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Movie Review: “The Last Thing He Wanted,” Directed by Dee Rees, 116 minutes

My moviegoing buddy and I have been trying to find something good about this incomprehensible film. We liked the last frame, where three union logos were displayed. We’re union people. I sort of liked, just for old time sake, “Paladin,” the theme from the old oater, “Have Gun Will Travel” that they played during the credits. They also inserted it, along with “Good Golly Miss Molly” into the actual drama, but I think that was just to make sure that nobody, nowhere, nohow would ever be able to make any sense of this overedited mess.

Even though I had already noted that the movie drew a “D” from the Dallas reviewer, I wanted to go because I thought it would make some kind of statement about President Ronald Reagan’s illegal and immoral “Contra War.” During those days, my moviebuddy and I fought hard against the neoliberals who were murdering Central Americans right and left.

The movie had a promising start. We gathered that the heroine, played by the underrated actress Anne Hathaway, was a journalist interested in exposing Reagan’s dirty dealings. That was in the first 16 minutes. The next 100 minutes didn’t make any sense at all and should have been left out.

The credits, like I said, were OK.

–Gene Lantz

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

Book Review:

Griffith, Barbara S., The Crisis of American Labor: Operation Dixie and the defeat of the CIO. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1988. Borrowed from Longview Texas library through Dallas Public Library inter-library loan. Item barcode: 33053002087591

Working families have a giant hole in our own history. Even though virtually every union has an account of its early days, there is almost nothing about the period from 1947 to present. Union leaders might say that they just haven’t gotten around to covering that period, but I think there’s a truer explanation. I think they’re ashamed of it.

Ms Griffith’s book helps fill that hole. It tells how the brave organizers from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO, before they surrendered to the AFL) tried to unify southern workers along with the industrialized North. It also explains why wages and benefits in the former confederacy continue to lag behind the rest of the nation.

In Spring of 1946, the CIO was less than 11 years old, but they had 4 million members! Their successes had galvanized the rival AFL into industrialized organizing, too. For the first time in American history, organized labor was more than a blip on the body politic. We were a power!

If Operation Dixie had succeeded, Griffiths says, southern workers would today be enjoying a much better standard of living. The civil rights movement would have realized its gains ten years earlier! American labor would have continued to gain membership and power. But it didn’t.

The CIO had overcome the giants of most industries, but they had not organized textile. When unions succeeded in the North, textile owners moved south where they could still get people to work almost as slaves. Griffith, who worked at the Smithsonian, seems to have done most of her research through union correspondence and personal interviews. By way of explaining working conditions in southern textile villages, she offers first hand testimonies. In one of them, a mother complains that her 8-year old daughter was removed from school and forced to go to work in a mill. The mill bosses had switches. The mother is quoted: “The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.”

The only way to make the union movement truly national was to organize the South. The CIO decided to go into the old Confederacy from Georgia to Texas with a small army of carefully selected organizers. Full of confidence, they gave it the fanciful name “Operation Dixie!”

From the first few months, there were major problems. Post war unions were strong, but so were corporations. Backwardness was a tradition in the South. Union organizers were not always beaten by company goons or corrupt lawmen. Sometimes, they were beaten by mill workers!

Author Barbara Griffiths doesn’t recount the entire history of Operation Dixie from Summer 1946 until it was finally discontinued in 1953. She says it was defeated in the first few months. Page 161: “As a large-scale organizing campaign Operation Dixie died in December 1946 when the organizing staff was cut in half.” Six months into the grand program, it was already a failure!

This is not a happy book. The few bright spots come from successes of the Food & Tobacco Workers and the Packinghouse workers, both left-led unions that were subsequently red-baited and kicked out of the CIO. But Operation Dixie was primarily about textile.

Griffiths correctly places the blame on the textile mill owners. They had almost total economic control over the lives of their subjects as well as the government. Racism was impenetrable. Red baiting was everywhere. In fact, race and red baiting were usually employed together against the CIO.

Were the unions to blame? Griffiths can point to a lot of their problems. They didn’t know the South at all. Most of their organizers didn’t know the textile industry. Anti-communism was already dividing the unions, even though the official witch hunt and expulsion of communists didn’t begin until the next year. But none of these problems had overcome CIO organizing before.

Under the “what if” category of meaningless daydreaming, we might speculate that the CIO might have succeeded if they had understood the period better, if they had done more research, if they had valued internal cohesiveness more, and if they hadn’t taken such a heavy-handed “all or nothing” approach to the entire South. But we’ll never know what might have happened. We only know what did.

The author says that Operation Dixie did not fail primarily because of internal CIO problems. It failed because the entrenched southern textile bosses were stronger than us. It failed because anti-union Republicans won the 1946 elections and began putting the government firmly on the side of the bosses. The CIO organizers were heroic, but it wasn’t enough.

–Gene Lantz

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

MY NOTES FROM THE BOOK:

I believe this is a rare book. On Amazon, it cost $70. Including the index, it’s a small book.

She is a historian at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. She seems to have gathered her information from the correspondence of the unions involved and from original interviews with organizers and various workers. Several interesting quotes from the participants are used to explain what happened.

Intro: CIO was good on race, but not so much on gender, with exception of Food & Tobacco Workers, who had a lot of Black women organizers and a Southern District Director who was the highest-placed woman union officer of that time.

It lasted 1946-1953

Pgxvi:”…a CIO victory in the South might have hastened the civil rights movement by at least a decade.”

//I note that organizers tried to win over religious leaders, but they didn’t start with them as the 1954 civil rights movement did. Also, people had TV in 1954, but not in 1946, consequently a national movement was not as likely.//

Pg27: FTA held a conclave at the Highlander School to discuss the problems they expected with Operation Dixie. It sounds like FTA was the only successful union involved.

Pg27: In 1946, the CIO was up to 4M members. But they were all experienced and trained in the North. A lot of organizing successes had been handed them by government action during the war. Companies were really rich from war profits.

Lots of anti-communism within the CIO. President Murray appointment Bittner to head the operation. Baldanzi was the sparkplug who carried it out. All were anti-communist. There was a deliberate attempt to try to avoid the inevitable red-baiting by keeping the reds out of Operation Dixie.

Pg28: They charged $1 initiation fee, but veterans were free

Pg29: on setting up initial organizing committees “The recruitment of this core group went slowly in Operation Dixie. Some organizers blamed the weather for the slow development of in-plant committees, while others focused on police hostility, the opposition of ministers, the public pronouncements of elected officials, the harshness of company policies that intimidated workers, the graciousness of company policies that made workers grateful, or the Machiavellian nature of companies that were capable of both.” //this seems like a pretty good list of what they were up against in the South//

Pg34: Humbling defeats in textile. Only successes in tobacco

Pg36: some union members were in the KKK

Pg 59: A lot of textile workers were historically intimidated because they had lost a strike in 1934. It was “organized from below” and had 400,000 participants. But they lost! They had also lost a big one in 1929. //that’s the one where Ella Mae Wiggins was murdered//

Pg60: In “Uncle Charley Cannon’s” mill territory, police arrest records were made in triplicate. One for Cannon!

Pg 65: “The president of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America (FTA), also a left-wing and heavily black union, issued a similar appeal for funds after a black FTA worker in Arkansas, on strike ‘against 55 cents an hour and a 12-hour day,’ was murdered by a strikebreaker in Little Rock. Although having confessed to stabbing the man, the strikebreaker was set free and, in his place, six union members were rushed to trial under charges of ‘attacking’ a strikebreaker. All were black.”

Pg72: The CIO knew that black union members were better unionists than white

Pg76: Race baiting and red baiting were everywhere, often together.

Pg 78:  Organizers felt that they had to organize white first because white workers would never join what they perceived to be a “black union.”

Pg84: Excellent anecdote about Ft Worth Packinghouse Local that refused to carry out CIO’s anti-racist policies. National leaders came down and forced them to do it. Then they stayed around and made sure that a mixed-race slate won the next election! //I can remember some of Roy Evans’ stories concerning Packing House leadership//

Pg92: Paternalism was total in mill villages. One anecdote from a mother tells how her 8-year old daughter was taken out of school to work in the mill. The bosses had switches. “The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.”

Pg99: In a long list of harassments, she cites a member of the internal organizing committee who could range around his plant. He was reassigned to a stationary position. Exact same thing happened to the Organizer at North American Aviation in Dallas in 1941!

Pg100: Great story of JP Mooney of Mine Mill and Smelter. Beaten, hospitalized, and threatened with death, he signed up “every bloody member of that plant.”

Pg103: “……literally scores of stories of unexpected confrontations with mobs organized by management.”

Pg105: “The CIO was forced to accept a contest on grossly unequal grounds. It never found a way to redress the balance.”

Pg107: Southern churches were a problem. “It’s either Christ or the CIO!”

Pg108: a preacher said on radio, “Luke 3:14 says be content with your wages.”

Pg108: “Militant Truth” was a free newspaper that followed CIO organizing drives around the South.

Pg121: CIO organizers tried to use Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone.”

Pg139 “In 1946, the CIO Executive Board included representatives of forty-one internationals.” And their views were diverse

“By the time Operation Dixie was officially launched in May 1946, hairline cracks and fissures in the CIO’s foundation had already become visible.”

Pg140: “To trace Philip Murray’s passage from cooperation with the CIO’s left to hostility and thence to implacable opposition is to trace, first, these national and international pressures, second, their impact on the CIO, and finally, the local ramifications in the South that brought Operation Dixie to a formal end in 1953.”

Steelworker red baiting was underway in 1946. James Carey, CIO national Secretary blasted UE reds.

Election of Nov 1946 was disaster for CIO and Democrats

Pg149: At the Highlander meeting, the FTA decided to work hard to organize within Operation Dixie, but they were afraid that the CIO was stacking it against the left. “The FTA’s fears of the CIO’s use of jurisdictional assignment as a weapon for defeating left-wing unions were well founded, however. By 1947, the CIO was assigning tobacco workers to the United Transport Service Employees’ Association. Such events constituted a form of ‘raiding’ by administrative action. Actual raiding followed soon afterward…”

Pg150: Mid-year 1947, CIO President Murray instructed the Exec to throw out the communists. “The center-left coalition was dead and the isolation of the left was complete.”

Pg152: Baldanzi called for expulsions at the 1947 Convention in Boston

Pg154: CIO and AFL raiding destroyed the FTA union at RJ Reynolds, which remained non-union

Pg155: crisis internal fighting in Ft Worth United Packinghouse Workers Union

Pg 157: AFL had always practiced “sweetheart” contracts to employers who wanted to avoid the CIO. They had done it from the K of L to present, she says.

Pg 157: Americans for Democratic Action established as liberal anti-communism, but wasn’t very effective. She doesn’t mention Hubert Humphrey.

Pg 160: Murray excoriating communists. “in such a manner, the CIO fought its way back into the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately for labor, that mainstream represented an accommodation to corporate America that severely circumscribed labor’s influence on national policy. The price of respectability was high.”

Pg 161: “As a large-scale organizing campaign Operation Dixie died in December 1946 when the organizing staff was cut in half.”  UAW quit in 1948.

Pg172: ‘No quick fix can be suggested that might have changed the outcome of Operation Dixie.”

Pg176: concluding paragraph: “Operation Dixie happened at the moment of labor’s apogee when hopes were still lofty but when resources had begun to shrink and the corporate opposition had armed itself for a massive counterattack. All the tensions implicit in such a pivotal historical turning point surfaced in Operation Dixie. The legacy has been a bitter one, for within the ranks of the trade union movement, there were no winners, only losers. For American labor, Operation Dixie was, quite simply, a moment of high tragedy from which it has yet to fully recover.”

I saw the “State of the Union” message yesterday. It brought mendacity and braggadocio to new lows. I checked out some of the on-line responses today. The best ones were good reasoning; the worst had no reason but ridicule.

The Alliance for Retired Americans gave a measured response to the issues most important to retirees. ARA response: https://retiredamericans.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-SOTU-Fact-Check-UPDATE.pdf?link_id=0&can_id=4323d125406e51f8a379e93227bf8d59&source=email-setting-president-trumps-record-straight&email_referrer=email_717673&email_subject=setting-president-trumps-record-straight. On every retiree issue, they point out, Mr Trump lied.

I also watched Bernie Sanders give his response to an audience of Caucasian supporters in New Hampshire. It was brilliant. Here are a couple of quotes, “We are now experiencing more income inequality than at any time in the last 100 years. Today 3 Americans own more wealth than the bottom half of America. 500,000 are homeless…. Billionaires now pay a lower effective tax rate than ordinary working people.”

Sanders took up Trump’s major points in order but, instead of looking at them from the billionaire point of view, he considered what they actually meant for working families. It was like reversing a telescope. Every result was a refutation of the “State of the Union” speech.

Sanders, to his immense credit, went much further. He marveled aloud that any president, in 2020, could make a long public speech without mentioning the climate catastrophe.

Anybody For Peace?

Mr Sanders did not talk about foreign policy. I was hoping he would oppose what Mr Trump had said when he bragged about trying to overthrow the government of Venezuela. But he didn’t.

And by the way, I noticed that Mrs Pelosi only clapped a few times during Mr Trump’s exposition, but she was certainly clapping when Trump said that the United States was heading a coalition to overthrow Venzuela! I would have liked to think that somebody on “our side” of the 2020 elections was against imperialism.

Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO expressed outrage at Mr Trump’s obvious intention to privatize schools. He wrote, “Last night, President Trump made vouchers a centerpiece of his State of the Union address and slammed public schools as ‘failing government schools.’ The sight of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripping up her copy of Trump’s speech as he concluded is a great metaphor for how we feel about private school vouchers.”

Doing it Wrong

Should Pelosi have ripped up the speech? There are minor arguments about it today, but I want to point out a much more important issue because I also watched late-night comedian Stephen Coulbert’s report on the “State of the Union” speech.

Coulbert mimicked and ridiculed Mr Trump. His studio audience seemed to like it, but I didn’t. It is one thing to disagree with reactionary ideas and reactionary people, but it is another thing altogether to ridicule them. The crippling polarity in America today is largely because of fundamental disagreements and class interests, but there is no value in making it worse by ridiculing Trump and his millions of misguided working class supporters.

Whether we like it or not, we have to have them. We have to win them over no matter how hard it is nor how long it takes.

–Gene Lantz

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

Book Review:

Rosswurm, Steve (editor), “The CIO’s Left-Led Unions.” Rutgers, New Brunswick, NJ, 1992. Available from Amazon

A friend recently told me that the current union-busting effort against the Auto Workers is “the worst union busting in history.” If it is, then the destruction of the most progressive unions in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) during 1947-1957 is surely second. I would only concede to my friend’s opinion about the UAW because the post-war attacks took place in a period of union upsurge, and today’s union busting occurs when we are being forced to our knees.

Today’s attacks have brought us to a time when barely over 1 in 10 American workers has union protection. The post-war attacks came when union density was three times higher and American workers were aggressively seeking unionization.

I almost began by not recommending anyone read this book. It’s too depressing. However, the sadness is not the fault of the book nor its contributing authors. This is really what happened. After Republicans succeeded in passing the Taft-Hartley anti-labor act in 1947, the CIO adapted itself to anti-communism. That meant expelling its most progressive and energetic union members, leaders, and entire unions. It meant adapting to “business unionism” and cooperating with management. It meant, in a few short years, joining the lifelong anticommunists and business unionists in the American Federation of Labor. It meant turning toward the management-rigged government oversight system and away from union memberships. It meant curtailed democracy in our unions. It also meant a long downward spiral toward helplessness for American workers.

My friend, talking about today’s attack on the UAW, also said, “I don’t think this started recently. I think it’s been coming for some time.” I agreed. The chickens are coming home to roost.

Hardly anyone I know in today’s labor movement knows anything about labor history 1947-1957. It just isn’t in their history books. They celebrate the Flint Sitdown (1937), or maybe the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1974); but they don’t know the first thing about the great negative turnaround sometimes called the “Treaty of Detroit.”

They don’t know when unions gave up on civil rights, when they gave up on organizing the South, when they disassociated from international solidarity, when they spurned women’s rights, when they gave up on national health care, on improving Social Security, on shorter working hours as a remedy for automation, or when they stopped listening to their members.

To be fair, the darkness that began in 1947 began to be illuminated in 1995 when the AFL leadership failed to pre-select its own replacements for the first time in a century. The Sweeney/Trumka/Chavez-Thompson leadership started reversing the many aspects of “business unionism.”  They have made great improvements without ever admitting what was wrong and why. That fight goes on.

The book that Steve Rosswurm brought together does us a service. It tells, in some detail, a few parts of the story. These are stories that almost no one knows, or almost no one will admit knowing. It’s the police, the press, and the reactionary unions destroying the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union’s effort to organize in the South. It’s the end of the great civil rights efforts of the Food and Tobacco workers. It’s the nasty anti-worker efforts of the Catholic Church. It’s the role of the main labor-bashers—the U.S. Government. It’s the betrayal of the Tannery Workers. It’s the mercenary creation of the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) to deliberately undermine what was probably the best union in America, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) and lower workers’ standard of living at Westinghouse.

But the book falls short. It only gives parts of a much bigger, much uglier picture. To be fair, it tries. It lays the blame on those who deserve it. A small part of that blame falls on some of the victims. The Communist Party members in unions, according to the book, were too secretive and too ardent in their devotion to existing socialist countries. They may have been superior union leaders, and the book says they were, but they had holes in their armor. I tend to agree with apportioning that small part of the blame to the Communists. I think they misread the period, and that is fatal in politics. I think they expected a continuation of the pre-war hard times and failed to appreciate the great prosperity that Americans enjoyed after the war.

That’s another fault of the book in my opinion. It names the perpetrators of the witch-hunt that distorted and crippled American labor, but not the main one. It was Prosperity that misled the American workers and is misleading us now. Working people today vote for Donald Trump because they think that post-war prosperity was permanent, when it always was and had to be temporary.

The book names these perpetrators: The news agencies, the Catholic Church which deliberately sent agents to cooperate with anti-union entities, the AFL who teamed up with the CIA against unions worldwide, opportunistic CIO union leaders who saw a chance to advance themselves over the interests of union members, government agencies such as the FBI, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the National Labor Relations Board and, especially, crafty businessmen who knew how to take advantage of everybody.

Those who know any labor history at all know that the CIO expelled its best unions in 1949 and 1950, but they may not know that expulsion didn’t end that battle. The CIO and the rest of the anticommunist cabal then had to cooperate to destroy those unions. They raided them mercilessly. The government withdrew all protection so that the raids could proceed. Leaders were maligned and sometimes arrested.

Newspersons whipped up a steady stream of misleading vituperation for progressive union leaders. Hey, that’s what they’re doing to the UAW today!

–Gene Lantz

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

Notes:

Pg ix: “The federation’s leadership then had to commit sizable resources to destroy the expelled uions…”

Pg6: “It is difficult to provide precise figures for the number of CP members in the expelled unions, but we know it was small.” (he extimates 1.8%)

Pg7 “The CP, then, despite a small membership in the expelled unions, played a central role in them because of its leading political position…” And because they earned the respect of non-communist but sincere union members.

Pg9: I had always thought that 14 unions were expelled, but this book says there were 11. It also mentions that two, the UE and the Farm Equipment (FE) unions left voluntarily “despite the CP’s wishes”

Pg9 “The expelled unions were at least as democratic, if not more so, than other CIO unions.”

Pg 13: The UE fought automation. As far as I can see, there has been no fight against automation since then.

Pg 13: “The destruction capital has wreaked upon working people in the past 20 years [written in 1992] ought to suggest to both scholars and today’s trade unionists that the expelled unions were on to something.”

Pg14: “Militants’ ‘discovery’ in the early 1980s of ‘in-plant’ organizing suggests the strength of the ‘workplace rule of law’ paradigm, politically induced historical amnesia, and the impact of the missing activists.” This was very personal for me, because it was my local union that “discovered” in-plant organizing in 1984-85. We called it something else, but it was the age-old union tactic of slowdown. It had been long-forgotten due to historical amnesia.

Pg 15: “An article about the IUE and [James B.] Carey might well be titled, ‘In Bed with the Feds: The Conception and Birth of a Bastard Union.’ There was scarcely a federal agency – the FBI, the presidency, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Atomic Energy Commission – that was not at Carey’s service in the battle against the UE.”

Pg 15: “…the CIO leadership’s acceptance of capitalism – or lack of understanding of it – stands in stark contrast to the expelled unions’ comprehension of its dynamics.”

Pg 15: “Capital mobility was an important part of the corporate postwar counteroffensive against the CIO…”

Pg16: “What predominated, however, were the solutions of Walter Reuther and the IUE. Inevitably, those chickens came home to roost in the 1970s and 1980s.” The steady erosion of American labor was apparent by 1972, for those who wanted to see.

Pg 78: …the failures of the 1930s, when FTA [Food and Tobacco Workers], then the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse & Allied Workers Union of America, had tried to organize and maintain viable local unions among the seasonal agricultural workers.” So, UCAPAWUA tried to relieve the miseries depicted in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath!” They also tried to organize cannery workers in Crystal City and Pecan Shellers in San Antonio. I knew one of their organizers from back in those days. She was a Communist, or course.

Pg 85: …in April [1947], Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, among the most restrictive pieces of labor legislation in our country’s history.”

Pg 169: Management leader quoted, “I hated the Communists! I hated the Communists! Hell, I would have shot them on sight.” But even he acknowledged superior leadership of the open Communist leading the International Fur and Leather Workers Union (tanners).

Pg183: …a good deal of outstanding labor history has been written about workers in the United States, from the American Revolution through World War II. Yet, most post 1945 labor history is an afterthought, consisting of sweeping generalizations, spiced with a bit of anecdotal evidence.”

Pg185: ‘Beyond ardent anticommunism, it is difficult to pin down the ideology of the IUE in the 1950s.”

Pg198: The IUE accepted contracts that ripped away all the seniority rights that the UE had won for married women. “”Once again, a married woman had no seniority rights and could be fired if she failed to notify her foreman of her marriage.”

The last page repeats the lyrics of Tom Juravich’s “An Old Soldier.” It’s on YouTube at https://youtu.be/jgxAcdqLVTM

Rich people live a lot longer than poor people. The difference may be as much as 15 years.

Why?

It’s easy to find a chart on preventable causes of death on the internet. Here are some in order of the most deaths caused.

  • Nontransport accidental injuries
  • Intentional self-harm
  • Transport accidents
  • Assault
  • Event of undetermined intent
  • Complications of medical and surgical care
  • Legal intervention
  • Operations of war

Poor people get killed on the job, rich people generally don’t. Poor people get depressed and kill themselves, rich people generally don’t. Poor people are always in a hurry and have unsafe cars, rich people generally don’t. Rich people have better protection, better medical care, better lawyers, and rich people generally don’t risk their lives in war.

That’s why.

Gene Lantz

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

Book Review:

Sampson, Anthony, “Mandela.”  1991. Dallas Public Library e-book. I learned a lot about “Madiba” Nelson Mandela in this even-handed account. Sampson had known Mandela since 1951 and was generally favorable to his efforts.

Mandela was born into the family of a tribal chieftain. (Xhosa tribe?) He was educated largely at Methodist institutions and eventually qualified as a lawyer. The African National Congress, which began I believe in 1912, was at that time pan-Africanist. Mandela believed in armed struggle and eventually became the head of the armed struggle wing of ANC. He was pictured in fighting attire in those days.

The Afrikaners took over the government of South Africa (1947?) and established apartheid fascism. They had a network of informers, black and white, so that very few militants escaped their grasp. Mandela was arrested. I don’t think he had actually led any armed conflicts at that time, but was more of an organizer.

During one of his hearings, Mandela appeared in full African traditional regalia. But his speech in his trial was what gained international recognition. Then he spent 27 years in custody. Most of the time was on Robben Island.

During that period, Mandela showed how dignity and wisdom can help people cope with even the most difficult of situations. Even his Afrikaner warders tended to respect him. Mandela and others began to call for a united effort of all South Africans of all racial backgrounds. He also called for a peaceful solution to the apartheid situation, but he demanded full voting rights for all.

Mandela’s great ideological contribution to South African history was his idea of uniting all races. Previously, the ANC had no such plan. Another group “Pan African Nationalists” became one of the main competitors with the ANC. The Zulus and several smaller tribal-based groups also opposed integrating democracy. But of course, the biggest opposition was the privileged white Afrikaner nationalists.

The armed struggle, the organizing effort within the country, and international pressures eventually forced the fascists to negotiate some kind of democracy. They greatly preferred to “negotiate” with some of the Black compradores that they had put into power and, often secretly, supported by force of arms. The top Zulu, Buthelezi (?) was the Afrikaner’s choice over Mandela. But the public and the international community were settled on Mandela, so it was he who eventually led the negotiations that ended in a more democratic nation.

I read with personal pride about the effect of international opinion, because my union, the United Auto Workers was very much a part of that effort. My own union local, UAW 848, was involved. I myself led pickets at Shell Stations against apartheid. My wife and I regularly sold “Free Mandela” buttons. They were very popular in the early 1990s. Mandela became President of South Africa, I believe, in 1994.

It is interesting to contrast Mandela’s “Peaceful Road” to that of President Allende in Chile. Most radicals believe that Allende should have armed the public and confronted the military rather than try the peaceful road that eventually led to his death and fascism. We usually say that Allende was totally wrong.

How then, would we explain Mandela’s comparative success with the peaceful road? Was it comparable to Allende’s situation? If it was, then his success would detract from the argument that Allende was wrong to focus on the peaceful road. I don’t think the two are comparable. Allende was trying to institute socialism. Mandela, for all of his communist ties, didn’t even try to dismantle capitalism in South Africa.

Anthony Sampson’s account leaves one with the impression that Mandela was one of the great men of history, but even Sampson would probably say that Mandela was more saint than revolutionary. I recently met a member of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party here in Dallas. I told him I was reading about Mandela and he said, “We don’t think he was any good!”

–Gene Lantz

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

On January 4, 2020, protests were held around the world because Donald Trump is provoking further war in the Middle East. One place where good people gathered was Dallas, Texas, where I live. We had over 100 protesters, which made it the largest local anti-war demonstration in several years.

The conversations, the signs, and the speakers shared some good information. The problem was defined pretty well: Trump knows he will lose the 2020 election if he doesn’t do something drastic like starting a new war. The United States has a long history of invading other countries on the flimsiest pretexts. One of the banners said, “Imperialism is the symptom; capitalism is the problem; socialism is the answer.”

By the time the rally was over, even the newest protesters had a pretty good idea what they were up against. But what, they must be wondering, are we going to do about it?

Certainly, public protests are worthwhile. When our friends see us hitting the streets, they are a little bit less afraid and a little bit more likely to join us. Mathematically, it sounds like we will eventually keep adding people every time until we have everybody on our side. But if that were true, the United States would have solved all its problems long ago. Some of us joining this particular protest have been doing it over 50 years!

We are going to have to do more than protest. We are going to have to lead. A leader, simply defined, is someone who knows what to do next. In order to lead, we are going to have to know what to do. To know what to do, we are going to have to go through some hard study.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’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