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“It had nothing to do with the wall!” Kenneth Williams explained the recent 35-day government shutdown to the Dallas Chapter of Texas Alliance for Retired Americans meeting on February 6. Williams is a political activist from Rowlett, near Dallas. President George Nolan put Williams on the agenda first.




Kenneth Williams
explained the shutdown

The tipoff, Williams explained, was that Mr Trump had two years in which his party controlled both houses of Congress, yet he didn’t take such drastic action to get his wall. He didn’t do it until the Democrats won the House of Representatives. Williams asked, “If they really wanted money for the wall, why didn’t they do it when they had control of Congress?”

The real reason that Trump provoked the shutdown was to usurp power from Congress. Williams said that Trump was thinking, “We must do something to put them in their place.” But, Williams said, “They underestimated the unity of the Democrats in opposing them.”

Another lesson we learned from the shutdown is that so-called “middle income” job holders don’t have money in reserve. They live paycheck-to-paycheck. The shutdown put a terrible hardship on government employees and contractors. The contractors may never recover.

Will Trump provoke another shutdown? Williams thinks not, because the entire Republican party is not crazy. They know that they lost power and influence and they don’t want any more of it. Williams said, “The Republican Senators are terrified of going through this again.”

One of the activists asked, “How is Trump going to get out of this corner?” Kenneth Williams answered, “He is not going to get out of the corner… he will make up some facts.”

Other retiree activists at the meeting agreed with Williams. Some of them had even stronger statements.

Retiree Meetings Aren’t Just Social Events

The two-hour meeting covered a lot of analysis of the situation confronting retirees followed by recommendations as to how to fight back. Fernando Rojas gave announcements from Senior Source, the local dispenser of government help for retirees. Alliance Field Organizer Judy Bryant went over pending state and federal legislation affecting how retirees live.

Bryant then went on to organize delegations to local congresspersons, voter registration, and other ways that retirees may influence decision makers.

Our masters rule us because we are confused. They want it that way. That’s the main reason for it.





What is your aim?

The process of improving our human condition, the only process worth living for, benefits as confusion diminishes. But how can we diminish it?

We often find ourselves unable to distinguish between the many choices offered. This may particularly be felt during elections when we are trying to choose candidates. But it also true, more generally, when we try to distinguish between organizations that seem progressive. Which of them will actually set things right?

There are no good answers to the question, but that is not a reflection on the possible answers. It’s the question that was wrong.

Ask the right question

If our goal is to improve the human condition, then it should be obvious that none of the candidates in an election will be able to bring about a great transformation. It should also be obvious, in a more general sense, that none of the various organizations seeking our time and money can, by themselves, create a better world.

Great changes come about because of great mass movements. The biggest lie repeated on the internet, and repeated so often that people think it is true, is that individuals or small groups cause historical changes.

When we ask which candidate to work for or which organization should get our donations, we should be asking how they will affect that great mass movement of working families that will, eventually, bring the change we want.

Demagogues and sectarian organizations will end up on the bottom of our list. Those who promote progress and working class unity will rise to the top.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’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, check out my personal web site

Film Review: “Who Will Write Our History,” Written, produced and directed by Roberta Grossman. Based on the book by Samuel Kassow

For Holocaust Remembrance Day in Dallas, people from all over the city gathered at the historic Texas Theater to see this documentary about the Warsaw ghetto and the small group of historians who risked their lives to document the tragedy.

They wrote down everything they could, and they saved photos, drawings, and printed (by the German occupation) materials. Then they wrapped it the best they could and buried it. The resulting account was dug up after World War II and constitutes a day-by-day account of the horrors they bore. The film says that the complete Warsaw Archives were buried in three separate parts of the ghetto, and that only two of these treasures have been found so far.

The documentary film has a lot of the footage that the occupiers shot, still shots of some of the archives, plus testimony and narration. It is interspersed with docu-drama film to make a seamless presentation that makes sense. Or rather, it makes as much sense as anything concerning the holocaust does.

We must cry when we remember, but remember we must. The film was shown all over the world on January 27. Its tour continues.

–Gene Lantz

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

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” — Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, responding to why they overthrew the government in Chile in 1973

Meeting Venezuelans during their 2006 election

The United States has recognized the opposition leader in Venezuela as their rightful President. They are calling for an overthrow. They say that the elected president was illegally elected and that he disqualified some of his opposition. They have pulled their closest allies in with them.

Right in the middle of the crisis over whether or not Donald Trump can dictate his wishes to the American people, Trump is calling somebody else “a dictator!”

The fascist president of Brazil, who imprisoned his opposition and then “won” his election, is one of the happy club now calling for the overthrow of Venezuela. The U.S. efforts to take over Venezuela’s government and its oil didn’t start yesterday, it started when the great majority of Venezuelans elected, and then defended, an anti-imperialist president.

The pattern was set in Chile when the great majority of Chileans elected the mildly anti-imperialist Salvadore Allende. First they undermined the economy, then they organized the right-wing forces, then they permeated the military. Then they bombed the presidential palace, killed Allende, and installed a fascist government that murdered the remaining oppositionists.

Anyone not already familiar with what happened might just browse for “Chile Allende” on Youtube. There are dozens of videos. https://youtu.be/9h8deIN-OoU is one.

An earlier attempt to overthrow Venezuela is also available on Youtube. https://youtu.be/Id–ZFtjR5c.

Here in America, the silence is deafening. Mr Trump and his gang get to make their accusations every day on every information source. The “honest reporters” reach beyond the Trump Administration to interview leaders and experts from previous administrations, all of whom share the same imperialist views. I wish I could say that the only imperialists in America are Republicans, but you’d know better.

The Venezuelans get some criticism from the so-called “left” as well as from the outspoken imperialists. Certain leftists blame the Venezuelan (and the Chilean) leaders for being social democrats instead of real working-class advocates. In other words, they didn’t deal directly with the local capitalists who were bound to conspire with the United States against them and; consequently, should have known they’d be overthrown sooner or later.

Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant. We in America aren’t responsible for decisions in other countries, but in our own. We might love the Venezuelans or hate them, but it isn’t up to us to overthrow their government.

I like the position taken by the World Federation of Trade Unions and its spokepersons in “Labor Today” here:

“The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), representing 95 million workers of the five continents as well as the world class-oriented labor movement, strongly rejects the attempted coup d’état against the legitimate government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

‘This interference, orchestrated by the US government, NATO and the EU and executed by the representatives of the transnationals and monopolies in the country, constitutes a flagrant violation of the most elementary rules of international law and of the Venezuela’s sovereignty. For the WFTU, it is an inalienable right of each people to decide for themselves, without outside interventions, on their present and future.

‘At the same time, the WFTU reaffirms, as it has already done on several occasions, its solidarity with the Venezuelan people, with the working class and our affiliated organizations in the country in front of this imperialist threat. In addition, we call on the Venezuelan people to reject the maneuvers of the imperialists and their lackeys in the region, to condemn the plans of the murderers of the peoples. We will continue to support the Venezuelan working class, for the deepening of the Bolivarian process, until the abolition of man by man exploitation, towards a new world, without wars and imperialist barbarism. This is the only way forward to repel the plans of the imperialists.

‘Long live internationalist solidarity!”

–Gene Lantz

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

There are lots of on-line comments about the gig economy. WhatIs says, “A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40% of American workers would be independent contractors.” There are higher and lower estimates here and there, depending on how they define the jobs that have no benefits, no rights, no dignity, and no guarantee that employment will last more than one day. It’s maybe one step above serfdom.

We’d have to be stupid to ignore the gig economy

But every article I saw said that the gig economy is growing and will keep on growing. The reasons they give are so inadequate that they almost constitute untruths: they attribute the growing gig economy to the changing nature of work. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening.

More and more people are working part-time, split shift, “independent contractor,” no-future jobs because that’s what the employers want. It’s what they have always wanted, but they never had such power over the government as they have now. The gig economy is growing because employers do not want workers with guaranteed jobs, workers with health care, workers with any kind of rights at all. In several levels of government, but especially in state legislatures, they are moving to reduce all of us into the gig economy.

Uber Drivers Rally

Last Saturday, a woman walked into the KNON studios and said “Hi, I’m Edith.” We greeted her and I tried to find out why she wanted to be on the “Workers Beat” talk show. She said she was a driver, so I assumed she was from the Amalgamated Transit Union and there to talk about management’s privatization scheme. They want to let Dallas’ disabled people get transported by Uber and Lyft temporary drivers instead of the professionals from ATU.

About 20 minutes into the program, Edith started talking about Uber management, and I finally realized that she was the woman I had exchanged e-mails with during the previous week. She wants to organize Uber and Lyft drivers. She had some compelling reasons.

Uber has recently cut the percentage of fares that the drivers get, Edith said. Worse than that, they manipulate the hiring process so that newer drivers get more fares. That way the newer drivers will be more likely to stay with Uber until their other options have disappeared. Then they’re stuck.

I’m for organizing all workers, no exceptions, so we got right into the problems and solutions. Edith said there would be a demonstration at Dallas City Hall today.

After the program, I posted an “event” on Facebook for the Uber/Lyft rally. At noon today, I hurried down there. Nobody else showed up, not even Edith. She told me by email that she had gotten discouraged because nobody else would commit to come. I told Edith that the proof of a good activist in the period we live in is not how successful they are, but whether or not they give up. So we’re going to try again on the 2nd Monday next month, or at least I hope so.

What Do We Learn?

First of all, a job with absolutely no guarantees can change at management’s whim. That’s why management likes them so much. Thousands of out-of-work government employees are, right now, applying to go to work for Uber or Lyft. It may seem like a good option, or perhaps the only option, but it will change when management wants it changed, and they never willingly change things for the betterment of the employees.

Gig jobs will just get worse as more people depend on them.

Second of all, gig workers are extremely difficult to organize. It’s one of those impossible things that has to happen. That’s why Edith couldn’t get anybody to the rally. It’s also why the established unions aren’t trying very hard to organize gig workers.

But it has to happen because the gig economy will keep on growing as long as bosses are running “our” government. One might pretend to be “objective” and say it doesn’t have to happen because there are other alternatives like fascism. That’s not an alternative, it’s a disaster!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM 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 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

Today I posted a prologue and Chapter One of “Commissioner Torres and the New Government” on http://lilleskole.us, my personal web site. It’s actually my 4th book-length effort. One of them is autobiographical and covers just about everything I’ve learned so far.

What would your revolution look like?

The other three are speculative fiction about a guy named Leo Torres who gets involved with revolutionaries just when the old order of things has fallen apart. Leo gets in on the revolution from the ground floor.

Why?

You may wonder why I write and post these things. Obviously, I’m not going to make any money. They aren’t even copyrighted. It’s not because of the silly old shibboleth “Writers write because they have to.”

I’m one of many people who would like to see a better world, but I’m one of the very few who have tried to describe it. For decades I’ve dodged the question the same way almost every activist does by saying, “I don’t know what the world I’m fighting for would look like, because it’s up to those people living in that world to decide for themselves.” It may be true, but it’s still a dodge.

If we’re fighting for a better world, we ought to be able to describe it. Or at least we ought to try.

I decided on speculative fiction as my way of initiating a discussion on what might happen and what we might do about it. After all, does anybody think that we’ll just wake up one day in a better world?

Nearly all of our sci-fi is dystopian. Just about the only exception is the Star Trek series. They didn’t even have a revolution to get into their wonderful world. They just listened to the Vulcans. In one episode, Mister Spock hints that the Vulcans had to go through some very trying times before they became so civil, but he doesn’t tell us much about it. So we actually have no pattern to follow.

For a long time, American activists tried to copy the Russian revolution. When it imploded, a lot of them were disgusted and demoralized. Some others have tried to follow Chairman Mao. Some followed Nkrumah, Ho Chi Minh, and some followed Castro. I think we could learn from all of them, but we couldn’t learn enough. We have to do a lot of our own thinking.

So, we speculate.

The World I Made

Looking toward the future, especially in the Donald Trump era, one can see disaster ahead. It’s not a matter of whether or not the planet will become inhabitable and wealth inequality will make economic life impossible. It’s only a matter of when.

But I have great faith in myself and other people. Sooner or later we will give up on the people who are destroying the economy and the ecology. We will embrace new leaders and new ways of running things. In the world I create in my sci-fi novels, people have just recently done that. Following the advice of revolutionaries, civilized people have disbanded their armies and their police. They formed local militias to keep order while respected and capable leaders are elected to make economic and social decisions.

The revolutionaries at the center help coordinate activities and continue to advise the localities. As you might imagine, there is very little continuity between one locality and another. There are a tremendous number of problems to be resolved. What will people eat? How will they get it? How will trade continue? How will people get from one place to the next?

Because the air and water are almost undrinkable and unbreathable, something drastic has to be done about the burning of fossil fuels. Because all systems are down, there is no electricity. Without electricity and transportation, there is no long-distance communication. Without transportation, people will not be able to get the goods and services they need to stay alive. What would you do about those things?

The first two novels take the easy way out. They only deal with some of the smaller questions.

My first novel deals with whether or not revolution is possible and worthwhile. It’s common to hear it said that humanity isn’t worth saving, that people will never learn to live without war, that people are essentially greedy and incapable of cooperation, and that every revolution has failed because people are basically just no damned good!

My second novel is more specific. It tries to deal with the fact that certain sectors of the population will not cooperate in building a better world. Hardened drug addicts, for example, are unlikely to cooperate in civil society. What would you do with them?

The third novel is by far the most ambitious. It recognizes that government is necessary and begins to discuss the ins and outs of setting up and running such a government. Is democracy the answer? If so, what would be the machinery of democracy? Here’s a really thorny question, “How could a society avoid the tyranny of the majority?”

I don’t know if you can answer these questions, but I know that I can’t. But I’m inviting you to join me in trying to find out.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM every Saturday. Call in 972-647-1893 with your ideas. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site at http://lilleskole.us