apparently, can’t wait for more convictions.

A quite different reaction came from People’s World, a news service loosely associated with the Communist Party, USA. They aren’t happy with the news and want to minimize its effect on the contract negotiations. That’s my attitude, too.

Whatever some union officials may have done, if indeed they did, there’s no reason to penalize 151,000 ordinary workers for it. The government of the United States is clearly against working families, and hitting the headlines with their investigation during contract negotiations is clearly anti-worker.

UAW leaders haven’t said much to the public about the investigation. President Gary Jones has made it clear that they are focusing on the negotiations and trying to get the best possible contract. That’s exactly right, in my book.

Something Worries Me More

The UAW leadership hasn’t said a lot about the investigation, but that isn’t my main concern. What worries me to death is that they haven’t said much about the negotiations either!

I’ve been writing for some time about the recent upturn in some union activities. The most notable successes were the school employees in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona last year. But there are other, smaller successes, too. All of them involve mobilizing union members, their families, their friends, their churches, their community organizations, and even their political representatives.

Everybody who reads labor news knows that such broad mobilizations can win, and are probably the only possible way to win in today’s world. “Go it alone” is discredited. I don’t want to see the mighty UAW go alone into disaster, but I’m afraid that might happen.

So What Can You Do?

If the UAW leadership isn’t asking you for help, what do you do? All I could think of was to sound the alarm and start asking people if they would be willing to help when and if the union asks.

I made up a sort-of pledge that says, “We are backing the United Auto Workers union in negotiations with the auto industry. Many of the best things in American labor history came from the UAW. Standing with the UAW is standing for America!

Name, zip code, and contact information:

______________________________________________________ ______________________________

______________________________________________________ ______________________________”

I’ve given them out all over my area. Who knows if they will help? Who knows if they will ever even be needed? I can’t just stand by, and I hope you can’t either!

–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

This morning, I threw myself into resolving one of the biggest problems. A friend of mine wanted to start a study group on revolutionary thinking, and he asked me to lead it.

Ten of us showed up. I had asked people to work the first three modules from http://lilleskole.us/school/abcs/abcs.htm. I don’t think any of them did. The Little School has short essays and 3-4 questions on each page. Students are supposed to read the essay, if needed, and then take a shot at answering the multiple-choice questions. I don’t think any of them figured out how to click on the choices until I showed them personally. Even after that, they were critical of the format. One of them offered to re-write the school using better formatting, and I gladly agreed.

Still, they were a nice bunch of young revolutionaries with memberships in various organizations around town, especially the largest group: Democratic Socialists of America. They listened to me rave on for ten minutes or so.

I said that we can expect a large vote for Donald Trump in the next election, even though it makes no sense. People do all kinds of things that make no sense, because they aren’t necessarily using common sense. Common sense is just the sum of what we have experienced so far. It’s usually adequate for most situations.

But many people, possibly most people, don’t even use common sense when deciding political questions. They use superstition, religion, or what they might call their “sense of right and wrong.” In other words, they use their feelings.

Both our feelings and our common sense were formed, I argued, under the rule of our present system. Everything we read, hear, or view was either written by our bosses or approved by them before it got to us. Every textbook, every movie, every song, every TV newscast, and every radio program.

So if we are going to start thinking rationally, we have a lot to overcome. Even more interesting is the fact that some things have never happened to us and therefore are not represented in our “common sense” at all! How do we go about understanding things that are entirely new?

I went on to contrast the two fundamental branches of philosophy: Idealism and Materialism. Materialists believe that truth comes from the real world. Idealists believe it exists somewhere else and the real world is just an imperfect version of it. The exact location of this ideal world is unknown and probably doesn’t matter, they might say. But the truth is that it exists in their heads and is just another way of saying their feelings.

I warned the class that they would have a hard time with the rest of this study group if they did not accept materialism, at least for the purposes of this sequence of events.

Then we went around the table with questions and answers. When it came my turn again, I answered. Students asked why we had to study tiny little steps on things that we already knew. The best question was “Why do we need to study this stuff at all?”

I surprised myself with what I consider a very good answer. I said that we study this stuff, even these small building blocks, because we would like to unify all the newfound revolutionaries that are peopling America since the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. They don’t agree on much and they don’t even have a framework within which they could seek agreement.

So we are studying this framework. Eventually, we will have a way to make sense of the world to ourselves and to others. Then we can help unify this factious movement and move on toward victory. Until then we will be discussing things forever, just as other movements before this one have done. A good example, I said, was the Occupy movement of a few years ago. Pretty good answer I thought.

We’ll meet again in two weeks. I asked them to study the next three modules on why people think what they think, change is constant, and how to understand history. I also suggested they read the short version of the booklet, “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.”

Yes, these are small steps. But I’m leading up to something!

–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, look at my personal web site.

Movie Review

“American Factory,” Netflix documentary by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, 110 minutes

General Motors leaves a lot of Dayton, Ohio, workers adrift when they shut down a big factory. In 2014, a Chinese company buys it and starts hiring. They bring in a number of their veteran workers to show the Americans how to manufacture automobile glass the Chinese way. The film makers follow the workers, both Chinese and American, and managers, both Chinese and American, around the workplace and during visits to China, and let them have their say.

The film was recommended by the AFL-CIO, but that doesn’t mean it’s a propaganda vehicle for our side. In an extra attachment, the two documentarians explain their lack of bias to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Even without editorializing from the film makers, there are some really hard-hitting scenes in the movie. One of the Americans explains how happy he is to get the new job, how affectionate he feels toward his new Chinese co-workers as he settles in, and then, later, how lost and miserable he is when he gets fired for causing a 3-second delay.

The Chinese and American workers try to figure each other out. The Autoworkers union tries to regain the membership they lost from General Motors (the organizing drive could have easily made a good separate movie). The American managers try to cope with the hard demands of the Chinese owners. Some quit, some get fired, and some get laid off as the factory becomes more and more efficient. At least one of the American managers is bitter about being dumped. Another one, speaking Mandarin and probably thinking it won’t get translated, shows himself to be far nastier toward the American workers than the Chinese ever tried to be.

In a trip to a Chinese factory, the American managers try to adjust to an entirely different culture and mentality. The always-neutral film makers just record it all without comment.

The Chinese workers were on 12-hour shifts and some of them were only able to see their families for a few days out of every year. They were amazingly efficient and fanatically hard-working. Nobody commented on it, but all of them were also quite young.

–Gene Lantz

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

Every year around Labor Day, Tom Berry asks me to speak at his weekly free speech forum, “College of Complexes.” This year, I said I would explain the world crisis and put forward the remedy. After I told him that, I had about two weeks to ask people what I should say.

From everybody I asked, and with a few factoids from the Dallas newspaper, this is what I told them on the evening of August 24:

A global crisis exists. It is economic, democratic, environmental, and a threat to world peace. The entire long video is at https://youtu.be/LSyxzN5-OW8, but I cut it into smaller pieces.

Economic Crisis

A short video of this part is at https://youtu.be/YNA90eP1eIc

The national Debt tops $22T for first time in history. This year’s projected budget deficit approaches $1T and will exceed $1T in 2020. “Some analysts note that between the deficit soaring and interest rates low, neither Congress nor the Fed would be able to do that much in a recession. ‘Both sides are out of bullets,’ said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank.”

Growth rates are falling internationally. Some countries, including Germany, already near recession.

Inequality is rampant. CEOs rake in 940% more than 40 years ago, while average workers earn 12% more. A September 2017 study by the Federal Reserve reported that the top 1% owned 38.5% of the country’ s wealth in 2016. “At the global level, wealth is highly concentrated: the top 10% owns more than 70% of the total wealth in China, Europe, and the United States combined; the bottom 50% owns less than 2%; and the middle 40% owns less than 30%,” Alice Walton has $46B. The CEO of American Airlines makes $6000/hour.

Outlook for workers worsens as the gig economy grows. The gulf between CEO pay and median worker pay has widened. Publicly traded companies are increasingly plowing cash into stock buybacks and shareholder dividends. … U.S. corporations in the S&P 500 spent a record $806 billion on stock buybacks in 2018.

A recession is pending. One of the most significant developments in this week’s turmoil was the emergence of an inverted yield curve in bond markets. This refers to a situation in which the return on long term government debt falls below that on shorter term bonds. This phenomenon is regarded as one of the most accurate indicators of recession as investors seek a “safe haven” in longer term bonds, pushing up their price and lowering their yield. The price of gold is rising as investors seek safe havens.

Peace & Justice

A short video is at https://youtu.be/xGcaPOknI5A

Discord is rising in the G-7 meeting. Trump has been at odds with traditional allies on climate, Iran, and trade. Volatility is occurring as Trump largely dismisses international alliances and cooperation in favor of his America First policies, creating a vacuum in global leadership. https://youtu.be/xGcaPOknI5A A short video is at Discord is rising in the G-7 meeting. Trump has been at odds with traditional allies on climate, Iran, and trade. Volatility is occurring as Trump largely dismisses international alliances and cooperation in favor of his America First policies, creating a vacuum in global leadership.

“The whole idea of world order is something that these other countries think a lot about, are quite preoccupied with. And they’re worried about how to sustain it without American leadership for world order,” said Jon Alterman, a global security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.

“In principle, especially with the Chinese getting more powerful and the Russians in decline, the G-7 should be the guys that really get [along], and they just don’t,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a global risk-assessment firm in New York. “It’s a very dysfunctional group. They can’t agree on climate, trade, technology — these advanced economies should have common cause, and it’s not just because of Trump that they don’t. A lot of these countries are increasingly divided.”

Other “me first” governments include Brazil, Italy, Great Britain, and Austria.

Saudia Arabia is destroying Yemen. The U.S. is still occupying Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, Pakistan and India are at each other’s throats. There are very real threats of war over who will dominate the newly-unfrozen territories inside the Arctic Circle. That is the reason Trump wants to buy Greenland. It’s not a joke.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said that the world is at a “turning point in history” and governments must choose policies of peace and human rights over war and human suffering.

Democratic

Short video at https://youtu.be/YNA90eP1eIc

Big money is unleashed on our elections. Gerrymandering now has the legal seal of approval. Almost constant schemes to remove voting rights. Almost constant schemes for voter suppression.

Noam Chomsky has argued the Republican Party is the most “dangerous organisation in human history” and the world has never seen an organisation more profoundly committed to destroying planet earth.

Union busting is a common activity for this government.

Environmental

Short video at https://youtu.be/xWp9FTgLX30

Michael Moore says Donald Trump just began the ‘extinction of human life   on Earth’   

Brazilian rainforest, “lungs of the Earth” is burning.

The Dallas paper on 8/23 ran a letter from Ed Soph of Denton:

Ice melt portends disaster

….Economically, 3.7 degree Fahrenheit warming will produce $551 trillion in damages. (Total worldwide wealth today is $280 trillion.) If we continue our current ice-melting mining, transport and combustion of fossil fuels the planet will warm over 4 degrees. Flood damage will increase 160% to 240% with 2.7 degrees of warming; 3.6 degrees will guarantee that flooding deaths will be 50% higher than today.

…This will be the end of the planet, of a secure and safe and civilized life for our children, grandchildren and beyond. The future death, destruction, suffering and unthinkable global chaos ensured by our current suicidal fossil fuel economy massively outweigh the temporary inconveniences of a timely transition to a life-affirming, renewable energy future.”

In Western history, there were three periods of relative quiet:

Pax Romana  27 BC – 180 AD

Pax Brittania 1815 – 1914

Pax Americana 1945 – present?

The final one had the distinction of holding off the end of the world. But that period is ending.

Who’s to blame?

Sunspots?

Moral decay?

Low Church attendance?

Mr Donald Trump?

A few bad apples?

A long time ago, it was theorized that crisis is the result of sunspots. You often hear that our downfall is the result of moral decay or low church attendance. Mostly, lately, one hears that it’s all Mr Trump’s fault. But the source of our crisis is none of those things or people.

The crisis is the direct consequence of the greed of the people who have the most. They have done this since civilization began and they would do it to the end of civilization because they cannot act otherwise.

The peace crisis comes because the wealthy control incredible military powers, but only in their own nation. To gain advantage, they ultimately have to use that military power against weaker powers. They always have and they always would because they cannot act otherwise.

The environmental crisis is the direct result of wealthy people, acting within their own military units, to accrue more riches at the expense of life on the planet.

THE REMEDY

A short video is at https://youtu.be/9MgLUjFA1XE

The remedy is democracy. Instead of being ruled by a wealthy few, we must make it possible to rule ourselves. The wealthy few are not going to allow that willingly. They have to be overcome. The people being oppressed by this system must organize and rise up against the ones doing the oppressing.

This is not a call to arms. You couldn’t possibly overcome the military might of this nation’s wealthy. There are only two ways that ordinary people can overcome their rulers and only one of them has the potential to work.

It is also not a call to somehow vanquish the opposition. Some think that Trump supporters are not capable of learning and should somehow be written off. But you cannot afford to write anybody off. What are you going to do? Kill them?

Push the envelope on voting as far as it will go, however, “Never be fooled,” said Lucy Parsons, “Into believing that the wealthy are going to allow you to vote them out of power.” Elections are tremendously important, but not for the fundamental kind of change we need.

A general strike, on the other hand, can work. In fact, it just worked in Puerto Rico last month. To a lesser extent, it worked in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona for teachers last year. The only real strength that working people have is to collectively stop working.

It’s a wonderful word, “Organize.” Also “Solidarity.”

But those are abstractions. I told you I would tell you what you could do, in material, not abstract terms. Here it is:

In your interactions with people and organizations, try to move them leftward toward greater understanding and upward toward more activity.

Right now in America, the AFL-CIO is as progressive, as single of purpose, and as powerful as any organization in the nation. Join us.

–Gene Lantz

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

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