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Sad to say, a rift is under way in the progressive movement.

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The AFL-CIO, main federation of the American labor movement, favors Trump’s tariffs. Our allies in the Democratic party, desperate to win in November, are pretty much united in the belief that Trump can do no right.

On July 12, the AFL-CIO conducted a webinar led by Celeste Drake, their trade specialist. Even though there were a lot of “we don’t mean this” and “we don’t mean that,” the essence of the discussion was that labor thinks tariffs on steel and aluminum are good policy and should have been done decades ago.

Why?

I’ve tried to make this clear several times: labor unions represent our members. It’s the best and the worst thing you can say about us. We do not represent other people’s members, and we do not represent humankind, we do not represent abstract ideals. We represent our members, and our members want job security. Some of them, most notably the Steelworkers, think they can get it, or get more of it, with Trump’s tariffs.

Unions lamented the fact that many unionists in the “rust belt” voted for Trump. This is why.

So, the AFL-CIO position is sure to alienate some of our Democrat friends. It’s going to alienate some unionists, too. For example, the autoworkers probably don’t like tariffs on steel because it means that autos produced in America will cost more and be at a disadvantage in world markets. Aerospace workers won’t like tariffs on aluminum for the same reason.

But, here’s the irony of it, if Trump carries out his threat to put tariffs on foreign-made automobiles, the auto workers will probably be doing handsprings. If he put tariffs on foreign-made aircraft, the aircraft workers would be glad. That’s the way it works.

But Will It Work?

I think the AFL-CIO has taken a wrong turn. I think it’s possible, maybe even likely, that they will reconsider before very long. My opinion doesn’t come because I love Democrats, or even because I hate to see controversy and divisions within the working class. The fact is that the government of the United States does not function on behalf of working people.

We’ve seen that in all of the so-called “free trade” and “globalization” deals over the past few decades. Those deals, as the AFL-CIO is first to say, were for the big transnational corporations and at the expense of working people and the environment. We fought them at every turn. We said we weren’t isolationists, we weren’t for protectionism, we didn’t want to alienate other countries, but we knew we had to fight the transnationals. That made sense.

So why would anybody think that Donald Trump’s stance on “America first” is going to benefit American workers? I guarantee that, whatever comes of Trump’s international policies, including his trade policies, it will not benefit American workers.

What drives the big corporations today is international competition. American corporations try to out-sell, for example, Chinese producers. The main way they compete is to drive down their production costs. That’s us. Workers. We are their main production costs. That didn’t change when Trump got elected.

What’s the Answer?

Ultimately, American workers need international solidarity. Within our unions, we often say that we aren’t trying to bring everybody down to a common level, but we are trying to bring everybody up to the highest level. Why shouldn’t we apply that to foreign workers as well?

We need to work with foreign workers against our common enemy — transnational corporations and their stooges in government. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only way to win.

The old Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO), before it capitulated to the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was more internationalist. They formed an international organization for trade unionists — the World Federation of Trade Unionists — at the end of World War II. In my reading of history, it sounds like they were seriously trying to bring all workers together and fight the corporations that are our common enemy.

The right-turn of 1947 changed all that. Anticommunism became the new union religion, and anti-internationalism is part of anticommunism. The CIO joined the AFL in 1955 and both of them joined the CIA.  The great progressive turn of 1995 started putting the American labor movement back on a good solid progressive course. Since 1995, the AFL-CIO has hardly made a single decision that didn’t inspire me to join their cheering squad.

Until this one. I hope it doesn’t last long.

-Gene Lantz

I’m still on radio KNON at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. Two weeks’ worth of podcasts can be found under the “events” tab. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

On January 19, the Republican Party of Dallas filed a lawsuit to have 128 Democrats removed from the county ballot! Taken by itself, it’s almost a joke, because what they are calling legal grounds is laughable. Fascist_OK

What makes the Democrats uneasy is the way the Trump Administration and Congressional approvals are filling the entire judicial system with reactionaries.

We’ve already seen many terrible court decisions since the Supreme Court first put George Bush II into office. Citizens United encourages corporations to take over our election processes. Another decision gutted the Voting Rights Act. Many smaller decisions have occurred or are in process today. Even if the Trump term of office were very short, as most of us hope, it will take decades to get over his effect on the judiciary!

People think that the Republicans hate democracy because of their judges, redistricting and voter suppression laws.

Actually, that’s not true

Here’s what’s really going on: the capitalists are robbing the working class. It’s “business as usual” for them because they have to beat their competitors through lower costs and we, the workers, are their costs! Our health care, food stamps, and retirement benefits are also part of their costs because they have to pay taxes.

If you’re going to rob somebody, you’d better make sure they aren’t armed. Right now, Americans are armed with a certain amount of limited democracy. We can still “vote the bastards out.” We can still organize and protest. We still have unions and some legal rights.

They intend to go on robbing us because they have to. They intend to go on disarming us so they can rob us. Eventually, they will want to drop all pretense of democracy and implement fascism. That’s how this system works, or doesn’t work, and everybody needs to understand it so we can start working together to create a better system.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on http://knon.org/workers-beat/ at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are interested in what I actually think, check out http://lilleskole.us

 

 

Most Americans may not use the term “class warfare,” but they know that they are under attack from somebody. As I write this, we’re hoping that 34 million Americans won’t lose their health care this very week!

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When we describe these attacks against us, we usually use the metaphors of open battle, but I think we would understand a lot more if we thought of ourselves as under military siege. Wikipedia explains siege, the military tactic, pretty well.

They say, “Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static defensive position.” That one party would be us. From the other side’s offensive point of view, Wikipedia says, “The most common practice of siege warfare was to lay siege and just wait for the surrender of the enemies inside or, quite commonly, to coerce someone inside to betray the fortification.”

I think we could understand a lot about our progressive organizations, including our unions, if we think of ourselves as being under siege by enemy forces. The enemy of working people is, of course, our bosses, so that part is easy to understand. But what is it like to be on our side while we are under siege?

Our Bureaucracy Gets Tough

We  will have to ration everything, and that will require a strong bureaucracy. On our side, within the castle walls, we have to guard against spies, provocateurs, and defectors. We have to watch not only the enemy outside but every one of our friends and allies inside. We may have to deal with some of them, severely!

Our untrusting bureaucracy will grow ever tighter. We will “circle the wagons,” not just against the attackers, but against everyone inside our castle walls who might betray us. The enemy outside the walls, where people are free to come and go, will doubtless criticize us as undemocratic. They will compare our leaders to “union bosses,” or to Stalin, or even to Hitler!

If they are able to make our situation within the walls more and more desperate, we will be less and less a democracy. Eventually, if the enemy can keep the siege going long enough, the people we are trying to protect will be sick of our own leaders and might even assist in an overthrow.

Does this sound like, for example, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Iran, or Venezuela today? Does any of this sound familiar in our own organizations, in our own unions?

What’s the Answer for the Besieged?

Ideally, we should break the siege. That is what the AFL-CIO has been trying to do since 1995. From 1947 (Taft Hartley Law) to 1995, they acted more and more like an isolated and untrusting bureaucracy within walls under siege. Since 1995, the labor federation has been reaching out for allies every where they can find them. The better unions no longer view their own members with suspicion, but look for new channels of communications and internal democracy. I agree with this course, but it isn’t going to be easy. Our enemies are very good at besieging, and we went the wrong way for a considerable length of time.

Not every siege works. The people of Leningrad overcame the German siege of over 900 days, just mostly by enduring. We, too, have to endure.

Gene Lantz

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

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The old joke has the farmer giving  confusing directions and then concluding, “No, I guess you can’t get there from here!”

I just read, on Peoples’ World, a pretty good explanation of anthropology, from primitive communism through slavery and barbarism to capitalism. Then there’s a nice projection about a much better stage of economic production called socialism.

Millions of Americans, and probably billions of people in the world, have had about all the capitalism they can stand and are ready for socialism. The Bernie campaign showed that clearly here at home. So folks are ready to move on to a better place, but the problem is trying to get the directions straight.

As I said in my last post, some people got discouraged and have already concluded, “You can’t get there from here.” I’m not one of those, but I do recognize that there are a lot of differences in opinion in just how socialism could be achieved.

Socialism from an Invading Army?

I received a note just yesterday from someone who said socialism won’t happen in the U.S. but will come in from elsewhere in the world. He didn’t say exactly how that was going to happen, but it’s possible that he thinks socialism will be established elsewhere and then they will send an invading army to bring it to America. When capitalists have their nervous fingers on nuclear weaponry, I kind of hope that’s not likely.

I think, at one time, a few people might have hoped that the Soviet Union would defeat the U.S. in war. I don’t think the Soviets ever thought that. I know I didn’t. I’m sure glad they didn’t try!

It’s not very hopeful, either, that Americans will come to admire some socialist society so much that they will want to emulate it. The best example I can think of is Cuba. Like any revolutionary society, they find themselves suffering mightily from the economic machinations of the capitalists who control the world’s economies. People might want socialism, but they darned sure don’t want to be poor if they don’t have to!

Socialism from elections?

I think a lot more Americans are hoping socialism will come about in an election.

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Socialist Eugene Victor Debs received a million votes while in prison for opposing WWI. Communists and socialists received fairly decent vote totals in the 1930s. They won some races in New York. Socialist groupings still run candidates, and one of them actually won a minor race a couple years ago in, was it Washington state?

Candidate Bernie Sanders wasn’t afraid of the word “socialism” in his campaign, and his millions of followers aren’t afraid of it either. I think they, some of them, believe they are going to reform the Democratic Party to the extent that it will actually break with capitalism and lead us to a better world. Wouldn’t that be nice? Whether they win that battle or not, everybody wins when we achieve more democracy.

I don’t think they are going to reform the Democratic Party, but bless them for trying. I do think that their efforts might someday result in a workers party, and that would be a tremendous step forward for the American people. It wouldn’t be socialism, but our electoral choices would be a lot better than they are now.

Socialism from Guerrilla Warfare?

In my day, a lot of young people were so taken with Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution that they thought we should pick up rifles and head for the mountains here in the U.S.. You really have to admire the brave  Fidelistas. I admire a lot of people in history, but I don’t think that copying them amounts to much of a plan. As far as I know, all the Americans in the mountains with guns right now aren’t on our side.

At one point the Black Panthers had guns, but they weren’t trying to overthrow anything with them. They were trying to provide decent protection for African American communities suffering from certain policemen and other criminals. Even that was mostly unsuccessful.

Socialism Through Unionism?

The Industrial Workers of the World thought they were going to achieve socialism by on-the-job organizing. Once all workers, or a sufficient number of workers, were organized, they could just sit down until capital capitulated. I admire that. I’m 100% for more unions and stronger unions. Actually, it seems kind of reasonable, but the IWW’s thinking has the same flaw as the other simple theories I’ve already mentioned. What flaw?

We Aren’t In This Game by Ourselves

There are people on the other side. Enemies. Smart people. Powerful people. Secret people, so secret that we hardly ever hear about them except every now and then when somebody writes a great book like Dark Money. We might call them “the 1%,” or “capital,” but the simplest designation is “the bosses.”

If they didn’t exist, or if they were stupid, or if they were impotent, any old strategy to achieve socialism would work just fine. But they’re not.

If we want to achieve lasting progress, we have to get really serious.

–Gene Lantz

Click here if you’re interested in more

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The most terrific thing about the retiree movement in America is that anybody can join it. As everybody hopes to retire someday, everybody should!

In 2003, the AFL-CIO took over the union retirees movement and opened membership to everybody. The Alliance for Retired Americans asks $10/year. They provide a weekly newsletter, topical updates as things happen, educational opportunities, political investigation and advice, and the best possible lobby in Washington, DC.

In addition, they are adding state affiliates everywhere. Texas was chartered in 2006. I am current president. The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans is one of the most active progressive organizations in the state. We have 4 chapters in 4 important cities, and we’re working on 3 more. Our next state informational meeting will be just after the Labor Caucus at the Democratic Party Convention, June 17, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Everybody, of course, is invited!

WHAT RETIREES DO

We petition, we lobby, we visit politicians in their offices, we educate, we endorse candidates, we speak out! If you go to a progressive rally or picket line nowadays, count the gray and bald heads! Lots of them are there because our organization energized them.

A strong and independent retiree movement in America is developing just in time, because our wealthy enemies are working overtime to cut benefits, raise the retirement age, end pensions, outsource benefits, raise drug prices, and everything else possible to enrich themselves and make American retirement all but impossible.

They do that because they think we are vulnerable. In truth, we used to be. But not anymore! –Gene Lantz