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Yesterday, May 3, we celebrated Pete Seeger’s birthday at our house.

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With a few musically inclined friends, we sang and played some of Pete’s better-known hits.

Linda Coleman gave a short talk and conducted a discussion about Pete’s life. She was particularly incensed that he was blacklisted for so much of the time when the world needed him most. We hooked a computer up to the TV so we could watch Pete’s videos on YouTube.

Their Culture Is All Over Us, and All In Us

On my radio show, I often make the point that almost everything a person reads, or sees, or hears, in America was either written by the bosses or approved by them. They own almost all the movie studios, the TV channels, the book publishers, the music producers, etc. We can’t avoid their culture because it’s in the very air we breath, and, like their other pollution, it’s not good for us.

Their culture teaches us that we are helpless, that we can’t change anything, that things are the way they have always been, and, worst of all, their culture teaches us alienation from one another. “Life is a jungle,” they tell us constantly.

Pete Seeger, of course, contributed to a culture that uplifted us and brought us together. That’s why they were so eager to blacklist him.

You Can’t Escape Their Influence, But…

If we recognize their culture and we recognize our culture, and we learn the difference between them, we can cope. That’s why it’s important to celebrate Pete Seeger’s birthday, and a lot of other important birthdays and anniversaries.

By the way, Woody Guthrie was born July 14.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on 89.3 FM in Dallas and http://knon.org all over the world, 9AM Central Time

 

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.

I recently wrote down a decent political program, but how could it be implemented?

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The Trick Is to Know What You Want

If a political program is to be implemented, its supporters have to be clear on it and keep it fresh in mind. That’s why the one I wrote is so brief.

Everyone has a certain amount of resources and a certain number of opportunities. Nearly all of us are short of money and time, but we usually have some of one or the other. But we have to pick and choose, carefully, which opportunities we will pursue with our limited resources. Some of them move us closer to the ultimate goal of the political program, and others not so much.

All Strategies and Tactics are Good

The catch is that strategies and tactics are only good in their proper place and time. A mass rally might be the best thing for a May Day activity, or a general strike might be. A letter writing campaign might be good in some situations, but probably not for May Day. It’s all good, but only when it fits the situation!

Can You Trust the Leadership?

Nowadays, new “leaders” are under every rock in the garden. We’re being pulled every whichaway by this or that organization or cause. As I explained in another blog, I tend to follow the AFL-CIO organized labor federation because, whether they are right or wrong, they are always working class and a united working class is the only long-term solution. Also, I’ve been working with these guys for a long long time, so I know their abilities, their intentions, and their shortcomings.

Whose Ax? Whose Ox?

Nearly all organizations and all their activities have short term goals. Some of those short-term goals advance a decent long term political program, but not all of them, and some always more than others. What they do depends on whose ax is being ground, and whose ox has been gored. Even some of our greatest leaders have to be viewed with a certain skepticism.

Take Bernie Sanders, for example. Senator Sanders is probably the most widely respected progressive leader in the United states today, and one would have to go back several years to find someone as deserving of respect. His book from September 2016, which I reviewed, has a wonderful list of things that need to be accomplished. And yet, they consist in their entirety of reforms which, if won, could still be taken away in another period.

None of Our Gains, So Far, Have Been Permanent

There are not and will not be any permanent gains for working people as long as our bosses run the system. Everything we can win — civil rights, voting rights, pay raises — can be taken away by the bosses, and will be taken away whenever they get the chance!

Even the finest organizations such as NAACP and Children’s Defense Fund have limited, temporary, goals. Not that activists shouldn’t support them, but we should support them with the realization that they will only take us a limited distance toward our ultimate goal.

Who and What Shall We Shun?

Are there arenas of political activity that we should avoid? Lots of “radicals” don’t believe in elections. Lots of liberals don’t believe in street actions. Hardly anybody in America believes in general strikes because we don’t know beans about them. Some unionists are always wanting to strike, others are always wanting to cozy up to the bosses. Some people make a fetish of civil disobedience, other people wouldn’t go near it. Some would say that only economics matters, while others would say that art and culture are the only way to make a difference. All of them are wrong.

As I said above, all strategies and tactics are good in the right place and time. The same goes for arenas of struggle. People who eschew elections are non-thinking zealots. People who will never support a strike action are probably cowards or sell-outs. Or, at least, we should admit that, even if we’re not zealous, venal or cowardly, we’re all ignorant.

The test of any opportunity is “How far does it take us toward our ultimate  programmatic goal?

There are no blueprints. We may study previous situations and their heroes until our eyes pop out, and we still won’t know exactly what to do in the next situation. But, if we apply ourselves consciously, study, collaborate with people we respect, stay active and keep our programmatic yardstick handy, we can refine our ability to choose.

That’s an organization plan.

 

March 8, 2017, could be gigantic!

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Good strategies and tactics only come from understanding the situation we’re in. If one overestimates people’s willingness to take action, one tends to try things that can’t be done and make other “ultraleft” errors. If we underestimate people, we end up settling for petty reforms when we could get bigger changes.

For most of my political life, I’ve tended to think people would do a lot more than they actually did. I thought, for example, that voters would really turn out to defeat the Orange Menace last November.

Afterward, when individuals and small groups began to call for militant political action, I fell on the timid side of evaluation. I never imagined that the January 21 marches and rallies would be the biggest in American history, but they were.

Now, to my surprise, I’m seeing some actual results from calls for a “general strike.” Even in my town, some small businesses shut down and a lot of students — of all ages — stayed out of school on February 16. For my entire political life, and all of almost everybody else’s, the call for a “general strike” was just a foolish dream of ultralefts and knee-jerk activists who weren’t even interested in whether it would work or not.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day

Now, calls for a general strike are beginning to get some traction. People are discussing the idea and beginning to talk about what it would take to be successful. I imagine that some people are looking at the general strikes in American history. The years 1877, 1886, and 1919 would be good ones to look at, but general strikes occurred in limited geographical areas right up to the big government attacks on workers that began in 1946. None were effective since then that I know of, until February 16, 2017.

To really make a difference, a general strike needs to be organized. Leadership needs to agree on the demands. They need to make those demands clearly understood, and they need to call off the action if the demands are met. It is hardly fair, and certainly not smart to ask people to make sacrifices without knowing what they are fighting for.

Leadership also needs to figure out how the strike should be conducted and how people’s needs can be met during the action. I have always loved reading about the successful strike in Seattle in 1919 where Rob Rosenthal wrote this poem:

“Nothing moves in the city,

Without our say-so

Let the bosses curse,

Let the papers cry

This morning

I saw it happen, with these ancient eyes of mine

Without our say-so

Nothing moves but the tide!”

March 8 is Coming. Look Out!

As I understand it, the February 16 activities were largely organized on social media. A lot of people didn’t know about “A Day Without An Immigrant,” but a significant number of the ones who knew about it went ahead and participated. That’s the times we live in.

As I understand it, the leaders that organized the biggest demonstrations in American history on January 21 have called for actions on March 8 — International Women’s Day. If “A Day Without  A Woman” goes anything like “A Day Without An Immigrant” –given that more people will know about it, that the leadership has already made itself credible and somewhat seasoned, and that there are more women in America than immigrants — a general strike on March 8 could be the most important political event in America since World War II.

That is, if I understand the times.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on the “Workers Beat” talk show ever Saturday at 9AM. 89.3fm in Dallas and http://knon.org everywhere. If you’re interested in what I really think, click here.

To go on strike basically means to stop working until some particular demand is met.

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Since Trump was elected, I have received two calls for a general strike. One was for January 21, the other is pending, February 17.  No exact demands accompanied on either one. I think it’s dangerous business, but must be considered.

What Is a Strike?

The word comes from British sailors who would “strike sails” and refuse to take their ships to sea. A “general strike” in a given area means that everybody, not just one particular organization or category of people, stops working until their demands are met. General strikes may not be over economic issues, but political.

Since the U.S. government moved against the union movement in 1947, the only union strikes we have seen were limited to one union, the few other unions legally able and willing to participate, and whatever community support a local union could get. Usually since 1947, American union locals have faced their employers virtually alone.

Prior to 1947, in fact in 1946 in Houston, there were general strikes in America. Probably the most dramatic and best-remembered was the strike for the 8-hour day, worldwide, May 1, 1886. Like most general strikes with potential for change, it was met with armed violence from the employers and their government.

We hear of general strikes in other countries from time to time. Over there, unions are involved but it is unlikely, given their legal situation, that organized labor would call any  general strike in America today. That doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t!

Strikes Are Part of Economic Struggle

A strike is not the only form of economic struggle, as differentiated from armed struggle or electoral struggle. Any kind of refusal to cooperate with the employers’ system of production fits the description. Workers might, for example, try a “slowdown.” Lately, union leaders call it “work to rule” and ask employees to do only what they are required to do legally and by contract, nothing more. In modern strikes, especially since Reagan, people sometimes lose their jobs. With slowdowns, there’s less risk of job loss. But a slowdown is a harder to organize and carry out.

Economic boycotts are economic struggles. The United Farm Workers carried out an effective one in the early 1970s against grape growers. Economic boycotts, like general strikes are very easily called by some unthinking hothead, but extremely difficult to carry out.

The employers and the government may be counted on to team up quickly against any kind of economic struggle by workers.

Who Wins? Who Loses?

According to the employers, workers always lose every strike. Even if the strike has short duration, the workers at minimum have to go some time without income. The strain on families and friendships is terrific. Nowadays, when many workers are carrying heavy loads of debt, the thought of a strike, even for a few days, terrifies everybody.

According to the workers, we win pretty much every strike. Even if our demands weren’t met, we feel that we’ve stood up for our dignity and for the dignity of all working people.

But putting points of view aside, the actual winner of a strike is generally the side that holds out one day longer than the other side. “One Day Longer” makes a good workers’ slogan and is the title of one of my songs.

“Winning” for us means getting whatever we wanted. “Winning” for the bosses means getting whatever they wanted plus the ability to take retaliatory action against every worker that crossed them.

A Strike Is Serious Business

A successful strike is one that grew out of careful analysis of the situation and had good planning and strong leadership. A good example was the three-month strike recently carried out by the Fort Worth Symphony Musicians. Somebody needs to write a book about that one.

Calling a strike without careful analysis, good planning and strong leadership is irresponsible and likely to get lose and get people fired. It isn’t much better than calling “fire” in a crowded movie theater.

But We Need Economic Struggle, and We Need It Now

I can only think of one thing worse right now than an irresponsible call for economic struggle — and that is no call for economic struggle.

Every American who is not a fool knows we need to resist the attacks underway. Economic struggle is, right now, our best option.

Don’t Go Off Half-Cocked

We need careful study and careful planning to win any economic struggle. Fortunately, we have the ability to do that thanks to modern communications. We could, for example, call for a “virtual strike” over a certain demand and for a certain day. We could make our preparations virtually. We could sign up the people willing to participate and, afterward, evaluate the results. Then we could call another one and see how it goes.

Study up, think it through, and share your thoughts.

–Gene Lantz

I talk about these things on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 Central Time every Saturday. 89.3FM in Dallas. If you want to know what I really think, click here.

Bernie Sanders, “Our Revolution—A Future to Believe In.” St Martin’s Press ebook, September 26, 2016. Available from Amazon Books and on Kindle

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S’Wonderful, S’Marvelous!

This must-read book details two important political contributions:

  1. A blow-by-blow account of the miraculous Bernie presidential campaign
  2. Detailed explanation of legislation needed to rescue and advance the people of our nation

The account of the campaign answers the question about how they managed to get so far toward the Democratic Party nomination when they started with virtually nothing and refused to sell out to big contributors. Most of America and even Bernie seem to be surprised at how well people responded to a truthful, direct, approach to America’s actual needs. It’s an inspiring story that needs to be studied.

Part Two, “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country” details the problems we face and proposes practical solutions in the form of legislation needed. In many cases, Bernie Sanders had already proposed proper legislation in Congress. In general, his proposals are designed to:

  • Restore and advance democracy
  • Remedy injustices, including racial injustices
  • Restore equality
  • Fix the economy

But It’s No Good

The big problem with Bernie’s wonderful book is the last line, “September 26, 2016.” He completed the book before Donald Trump’s upset victory for the presidency and before Republicans completed their take-over of all three branches of the federal government plus the majority of state governments.

So what do you do with wonderful proposals for legislation when progressive legislation has almost no possibility of passage? What do you do with an inspirational story of a hopeful electoral campaign when our foundation of democracy is crumbling?

Apparently, Bernie thought, on September 26, 2016, what most Americans thought – that the Democrats would have a big victory on November 8. The glaring fact that they didn’t, and the anti-democratic trends already underway, put new perspective on politics in 2017. Bernie’s thoughts of September 2016 are certainly good to know, and actually kind of miraculous to behold, but not much actual use, are they?

We’re going to have to do some thinking of our own.

Some Positive Suggestions

Rather than leave off on such a negative note, let me make a couple of general proposals that might be helpful in 2017

  1. Electoral politics is not the only form of struggle. The most important power that working people have is our ability to withhold our economic cooperation. It is essential, therefore, to dedicate ourselves to organizing workers – to vote, yes, but to work together in other ways too.
  2. We may think that history only repeats itself, but it doesn’t. Bernie Sanders (and also Donald Trump) campaigned on the idea of re-setting the calendar to some earlier date, but we can’t go backward even if we tried. We have an entirely new situation that needs entirely new proposals. For example, we don’t need to fix the Electoral College or even the electoral system as it exists. We need direct participation in government decisions, and for the first time in human history, direct participation is now possible!
  3. Economies can’t be re-set to earlier times. Sanders, and other writers, seem to want to move us backward to pre-Reagan days. Trump apparently wants us some time before the Civil War. We actually need proposals that account for our present situation and then advance into a better future. For example, if certain financial institutions are “too big to fail,” Bernie Sanders suggests that they are “too big to exist” and need to be downsized to the levels of the 1990s. With our present technological abilities, we don’t need them in the downsized version either. If they are “too big to fail,” certain banks and insurance companies need to be taken over and run for the public good.

We must be grateful to Bernie Sanders and others who have taught us so much. A great future awaits!

–Gene Lantz

Hear “Workers Beat” on KNON radio, 89.3FM and knon.org every Saturday at 9 CST

Click here if you want to know what I really think

We can hang together or separately, as the saying goes.

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We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!

 

Almost everybody I’ve talked to wants to “do something” right away as concerns the anti-worker government anticipated  for January 20, 2017. For several nights after the election results were announced, thousands protested in the streets of several cities, including mine. As far as I could find out, they had a lot of enthusiasm but no program, no structure, and no strategy.

A month and a half later, we still don’t.

I’ve been asking around about inauguration weekend. So far, it sounds like there will be three rallies, one march, some people going off to the state capital and others going to the national capital. There are probably several more activities being cooked up.

The problem is that there is no coordination among them. As far as I’ve been able to find out, each of them is sponsored by one separate group of people and has demands created by and for solely that group.

Can We Afford to Stay Divided?

As far as I know, the progressive movement in my town (Dallas) has always been divided this way and that.  Every naive young innocent who ever got involved has said, “We’ve got to get together!” And of course it’s true, but I’ve never seen anybody do it.

The book I’ve been promoting, “Runaway Inequality” talks about “silos” and says that all the progressive groups are in their own silos. The solution, says author Les Leopold, is that we have to come out of our silos and start working together. He doesn’t say why we’re in those silos to begin with, nor how to get out.

The basic reason for the silos is funding. Nearly all “progressive” organizations have to raise money. In that sense, they are competitors for the almighty dollar, not partners in any real sense. No matter what high-minded reasons people may have had for creating an organization, their main purpose in life soon becomes raising enough money to pay staff salaries, not whatever they originally intended to accomplish. In a very real sense, they are exactly like churches, most of whom seem to have lost their sense of purpose centuries ago, and they have to raise money or die! How do you change that?

You have to appeal to individuals. Bernie Sanders showed us that it can be done and how to do it.

Why Can’t We Just Hit the Streets?

The main problem with “knee jerk” activism is that it doesn’t go anywhere. Witness the Occupy movement that had thousands of charged-up protesters. They had no program, in fact they deliberately avoided having a program. As a result, they left nothing behind but some really good slogans and memories. But there’s another, very serious, reason to be cautious about spontaneous street actions.

Leftists may not continue to own the streets in America. Remember, that the progressives in Germany tried to take on the better-organized, more unscrupulous, and better financed Storm Troopers in the streets, but it didn’t work out well for them!

In our lifetimes, leftists and leftist causes pretty much ruled the streets. The fascists have stayed inside the corporate boardrooms and left picketing, street rallies, and marches to the riff-raff (us). But Mr Trump regularly puts together rallies of tens of thousands of hotheads today, and he has already shown that he’s willing to encourage violence against any detractor!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t rule the streets. But we aren’t in the same situation we were in before November 8, 2016. It’s different now.

One Proposal for Unity

Progressive people who want to survive and thrive during the Trump Administration need serious strategies for coordinated activity. My proposal is a series of “teach ins,” conference calls, and, possibly, “retreats” to work on programs and to coordinate activities. At the very least, we could set up a “clearing house” function so that different groups would know what the others were planning.

Labor, as the most responsible and most consistently progressive part of the left, needs to center itself in this process.

Everybody going their own whichaway isn’t affordable any more.

–Gene Lantz

Hear “Workers Beat” on KNON radio, 89.3FM and knon.org every Saturday at 9 CST

Click here if you want to know what I really think