September 6th, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
Welcome to the Labor Day 2014 issue of the Washington Socialist, the email newsletter of the DC Metro Local, Democratic Socialists of America. This issue marks our second year of monthly publication, and the 16 articles (the most in any issue so far) we publish this month brings the total to 220.
Whether we are simply long-winded or profound (and we have been both) this has been two years of keeping the socialist cause, ideals and analysis before a national capital that is ill-served by its capitalist media. We will keep it up, and want to remind the reader that she or he, DSA member or not, is welcome to submit articles, reports on local action and the like. Add to the chorus. Articles to email@example.com
Coming up in September: the local will meet September 13 in a regular membership meeting at which it will consider endorsements in local races. The meeting will be held from 1:30-2:30 pm at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Public Library, 1630 7th St. NW (Shaw/Howard Metro).
DCDSA has weighed in on the debate over common carrier status for the mega-cable broadband providers. September 10th has been declared “Internet Slowdown Day” by at least one activist group; check it out and see if it’s something you want to get in on.
Our articles begin with Kurt Stand’s account of the birth of Labor Day, an oft-told story that gets richer in this tale of the twists and turns of the US labor movement that made the day both important and distracting for the interests of working people. [read complete article]
Next, some pieces on local actions and DSA work. Jose Gutierrez reports on the Young Democratic Socialists conference in Pennsylvania [read complete article] and Bill Mosley provides a rundown on the upcoming DC elections. [read complete article] Kurt Stand details a local DSA event exploring the New York trial of DSA member Cecily McMillan for assaulting a policeman and the implications of official attacks on the Occupy Movement. [read complete article] and Dan Adkins assesses the ways to fight utilities that resist sustainable energy sources. [read complete article]
Labor issues for Labor Day: and they begin with an article on Ukraine and the consistent subtext of this and other current disputes: workers and their families under fire from authoritarian capital on all sides, despite the guise of sovereignty. [read complete article] Jose Gutierrez reviews a new book asking why the US doesn’t have a labor party. [read complete article] Dan Adkins reviews another book on the sources of creativity and how they can democratize the workplace if nurtured. [read complete article]
National issues are engaged by Andy Feeney, who reviews four differently left books on the financial crisis; [read complete article] Cecilio Morales examines Paul Ryan’s alleged reforms of the welfare system and finds them – spoiler alert – wanting; [read complete article] Dan Adkins looks at dangers to both US workers and families and their EU counterparts in the latest trade pact proposals; [read complete article] and Bill Mosley details the nation’s total failure to address transportation problems realistically and with an eye to the future. [read complete article]
The knotty problems of labor, economics and growth are on the agenda too; Andy Feeney traces the concept of economic growth as necessary to capitalism from Adam Smith to today’s steady-state theorists; [read complete article]; Lucy Duff analyzes the central role of Karl Polanyi in the development of a sustainable alternative to growth-hungry modern capitalism; [read complete article] the bellwether role of the passenger pigeon in the rapacious growth of the US economy provides a metaphor for Bill Boteler’s account of habitat and species loss. [read complete article]
And something completely different: Carolyn Byerly walks us through some tasty, lefty mystery novels by Donna Leon that have the additional advantage of taking place in Venice [read complete article]
Last but never least: Good Reads, stories on the left you may have missed; links you can use. [read complete article]
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Kurt Stand
Labor Day, like other holidays and traditions in the United States, has largely been stripped of its content over the years. Often ignored except as the last summer holiday weekend, perhaps most people no longer recall its connection to the trade union movement. Where rallies and parades are held, they are generally no more than occasions for politicians to salute those who work without speaking to the need for changes in law and public policy to restore labor rights, promote social insurance, and establish “jobs for all,” economic policies. Exceptions exist, of course, but fewer and fewer, the exhaustion of the labor movement after decades of losses making it harder to use the day as reason to celebrate, making it harder to use the day to mobilize for militant action.
Perhaps this is only natural, for Labor Day itself has an ambiguous history, having been used to divert support from the working-class radicalism and international solidarity associated with May 1st. That shift took place during the 1950s, because May Day’s association with Communists made it suspect during the McCarthy era (an association all the more disturbing to the Red-baiters because its roots – just as with March 8th International Women’s Day’s roots – lay in class struggles that took place in the United States). Our history, however, has not only erased May Day traditions from our collective memory; it has also erased the true legacy of Labor Day. For it too was initiated by socialist trade unionists and conceived as a means of militant demonstration against a rapacious capitalist class that seemed to know no bounds or limits in the push to expand and exploit. A popular 1880s poem about railroad robber baron Jay Gould (who famously claimed that he could hire half the working-class to kill the other half) gives some idea of the prevailing mood:
Jay Gould’s Modest Wants
“My wants are few; I scorn to be
A querulous refiner;
I only want America
And a mortgage deed of China;
And if kind fate threw Europe in,
And Africa and Asia,
And a few islands of the sea,
I’d ask no other treasure
Give me but these – they are enough
To suit my notion –
And I’ll give to other men
All land beneath the ocean.”
It was against this background that Peter J. McGuire – General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a leader of the Socialist Labor Party – proposed to the New York Central Labor Union in New York in 1882 that a day be set aside in early September for workers to show their strength through public rallies. Slogans issued in the marches held those first years show the issues which most concerned unionists of the time. These included “We must crush the monopolies lest they crush us,” “Strike with the Ballot,” and “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.” This last reflected the focus on the demand for the 8-hour day, a demand that, although advocated by individual unions, was a demand that could only be won through political means by becoming universal.
Labor Day reflected a transition phase in US labor; the 8-hour day demand was central to the formation of the American Federation of Labor, which was to rapidly outgrow the Knights of Labor as the principal organization of US workers. The Knights embraced the values of collective organization and brought together black and white, women and men, unskilled and skilled (but had one blind spot: Chinese workers were excluded), whereas the AFL was rooted in craft unionism and eventually came to stand for division embracing white not black, men not women, skilled not unskilled (sharing only the Knights’ prejudice against the Chinese). But this was not inevitable: The drift toward a unionism of exclusion was contested by socialists and other labor radicals, contested by the excluded themselves.
The path not taken until the rise of industrial unionism and the birth of the CIO can be seen in some of the calls for those early Labor Day parades. In 1884, the New York Central Labor Union established the first Monday of September as the date of the parade, urging Central Labor bodies in other parts of the country to similarly act. It called the celebration “a universal holiday for workingmen,” in which all who toiled for a living would be welcome, stating “No distinction of color will be made; race prejudice will be ignored, religious differences will be set aside; but all men will be on an equality provided he earns his daily bread.” The Chicago Trades and Labor Assembly that year made it clear that women were welcome too, passing a resolution stating: “That the first Monday in September of each year be set apart as a laborer’s national holiday, and that we recommend its observance by all wage workers, irrespective of sex, calling, or nationality.”
Showing another connection lost through the years, Labor Day demands and actions in 1884 and 1885 were used to build support for the subsequent call in 1886 for May 1st as a day for strikes and marches demanding the 8-hour day. The outlook of the early craft union leaders, for the most part, reflected the radicalism of the era’s labor struggles. Decentralized action by local groups seemed to them to be the basis for a more self-sustaining working-class movement – and a socialism rooted in worker’s organization — than the large mixed assemblies of the Knights or the local mixed skilled and unskilled locals built by revolutionary anarchists (a strong force in Chicago and other industrial centers at the time). If we learn from a history forgotten we should remember how militancy betrayed itself when the potential for unity was not made a priority, when decentralization was set against solidarity rather than becoming its complement.
That said, those early Labor Day marches provide a legacy we should remember and uphold, for the conditions which they then fought are with us again. A statement issued by the Minneapolis Trades and Labor Assembly in 1884 shows that connection with advice still worth heeding:
“[We call upon workers to demonstrate] to capitalists, bankers and their hirelings the power you possess when thoroughly understand how to think and legislate for yourselves. While you drudge and toil away your lives for a bare existence, these idlers and non-producers live in luxury and debauchery, squandering with a lavish hand that which belongs to you – that which your labor produces. …
“They have tried to deny us the right to organize – a right guaranteed by the constitution of this government. Therefore we call on you to show that we defy them; that you will organize; that you have organized; that the day of deliverance is approaching. To do this we ask you to join in our ranks celebrating the day.
“The Trades and Labor Assembly proclaims to be labor’s annual holiday the first Monday of September. Leave your benches, leave your shops.”
Poem is from:
Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor’s Untold Story, (1955) p. 73.
Labor Day quotes are from:
Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Volume 2, (1955) pp 96-97.
Other sources for time period:
Foster Rhea Dulles & Melvyn Dubofsky, Labor in America: A History (1993 – original edition 1949)
Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States, (1971 – original edition 1910)
Pete Rachleff’s article from Portside: http://portside.org/2014-08-25/looking-back-labor-days-turbulent-origins
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Jose Gutierrez
Several under-40 year-old Metro DSA members participated in a national retreat located in Bolivar, Pa. The event served as both the Young Democratic Socialists’ (DSA’s youth section) summer conference and activist training for DSA members under 40. One of the event’s main purposes was for YDS and younger DSA members to interact and learn from each other. Our contingent was composed of seasoned DSA & YDS conference attendees as well as those who had never registered for a national gathering.
DSA chapters represented included members from Atlanta, Detroit, DC, New York City, Philly, Providence, Sacramento, and Utah. YDS chapters included New York, Ohio, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and California. Attendance seemed equally split between YDS campus activists and DSA local members.
Many of us arrived Thursday night. We took part in several workshops and sessions Friday thru Sunday. We shared information about the state of our chapters and the situation that we faced in our corner of the country.
Caucuses met during lunch and included: writers, LGBTQ, women, people of color, ableism/disability, and education. The identity based caucuses want to develop members in their identity areas because they want YDS and DSA to have a more diverse membership and leadership.
The weekend was also the YDS annual internal, and the primarily campus organization voted on two key agenda items: to shrink the coordinating committee (their volunteer leadership body) and their Activist Agenda (the national priorities). Members decided to shrink the coordinating committee from twelve to six seats, with 50% quotas from women and people of color. The student activists also voted to maintain work fighting student debt as their main focus in the coming year.
I was impressed by the diversity of the participants that took part: ethnic, class, gender, and sexual orientation. This diversity was better than previous DSA conferences that I’ve attended. Also learning from comrades on what has worked for them and what does not was very useful. I hope that all of the participants will be able to continue the conversation that we started in Bolivar, Pa. and I look forward to the next time we get together.
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Bill Mosley
Readers of the Washington Post and other mainstream local publications can be forgiven for thinking that the only contest of interest in this fall’s District of Columbia election is the contest for mayor. And indeed, that race has become more than the usual quadrennial coronation of the Democratic mayoral nominee, with two prominent independent candidates challenging Democrat Muriel Bowser.
But of at least equal interest is the race for the at-large DC Council seat being vacated by David Catania, who has chosen to run for mayor rather than for re-election to his seat. The prospect of capturing an open seat has sparked a gold rush for the office, with 15 candidates qualifying for the ballot.
With serious contests for both mayor and councilmember-at-large, the 2014 election should generate greater-than-usual interest among DC voters, as well as progressive activists and organizations seeing an opportunity to elect candidates sympathetic to their causes. Metro-DC DSA is one of these organizations, keeping an eye on candidates in preparation for its September 13 membership meeting at which it will consider endorsements in local races. The meeting will be held from 1:30-2:30 pm at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Public Library, 1630 7th St. NW (Shaw/Howard Metro).
At its February endorsement meeting, held in advance of the April DC primary election, Metro DC-DSA made endorsements in three DC Democratic Primary races, voting to back Andy Shallal, owner of the Busboys and Poets chain of restaurant/bookstores, for mayor, as well as two incumbents: Eleanor Holmes Norton for delegate to Congress and Phil Mendelson for chair of the DC Council. Norton and Mendelson won their primaries and are expected to cruise to victory in November, while Shallal finished fifth in a field of eight.
Also to be chosen by voters in the November 4 election are councilmembers from DC Wards 1,3, 5 and 6; a statehood (or “shadow”) senator and representative; a DC attorney general; members of the Board of Education from each of the eight DC wards; and approximately 200 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, as well as a ballot initiative on legalization of marijuana. This article will briefly discuss the more high-profile races.
In addition to Bowser and Catania, the other well-known candidate in the race to succeed outgoing Mayor Vince Gray is Carol Schwartz, a former Republican councilmember and four-time unsuccessful Republican candidate for mayor, running this time as an independent. Trailing the big three is a crowded field of independents and minor-party candidates – including Faith, the Statehood Green Party nominee and perennial candidate. Also on the ballot are Libertarian Bruce Majors and independent Nestor Djonkam. No Republican ran in the party’s primary.
It’s safe to say there is no true “progressive” among the top three candidates. Bowser was a protégé of former Mayor Adrian Fenty and a supporter of his takeover of public schools. She has been a cautious centrist who, among other actions on the Council, opposed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) which would have required Walmart and other big-box stores to pay a higher-than-minimum wage. Perhaps more than any other recent measure before the Council, the LRAA exposed which candidates were willing to go to bat for DC’s low-wage workers and which supported the corporate agenda. Bowser was the principal author of recent ethics legislation – coming in the wake of criminal convictions of three councilmembers and a federal investigation of Gray for campaign finance violations. But her ethical image has been tarnished by charges that she helped a political supporter, the head of a nonprofit apartment complex, avoid public scrutiny of the company’s failing finances and the dilapidated condition of its building. In her general election campaign thus far, Bowser has emphasized her Democratic Party affiliation and mostly avoided both the issues and engagement with other candidates. Bowser has been endorsed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO.
Catania, the Council’s first openly gay member, is liberal on social issues but business-friendly on economic issues. He has promoted himself as an expert on education, with a record of supporting charter schools, and opposed the LRAA. He initially opposed sick-leave legislation (Bowser and Schwartz consistently supported it) before later changing course and backing it. He is a self-styled “maverick” whose would bring a prickliness and combativeness to the mayoral suite that would pose a stark contrast to Gray’s self-styled collegiality.
Schwartz, who has been out of office since losing her re-election primary in 2008, compiled a fairly liberal record of the three on the Council, despite her Republican affiliation. She was strong on tenants’ issues and was an early champion of requiring employers to provide sick leave for their workers — putting her at odds with Catania, who helped engineer her 2008 primary defeat.
When Catania entered the race, he was looking forward to a head-to-head contest with a compromised Mayor Gray, who would have to fight ethics charges with one hand and electoral opposition with the other. Bowser’s defeat of Gray in the Democratic primary has made Catania’s path to victory much steeper, and Schwartz’s entry has two prominent white ex-Republicans competing for the same limited pool of voters, while Bowser is running on the strengths of her being a member of the city’s largest demographics – African-American and Democratic. Catania has even asserted that Schwartz entered the race on Bowser’s behest to carve into his support, which both Bowser and Schwartz deny. Whether or not this is the case, Bowser has the wind at her back, and it’s her race to lose.
Unlike the mayor’s race, the at-large Council race provides real choices for progressives. Under an oddity of DC election law, each biennial Council election includes races for two at-large seats, but no party may nominate more than one candidate in each election – effectively carving out a seat for a non-Democrat in this overwhelmingly Democratic city. Catania’s decision to vacate the non-Democratic seat to run for mayor has attracted a large field of would-be successors.
The Democratic primary was won by incumbent Anita Bonds, who can be charitably described as an undistinguished party hack. (She initially voted for the LRAA but then changed sides and voted against overriding Mayor Gray’s veto). However, no winner of a Democratic primary has ever lost a general election during the District’s 40-year history of home rule, and Bonds is not expected to be the first.
It is the field of non-Democratic candidates that is generating the most heat. Most of the hopefuls are political newcomers with thin or nonexistent records, drawn to an election where a candidate could win one of the two seats with a tiny percentage of the vote. However, several candidates have established records and/or are running campaigns that raised hopes among progressives that the Council’s center of gravity could be pushed to the left. These candidates are:
Graylan Hagler (Independent) — The minister of Plymouth United Congregational Church of Christ is a long-time activist in progressive causes. He has worked with DSA on a number of projects and events, most recently on the 2010 jobs event at which he spoke and which was held in his church. Among the progressive organizations and causes he has worked with are United for Peace and Justice and the union UNITE HERE. He also has emphasized community empowerment, opposed attempts by Congress to impose a death penalty on DC, and opposed school vouchers. In 1991, before he moved to DC, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Boston.
Eugene Puryear (Statehood Green) — He’s a younger candidate without much of a past in DC politics, but the Statehood Green Party is working hard for him to become the first candidate from their party to win a Council race since Hilda Mason. Puryear identifies as a socialist and is a member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, whose outlook and history was summarized in DSA’s guide to organizations of the socialist left. Puryear was the 2008 PSL vice-presidential candidate and has been active in the antiwar ANSWER coalition. His website emphasizes a more progressive DC budget, tenants’ rights, fairness for ex-prisoners and pursuit of DC statehood, as well as advocating a name change for Washington’s football team and national issues such as the Iraq crisis and immigrant rights.
Elissa Silverman (Independent) — Silverman, a former journalist, ran unsuccessfully in the 2013 special election for Council, losing to Anita Bonds. She has built a profile as a favorite of DC’s “young progressives” who are largely newcomers to the District, to the left on social and livability issues but far from united when it comes to economics and social justice. Her principal true “progressive” credential is being a leader of the unsuccessful effort to ban corporate contributions to DC election campaigns.
Michael D. Brown (Independent) – Brown has been a DC Statehood (shadow) senator since 2006 and a strong advocate of statehood while lobbying Congress and promoting the cause outside of DC. Brown would be expected to use his council seat to continue to promote statehood. However, he doesn’t have much of a record on other issues. He ran unsuccessfully against Phil Mendelson for the Democratic nomination for DC Council in 2010.
With the exception of Puryear, all of the above Council candidates were previously identified as Democrats, changing their registration to take advantage of the open seat reserved for non-Democrats.
The other at-large Council candidates qualifying for the ballot are less well-known: Republican Marc Morgan; Libertarian Frederick Steiner; and independents Wendell Felder, Calvin Gurley, Brian Hart, Eric Jones, Khalid Pitts, Kishan Putta, Courtney Snowden and Robert White.
In addition to the at-large councilmembers, the District is divided into eight voting wards, each of which elects one councilmember. Four of the ward seats are on the ballot this year; the other four will next be up in 2016.
In all of the ward races, the winners of last April’s Democratic primary have no opponents or at best token opposition. They are:
WARD 1: Brianne Nadeau, a newcomer who defeated Jim Graham in the primary, mostly stressing ethics. She is largely a blank slate on other issues.
WARD 3: Mary Cheh, incumbent. She has something of a mixed record. Significantly, she opposed the LRAA.
WARD 5: Kenyon McDuffie, incumbent. McDuffie is running for his first full term after winning the special election to replace Harry Thomas Jr. He supported the LRAA, but otherwise his political profile is still being developed.
WARD 6: Charles Allen, newcomer, a staffer for outgoing Councilmember Tommy Wells (Wells left his seat to run unsuccessfully for the nomination for mayor). Allen is expected to carry on Wells’ record as a proponent of a livable, walkable city and a representative of “young progressives” (see description of Elissa Silverman, above).
Shadow Senator and Representative
In addition to having an officially recognized delegate to Congress (currently Norton), the District elects two “shadow senators” to six-year terms and a “shadow representative” for a two-year term. The sole responsibility of these unpaid officials is to lobby Congress for DC statehood.
This year, one of the two shadow Senate races is on the ballot, with two-term incumbent Democrat Paul Strauss is being challenged by David Schwartzman of the Statehood Green Party. Strauss has been fairly visible, and has been mostly known for getting celebrities to endorse statehood. As the Democratic nominee, he is a prohibitive favorite to be re-elected. Schwartzman is a longtime Statehood Green activist and member of the socialist organization Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, also described in DSA’s guide to socialist organizations. He has been especially active in the DC Fair Budget Coalition, which advocates for greater spending by DC government on human needs and alleviating poverty. John Daniel, a Libertarian, is also running, as is Glenda Richmond, an independent.
In the race for Shadow Representative, Franklin Garcia, a first-time candidate, is the Democratic nominee and prohibitive favorite. He’s president of the DC Latino Caucus and a party activist. No candidate ran in the Statehood Green primary, but afterwards the party selected Joyce Robinson-Paul for their slot on the ballot. She is a longtime statehood activist (she is currently vice president of the Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition, a nonprofit organization that performs public education on DC statehood) and a former ANC commissioner. Mark Moulton, a Libertarian, is also running.
This race was just added to the ballot and there was no primary. In 2010 DC voters chose to convert this office from an appointed post to an elected office beginning this year, but the DC Council tried to postpone the first election to 2018, claiming the duties of the office needed to be clarified. Attorney Paul Zukerberg, former DC Council candidate and advocate of marijuana decriminalization, led the successful court challenge to force the election to be held this year and, unsurprisingly, is himself running for the position and favored to win. The other candidates are Mark Tuohey and Edward Smith.
Council Chair and Delegate to Congress
Running against the DSA-endorsed incumbent Phil Mendelson for Council Chair is Republican Kris Hammond and independent John Cheeks. Incumbent Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, also endorsed by DSA, is opposed by Republican Nelson Rimensnyder, Statehood Green Natale Lino Stracuzzi, Libertarian Sara Jane Panfil and independent Timothy Krepp. Neither’s opposition is serious.
In addition to races for elective office, the November ballot will have an initiative that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in the District. This goes beyond a recent law that decriminalized (but did not fully legalize) marijuana. A 1998 initiative legalized marijuana for medical use in the District.
With all of this action, the 2014 election in DC provides a seldom-seen opportunity for progressives to have an impact on the outcome, especially on the composition of the DC Council. Some elections force the left onto the sidelines; this one beckons us to become players.
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Kurt Stand
On July 19, nearly two-dozen people attended a Metro DC DSA event in solidarity for Cecily McMillan, a DSA member in New York City. Sentenced to 90 days, she had just been released from prison (though now facing 5 years probation on the felony conviction) for allegedly “assaulting” a policeman at the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Her arrest more than a year ago occurred in an incident that the police clearly initiated. That fact, along with the refusal of the judge to allow the jury to hear evidence vital to her defense – in particular records that the officer in question had been charged with excessive use of force in other incidents — and the insistence of the prosecutor to press harsh charges exemplify the continuing hostility of the New York establishment to the legacy of the Occupy movement.
The two speakers were Lucy Parks and Chris Hicks. Parks is a New York City activist and a leading member of Justice for Cecily Committee and Hicks, a national staff member of Jobs with Justice, but speaking from his experience with DC & NYC Occupy. Each emphasized McMillan’s informal, but real leadership role in Occupy (significant in a movement that rejected the notion of leadership) and, especially, her emphasis on the importance of formulating demands as the basis of organizing. These were particularly important in a movement in which many questioned the validity of leadership per se, questioned the legitimacy of formulating demands.
Taken together, the talks gave a sense of Occupy’s development, the political debates within it, and the continuing engagement in different social justice arenas by many of those who had taken part in it. And they served as a reminder that the challenge to politics as usual, the challenge to the systemic abuse of power by those in power, was the reason the movement was suppressed.
Hicks focused on the context in which McMillan’s arrest was made possible. He described the level of police harassment throughout the Occupation of Zuccotti Plaza and of activists thereafter. Extensive police surveillance of key activists may have led to her being a specific target. Moreover, the permitted excessive use of force against Occupy protestors created the context that gives police the “right” to treat dissent as criminal. Parks talked about the role of solidarity in keeping the public’s eye on McMillan and thereby preventing her sentence from being longer than it likely would otherwise have been. The Justice for Cecily Committee led the effort, with solidarity support from DSA members and many others, to keep her case in the public eye. She also spoke of Cecily’s experience at the Rikers Island prison, the awful conditions many of the women prisoners with whom she served time must cope with, and of how these are an outgrowth of policing patterns that target African Americans and Latinos.
The line dividing society was evident in another aspect of the case. The charges against McMillan were brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. Vance is a scion of a family long a part of the dominant political circles in the US, and an ardent defender of the “1%,” of the Wall Street executives with whom he is personally close and politically defends. Thus his prosecutorial zeal does not extend up the ladder; Vance brought no charges against any banker for the practices that brought the country to the brink of financial ruin and led to massive loss of homes, of jobs.
Following their presentation, local DSA member (and former Young Democratic Socialists leader) David Duhalde, who helped recruit McMillan to DSA, moderated questions and answers. The discussion, continued at a local restaurant when the meeting ended, touched on Cecily’s personal situation, the nature and on-going work of Occupy Wall Street, and our broken criminal justice system.
As we go to press, the systemic injustice of our justice system, the impunity with which police forces are able to act, is on display with all its tragic consequences in Ferguson, Missouri. Giving proof to the argument developed by Michelle Alexander in her The New Jim Crow, we see the connection between racism, economic injustice, and the militarization of police forces with its impact on the civil liberties for us all. The suppression of civil liberties in instances of political protest and the suppression of civil liberties in communities of color are inter-related and need to be confronted as a shared injustice.
These events emphasize the relevance of the statement McMillan issued upon her release that highlighted the realities women prisoners face and the need for continued solidarity with their struggle for justice. The full text is available at: (https://portside.org/2014-07-04/cecily-mcmillan-released-rikers-island-uses-platform-challenge-systemic-injustices), below is her opening and closing paragraphs:
Fifty-nine days ago, the City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaires who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America worked the justice system, manipulated the evidence presented and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I spent my time fighting for freedom and rights, On the inside I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island does not only divide two worlds, today I hope to bring them closer together.
. . .
Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of jail has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us. The only difference between people we call “law-abiding” citizens and the women I served time with is the unequal access to resources. Crossing the bridge I am compelled to reach back and recognize the two worlds as undivided. The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this earth.”
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Daniel C. Adkins
Many progressives are faced with solar- averse utilities like Dominion Virginia Power that limit our ability to move to a sustainable future. When we try to regulate some utilities on the state or national level we are met with the utility buying state and national representatives. Direct appeals at the utility level may fail because we often find that utility leadership is in sync with short–term business interests and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC supplies prototype bills benefiting the fossil fuel industry’s short-term interests. In some areas it may take a long time to get moving on sustainability on the state and national levels.
Other paths to a sustainable future are available to us. Besides outfitting our own homes, we must consider actions on the community level where we may have more influence. Cities and suburbs in the mid-Atlantic states are generally more Democratic and more amenable to the needs of sustainability.
An example of community action is the award given by the Urban Libraries Council to Arlington County Library (Va.) for encouraging clean transportation, clean energy buildings, and community gardens. Another possibility might be to mobilize to outfit our local governments with renewable systems like photovoltaic panels. This action could expand the community’s knowledge of solar technologies, and inspire and educate our younger citizens. Solar technologies are competitive or near competitive to fossil fuel technology. They aid important community values of public health, energy self-reliance in emergencies, and sustainability. In many states these arguments are better understood in urban and suburban areas even though they are just important in rural areas. It is just that the Tea Party members’ opposition to all government blinds them to market limits (near-term bias) and community cooperation.
Once we have a nucleus of solar momentum and knowledge it may be possible to spread solar technology throughout the school system and municipal buildings and create a broader coalition to confront large utilities. Cities or coalitions of cities may be better able to negotiate better deals with a state utility. Over a decade or so it might be possible for those championing community renewables to challenge an intransigent utility with a city-based utility. In the longer term we might envision an Appalachian Power Administration District with renewable jobs replacing coal jobs for those in Appalachia and energy for all.
Sustainability in one city is no more a solution than sustainability in one state or country, but it is a start. For sustainability to succeed our focus must eventually find solutions for the whole world. However unless we get cooperation from political parties and business, the self-interest of the few will jeopardize the sustainability and survival of us all. The short-term focus of some business interests will have to mature into a longer-term vision tempered with the cooperation of all of us.
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Kurt Stand
The article below was written in early July; unfortunately it is just as relevant now at the end of August. And the analysis below is relevant to the unconditional support the US is giving Israel during the on-going fighting in Gaza. Political conflicts require political solutions; the attempt to impose military solutions inevitable fails (as is evident once again in the current crisis in Iraq). The police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri provides an example of a domestic equivalent, as does the response to the subsequent protests. Militarization – whether of our own police forces or our foreign policy – only serves to strengthen social injustice, only serves to strengthen reaction.
Choices and Alternatives
Denounced and threatened for the on-going crisis in Ukraine, Russia is routinely held as responsible for the violence and turmoil in the area by the White House, State Department, leading members of Congress and virtually the entire mainstream media. By contrast, the US, the European Union, and NATO are all presented as disinterested parties motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns, responding to a situation rather than being active forces in creating the problems now to be addressed. Debates within government and press are limited to the ways and means of intervening. The underlying assessment of events and of our government’s moral superiority, our right to intervene if we so choose, are unquestioned.
Behind that pose lies an imperial arrogance in which no legitimate interests are acknowledged other than those of the dominant powers – therefore Ukrainians on all sides of the political spectrum and from the various communities that comprise the country are denied agency as though puppets without opinions of their own. Goals sought by people on either side of conflict are ignored except as soundbites and photo-ops depicting supposed virtuous democrats who just want to “join the West” and share in the good life we allegedly all enjoy.
Some, no doubt, may even believe that; nonetheless the political range of Ukrainians is far wider and more complex – as are the goals driving US policy. Diversity of opinion and underlying analysis, however, are absent from coverage of the crisis – and absent from our political discourse. Stephen Cohen notes in The Nation:
As atrocities and humanitarian disaster grow in Ukraine, both Obama and Kerry have all but vanished as statesmen. Except for periodic banalities asserting the virtuous intentions of Washington and Kiev and alleging Putin’s responsibility for the violence, they have left specific responses to lesser US officials. Not surprisingly, all have told the same Manichean story, from the White House to Foggy Bottom. … Still more shameful, no American official at any level appears to have issued a meaningful statement of sympathy for civilian victims of the Kiev government, not even those in Odessa. Instead, the administration has been unswervingly indifferent. When asked if her superiors had “any concerns” about the casualties of Kiev’s military campaign, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has repeatedly answered “no.” Indeed, at the UN Security Council on May 2, US Ambassador Samantha Power, referring explicitly to the “counterterrorism initiative” and suspending her revered “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, gave Kiev’s leaders a US license to kill. … (Since then, the administration has blocked Moscow’s appeal for a UN humanitarian corridor between southeastern Ukraine and Russia).
Echoed by the press and television, this outlook bespeaks a double standard that allows the current wave of violence directed at ethnic Russians and Russian-language speakers in Ukraine to be ignored; one can only imagine the headlines were the equivalent violence launched by forces our foreign policy apparatus deemed unfriendly. It is a uniformity of opinion that replaces historical understanding with self-serving anecdotes rooted in “good guy” “bad guy” story-telling. The construction of an “evil” opponent, of an “other” to be feared — in this instance, Russian President Putin — functions to depoliticize discussion, and inhibit debate. Consequently, the ability of the broader society to intervene in foreign policy debate and to construct a alternative perspective is contained, all such questions handled by self-serving “experts.” This serves, too, to sever foreign policy from domestic policy, a particularly false divide in this era of globalization.
By contrast, what is needed is an alternative approach that connects humanitarian concerns to a challenge unequal to the injustices rooted in corporate/military power — as suggested in a resolution adopted by the European Left Party (ELP) entitled “No More War, No More Fascism:”
We call on all parties to the conflict to stop armed operations and to avoid further escalation of the situation. We are against repression by the military forces and armed militias. The conflict has to be solved by negotiations and political democratic means, as e.g. referenda.
We consider as the main factors in the Ukraine crisis the imperial attitude towards the country, as shown by all major powers involved: the deliberately provocative and bellicose moves by USA, NATO and EU as well as the aggressive steps taken by Russia. This leads to a dangerous situation at our doorsteps, with reminiscence to the Cold War and even to the WWI outbreak in 1914.
We are against undemocratic repression of communist party, left wing, and other democratic political forces. We demand the release of all political prisoners and people taken hostage.
We demand an impartial international investigation of the Maidan shooting [hundreds were killed in government/protestor violence when street demonstrations turned into a coup], Odessa massacre [explained below], and of all other war crimes committed during the conflict. We condemn the presence of fascist forces like Svoboda and Pravi Sektor in the government and state apparatus, and the presence of far-right forces in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
We are strongly against the austerity measures imposed on Ukraine by the EU [European Union] and IMF [International Monetary Fund], and we support the right of Ukrainian people to control the resources of their own country and their rights for social protection. We are against the presence of any foreign forces on the soil of Ukraine.
The last paragraph is key, for igniting the conflict last year was the then Ukrainian government’s rejection of the austerity program that would have followed incorporation into the European Union (as working people in southern and eastern Europe have already discovered) – an austerity program that labor and the left in the US oppose domestically and should also oppose abroad. For the “liberal” human rights the US is promoting in Ukraine are for the rights of banks and corporations to stand over and above the rights of working people. The logic of Citizens United, turning corporations into people and endowing them with greater rights than living, breathing beings, does not stop at our border. Bill Blum noted the extent to which the US had been working on behalf of those political/economic goals long before the Ukrainian crisis broke out in violence.
The National Endowment for Democracy, an agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against states not in love with US foreign policy, is Washington’s foremost non-military tool for effecting regime change. The NED website lists 65 projects that it has supported financially in recent years in Ukraine. The descriptions NED gives to the projects don’t reveal the fact that generally their programs impart the basic philosophy that working people and other citizens are best served under a system of free enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal government intervention in the economy, and opposition to socialism in any shape or form. A free-market economy is equated with democracy, reform, and growth; and the merits of foreign investment in their economy are emphasized.
Developing a critical perspective on US policy toward the Ukraine and Russia is part and parcel of challenging the assumption that our society, our political and economic system, our government’s foreign policy, is in essence a positive good relative to the rest of the world (an assumption maintained even by many who critique aspects of the system). The justifications used to support our aggressive, interventionist overseas actions – especially when pictured as actions conducted for “humanitarian” reasons – reinforce a narrow nationalism which limits questioning of the fundamental nature of our system. And, by identifying the “free market,” the capitalist system, as an objective good, it reinforces the logic that socialism is illegitimate (and, far short of that, that social programs – such as health care – are somehow limitations on freedom). The needed criticism of authoritarian and unjust actions by the Russian government loses its force when our system is used as a yardstick against which others are measured.
After all, the US “right” to act as the world’s policeman and to intervene directly or indirectly in other nation’s affairs loses much of its force if we are guilty of the same (or worse) transactions. No overseas action of Russia (or China, or any of our putative opponents abroad) is comparable to the deaths and destruction the US has directly inflicted on countries far from our border – be it Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or numerous “lesser” engagements. And criticism of political repression in Russia or by the previous government of the Ukraine is hypocritical so long as we allow the kind of domestic repression that denied “freedom of assembly” to Occupy Wall Street encampments. Solidarity with embattled trade unionists in countries our foreign policy targets has little meaning if not connected to the substantive, defacto limitation on US unions’ rights to strike, organize, bargain, engage in political action. So too the denunciation of Russian “oligarchs” (and of those Ukrainian “oligarchs” we opposed and helped depose) is used to conjure up an image of evil that avoids acknowledging that our own 1% is richer and politically more powerful. That poverty, inequality and injustice so easily condemned abroad exists in our own country – though too often ignored by those for who from their seats of power sit in judgment over others.
This is the framework in which to try and understand developments in Ukraine. It is too easy to engage in competing horror stories in countries far away in which most who are taking sides one way or the other know little of the history and culture of those of whom they speak, who fail to know the literature or language of people readily cast into pre-determined images. While an “us against them” viewpoint is easy to state, it inevitably fails to explain anything at all. Certainly, on both sides of the conflict in the Ukraine there are activists and groups involved who see themselves as promoting democracy, see themselves as victims of repression. And certainly on all sides of the conflict in the Ukraine, foreign governments are working to advance their own national interests.
But the forces backed by the US and EU are those committed to that neo-liberal agenda also embodied in attempts to expand free trade pacts and weaken social safety nets. It is the austerity agenda the European Left scored, that also finds the US aligned with ultra-nationalists looking for an ethnically pure state, finds us aligned with fascist organizations (just as in some parts of the world it has us aligned with militant Islamists we oppose in other places). For those right-wing forces support a new model of social integration to accompany giving a free hand to the blind market – a model of exclusion enforced by violence.
The attempt to solve Ukraine’s economic and social challenges via integration into western capitalism creates social dislocation – a dislocation which some see as only resolvable by a policy of exclusion. This has been the path of Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Spain, and other countries and has led to attacks on Roma, immigrants from central Africa or from the Arab world, even to a revival of anti-Semitism. And the search by western eyes for that “other” to be condemned has turned toward Russian-language speakers in the Ukraine, to Russia itself. The fact that structural adjustment policies promote globalization and cultural freedom while making societies more unequal and less democratic opens up political space to right-wingers who use the language of freedom to suppress any sign of equality – a process analogous in some ways to the Tea Party, anti-immigrant supporters and others of similar views here at home.
In Ukraine, however, this has resulted in horrific violence, and has been utilized by actual fascists who, though relatively small in number, are disproportionately influential. Along with the racist attacks designed to divide Ukraine, undermining its character and further narrowing its politics have come attacks on Ukraine’s unions, and on the left (including, but not limited to the Communist Party). All this is acceptable to our media and politicians as is the repression imposed by the Saudi kingdom over its people and neighbors – because it reinforces that free-market capitalist order that is considered the only acceptable form of society. The depths of that acceptance allows the unquestioned moral relativism within the US (aided and abetted by McCarthyism’s legacy) that does not condemn as “undemocratic” the destruction of Ukraine’s Communist Party offices, assaults on its members, bans on its public activities.
But that does not mean that authoritarian groups cannot be found on either side of the divide, that on both sides are groups seeking an expansive democracy. What it does underscore is that reaction moves in when demands for freedom and social rights, for a more liberal society are divorced from demands for social justice, equality and peace. In practical terms it reinforces the need to support calls for negotiations rather than further militarization of the conflict, for only through a political process can a just solution be found.
A Bit of History
We are too quick to forget the past, exemplified by the ease with which arguments used to justify war in Iraq or Vietnam are recycled today. Yet there is a direct connection between the growth of US global domination and the diminution of the rights of working people. The United Electrical Workers (UE) issued a statement to combat that forgetfulness by placing the Ukrainian conflict in the context of our past. The union begins with a review of developments since early this year:
On February 22, the elected president of Ukraine was overthrown in a coup which was supported by the Obama administration. Since then, the country has been torn apart and violence has escalated. On May 2 in the southern city of Odessa, supporters of the new unelected Kiev government, including members of the violent extremist Right Sector party, surrounded peaceful, unarmed anti-government protestors who had taken refuge in the city’s main union hall. The right-wing crowd then set the union hall on fire, and 46 people died by being burned alive or jumping to their deaths trying to escape.
We are troubled by this horrific atrocity, and by the fact that mass murder was committed by burning a union hall. We are concerned about the conflict in Ukraine, by the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and U.S. and NATO troops and planes in neighboring Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which signal the return of the Cold War and the threat of a much hotter war.
The statement then goes on to explain the reasons why UE’s particular past has made it aware as a union of the importance of opposing this drift as a labor issue relevant to all working people:
A defining period in the history of UE was our union’s courageous opposition to the Cold War. At the end of World War II there was great hope among union members and other Americans for a continuation of FDR’s New Deal, with progressive social and economic policies including national healthcare, expanded Social Security, and progress against racial discrimination in employment. What we got instead was the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act and the Cold War. Military spending, including the nuclear arms race, continued to trump all other priorities. Local conflicts all over the world were treated as global showdowns between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. In the name of “fighting communism,” the U.S. sided with the French and British colonial empires against independence movements, and backed many brutal dictators against their own people. The 40-year-long Cold War included some very hot wars – notably Korea and Vietnam. The CIA organized coups that overthrew democratic governments that dared to disagree with the U.S. government or corporations. On the domestic front, the Cold War was a massive attack on civil liberties and an effort to wipe out organizations, including UE, that refused to enlist in the Cold War.
Cold War arguments and ideology are resurfacing in one account after the other of the Ukraine and Russia, despite the Cold War having long been over. But the US tendency to global expansion and the deleterious effect of that expansion remains as it was. And the connection between that past and the present weakness of US labor and the slow erosion of democratic rights here at home should give pause to those who so uncritically want to jump on the band-wagon of calls for sanctions, for any action that further inflames conflict.
Working for peace is active, not passive; it is a form of engagement, not a withdrawal from conflicts around the world. Opposing US foreign policy means acting in solidarity with all working people, with all who suffer from repression and oppression, irrespective of which side they are on. Only via advocacy for an engaged alternative overseas policy will it be possible to challenge both the domestic and overseas corporate/militarist agenda, to build support for an alternative domestic and foreign policy.
The perspective offered by the European Left Party noted above provides one framework in which to conceive this. UE concludes its statement with a similar call:
We reaffirm UE’s historic position. We favor peace and friendly, equitable economic relations between nations. We favor negotiations rather than military confrontation to resolve disputes, including this one. We believe the countries that defeated Nazism in World War II, including the U.S. and Russia, should work together against any resurgence of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism in Europe.
In this, we can build on the recent experience of war in Iraq, which was justified by horror stories about Saddam Hussein – and which broad sections, one can say the majority, of US society came to oppose not because of sympathy for Hussein, not out of a misguided belief that he represented a positive social model, but because change cannot be imposed from without, because the purpose of the war was rooted in a corporate imperative toward expansion unrelated to the degree of human rights permitted or repressed in the government being targeted. US Labor Against War was the key organization which successfully mobilized union opposition to the invasion. Its statement on Ukraine reflects a similar perspective:
There is plenty of blame to go around and all parties share some responsibility for the crisis. It defies simple solutions. We here in the U.S. may not have any opportunity to influence other parties to the conflict, but we do have both the opportunity and responsibility to influence our own government.
U.S. Labor Against the War opposes any and all resort to military force or the threat of military force by the U.S. or any other party in response to developments in Ukraine. USLAW calls on the U.S. government to abide by the U.N. charter that bans war and the use of force, and to rely on diplomatic processes in dealing with all affected parties to resolve differences peacefully.
USLAW opposes expressions of or appeals to racism, anti-Semitism, jingoism or xenophobia and acts of violence motivated by them, whether committed in the U.S. or by Russians, Crimeans, Ukrainians, or any others.
The U.S. must not contribute to the crisis by introducing more arms or escalating hostile rhetoric. Most certainly launching war games and expanding the “missile defense” program represent a dangerous escalation, and lend themselves to potentially tragic miscalculation.
USLAW encourages our affiliates and all union members to better understand the situation in Ukraine, and events leading up to the current crisis. We caution against relying on the corporate media for an accurate and unbiased perspective.
It remains important to understand and debate the nature of events, even where sources of information are limited. Debate that is not about picking sides, but rather is rooted in trying to gain a deeper understanding of the reasons social conflict turns violent, of the challenges others face in navigating challenges of race and nationality, of cultural freedom and democratic rights, of sexual equality and an end to violence in everyday life within the framework of the need to ensure social justice and universal social standards that enable all who live within given borders to enjoy a secure life.
But such debate and discussion ought not to lose sight that, however the conflict in Ukraine (or the next such situation) is understood, the primary goal of those seeking justice here in the US is to work to influence working people, the political climate and government action in the direction of support for peace and negotiations. Together with that we should strive to build a diverse set of links abroad to develop an ever-more informed global solidarity, seeing within that the basis for strengthening an agenda here and abroad that promotes labor and human rights, that builds support for a socialist alternative to capitalist politics of war and oppression anywhere.
ELP Statement on Ukraine Conflict: “No More War, No More Fascism!” July 2, 2014 (http://www.european-left.org/positions/ukraine-no-more-war-no-more-fascism).
The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities by Stephen F. Cohen, The Nation, June 30, 2014.
Anti-Empire Report by Bill Blum, # 126, March 7, 2014 (http://williamblum.org/aer/read/126)
UE Statement, signed by Bruce Klipple, General President, Andrew Dinkelaker, General Secretary-Treasurer, Bob Kingsley, Director of Organization
US Labor Against the War Statement On Ukraine, April 2, 2014 (http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/pages/LaborResolutions)
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Jose Gutierrez
>> Robin Archer: Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? (Princeton University Press 2010)
In 1906, Werner Sombart wrote Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? This book was the first of many that tried to explain why there is no mass socialist party in the United States. It emphasized the relative affluence of American workers in relation to their European counterparts.
In Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? Robin Archer abandons comparisons with Europe or Canada. Archer makes a strong argument for adopting Australia as the “most similar case” to the US for the purpose of analyzing the variation from a comparable base.
Archer uses the labor politics of the 1890s in both countries to illustrate the similarities and the differences between the two societies. He examines and assesses those categories that are traditionally cited as explaining the divergence of the US from other advanced capitalist societies. He concludes that for the most part these factors were equally applicable to the conditions prevailing in Australia during the 1890s at the very time when Australian unions decided to establish a labor party.
In stark contrast, American union leaders decided against such action despite experiencing the same conditions of industrial defeat and depression that had prompted their antipodean counterparts to opt for a party-based political strategy.
Much of the author’s case rests on the argument that the labor movements in both countries were facing very similar challenges and opportunities in the 1890’s. After that decade, conditions started diverging in a very pronounced way. However, in the 1890’s it seemed that both countries might develop a labor party.
Archer contests received common wisdom regarding why there is no labor or socialist party in the United States. It is often argued that the relative prosperity of the American working class reduced the perceived need for a working class party in the US. Archer points out that the Australian working class was as prosperous relative to the European working class.
Another argument is that American working class voters could vote and were not marginalized like they were in Europe but, again, that was also true in Australia. The electoral system of the US with its trademark first-past-the-post elections and single-member districts is cited as one of the explanations for the lack of a working class party. Meanwhile Australia, along with the UK, New Zealand and Canada, had the same voting systems, and yet labor parties developed in all of those countries. Moreover, European countries where socialism grew in strength also had first-past-the post-elections and single-member districts. Proportional systems developed later.
Archer argues that racism was not one of the main stumbling blocks to the creation of a labor party in the 1890’s. Racial hostility towards non-white workers was rampant in both Australia and the United States but in Australia it actually facilitated the creation of a labor party.
Australia actually had more workers who were foreign-born than the United States. Racial hostility towards southern and eastern European immigrants would be a major factor in both countries after the 1890’s, but it wasn’t an important factor in that decade, partly because immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were a small percentage of both countries’ labor force at that time.
Archer argues that the level of state repression that the labor movement faced was one of the factors that was different in the United States. It was in fact higher than in Australia and several Western European countries.
Religious tensions were less important in Australia, but very significant in the US. The Australian working class was more secular and religion was not as divisive as it was in the United States. There was a real fear among American labor activists that a labor party would be wrecked by religious divisions but that trade-union organizing would not be as divisive.
In both countries, three American authors were at the height of their influence in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Edward Bellamy, author of Looking Backward; Henry George, writer of Progress and Poverty and Laurence Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth were well known among labor activists. They were more popular than the works of Marx or other European thinkers.
Another factor that was different in the United States was that German socialism had a greater impact. Marxism was a more important influence in the US than in Australia. Labor activists who were influenced by Marxism came to different conclusions. Some thought that creating a working-class party was paramount but others believed that trade union work needed to come first. Both sides would use Marx to defend their position. This sectarianism was absent in Australia. Some activists also feared that this ideological division would doom an American labor party.
It’s interesting that in debunking certain arguments for exceptionalism Archer argues for a different version of exceptionalism. Nevertheless, Archer’s innovative approach, together with the clarity of his arguments, should lead to questioning about the common wisdom in regard to why there is no labor party in the United States.
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2014
By Daniel Adkins
>>Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull (Random House, $28)
The new book, Creativity, Inc., suggests an increasingly dynamic culture in the more creative sectors of U.S. industry. The guidelines for the “creative industry” are in sharp contrast to how most U.S. industry and government currently work. Yet the future holds broad competition with a mercantile China and others, when all our work will require creativity and sustainability. How we treat each other and work will be changing to meet future needs. Whether we meet the challenge by a part of the U.S., or by all of us will be important.
An old work model from 1900s is called “Taylorism” or scientific management (sic) which is still alive in Amazon. This theory aimed at controlling the physical work of labor by using time and motion studies to script the flow of work. Combined with the assembly line, it influenced work for much of the last century. Taylorist theory moved the mental aspects of physical labor to be decided by industrial engineers and management. Some of its excesses were mitigated by labor unionization. Today Amazon uses Taylorism and computers to drive some employees so severely in un-air-conditioned warehouses that ambulances are needed to preserve the un-unionized worker’s lives. It seems Jeff Bezos’ libertarian individualism works for CEO’s wealth but not so much for workers survivability.
In the 1950s another movement was increasingly apparent and sometimes it was called the quality movement or the Deming System of Profound Knowledge. This system was the development of W. Edwards Deming’s life’s work and was an effort to systematize the mental labor of work and management. Instead of programming labor like a computer, Deming wanted to enroll labor’s mental capacities by giving them skills to evaluate the work process and provide aid. Management was also engaged to think in terms of systems of work and design as well of the psychology of workers and management. Deming’s teaching in Japan resulted Japan’s leapfrogging the quality of American cars and other products.
The Deming principles go far beyond the focus on short-term profits and managers’ belief that they have sole responsibility to control an organization. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge includes an appreciation of the system of production and market, a knowledge of variation of quality including statistical sampling, a theory of knowledge including its limits, and a knowledge of psychology and human nature. This focus presupposes an organizations learning to cooperate within and between themselves, driving out fear to enable honest communication, allowing pride of workmanship, instituting education and self-improvement, and believing that organizational transformation is everybody’s job. He also championed the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle. Deming demanded a profoundly cooperative, educational, and motivated system with a long-term view in order to create a highly competitive organization.
Below are some of Deming’s principles:
- Create a constant purpose toward improvement.
- Continuously improve your systems and processes.
- Use training on the job.
- Implement leadership (Be a coach instead of a policeman).
- Eliminate fear.
- Break down barriers between departments.
- Remove barriers to pride of workmanship.
- Implement education and self-improvement.
- Make “transformation” everyone’s job.
Creativity, Inc. is the history of the growth of computer graphics and Pixar, which is one of the U.S. entertainment industry’s crown jewels. Pixar is the culmination of over 40 years of computer animation development mixed with world-class storytelling. The author, Ed E. Catmull, helped lead the computer graphic revolution that allowed Pixar to excel. The author expanded his technical skills into the management of creative people including artists of stories and animation. The story of Pixar is the story of inventing the enabling hardware, software, culture, processes, and story lines.
Some of Pixar’s principles are listed below and the reader will see that they parallel Deming’s theories. These are the most relevant to development and creative tasks but can enable excellence in much work.
- When hiring people, give more weight to their growth potential then their current skill level.
- If there are people in your organization not free to suggest ideas, you lose.
- “Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.”
- “If there is fear in an organization, there is a reason for it – our job is to find what’s causing it, understand it, and try to root it out.”
- “If there is more truth in the hallways than at meeting, you have a problem.”
- “Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the enterprise.”
- “Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others . . then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.” [This can happen when managers are more focused on competing with each other, than solving agency problems.]
- “Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capacity to recover when the unexpected events occur.”
- “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. . . It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
- “The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions when things go wrong, even before getting approval.”
- “Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.” [management competition and pride can block this]
- “An organization, as a whole, is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. . . . it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.”
The trick of these statements is to think of them as a prompt toward deeper inquiry.
Working in the federal government gave me a view to the limits of bureaucratic work. When staff and managers compete with each other, often knowledge of the work process, potential options, creativity, and efficiency are lost.
The question of work styles or cultures may become more intense in coming years when China becomes a more developed country. China is a mercantilist country lead by an elite that is focused on maximizing the country’s economic wealth and dominance. The U.S. is different in that it tries to maximize its elites’ wealth, but not the country’s wealth (i.e. its people’s potential). A mercantilist country is more focused on maximizing its national abilities and potential, and should outperform leadership like the U. S. elites that are more focused on extracting wealth from its people than on developing them. This contradiction will make for increasing political fractures in the U. S. A support for U. S. competiveness is an effective government that supports all our pursuit of happiness, growth, and development. Social democratic programs that support free education and health care, sustainable growth, and worker involvement in design and leadership will more completely grow and use all of our mental and physical powers. This is the promise of a Star Trek society that will work together for our and all the world’s growth and development.
September 1st, 2014 / Author: woodlanham
By Andy Feeney
>>Greg Albo, Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch, In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives (2010, Spectre/PM Press, Oakland, Calif., $13.95), 140 pp.
>>David McNally, Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance (2011, Spectre/PM Press, Oakland, $17.00), 230 pp.
>>Jeff Faux, The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite Is Sending the Middle Class (2011, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, N.J., $27.95), 298 pp.
>>John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney, The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly- Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China (2013, Monthly Review Press, New York, $25.00), 320 pp.
This year’s media attention to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has put an official stamp on some bad news long familiar to democratic socialists: income equality in the U.S. and other western market societies is growing and has worsened significantly since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the U.S. labor movement is embattled and has lost political influence over the past half-century. Unemployment is still at near-crisis levels in Europe and is a serious social problem in our society, although Democrats campaigning for reelection and some Republicans, too, may try to pretend otherwise. And six years after the global financial crisis of 2008, which had many in Washington and on Wall Street worried about a possible collapse of the entire banking system, economic growth in the U.S. and elsewhere is still precarious, although the Obama White House and Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve Board are beginning to sound cautiously optimistic about it.
As progressive activists ponder these trends and what they might mean, what does the capitalist system have in store for labor in the coming years? No one knows for sure, of course: as New York Times economics writer Leonard Silk once observed, capitalism as a system is a “moving target” whose dynamism and flexibility have often surprised both critics and supporters in the past. The current cult of “disruptive” innovation in the high-technology sector along with business enthusiasm for what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” make prediction even harder than it might be otherwise.
On the progressive U.S. left, however, and to a large extent within DSA, there seems to be a view emerging that pins many of the problems now plaguing American working people on “neoliberalism,” the anti-Keynesian free-market fundamentalism that powerful corporations and members of the economic elite have been promoting for decades now. The biggest problem that working class and/or “middle class” Americans face today is not that capitalism has turned into a “winner-take-all economy,” this school of thought contends; the main problem is what political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have called “Winner-Take-All Politics.” Both major political parties have been capturedin part or whole by wealthy corporate campaign donors since the 1970s, and they have succeeded in pushing Washington to adopt anti-egalitarian policies – tax cuts for billionaires, huge Pentagon budgets, painful cuts in social spending, weak enforcement of labor laws and deregulation of finance – that privilege billionaires at the expense of the rest of us.
Educate most Americans about neoliberal “winner-take-all politics” and mobilize them to demand change, the theory goes, and with an admittedly huge expenditure of effort, members of the U.S. middle class/working class may be able to resurrect at least some of the key features of the so-called “golden age” of U.S. capitalism, between 1946 and 1971, when income was better distributed, unions were stronger, and Keynesian fiscal policies helped the government head off recessions before they got really serious.
There are at least a few dissenters on the left, however, who argue that a progressive focus on fighting “winner-take-all politics” and neoliberalism, although essential, is too optimistic concerning the inner dynamics of capitalism. The four books addressed in this review are largely written from this more pessimistic perspective, although one – The Servant Economy, by Jeff Faux, a founder of the Economic Policy Institute – actually supports what many optimistic progressives think needs to be done. Like the optimists, Faux focuses his analysis on the sins of the neoliberal rich, but he differs from some other progressives in the bleak outlook and the barely concealed anger he brings to the discussion.
It is impossible in this review to offer a really comprehensive account of any the four books mentioned here. But for DSA members interested in doing more reading on the subject of economic crisis and its possible cures, here are some highlights of what the different authors say on the subject.
Faux, in The Servant Economy, offers the least “Marxist” account of how U.S. capitalism has evolved (and devolved) over the past 150 years or so. One of his central points is that U.S. economic success since the early 1800s has depended heavily on the system of protective tariffs that Alexander Hamilton invented for the purpose of shielding “infant industries” from ruinous foreign competition. The increasing abandonment of protective tariffs in favor of global free trade, notably by a surprisingly coalition of Bill Clinton’s White House and the Republicans in the 1990s, is a key to why this nation’s working class is now facing hard times, in Faux’s view.
Despite the economic growth facilitated by the tariff, Faux acknowledges, the U.S. economy suffered through several major economic crises and some bitter class wars in the 60 or 70 years leading up to the start of the 1929 Depression. However, the progressive economic programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, followed by the temporary destruction of most foreign competition to U.S. industry thanks to World War II’s impacts on Western Europe and Japan, then set the stage for the “golden age” economy of 1946-1971. The creation of the Bretton Woods system in the late 1940s, which stabilized global trade patterns and currency values by turning the U.S. dollar into a global currency, with a guarantee that foreign holders of dollars could redeem them from the U.S. Treasury at the stated value of $35 per ounce of gold, further supported general prosperity.
Ultimately, though, the Europeans and Japanese rebuilt their industrial economies and began to challenge U.S. dominance in major world markets again. Meanwhile Lyndon Johnson’s refusal in the 1960s to raise taxes to pay for the Great Society and the Vietnam War had the effect of reintroducing serious inflation into the economy. Inflation plus an increasing flow of U.S. investments overseas led foreigners who were accumulating large numbers of dollars to try to redeem them at Fort Knox, thus threatening to deplete the entire U.S. gold supply and trigger disaster.
To head off that risk, Faux writes, Richard Nixon in 1971 abrogated the Bretton Wood Agreement by ending the convertibility of dollars to gold and allowed the dollar to “float” on global currency markets. This saved the U.S. from a gold-related default, but at the cost of encouraging renewed speculation in national currencies and supporting the growth of an increasing large volume of financial speculation in derivative securities that helped businesses and governments to hedge against currency risks. The decoupling of dollars, the main currency used to purchase Middle Eastern petroleum, also triggered the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise the dollar prices of oil dramatically, triggering two separate “oil shocks” in the 1970s that further destabilized the world economy.
Faux’s analysis of the last 30 years is rather complicated, but he makes two or three main points about how the U.S. government responded to the crises of the 1970s that together support his charge that the U.S. elite today is in fact betraying the middle class/working class to neoliberal austerity politics and untrammeled globalism. Unless Americans mobilize to prevent this, he contends, neoliberalism and globalism together will condemn most of us to lives in a “servant economy,” as well-paid or badly paid servants to the globally minded rich.
First, Faux argues, the U.S. political elite decided after some debate not to meet the economic challenges of the 1970s through the creation of a national industrial policy, as some progressive Democrats urged at the time, and opted instead to rely on market forces to determine which industries would live or die. Secondly, the U.S. Federal Reserve took strong action to end inflation in the early 1980s by triggering a deep global recession and putting millions of Americans out of work, thus drastically weakening organized labor. The Reagan administration, by brutally breaking the Professional Air Traffic Controllers’ strike in 1981, then signaled to corporate employers that they could take strong anti-union actions without much concern for prevailing labor laws, further weakening labor.
Large national debts that the Reagan administration incurred in the 1980s meanwhile undercut the financial foundation of the New Deal welfare state, and then in 1994 Bill Clinton joined with corporate America and pro-business Republicans to push through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which helped end the tradition of Hamiltonian tariff walls that had protected U.S. industrial jobs for more than a century.
There are more economic misdeeds that Faux attributes to mainstream U.S. political leaders over the past generation, too, but these are some of the key ones.
Underlying most of these bad economic decisions, he argues, is one central flaw: the growing domination of our national politics by big money. Although Faux in his closing arguments states that overall, the Democrats are still mostly better for labor and the middle class than Republicans, he sees Obama and Clinton as well as their Republican rivals as all carrying out the wishes of the economic elite, especially on Wall Street. Indeed, he writes, proving one is willing to serve the elite at the expense of ordinary Americans, if necessary, has probably become an essential qualification of being elected to the White House.
The Servant Economy therefore ends with a call to U.S. progressives to focus on one objective above all others: amending the U.S. Constitution to end the Supreme Court’s treatment of large corporations as “persons” under the law, as demonstrated recently in the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby cases. The political process of amending the Constitution, especially against the wishes of the establishment, is enormously
difficult, Faux writes, but it is the only reform that can save us from a future as lackeys to the global elite. He adds that if progressives can organize for a constitutional amendment intelligently, we will probably win a good fraction of the Tea Party’s supporters to our cause.
Unlike Faux, the Canadian labor economists Greg Albo, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin are open socialists and Marxists. In their book In and Out of Crisis they agree that the roots of our current labor market problems are political as well as economic. However, one striking feature of their analysis is they do not identify neoliberal politics with “free market” extremism alone, and they reject the arguments of some left-liberal commentators who seem to believe that one problem with the U.S. is that the political state here is “weak” as compared with the governments, say, of the social democratic nations of Europe. Corporate neoliberalism actually requires a strong political state, they write, but one that privileges elite interests over all others.
They also reject what they see as an irresponsible and “populist” tendency by North American politicians and some progressives to blame all economic problems on the financial sector. The financial sector did trigger the global crisis of 2008, this book notes, but the financial sector has always been an essential feature of industrial capitalism; it is not just a parasitic outgrowth that has emerged since the 1970s to cannibalize the “real” economy. Moreover, it was the financial sector that offered working people an apparent way out of the crisis of the 1970s and the massive losses of industrial jobs that have occurred in the early to mid-1990s. As working people lost good jobs and decent pay, the book reports, many have turned to financial products – credit card debt, speculation on securities during the “dot.com bubble” of the 1990s, and more recently home equity lines of credit and the refinancing of home mortgages – as the best way to maintain their incomes and their families in very hard times.
Accordingly, Albo, Gindin and Panitch see U.S. and Canadian workers as being increasingly entangled with the financial industry, which limits real political support for populist campaigns to punish “evil bankers.” Indeed, “The American Dream has always materially entailed promoting the integration of the popular classes into the circuits of commodity capital” – whether as indebted farmers demanding free coinage of silver, as industrial workers with paychecks deposited in banks and old-age pensions dependent on the stock market, as consumers running up credit card debt, or as homeowners trying to stay afloat through home equity loans and subprime mortgages.
Too often in the past, this book adds, North American progressives have cemented working class incorporation into the financial economy by employing the “democratic” state to improve popular access to credit – a strategy that has indirectly bolstered the neoliberal order. To respond to the aftermath of the 2008 crisis and build a better foundation for the left, the authors offer a handful of brief suggestions for an alternative politics. One of their recommendations is a major push to nationalize the banks, or create new publicly-owned ones, rather than calling on an elitist-dominated state to improve regulation of the private banking sector that now exists.
In Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance, Canadian political scientist David McNally argues that neoliberalism, despite its elitist biases and its painful effects on working people, is not simply a pathology: instead, McNally contends, it offered capitalism an apparent solution to the economic crisis of the 1970s, which is why it initially won such support. Beginning in around 1980, it supported a 25-year wave of new economic growth – the achievement of the Reagan and Thatcher years. But the financial crisis of 2008 has signaled the end of that capitalist growth wave and “the transition to a protracted period of slump.” The crisis triggered by the 2008 financial meltdown continues still, McNally adds, despite claims by politicians, business leaders and the mainstream media that the world economy is now on a path to renewed prosperity.
The prolonged period of austerity politics that lies ahead, McNally writes, will be characterized by “a new period of social conflict and class struggle. For our planet’s rulers, this conflict takes the form of a war against indigenous lands, public services, unions, and communities of color. For the world’s workers, it is expressed in factory occupations, general strikes, land seizures, street protests, and mass demonstrations for migrant justice.”
McNally’s economic analysis, which reflects some traditional Marxist concepts about the inevitability of capitalist business crises and how they are resolved, is not easy to summarize. But essentially, he rejects what some left-liberal labor economists in the United States have written about the Keynesian idea of governments running up large debts in times of crisis so as to “jump start” stalled economies, then relying on renewed growth and improved tax collections to pay down the debts later. Following the 2008 financial crisis, McNally argues, capitalist governments, especially in the Eurozone, rescued failing banks by taking on enormous levels of debt that are unsustainable.
To shrink the debts and insure continuing corporate profits despite the cost of doing so, he believes capitalist governments will be compelled to wage a vicious war against the working class and the poor. The leftwing response must be insurrectionary or nearly so – the building of a “culture of resistance” that will do battle against the austerity and privatization drive of capital, from street demonstrations against job losses and pension cuts in Greece, to factory takeovers in Chicago, to “intransigent” fights against racism, to militant anti-globalization protests in Toronto and Bolivian campaigns against the privatization of public water systems. Citing the revolutionary legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, McNally writes that socialists who help to link together such fights will embody “the conviction that we are mobilizing … to create something new – a vigorous, dynamic movement of opposition to capitalism and all its multiple oppressions.”
In The Endless Crisis, John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney focus far less on activist responses to capitalist crisis, far more on plumbing its dimensions from the perspective of the “monopoly capital” school of Marxism associated with the journal Monthly Review. Their conclusions are implicitly as pro-revolutionary as McNally’s, but their account of how capitalist crisis has evolved since the 1960s is radically different. This book is a relatively scholarly exploration of the monopoly capitalism theory, complete with footnotes to a host of different leftwing and some rightwing authorities – e.g. Milton Friedman.
One common Marxist explanation for economic crisis is that it results from a “tendency” for the rate of corporate profits to fall over time, basically in response to business competition reducing the proportion of labor employed in production, as opposed to machinery and other forms of investment capital. When profit rates fall far enough – as McNally and many other Marxists argue they did in the mid-1970s – capitalism goes into crisis, which invariably entails large-scale job losses and falling wages and usually ends with workers being exploited more intensively than before.
The theory of monopoly capital, though, is that economic crisis today results from too many corporate profits, not too few. The development of enormous global corporations in the place of the more competitive small businesses of 19th century capitalism, the theory asserts, has reduced or at least radically altered competition among corporations. They no longer compete through price-cutting, but through advertising, marketing and the creation of planned waste in the economy to absorb surplus production capacity. The oligopoly structure of the market and the avoidance of price-cutting mean that even in times of recession, corporate profits for large firms remain high. However, this then leads to a crisis of “over-accumulation” – investors have too much capital on hand and too few profitable outlets for it.
According to Foster and McChesney, this over-accumulation crisis is the root of the massive “financialization” of U.S. and arguably the world economy since the 1980s. With huge sums of investment capital on hand and existing surplus capacity in the economy making new investments in commodity production unattractive, capitalist money managers have turned instead to financial speculation – to gambling on asset prices – as the best use for the money. This process has generated a series of financial crises and a chronic problem of economic stagnation in western economies since Reagan’s time, The Endless Crisis argues, and the recent appearance of industrial over-capacity in China, too, suggests that the entire world now faces a prolonged slump.
Enormously adding to the woes of working people everywhere, meanwhile, is the recent incorporation of tens of millions of poor Chinese peasants and millions of displaced African and Latin American peasants into the global working class. Along with the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, which soon led to Western investors being able to penetrate Eastern Europe, the ongoing proletarianization of the global South and the flow of Western corporate investment to Asia have enormously expanded what Marx called “the reserve army of the unemployed” – the pool of unemployed workers that employers can now call on to “discipline” the old industrial working class of the West through the threat of worldwide competition for jobs.
The long-term implications for workers everywhere, and not just in the West, are potentially disastrous, Foster and McChesney indicate, and leftists need to mobilize a vigorous political movement to meet the challenge. Far more than Faux, Albo, Gindin and Panitch do in their respective analyses of the present crisis, Foster and McChesney imply that to succeed, that politicized labor movement will need to be global in scope.
Unfortunately, Foster and McChesney offer few guidelines on how such a movement might be built. But by broadening the scope of how socialists and labor activists need to think about current capitalist trends, The Endless Crisis along with the other books may help organizers develop practical strategies for addressing the slump in years to come.