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democracy

What I do might be called whining or griping, but I call it asking. I go around telling people that we are in the middle of the biggest worker upsurge in American history, but that our effectiveness is limited by our chronic failure to come together. I ask people what we should do about it.

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Nobody seems to know the whole answer but, during the past weekend, I received some good tips. The College of Complexes, a weekly “free speech” forum, let me speak on the history of labor upsurges compared to the present day. I said that American labor was stronger today than ever in history. I also said that significant improvement in our society would result if we manage to pull together. Eventually, they will post the whole evening on their Youtube channel: http://www.collegeofcomplexes.org/LectureLibrary2.html. They already have me several times from earlier appearances.

In the discussion, some of the best ideas came from the anti-worker section. One of them denounced socialism in general and me in particular, but he said that what we really need is total organization at the grass roots level, then a takeover of the corrupt American government. I applauded that as absolutely brilliant.

Another speaker was not pleased with anything I said, but he believed that American involvement in the Middle East was a “big crime.” He said that strong anti-trust legislation is needed. He said that the problem is that we are being ruled by an unscrupulous elite that dominates both major political parties. He added that energy companies could not be trusted and that the corporate news media has betrayed us. I couldn’t have said it better!

A couple of the speakers lauded President Trump and said that I should be supporting him. I agreed that I would be prone to vote for him if the delivered on his promise of $1 trillion on infrastructure improvements. I also said I’d promote him for the Nobel Peace Prize, as several right-wing Republicans are doing, if he brought all American troops back home.

On social media, I’ve been complaining that there were two separate MayDay picnics with, as far as I could tell, no effort to pull together. I also lamented that there were seven different public actions against the NRA convention in Dallas May 4-6. A rational voice responded that I’m probably over-reacting and that, sometimes, there are good reasons to avoid working with some groups and individuals.

I fall back on the best answer I’ve had since I started asking these questions on January 21, 2016. “Leadership will come out of the movement.” That was from my friend and radio guest, Kenneth Williams.

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My own advice is this: “Keep Asking!”

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM every Saturday. Podcasts are available from the “events” tab. If you want to know what I really think, see my personal web site

Several socialist groups came together on April 29, 2018, in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas to celebrate MayDay. They were kind enough to allow the oldest person in attendance to remind them of the long workers’ tradition by leading singing of “The International.”

Another Mayday celebration, by another group of socialists, takes place at Kidd Springs Park at 5:30PM on May 1st. One cannot help but observe that the progressive movement, even the activists who supposedly have the highest levels of consciousness, continues to be disunited. It’s like Will Rogers used to say about the weather: “Everybody talks about unity, but nobody does anything about it!” I believe the trend, though, is positive.

The trend toward celebrating the International Workers Day is a very positive sign. I can remember reserving that very same Lake Cliff Park pavilion May 1, 1984, and doing all the preparations and publicizing myself. Then I sat there, alone, for two hours hoping somebody would come, but they didn’t! This year, we have two of them. The first one had about 40 people, and I imagine the second will be at least as big.

I’ll be doing a talk about “MayDay Then and Now” at Roma’s Pizza, 7402 Greenville Avenue, beginning at 6 pm on Saturday, May 5th. I’d like to count that as a third MayDay celebration. Every year, I publicize MayDay on my radio show.

MayDay Has a History

The workers’ movement, of course, goes back at least to Moses and the slaves of Egypt, and workers probably celebrated the vernal equinox around MayDay long before they had calendars. But the year 1886 marks the close association of the workers’ movement with May 1.

That year, the word went out from Chicago for a worldwide general strike to demand the 8-hour day. There were protests everywhere. Strikers were killed in Chicago. A police riot erupted on May 4th during another rally in Haymarket square. Authorities came down hard on the Chicago movement and, in 1887, hanged four of the main leaders. Since then, the world remembers “Chicago, 1886” on May 1st.

The repression from the bosses combined with the opportunism of many American labor leaders separated the Americans from the International Workers Day; consequently there have been few celebrations here until recently.

Was Labor Stronger Before?

Almost any reading of labor history will bring out the romantic in us. We long for the great general strike of 1874, or the worldwide struggle of 1886, or the organizing frenzy of 1935-1947. In 1980, when the American government decisively teamed up with the bosses to suppress the labor movement, unions began a numerical free fall that continues today. We had 35% of the workforce organized into unions, and we have only 11% now. People dream about the good old days.

No, We’re Stronger Now!

But despite the decline in union numbers, American labor is actually stronger today than ever. Part of the reason is productivity, but most of it is education. One worker today is four times as productive as those who organized in 1935-47. If one worker walks off the job today, it’s like four workers striking in the old days.

We have more unity than ever. In 1935-47, remember that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations were two separate and competing organizations. Remember also that racism and other kinds of chauvinism were far more divisive in the “old days” than they are today. The AFL-CIO didn’t even try to organize the millions of undocumented workers before 1999 — they joined the government in calling for deportation!

Today, the AFL-CIO bends over backward to work with church, civil rights, and community organizations. In 1987, unions were so totally isolated that five of the more progressive ones had to create a separate organization, Jobs with Justice, to try to build solidarity outside the official labor movement. Today, virtually all unions have gone past their initial hostility and regularly work with Jobs with Justice and other solidarity efforts.

In the old days, many workers were barely literate. Today, we command more information than they could have imagined. With our phones and computers, workers have the ability to function as almost a single worldwide unit. That’s power! We’re only at the first stages of using it, but today we have the power!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events’ tab. If you are interested in what I really think, look at my personal web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: Jeffreys, Diarmuid, “Hell’s Cartel. IG Farben and the making of Hitler’s war machine.”  Metropolitan Books, New York, 2008

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The biggest corporation in Europe solidly backed the Nazis during the time they were taking power. During the ensuing war, the big chemical company was more and more deeply involved in Nazi warmaking and ethnic cleansing.

The book begins and ends with the trial of several top company officials. In between, it details the history of the conglomerate from the time that it supplied poison gas during World War I through the trials that ended in 1948. In both wars, they provided much of the vital expertise and materials.

IG Farben established and ran its own slave labor camp as part of the Auschwitz complex. The abuse and murder of tens of thousands of slave laborers was carried out in Farben facilities just as in the other death camps. One of their small but very successful product lines was Zyklon-B, the death gas.

Working people usually say that we do the bidding of “whoever signs our checks.” Have you ever wondered who signed the checks for Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who killed hundreds of people with torture and outrageous medical experiments? IG Farben.

The company executives received light sentences and early parole. They went on to continued successful careers in European industry.

Books and movies about Nazi Germany have poured out in an endless stream since the end of WWII. We are fascinated with the horror of it and with the questions that are never quite satisfactorily answered, “How could this have happened? Why didn’t somebody do something?”

This book supplies part of the answer, if readers are ready to accept it. Hitler came to power essentially because wealthy Germans, like the officials at IG Farben, preferred the Nazis to the Communists. Even after the war, even during the trials at Nuremberg 1947-48, the main distraction from justice was fear of rising communism.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON 89.3FM radio in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time on Saturdays. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

Book Review: Rosenblum, Jonathan “Beyond $15. Immigrant workers, faith activists, and the revival of the labor movement.” Beacon Press, Boston, 2017

Jonathan Rosenblum led the long campaign that ended when Sea-Tac, Washington, won a $15/hour minimum wage. Even if he had never done anything else, everyone should read his book.

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But he actually did a lot of other things in thirty-odd years as an organizer. He’s on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Rosenblum_(activist).

 

I knew Jonathan when we both headed local Jobs with Justice chapters. As I recall, his statewide group included five successful chapters fighting for justice along with unions, churches, civil rights organizations, and community groups. Both of us were at the Battle in Seattle.

Jonathan was working for the Service Employees Union (SEIU) when he helped bring about the ground-breaking miracle in Sea-Tac. But his success came from the Jobs with Justice approach of bringing everyone together, union or not, to focus on a common problem. It’s something that almost all organizers talk about, many of us try, and very few have actually found their way to victories. On the other hand, traditional union organizing drives have been failing for decades.

During my own 25 years with Jobs with Justice, I joined many many union campaigns. All of them welcomed my help and the help of the diverse organizations and spokespersons that I worked with. I can’t think of a single union, though, that significantly accepted our input in the process. We were always helpers, and willing helpers at that, but never partners. That’s the difference in the Rosenblum approach.

Without going into historical reasons for it, Rosenblum blames the “business unionism” that took over in the United States in 1947 and continues today, for our failures and our diminishing union density. He doesn’t overlook the all-out anti-worker government initiatives that have prevailed since 1980, in fact he describes the assault concerning the airline industry in detail, but he thinks that today’s unions could cope a lot better than we have.

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Coping with the joint business/government offensive against working people is not just a matter of making a few adaptations. Rosenblum believes that present union structures are doomed to failure and must be rebuilt on a new basis of solidarity with all workers. He doesn’t comment on the present efforts of the main labor federation, the AFL-CIO, in a strong progressive direction, and that is possibly because his SEIU union had split away.

Value of Union Bargaining

I don’t know if my own endorsement would mean anything, but I 100% agree with the following quote about our complete misunderstanding of the bargaining process:

Page 164: “In my experience bargaining union contracts and negotiating with politicians, I found that labor negotiators – both paid union staff and also union members – nearly always overestimate the importance of what happens at the bargaining table. The process of negotiating can become all-consuming. In that environment it becomes natural for participants to overvalue factors like the strength of the spokespeople, the authority of facts and data, the logic of the argument, or your relationship with your management counterpart. You begin to believe that the bargaining room is the center of the struggle. But it’s not. It’s just the place where workers reap the rewards of the pressure that they’ve been able to imposer on an adversary through collective workplace or street action, economic or political leverage, and media coverage. And the bargaining rewards will be in direct relationship to the amount of power that workers have been able to exert away from the table.”

Finding Answers

Leadership is knowing what to do next. Unfortunately, Rosenblum can’t offer a “cookbook” for success in all campaigns. He offers a lot of inspiration and some very general guidelines on his last page:

Pg191 (last page summary): “Big change won’t come from the brilliance of individual leaders or a political masterstroke, but rather by combining the thousands of acts of simple courage and grace that on their own may seem inconsequential, but together make for wholesale transformation. From these daily lessons, from the wreckage of our present circumstances, we can create a new labor movement, win back power for working people, and build a just society.”

Don’t miss this book!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on knon.org at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts for the last two weeks are available from the “events” tab on KNON’s home page. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

While they are common in Europe, most of us have never seen a big political strike in our lifetimes, until now.

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The strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona represent a big step up for the American working class. Newspersons are treating the phenomena as something angry teachers are doing, but it is much more than that. It’s a giant step upward for  American workers.

What Is a Political Strike?

Almost all we know about strikes in America since 1947 is limited to actions against a single employer. The austerity oppressing American workers since 1980 has not been met with the kind of united class action we commonly see in Europe. The French railway workers, for example, are just about shutting down the nation right now, and it’s not so they can get a raise. It’s a political strike against government! So are the school employees’ actions in the United States!

If we organized for it, we could be conducting concerted action everywhere to get an increase in the minimum wage. The “Fight for Fifteen” could be a political strike, and I believe that, sooner rather than later, it will be.

It’s Not Just Teachers

Teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and all kinds of school employees are doing picket duty. They are joined by students, parents, and the public at large. School administrators, in many cases, are helping by shutting down the schools so that strikers can make up the pay they’re losing with extra school days in the summer. Many politicians and high-profile personalities such as sports figures are on our side. Just about every progressive person is spreading the word on social media.

The demands are not limited to teacher raises. The strikers are demanding an end to the steady starvation of public education and full funding for everything the students need.

It’s Not Just Unions

In fact, I’m not even sure that the unions are directly involved. If one looks at the web site for the Oklahoma Education Association or the Oklahoma American Federation of Teachers, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Both of their Facebook Pages have some good photos, but very little to show that the biggest unions are backing the strike. I have a theory about that.

One of the leaders from West Virginia told me that their strike was “wildcat.” It means that the official unions did not call it and did not officially support it. It also means that the official unions were not legally nor financially responsible for it. My theory is that America’s unions are so constrained, so hogtied, that they dare not push the legal limits with such an action. I’m guessing that all the strikes today are “wildcat.”

I don’t exactly blame them. Unions represent their members and that’s all, no more no less. If they go out on a limb, they may be risking their entire existence. They could be fined every cent they have and then some. Officers could be put in jail. It would not be the first time that the government has punished organized workers. Would that be the responsible thing for a union that represents all its members?

CHEERS to the AFL-CIO Labor Federation

The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations is not a labor union. It is a federation and consequently has a different legal and political situation. In my opinion, the present AFL-CIO leadership is far in advance of most of their constituent unions. That’s why I emphasize that all progressives should be working with them.

President Rich Trumka has given the national AFL-CIO position on teacher strikes: “When working people dutifully play by the rules and still can’t get ahead, they’re going to upend those rules. That’s exactly what’s happening today. Teachers, from West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, are fighting to overturn a rigged system that has left them behind for decades. They’re inspiring a resurgence of collective action among all working people who are hungry for real change to improve our lives. The 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO are proud to stand with all those marching to secure a brighter future for our teachers, students and families”

The only part of Trumka’s statement I disagree with is where he said it was “teachers.” Teachers may be spearheading it, but we are witnessing a giant working class process. Conditions, meaning low unemployment and high discontent, are ripe for it to spread throughout the nation.

–Gene Lantz

I discuss these things on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. From the “events” tab, you can see the last two programs. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

 

Book Review: Hedges, Chris, “American Fascists. The Christian Right and the War on America.” Free Press, New York, 2006

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“When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross”

sometimes attributed to the author Sinclair Lewis and sometimes to Louisiana Governor Huey Long

I appreciated this Dallas Public Library book more than I enjoyed it. I really liked his examination of the underlying precepts of radical right evangelism and his historical comparisons to the thinking and strategies of earlier fascists. On the downside, I think he credited televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson too much and blamed fascist financiers like the Koch brothers too little. I think Hedges understands a lot more about the ideology of fascism than he does about the reasons for it.

Hedges was a top-level foreign correspondent. He really knows how to do research and how to present it. He focused his research on the section of protestant evangelism in the United States that he names “dominionism.”

From page 11: “Dominionism, born out of a theology known as Christian reconstructionism, seeks to politicize faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians.”

I was interested in faith and fascism because of callers to my radio talk show “Workers Beat” today, March 31, 2018. One of them said that the current pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffress had said that everything President Trump does is okay because it is “ordained by God.” Another caller said that Jeffress, a few years ago, had called President Obama “the anti-christ.”

Another book, “’White Metropolis” charges First Baptist with far-right racist politics in the past. Hedges doesn’t mention Jeffress in his 2006 book, but he hits hard against Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, both of whom are presumably in Heaven now.

Long-time unionists know that Americanism is often evoked against its own people. Labor writer Len DeCaux tells us about a 1913 strike organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, employers tried to use the American flag as a strike breaking device. Declaring March 17 “Flag Day,” they draped flags over mill gates with signs calling for a return to work. The silk workers, makers of flags themselves, retorted with a huge American flag across Main Street bearing these words: “We wove the flag; we dyed the flag. We live under the flag; but we won’t scab under the flag!” –Excerpted “The Living Spirit of the Wobblies”

During a speech delivered in 1918, labor leader Eugene Victor Debs made a similar statement: 3No wonder Jackson said that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.’ He had the Wall Street gentry in mind or their prototypes, at least; for in every age it has been the tyrant, who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both.”

Can They Be Stopped?

Author Chris Hedges thinks that the radical Christian Right should be repressed. He thinks that the liberal approach of extreme tolerance for varying points of view will lead to the destruction of America. He points out that Hitler could have been stopped if Germans had been less pathologically tolerant. On page 202, Hedges says, “Debate with the radical Christian Right is useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It is a movement based on emotion and cares nothing for rational thought and discussion…. This movement is bent on our destruction. The attempts by many liberals to make peace would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly.”

I agree with Hedges. Tolerance cannot be extended to include intolerance. Where the book goes wrong, though, is in implying that these unscrupulous and opportunistic evangelists can, on their own hook, bring fascism to America. Hitler, working alone or with his ideological compatriots, couldn’t have done it either. The ideologists are not that powerful nor persuasive. Fascism is a form of rule chosen deliberately by rulers. That’s the danger.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas 9-10AM Central Time every Saturday. From the home page, hit the “events” tab to hear the last two programs. If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal site

Republicans continue the countdown on democracy with their plans for the 2020 census. African American and Latino organizations are trying to stop them.

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The NAACP’s lawsuit says that the last census seriously undercounted African Americans, and preparations, or lack of preparations, for the 2020 census threatens to do the same. Latinos are especially upset by the Trump Administration’s plan to ask if they are citizens or not.

If the Republicans get away with it, they will be able to seriously diminish Black and Brown representation in government. Their anti-democratic redistricting would be made even easier for them.

Historical Context

This is not the first time that the parties in power have used counting as a way to undermine democracy. Bear in mind that the first constitution counted slaves as 3/5’s of a person so that slaveholders could amass more electoral clout, even though the slaves had no say about anything.

Political Context

The fight for a fair census is another part of the larger fight for democracy and against incipient fascism. Voter suppression laws from state governments are rampant. Redistricting has undercut the “minority” vote. Big money has won Supreme Court backing and is now free  to dominate all elections without even revealing who they are. The Voting Rights Act has already been eviscerated.

Working families have to fight on every front to preserve the partial democracy that we have won over the centuries. Every front includes economic struggles as well as electoral.

— Gene Lantz 

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you look in the “events” tab of knon.org, you can find programs from the last two weeks. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site