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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Gene Lantz

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

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

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

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

I started a sort of timeline:

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

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

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

–Gene Lantz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t miss it!

Gene Lantz

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

 

 

Book Review: Gaddis, John Lewis, “The Cold War. A New History.” Penguin Press, NY. 2005.

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I got the book from the Oak Cliff Dallas library. Gaddis had already written several earlier books on the period, so this one is sort of a compilation, he says.

What I liked about it was that he included some of the significant events of the Cold War period. It’s not chronological. He presents events in the order he wants in order to make the point he wants to make: that the Cold War was not so much a part of the long confrontation between labor and capital, but rather an historically isolated one of democracy versus totalitarianism. From the first, in his detached academic way, he cheers the American side.

Although it’s presented way out of order, he does talk about the 1948 CIA intervention to keep the Italian Communist Party from winning their national elections. He talks, a little bit, about America’s overthrow of the elected government of Chile and the installation of fascist terror. He mentions the CIA overthrows of the elected governments of Guatemala and Iran.

Like a lot of post-Soviet Union books, he gives his explanation for the failure of that government. He seems to think that Premier Gorbachev was confused and easily swayed by that smooth-talking Ronald Reagan. He says that the Soviets erred by trying to live up to their commitment to worldwide revolution by supporting the Cubans, the Angolans, the Vietnamese, and the many other peoples that tried to advance beyond capitalism and called to the Soviets for help. He says the Soviets couldn’t afford them.

But the fundamental problem, he says, was that the Soviets could not provide the standard of living that their people had been promised. When Khruschev said “We will bury you,” no matter how that was interpreted here, he meant that the Soviets had a superior economic system.

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of smart people talking about the mistakes of the Soviet Union. Some of them imply that those mistakes were also made by the worldwide socialist movement and, especially, by CPUSA here. I think this book nudges us toward an idea of what those mistakes might have been:

1) They mistakenly thought they could extend cooperation with the United States and other capitalist nations after Hitler was defeated.

2) They mistakenly thought that capitalist economies would resume their desperate pre-war economic depression after the war

3) They mistakenly thought that no single capitalist nation could unite the others against them

4) They underestimated the post-war prosperity phase.

Having lived through the Cold War, and after visiting the Soviet Union twice and doing some of my own studying, I have to agree with the book’s author on this important main point: I don’t know if the Soviets could have provided a superior standard of living for their citizens, but I am convinced that they didn’t.

Gaddis, the author, says that a market economy is fundamentally superior to a planned economy because it is more flexible. The Chinese economy, he says, succeeds because they embraced capitalism.

Certainly, the Korean War, the Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam war are covered.  But some things were not.

I just glanced at the book’s index to see if he included some of what I considered the most important aspects of the Cold War: The Taft-Hartley law that put America’s unions into a long downward spiral, the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs, Senator Joe McCarthy’s hearings, the McCarran Anti-Subversive Act(s) that sent American activists to prison, and the House Unamerican Activities Committee which destroyed so many lives. None of them are mentioned; none even made the index. If he had mentioned such things, I might have given more credibility to his thesis that the Soviets and Americans were equally to blame for having started and perpetuated the Cold War.

I don’t think that this “equal blame” idea can stand the test of history, because the wealthy capitalist countries opposed the Soviet Union in every possible way from its inception, 100 years ago. World War II provided only a brief interruption in attacks against the Soviets, and they did that only because Hitler had become such a threat to all of them. From 1917 to 1941, and again immediately after the war, the United States and the other imperialist nations did all they could to undermine and overthrow the Soviets.

I think that the Soviet Union fell as the result of an attack. The frontal attacks, although there were plenty of them, could not bring the Soviets down. But the long siege did.

World War II ended with a gigantic Soviet and American victory in 1945. The declaration of Cold War came from Winston Churchill, sharing a podium with President Truman,  in Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946 – less than a year after the hot war ended.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio 89.3 FM from 9 to 10 every Saturday. Call in your opinions!

For the past several weeks, I’ve been hosting on-line meetings on digital organizing.

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It’s not that I know a lot about it. I do these meetings because they need doing. Our progressive movement is exploding like an adolescent in a growth spurt. But, like an adolescent, it isn’t very well coordinated and doesn’t seem to know where it’s going.

The on-line part of the work could bring us together, it could coordinate our activities, and it could help turn this strong but clumsy adolescent into the soldier we need.

Techies Don’t Usually Set Organizational Policy

I have been around computers since 1963. In business and in politics, the techies usually get called into strategy meetings, but only to provide a general idea of what is possible. The overall goals of each organization are set by somebody else, and the techies shoehorn their abilities into someone else’s parameters.

It’s still like that within most organizations. Some glaring exceptions are  MoveOn and Facebook — where the techies created and ran the entire operation.

Today’s Techies Run Wild

Almost everybody with a computer, or even with a smart phone, has the potential today to play a big role in politics — for good or for evil. In our mish-mosh progressive movement, the techies create their own strategies, if they have any at all, and they tend to go every which-a-way.

There are a lot of classes, some excellent ones are on-line, about digital organizing, but they are primarily concerned with HOW to implement various technologies. I see very little about WHY?

That’s why I freely admit that I’ve been doing this for thirty years and still don’t know what I’m doing.

Disseminating Information Is Not Enough

If we know a lot about communications and social media, we can reach a lot of people with a lot of information. So what? If we aren’t working together to build a progressive movement that can stand up to the challenges from the other side, the 1%, the enemy, then why throw out all this info?

Organizing, even the segment of organizing called digital, means joining people together for a common purpose. It isn’t how many people we can reach, it’s how many we can move!

Organizations Often Work Against One Another

Who doesn’t dream of unity? But it’s just a dream if we don’t take stock of the very real reasons that disunity persists in the progressive movement. We have to recognize obstacles if we are to overcome them.

One big obstacle, probably the biggest, is how the “progressive” organizations are funded. In general, we beg for donations from the people who have money. Often as not, they are, as a class, the very people we are trying to overcome. The donor class keeps all of us begging and, far worse, competing against each other for contributions.

If we asked individuals about the need for unity, almost all of them will agree. But those same individuals, working in “progressive” organizations, are primarily competitors for money, not co-operators. As a movement, we’re killing ourselves with our own opportunism!

There are other reasons for disunity, of course. Big egos get in the way. Deliberate saboteurs and agent provocateurs are among us all the time.  Our adolescent obsessions with one part of the progressive movement over the others disunites us. Arguments over tactics are often a source of friction. Putting aside tactics, we don’t really even agree on our major goals.

Unity Requires Agreed-Upon Principles

The first thing the progressive movement should agree on is what we are trying to do. That goal is to overcome those who are now running the world (into the ground) and implement a better, more democratic, system.

The second is an overall strategy based on empowering working families, as opposed to bosses. The bosses are running things now, for their own benefit, and their employees have very little say-so about the important things. Unions, because they represent working families, are especially important.

Then comes tactics. Progressives should be taking part in every arena of political struggle that benefits working people and disadvantages our bosses. Everything we do that makes our side stronger and their side weaker is a good tactic.

Our resources vary, and some tactics are better than others. That’s why we need democratic discussion among ourselves to sort out the best immediate activities. But the guideline, the first thing, always has to be uppermost in our thinking.

So, What Do We Do Right Now?

Figure out which activities are best moving us toward our goal. Use our digital magic to boost those progressive activities. Participate in the ideological discussion around those actions so that participants will get all possible value from being part of it. Agitate, educate, and organize!

–Gene Lantz

I invite your opinions. I’m on http://knon.org 89.3FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9 Central Time

It’s incredible, but lots of people don’t know the difference between right and wrong!

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It’s evident from today’s discussions around Confederate monuments, white supremacy marches, and free speech. President Trump, that fountain of wisdom, says that we have to take down the Washington monument if we’re opposing Jefferson Davis. Some of my liberal friends, gritting their teeth, say they will defend white supremacists’ right to march and speak out “to the death.”

The racists in Boston today say they aren’t rallying for bigotry, but for “free speech.” They’re trying to frame the argument so that anybody opposed to their disgusting views is against freedom.

There’s a good explanation for the confusion

The confusion over right and wrong today has the same root cause as a tremendous lot of confusion — people have no standard of measurement. With no actual standard, they are going by their feelings. No one would admit that, but it’s true. People are trying to decide very important questions simply by the way they happen to be feeling.

All philosophies are branches of idealism versus materialism. Idealists believe that the standards for everything exist only in their minds — in their ideal world. All the stuff that we see, touch, and smell, is only an approximation of the perfect ideal.

Materialists believe in the real world. We believe that any concept of a perfect ideal would have to be generalized from all the stuff we can sense. The material world comes first, and perfection is just something to talk about when we have extra time.

What standard would work?

The good of humanity is an excellent standard. “Good,” then, is what helps humanity. “Evil” detracts from us. “Right” advances us and “wrong” pushes us backward.

If everyone used that simple standard, the arguments would be over.

Getting back to the present situation, tax dollars should no longer be used to honor the Confederacy. Racism should be suppressed. It’s not a moral issue nor a difficult philosophical problem. It’s just knowing the difference between right and wrong.

–Gene Lantz

You can hear me on “Workers Beat” on KNON.org or 89.3FM in the Dallas area, 9AM central time every Saturday

Always lose? “Oh surely not,” you assure me. “Just look at all of labor’s victories. Why, there was he sit-in in Flint Michigan. There was the drive to organize steel, and what about the 8-hour day movement?” you say.

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And yet I say we always lose, and I ask “Why?”

When we talk about our losses, we usually ask what we did wrong. We have our theories like:

The Knights of Labor, the most successful organizing effort of the 19th century, failed because its Master Workman, Terence Powderly, was too timid, too vain, and too afraid to admit it when he was wrong.

The Industrial Workers of the World failed, according to one theory, because they tried to be a revolutionary organization and an ordinary trade union both at the same time, and they couldn’t decide which.

The American Federation of Labor failed because it was too conservative and the Congress of Industrial Organizations failed because it was too brash.

In the political arena, Hillary Clinton failed because she was too backward and Bernie Sanders failed because he was too advanced. Eugene Victor Debs was too nice and Joseph Stalin wasn’t nice enough. If the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela comes crashing down tomorrow, we’ll think of some reason to blame them for it. We always blame our own side and discourage ourselves unnecessarily and incorrectly.

We didn’t just lose, we were beaten

The point is, our losses aren’t our fault. We may have played the game very well. The other side just played better. On labor issues, the other side is the employers. They’re very good at defeating working people. They have a lot of resources. More importantly, for purposes of this discussion, they always know that there are two irreconcilable sides to any war and they know which side they are on.

Oftentimes, we don’t. When we lose, and we always lose because we never settle things for the long term, we blame ourselves. That’s just wrong.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on http://knon.org 89.3 FM every Saturday at 9AM