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It is absolutely wonderful that the Communications Workers of America are buying books and teaching classes on “Runaway Inequality” by Les Leopold. It stirs a lot of thinking.

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The core argument is that something has been seriously wrong in America since the mid 1970s, when wages stopped rising at a rate similar to the increasing productivity. Productivity is the amount of wealth that one average worker creates in one average working hour.

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As the graph shows clearly, wages and productivity seemed to rise together from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, then productivity continued rising with the same upward slope, but wages flattened out. Profits rose, but wages didn’t. The change, Les Leopold says, came about because of deliberate policy changes. The book is full of other graphs showing the policies that changed, the resulting inequality, and the amazing effects of this incredible rise in inequality. Leopold then concludes by saying that ordinary Americans must band together and change those policies. In other words, wage-earners have to do what the bosses have been doing. It’s a “must read” book, and the classes (I’ve taken them twice) are inspiring!

There are further questions

  1. Is the period 1947-2016 a representative period of history, or is it unusual?
  2. Is the problem local or systemic?;
  3. Given the situation described in the book, is there really a solution for wage-earners?

What period of economic history is “normal?”

The entire book and all its conclusions come from the hypothesis that something went wrong in the 1970s. I have my doubts. The unusual period in American history was not 1974-2016, as Leopold suggests, but 1947-1974, the first part of the graph. In other words, there is nothing unusual about wages being suppressed in a capitalist economy. The unusual period was 1947-1974.

Take a quick look at how unusual was the post-war world:

  • Europe and Asian were bombed flat. American had virtually no competitors in the capitalist world
  • American unions were far stronger than in any time in history
  • The United States set the terms for all economic transactions in the capitalist world
  • The United States had almost all of the world’s gold

Then look at how things changed: By 1974, German and Japanese automobiles were flooding the world. President Nixon had given up America’s control over gold. Unionism had peaked around 1957 and was clearly slipping. The Chinese were having tea with Nixon and had broken up their alliance with the Soviet Union. Economic competition between nations was getting back to “normal.” What every nation had to do, to compete, was lower their costs. Their costs are our wages and benefits.

Is the problem local or systemic?

Our problems derive from the system we live in. American working families are having pretty much the same problems that other capitalist nations are facing. We have probably lost more than the families in other nations since the mid 1970s, but we had more to lose. The lords of American industry and finance have been able to hold on to their hegemony in the world only by sacrificing our wages and benefits.

Even worse, the long-term process of robbing working families entails destroying our democracy. The end of World War II was a triumph of democracy, and nowhere was democracy stronger than here, in the land of the winners. Several of Les Leopold’s graphs show how democracy is diminished. A very striking one is the graph showing that the United States has more people incarcerated than any nation of any size in the world! Today, many people are saying that we live under a plutocracy and that democracy is dead and gone.

It isn’t true. The absence of democracy is fascism, and we don’t have fascism in America. Even in 1947, our democracy was not complete. It was partial. Since the mid-1970s, our democracy has faded, but not disappeared. If the process continues as it is going now, it would be fair to say that fascism is the logical outcome. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Is there a solution?

Given the system we live in as described in “Runaway Inequality,” are we likely to be able to reverse the policies that have brought disaster for working families since the mid 1970s? No. What happened since 1974 is not unusual, it’s part of the ordinary process of world capitalist economics.

If there is a solution for American working families. it will come from a different system.

Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio, 89.3FM, every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you’re interested in what I really think, check out http://lilleskole.us

 

 

 

Socialism has become a popular topic for liberal discussion. Thousands of young people are joining moderate socialist organizations such as SP, DSA, or one of the Bernie-ite electoral groups.

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It is wonderful to see so many people committing to a better world, but I’m not sure how serious they are. It would be good to take a look backward to see how this discussion was conducted over the ages.

Socialism was a suitable subject for tea parties and Utopian literature for a couple of centuries before the 20th. There were even some harmless experiments, including one here in North Texas in the 1850s. The draft law of the Confederacy ended the Texas experiments with guns and terror.

The hippies of the 1960s recapitulated that early period and did some more harmless experimenting with communal living, counter-cultural institutions and what they called the “land trip.” Almost all of them either gave it up or moved to Costa Rica or both.

In 1917, though, the talk got serious. Since then, serious advocates of socialism have realized that an opposition exists and it’s not just arguing politely. Millions died in the civil war after that first socialist economy was established.

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The “arguments” of the opposition then took the form of fascism. In Italy, Germany, and Spain, the socialists were put down with guns and terror.  No sooner had the Nazis been defeated than the “arguments” of the opposition began killing millions in Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, Iran, Chile, South Africa, Angola, and Indonesia. Sorry if I left some out.

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Here in the United States, only a few of the advocates of socialism actually died and a few, not a whole lot, were imprisoned. But an awful lot of them lost their jobs and suffered blacklisting. Many Americans are still terrified of socialism because the terror that began in 1947 worked rather well for the anti-socialists. If it hadn’t, they would have gone much further, as they did in other nations.

Socialism is serious business. It’s not enough to discuss and advocate it. We need a plan.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you’re interested in what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us

 

Movie Review: “Suburbicon,” Directed by George Clooney, 105 minutes

It's a lot of movies

Matt Damon and Juliana Moore star in a movie that could have been named “Hunter for a Raisin in Pleasantville”

 

Kudos for the team who made “Suburbicon” for having four, count ’em, four union logos after the credits: Producers Guild, Sag-Aftra, Teamsters, and IATSE. That’s just one of the film’s many good features. We liked this movie.

In the next-to-last scene, I realized that it was a comedy. If I had known that all along, I’d have enjoyed it more because it’s really a pretty good comedy. The problem, and the probable reason that it is setting records for tickets not sold, is that the film makers also weren’t sure it was a comedy. It might have been a murder mystery, a civil rights drama, or a horror story. “Suburbicon” has elements that could be compared to some really great movies such as “Night of the Hunter,” “Raisin in the Sun,’ and “Pleasantville,” If you saw those movies and liked them, you’ll also like parts of “Suburbicon” — but you probably won’t enjoy the entirety as much unless you follow my advice: “Think of it as a comedy.”

The original script was from Joel and Ethan Coen. But the film’s credits show two other writers jumped in and added their alien ideas. That was unfortunate, because the Coen brothers have an unbroken string of smash hit comedies. I wanted to see this movie because I love George Clooney and admire the way he trades in his matinee-idol image for self-sacrificing humor. I also admire leading man Matt Damon for playing super hero secret agents one day, then sappy zoo-buying dads the next. He takes it even further this time. I also wanted to see the movie because I firmly believe that no one, no matter how hard they try, can poke enough fun at the 1950s in America. Even if it did nothing else, “Suburbicon” moves to the top of anti- sterile, racist, anti-communist, cold-war hysterical, 1950s movies!

The plot: Two pre-adolescent boys, one anglo and one Black, play a little baseball together in a perfect little all-white suburb in the late 1950s. Then there are mobs and murders right and left. Some of it fits right into whatever you may think of as the plot line, and some of them don’t. You’ll enjoy the movie as we did if you keep in mind “It’s a comedy!”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you’re interested in what I really think, see http://lilleskole.us

In the long view of history, the most important event of the 20th century was the Bolshevik revolution that occurred 100 years ago on November 7, 1917.

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There will be small groups, and some large groups, of people singing  “The International” in their own languages all over the world. It’s probably the most popular song ever sung, but is almost completely unknown here in America. The song is now associated with Russia, but it was originally French. The lyrics came from the Paris Commune (1872?) . One of the English versions is at https://youtu.be/VUw_aaBjCpE.

Over here, people know almost nothing about the event. They think it was some kind of a putsch, or sneaky takeover — or that the bosses actually handed their power over, as they did with Hitler in Germany.

What actually happened was that the works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels began to be translated into Russian sometime around the 1880s. Before that, there were young revolutionaries, but they didn’t know what they were doing and tended toward terrorism. One of them, executed by the tsarist government, had a little brother named Ulyanov. That little brother decided that he would study up before trying anything revolutionary. As he became more knowledgeable and took on leadership, he adopted the name pen name Lenin.

I think it was in 1903, at a party congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, that Lenin argued for a scientific Marxist revolutionary approach. He won a majority in the voting. The Russian word for “majority” is “bolshevik.”

In 1905 Russia was shaken by their losing role in a war with Japan. Among other important developments, the anti-war movement and other progressives formed giant committees that vied with the tsarist government for power. The Russian word for “committee” is “soviet.” The main committee was in Petrograd and was run by another revolutionary who had taken the name Trotsky. They lost that struggle, but the idea of these committees was familiar to the progressives after that.

What followed was years and years of hard work. Lenin was exiled, but he managed to argue for his policies through underground newspapers. By early 1917, the Russian empire was in another crisis. This time, they were getting whipped by Germany in World War I.

Progressives overthrew the Tsar, but the government they formed was basically capitalist. The new leaders wanted to continue the war and the war economy. The Bolsheviks argued for “bread, land, and peace” and “All Power to the Soviets!”

New Committees were formed. Some of them were called “workers, peasants, and soldiers soviets.” This time, Lenin and his Bolsheviks were the main force in the progressive movement. By mid 1917, the Petrograd Soviet was virtually equal to the “official” government. Power was up for grabs, and the soldiers were streaming into the soviets.

I’ve been told that only a handful of people actually died on November 7, 1917. Apparently, only one battalion of soldiers still supported the government, and they couldn’t effectively protect it. People from the soviet stormed the Winter Palace and took charge.

The United States and several other countries already had soldiers on Russian soil, and they didn’t leave. Instead, they joined in a civil war to overthrow the Bolsheviks. In the rest of the world, progressives began to split apart. The American Socialist Party split is dramatized in the movie “Reds.” Essentially, the Socialists kicked the supporters of Lenin out, and they had to form their own party.

Since then, they’ve been trying to explain what happened.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9 central time. If you want to know what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Gene Lantz

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

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

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

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

I started a sort of timeline:

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

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

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

–Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review, “Viceroy’s House,” Directed by Gurinder Chadha, 106 minutes.

Like most useful political movies, “Viceroy’s House” is showing in a very limited run. In Dallas, it’s at the Inwood, but showing only twice each day and sure to disappear on Friday.

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Critics compare the movie to “Upstairs Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey,” partly because it stars Hugh Bonneville, who was the Earl for years on “Downton Abbey.” Actually, it compares much more with “Doctor Zhivago” or “The Year of Living Dangerously,” because it’s an epic historical movie with a tangentially related movie-type love story in the foreground, while great events are going on behind.

Lord Mountbatten, a British war hero, arrives to take over as the last viceroy in imperial India. The weakened empire wants to free its millions of subjects and, for most of the movie, the problems seem fairly realistic. The Lord and his very able wife and daughter try to deal with them as well as possible. But there’s dirty business afoot and tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims will kill each other before the film ends. In Kashmir and other parts of India today, they are still at it.

I don’t want to give away who the real dirty s.o.b. villain is, but his initials are Sir Winston Churchill, about whom I have already delivered some opinions.

As you know, the British didn’t just turn India over to Nehru and his democratic government. Instead, they partitioned it along religious lines as they had earlier with Palestine and Ireland — two other places where a lot of people have died. The entire scheme of partitioning at the end of World War II merits some scrutiny. Why, for example, did we end up with East and West Berlin, North and South Korea, Iraq/Iran/Kurdistan, and one of our old favorites, North and South Indo-China (Vietnam).,

Come to think of it, we might look through a lot of histories and consider what governments really intended when they partitioned geographic areas. I live in Texas, for example, which was partitioned away from Mexico along with California and the entire Southwestern United States.

The movie’s director is no novice She has put together a very satisfying movie with some real political and historical significance. Her own family members were among the victims of the period. The acting is superb at every level, from Lord Mountbatten to his least servants. There are hundreds of extras in wide-lens shots that must have cost a fortune. BTW, Mountbatten’s daughter served as a consultant on the film.

Don’t miss it!

Gene Lantz

Catch me on KNON radio 89.3 FM Saturdays 9-10 AM CST