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I liked a great deal of what I saw at the Texas Democratic Party convention in Ft Worth on June 22, but not everything.

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The first thing we attended was the Labor Caucus. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy presided over a completely packed meeting with people standing three deep along the back and sides. I caught Levy’s opening remarks on “Facebook Live” where you can see them at https://www.facebook.com/gene.lantz.7.

Just about every critical candidate in Texas was there seeking union help. Levy could only recognize most of them briefly due to time constraints. The ones that he introduced to the podium were the most critical statewide candidates such as Lupe Valdez for Governor.

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I noticed at least two unions had bought ads in the Democrats’ brochure: CWA and UAW. The Texas AFL-CIO booth in the Exhibit Hall was abuzz with activity. They took polaroids of people posing in front of their big slogan, “I’m union, I fight, I vote!’ It has a “big fist” image, to show power and commitment.

Labor’s big impact on the Democrats was evident everywhere. It doesn’t mean that labor is in their pocket, it actually means the opposite. Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa likes to say that Labor and the Democrats are “joined at the hip,” but in truth labor’s activities are very much our own. In this photo, you can see Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy thinking carefully while Hinojosa speaks to the Labor Caucus.

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The deep polarization in America is causing working families to support Democrats. Recent news reports show Republicans trying to implement $6 trillion in cuts that would affect working people, less than a year after their big tax giveaway of more than a $trillion$ to the wealthy. The Texas Republican Party’s platform, just finished June 18, is a kick in the face to working families, and especially to our children.

On the downside

In their exuberance, the first dozen or so speakers at the Democrats’ convention emphasized two main themes: immigration and gun violence. These are hot-button issues today, to be sure, but they are issues that the Democrats already own. The Republicans have generously donated those issues and those voters to the Democrats.

But what about fighting the corporate takeover? What about America’s three ongoing wars and attempts to coerce and undermine other nations? What about America’s disgraceful top-of-the-world prison population? What about taking concrete steps to end the health care hodgepodge and support Medicare for All? What about saving the state’s environment in the face of rampant oil well fracking and nuclear waste dumping? I didn’t hear those issues, except for some vague emotional appeals here and there.

The inescapable conclusion is that the Democrats are not ready to forego big corporate campaign donations any more than the Republicans are.

What will you do?

I realize that many of America’s best activists have adopted the age-old goal of trying to take over the Democratic Party. I hope they do, but history tells us that it isn’t likely.

Supporting working families, not candidates nor parties, is the way to go. It may be true that nearly all of labor’s candidates in 2018 will be democrats, and it may be true that an individual activist can be more effective short-term working directly for candidates than he/she might be while working for the AFL-CIO, but that would be a major long-term mistake.

The electoral arena is only one of many, and we must choose labor in every one!

If the goal is to make serious change, activists must recognize that only workers can do that. They are the only ones who can stand up to capitalists. A few years ago, one could not have been blamed for feeling that the AFL-CIO and unions in general were not rightfully the leaders of the working class, but that is no longer true and has not been true since 1995. The AFL-CIO today truly works for the entire class and strives to organize everybody.

That’s the team we should join!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. The “events” tab on the web site leads to recent podcasts. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

 

 

Book Review:

Levinson, Marc, “An Extraordinary Time. The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy.” Basic Books, New York, 2016. Dallas Public Library 330.9045 L665E

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The unusual economic period was the third quarter of the 20th century, also known as the Post War Boom, or the Golden Era. That’s when many people made good livings and some made fortunes. The “ordinary economy” in the title is what we have now – basic capitalism where some still make great fortunes but everybody else is struggling.

He takes an international approach. He points to a few national economies that did OK while the majority foundered, but mostly he shows the similar problems that the wealthy nations suffered after 1973. His point of departure was the oil crisis, but it might just as well have been the failure of the Bretton Woods international financial agreement 1945-1973.

I particularly enjoyed the way Levinson deflated the claims of various schemes of government intervention. He quotes figures to show that none of the much-vaunted “new” approaches actually did much to help after 1973. Reaganism was just as big a bust as any other “new” theory. Actually, they weren’t even new.

His international approach is far superior to what we usually read in American newspapers and political campaign advertisements. They only talk about what happened in America without regard for world changes. His way is better. For example, suppose an economist said that a certain new technology should have greatly improved manufacturing production in America. Maybe the reason it didn’t is because some other country did it better or cheaper. That’s pretty much what actually happened to American manufacturing, not some mistaken priorities within our own economy.

What limits this economics book is its commitment to capitalism. He dispenses with the Soviet Union’s economic travails in two pages. The rest is about the major capitalist economies. Nowhere in the book could one even ask the essential question of economics, “If we can produce enough for everybody, then why isn’t everybody doing OK?”

The set of statistics most critical for Levinson is those on productivity. He says that the Golden Age was golden because of high productivity in the wealthy nations. The crisis that began in 1973 and continues now was marked by substantially lower productivity. If productivity could be restored to high levels, everything would be just fine, according to Levinson. At the same time, he offers no suggestion as to how that could be done.

You might as well say, and I think Levinson does say, in so many words, “The Golden Age was just a fluke. Misery is the norm.” I recommend this book for its open-minded analysis and despite its conclusions.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found under the “events” tab. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

President Trump is the champion of fair trade for American workers. Or is he destroying the hopes of all workers for a peaceful and beneficial world? Or does he even know what he’s doing?

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A lot of working families were won over by Trump’s promise to renegotiate so-called “trade” agreements and restore American jobs. People, including a lot of union people, are still hoping he will. Yesterday, he poked his finger into the eyes of several world leaders at the G7 meeting in Canada. He said he was representing American workers.

What’s “Fair,” What’s “Free?”

For decades, since the Clinton Administration at least, American unions have been campaigning on the slogan “Fair trade, not free trade.” We always say “We’re not against trade — we just want it fair.” But it’s been very hard for union leaders to resist xenophobia and isolationism, because those “isms,” — right along with nationalism and racism — are also against the trade deals that America negotiated since Clinton.

The people that knew what they were talking about presented the argument that the so-called “free trade” deals were only “free” for big transnational corporations — not for the working families in America or any other country. Big corporations received “freedom” to pay low wages and pollute, nobody else got anything. That’s why we opposed NAFTA and all the others leading up to the “Trans Pacific Partnership” that was still an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The people that knew what they were talking about actually favored trade deals if they included wage and environmental protection. But not everybody is so sophisticated. They hate the trade deals anyway. That’s why so many of them voted for Trump.

There’s a History to “Free Trade”

I recently read a complete history of Britain and found an interesting reference. When Britain “ruled the waves” and ruled the world, their slogan was “free trade.” From the time they defeated Napolean until World War I, the English favored what they called “free trade.” They didn’t , at least not immediately, necessarily open their own markets, but they wanted everybody else, especially their many colonies in Asia and Africa, to open theirs.

In other words, “free trade” meant, then and now, the “freedom” of one country’s corporate rulers to exploit everybody else. Another word for it is modern imperialism.

After World War I, and especially after World War II, when the United States took over world trade, corporations wanted “free trade” for the exact same reasons. But the “freedom” was always for the exploiters and never for the exploited, then and now.

Everything Ends

There are different ways to look at the Trump program on trade issues. Economists and pundits are arguing that he’s destroying the world and setting us back centuries. Trump and his supporters say he is restoring fairness. Xenophobes and racists are rooting for him, as they have all along.

But there’s another, more interesting way to look at Trump’s trade wars. American economic domination is coming to an end. It actually ended in the 1970s, according to some. Since then, international leaders have simply agreed to keep the system in place even though the United States is living on credit and has been for decades. The post-war system put in place by the United States after WWII has actually fallen apart. Donald Trump is just an opportunist trying to turn the situation to his own benefit.

A Real Solution to the Trade Wars

Modern nations were created by capitalism. Each nation is run by and for the bosses. Their economic and political decisions are made for the benefit of the dominant class — the capitalist class. That includes much more than trade deals and treaties. It also includes global pollution, war and genocide.

It is theoretically possible that the various governments, as presently constituted, could cooperate on trade in a way that would benefit the inhabitants of the various nations. But that’s only in theory. It has never worked that way because the inhabitants, us, were never in charge. We still aren’t, and there will be no solution until we are.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. The “events” tab on the web site leads to recent podcasts. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

 

Book Review: Barlett, Donald L, and Steele, James B. “The Betrayal of the American Dream.” Public Affairs, NY, 2012 Dallas library 330.973 B289B 2012

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If recent economic developments have not already terrified you, this might be a good book to absorb. It is very much like “Runaway Inequality,” the book promoted by the Communications Workers of America that I reviewed earlier.  It has some of the same dire warnings and suggested solutions as the classes that the AFL-CIO conducted under the name “Common Sense Economics.”

The authors really hate “free trade,” tax giveaways to the rich, deregulation, or capitalist-directed globalization.

Here is the message in a nutshell: “Something terrible happened in America in the 1970s. Since then, virtually all new economic developments have been bad for the working people and crazy good for the very rich. Inequality is rampant. We need to bring back some of the more reasonable practices that were in place before the disaster struck.”

In my review of “Runaway Inequality,” I pointed out that our recent period isn’t the odd one. The odd one was the third quarter of the 20th century. The reasonably good times when some of the productivity gains streamed into workers’ paychecks were not normal. They were just weird.

Today, when the capitalists grab everything in a runaway train ride to oblivion, that’s what’s normal. Trying to go back to the practices of the 1950s is a lot harder than it looks, because the ruling rich are dead-set against it.

Why weren’t the rich dead set against equitable economic practices in 1950? I can think of at least three good explanations. 1) They ruled the world. They had almost no international competition because they had destroyed every other country during the war. 2) American labor was very strong after a tremendous upsurge 1935-1947. 3) The Soviet Union was still seen as a viable alternative to capitalism, and it was important to buy and/or destroy any pro-Soviet sentiment. None of those things were true in America by the time Ronald Reagan was elected.

Even though this book has great reporting on economic events, and even though it has very intelligent prescriptions for making economic things the way they used to be, I don’t think their hopes for the future are likely to happen. The book is great at explaining, but not so useful as a guide to action.

Actually, I began to be skeptical in the introductory pages when they said, “…we define the ‘middle class’ strictly by income….” They could have just said “middle income” instead of “middle class.” The problem with trying to rally middle-income people is that they aren’t really a class. A class is defined by political interests, and middle-income people are all over the map in their interests. Some of them are workers, some of them are lawyers, some of them are trust fund babies, some of them are shopkeepers. 

If someone is serious about making change, they need to start thinking about the working class.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on radio KNON FM89.3 in Dallas at 9 AM central time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events’ tab on the web site. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

About 25 people from all over Texas and three guys from Australia protested Exxon/Mobil’s shareholder meeting in Dallas on May 30.

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The sometime biggest, and sometime second biggest, corporation in the world has its headquarters right outside Dallas. They hold their annual shareholders’ meetings in the luxurious Meyerson Symphony Hall downtown. Across the street, labor and environmental activists revealed corporate crimes to newspersons and the world at large.

The surprise group came from Victoria’s Gippsland Basin, Australia, where Exxon has 23 offshore installations. Their spokesperson, Troy Carter, spoke on Facebook Live for seven minutes. He said that 230 members of the Australian Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union were terminated 343 days earlier. The next day, they were offered their jobs with a 40% pay cut! They have been protesting every day since.

The Australian’s printed materials were meant to explain to Exxon stockholders that the corporation was spending a lot more on union busting than it would have cost them to keep their well-trained workforce. But the corporation would not let them into the symphony hall; consequently they had to disseminate their message broadly.

In the United States, the Australian’s tour is being helped by the United Steelworkers of America. The Australians plan to meet with Dallas AFL-CIO leader Mark York before heading to Austin to talk with Texas AFL-CIO leaders. Their Texas tour will end in Houston, where there are many petrochemical workers.

Speakers talked about the danger to our planet from fossil fuels. A woman from Corpus Christi, on the Texas coast, said that her organization was trying to stop Exxon from building the biggest plastics factory in the world. “Do you want more plastic in your oceans?” “Do you want more plastic in your air?” “Do you want more plastic in your bodies?” she asked.

A man from Waco, in Central Texas, talked about special environmental problems caused by Exxon in his hometown.

Herb Keener of Communications Workers 6215 and Gene Lantz of United Auto Workers Local 848 spoke for the “blue” section of the “blue/green” (labor/environmental) alliance. Keener’s talk was captured on Facebook Live. He mentioned that he expected Exxon to follow other major corporations in spending their windfall from last December’s giant tax giveaway by purchasing their own stock. These financial maneuvers enrich stockholders without any benefit to employees nor to the general economy.

The protest had a long list of sponsors: 350 Dallas, Society of Native Nations, Dallas Peace and Justice Center, CodePink Dallas, Communications Workers of America/CWA Local 6215, Dallas Sierra Club, Downwinders At Risk, Dallas Palestine Coalition, Pax Christi Dallas, Our Revolution North Texas, Texas Drought Project, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), Solidarity Texas – Dallas Chapter, System Change Not Climate Change, Veterans For Peace North Texas, Waco Friends of Peace and Climate, Texas Coalition for Environmental Awareness, and more.

-Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts are available from the “events” tab on the site. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

The main players in today’s economy aren’t “rational men” as assumed in classical economics. They are “sociopathic men.” It’s the first and most important lesson.

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What crippled economics as a science was its separation, in the late 19th century, from other disciplines, especially politics. At the same time, it was decided that economies work because “rational men” (sorry ladies) cause the supply and demand for commodities to balance out at a fair market price.

It’s like the Holy Bible of economics: nobody actually believes it but everybody quotes it.

If we still studied politics and economics together, as we did before economist Alfred Marshall, we would see that it isn’t rationality that makes the world go around, it’s antagonism. Our economy is vastly different from their economy.

Bad Is Good

All these “rational men” do not have identical interests. In fact, our interests are extremely disparate. While ordinary working people like you and me want high employment, good wages, and low prices; our employers usually want the opposite. What is good for us, especially high wages, is bad for them.

Back in Alfred Marshall’s time, this opposition may not have seemed so important to people studying single economic data in a single market. But two great changes have occurred since then that make oppositional understanding vital: world war and governmental economic policy.

National “Good” is International “Bad”

Nations exploit one another. The First World War was fought to determine which industrialized nations were going to do the exploiting. That wasn’t a decision made by rational men within a single economy. “War is politics by other means,” as we say. Politicians made the decisions to carry out world wars, and the winners reaped the benefit. War determined international economics, but it certainly wasn’t because of rational men.

“Whose Economy” Depends on “Whose Government”

Capitalism has a built-in propensity for crisis. Early in the 20th century, and especially during the Great Depression, governments began to take affirmative action to save capitalism from itself. They recognized that monetary policy and fiscal policy could be used to heat up or cool down an economy to some extent.

The biggest problem was oppositional interests. Governments generally interceded in the economy on behalf of the richest capitalists and not for the majority.

But another big problem was created by all this government intervention. Instruments of debt and other purely financial instruments were floating around everywhere, and they became an obsession. A major part of economics was no longer concerned with commodities at all.

Government tried to regulate financial institutions, but they gave that up in 1999 when Texas Senator Phil Gramm got the “Financial Services Modernization Act” passed.

Without regulation, banks and other financial institutions began to use the tremendous resources that they could mobilize in high-stakes gambling. They particularly liked bundles of low-quality mortgage debt and its various crazy derivatives. The bust that followed was called the “Great Recession.” After that, the government re-regulated to some extent, but they are presently disassembling regulations again for the same reason — amazing profits for the very rich.

It’s not in the interest of the people, and it’s not rational. That’s the first lesson.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events” tab on their website. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

Several socialist groups came together on April 29, 2018, in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas to celebrate MayDay. They were kind enough to allow the oldest person in attendance to remind them of the long workers’ tradition by leading singing of “The International.”

Another Mayday celebration, by another group of socialists, takes place at Kidd Springs Park at 5:30PM on May 1st. One cannot help but observe that the progressive movement, even the activists who supposedly have the highest levels of consciousness, continues to be disunited. It’s like Will Rogers used to say about the weather: “Everybody talks about unity, but nobody does anything about it!” I believe the trend, though, is positive.

The trend toward celebrating the International Workers Day is a very positive sign. I can remember reserving that very same Lake Cliff Park pavilion May 1, 1984, and doing all the preparations and publicizing myself. Then I sat there, alone, for two hours hoping somebody would come, but they didn’t! This year, we have two of them. The first one had about 40 people, and I imagine the second will be at least as big.

I’ll be doing a talk about “MayDay Then and Now” at Roma’s Pizza, 7402 Greenville Avenue, beginning at 6 pm on Saturday, May 5th. I’d like to count that as a third MayDay celebration. Every year, I publicize MayDay on my radio show.

MayDay Has a History

The workers’ movement, of course, goes back at least to Moses and the slaves of Egypt, and workers probably celebrated the vernal equinox around MayDay long before they had calendars. But the year 1886 marks the close association of the workers’ movement with May 1.

That year, the word went out from Chicago for a worldwide general strike to demand the 8-hour day. There were protests everywhere. Strikers were killed in Chicago. A police riot erupted on May 4th during another rally in Haymarket square. Authorities came down hard on the Chicago movement and, in 1887, hanged four of the main leaders. Since then, the world remembers “Chicago, 1886” on May 1st.

The repression from the bosses combined with the opportunism of many American labor leaders separated the Americans from the International Workers Day; consequently there have been few celebrations here until recently.

Was Labor Stronger Before?

Almost any reading of labor history will bring out the romantic in us. We long for the great general strike of 1874, or the worldwide struggle of 1886, or the organizing frenzy of 1935-1947. In 1980, when the American government decisively teamed up with the bosses to suppress the labor movement, unions began a numerical free fall that continues today. We had 35% of the workforce organized into unions, and we have only 11% now. People dream about the good old days.

No, We’re Stronger Now!

But despite the decline in union numbers, American labor is actually stronger today than ever. Part of the reason is productivity, but most of it is education. One worker today is four times as productive as those who organized in 1935-47. If one worker walks off the job today, it’s like four workers striking in the old days.

We have more unity than ever. In 1935-47, remember that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations were two separate and competing organizations. Remember also that racism and other kinds of chauvinism were far more divisive in the “old days” than they are today. The AFL-CIO didn’t even try to organize the millions of undocumented workers before 1999 — they joined the government in calling for deportation!

Today, the AFL-CIO bends over backward to work with church, civil rights, and community organizations. In 1987, unions were so totally isolated that five of the more progressive ones had to create a separate organization, Jobs with Justice, to try to build solidarity outside the official labor movement. Today, virtually all unions have gone past their initial hostility and regularly work with Jobs with Justice and other solidarity efforts.

In the old days, many workers were barely literate. Today, we command more information than they could have imagined. With our phones and computers, workers have the ability to function as almost a single worldwide unit. That’s power! We’re only at the first stages of using it, but today we have the power!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events’ tab. If you are interested in what I really think, look at my personal web site.