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Movie Review: “On the Basis of Sex,” Directed by Mimi Leder, 2 hours

My movie buddy and I enjoyed the biopic about Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s early days in the fight for gender equality, even though it was formulaic and predictable from the beginning to the powerful ending where the real Ginsberg mounted the Supreme Court steps.

The movie is very timely as it hit theaters just as Ginsberg was missing her very first sessions while battling lung cancer. The last report I saw said that she had beaten cancer once more and was back on the job. The documentary, “RBG,” about her had just closed a week or so before this dramatization was available. Another reason that the movie is so timely is that the Supreme Court has been making headlines for years as it cleared legalities out of the way for the ongoing power-grab of the plutocracy.

Only Ginsberg’s early legal efforts, and especially her first big trial before the Supreme Court, are covered. But the inference is that she went on to win more and more gains for women. We were pleased that the movie didn’t try to give all the credit to the legal system, but made the point that people change things before laws recognize it.

In discussions after the movie, we talked about the Equal Rights Amendment, which both of us fought for in the 1970s. It passed in Congress but, like any constitutional amendment, it had to be ratified in the states. We came close but we didn’t win, or rather we haven’t won yet.

The ERA would have overturned all the many statutes and case precedents justifying gender discrimination in America. Ginsberg’s approach, in the movie, was to tackle them one-by-one, and that’s what she and others have been doing. The movie implies that we’ve been winning all this time and will continue winning until gender equality is fully achieved.

But, so far, it hasn’t happened.

Why Not?

Women live longer and consequently outnumber men in America and on the planet. If they could get together, even vote together on women’s issues, they would win. But the truth is that they don’t.

Texas has had two outstanding women candidates for governor in the last two elections. Both were outstanding for their stands on women’s equality. Neither one of them won, and neither one of them got all of the women votes. I think that both of them, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and maybe even like Hillary Clinton, made some progress; but so far no victory cigar!

Frederick Engels, in the 19th century, wrote that women were the first oppressed class, mostly because their oppression coincided with the birth of written history. Both written history and women’s oppression came about because surplus wealth was beginning to be produced. Men took that wealth and developed writing to account for it. They developed women’s oppression in order to make sure that their heirs were biologically theirs.

Engels said that women’s oppression would end in future society because women would be in the workforce and fully as productive as men. I think that’s been the case so far. The laws didn’t change first. What happened first was that women established their power and their rights in the workforce.

Union Women Are Far Ahead

Most American workers aren’t organized into unions, but the ones that are practice women’s equality rather thoroughly. As our working people attain more power, women’s equality will at long last attain its final goal.

Meantime, let’s keep marching!

–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

Working people in other nations must be simply amazed that the Americans would let 800,000 workers get locked out while everybody else goes to work as if nothing was happening. After all, if we so much as shut down one airport, one railroad, one highway, or one city for half a day, we’d get whatever we wanted.

Call Congress. Then what?

Without making any excuses, one can look back in American labor history for some of the reasons that nobody has walked out in solidarity. The biggest one is that everybody waits for the unions to do it and, as the saying goes, it ain’t going to happen!

Unions have power, and because they have power, they have tremendous government supervision. Most union contracts have a “no strike” provision. Management would love to see a union violate their contract, because they would then be free to do almost anything they wanted, and the government would happily assist.

In the old days, unions got what they wanted primarily by striking. The Industrial Workers of the World had hardly any other tactics. At the same time, their legal status was about the same as bank robbers. Some of the most powerful unions, mostly in transportation, gained some legal status with the passage of the Railway Labor Act in the 1920s. In the 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration gave us the National Labor Relations Act. It set up the supposedly neutral National Labor Relations Board to referee disputes between management and labor. Legal at last, the unions went on the biggest organizing drive in history.

But there was a price. With government arbitration came a lot of government supervision. In 1947, Republicans came down hard on labor laws. That’s when the vicious “right to scab” laws were legalized in the infamous Taft-Hartley bill. Texas led the way. Republicans have made sure that labor laws worsened.

It may sound innocent to say that “secondary boycotts are outlawed,” but what it means is that unions cannot stop work in solidarity with other unions. Our fundamental principle, “An injury to one is the concern of all” is quoted a lot more than it is used, and it can’t legally be used at for major work stoppage.

Unions are calling for an all-out lobbying effort. A few unions, including one in Dallas, are hitting the streets, and that is a big step forward. But it’s not likely that they will go further.

Why doesn’t someone else do it?

Why is everybody waiting for unions to call walkouts? It’s because our solidarity with the rest of the working class is still fairly weak. From 1947’s Taft-Hartley Act to 1995, America’s unions did very little to promote their relations with churches, community groups, civil rights people, and protest organizations. They accepted their isolation.

With the AFL-CIO elections of 1995, unions began to get back on track. But it’s a long road from a national labor convention to a grass roots coalition at the local level. I’m very proud that my own AFL-CIO Council in Dallas has made giant strides, but not every council has and, even in Dallas, these coalitions are still quite young.

Most of the individuals with enough personal following to call a major action are politicians. If they called a walkout, or even spoke in favor of walkouts, their campaign funds would rupture. So don’t expect any of them, not even Bernie Sanders, to call for walkouts.

Maybe a rock star will.

Some impossible things happen

If Mr Trump really tries to keep the government shutdown going for an extended period, as he says he will, there will be work stoppages. They will succeed, too.

There is such a thing as “historical imperative.” It says that some things will happen, not because they are likely or even possible, but because they have to happen. Maybe Americans don’t understand our own labor history, and maybe we’re easily divided. Maybe we’re ignorant, but we’re not stupid.

–Gene Lantz

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

Texans are forever taking their children to see the Alamo, and a lot of them go to the San Jacinto Battlefield. But if they really care about Texas history, they should make a pilgrimage to Crystal City, where ordinary working people made a lot of history.

Crystal City was the site of the biggest concentration camp of World War II. Japanese families were there from 1943 through the end of the war. A few Italians and Germans were also sent there from other parts of the U.S. and Latin America. The United States traded them for our own prisoners of war.

Crystal is also a great civil rights site. The Chicano movement that terrified Anglos in the 1970s began in Crystal City. The struggles of some of the most desperate working families in America took place in Crystal City. For a while there, they won!

I think it was in 1963 that five very courageous Latinos took city government power from the dominant Anglos. With only 10% of the population, Anglos had always dominated everything. Then in 1969, Juan Campeon and Jose Angel Gutierrez convened La Raza Unida Party at Salon Campestre just outside the city limits and on the banks of the Nueces River.

La Raza Unida soon took over government in all of Zavala County and in surrounding counties. Inspired by La Raza, other Chicanos throughout America began to form their own fighting civil rights organizations.

Today, only the cement steps of the old Salon Campestre remain. There are no historical markers for La Raza Unida. They hold no government offices, but Mexican American Democrats and other organizations owe their initial inspiration to the courageous workers of Crystal City. There’s a great play about it. It’s named “Crystal.”

About 8,000 people, nearly all Mexican Americans, live in Crystal. A branch of the historic Nueces river runs (when there is enough water) just outside the city limits. There are no unions in existence, even though the CIO tried in the 1940s and the Teamsters tried in the 1960s to organize the cannery workers.

There are no museums in Crystal City. The library is closed. There are several statues of Popeye the Sailor Man and some claims to be the Spinach Capital of the World, but the great contributions and sacrifices of working families are noted only in the minds of certain Chicanos and a handful of amateur historians like us, who care about real history.

–Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review: “Vice,” Directed by Adam McKay, 2 hours 12 minutes.

As the young Dick Cheney and the old, Christian Bale was heavy
Christian Bale was skinny in “The Machinist”

Even if you lived through the Bush-Cheney years and don’t think you need a refresher course, you will benefit from seeing “Vice.” It concretizes our understanding of the many things that are wrong today. Dick Cheney was not the first nor the last Republican to warp our laws in the service of dark money, but he is certainly in the running for the worst.

The movie credits him with paving the way for dishonest network television, tax giveaways, fraudulent wars, distortion of justice, and torture, among other things.

So many are the chronicles of Cheney’s crimes that the movie, despite its length, has little time for drama. It is almost a documentary. The time-saving method of using a narrator to hurry us through events has to be employed. Even within that hurried framework, though, the actors are magnificent. Christian Bale again shows his dedication and ability by being both the wastrel Young Dick and the overweight criminal old Dick. Amy Adams, as Dick’s Lady MacBeth, is outstanding. Several headliners take minor roles, or even cameos, to get the historical drama on the screen.

It was not completely amazing to see that Brad Pitt headed a list of film producers, especially if one also went across the movieplex to see the outstanding civil rights film, “It Happened on Beale Street,” where Pitt is again the lead producer. Pitt apparently is committed to progressive filming.

There are a lot of surreal moments in the film. They’re extremely humorous in a macabre sort of way. Some of the critics have blasted McKay for taking short breaks from serious treatment, but I think he did it the way it had to be done. When listing the crimes of Cheney, we have to laugh to keep from screaming.

–Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review:

“Green Book,” Directed by Peter Farrelly, 2 hours, 10 minutes

The Green Book is an important part of American history. It was used to help African-American motorists locate the few places where they might rest. I think that one reason that “Green Book” has continued to sell tickets over several weeks is that people are slow in finding out what it’s about.

There are a lot more good reasons to see the film. Acting by the two main characters is outstanding. Viggo Mortensen plays a street smart nightclub bouncer from New York, while Mahershala Ali plays a delicate Leningrad-trained classical musician. Both are up for Golden Globes awards. The movie is up for best picture, and Oscar-buzz has already begun. The 1960s music is wonderful. The pacing is so good that viewers go beyond ignoring the extra length and wish it could go on longer. There are four, count ’em four, union logos in the final frame!

Few movies can claim so much authenticity. It seems to be strung together by family stories from Mortensen’s character, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Someone named Nick Vallelonga gets some of the screenplay and producer credit.

Tony Lip apparently drove a sensitive Black musician through a tour of the Deep South in 1962. His main qualification for the job came from his experience as a tough guy. Tony was required to stay in all-white motels, while his employer had to use the Green Book. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the problems they encountered, but you have to see the movie to realize how well this period, these problems, and these two wonderful characters can be brought to life! If your tastes run toward American history, civil rights, or just great film-making, you don’t want to miss Green Book.

–Gene Lantz

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

Is there an honest history of the Middle East since World War I? Wikipedia gives it a good shot and includes the names of various rulers, parties, movements, and nationalities. But where’s the “why” of it all?

As this is written, most of the regimes in the area are reactionary. Women and children especially suffer the lack of basic civil rights. Religious fanaticism wields great power. Poverty is common, but some of the richest men the world have ever known live in the Middle East.

Currently, the United States is prominent in creating untold suffering in Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Other countries are in various stages of negotiations as to how much misery they are to get in exchange for their oil. The people  get the misery and U.S. corporations get the oil. How did we come to this?

As I understand it, the “modern” states of the Middle East were largely carved apart as a result of England’s victory in World War I. As it was the first truly mechanized war, oil resources became closely identified with military power. England had that power but lost its worldwide grip by the end of World War II. By then, the United States was the dominant economic and military force on Earth. Key parts of their domain were the oil-producing countries. Keeping them in line has led the United States government to the wildest extremes of dishonesty and murder on a national scale. For example, the Dallas paper recently revealed that over 75,000 Yemeni children had died from starvation so far. That’s just from starvation and doesn’t include the children shot or blown to pieces.

What’s Wrong With Qatar?

Little Qatar, with population smaller than the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where I live, is making headlines because of their defiance. Last year, the Saudi government put together a group to boycott Qatar and try to cut them off from their oil customers. Why? I have a notion that the main reason is their state-sponsored news service, Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera has the second largest world network of news agencies, after England’s BBC. They report what’s going on, especially in the Middle East. For a while there, their news service was (barely) available in the United States on cable TV. A movie was made about the attempts to suppress them. Despite all efforts to destroy Al-Jazeera, one can still get actual news from their English-language web site. I don’t know if I would recommend it as gospel truth, but I will say it’s a reliable as, say, the BBC — and much better than what we’re likely to get from sources in the United States, where oil companies buy advertisers.

Qatar, like Mexico, suffers from its geographic location. It’s squeezed in between Saudi Arabia — Donald Trump’s favorite ally — and Iran — Donald Trump’s main enemy. I think they even share a great oil field with Iran. If Qatar faces one direction, they’ll be punished by the other.

Solving the Mystery

Even though we are talking about millions of dead, maimed, and displaced Middle Easterners, and we are not talking about a single murder case in a cheap novel, informed people know how to figure out who is responsible. Just ask, “Who profits?”

–Gene Lantz

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

Important as they are, elections are just battles within a much greater war. With the mid-terms over, we now have opportunities to organize working families.

Here in Dallas, for example, there’s an action against Trump’s proxy war in Yemen on Monday. There will be more. Christmas and New Years’ are great times for social organizing. The nationwide coalition watching the Mueller investigations may be calling more street actions any day now. The MLK birthday falls on a Tuesday next year. The event with the most potential is the Women’s March set for Saturday, January 19.

January 19, 2016, was the biggest day of protest in American history. Women set the pace, but all kinds of issues were included in the giant marches all over the nation. None of those issues has been resolved. In fact, the outlook has generally worsened; consequently, one might expect January 19, 2019, to surpass the 2016 events.

Here are two more good reasons for expecting an even bigger protest in 2019:

  1. The worldwide situation is causing unprecedented demonstrations in other parts of the world. Americans are learning from them
  2. Success inspires more success, and the number of women elected to Congress in 2018 set a new record.

Starting now, let’s add a third reason for a big turnout on January 19: you and I are already started working on it!

–Gene Lantz

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