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Serious groups and individuals are trying to find a way forward during this crisis, but many of us come up with different answers. The reason is that we don’t really understand the problem. That’s our biggest mistake.

It’s popular now to blame President Trump for everything. Since Bernie Sanders cancelled his campaign, some of my friends are blaming Joe Biden. In a more general sense, some blame the Republicans. Some still blame the Democrats. Some blame the people who vote wrong, some blame the people who don’t vote at all. Some blame the Chinese and others say we should be more like the Chinese.

All of them are only partially right.

The economic/ecological/financial/medical/political crisis is not the fault of the Chinese, not the fault of the pandemic, not Trump’s fault, not Obama’s, and not Adam Smith’s. If we were going to blame one of them, we should probably single out Adam Smith. He’s the one who promoted our big mistake by spreading the horse-hockey theory that capitalism was a rational system.

Keynes explains capitalism
Keynes explains capitalism

Capitalism is not a rational system. Never was, still isn’t, never will be. Capitalism really isn’t even a system. The best way to define capitalism is to say that capitalists are running things. The capitalists replaced the aristocrats mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. The aristocrats had replaced the slave owners in a long process before that. Aristocrats were more productive than the slave owners. Capitalists were more productive than aristocrats, but they still hadn’t evolved up to a rational system.

Even Adam Smith didn’t actually claim that capitalism was guided by rational thinking. He said it was guided by an “invisible hand” that made it good for everyone. He didn’t say that the invisible hand was rational, so that’s to his credit. He should have said, though, that it’s a crazy hand. A psychopathic hand. That would have been more honest.

Capitalists work from a national framework. They take over other, less efficient, economies. They don’t prefer to use their national armies, but they will. When there are no more territories or peoples to take over, they have to face off against one another. That was the situation in 1914 when the big capitalists made us go to war.

If the capitalists were in control of a rational system, they might have found some other kind of solution. I don’t think that individual capitalists, for the most part, really wanted to go to war. Well, maybe Winston Churchill, but not a lot of the capitalists.

After the War to End All Wars and a brief period of prosperity to replace everything they had broken and to grow some new cannon fodder, the capitalists extended their crisis into the Great Depression. Another World War and another prosperous period of replacing broken things brought them into their present crisis.

During and since the Great Depression, the capitalists have been using their power over the government to bail out their failed businesses. In 2007, armored trucks full of money scurried from government agencies to banks and big business. They are doing it again now, and they will have to do it again in future if they are going to stay in power.

What If We Had a Rational System?

Let me change the direction of the argument slightly. Let us suppose for a moment that we actually were living under a rational system. One aspect of a rational system would be to avoid overpopulating our planet. The basic reason for overpopulation is government policies to encourage high birth rates. Presently, nations need high birthrates in order to compete with one another in an irrational world. In a rational world, they wouldn’t.

Pandemics would be less of a threat. Famine would be less of a problem. If an epidemic threatened in some part of the world, the rest of the world could mobilize to isolate and stop it. In a rational world.

Our biggest mistake is blaming individuals, nations, ideologies, or circumstances for our problems. We should blame the capitalists who run our irrational system, and we should democratically replace them with rational leaders. That simple!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM central time. They podcast the weekly program and “Workers Beat Extra” on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

I was blown away when the AFL-CIO promoted an extremely progressive May Day, 2020! I think it may be their first one since 1886, and it is amazing!

Couldn't have thought of a better slogan
AFL-CIO slogan for 2020 May 1st events

For May 1, 2020, the AFL-CIO promoted a daylong list of progressive activities. The best one was probably their own 10AM on-line meeting. Mayday with AFL-CIO was a quick look at our working class around the world during International Worker Solidarity Day. Special emphasis was on undocumented workers, refugees, and the “informal economy.” The importance of women was double underlined because all of the speakers were women.

Cathy Feingold ofAFL-CIO
Cathy Feingold of AFL-CIO

The host was Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO and Deputy President of the International Trade Union Confederation. ITUC claims 200 million members worldwide. Speakers were from Morocco, Honduras, Bangladesh, and Europe — Brussels and Geneva. These were top union leaders and experts.

I was thrilled with the theme. We want a new social contract! The best part of the entire event was when Feingold said, “We don’t want to go back to normal!” We want a better world.

The ITUC has a petition for a new social contract: http://petitions.ituc-csi.org/let-s-build-resilient-economi… I hurried to sign it.

A slogan at the end of the AFL-CIO's meeting

They Keep Getting Better

During the meeting, I was made aware of two slight distractions. One was an anti-communist named Anibal something. Anti-communists hate unionism. He/she had to add overthrowing Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua into the mix. I wrote back, “Great Anibal, just what we need, more divisions!”

The other distraction was more serious. A good friend of mine texted heavy criticism of the event, not because of anything about the event, but because it was sponsored by the AFL-CIO. He said the AFL-CIO was part of American imperialism.

On the upside, the guy agreed with me that the May Day meeting was a really good thing for the world working class, and a good thing for the working class is a good thing all around. But he made me want to share my perspective on the American labor movement and international relations.

I Remember When

I can remember when the AFL-CIO really was part of American imperialism. We used to call them the “AFL-CIA” because they took big bucks from the CIA and carried out their wishes. Their International Department was run by a guy named Jay Lovestone. Lovestone was a rogue Communist Party leader turned rabid anti-communist.

The President of the AFL-CIO was the last major American political figure to stop supporting the war in Vietnam. He persisted even after Nixon gave it up! He encouraged “hard hat” hooligans to beat up anti-war protesters!

I actually saw the “AFL-CIA” in action in 1979 when I first visited revolutionary Nicaragua. No sooner had the Sandinistas defeated the dictator Somoza than the AFL-CIA showed up with big money and an effort to organize “independent” unions. They meant independent of the revolution, but dependent on more money from the United States. Apparently, that was standard operating procedure for the AFL-CIA.

But some amazing changes started taking over the American labor movement in 1987. In that year, five of the most progressive unions met and formed Jobs with Justice. They used it to practice progressive unionism, and it was great. But that was only the beginning.

In 1995, for the first time in over 100 years, the outgoing AFL leadership did not pick its successors. Progressive leaders led by John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson (of Texas) beat the status quo leaders out. Then they really started making changes.

In 1997, they took the anti-communist clause out of their constitution. I was there for that one, and I was floored! Sometime before 1999, they ditched their old International Department and replaced it with Solidarity. In 1999, I remember when they quit calling, as they had for 100 years, for deportations and started trying to organize the undocumented. Today, they are the best advocates that undocumented workers have. Their May Day event was all about workers without papers.

I’m not positive about this date, but I believe that it was in 2002 when imperialism was able to get the Venezuelan elite to kidnap President Hugo Chavez. The AFL-CIO joined in condemning the act and called for Chavez’ release.

I wish the present leadership of AFL-CIO would acknowledge their egregious mistakes of the past, and I don’t exactly blame young radicals who don’t realize how much they have changed, or even those who believe that everybody who doesn’t embrace their revolutionary ideas must be some kind of enemy. But those are minor gripes. Unions aren’t revolutionary, but they are working class. That’s worth remembering!

The fact is that the American AFL-CIO is a front-line progressive organization of the working class. I couldn’t be more proud!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it along with some of my other audio events (Workers Beat Extra). If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site

Some of the brothers and sisters on my side of the anti-capitalist fight have lately begun exhibiting some of the errors of anarchists, ultralefts, and middle class liberals. I’m hoping it’s a temporary diversion from the very good work we have seen since Bernie Sanders stirred up this giant activist movement in 2016.

The culmination of the mistakes is to disregard the interests of the working class by calling for people to abstain from voting in the 2020 elections. Some of the usual excuses are being given. Some say that they are focusing on street heat and mass action, as if they couldn’t possibly find time to engage in electoral activities while organizing picketing. Others say that they are casting “protest votes” for fringe parties, just to teach the Democrats a lesson, as if they expect the Democrats to learn from them. No matter the excuse being used, these brothers and sisters are mistakenly abandoning the electoral field when it is of desperate importance to workers.

Like nearly all political errors, these comes from not understanding the political situation. An incorrect assessment must lead to error. If one doesn’t see where we are, one can hardly prescribe the way forward.

Apparently, some of the good activists thought that Bernie Sanders and the movement he generated could actually transform the Democratic Party in 2020. Even if they allowed themselves such high hopes, they should have at least recognized that such a transformation was not a certainty.

The extreme level of disappointment that many Bernie supporters are feeling is understandable because they worked hard for the campaign. But it’s no excuse for abandoning the working class. The Bernie campaign, in 2016 and in 2020, was terrific for the working class. The advancement in working-class consciousness, understanding, and willingness to take action is excellent and is not qualitatively diminished by Sanders’ withdrawal from the race.

To let our emotions determine our political statements and actions is not a characteristic of serious revolutionaries. It’s something that anarchists might do, because they think they can jolt the world into transformation. It’s something that ultralefts might do because they don’t care about the outcome. It’s something that middle-class liberals might do because they live in the fuzzy world of pie-in-the-sky ideals.

Think of the class.

–Gene Lantz

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

They don’t sound like very good choices, but that’s what’s being offered to the 99% by the 1% today. I know this because I attend a lot of meetings with representatives of working families, specifically union leaders.

ACCIDENT

Workplace safety is in shambles and is not getting better. The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations has been demanding for some time that the Occupational Safety and Health Agency put forward some mandatory rules for workplace safety. OSHA hasn’t. The pandemic has just made it much worse.

OSHA was created during the Nixon Administration. It is charged with making sure that American workplaces are safe for everyone. Over the years, it has kept the mandate but lost the capacity. They don’t have enough resources to investigate much of anything; consequently, they don’t.

Workplaces may be safe if 1) Benevolent our insurance-minded bosses regulate themselves or 2) the workers have a union. Union workers have very few accidents. When they do, they generally get good care and compensation. But only about 11% of American workers have a union. The other 89% have to look out!

Undocumented workers are particularly at risk. It would be difficult to find out just how much “at risk” they are, because their accidents, even their deaths, are barely recorded. If they are lucky, the dead ones may get a wooden coffin and shipment to their country of origin. That’s about all the luck they have.

If they are hurt but not dead, undocumented workers tend to keep very quiet about it. A person can get fired for getting hurt, and undocumented workers have no protection, no recourse.

Here in Texas, there is an organization that specifically tries to help the undocumented. The Workers Defense Project collect data to show that construction jobs in Texas are the most dangerous jobs in the country. Of course, many of those jobs, and those bad statistics, are held by the undocumented.

Like every agency meant to help working families, OSHA is severely underfunded, is getting more underfunded, and has no prospects for getting more funding. That’s the situation in workplace safety.

DISEASE

The workplace safety situation is especially dire during the pandemic. Companies have no reason to reveal how many of their employees have the Coronavirus, and they have lots of motivation to keep it quiet so that other workers will continue producing wealth for them.

We hail the “essential workers” or “frontline workers.” We’d like to think that everybody loves them, but their bosses don’t. Lots of these self-sacrificing workers that are saving this nation and the world are working without proper training or equipment. It’s not just a few, it’s epic.

Union workers, as usual, are much better off than those without representation, but even union workers are getting shafted. I have been to several press conferences where union leaders announced the numbers of infected or dead members they have. Nearly all of those union leaders can point out workplaces where brave workers are risking the virus without what they need.

Undocumented workers, we’re talking millions of people, don’t get much of anything. They are treated as though they weren’t human. Interestingly, though, they can spread the virus just as well as any human. It is in everybody’s interest to take care of the undocumented and stop the virus, but they don’t. I made a mistake when I said “everybody’s interest,” I should have said “yours and my interest,” not the bosses.

So, the disease threat is really close at hand

EXECUTION

Many of my friends, maybe even all of them, are compare Trump to Hitler. I don’t. Hitler had a mustache. Hitler was smart.

But the conditions that brought about fascism in Italy and Germany are, in a very broad sense, being replicated in America today. Maybe the public at large thinks that fascism is impossible in America. I don’t blame them for thinking that, but they ought to re-think.

Actually, America had a lot of fascists during Hitler’s time. Remember the veteran’s bonus march, for example? Lots of left-learning Americans love the story of the bonus march, especially because Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower burned them out. If the generals are the bad guys, then the bonus marchers must have been the good guys. Right?

But one of the main leaders of the bonus army was a jack-booted fascist. He and his followers, being working folks, wore khaki. So they weren’t fascist black shirts nor fascist brown shirts. They were fascist khaki shirts.

Remember good old Lindberg, “Lucky Lindy,” who flew the Atlantic? He was a Hitler-supporting fascist and he had a big political party behind him. They didn’t have televangelists in those days, no television, but one radio evangelist, Father Coughlin, had hundreds of thousands of listeners! In my own union, the autoworkers, a triumvirate took power. One of them clearly was a communist, but another one was called a fascist!

So don’t think fascism can’t take root in America, it already has.

The Japanese simplified things for Americans at Pearl Harbor, but before that there were a lot of Communists and a lot of fascists.

There were a lot of both of them in Germany, too. But Hitler killed the Communists. We have probably memorized, by now, how many Jews Hitler caused to be dead. I’ve never heard the head count on dead Communists, but I know that they were first. One of Hitler’s main appeals (to the bosses) was that he would kill the Communists.

Hitler killed everybody that opposed him, and he killed them first. Keep that in mind when thinking about the possibility of fascism in America. When/if fascism comes to America, wrapped in the flag and singing hymns, as they say, anybody who speaks up will be courting execution.

So we have accident, disease, or execution before us. They aren’t the only choices, but they can claim inevitability unless somebody on our side, the 99% side, does something. Left to their own choices, the 1% bosses have already set their course and their sails. They’ve pulled up their anchor, too.

Their destination is not that far away. Fascism and the execution of the good guys could take place before November. November is when America is supposed to have elections to determine who has power. Democrats share power, of course. They make a great show of sportsmanship and sharing power. But fascists don’t, and fascists are taking over in America right now.

Right now in America, the biggest issue is not the pandemic. It’s not the economic crisis, either. It’s whether or not we will be able to maintain the democracy that we have left. We’ve already watched while Republicans shredded much of our democracy. They got the Citizens United case passed through the Supreme Court. They gutted the Voting Rights Act. They have succeeded in legitimizing the foulest forms of gerrymandering and voter suppression already.

Because they love us and don’t want us to get sick, they have postponed most of our elections in 2020. Their love and concern does not extend to letting us vote safely by mail. They are dead set against that. But they don’t mind postponing our elections.

They wouldn’t mind cancelling them, either.

Those who are re-thinking politics because of these unprecedented times might enjoy a new video on YouTube: “General Strike.”

A very handsome young man explains why every American worker should begin immediately to prepare for a nationwide political strike. He suggests two kinds of activities: stop going to work and stop paying rent. Either one, he says, will certainly teach the capitalists a lesson.

Normally, people wouldn’t even listen, certainly not for 42 minutes. But these aren’t normal times. Instead of dismissing the guy, why not look on the positive side?

You have to admit right away, he’s a really good presenter. Probably a graduate of college communications courses.

Another thing I like is that, unlike lots of radicals I’ve known, he doesn’t think we can all stop working tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, and thus overthrow the government. His stated goals are pretty much the same ones that progressive politicians espouse: health care for all, fair wages for all, and protection against Covid-19.

He shows a lot more humility than the old know-it-all radicals. He says he doesn’t precisely prescribe a process, but he recommends joining and helping progressive organizations. He wants us to support the strikes that already happening. He wants us to help with the Native American cause. These are pretty much in line with what other progressive organizations want. He doesn’t put forward his own timetable for the rest of us to meet. Actually, I was a little disappointed that he didn’t mention International Workers Day, May 1st.

So, we had a persuasive argument to prepare for a general strike from a very pleasant young man who says that this is the most important political period of his life. In general, I agree with him. Getting ready for a general strike is a good idea. If one wanted to be negative, one could complain that radicals are always calling for general strikes, and it’s true – but it doesn’t mean that they are wrong every time they do it. Right now today, Republican politicians are preparing to force everybody back to work, pandemic or no pandemic! Maybe the times have caught up with the idea? Columnist Abigail Van Buren used to say, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day!”

Digging a little deeper, one wonders why the brother doesn’t identify any particular organization with whom he agrees and that the rest of us should join. He gives several hashtags to help us organize: #GeneralStrike2020 #RentStrike2020 and #CareStrike. The video gives his name and title, “Emerican Johnson, Cornpop Ambassador to Vietnam.” At the end of the video, there’s a list of names with a background poem being read. It has “F-U” all through it.

That’s when I began to be critical. Why, if one hopes to organize everyone, would someone deliberately offend all the religious and vulgarity-conscious workers? Is profanity a membership requirement in whatever movement Brother Johnson hopes to build?

Further, what is this organization? There are some clues. For one thing, the speaker’s background is a bright combination of red and black. Red is traditionally the workers’ color, and black is for anarchists. The icon to start the video shows a black cat. The first organization listed as a good one to work with is the Industrial Workers of the World, IWW.

AHA! What American radical group has red and black for their colors, a black cat for their symbol, and “general strike” as the short form of their entire program? What American radical leader can talk for 42 minutes without mentioning the importance of union contracts and electoral politics for working families? Yes, it’s the Wobblies, the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World.

The IWW has been trying to organize a general strike to overthrow capitalism since they began at the turn of the last century. Again, that doesn’t mean that they were wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they are wrong right now today!

–Gene Lantz

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

TV Review: “Babylon Berlin” directed by Tom Tykwer. three seasons on Netflix

The biggest and most expensive TV series ever produced for German television is running in 100 countries around the world. There are a string of awards. Americans may have trouble with the dubbing and, possibly, with the German expressionism style. If we get involved in the period being depicted, though, we can answer some of our questions about German fascism and, maybe, get some insights into our own.

It isn’t just good entertainment, it’s also a profound learning experience for non-Germans in our historical period.

As we face incipient fascism in several nations and our own, we can profit from trying to understand Germany during the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and before the rise of Hitler. “The Nazis didn’t just fall from the sky,” explains one of the show’s creators. For all we know in America, they may as well have, because many of us don’t know squat.

The two main characters through all 3 seasons are police. He’s a morphine addict and she’s a part-time prostitute. His problems come from shell-shock during WWI, hers from abject poverty. Their combined flaws, compared to that of the general Berlin society around 1929, make them comparatively the healthiest people in the story.

The two of them carry out what might have been called ordinary police procedural drama. But it’s what happens in the background that really matters. They deal with the political/economic situation that helps us answer our questions about Nazis. For the serious questioner, the Wikipedia version explains the period.

In the first three TV seaons, the Nazis aren’t the major political players. Much more important are the monarchists who want to restore the Kaiser, destroy the communists, and make Germany a dominant military power once more. The monarchists sincerely believe that they would have won WWI had it not been for the “fifth column” of anti-war protesters at home. The Nazis agree with them on that, and both of them team up to malign and discredit the big communist movement.

For sheer anti-communism, it would be hard for anybody to beat the social democrats running the government during the Weimar Republic. They made an early deal with the monarchists in the army to destroy the Spartacist League (militant communists) in 1919. They succeeded and executed Rosa Luxemburg and Carl Leibnecht, the leadership way before this TV story begins.

Here, we have a big, rather amorphous, communist party, and a number of organizations opposing them: Trotskyists, monarchists, and the Weimar government itself. Confusing everything are the non-political but very powerful underworld gangsters. Our two police “heroes” are theoretically neutral as they stand up for law and order.

It’s the flapper era. Depravity is commonplace. The rich are disgusting; the poor are miserable. Nobody respects the government. Democracy is strange and alien to the Germans, and they can never forget that it was forced on them by the victors of WWI.

The Weimar government was never accepted by the German people. Their loyalties are divided among the anti-government organizations. As long as the economy is working, though, things go along. The third season ends with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

I understand that shooting will begin soon on Season Four.

–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

Are you sure we’ll have an election in November, 2020?

Most American activists, including me, are working on the elections. We have no experience in any political environment that does not include regular, orderly, elections. We have always lived under a partial democracy. Many Americans believe they live in a democracy that is much more complete than it actually is. In general, we believe in democracy, we think we have it, and we expect it to continue.

People in other countries could tell us a thing or two. Historians could tell us a thing or two. Democracy is not a permanent form of government. In other countries, democracy isn’t taken for granted. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes it is weaker, and sometimes it is gone!

Democracy Is Diminished

Democracy in the United States is diminishing, and has been diminishing for several decades. The Trump administration has accelerated the rate of diminishing democracy. Just look at some news articles from this week:

John Bachtel wrote a very good summary of the ways that the Trump Administration has recently increased its stranglehold on what remains of our legal system. See “Surging Authoritarianism…” The short version is that Trump has consolidated his hold over the entire Republican Party and the legal system. As I write this, he is busy purging everybody in government who might disagree with him about anything.

The slogan that was so important to millions of American activists, “No one is above the law,” would draw cynical laughter today.

The other recent article of great importance came from the Associated Press on March 3: “U.S. Plans Shift in Focus of Military.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper says specifically that the United States is planning for a war with China! A clipping is on my Facebook Page.

How Democracy Gets Cancelled

Despots never tell us that they intend to destroy democracy. Instead, they tell us that they have to “temporarily” suspend elections or some other aspect of democracy because of a crisis. The crisis, likely as not, is one that they created.

Mr Trump might use war with China. He might use the Covid-19 worldwide health crisis. Somebody might blow up an American building in the scenario that worked so well for George Bush. It wouldn’t be hard for Trump to find or create his “crisis” since he already controls so much of government and public life.

How Democracy Gets Saved

America’s partial democracy came from the British. The Revolutionary War and, more importantly, the Civil War, improved it. Hundreds of actions for civil rights and women’s rights improved it even more. When I was a young man, it was reasonable to expect that democracy in America would continue to improve far into the future. Then came Reagan, union busting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and repeal of democratic rights we had thought were unassailable.

Democracy was won in wars, in strikes, in demonstrations, and in all forms of political action carried out by progressive people. Democracy will be defended in America the same way, but it’s going to take some serious informing and organizing to win.

What Can You Do?

At the individual level, there’s not a lot you can do beyond complaining. But if you join progressive organizations: unions, civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, and progressive political organizations, then together, we have a chance. But it will not be easy.

-Gene Lantz

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

Book Review:

Cash, Wiley, “The Last Ballad.” William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017

Two pages of the book’s afterword, 371-2, reprint everything that is actually known about American labor’s great heroine known usually as Ella May Wiggins. A little more is known about the Gastonia textile strike of 1929. This author uses what is known to weave together a fine piece of historical fiction that certainly satisfies my own high regard for Ella May.

Four of Ella May’s nine children died from pellagra and whooping cough. The one in her womb died with her when she was murdered by strikebreakers. The living children went to an orphanage. The men charged with murder were defended by the mill owners and found innocent.

Ella May’s story is not a happy one, but it is important. Whether she did or didn’t do all the things in this book, historians agree that she stood up for integrating the African American and Caucasian strikers. This was a long time before black/white unity began to pay off in victories for working families. Ella May was a pioneer as well as a martyr.

There are details of her short life, March-1900 to Sept 14-1929, on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_May_Wiggins

The author was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in the area where the strike and the murders took place. With this book, he won the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction and my heartfelt gratitude.

–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, 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.”