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civil rights

The new documentary film “Dolores” has opened. Its subject, Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, is promoting it. She appeared in Dallas on October 11. The audience was knocked out of their socks!

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The biopic begins her life story when she was only 25 and had only 7 children. She and Cesar Chavez, both longtime community organizers, focused together on organizing workers in the California fields. It carries on through all the battles, all the innovative tactics, all the disappointments, and the victories of their dramatic organizing history.

After the film, a standing ovation greeted the 87-year old mother of 11 who has made and is making this American history. She answered every question with the same even-handed practicality that characterized her approach all through the movie.

One of our most popular labor movement children, primary school student Lucia Montemayor, daughter of our Dallas AFL-CIO Political Director, asked, “When can I start organizing?”

Huerta replied sweetly, “What are you waiting for?”

Police violence was a topic for two big reasons 1) all the violence that the farmworkers faced in the film and, 2) Huerta’s personal hospitalization after being attacked by San Francisco policemen. Without any rancor, Huerta said that everyone should oppose injustice whenever and wherever it arises. She went out of her way to say that Jerry Jones, millionaire owner of the Dallas  Cowboys football team, should be encouraging his  players to oppose injustice instead of  threatening to fire them.

Someone asked how Huerta juggled motherhood  and  career. This is a question she has dealt with often. Throughout her adult life, she has been criticized for not remaining at home “in a woman’s place.” In fact, it is common for many parents to hide behind their children and claim, “I can’t fight injustice because I put my children first” – thereby condemning the next generation to live in a world no better or even worse than the one the lazy parents live in. Huerta said that parents have to work for a better world because it has to be done. One of her sons was with her. He testified, “We had to share our mother with the world – but she shared the world with us!”

Several questions had to do with the discouragement that organizers often feel. Of course Huerta’s smiling responses were essentially that people must keep on trying. From Dolores Huerta, these weren’t just words. She has backed them with a lifetime of commitment!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on knon.org every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us

Book Review: Kersten, Andrew E, and Lang, Clarence, Editors: “Reframing Randolph. Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph.” New York University Press, 2015.

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I got this book from Oak Cliff Branch of Dallas Public Library.

Asa Philip Randolph is glorified and criticized in the essays collected here. Whether they appreciated him or not, all the writers agreed that he had a profound effect on American civil rights.

I started a sort of timeline:

  • 1898: born
  • 1920s: Street corner orator and co-editor of “The Messenger”
  • 1925: Newly organized Pullman Porters ask him to take over as President. Black Sleeping Car Porters and Maids formed
  • 1935 or so: finally gets a contract from Pullman. Drops “and maids” and joins the American Federation of Labor (AFL) Within it, he argues for anti-discrimination policies until the end of his career
  • 1941: With threat of March on Washington Movement (MOWM), gets Executive Order 8088 (? Forgot the number) outlawing racial discrimination in war industries. Not nearly as much as was demanded, but Randolph calls off the march and is covered with glory for having “forced” the President of the United States to acknowledge the federal government’s role in overcoming racial discrimination. Federal Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) is formed and the MOWM people try to enforce it with marches and pickets throughout the war.
  • 1936: Formation of National Negro Congress. He serves 1 term as president and then resigns as he feels the organization is communist dominated
  • 1960 or so: He is President of the National African Labor Congress NALC
  • 1963: he and Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They cooperated with MLK on it. Of course, MLK stole the show.
  • 1965: he is honored with formation of A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). Chapters are formed in every Central Labor Council and endure today
  • 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict between community oriented school board and the United Federation of Teachers. Randolph sided with labor leader Al Shanker and took heat for it
  • 1972: Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) formed as NALC fades away
  • 1974: African American women from Randolph movements start the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

I was left with the impression that Randolph successfully, eventually, got the AFL to be less racist. The CIO, of course, probably had a bigger effect. Randolph got the federal government on the right track. I think he was a consistent social – democrat, even though the various writers seem to think he wavered this way and that. I think any wavering he did came from trying to fit the civil rights movement into the AFL. Like the social-democrats of today, Randolph looked at the working class. He analyzed it and pushed for its success. Like the social-democrats of today, he did not analyze the obstructionist class and devise ways of overcoming them once and for all.

On the downside, the book accuses him of outright sexism in dealing with women’s politics. They also criticize his rabid anti-communism as unnecessarily divisive. If he read the book today and were asked to comment, I’m sure he would say that those who cannot compromise aren’t going to get anything done in contemporary politics.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. Click here if you want to know what I really think!

It’s incredible, but lots of people don’t know the difference between right and wrong!

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It’s evident from today’s discussions around Confederate monuments, white supremacy marches, and free speech. President Trump, that fountain of wisdom, says that we have to take down the Washington monument if we’re opposing Jefferson Davis. Some of my liberal friends, gritting their teeth, say they will defend white supremacists’ right to march and speak out “to the death.”

The racists in Boston today say they aren’t rallying for bigotry, but for “free speech.” They’re trying to frame the argument so that anybody opposed to their disgusting views is against freedom.

There’s a good explanation for the confusion

The confusion over right and wrong today has the same root cause as a tremendous lot of confusion — people have no standard of measurement. With no actual standard, they are going by their feelings. No one would admit that, but it’s true. People are trying to decide very important questions simply by the way they happen to be feeling.

All philosophies are branches of idealism versus materialism. Idealists believe that the standards for everything exist only in their minds — in their ideal world. All the stuff that we see, touch, and smell, is only an approximation of the perfect ideal.

Materialists believe in the real world. We believe that any concept of a perfect ideal would have to be generalized from all the stuff we can sense. The material world comes first, and perfection is just something to talk about when we have extra time.

What standard would work?

The good of humanity is an excellent standard. “Good,” then, is what helps humanity. “Evil” detracts from us. “Right” advances us and “wrong” pushes us backward.

If everyone used that simple standard, the arguments would be over.

Getting back to the present situation, tax dollars should no longer be used to honor the Confederacy. Racism should be suppressed. It’s not a moral issue nor a difficult philosophical problem. It’s just knowing the difference between right and wrong.

–Gene Lantz

You can hear me on “Workers Beat” on KNON.org or 89.3FM in the Dallas area, 9AM central time every Saturday

Botkin, Jane Little, Frank Little and the IWW. The Blood that Stained an American Family. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2017

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The author will speak in Butte, Montana, on August 1

A giant hole in American labor history has been filled.

Frank Little’s Great Grand Niece has explained every known detail of the great union organizer’s life. 125 pages of careful notations testify to her ability as an historian of the first rank, but she also reveals family records hidden for a century. She has written not only the best biography of Frank Little possible, but she also put the events of his life and times in context so that a reader can, from this one book, draw the important lessons of the missing chapters, 1905-1919, of American history.

Why Frank Little and His Times Matter

Frank Little was a top organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, the Wobblies, the One Big Union, the OBU. At the time he was lynched, one hundred years ago on August 1, he was Chairman of the General Executive Board. Not all details are known, but his legacy probably includes:

1. Implementation of passive resistance tactics decades before Gandhi or MLK
2. Implementation of organizing itinerant farm workers decades before Cesar Chavez
3. Implementation of Industrial Organizing (as opposed to craft organizing) decades before the CIO
4. Champion of the argument that workers should stay out of World War I
If Frank Little had survived his 39th year, and if his ideas had survived, civil rights would have been greatly advanced. Labor would have put aside all arguments against minorities and immigrants long ago. Itinerant farm workers would have been organized far earlier. Divisions in the ranks of organized labor would have melted away. Thousands of soldiers’ lives would have been saved and American workers would have had a far better understanding of capitalism, imperialism, and socialism than they do now or have ever had. This last point is based on Frank Little’s adamant opposition to World War I. He was one of the two most outspoken labor leaders in the world on this point. The other one was V.I. Lenin in Russia.
In our spare time, my wife and I have tried to collect what little we could find out about Frank Little. I posted it years ago at http://labordallas.org/hist/little.htm.
The new book shows that I was wrong on several small details, but my only general mistake was to have underestimated the man and his importance.

Why Didn’t We Already Know All This?

Within a month of Frank Little’s lynching at the hands of the copper bosses of Montana, The United States government launched the fiercest attack against the working class in our history. Free speech, one of Frank Little’s greatest accomplishments, was trampled. Unionists were hunted down and deported or arrested and tortured. Heavy jail sentences were laid on any of the hundreds railroaded for having “conspired with Frank H. Little” to undermine war production.

Union halls were raided and all records were confiscated. History, especially any history associated with Frank Little, was wiped clean. Fear was so great that even Frank Little’s relatives dared not remember him. Fear was so great that the silence lasted almost 100 years, until now.

–Gene Lantz

You can still find me every Saturday at 9AM Central Time on http://knon.org

I write on http://tx.aflcio.org/dallas and http://texasretiredamericans.org

 

 

A lot of Republicans in the Texas Legislature and the editors of the Dallas Morning News have teamed up to oppose “straight party ticket” voting.

ballot

By now, everybody in the United States, and especially the Texans, should begin to worry when Republicans talk about “electoral reform.” They’ve already deformed our elections beyond recognition with crazy redistricting, outright voter suppression, and opening the floodgates for big money to buy every candidate.

Now they want Texas to join the states that have already outlawed “straight ticket” voting. I laughed out loud when I read the Dallas editors’ reasons. The main one was that the change wouldn’t make any difference because people could still vote straight ticket, they would just have to put a bunch more marks by each candidate on the ballot.

If it doesn’t make any difference, why do it?

And, anybody could turn the argument right around on the editors. If it’s true that people could still vote straight ticket AFTER this “deform,” then isn’t it also true that they could NOT vote straight ticket NOW? They aren’t offering to give people another choice, they’re offering to take one away!

Straight Ticket Voting Makes Sense

I’m not sure what it’s like in other states, but in Texas we have to elect almost everybody that has anything to do with government, from dogcatcher through all the judges and on up (or down, as the case may be) to the Governor and President. Nobody can keep track of all these candidates — then they throw in a bunch of undecipherable propositions and amendments at the end of the ballot. A person is supposed to have all this clear in his/her head before we enter the voting booth, but everybody knows we can’t.

Party Polarity Is On the Grow

The growing polarity between the two capitalist parties makes them more distinct than ever before. When I was a kid, I used to hear people say that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two capitalist parties. Nobody says that now.

For working families, the Democrats’ party platforms sound like Hollywood dreams, and the Republican party platforms come straight from the hallways of Hell.

Like the “local control” issue, the “straight ticket” issue is a smoke screen to hide the intentions of big money as they rob the workers and deform our democracy in order to undermine our ability to fight back.

–Gene Lantz

Find me Saturdays at 9 Central Time at http://knon.org

If you are courageous and tenacious about your cause, whatever it is, you will eventually,  it may take a while, reach the same conclusions as the rest of us.

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I think of it as battling one tentacle of a monster. Darned thing will just about strangle you if you don’t fight it off. But, if you stay with it long enough, you’ll find that your tentacle leads to a monster with many other tentacles. Various other people are fighting one tentacle or another. If they don’t give up, they’ll all find the many-armed monster.

I didn’t start out with a radical world view. I started with only one cause: corporal punishment in the schools. I wanted school personnel to stop beating on the kids. I think it took me more than a year to realize that many of the school torturers were being encouraged by the kids’ parents. Then I started arguing against all kinds of aversive control of children.

One thing led to another. I no sooner quit criticizing teachers and parents than I started criticizing school administrators, then school boards, then the entire educational system. I even started a special non-aversive school and tried to get people to emulate it.

Then one day I realized that if the schools weren’t the way they are, then young men and women would stop volunteering to join the military to fight and die for someone else’s peace and happiness. Something was wrong, I figured, and it wasn’t just the schools. That thinking process took me several years. I went on from there.

Doesn’t Matter Where You Start

I was reading a long e-mail from a group that calls itself, I think, “Women’s March for Freedom.” They were passing on their revelation that women’s oppression isn’t the only kind of oppression. They listed homophobia and a couple of other forms of chauvinism. They had realized this since they organized the biggest protests in American history on January 21, 2017.

They started with the women’s oppression tentacle, the one they were feeling the most, and then generalized to a broader definition of chauvinist oppression. If they keep at it, don’t get discouraged, and keep on thinking it through, they’ll find the monster.

I think one of the problems in America is that people are too afraid to go on fighting. Many a young radical becomes a frightened, inactive, middle-ager. Maybe most of them.

Follow the Money

On the streetcar this morning, a young man drinking chocolate milk pointed out a motorcycle cop hiding behind a fence. He gestured with his bottle: “Where does he get his authority?” the guy asked me. “I think you already know,” I told him, but apparently he didn’t because he rephrased and asked the same question.

“Police, like anybody else,” I suggested, “work for whoever signs their paycheck.” I thought that was erudite enough, but it didn’t satisfy the young fellow. “And where do THEY get their authority?” he asked me. By then I had decided I was the victim of some long-range Socratic argument and didn’t really want to go on. But there was nobody else in the streetcar to talk to, so I resigned myself to being sucked in and told him, “Whoever signs the policeman’s paycheck works for whoever signs his, and then the next level and the next level until you finally get to very rich people, the 1% so to speak, who are using their money to keep this system running for their own profit.”

Following the money is like following the tentacle. It leads to the same monster.

It sure would have been cool if he had said, “Oh, I get it,” but he just glanced at the ceiling of the streetcar and resumed drinking his chocolate milk. I like to think that he might have pondered my words later, but he probably didn’t. For all I know, there might have been something pretty raunchy in his chocolate milk.

Read a Good Biography

Malcolm X started out in prison. He figured out, or was taught, that white people oppressed Black people through their Christian religion. So he became a very effective Islamist fund raiser. He didn’t stop there, and was a much broader kind of revolutionary before they killed him.

Eugene Victor Debs was just a very good trade unionist when he started bucking the system. He tried to bring the railroad unions together and nearly succeeded. They put him in jail for it, and he came out a much broader, much more capable kind of revolutionary before they put him in jail again.

Almost all of us are familiar with aspects of the life of the good Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. His cause was racial discrimination on public transportation, when he started. Then he went on to lead the entire struggle against racism, and didn’t stop there, even for a minute. He linked up with the union cause quite a lot. Lots of people, including a lot of his devoted followers, were shocked when he denounced imperialist war before they shot him.

Just from those three, you can see the two most important aspects of my exposition: 1) courageous and consistent struggle will reveal the monster and 2) Lots of people don’t keep up the “courageous and consistent struggle” because they are afraid of what they will learn, or rather, they are afraid of the thing about which they will learn, i.e. the monster. BTW, I’m not saying people should be afraid, or not any more afraid than they already are, but I do recommend being careful.

The Monster Isn’t A Person

There are nice rich people and there are lousy rich people. I think the widow Joan Kroc, who gave away the Ray Kroc McDonald’s fortune, was probably a nice rich person. I got a book against nuclear war from her once. I think she had bought thousands of them to give away.

The monster isn’t a person, it’s a system being run by several persons. Fight your tentacle long enough and you’ll find it.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on 89.3FM and http://knon.org at 9AM Central Time every Saturday.

Germans embraced the Nazis, not because they were tired of freedom, but because they believed they had found a cure for capitalism.

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From the time it began to take over the world, mid 17th century, until the late 19th century, capitalism provided a better life for its subjects. That is, it was better than serfdom. Serfs were landless farm workers, one step above slaves, who had to take whatever their lords dished out. “Free” labor could leave one employer for another and, to some extent, dicker over conditions of employment.

Capitalism Works Best With Limited Democracy

If workers believe they have a voice in government, they don’t have to be guarded, guided, and pushed to do everything. They don’t run away or deliberately smash the equipment, the way slaves or serfs might. They can be educated for the higher forms of labor that capitalism needs. Consequently, the more successful capitalist economic systems use a limited democracy form of government.

From the beginning of the Republic until after World War II, American struggles made good improvements in our democracy.

What Went Wrong, When Did It Go Wrong?

Capitalism stopped benefiting workers after it conquered the world. When there were no new markets, the capitalists had to turn against one another to fight for the markets they had already saturated. That’s not what they called it. They called it “The war to save democracy,” and “The war to end all wars.”

But WW I was really a bloody turf war between gangsters. For a short period, the winners enjoyed their spoils, but it didn’t last very long because  the basic problem of saturated markets and international competition was still there.

So, they decided to have another world war. This one was complicated for workers, because the Soviet Union, try as they might, couldn’t stay out of it. After they began to fight the invading Nazis, they were incorporated into the same side the United States was on. The U.S. ended the alliance as soon as the Nazis were defeated, of course.

No More World Wars

After the U.S. nuked Japan, actually, after the Soviets and other nations showed that they could do the same thing, world wars lost their appeal as a temporary solution to the capitalist crisis. Even the gangster capitalists weren’t crazy enough to blow up their only planet. So, since the late 1970s, capitalist nations have gotten by on small regional wars, lowering their production costs by attacking their workers, and carrying a whole lot of debt. I recently read, in an investment newsletter, that all growth in the United States since 1980 basically came from debt!

Did the Nazis Solve the Capitalist Crisis?

To Germans between, say, 1933 and 1939, it appeared that fascism was the right way to go. Unemployment dived from 25% into low numbers. Lots of infrastructure was rebuilt. National pride was soaring.

But they had only changed their form of government from limited democracy to fascism, they hadn’t changed their economic system. It was still capitalist and it was still in crisis. The only real way toward a temporary solution was war. Even then, as long as they were winning, fascism still seemed pretty good to the Germans. After that, not so much.

What Looks Good to You Right Now?

To a lot of Americans, the Trump Administration and Republican political domination look pretty good. They think there will be more and better jobs. They think they’ll be making a better living and that the steady abatement of basic democracy isn’t too high a price to pay.

But we are still living in an economic system that has provided all the good it is going to provide, and things are only going to get worse if we can’t save and expand our democracy.