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Book Review: Tippett, Tom, “When Southern Labor Stirs,” Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, New York, 1931

I can’t resist any labor history book I find at Half Price Books. This one cost $45, so I assume it is hard to find today. Its message rings through the decades.

In 1929-1930, southern textile workers tried hard to organize into unions. They asked anybody who would listen for union organizers. The Communist-led National Textile Union and the American Federation of Labor-led United Textile Union responded. Bosses forced them into strikes at Elizabethton, Gastonia, Greenville, Marion, and Danville. Tom Tippett visited them all to record his history and opinion.

All of the strikes were major disasters. Tippett apportions the blame as he goes along and in a final chapter. The strikes were settled by armed strikebreakers and soldiers with bayonets, so it’s quite clear why the strikes failed. Governors sent soldiers and “law” officers helped organize the hoodlums, so the fault had nothing to do with the balance of power between the bosses and the workers – government intervention was always the decisive factor.

But our side gets some criticism, too. Tippett compliments the Communists for the depth of their commitment and the peripheral support that they offered the strikers. They brought lawyers, fund raisers, and publicists into the fray. He faults the AFL for their tepid commitment and timid approach. He excoriates both organizations soundly for not anticipating the government intervention.

One feels that the strikers in every case could have won if they only had to deal with the bosses and their local backers such as newspapers and preachers.

Tippett compliments the strikers for their commitment and their spiritual development as unified forces. He loves their songs. He tells of their bravery as they faced terrible hardships. Many of them were blacklisted, some were injured, some were imprisoned, and some were murdered.  . One of the outstanding murder victims was Ella Mae Wiggins, a pregnant mother of five who was killed by strikebreakers with shotguns.

The tales are both heartening, because of the heroic efforts, and depressing, because our side lost. In his summary, though, Tom Tippett sees a bright future ahead. He lists some things that could have been done better:

  • More attention to racial divisions among the workers
  • The entire labor movement, not isolated unions, should commit to organizing the South
  • Financial commitment must be strong because fired workers must have support
  • The AFL strategy of trying to win over the bosses should be set aside
  • The spirit of unionism must be cultivated and maintained
  • Unions must embrace advanced social programs that inspire solidarity

Tippett had great ideas, and many of them were to be adopted just 4 years later when the CIO gestated in the belly of the AFL. His faith in the future of organizing in southern textile mills did not bear fruit in his lifetime. The AFL gave up after these strikes. The CIO tried later, but eventually abandoned its effort to organize the South. The textile mills were long ago offshored to places with even more downtrodden and desperate workers.

But it takes a certain level of faith in the future to be an American union activist, so I deliver to you Tippett’s ending to these sad stories of the past: “…down underneath the southern unrest is a germ with a will to live that neither mobs nor massacres nor prisons can extinguish. It was best expressed in the words of a textile operative whose husband had been killed in front of the Marion cotton mill when she said, ‘somehow or other, we’re going to have a union.’ And they are.”

–Gene Lantz

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

Labor needs an advanced program to meet today’s extreme challenges:

  • Six-hour day!
  • No corporate bailouts!
  • Democracy first!
  • Infrastructure!
  • Organize Everybody!

Nobody is prouder than I of the improvements in the AFL-CIO since the leadership change of 1995. We have reached new peaks this year with our May 1 celebrations and our taking sides with the movement for racial justice.

But the situation is changing so quickly and so dramatically that I believe the American labor movement needs very advanced thinking if we expect to be able to say that we truly represent the needs of all working families. There is little danger, in this extreme situation, of overreaching.

Six Hour Day!

Because of the ongoing unemployment crisis, now is the time to re-implement our old demand for shorter working hours. A six-hour day would help with unemployment and, most likely, increase labor productivity just as it did when the Fair Labor Standards Act came.

During the heyday of the CIO and for a while afterward, American unions demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay!” We wanted a 30-hour work week with the same pay we were making in 40 hours. I once checked the resolutions at conventions of the UAW and found that “30 for 40” was there every convention until 1957. That same year was also the peak of U.S. labor organizing. We had 37% of the workforce organized in America!

After 1957, shorter working hours was forgotten and it’s hard to find a union leader today that even knows about it. One exception is a former officer of a local of the United Transportation Union. The UTU is a railroad union. Tom Berry actually negotiated a contract with a 6 hour work day in it, and he will still talk to you about it any Saturday evening when his free speech forum takes place in Dallas. I’m proud he’s my friend.

Somewhere in my moldy pile of old books, I have one about the struggle for shorter working hours. I think it might be named “It’s About Time.” Just as one could make a case for the age old class struggle being a fight for democracy, one could also say it was about time.

Prior to the industrial revolution, most people worked from dawn to dusk. They were outdoors, varying their tasks, and doing their own pacing, so it may not have been nearly as hard for them as it was for factory workers after the industrial revolution. From the industrial revolution forward, working families have fought their bosses over working hours.

In 1886, we had worldwide strikes to try to win an 8-hour day. The main leaders of that movement in Chicago were rounded up and hanged, so we didn’t hear a lot more about it until the Great Depression. When unemployment soared, the Roosevelt Administration pushed for the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was finally passed on June 25, 1938.

The FLSA doesn’t guarantee an 8-hour day. It just mandates overtime pay for working over 40 hours in a given workweek. Bosses don’t like to pay overtime, so 40 hours became something of a norm on many worksites.

America’s overtime problem today rivals that of 1938, so everybody should be able to understand and get behind the demand for shorter working hours now.

Jobs and Infrastructure

Now is the time to demand trillions of dollars for infrastructure repair and advancement. Truly terrible unemployment may be with us for a long time if strong progressive action is not taken. Among the many pressing infrastructure problems is the need for fast internet everywhere.

Democracy Comes First!

Our political demands must be improved in the direction of defending and strengthening democracy, because working families need it most and the wealthy employers of today are not going to provide it. Our usual demands for fair wages, benefits and the right to organize, of course, must be pursued.

No More Corporate Bailouts!

Since 2007, most of the economic action of the government has been directed toward propping up employers with little regard for working families. It needs to stop. If a corporation can only survive by getting a government bailout, it doesn’t need to survive. If workers are displaced by corporate failure, they should be employed directly by government. Their efforts should go toward meeting human needs, not profits.

Corporations have shown and are showing that they cannot be trusted “middle men” to distribute corporate welfare as wages to their suffering employees. In the last crisis and the current one, corporations hid their windfalls from the public and, as soon as they could, redistributed the money to themselves!

They are in that same process with pandemic bailout money right now!

Organize Everybody!

American labor has done is doing a valiant job, especially considering our dwindling resources. In order to bring forward a truly progressive agenda, we are going to have to redouble our efforts to win over the general American population. Our on-line arm, Working America, is perfectly suited to doing this work, especially during the pandemic.

With a progressive program and a digital approach, American labor can organize everybody!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk who every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and some of my other talks, on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

American union federations should not accept police associations as members.

Everyone knows that the American labor movement has diminished in size and influence since the mid 1950s. The pandemic, the economic crisis, and a hostile government are accelerating the erosion today. Two doors to labor’s revival are open to us:

  1. More of the kind of workplace organizing that we have always done or tried to do.
  2. Improving our connections with broader communities that can add to our negotiating and electoral clout

We have to pass through both of those doors, but one of them is endangered by our association with police unions. The broader community, the broader electorate, distrusts police unions and anybody associated with them. A leading civil rights activist in Dallas today commented on the possibility of allowing the Police Association to affiliate with the Dallas AFL-CIO. He said, “If they do, I will never have anything to do with them!” He meant what he said.

Oddly, a lot of the public argument seems to be about whether or not police unions are really unions. If a union is a group of people organized together to advance their aims and defend their members, then certainly the police associations are unions. No argument.

Using the same definition, though, a lot of other associations are also unions. They advance their aims and defend their members. The Chamber of Commerce, arguably labor’s worst enemy, meets the definition. The Business Roundtable is a union. So is the White Citizens’ Alliance. They are unions, but they are not on the side of working families — and neither are the police.

TOPSHOT – Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd’s death continue. – Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Even the editors of the Dallas Morning News, historic enemies of working families, argue that police unions are reactionaries. The combined constituency groups of the AFL-CIO issued a statement that contains this:

“We demand local schools, colleges, universities, and all public institutions cut ties with the police.”

It is entirely possible, given the desperate financial situation of many actual unions, that members might want to affiliate with the police associations just for the money. They would argue that unions would benefit from additional workplace organizing; door number 1 above.

But door number 2, our hope of harnessing labor’s power along with the broad progressive community and electorate, would be swinging closed.

American labor should not affiliate with police associations.

–Gene Lantz

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

Around the world, more people are in motion today than at any time since the early 1970s. The flash point was the police murder of Mr George Floyd in Minneapolis. There are demonstrations all over the planet, and some of them are quite militant. But do they have a plan?

Police brutality is hardly the only issue. Planet-wide, we are in an economic downturn that looks to become worse than the Great Depression. Any chance of saving Earth from environmental disaster is ticking away. The fascists among us are overwhelming our democracy. We are dying everywhere of a pandemic that is not, whatever the politicians might say, under control. All hope of international cooperation seems destroyed by President Trump. World war may be imminent. To put it succinctly, the system is breaking down.

Answers, Anyone?

I seek answers. As a talk radio host, I get to listen to a lot of heartfelt complaints. I ask them, “What should we do? What is the solution?” But they don’t know.

Social media is full of the same. Unending complaints about the world we live in; almost no positive suggestions. To be sure, the electoral enthusiasts among us continue to ask people to vote. I certainly agree with them, but I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the angry throngs of America today and say that my sole answer to their swollen anger is “vote Democrat in 2020.” They have heard that many times before, and they aren’t buying it.

The radicals among us, on both sides of the spectrum, aren’t connecting. One gentleman called our talk show and said that we need to re-institute segregation. What an awful person, but at least he had a plan! The so-called leftists call in and say that we have to “fight imperialism” or “smash the state.”  They’re probably right, but those are long-term goals, not prescriptions for the here and now.

Labor Turns Away

Just about the best of the down-to-Earth solutions being posed has just slipped away from us. The AFL-CIO national labor federation had called for a “Day of Action” June 3 to win passage of the HEROES Act in Congress. The Act would greatly ameliorate the economic crisis. It would also help with the political crisis by providing more money for electoral reform. But, alas, just today, the national leadership postponed the Day of Action.

They sent out a statement that was very good, but didn’t really explain why they postponed their actions for June 3. It may well have been a result of last night’s attack on National AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington DC. Windows were broken and a fire was set! We might assume that they believed that the June 3 Day of Action would invite more thuggery.

I absolutely loved the Tweet sent out by the President of the Central Labor Council in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: “It hurts to see damage being done to the @AFLCIO headquarters. But I believe it brings to light two facts: 1) The people did not recognize the building as the headquarters of a movement that fights for them 2) That is our fault.

In my opinion, the labor leadership made a major mistake. If labor is truly in solidarity with the anti-racists on the street, we should be on the street with them. Others are marching without condoning violence and looting, why shouldn’t we?

Another possibility is that the AFL-CIO does not want to risk being seen as anti-police because they generally welcome organized police associations into labor’s organizations. Some of us think that, too, is a mistake.

By calling off the Day of Action, our labor federation turns down the opportunity to lead the progressive movement in a positive direction. Our demand to pass the HEROES Act might not solve all of America’s problems, but it certainly goes in the right direction. Further, our demand had the distinction of being just about the only reasonable positive demand being proposed!

OUR FAILURE

Vandals vandalize, looters loot, and America’s great and powerful progressive movement continues milling around leaderless! That’s our failure.

–Gene Lantz

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

Not much of anything is wrong with American labor. Hardly anything. If you tuned in to any of the American-labor-produced MayDay events, you must have been awed by their progressive declarations of militancy and international solidarity. They said things like “We have to go beyond the National Labor Relations Act,” and “We need a new organizing model.” Great stuff! Hardly anything wrong. Just a little bit. Maybe a smattering.

Proud American unions

Okay, here’s what I think is lacking: they really do need a new organizing model and I think they know it, but they haven’t come up with one. Or, if they have, they haven’t announced it.

New Model Already Exists

For a couple of decades, the AFL-CIO has had “Working America.” https://www.workingamerica.org/. Everyone can join on-line for free with one single click. Everyone should. The AFL-CIO’s on-line organization came about just when MoveOn was showing overwhelming success. Unlike MoveOn, though, Working America wasn’t just a handful of extremely talented techies. They were the great American labor movement on-line.

Also unlike MoveOn, Working America never really did anything. While MoveOn ran major campaigns and established regional centers across the country and began having a profound effect, Working America languished. They became a for-hire nonprofit that will join a campaign for a price. Same thing ACORN was, more or less.

ACORN, as you know, imploded after an internal scandal and a vigorous persecution backed by the powers-that-be. MoveOn dropped its national organizing model to the mystification of all. The local versions of MoveOn in my area were taking up every radical cause that came along, much like the Occupy Movement, and exhausted themselves running every whichaway. They didn’t have a plan. Eventually, they fragmented away. I guess the best of them are in one or more of the Bernie Sanders groups now.

The Bernie supporters do have a plan. Their plan is to take over the Democratic Party. If anybody ever could accomplish that takeover, it’s Bernie Sanders and his many supporters. I hope they succeed, but I don’t think they will. Since the 1890’s, lots of people have tried and failed.

The labor movement is the strongest framework for building a massive political movement in America. If the labor movement employed the tactics that MoveOn pioneered, they would be unstoppable.

So that’s my criticism of the American labor movement today. They haven’t fully employed Working America. They could. It’s right there. I hope they will.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast the radio program and “Workers Beat Extra” additional interviews and comments. 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

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

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