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It makes sense that everybody who works would want to study successes and failures of those who struggle to make things better for our side. But do we?

Author Eric Blanc talked about the recent wave of successful school employees’ strikes to a small group gathered at Alliance/AFT (school employees) union hall on April 30, 2019.

Blanc, Eric, ‘Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, 2019

The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere on-line. Blanc said that all money gained from book sales will go to “the national strike fund.” Apparently, he’s not just reporting on developments in the working class; he’s pulling for us!

The strike wave actually began a few years back with the Chicago Teachers, but the West Virginia wildcat strike of 2018 was the immediate inspiration for the successes that followed. Blanc emphasized that strikes in the American labor movement had become quite rare, and successes were threatened with extinction before a small group, Blanc mentioned that there were two or three of them, started things moving.

Another important aspect of the school employees’ strikes was the high degree of unity showed between different job groups, different ethnicities, and different communities. Blanc said that it is no coincidence that the other two industries that had large numbers on strike in 2018 were health care and hotels.

What’s the connection?

Women.

In all three industries, women dominate. “Really, these strikes were led by women,” Blanc said. It makes perfect sense. Women, especially women of color, are also winning elections right and left!

What Were the Main Issues?

Blanc said that none of the strikes were about wages. They were about changing the national dialog, created by the dark money manipulators, that schools are failing and the solution is privatization. There was never any evidence to support the idea, but it was the only thing being said prior to the strikes. Blanc said, “The reality is that privatizing is being tried and it isn’t working. All it does is hurt workers and students.”

Teachers struck against privatizing. They struck against divisive school policies such as merit pay. They struck in order to be able to teach instead of spending their entire day filling out forms. They struck over class sizes.

“You Can’t Do It Here”

Just about all I’ve heard here in Texas since the West Virginia strike is that such an activity would be impossible in Texas. Blanc pointed out that West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona are just as Republican-dominated as Texas. School strikes were just as illegal in West Virginia as they are in Texas. The way to keep from getting fired for striking, all seasoned unionists know, is to win the strike.

What’s Next?

Blanc wound up his opening remarks by pointing out that the strike wave is continuing. He said that there will be one-day walkouts in South Carolina and North Carolina. Tennessee and Oregon may have actions coming up. “That should give us hope in our opportunity to seize this moment.”

Who Is Learning These Lessons?

Only 18 of us gathered to hear Eric Blanc. I was the only one from the private sector. Virtually all of the questions thrown at Eric Blanc were about obstacles that school employees had faced and how the Texas situation might compare. I was almost last when I asked how we can get the entire labor movement to realize that the school employees won because they curried broad-based support.

Blanc responded that other kinds of workers could develop broad support for strikes and other progressive activities. “The majority of the workplaces have a relationship with the public that can be leveraged, but it’s not being leveraged right now.”

When somebody finds a winning combination, it makes sense that the rest of us would study their tactics. We might start by reading Eric Blanc’s book.

–Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review: “Peterloo,” Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2 hours 23 minutes




How strikes were ended

The new British historical epic was released in Dallas on April 19. I imagine they would like to hope it would run until August 16, the 200th anniversary of the slaughter of hopeful worker activists around Manchester. The run time will almost certainly be disappointing, because movies with a solid political message seldom last longer than one week in our town.

My movie buddy and I went to see it because we knew that the writer/director was capable of saying very good things about working families. Nearly all movies are about the affluent or the artistic. We were certainly not disappointed with “Peterloo!”

Another great thing about Leigh is his ability to develop women characters. Even though history only names the men who organized the effort and the men who did the murdering, women must have been very important in the struggle for British reforms. They show up well in “Peterloo.”

Moviegoers who have no interest in improving the condition of humanity are probably going to think that this film is a tad too long, covers too many characters, and includes too many speeches. Those of us who want to learn from history in order to make a better future, a large group that almost certainly includes Mike Leigh, think it was too short.

In 1819, a reform movement was sweeping through the miserable lives of British manufacturing workers. The heroes in this story are the weavers, men and women, in Manchester. The setting alone is fascinating, because Frederich Engels, lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx, wrote his important literary work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England,” about these very Manchester families.

Leigh did not stint on spending for this film. Every frame rings with authenticity. The one or two short scenes of the great mechanical looms in the textile mill must have cost a small fortune. Every set, every costume, every sallow-complexioned worker, convinces us that we are actually watching what happened in that great historical worker upheaval.

Know your constituency

As a lesson in strategies, Peterloo is superb! Leigh establishes exactly what the workers must have been thinking in 1819, and he goes over every painful question they had to answer as they prepared to go on strike and carry out a massive demonstration involving over 60,000 people.

Every moviegoer already knows how successful they are going to be, as history doesn’t say “Peterloo” without saying “massacre.” Discerning activists will be watching to see what might have been done differently so that the workers might have found success. We also watch to see how we can refine our efforts today.

As the lower tactical level, it would be hard to fault the weavers. They did a wonderful job of convincing tens of thousands of exploited people to come together.

Know your enemies

But at the higher strategic level, they made a tragic mistake that all of us must learn and apply to today’s thinking: they were so caught up in their efforts to organize and unify themselves that they did not give proper consideration to their enemy. Class struggle isn’t one sided. There is another class on the other side, fighting against us, and they cannot be ignored. Most important, they cannot be underestimated.

-Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review: “On the Basis of Sex,” Directed by Mimi Leder, 2 hours

My movie buddy and I enjoyed the biopic about Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s early days in the fight for gender equality, even though it was formulaic and predictable from the beginning to the powerful ending where the real Ginsberg mounted the Supreme Court steps.

The movie is very timely as it hit theaters just as Ginsberg was missing her very first sessions while battling lung cancer. The last report I saw said that she had beaten cancer once more and was back on the job. The documentary, “RBG,” about her had just closed a week or so before this dramatization was available. Another reason that the movie is so timely is that the Supreme Court has been making headlines for years as it cleared legalities out of the way for the ongoing power-grab of the plutocracy.

Only Ginsberg’s early legal efforts, and especially her first big trial before the Supreme Court, are covered. But the inference is that she went on to win more and more gains for women. We were pleased that the movie didn’t try to give all the credit to the legal system, but made the point that people change things before laws recognize it.

In discussions after the movie, we talked about the Equal Rights Amendment, which both of us fought for in the 1970s. It passed in Congress but, like any constitutional amendment, it had to be ratified in the states. We came close but we didn’t win, or rather we haven’t won yet.

The ERA would have overturned all the many statutes and case precedents justifying gender discrimination in America. Ginsberg’s approach, in the movie, was to tackle them one-by-one, and that’s what she and others have been doing. The movie implies that we’ve been winning all this time and will continue winning until gender equality is fully achieved.

But, so far, it hasn’t happened.

Why Not?

Women live longer and consequently outnumber men in America and on the planet. If they could get together, even vote together on women’s issues, they would win. But the truth is that they don’t.

Texas has had two outstanding women candidates for governor in the last two elections. Both were outstanding for their stands on women’s equality. Neither one of them won, and neither one of them got all of the women votes. I think that both of them, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and maybe even like Hillary Clinton, made some progress; but so far no victory cigar!

Frederick Engels, in the 19th century, wrote that women were the first oppressed class, mostly because their oppression coincided with the birth of written history. Both written history and women’s oppression came about because surplus wealth was beginning to be produced. Men took that wealth and developed writing to account for it. They developed women’s oppression in order to make sure that their heirs were biologically theirs.

Engels said that women’s oppression would end in future society because women would be in the workforce and fully as productive as men. I think that’s been the case so far. The laws didn’t change first. What happened first was that women established their power and their rights in the workforce.

Union Women Are Far Ahead

Most American workers aren’t organized into unions, but the ones that are practice women’s equality rather thoroughly. As our working people attain more power, women’s equality will at long last attain its final goal.

Meantime, let’s keep marching!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Roma,” Written, directed, and filmed by Alfonso Cuarón. 135 minutes

“When I was little, we had this wonderful servant…”

Nearly all movies are about rich people. The women wear low-cut gowns and the men spiffy tuxedos. Every now and then, somebody walks on stage to bring them tea or take their hat. Every now and again, the servant gets one line which is often a wisecrack. They’re only props in the movie.

“Roma” begins with a servant. As soon as I saw her, I hoped the movie was going to be about her and not about the affluent people who command her every thought and motion. For once, my hope was realized!

Her peers call her “Manita,” but the employers call her “Cleo.” She has to overcome difficulties that are just as bad, probably worse, than theirs. She depends on them completely. My favorite line in the movie was “Are you going to fire me?”

When I was young, I once sat in a booth at the Hamburger King with four high school girls. They were dissing a girlfriend whose family servant had yelled at them for some bad behavior. “I’ll never forget her name,” said one of the girls that I didn’t know very well. Then she spat the name with disgust: “Evelyn!”

The one girl I did know well, who knew me, and was looking directly at me, said, “Good thing it wasn’t Gladys, wasn’t it Gene?” My mother was a scrub woman who had worked for that family. Nobody ever made a movie about her.

But, thank goodness, somebody made a movie about Cleo and it’s getting rave reviews everywhere. The few criticisms note that the story isn’t really told from Cleo’s point of view, but from that of one of the children she served. She doesn’t get to say a lot, and she doesn’t really explain anything. She endures. From the bosses’ perspective, that’s what servants do.

We loved the movie. I’m especially grateful for it. Oddly, subscribers to Netflix can watch it at home even while it’s sweeping up awards in theaters.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program 89.3 FM every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. They podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

It’s not about religion, nor about lack of religion

The Netflix Cowboy Epic, “Godless,” is spectacularly awful. The spectacular part is the truly wonderful scenes of horses and raw nature. The costumes are excellent. The blood and gore is spectacular. There may be more dead bodies created on-screen than in any movie I’ve seen. There are at least 100 murders and maybe another 50 combat deaths, all committed with gleeful abandon. 

The awful part is the stereotyped characters. Believe it or not they actually present a whore with a heart of gold and a gunfighter of great repute who wants to hang up his pistols. There’s a straight-shooting widow woman, there’s a charming child (who, believe it or not, idolizes the gunman), a sheriff trying to overcome a reputation for cowardice, a Bible-spouting unscrupulous villain, an amoral newspaperman, a native sidekick — just about every stereotype I’ve ever seen in decades of watching Westerns. Just to make sure you know that they will stoop to everything, they sprinkle it with unrelated nudity.

After the ultimately predictable carnage near the end of the series, I began to get even more uneasy with the plot. “Please God,” I remember saying, ‘Don’t let him ride off into the sunset!”

The advertisements give the impression that there’s going to be at least a nod toward feminism. After all, it’s supposed to take place in a town without men. No such luck! It’s a male-dominated shoot-em-up, just like all the others. It’s a spectacular one, though!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcat it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Important as they are, elections are just battles within a much greater war. With the mid-terms over, we now have opportunities to organize working families.

Here in Dallas, for example, there’s an action against Trump’s proxy war in Yemen on Monday. There will be more. Christmas and New Years’ are great times for social organizing. The nationwide coalition watching the Mueller investigations may be calling more street actions any day now. The MLK birthday falls on a Tuesday next year. The event with the most potential is the Women’s March set for Saturday, January 19.

January 19, 2016, was the biggest day of protest in American history. Women set the pace, but all kinds of issues were included in the giant marches all over the nation. None of those issues has been resolved. In fact, the outlook has generally worsened; consequently, one might expect January 19, 2019, to surpass the 2016 events.

Here are two more good reasons for expecting an even bigger protest in 2019:

  1. The worldwide situation is causing unprecedented demonstrations in other parts of the world. Americans are learning from them
  2. Success inspires more success, and the number of women elected to Congress in 2018 set a new record.

Starting now, let’s add a third reason for a big turnout on January 19: you and I are already started working on it!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my tacky little personal web site

 

Book Review:

Smith, Norma, “Jeannette Rankin. America’s Conscience.” Montana Historical Society Press, Helena, 2002.

jeannette-rankin

According to the intro, Norma Smith wrote this in the 1970s. She died in 2001, before they decided to publish it. She developed the information by research and visiting Rankin several times in the 1970s. It seems suitable to read this book in late 2018, because the mid-term elections put a record 100 women into Congress! But once, there was only Jeannette Rankin.

I was impressed with the historical value of this volume. I know a little bit about some of the historical events involving Rankin, but this work brings it together and contributes valuable information.

I especially like trying to understand the transitional nature of politics during and after World War I. Up to 1916, African Americans and other progressives generally supported the Republican Party because they won the war to end slavery. The Republicans lost some of that vote because of overt racism during the T.R. Roosevelt administration. Major African American leaders such as W.E.B. Dubois switched to the Democrats during the 1916 presidential race partially because President Wilson said he had “kept us out of war.”

Jeannette Rankin ran as a Republican, but she didn’t consult them when she voted. She apparently didn’t consult anybody!

Rankin was a major mover of the suffragette movement. She was a congresswoman twice. She stood up for many social programs benefiting, especially, women and children. She was an important part of the pacifist movement and is the only person to have voted against both WWI and WWII. Each of those votes ended her political career at the time, even though she had been elected both times by anti-war voters. I guess that’s how fast public opinion can change.

I’m not sure what it means, but Rankin was a big disappointment to the feminist movement of the 1960s. I think she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment! By the time she died, women did not esteem her. Anti-war activists certainly did, though, because she lived long enough to add her voice to protests of the American adventure in Vietnam.

jeannette-rankin-peace

Earlier, Rankin was smeared in many different ways. Anaconda Copper was one of her enemies, and they controlled most of the press in Montana.  Among the slurs against her was the often charge of communist. According to this book, she could not have possibly been a disciplined or consistent communist, because she voted, during her second term, to extend the Dies witch-hunt Committee. It changed its name to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

There were some intersections between Rankin’s life and that of my personal hero, Frank Little. She was born in Missoula, and apparently lived there when the IWW carried out its first big free speech fight. She came to Butte within weeks after Frank Little’s lynching. She apparently did not publicly approve of Little, but she decried the manner of his death.

I knew that the suffragette movement was fractious and I knew that FDR had to overcome a lot of resistance as he maneuvered the United States into World War II, but I’d never seen the detail that I find in this book.

There are a lot of other interesting historical people in this book. Texans may be interested in Rankin’s long friendship with Maury Maverick of San Antonio. Maverick wrote her that she had done the right thing in voting against WWI, but he wrote that he had changed his position because WWII was different. He wanted her to vote for war, as almost everybody did after Pearl Harbor. She stuck to her guns and voted against it anyway. It’s interesting to speculate about her motives and what might have happened.

One of the things I didn’t know is that FDR had already moved to wreck the Japanese economy months before Pearl Harbor. According to this book, FDR left them little choice but to attack. Rankin generally did not support FDR.

As far as I can figure out, Rankin’s politics were inconsistent, as middle-class politics generally are. She was remembered as an eccentric in her personal life and in politics. But I don’t think anybody ever accused her of following somebody else.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program 89.3FM in Dallas and on-line at 9 AM every Saturday Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site