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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

tpp-TARA

Unions are doing so many things right nowadays that one hesitates to make any suggestions. I enjoyed a recent posting by the International President of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal) union. He outlines some of the positive changes they have made.

I’d go so far as to say that the main labor federation, AFL-CIO, has made great strides since the “palace coup” changed the leadership in 1995. I love working with them.

Unions are inherently revolutionary, even though they do everything in their power to not be. They can’t help but oppose capitalism, even though they are solely defensive organizations, because capitalists can’t stop attacking them. Unions will never take power anywhere, but they can’t help trying.

But Unions Face Tremendous Problems

In my opinion, America’s unions could go a long way toward solving their problems if they’d just start with an historical analysis. As long as they continue to ignore the great mistakes they made between 1947 and 1995, they’ll find it harder to go forward. That’s one important thing.

Another one is that unions need to free themselves from being chained to the worst part of their members. Any union official can tell you that they spend most of their time handling petty grievances. The best union members rarely file a grievance, because they are not only the best union members but also the best workers. The worst workers, the ones who can’t show up half the time, the ones who are drunk on the job, the ones who abuse one another — those are the ones that file most of the grievances and , consequently, take up most of the union officers’ time.

In fact the biggest time consumer of all is the termination grievance. Somebody gets fired and the union feels obligated to try to get their job back. Management is not likely to take them back before all options are exhausted — and there are a lot of options in labor/management relations. The best union members, the best workers, rarely get fired.

That’s just the way the job works and nobody is actually complaining. If you don’t take care of the worst workers, you can’t take care of all the workers. If management can get away with abusing some workers, they’ll try to abuse all. So it’s not a waste of time, just a big consumer of time, to deal with grievances.

Union officers would like to spend time organizing, educating, and strengthening the union movement — but they usually don’t because they don’t have time.

There Are Tremendous Solutions

I believe that progressive union leaders are finding and applying solutions to these problems. I heard once that the Service Employees have some kind of centralized national grievance-handling process where grievances are called in by phone. I have no idea if this is true, nor do I know how it works.

But I imagine a big round table with grievance experts sitting at computers all around. Each of them has a headset. Each computer has access to labor law and, more importantly, every pertinent union contract. Members from all over the country call in their grievances. The expert types up a proper report and offers immediate advice. Then they contact management and begin to “handle” the grievance. They use three-way calling when appropriate.

When contracts expire, a complete digital record of the old contract and all grievance settlements is available to the negotiators. One of the experts from the round table I described might even sit in on negotiations to make sure everything is done properly and legally.

 What Is Needed?

Unions need cooperation. The utopian grievance handling proposal I outlined above could be used by the AFL-CIO to handle ALL grievances, not just those of a single union. Or maybe we could have one “grievance center” for public workerfs and one for private workrers. Maybe another one for private workers under the Railway Labor Law, as opposed to the National Labor Relations Law.

Unions are cooperating now more than anytime since 1947. They are not only cooperating with one another, they are even merging with one another. That’s good, but it could go a whole lot further. They could, for example, centralize their organizing departments, their education departments, and maybe some other departments.

Unions need organizers. The best organizers nowadays work with entire communities. The union man standing in front of a plant handing out leaflets, they say, has already lost. People get organized from their homes and communities. I’d go further to say that the best union members are going to be organized through a series of meaningful activities like the “Fight for Fifteen” effort to raise the minimum wage.

The internet, and, especially, social media need to be harnessed in labor’s campaign. We can organize that way and we can educate that way. Unions need educators.

Unions need activists. Every time a union man or woman assists in a community problem, they advertise the importance of joining the union.

None of these ideas is exactly new, except insofar as new technology is applied. My own union, the Autoworkers, wasn’t organized in the plants. It was organized during the frequent periods of plant shut downs in the auto industry. It was organized by the great Unemployed Councils, by marches, rallies, and protests.

And that seems like a good place to stop because it brings me back to my original point: unions need to assess our own history and learn from it!

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Like a lot of unionists, like all materialists, I’m not really so crazy about the Democrats nor the Republicans. So why not vote Green Party?

exxon-me-nytimes

After all, they’re a progressive party on environmental issues and environmental issues really matter. Since I don’t know much of anything about their candidates, I don’t know anything bad — and the 2016 campaign is smearing both of the major party candidates terribly.

It’s not because, not exactly because, the Green Party took enough votes away from Al Gore in Florida to make George Bush president. It’s not exactly because Texas Greens took half a million dollars under the table from the  Republicans in 2010. By the way, I ran across a good old friend the other day who didn’t even believe it, or maybe he couldn’t remember back that far, so I had to look up a bunch of references for him. I’ll put them down below.

So What’s My Problem?

More than anything else, my whole purpose in doing this blog is to get people to think through their strategy for progressive change. What’s your theory?

My theory is that the entire progressive battle can be boiled down to employers against employees. The employers are what’s holding us back, and the employees are what’s impelling us forward. It’s a matter of choosing sides and sticking with it.

Voting for the Green Party in 2016 is not going to help the employee side. If it means anything at all in this awful two-party system we’re straddled with, it means some help for the wrong side.

People are confused because they don’t know the difference between the American two-party (ugh) system and the parliamentary systems of Europe and other countries. In those other countries. one votes for the party that one loves, and that party gets offices roughly in proportion to the votes they get. In the American system, that isn’t what happens. One of the two parties takes power; the other loses out. Everybody that votes their heart (or their stomach or their endocrine glands) instead of their brain has, at best, wasted their time and everybody else’s. Actually, it’s worse than that.

You’re a leader, even when you don’t want to be. Please realize that whatever you decide is going to affect others. We’re all listening to one another. People are listening to you.So — think!

 

  1. We’re in a two party system
  2. One, just one, of those two parties is going to take the critical offices
  3. Other people are watching what you do and are influenced by it
  4. Therefore, the right vote is the vote that will advance your theory of progressive change

As I’ve said before in this blog, it isn’t the candidates and it isn’t the parties that matter. It’s the progressive movement. It’s the workers.

–Gene Lantz

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Some old articles about how the Republicans financed the Greens in Texas

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/state-politics/20100610-Texas-Democrats-take-Green-Party-to-8824.ece

Texas Democrats take Green Party to court over ballot funding

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/state-politics/20100625-Judge-blocks-Green-Party-candidates-from-4442.ece

Judge blocks Green Party candidates from Texas ballot

  • By WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News

Published: 25 June 2010 06:33 AM

Updated: 26 November 2010 02:41 PM

A state judge blocked Green Party candidates from Texas’ general election ballot Thursday, ruling that illegal corporate money was used in a Republican attempt to put them there to benefit Gov. Rick Perry.

District Judge John Dietz said he expected his injunction would be stayed by a higher court.

He issued the injunction after a day of testimony in Austin that implicated a former top Perry aide in efforts to field Green Party candidates in November.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Party_of_Texas

The Green Party’s efforts to get its candidates on the ballot for the 2010 elections was challenged when it was revealed that the Green Party’s petition drive had been funded by corporate interests linked to Republican operatives.[1] Republican operatives linked to the reelection campaign of Governor Rick Perry helped to fund the signature drive for ballot access.[2][3] A court challenge resulted in the Green Party candidates being allowed to remain on the ballot, and the near 92,000 signatures gathered in support of the Green Party from registered Texas voters were validated.[4][5]

GOP ties bind Green Party candidates in Texas case

GARY SCHARRER , AUSTIN BUREAU

Published 5:30 am, Tuesday, June 29, 2010

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/GOP-ties-bind-Green-Party-candidates-in-Texas-case-1702618.php 

AUSTIN — Even if allegations about an illegal petition drive are true, knocking Green Party candidates off the November general election ballot before they can be proven imposes “a death penalty,” lawyers for the party argued Monday in a written appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The party has until Friday to certify its candidates for the fall election, but a judge last Friday ordered it not to proceed because of an “unauthorized illegal contribution” by a corporation with Republican links.

“This case matters because voters should have an alternative to entrenched career politicians. Despite the signatures of over 90,000 Texans, entrenched career politicians and their lawyers want to deny voters the right to choose in November,” said David Rogers, one of the Green Party lawyers.

A GOP front group — with help from Texas Republicans — raised $532,500 in anonymous contributions to help the Green Party get enough signatures to make the ballot. Democrats assume the liberal Green Party gubernatorial candidate, Deb Shafto, would siphon votes from Democrat Bill White and help GOP incumbent Rick Perry.

 

I’m completely optimistic in believing that fundamental change will come to world societies. Further, I believe it will happen before the present rulers destroy us and the planet. It’s because I realize that I’m not any smarter than others, and I’m not stupid. So they’re not stupid either, so we’ll get together and win some day.

Once I was sure that we will be victorious, I began to speculate as to how our victory might come about.

I think there are basically three versions:

torches-pitchforks

  1. People will gather their torches and pitchforks and force the misleaders out
  2. We’ll elect better and better candidates until we actually have a set of good ones
  3. We’ll carry out a worldwide general strike

Torches and Pitchforks

Probably the idea of some kind of violent overthrow of the existing powers is the oldest scenario. It sounds the easiest and the fastest. It’s also the most dangerous, because it’s easy to start thinking that the rest of the world’s villagers only need some kind of a “spark,” — one heroic act of an individual or small group — and then they’ll grab their weapons.

So they try one ultraleftist act of terrorism after another, hoping to get the right “spark.” But it never happens and they just get a lot of people killed or jailed.

Electing Our Way to Power

When President Obama was elected, some people thought we had done all we had to do. He would take care of the rest. Other people thought electing Obama was good and that he could take us part way, then we’d elect somebody even better the next time. In the course of a few elections, we would end up with Judges, Legislators, and Administrators who would save us.

I imagine they felt the same way in 1931 when they elected Franklin Roosevelt. Maybe also in 1859 when Abraham Lincoln took the White House. George Washington?

I think it’s the most popular idea because one doesn’t really have to do much besides vote and a little bit, maybe, of phone banking or neighborhood canvassing. No risk in any of that, and it’s not too hard. If it doesn’t work, then they’ve still earned the right to gripe about everything until the next election.

Stopping the Economy Until We Get What We Want

The idea of a worldwide general strike isn’t as un-historical as it might sound. Workers actually tried it, with considerable success, in 1886. Railroad workers practically shut the nation down in 1877. They might have won their strike if the soldiers hadn’t started killing them. There have been successful city-wide general strikes in several cities, including Seattle and even Houston!

The Industrial Workers of the World was once a big organization that terrified the bosses. Their idea was to organize all workers at their worksites — in every industry — and then shut down the economy. Hundreds of them were deported, arrested, or killed in the bosses’ backlash.

I don’t want to pretend to know more than they did, but they might have done better if they had gone in for organizing communities, civil rights organizations, church groups, and other kinds of affinity groups instead of just workers at worksites. They might also have done better if they hadn’t been so hell-bent on not participating in politics and not forming alliances with other progressives.

The downside of this “stop the economy” idea is that a substantial number of workers and working families would have to be organized. There would have to be unions in critical work places, plus community groups and a lot of other kinds of organizations. And they’d have to work toward co-ordination with the others. It would take political work as well as organizing. That’s a tremendous amount of hard work.

The upside to all that hard work is that leadership would develop. Leadership would also be tested along the way, and we’d end up with the kind of leaders who could actually run a new, better society. Neither of the other two scenarios has that advantage.

What’s the Catch?

There are players on the other side.

It’s easy to think that everybody wants social progress just because we do and almost everybody we know does. But we don’t hang around with the Koch brothers, do we? We don’t hold memberships in the National Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers or the National Right to Work Committee. We’re not listed in the Forbes 500, but other people are, and they don’t want change just as much as we do want it.

If we were to grab our pitchforks, they’d grab their bombs and drones.

If we were to elect good candidates, they’d pour billions into electing bad ones.

The wealthy people clinging to the status quo know what they’re doing. Do we?

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For a while there, activists thought some of the countries in South America had gone socialist. People pointed to the peoples’ electoral victories and had the highest admiration for progressive elected leaders like Hugo, Evo, and Lula. Some thought they had it made.

struggle

The progressives are under fire today. Hugo died, one of Evo’s ministers was recently murdered by striking miners, and Dilma Rousseff is on trial in Brazil.(Click here for a very good article). Is it Salvador Allende all over again?

I’m not going to say that anybody in any of those South American progressive movements did anything wrong. They’re there and I’m here. They know a lot of stuff that I don’t. The point is that nothing comes easy.

Everything that working people can win can be lost again as long as the bosses remain in power.

Just one more thing. Don’t think that what happens in Brazil, or anywhere, isn’t part of your own struggle. They will never win without you, and you will never win without them.

–Gene Lantz

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Humorists are having a good time with the 2016 elections because never in our history have we had two candidates with such negative approval ratings.

voteclass

Remember that terrific episode of “Rosanne” when Dan’s bowling team came in next to last and celebrated by chanting “We’re not the worst! We’re not the worst!”?

Some of my friends tell me that they’ll launch some kind of a protest vote, possibly for one of the growing “other” parties. They think about Trump, they think about Clinton, then they stop thinking.

How does positive change come about?

If you want positive change, then you owe it to yourself to think through how that positive change could come about.  If you believe, as I do, that the basic conflict in the world today is between employees and bosses, then strengthening the employees’ side is the road to progress. So how the election is going to affect working people is the key to understanding the election and making the most use of it. The perfections and imperfections in the candidates aren’t what matters. What matters is what’s going to happen.

There are lots of other theories

I’ve known people, actually quite a few, who believe that bad is good. If something really terrible happens in the 2016 elections, then people will “wake up” and stop being so lackadaisical about progressive change. So they’ll pick the worst candidate. They loved it when Reagan was elected. I once heard a speaker call this the “vulture theory” of politics. We’ll wait around until all hope is lost, then we’ll pick up the carrion pieces. It’s not a good theory and there are absolutely no historical precedents to justify it.

I’ve known people who say that elections don’t matter because the capitalists are just going to do whatever they want anyway. So the upcoming Supreme Court appointments, the unfair trade deals, austerity proposals, and immigration reform won’t matter at all to the oppressed people. It’s not a good theory and it’s sad.

There are people who don’t believe in trying to win a majority. They actually believe that some small, dedicated group is going to make positive historical change. It’s utter nonsense and tends to lead them, in their constant frustration, toward violence as a strategy. Besides, even if they could effect change with a handful of conspirators, they couldn’t make it stick. How would they get the great unlearned people to support them?

Then there are the “revolution right now” people. They don’t need theories. They just sit around sanctimoniously and wait for everybody else to become as smart as they are. Then there will be a revolution and then we’ll be happy. Until then, they can take their joy by saying, “I told you so!”

I’m afraid to say it, but it’s possible that many voters don’t care about outcomes at all. They only care about their own feelings!

Working people make positive change

Working people have a big stake in the 2016 elections because we have a big stake in all political struggles. It makes a big difference who wins, both for working people and for prospects for change. Look at that, not the imperfections of the candidates.

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People were shocked recently when French President Francois Hollande, head of the Socialist Party, forced legislation through that would make it easier for bosses to lay people off, make them work longer hours, cut their pay and cut into some of their special leaves — such as maternity leave. Click here for BBC version. Protests were very large. I read that 70% of the people were against the new labor rules. But they passed!

lincolnlabor

How could that be?

The simple answer is that Hollande is a SINO — Socialist in Name Only. But simple name calling doesn’t really provide any answers. Undoubtedly, France is a capitalist nation with a president who calls himself a socialist and leads a party that calls itself socialist. They got elected, but they didn’t overcome the bosses and, probably, never intended to.

As long as the bosses are in power, workers will never win any permanent gains. Everything we can win, even the 35-hour week that they enjoy(ed) in France, can still be taken away.

France is a capitalist nation and subject to the same economic laws that govern all the capitalist nations. All of them function in competition with one another. When the competition gets rough, as it is worldwide right now, the employers turn like vicious cannibals against their own people in order to drive down costs. Most costs are labor costs, so capitalist governments, including ours, are in the process of competing with one another by chopping away our standards of living.

Even nations that actually have overcome the employers have to compete with other nations within a world capitalist system. Did the Soviet workers ever win a 35-hour week? I don’t think so.

It doesn’t matter much what the government calls itself as long as it is still capitalist and still operating under the capitalist rules.

–Gene Lantz

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