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democracy

How do we choose what to do next? The movement for progressive change is in an upsurge. Most of us have far more opportunities than we can use.

Our little discussion group has been examining the current situation and some of the ideas of the great revolutionary thinkers of the past. We’ve been using the simple programmed modules at http://lilleskole.us/school.

Before today, we had already enlarged our understanding of “class” and asserted that only the working class can make the fundamental change that is so necessary. A good guideline for deciding what to do is: “Think of the class.”

Today, we discussed unions

The great revolutionary thinkers valued unions because they are a great training ground for the working class.

In America today, unions are the largest, richest, and most influential progressive organizations. Unlike most other progressive organizations, they are solidly working class. It is noteworthy that most union leaders come directly from the rank and file.

It is also important that American unions are the bedrock of democracy. They are formally democratic. Nearly all their problems could be solved if they had member participation.

BUT

BUT some activists misunderstand the nature of unions. Union leaders aren’t revolutionaries. They generally don’t take the offense on social questions or on any questions at all. Whole American organizations dedicate themselves to trying to turn unions into revolutionary battering rams.

The best and worst thing you can say about unions, like any other member organization, is that they represent their members. Do not confuse a union, or even all the unions, with the working class. They are a subset of the working class. Even if all working families were union members, they still wouldn’t be revolutionary, because they would still be divided.

Only 3 unions today support impeachment: National Nurses United, the Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees. Unions are divided or waffling on “Medicare for All.”

The great revolutionary thinkers of the past prized unions, or what they often called “combinations.” BUT they called them “Great training grounds for revolution.”

Rosa Luxemburg’s German revolutionaries, who were very close to the Russian Bolsheviks, caved in to the trade unions and removed the idea of a general strike out of their program. Luxemburg was furious.

The IWW’s program was to organize everybody into One Big Union, then take power, presumably through a general strike. It sounds so simple and easy, but is it?

For next time, we’ll go directly into how activists can decide what to do next. Knowing what to do next is the very definition of leadership. One of our activists has been studying the relationship between everyday reform activities and revolutionary work. She will lead our discussion on December 15. The Little School has no material on “Reform Or Revolution,” but the classical work of Rosa Luxembourg is on-line at:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/index.htm

Let me know if you would like to join us.

Gene Lantz

Contact me at genelantz19@gmail.com. I’m on KNON’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

Choose your favorite coming disaster:

  • Environment
  • Economy
  • War
  • Democracy

Strangling and drowning

Speeches and articles about the environment tend toward dry statistics, but the facts of drought, famine, and flood are talking louder. It’s hard to ignore climate change when your house is washing away.

Environmentalists have always been with us. They range from the driest academics to the eco-terrorists. Their arguments often involve human health, endangerment of species, and the general disappearance of our way of living. Their message grows more relevant with every weather report.

Poverty and famine

The latest figures indicate that 8 men, 6 of them in the United States, hold more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population. Rich men live 15 years longer. Inequality is rampant and growing. A few rich families enjoy untold luxuries while most children are underfed!

Contrary to what most economists tell us, the reason is deeper than what we can learn from a quick look at recent economics. Most of the analyses we see indicate that everything would be fine if we could just get back to the conditions in America in, say, 1955. Piketty debunks them.

Thomas Piketty’s collection of data shows clearly that the American situation around World War II was nothing normal. In fact, it was a complete exception to the rest of capitalist history. Except for that short period, inequality has always risen under capitalism. Piketty concludes not only that capitalism creates inequality, but that it always will.

Murder and genocide

Wealthy people protect and extend their wealth, just as they always have, with armed police and soldiers. No matter the prayers that we deliver and the songs that we sing, wars are caused by economic inequality. As inequality rises, so does the danger of war.

World War I and World War II, and all the little wars before, between, and since, were basically fought for economic advantage. The sole reason that World War III has not already started is the understanding that nuclear war will have losers but no winners. Even so, threats of nuclear belligerency have become so common that we barely notice them. And non-nuclear war takes up much more of our current history than peacetime.

Just because war is impossible doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Isolation and political impotence

The majority of us, here in America we casually call ourselves the 99%, are increasingly dissatisfied with the suffering side of inequality. In several countries today, the “have nots” are revolting against the governments that protect the “haves.” Today’s news talks about Colombia, France, and Bolivia, but they could as easily have mentioned half a dozen other countries.

The solution, for our side, is to take democratic control over foreign relations, economies, and environmental concerns. The tiny majority of rich people now controlling all those essential areas would rather we didn’t. Their massive propaganda machines are working to that end. They are also going to great pains to strip us of the partial democracy that we have won over the ages. Voter-rolls are being purged, polls are being closed, unions attacked, and burdensome conditions are being put on our right to speak for ourselves.

Increasingly, the rich are relying directly on their police and soldiers. We rely on the only thing we have, people power, to blockade their four roads to hell.

All my facts and figures come from today’s news.

–Gene Lantz, November 27, 2019

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

Across the world and at home, we are learning how to improve our societies. At a breakfast meeting Sunday, November 17, we discussed the present situation and went over some of the lessons of the past.

The United States had more workers on strike in 2018 than in any year since the crackdown against the working class began in the 1970s. Working families in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Iraq, Iran, Spain, and Greece and other nations are holding massive protests. The progressive movement is far broader, that is that more disparate individuals and groups are practicing solidarity, than in recent history.

How do we make sense of it all and decide which of the many opportunities most merit our resources? We posed some interesting questions that, for most of us, are not easy to answer:

  • Why are there so many arguments in the progressive movement? What are some of the major divisions in the progressive movement today?
  • What is happening in Bolivia? In Hong Kong?
  • Are all the world’s protesters working toward similar goals?
  • Would you defend the right of the Ku Klux Klan to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of American armed forces to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of ISIS, Middle Eastern religious fighters, to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you defend the right of your local police department to recruit members in public places?
  • Would you urge police associations to join organized labor federations?
  • Does America really need a revolution?

Will revolutionaries be elected into power?

Were the Bolsheviks correct in taking power in 1917, or has history shown that the Menshevik gradualists had a better understanding of their situation?

One would like to think that all progressive activists would agree, even on difficult questions. But the truth is that arguments have always racked and divided the movement. Our group tried looking at the time-tested ideas of great thinkers of the past. We were looking for guidelines, not specific directions.

For guidelines and to initiate discussion, we used the automated learning modules in the “ABC” section of the Little School at http://lilleskile.us/school. I am its author. So far, we’ve looked at the first nine lessons. The next one will be on trade unions. Some people finish a module in five minutes.

Here are some of the main points we’ve discussed so far:

  • Activists need to study in order to become more unified and effective
  • Almost everything we have been taught has been filtered by reactionaries
  • Of the two main branches of philosophy, idealism and materialism, materialism is the best guide
  • In general and in the long view, the human condition has improved
  • People’s views are strongly affected by their station in society
  • Different classes of people have strongly divergent views
  • Everything, including societies, is constantly changing

We plan to get together again on the morning of December 1. Let me know if you’re interested

–genelantz19@gmail.com

I’m on KNON’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

I am worrying that members may resign from the United Auto Workers because they see no way to overcome the union’s problems. Leaving the union would be a disaster for those individuals and for all their brothers and sisters. Better to stay in the union and force it to change.

Here is a short list of reform suggestions:

  • One-person-one-vote for critical decisions
  • End nepotism
  • No staffer control over membership deliberations
  • Join the rest of the labor movement, especially in politics
  • Full disclosure and cooperation with the membership
  • Meetings in most economical venues
  • Put “joint” activities under the same rigorous accounting oversight as regular union activities
  • Hold meetings in economical venues

The Longer Explanation

The new acting President of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is named Rory Gamble. His peers on the International Executive Board asked him to take over after they pressured the elected president, Gary Jones, to take a paid leave of absence. On UAW.org, Gamble writes: “…I know recent events concerning members of our leadership have disappointed and angered many of you….”

He is referring to federal indictments against a number of active and retired top union leaders and published allegations against some more, including Gary Jones. Newspapers also reveal that other former leaders are testifying in the federal investigation. Charges and allegations include embezzlement, corruption, and money laundering. Two former top staffers published an op-ed calling for the entire leadership to be fired.

The specifics in the newspaper articles say that union officials could not account for money spent on wrist watches, golf fees, expensive cigars, and fine liquors. I’d like to come back to that.

Union Busters and Their Friends

In these times, no one should be surprised to learn that the government is trying to destroy the UAW and its leaders. No one should be surprised that the corporate media is doing all they can toward that same end.

What is surprising is the commentary that follows the news releases. Writers who say they are union members are buying into the anti-union onslaught wholeheartedly. When Gary Jones stepped down, for instance, hardly anyone wrote on social media about whether or not he had actually done anything wrong. Almost all of the comments, instead, were calling for his head. The mildest among them were saying that his salary should be cut off immediately. This is before any official charges have been filed.

What Makes Unionists Anti-Union?

Some union problems are built in, even when the union is working well.

Union servicing reps and negotiators know that their efforts are unlikely to please any union member without pissing off another one. If the union wins a raise for someone, for example, someone else demands to know why they didn’t get the same raise, or a higher one.

The published results of union ratification votes in the recent General Motors strike reveal that 42% of those voting did not like the contract offer well enough to accept it. They must have known that they were voting to continue the grueling strike, but they bravely voted against the offer anyway. After the other 58% ratified the contract, that 42% was certain to be discontent. It’s built in to contract negotiations that somebody will be glad and somebody else will be mad.

In enforcing union contracts, servicing reps spend a lot of time, maybe the majority of their time, helping the very worst members. A worker who stays sober and comes to work on time regularly may not see his/her servicing rep for months on end. The drunk who screws up has the servicing rep on speed dial. There’s really no way around that.

When the union is working well, seniority is strictly observed. The first people to get promotions and raises are the ones that have been on the job longest. The first ones laid off are the newest. There’s no way around that, either, because the alternative would be to let the boss decide, and he will go with his nephew every time! But seniority creates a built-in problem for unions, especially during times like the last few decades, when more people are getting laid off than hired and the membership keeps aging.

Unions aren’t revolutionary. Hot-blooded young members with high ideals and little to lose are always wanting their union to take on and destroy the establishment. They are always disappointed because unions don’t want to destroy companies or systems. They just want better treatment for their members. It’s built in.

But There are Preventable Problems

Unions became increasingly isolated after the 1947 Taft Hartley law was passed over President Truman’s veto. The progressives in the union movement were kicked out en masse. The conservative union leaders then embraced “business unionism.” They stopped struggling for social programs like shorter working hours, increased Social Security, and national health care. Instead, they bought management’s suggestions for company-provided pensions and health care. The UAW, in what is often called the “Treaty of Detroit,” led the charge backward.

Most union members were glad. They started seeing their wages, pensions, and health care get better and better while people without unions could only enjoy a residual effect. Union officers learned to play golf with management while growing more and more isolated, not only from the working class at large, but from their own members. In the long run, it was a recipe for disaster, but in the short run, during America’s great post-war boom, it worked great for the members. To this day, many union members think the leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were some kind of geniuses.

Membership fell steadily after 1957. Disaffection, separation of union leaders from everybody else, grew worse. Membership participation in union meetings declined. Leadership became increasingly opportunist. That is, they took UAW staff jobs because they were really good jobs, not out of any commitment to the union (witness them today hurrying to testify for the union-busters). Nepotism is one of the uglier aspects of opportunism, and it is weakening the UAW.

Then came Reagan

By the late 1970s, the United States began to lose its economic hegemony over the rest of the world. Other industrial nations rebuilt the factories that were bombed flat during the war, and they started producing products that were as good or better, and often cheaper, than those made in the United States. Little foreign cars, for example, became quite trendy in America.

In the presidential election of 1980, the employers committed to a solid plan to drive down unit labor costs in America. They found an excellent spokesperson and mobilized the government, the media, and most of the establishment around him. With government help, they shipped the best American manufacturing jobs overseas. They automated jobs away. They busted unions when they could and passed anti-union legislation at every opportunity.

Unions, who had completely forgotten about the historic fight to shorten working hours in response to automation, bled members. Some of them tried to adapt through strategic mergers with other unions and by innovative approaches to organizing. A few of them did OK, but the UAW wasn’t one of them. Membership fell from 1,500,000 to around 400,000.

The UAW responded to the Reagan assault mostly by embracing the “Big 3” auto companies and declaring that the enemies of the union were not managers but, rather, were foreign workers, especially the very successful Japanese. They pushed “buy union-made cars,” without mentioning that most of the foreign auto companies were unionized. They immersed themselves into company-led “jointness” ventures and “team” production. Union editors were encouraged, even directed, to give up their union newspapers and join forces with management.

One result was that “joint” ventures created opportunities for corruption, and one direct result of that is some of the UAW leaders now in jail or under indictment. They are charged with stealing funds that were designated for joint training programs that had poor fiscal accountability.

The other result, far worse, was that UAW leaders were more than ever isolated from the members. Instead of interacting with members at work, they built a hierarchy of union staffers around them that completed their isolation. The union staffers, who have their own separate staff union, continued to get the best that the UAW could offer, while members’ wages and benefits eroded away.

One could argue that the UAW staffers, not the members, run the union. It is true that the UAW still has a good democratic constitution with regular elections and constitutional conventions. The problem with those conventions is that they are orchestrated by the staff. While some unions prohibit staffers from even being on their convention floor, UAW staffers literally lean over every delegation during conventions. Hardly anything happens at UAW conventions that was not planned out in advance by the top UAW leaders and executed by their paid staffers.

About Those Cigars

Readers of the many anti-UAW articles may have wondered what union leaders might have been doing with all those expensive cigars, golf fees, watches and bottles of liquor that they were supposed to have stolen. They couldn’t have worn that many wrist watches. They couldn’t have drunk and smoked that much while playing that much golf. The answer is pretty obvious. They probably used luxury items to guarantee, through small bribes, the continuing loyalty of the legions of staffers.

We end up with the situation in the UAW today. A significant number of union members are so confused and alienated that they actually vote for their own executioners. Others, possibly with the best of intentions and highest motives, are joining the media call for destroying the union!

On the Upside

No one should overlook the fact that the General Motors workers were able to carry out a successful 6-week strike even while the biggest and sharpest union-busting effort since the McCarthy period was directed against them. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW still has 400,000 intelligent members and several hundred million dollars. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW has one of the proudest and most progressive histories in America. No one should fail to notice that the American people are becoming more and more aware of just who their real enemies are and how to fight back. That’s a lot to build on.

Short-term Solutions for the UAW

It isn’t likely that President Rory Gamble is going to be able to pull the union together with a few worn platitudes about “solidarity in the ranks” and “a few bad apples.” Even if union leaders survive the government investigation, their alienation from the membership will continue to eat the union away.

There are two guys who think they have found a section of the UAW constitution allowing for the members to call a special convention and elect new leadership. They have a Facebook page with 12,000 likes. The two guys are arguing that members should join their effort rather than doing what has become almost traditional – “voting with their feet” – and leaving the union.

I hope they can pull it off, because it might help keep our union together. But just holding a new convention under the same old system isn’t really a long-term reform. For example, the convention delegates are already elected. Under the UAW Constitution, they are the same ones that attended the last convention, and they will be sitting in front of the exact same staffers.

Long-term Solutions

Our union needs an entirely new attitude toward its members. Staffers must stop subverting our democracy. Members must be consulted and listened to. Top-down thinking must go.

The union also needs a new attitude toward the public. More and better communications are needed. “Go it alone” must be condemned as a union strategy and “solidarity with all workers” must become our new guideline. We need to completely get rid of our isolated, separate, political program and join with the other unions in the AFL-CIO.

The United Auto Workers, once the most progressive and democratic union, must take its place again at the head of this wonderful new progressive movement that is sweeping America.

–Gene Lantz

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

I attended the DFW Archives Bazaar in Denton, Texas, on November 2. They may seem like introverted bookish people, but they are revolutionaries.

Forty archives had tables up all day. Some of them such as public libraries are familiar to all of us, but some were slightly more esoteric. There are, for example, collections called “Dallas Jewish Historical Society,” “Diocese of Dallas,” and “The Dallas Way: an LGBT History Project.”

What’s Revolutionary?

We have more information at hand than ever before in history. Even though the forty archives at the bazaar are walk-in study centers, they also have digital aspects. All the information ever collected by anybody, in the six millennia since writing began, is in some stage or another of being digtitized and made available on the internet. It’s getting easier to find, too, thanks to these revolutionary librarians and archivists.

I wish there was an international digitization plan, so it would go even faster, but it’s going pretty fast now.

When we have enough information, truth becomes available to us. We may choose to hide it behind lies and opinions for a time, but there’s something to the old adage, “truth will out.” Lies and superstitions are wound around the truth and cannot long escape its gravitational pull.

Well-informed people are people who can figure out what to do. Eventually, they will, and that’s revolutionary.

Today’s young people are the first generations to have this incredible bank of knowledge at hand. We can hope that they will use it well, and I am certain that they will.

–Gene Lantz

If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site. I’m also on KNON radio. every Saturday at 9 Central Time

Movie Review: “Harriet,” Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 125 minutes

If you study Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments, you’ll wonder how the film makers thought they could cram it all into a mere two hour movie. I heard a radio review with the director, who said that she wanted to make sure that people didn’t see the film as a mere biopic.

It is a biopic, though, complete with those little written sub-headings that show the times and places where important events took place. There was probably no other way to do it, because Harriet Tubman was not a one-time heroine. Her personal exploits in saving people from slavery and in actually ending slavery spanned decades in time and hundreds of miles in distance.

We really loved this movie, but my movie buddy and I love history and the civil rights movement. We think of the American Civil War not as a meaningless tragedy as it is usually portrayed, but as a giant leap forward for all of us. Those who agree are really going to like “Harriet.”

So get comfortable for a long and edifying experience when you go to this one. It’s worth it.

You can listen to an opera about Tubman on Youtube: https://youtu.be/0wpqiyA1nHE

The 1978 TV mini-series, :A woman Called Moses,” can be bought on-line:https://app.pureflix.com/videos/253311526823/watch

The theme song with animated video is on Youtube: https://youtu.be/2bl3KJgWQKk

The Wikipedia version of Harriet Tubman’s life is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’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

I learned to type almost 70 years ago, and I still communicate with typing every day. But I also talk to Alexa, and she (it) talks to me. We are only scratching the surface.

For decades, scientists have been able to detect brain waves outside a person’s head. Any waves that can be detected can also be amplified and transmitted.

It is only a matter of time until someone interprets those waves into something a computer can read, and then a whole new wave of communications revolution will begin.

If a computer can read brain waves, it can pass the information along to other computers, sensors, and robots. Utilizing his/her brain waves, a person could theoretically run a factory. It’s probably possible now.

If a computer can read brain waves and translate them correctly into instructions for other machines, it could also translate them into new information to be passed to the brain of another human. At first, the machine might simply translate into language, just as Alexa does now. But later, a human and machine could learn to understand one another directly without the need for language. The technology is within our grasp. As soon as somebody figures out a way to monetarize the project, it will take off!

In the 1960s, a lot of long-haired hippies liked to wear headbands. It was partly practical, because lots of people wore their hair long. But it was also a fashion reflecting something about their outlook. I envision a future where lots of us wear headbands or turbans, depending on the size of the technology we need to send and receive information without using language.

Just as today’s information explosion is changing everything about the ways we live and work, this big new improvement in communications will have social effects. It is obvious, for example, that we can’t go on working some people for long hours while condemning others to unemployment and poverty. We should have shortened the workday decade ago, and we will certainly have to in the future.

I look forward to new and better ways to transfer and process information. There is a relationship between truth and opinion, between science and superstition. Even today, while politicians mobilize millions of dollars and the highest of technology to deny the truth, truth tends to win out. Opinions, outright lies, and superstitions are everywhere, but they are wound around a core of science and truth.

As humans gain and process more information, we will discover more truth. Eventually, we will tend to become ungovernable by others, and capable at last of governing ourselves. It isn’t that far away.

Gene Lantz

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