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civil rights

Book Review:

Smith, Page, “Trial By Fire. A People’s History of the Civil War and Reconstruction.” McGraw-Hill, NY, 1982. 995 pgs

Lincoln quote on labor

This is Volume 5 of Page’s series on history of America. There are a lot of facts in the book, but factual reporting is not his method. Mostly, he compiles diary entries from people on both sides of the period. He tries, that way, to reflect what people were thinking as the years passed.

It is particularly effective when we try to un-puzzle what happened during Reconstruction. Did it succeed or did it fail? Should they have even tried or would it be better to have left the Southerners to do what they wanted? Who were the good guys and who were the bad? What difference did it make at the time?

Nothing is clear-cut in political history. It’s all a matter of point of view and opinion. Reconstruction may have been a good idea at the end of the Civil War, but a lot of people were against it. As time wore on, fewer and fewer people in the North really cared. The Southerners were adamant, and they thought they could re-assert the same relationships they had before the war.

One reason that Southerners were so optimistic about re-asserting racist relationships is because President Johnson had 3 years to re-instate them after Lincoln’s death. If there’s a bad guy, I mean a really awful bad guy, it was Johnson.

If there’s a good guy, a really good guy, it was President Grant. When he assumed the presidency in 1868, he made a genuine effort to protect African American people and give them a chance to thrive. When his second term ran out, reconstruction was over. The Republicans just gave it up. The strongest of them were the abolitionists, who had pretty well died out by 1876.

Page’s account of Reconstruction is the bloodiest I have seen. Black people were murdered and raped all over the South all through the decades following the war. Some died fighting, but most of them were simply murdered. There were large massacres and small massacres, but the Southerners eventually prevailed and civil rights went from a hopeful era to very dark times that persist today.

—Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and “Workers Beat Extra,” on Soundcloud. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

TV Review

“Stateless” streaming on Netflix. The first three episodes are directed by Emma Freeman; the other three by Jocelyn Moorhouse.

Please don’t miss this great Australian series.

STATELESS (L to R) FAYSSAL BAZZI as AMEER and SORAYA HEIDARI as MINA in episode 102 of STATELESS Cr. BEN KING/NETFLIX © 2020

The series examines what happens to the lives of those associated with an immigrant detention center that is operated for profit. This one is in Australia, where they unfailingly make great dramas, but the ones in the Rio Grande Valley are also run for profit.

Two of the main characters are inmates: an Afghani trying to save his daughters from the Taliban and an Australian citizen who is trying to hide her identity. The other two administrate the place: an immigration specialist and an ordinary working dude trying out a new job as a prison guard. The place works its wonders on them. Even more, the world system that creates 70 million dislocated asylum seekers and then mistreats them miserably works its wonders on us, the audience.

Part of the story, Wikipedia says, is directly true. All of it sounds true, seems true, hurts truly.

A word about the quality of the presentation: the penetrating insight into every character could only have been revealed by women. Both directors and both writers were women. Their sensitivity is a marvel.

By way of explaining how good the acting is, let me ask you if you’ve ever seen a Cate Blanchett picture where her acting didn’t overshadow everybody else? Cate Blanchett is very good in “Stateless,” but her role is limited. She is listed as one of several Executive Directors. If you’re a fan of Australian TV, let me ask if you’ve ever seen Marta Dusseldorp in anything in which her skill didn’t dominate everybody else? In this series, Ms Dusseldorp and Ms Blanchett are just part of a wonderful ensemble of players. Everybody is excellent. The actors for the four main characters are beyond excellent.

Top acting kudos has to go to Yvonne Strahovski. Her role is the most demanding, and she pushes each of her emotional portrayals beyond limits. After the first few scenes, you may recognize her as the cold hearted Commander’s wife in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” or maybe you won’t recognize her, but you won’t forget her again after you see her in “Stateless!”

Yvonne Strahovski

The Australian immigration/detention system takes a beating in “Stateless,” but several characters, including some administrators, give the impression that they are doing the best that they can in a rotten situation. At least they are trying. My movie buddy and I agreed, several times as we watched the series over a few nights, that the worst of the miseries “Stateless” encountered must be far worse here at home in the United States, where what they are trying to do with the immigration situation isn’t just rotten.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. We podcast the program and “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud. If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site

American union federations should not accept police associations as members.

Everyone knows that the American labor movement has diminished in size and influence since the mid 1950s. The pandemic, the economic crisis, and a hostile government are accelerating the erosion today. Two doors to labor’s revival are open to us:

  1. More of the kind of workplace organizing that we have always done or tried to do.
  2. Improving our connections with broader communities that can add to our negotiating and electoral clout

We have to pass through both of those doors, but one of them is endangered by our association with police unions. The broader community, the broader electorate, distrusts police unions and anybody associated with them. A leading civil rights activist in Dallas today commented on the possibility of allowing the Police Association to affiliate with the Dallas AFL-CIO. He said, “If they do, I will never have anything to do with them!” He meant what he said.

Oddly, a lot of the public argument seems to be about whether or not police unions are really unions. If a union is a group of people organized together to advance their aims and defend their members, then certainly the police associations are unions. No argument.

Using the same definition, though, a lot of other associations are also unions. They advance their aims and defend their members. The Chamber of Commerce, arguably labor’s worst enemy, meets the definition. The Business Roundtable is a union. So is the White Citizens’ Alliance. They are unions, but they are not on the side of working families — and neither are the police.

TOPSHOT – Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd’s death continue. – Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Even the editors of the Dallas Morning News, historic enemies of working families, argue that police unions are reactionaries. The combined constituency groups of the AFL-CIO issued a statement that contains this:

“We demand local schools, colleges, universities, and all public institutions cut ties with the police.”

It is entirely possible, given the desperate financial situation of many actual unions, that members might want to affiliate with the police associations just for the money. They would argue that unions would benefit from additional workplace organizing; door number 1 above.

But door number 2, our hope of harnessing labor’s power along with the broad progressive community and electorate, would be swinging closed.

American labor should not affiliate with police associations.

–Gene Lantz

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

Are today’s protests really going to change America? Will racism come to an end?

One thing I have really liked about the last 11 days of international protest is that it seems to be evolving from unfocused outrage toward serious demands. One recent local demand I’m hearing is to fire the Dallas mayor, city administrator, and police chief. I’m pretty sure there’s no real change in that one because we’d just end up with 3 new faces, just as likely worse as better.

The police themselves are coming up with some reforms. Dallas police, for example, say they will no longer use choke-holds against us and that they will announce their intentions before they shoot us. Individual police will be asked to restrain other police who are doing things illegally. The Democrats have a bill in Congress that would theoretically change police from “warriors” to “protectors.” All non-transitional reforms are welcome, but they don’t change the fundamental relationship between police and the population.

Most recently, I hear the demand “defund the police” and re-allocate the money to developing poor communities. According to today’s Dallas newspaper, some City Councilpersons seem to be in favor! That demand might actually be transitional.

When I was a Trotskyite, we argued that transitional demands were those that could not be met while capitalism remained intact. We used to say that our Vietnam anti-war demand “Out Now!”, a very powerful and successful demand, was transitional. The argument was that capitalism could not exist without successful imperialism. With hindsight, we have to say that we were wrong, because America withdrew from Vietnam and went right on with imperialism.

In the 1960s we had a similar youth movement. Possibly bigger, although it’s hard to tell because there are literally hundreds of smaller demonstrations every day. But that was during a time of prosperity. Those student activists had very little chance of actually connecting with the working class, and in truth we didn’t.

Today, we probably have at least fifty million American families in dire economic straits. Most of the world is even worse off. The young activists won’t find it very hard, if they try, to connect with the rest of the working class. Nobody, except the affluent, like what is happening and is about to happen in America.

As the American labor federation, AFL-CIO, has already called for a “Day of Action” on June 17, which will include a demand for racial justice, we are likely to find out sooner rather than later about this worker/youth connection.

Today’s young activists, if they try, will not find it difficult to connect with the rest of the world working class, either. The most impressive thing about today’s demonstrations is their worldwide reach!

Could local governments “defund the police” and still maintain capitalist control over our giant working class? That’s the question that makes it all so interesting!

I don’t think we’re going to find out because I don’t think that police are likely to be defunded anytime soon, even though the demand will not disappear. It’s more likely that this demand will be added to future consciousness-raising economic demands that, considered together, will truly change the world!

–Gene Lantz

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

It is difficult to absorb the true gravity of today’s situation or the meaning of the protests in the cities of the world. Even though they have captured all the headlines and are undeniably important, I think they are only skirmishes in a battle that has yet to come.

From Wikipedia: “A skirmish is a term first used in the 14th century.[2] It meant a small-scale fight between two opposing forces or a preliminary battle involving troops in front of the main force.”

The main forces of the antagonists have not yet engaged. Only the advanced forces have begun the combat. The skirmishers on our side are the youth. They are more willing to fight, and they have more to fight for. On the other side, the skirmishers are police forces. They are the first line of administration for the people who run our society.

The main forces have yet to be committed. So far, the military has not been employed, at least not completely. Mr. Trump threatens to use them, and he certainly would, but he hasn’t yet. Organized labor, always defensive, is not likely to respond until there is no other choice. There is some hope that workers may organize outside the restrictions set up to cripple traditional unions. A general strike may not be so far in the future.

The economic situation makes the war inevitable. As American economic power decreased relatively, beginning in the early 1970s, the employers demanded more and more from the working class. For the workers, the situation has become intolerable. It is fight or die.

Class war is not new, but the circumstances have changed drastically. Workers are far better educated and far better networked than ever before. Employers not only have their traditional rifles and bayonets, but they also have nuclear weapons.

New strategies will come into play. It is unlikely that major working class forces will commit until the situation gets more desperate, but insightful people may be ready to fight now. The trick is to find each other and organize.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s ‘Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. The radio show and several “Workers Beat Extra” presentations are podcast every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site..

Around the world, more people are in motion today than at any time since the early 1970s. The flash point was the police murder of Mr George Floyd in Minneapolis. There are demonstrations all over the planet, and some of them are quite militant. But do they have a plan?

Police brutality is hardly the only issue. Planet-wide, we are in an economic downturn that looks to become worse than the Great Depression. Any chance of saving Earth from environmental disaster is ticking away. The fascists among us are overwhelming our democracy. We are dying everywhere of a pandemic that is not, whatever the politicians might say, under control. All hope of international cooperation seems destroyed by President Trump. World war may be imminent. To put it succinctly, the system is breaking down.

Answers, Anyone?

I seek answers. As a talk radio host, I get to listen to a lot of heartfelt complaints. I ask them, “What should we do? What is the solution?” But they don’t know.

Social media is full of the same. Unending complaints about the world we live in; almost no positive suggestions. To be sure, the electoral enthusiasts among us continue to ask people to vote. I certainly agree with them, but I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the angry throngs of America today and say that my sole answer to their swollen anger is “vote Democrat in 2020.” They have heard that many times before, and they aren’t buying it.

The radicals among us, on both sides of the spectrum, aren’t connecting. One gentleman called our talk show and said that we need to re-institute segregation. What an awful person, but at least he had a plan! The so-called leftists call in and say that we have to “fight imperialism” or “smash the state.”  They’re probably right, but those are long-term goals, not prescriptions for the here and now.

Labor Turns Away

Just about the best of the down-to-Earth solutions being posed has just slipped away from us. The AFL-CIO national labor federation had called for a “Day of Action” June 3 to win passage of the HEROES Act in Congress. The Act would greatly ameliorate the economic crisis. It would also help with the political crisis by providing more money for electoral reform. But, alas, just today, the national leadership postponed the Day of Action.

They sent out a statement that was very good, but didn’t really explain why they postponed their actions for June 3. It may well have been a result of last night’s attack on National AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington DC. Windows were broken and a fire was set! We might assume that they believed that the June 3 Day of Action would invite more thuggery.

I absolutely loved the Tweet sent out by the President of the Central Labor Council in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: “It hurts to see damage being done to the @AFLCIO headquarters. But I believe it brings to light two facts: 1) The people did not recognize the building as the headquarters of a movement that fights for them 2) That is our fault.

In my opinion, the labor leadership made a major mistake. If labor is truly in solidarity with the anti-racists on the street, we should be on the street with them. Others are marching without condoning violence and looting, why shouldn’t we?

Another possibility is that the AFL-CIO does not want to risk being seen as anti-police because they generally welcome organized police associations into labor’s organizations. Some of us think that, too, is a mistake.

By calling off the Day of Action, our labor federation turns down the opportunity to lead the progressive movement in a positive direction. Our demand to pass the HEROES Act might not solve all of America’s problems, but it certainly goes in the right direction. Further, our demand had the distinction of being just about the only reasonable positive demand being proposed!

OUR FAILURE

Vandals vandalize, looters loot, and America’s great and powerful progressive movement continues milling around leaderless! That’s our failure.

–Gene Lantz

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

They don’t sound like very good choices, but that’s what’s being offered to the 99% by the 1% today. I know this because I attend a lot of meetings with representatives of working families, specifically union leaders.

ACCIDENT

Workplace safety is in shambles and is not getting better. The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations has been demanding for some time that the Occupational Safety and Health Agency put forward some mandatory rules for workplace safety. OSHA hasn’t. The pandemic has just made it much worse.

OSHA was created during the Nixon Administration. It is charged with making sure that American workplaces are safe for everyone. Over the years, it has kept the mandate but lost the capacity. They don’t have enough resources to investigate much of anything; consequently, they don’t.

Workplaces may be safe if 1) Benevolent our insurance-minded bosses regulate themselves or 2) the workers have a union. Union workers have very few accidents. When they do, they generally get good care and compensation. But only about 11% of American workers have a union. The other 89% have to look out!

Undocumented workers are particularly at risk. It would be difficult to find out just how much “at risk” they are, because their accidents, even their deaths, are barely recorded. If they are lucky, the dead ones may get a wooden coffin and shipment to their country of origin. That’s about all the luck they have.

If they are hurt but not dead, undocumented workers tend to keep very quiet about it. A person can get fired for getting hurt, and undocumented workers have no protection, no recourse.

Here in Texas, there is an organization that specifically tries to help the undocumented. The Workers Defense Project collect data to show that construction jobs in Texas are the most dangerous jobs in the country. Of course, many of those jobs, and those bad statistics, are held by the undocumented.

Like every agency meant to help working families, OSHA is severely underfunded, is getting more underfunded, and has no prospects for getting more funding. That’s the situation in workplace safety.

DISEASE

The workplace safety situation is especially dire during the pandemic. Companies have no reason to reveal how many of their employees have the Coronavirus, and they have lots of motivation to keep it quiet so that other workers will continue producing wealth for them.

We hail the “essential workers” or “frontline workers.” We’d like to think that everybody loves them, but their bosses don’t. Lots of these self-sacrificing workers that are saving this nation and the world are working without proper training or equipment. It’s not just a few, it’s epic.

Union workers, as usual, are much better off than those without representation, but even union workers are getting shafted. I have been to several press conferences where union leaders announced the numbers of infected or dead members they have. Nearly all of those union leaders can point out workplaces where brave workers are risking the virus without what they need.

Undocumented workers, we’re talking millions of people, don’t get much of anything. They are treated as though they weren’t human. Interestingly, though, they can spread the virus just as well as any human. It is in everybody’s interest to take care of the undocumented and stop the virus, but they don’t. I made a mistake when I said “everybody’s interest,” I should have said “yours and my interest,” not the bosses.

So, the disease threat is really close at hand

EXECUTION

Many of my friends, maybe even all of them, are compare Trump to Hitler. I don’t. Hitler had a mustache. Hitler was smart.

But the conditions that brought about fascism in Italy and Germany are, in a very broad sense, being replicated in America today. Maybe the public at large thinks that fascism is impossible in America. I don’t blame them for thinking that, but they ought to re-think.

Actually, America had a lot of fascists during Hitler’s time. Remember the veteran’s bonus march, for example? Lots of left-learning Americans love the story of the bonus march, especially because Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower burned them out. If the generals are the bad guys, then the bonus marchers must have been the good guys. Right?

But one of the main leaders of the bonus army was a jack-booted fascist. He and his followers, being working folks, wore khaki. So they weren’t fascist black shirts nor fascist brown shirts. They were fascist khaki shirts.

Remember good old Lindberg, “Lucky Lindy,” who flew the Atlantic? He was a Hitler-supporting fascist and he had a big political party behind him. They didn’t have televangelists in those days, no television, but one radio evangelist, Father Coughlin, had hundreds of thousands of listeners! In my own union, the autoworkers, a triumvirate took power. One of them clearly was a communist, but another one was called a fascist!

So don’t think fascism can’t take root in America, it already has.

The Japanese simplified things for Americans at Pearl Harbor, but before that there were a lot of Communists and a lot of fascists.

There were a lot of both of them in Germany, too. But Hitler killed the Communists. We have probably memorized, by now, how many Jews Hitler caused to be dead. I’ve never heard the head count on dead Communists, but I know that they were first. One of Hitler’s main appeals (to the bosses) was that he would kill the Communists.

Hitler killed everybody that opposed him, and he killed them first. Keep that in mind when thinking about the possibility of fascism in America. When/if fascism comes to America, wrapped in the flag and singing hymns, as they say, anybody who speaks up will be courting execution.

So we have accident, disease, or execution before us. They aren’t the only choices, but they can claim inevitability unless somebody on our side, the 99% side, does something. Left to their own choices, the 1% bosses have already set their course and their sails. They’ve pulled up their anchor, too.

Their destination is not that far away. Fascism and the execution of the good guys could take place before November. November is when America is supposed to have elections to determine who has power. Democrats share power, of course. They make a great show of sportsmanship and sharing power. But fascists don’t, and fascists are taking over in America right now.

Right now in America, the biggest issue is not the pandemic. It’s not the economic crisis, either. It’s whether or not we will be able to maintain the democracy that we have left. We’ve already watched while Republicans shredded much of our democracy. They got the Citizens United case passed through the Supreme Court. They gutted the Voting Rights Act. They have succeeded in legitimizing the foulest forms of gerrymandering and voter suppression already.

Because they love us and don’t want us to get sick, they have postponed most of our elections in 2020. Their love and concern does not extend to letting us vote safely by mail. They are dead set against that. But they don’t mind postponing our elections.

They wouldn’t mind cancelling them, either.

Are you sure we’ll have an election in November, 2020?

Most American activists, including me, are working on the elections. We have no experience in any political environment that does not include regular, orderly, elections. We have always lived under a partial democracy. Many Americans believe they live in a democracy that is much more complete than it actually is. In general, we believe in democracy, we think we have it, and we expect it to continue.

People in other countries could tell us a thing or two. Historians could tell us a thing or two. Democracy is not a permanent form of government. In other countries, democracy isn’t taken for granted. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes it is weaker, and sometimes it is gone!

Democracy Is Diminished

Democracy in the United States is diminishing, and has been diminishing for several decades. The Trump administration has accelerated the rate of diminishing democracy. Just look at some news articles from this week:

John Bachtel wrote a very good summary of the ways that the Trump Administration has recently increased its stranglehold on what remains of our legal system. See “Surging Authoritarianism…” The short version is that Trump has consolidated his hold over the entire Republican Party and the legal system. As I write this, he is busy purging everybody in government who might disagree with him about anything.

The slogan that was so important to millions of American activists, “No one is above the law,” would draw cynical laughter today.

The other recent article of great importance came from the Associated Press on March 3: “U.S. Plans Shift in Focus of Military.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper says specifically that the United States is planning for a war with China! A clipping is on my Facebook Page.

How Democracy Gets Cancelled

Despots never tell us that they intend to destroy democracy. Instead, they tell us that they have to “temporarily” suspend elections or some other aspect of democracy because of a crisis. The crisis, likely as not, is one that they created.

Mr Trump might use war with China. He might use the Covid-19 worldwide health crisis. Somebody might blow up an American building in the scenario that worked so well for George Bush. It wouldn’t be hard for Trump to find or create his “crisis” since he already controls so much of government and public life.

How Democracy Gets Saved

America’s partial democracy came from the British. The Revolutionary War and, more importantly, the Civil War, improved it. Hundreds of actions for civil rights and women’s rights improved it even more. When I was a young man, it was reasonable to expect that democracy in America would continue to improve far into the future. Then came Reagan, union busting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and repeal of democratic rights we had thought were unassailable.

Democracy was won in wars, in strikes, in demonstrations, and in all forms of political action carried out by progressive people. Democracy will be defended in America the same way, but it’s going to take some serious informing and organizing to win.

What Can You Do?

At the individual level, there’s not a lot you can do beyond complaining. But if you join progressive organizations: unions, civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, and progressive political organizations, then together, we have a chance. But it will not be easy.

-Gene Lantz

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

Book Review:

Cash, Wiley, “The Last Ballad.” William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017

Two pages of the book’s afterword, 371-2, reprint everything that is actually known about American labor’s great heroine known usually as Ella May Wiggins. A little more is known about the Gastonia textile strike of 1929. This author uses what is known to weave together a fine piece of historical fiction that certainly satisfies my own high regard for Ella May.

Four of Ella May’s nine children died from pellagra and whooping cough. The one in her womb died with her when she was murdered by strikebreakers. The living children went to an orphanage. The men charged with murder were defended by the mill owners and found innocent.

Ella May’s story is not a happy one, but it is important. Whether she did or didn’t do all the things in this book, historians agree that she stood up for integrating the African American and Caucasian strikers. This was a long time before black/white unity began to pay off in victories for working families. Ella May was a pioneer as well as a martyr.

There are details of her short life, March-1900 to Sept 14-1929, on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_May_Wiggins

The author was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in the area where the strike and the murders took place. With this book, he won the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction and my heartfelt gratitude.

–Gene Lantz

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