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Below are listed some of the things that Texas labor accomplished over the past year. Even though federal and state governments sent us backward as much as they could, the battles we won are pretty impressive.

But those milestones aren’t even the most significant gains of the year. The biggest gains can only be seen by looking at the trends that are underway:

  • People are better informed than ever in history, and labor’s communications efforts are part of the reason
  • People are communicating with each other better than ever in history
  • Women are taking over leadership and winning
  • Racism is being recognized as everybody’s problem
  • Undocumented workers are finally seen as part of the working class
  • Turnout at elections may be embarrassingly small, but it’s on an upswing
  • Labor’s electoral successes have the 2020 candidates lining up for endorsements
  • Unions are helping each other more than anytime since the heyday of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), around 1947
  • Unions and other progressive organizations are receiving more and more help from the general public. Our rallies and picket lines are backed with volunteers from everywhere
  • People are openly grappling with our problems and possible solutions

On that last topic, we can thank Senator Bernie Sanders for bringing the word “socialism” back into common parlance for the first time since the red scare of the 1920s. I would not go so far as to say that it is widely understood, but it’s definitely being talked about.

My good friend Morris Fried had a letter-to-the-editor published on Christmas Day. He said that he had been studying newspaper coverage of the battles over education and had concluded with his own definition: “Capitalism molds people to fit the economy, socialism molds the economy to fit people.”

That’s real progress!

Texas Labor’s 2019 Achievements:

* We won paid sick leave for everybody living in Dallas and San Antonio

* We survived a grueling 40-day strike by United Auto Workers members against General Motors

* Members of the United Steelworkers at plants owned by Dow Chemical in Deer Park withstood a seven-week-long lockout

* UNITE HERE members in Dallas and Houston led raucous airport rallies

* The Central South Carpenters Regional Council joined the Texas AFL-CIO in leading opposition to a hastily adopted Texas Workforce Commission rule that exempts “gig economy” companies from paying for Unemployment Insurance. 

* The Texas AFL-CIO Citizenship Program held drives in cities across Texas, helping hundreds of eligible residents navigate the complex naturalization application process.

* Federal workers, many of whom are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, stood tall during the longest shutdown in government history – a 35-day fiasco

* An international delegation of labor leaders, including officers and staff of the AFL-CIO, Texas AFL-CIO and national unions, converged on El Paso to build solidarity among working families in the U.S. and Mexico. 

* Unionized Plumbers in Texas worked with their non-union counterparts to kill legislation that would have undermined state safety regulation of the plumbing industry.

* Texas teachers, prominently including the Texas American Federation of Teachers, led the way to achieving a major education reform bill that delivered pay raises for teachers and other public-school employees,

* Amid a high-profile campaign by a coalition that prominently included labor unions, the Texas Senate declined to confirm Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominee as Texas Secretary of State.

* ULLCO, the coalition of labor unions that advocates for working families at the Texas Legislature, stopped dozens of seriously bad legislative proposals, 

* The Texas AFL-CIO’s Ruth Ellinger Labor Leaders School graduated its third class

* Young Active Labor Leaders, a Texas AFL-CIO constituency group for workers under age 35, held its second statewide summit in Houston

* Across the state, Building Trades unions that include Electrical Workers, Iron Workers, Painters, Steelworkers, Laborers, Plumbers and others advocated strongly for high-road policies that offer working families a path to middle income.

* Labor’s goal of enabling solid middle-income jobs to evolve and grow included an ongoing battle against off-shoring, excesses of automation and other factors in a toxic mix aimed in large part at driving down wages.

* The campaign to save the U.S. Postal Service as we know it gained ground

* Delegates to the Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention created the Texas AFL-CIO Veterans Committee

* The Texas AFL-CIO stepped up its social media reach

–Gene Lantz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Gene Lantz

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

Considering the number of churches and mosques burnt or bombed lately, the number of worshipers of different faiths murdered by those of some other faith, and the rise in persecutions carried out in the name of religion abroad and at home; it’s time to try to understand what is wrong.

The one thing that all these atrocities have in common is obvious: religion itself.

The Problem is Religion

I make no secret of the fact that I am afraid of all religious people. I may respect them, I may even esteem some of them for their courage or for their compassion or for their oratorical ability or for the breadth of their knowledge. But I’m still afraid of them.

I’m afraid of them because they can be convinced of anything. It may be harmless that some of them think they can fly, or walk on water, or live forever, but religious people can also be convinced to put on an exploding vest and murder a crowd of people they don’t know. They can be convinced to burn people alive. They can be convinced to carry out great wars that slaughter millions.

“On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.” –Thomas Jefferson

Who’s Responsible?

Right now in 2019, a lot of people are blaming President Trump for the upsurge in religious hatred and violence. He’s certainly guilty and deserves blame.

Trump may be the least religious president in history, but he knows how to stir up the nastiest people to carry out the nastiest program. But Trump isn’t the crux of the problem. If religion were not such a handy tool, politicians like Trump wouldn’t use it. Religion itself is the problem.

Religion may be promulgated by very intelligent and capable people, but its true province is among the ignorant and easily misled. Religion is the enemy of reason, the enemy of knowledge, the enemy of understanding, and the enemy of fairness to all.

What Are You Gonna Do?

In general, one cannot argue people out of religion. They don’t believe in facts or evidence. You can’t convince them emotionally either. Even religious people can’t convince other religious people of anything.

“When has one religion triumphed over another by debate, experiment and observation?” – Isaac Asimov

“The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.”  — Voltaire

One cannot persecute people out of their religion. Historically, they have thrived on persecution.

The antidote for ignorance is knowledge. The antidote for superstition is science. If we promote science and knowledge, we are helping relieve our brothers and sisters of the burden of religion. The process may be painfully slow, but it’s the only way forward to a better future for all.

–Gene Lantz

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

RANDOM NOTES:

When I was in the military, there was a chaplain on every warship. It might have cannons, fighter planes, torpedoes or missiles, but it also had a chaplain!

Bertrand Russell: “The Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”

(William Penn, Quaker leader) “To help mend this world is true religion.”

“Woe to him who makes neighbors work for nothing and does not give them their wages.” Jeremiah 22:13

You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24

Marx: “Religious suffering is at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” (1844. Quoted in Dallas Morning News 10/12/08 by Gregory Rodriguez making the point that Marx was against oppression, not against religion which is only a symptom of oppression)

Edwards, David: “The suggestion seems to emerge that man’s maturity coincides with his abandonment of religion.”

Patiently explain.

It makes sense that everybody who works would want to study successes and failures of those who struggle to make things better for our side. But do we?

Author Eric Blanc talked about the recent wave of successful school employees’ strikes to a small group gathered at Alliance/AFT (school employees) union hall on April 30, 2019.

Blanc, Eric, ‘Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, 2019

The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere on-line. Blanc said that all money gained from book sales will go to “the national strike fund.” Apparently, he’s not just reporting on developments in the working class; he’s pulling for us!

The strike wave actually began a few years back with the Chicago Teachers, but the West Virginia wildcat strike of 2018 was the immediate inspiration for the successes that followed. Blanc emphasized that strikes in the American labor movement had become quite rare, and successes were threatened with extinction before a small group, Blanc mentioned that there were two or three of them, started things moving.

Another important aspect of the school employees’ strikes was the high degree of unity showed between different job groups, different ethnicities, and different communities. Blanc said that it is no coincidence that the other two industries that had large numbers on strike in 2018 were health care and hotels.

What’s the connection?

Women.

In all three industries, women dominate. “Really, these strikes were led by women,” Blanc said. It makes perfect sense. Women, especially women of color, are also winning elections right and left!

What Were the Main Issues?

Blanc said that none of the strikes were about wages. They were about changing the national dialog, created by the dark money manipulators, that schools are failing and the solution is privatization. There was never any evidence to support the idea, but it was the only thing being said prior to the strikes. Blanc said, “The reality is that privatizing is being tried and it isn’t working. All it does is hurt workers and students.”

Teachers struck against privatizing. They struck against divisive school policies such as merit pay. They struck in order to be able to teach instead of spending their entire day filling out forms. They struck over class sizes.

“You Can’t Do It Here”

Just about all I’ve heard here in Texas since the West Virginia strike is that such an activity would be impossible in Texas. Blanc pointed out that West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona are just as Republican-dominated as Texas. School strikes were just as illegal in West Virginia as they are in Texas. The way to keep from getting fired for striking, all seasoned unionists know, is to win the strike.

What’s Next?

Blanc wound up his opening remarks by pointing out that the strike wave is continuing. He said that there will be one-day walkouts in South Carolina and North Carolina. Tennessee and Oregon may have actions coming up. “That should give us hope in our opportunity to seize this moment.”

Who Is Learning These Lessons?

Only 18 of us gathered to hear Eric Blanc. I was the only one from the private sector. Virtually all of the questions thrown at Eric Blanc were about obstacles that school employees had faced and how the Texas situation might compare. I was almost last when I asked how we can get the entire labor movement to realize that the school employees won because they curried broad-based support.

Blanc responded that other kinds of workers could develop broad support for strikes and other progressive activities. “The majority of the workplaces have a relationship with the public that can be leveraged, but it’s not being leveraged right now.”

When somebody finds a winning combination, it makes sense that the rest of us would study their tactics. We might start by reading Eric Blanc’s book.

–Gene Lantz

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

Today I posted a prologue and Chapter One of “Commissioner Torres and the New Government” on http://lilleskole.us, my personal web site. It’s actually my 4th book-length effort. One of them is autobiographical and covers just about everything I’ve learned so far.

What would your revolution look like?

The other three are speculative fiction about a guy named Leo Torres who gets involved with revolutionaries just when the old order of things has fallen apart. Leo gets in on the revolution from the ground floor.

Why?

You may wonder why I write and post these things. Obviously, I’m not going to make any money. They aren’t even copyrighted. It’s not because of the silly old shibboleth “Writers write because they have to.”

I’m one of many people who would like to see a better world, but I’m one of the very few who have tried to describe it. For decades I’ve dodged the question the same way almost every activist does by saying, “I don’t know what the world I’m fighting for would look like, because it’s up to those people living in that world to decide for themselves.” It may be true, but it’s still a dodge.

If we’re fighting for a better world, we ought to be able to describe it. Or at least we ought to try.

I decided on speculative fiction as my way of initiating a discussion on what might happen and what we might do about it. After all, does anybody think that we’ll just wake up one day in a better world?

Nearly all of our sci-fi is dystopian. Just about the only exception is the Star Trek series. They didn’t even have a revolution to get into their wonderful world. They just listened to the Vulcans. In one episode, Mister Spock hints that the Vulcans had to go through some very trying times before they became so civil, but he doesn’t tell us much about it. So we actually have no pattern to follow.

For a long time, American activists tried to copy the Russian revolution. When it imploded, a lot of them were disgusted and demoralized. Some others have tried to follow Chairman Mao. Some followed Nkrumah, Ho Chi Minh, and some followed Castro. I think we could learn from all of them, but we couldn’t learn enough. We have to do a lot of our own thinking.

So, we speculate.

The World I Made

Looking toward the future, especially in the Donald Trump era, one can see disaster ahead. It’s not a matter of whether or not the planet will become inhabitable and wealth inequality will make economic life impossible. It’s only a matter of when.

But I have great faith in myself and other people. Sooner or later we will give up on the people who are destroying the economy and the ecology. We will embrace new leaders and new ways of running things. In the world I create in my sci-fi novels, people have just recently done that. Following the advice of revolutionaries, civilized people have disbanded their armies and their police. They formed local militias to keep order while respected and capable leaders are elected to make economic and social decisions.

The revolutionaries at the center help coordinate activities and continue to advise the localities. As you might imagine, there is very little continuity between one locality and another. There are a tremendous number of problems to be resolved. What will people eat? How will they get it? How will trade continue? How will people get from one place to the next?

Because the air and water are almost undrinkable and unbreathable, something drastic has to be done about the burning of fossil fuels. Because all systems are down, there is no electricity. Without electricity and transportation, there is no long-distance communication. Without transportation, people will not be able to get the goods and services they need to stay alive. What would you do about those things?

The first two novels take the easy way out. They only deal with some of the smaller questions.

My first novel deals with whether or not revolution is possible and worthwhile. It’s common to hear it said that humanity isn’t worth saving, that people will never learn to live without war, that people are essentially greedy and incapable of cooperation, and that every revolution has failed because people are basically just no damned good!

My second novel is more specific. It tries to deal with the fact that certain sectors of the population will not cooperate in building a better world. Hardened drug addicts, for example, are unlikely to cooperate in civil society. What would you do with them?

The third novel is by far the most ambitious. It recognizes that government is necessary and begins to discuss the ins and outs of setting up and running such a government. Is democracy the answer? If so, what would be the machinery of democracy? Here’s a really thorny question, “How could a society avoid the tyranny of the majority?”

I don’t know if you can answer these questions, but I know that I can’t. But I’m inviting you to join me in trying to find out.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM every Saturday. Call in 972-647-1893 with your ideas. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site at http://lilleskole.us

I normally listen to NPR while I do my morning yoga, stretches, and calisthenics. Six days a week it’s news, but sometimes on Sundays I catch some motivation program named something like “Humankind.” They interview various “spiritual advisers” and “life coaches” who use a lot of elusive terms like “inner voices” and “true destiny.” They want us to meditate and to “settle with ourselves,” or to “achieve calm within.”

alienation-chaplin

When I add up everything they say, it totals nothing. But I can see how they manage to get clients to pony up money to listen to them. A lot of Americans, especially those from the more-or-less affluent middle class, think they really need someone help them “find meaning.”

I think rich people don’t subscribe to spiritualism because they think they already have a purpose: getting richer. Poor people don’t seek “meaning” because they don’t have time. But it’s not hard to see why those in the middle would feel this need. They feel a genuine lack, something they should have that they have possibly lost.

Actually, they’re right.

We start losing our natural sense of purpose as soon as we enter modern society. That’s because our purpose is to help one another, and society in America as we know it is dead set against that purpose. Our society sets us against one another. It tells us to look out, to compete, and to vanquish the very people that we would have cared about if we weren’t twisted away as we are.

alienation

If anyone needed an example, look at our education. From kindergarten through graduate school, we compete for grades. The only way to be top of the class is to have everyone else beneath. We may never acknowledge it, but it’s how the system works. It’s not just the schools. It’s our jobs, too. We compete with everybody else for promotions, for raises, and for the best assignments.

At the grocery, we compete for the best products, the lowest prices, and the fastest check-out lines. On the streets, we have to make time by getting ahead of other drivers. It’s a rat race everywhere, and we’re the rats.

Once we’re aware of our forced alienation, we begin to find ways to fight back against it. It’s not like we have discovered a purpose; we always had one but we were purposefully driven away from it. To get back to caring for one another, as evolution created us to do, we have to fight.

We have to figure out how to fight alienation for ourselves. Life coaches won’t tell us.

–Gene Lantz

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

We are living in a time of great contradiction.

contradiction-enter-only

The more we learn, the stranger is our political world.

People have never been so enlightened. Knowledge, long ago, was accessible to only a privileged few. Most human beings, lacking any real understanding, were guided by dark superstitions and easily herded about by those in power.

We’ve only had public education in America for 150 years or so. Printed words for 600 years, telegraph for maybe 200, radios for 150, movies for 120, TV for 75, and the internet for about 40. It gets harder and harder to herd people around when they are figuring things out for themselves. That’s a tremendous and growing contradiction.

People of my generation can remember when segregation ruled. We can remember that people laughed when Desi spanked Lucy on the world’s most popular TV program. We can remember poll taxes, white primaries, and English-only ballots. We remember when little children were spanked for speaking Spanish. We may have a long way to go, but we have come a long way, too!

If one thinks of human enlightenment as human progress, one sees a continuum of gains that has never completely stopped and is not likely to ever stop. Remember the apelike creatures in the movie “2001?” They huddled in the darkness while predators roamed around them. Then they began to learn. We are learning still, but at an accelerating pace.

The other side of the contradiction is that we are still being herded around by the people in power. They pretend that their arguments are “equal” or “the other side,” but they aren’t. They aren’t “alternative facts,” they are just lies.

Their rulers’ methods of superstition, divisiveness, chauvinism, and general backwardness are less and less effective. Something will have to give eventually, and it has to be them.

–Gene Lantz

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