September 6th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
Welcome to the Labor Day issue of the Washington Socialist, the free monthly email newsletter of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America.
Labor Day in Leap Years means the beginning of a presidential race, from the perspective of the mythological average voter who doesn’t really begin paying attention to the November election until summer is over. It is hard to imagine that this election is typical or has typical voters, but a look at history reminds us that there have been some truly weird presidential contests with truly unusual outcomes. Most of us can remember the 2000 election, which was a Leap Year despite being a turn-of-the-century year, because those years when divisible by 400 are still Leap Years (1600, 2000 etc). That sorry election was not so long ago alas. Those effects are stilbeing felt. Elections are not meaningless. NOTE that this corrects the email sent Sept. 5 to recipients of the email newsletter; that email incorrectly said that 2000 was not a Leap Year.
We face, in the Year of Bernie Past, interesting individual choices but a collective determination to see the elements of democracy emerge mostly intact from the money bath that they have been swamped by in this election cycle more than any previous. Weirder some past elections may have been; none more expensive.
We have watched the successor organization to the Bernie movement get under way in a fashion many left observers have called “underwhelming” but, again, we are determined to consolidate the gains that have been made in a cycle in which the term “socialism” achieved some multivalence and measurable approval in the general discourse. And, we note also, it was routinely paired with “democratic.”
That is worth celebrating, and we will. Then we’ll continue the work.
HOW WE SPENT OUR SUMMER VACATION
In July our Socialist Salon heard a recent, eyewitness account of the daily indignities and persistent economic undercutting of Gaza and the occupied territories of the West Bank that is the lot of Palestinians under the yoke of Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli regime. Pam Bailey of the organization We Are Not Numbers provided details from her recent visits. Her organization mentors and showcases young writers, including beginners, who describe that life. Bailey’s account was supplemented by a report from Shelley Fudge, DC coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace.
In August, month of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the DSA Socialist Salon looked at the persistence of militarism in US foreign policy – and culture – and the depth of its penetration into our everyday lives, including the huge gaps in public provision because of the way Pentagon spending dominates the budget process. Jean Athey of Peace Action Montgomery and the Maryland chapter of Fund Our Communities – the latter advocates for a transfer of military spending to human needs – brought her message to the Salon, along with an informative slide show on the scale and scope of military spending that she subsequently has made available online at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/fundourcommunities/pages/87/attachments/original/1472326844/cost-of-militarism-Aug2016.ppt?1472326844
THE COMING MONTH…
The Sept. 11 membership meeting of Metro DC DSA has been canceled.
The scheduled meeting of the DCDSA Socialist Book Group takes place Sept. 11, 3-5 p.m. at the Kogod Courtyard (“outdoor” but covered and climate controlled) in the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and H streets and at the Gallery Place metrorail station. The book is The Future We Want and this is a continuation of the first meeting on that book, which has proved to be a rich source of discussion. For more information and responses see the entry on our Meetup page.
THE SOCIALIST SALON for September is being organized on the theme “The Labor Movement and Social Justice” with speakers in formation. It’ll be Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Hunan Dynasty restaurant, 215 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Because it’s still in the works, be sure to keep updated at our Meetup page.
NEW EVENT SINCE PUBLICATION DAY: Metro DC DSA and Progressive Maryland will jointly host a meeting and discussion the evening of Sept. 14 with Sanders delegates who attended the Democratic National Convention, talking about next steps in building a movement from that campaign’s success. It’s at the UFCW Local 400 meeting room, 8400 Corporate Drive, Landover 20785 (near the New Carrollton Metrorail station). Maryland Del. Jimmy Tarlau is featured. Be sure to check our Meetup page for details as the event approaches because it was still in formation at deadline.
Other Events Coming Up in September:
SAT SEPT 10 Confronting Our Whiteness: #WhiteFolkWork in the Movement for Black Lives — 2 p.m. Washington Ethical Society, 7750 16th St NW — Megan Kenny, white anti-racist activist based in Baltimore, will give a talk focused primarily on her personal experience and how whiteness has operated and continues to operate in 2016 America. More info: Facebook SUN, SEPT 25, 2:30 p.m. 614 S St NW — ONE DC New Volunteer Orientation for SURJ Members, will include a tour of Shaw neighborhood history! Bring your walking shoes and a suggested donation of $15-30 to pitch in for the tour. (No one turned away for lack of funds!) RSVP Katherinephilipson1@gmail.com.
SEPT 23-25 The WorldwithoutWar conference, “No War 2016—Real Security without Terrorism” Sept. 23-25 at American University is cosponsored by many allied organizations and features a number of allies on the podium, including David Cortright, Medea Benjamin, Bill Fletcher Jr., Miriam Pemberton, Sam Husseini and Gar Alperovitz, More info at http://worldbeyondwar.org/nowar2016/
THURS, SEPT. 29 A Walk to Explore Gentrification in DC’s Shaw Neighborhood On , the anti-gentrification group ONE DC invites local progressives to engage in a conversation and community learning process about displacement and resistance in DC in a brief, one-mile walking tour of the increasingly trendy Shaw neighborhood. To learn more about this event and/or RSVP, please contact ONE DC at http://www.onedconline.org/tour_829?utm_campaign=august16_nl&utm_medium=email&utm_source=onedctrac –Andy Feeney
PETITION UNDER WAY: The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) and the affiliated Pastors for Peace have frequently collected material in the US for a caravan to Cuba and distribution there – incidentally, challenging the noxious economic blockade of Cuba that has had mixed-to-nasty effects in both nations. Pastors for Peace, despite the thaw in relations with Cuba, continues to be harassed by the IRS about these activities. There’s a petition to get all parts of the US government to recognize what the new policy means and where it is pointing and get the IRS off the backs of the Pastors for Peace: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/7315/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1371333
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IN THIS ISSUE:
THE PAST RECAPTURED – We hear first about a massive National Mall demonstration of 1981 that has faded in the memories of many – Solidarity Day, the first major labor demonstration sanctioned and endorsed (hastily) by the AFL-CIO of Lane Kirkland as rank-and-file outrage over Reagan’s breaking of the PATCO strike surged. Kurt Stand explains its significance. Read complete article
THE ELECTION “BEGINS” – Just before Labor Day, Donald Trump’s little side project in the District of Columbia got the first of several welcomes. Bill Mosley tells us of the “Say No to Trump” rally outside the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, which the Orange One hornswoggled the General Services Administration into turning over to him for a luxury mixed-use something-or-other. Read complete article
FIRST, DUMP TRUMP – the national DSA statement on the 2016 Election focuses on the movement-building tasks that can be blended with electoral activity. Read complete article
ELECTION TERRAIN – Since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in a Supreme Court decision of a few years back, states under Republican dominance have feverishly churned out laws restricting voting – no surprise, laws that would most severely effect the working poor and minorities. Woody Woodruff reviews the state of play as courts have been knocking down some of the most egregious laws, but the struggle persists. Read complete article
ELECTION CONSEQUENCES – An update on the infamous monopoly-enabling Telecommunications Act of 1996 is due, to reflect the changes in technology. How this might fall out will depend heaviy on how the election goes, Carolyn Byerly relates. Read complete article
CAPITALISM’S LATEST DEVICES – Technology, in its way, has also provided new tools for capitalist expropriators to double down on exploitation, in Austin Sydost’s trenchant analysis. Pay interest on the salary you’ve already earned? Yes, you heard right. Read complete article
THE STATE OF WORK – The parallel socialism of “cooperativism” is gaining interest. Michael Bindner relates how workers acting collectively might be able to walk seamlessly into this next economy. Read complete article
TIME OF SANDS – Various coveted materials have at various times been the focus of the “resource curse” – the much-wanted commodity that ruins those who dwell with it, as Andy Feeney reports. The latest such curse – ask folks in the Subcontinent who suffer under criminal syndicates fighting for control – is sand. Yes, sand. Read complete article
BOOKS: CLASS AND COLOR(LESSNESS) – Nancy Isenberg’s “White Trash” has pinwheeled from academic study to best-seller with its great timing, as Bill Mosley observes. The history of whites on the bottom of the class pyramid makes excellent points, he says. Read complete article
BOOKS: BROTHERS IN IMPERIALISM – John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen exemplify the permeable path between corporate neoliberalism and the imperialist policy of the US in the early Cold War. Andy Feeney reviews two books on the lives of the brothers who ran the State Department and CIA. Read complete article
GOOD READS FOR SOCIALISTS – A roundup of the summer’s best articles for lefties, including analyses of the groundbreaking Black Lives Matter economic manifesto and the launch of the post-Bernie organizations Our Revolution. Read complete article
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September 5th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
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September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Kurt Stand
September 19, 1981. Hundreds of thousands of workers rallied in Washington DC to demonstrate against corporate and government attacks on workers’ rights that had become too aggressive, too systemic, to ignore. Estimates of the number who took part varied from 250,000 to 750,000 – indisputable, however, was that the crowd stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building and was judged as larger than the biggest anti-war and civil rights rallies held in previous years. Moreover, in contrast to those protests, this march was made up overwhelmingly of blue collar workers and was far more multiracial in its composition, far more inter-generational in its make-up, than any that had preceded it.
This was the first time the AFL-CIO had called for a national rally of any sort; its endorsement by hundreds of national and local unions was clearly a reflection of the chord it struck. Yet the rally was broader than the trade union movement alone – for among the 250 co-sponsors, apart from labor, were environmental, women’s, civil rights, consumer, and senior citizens’ groups. Perhaps unremarkable now, such an event at the time was a genuine breakthrough of a labor movement whose top leadership had too often set itself opposed to or apart from such movements in the post-World War II era – a perspective then shared by many (though not all) local unions’ members.
The breadth of that demonstration is seen by the list of speakers from outside labor’s ranks who spoke that day. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP; Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., president of the National Urban League; Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women all spoke, as did Coretta Scott King, Gloria Steinem, Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, and Joseph Lowery. So too did numerous union leaders. Pointedly excluded from the speakers’ list were members of Congress.
Yet even more striking is that it was composed of rank-and-file members from across the country who came by bus and car (and locally by Metro) organized by local unions and labor councils. Thus, the signs, banners, and clothing of participants reflected the diversity in labor’s ranks that has been missing at top-down rallies dominated by union staff and directed by staff members in pre-packaged predictable messages (something that happens all too often today). Despite its uniqueness, however, the day is itself largely ignored and forgotten in the way the history of unionism is largely written out of our history – a reflection too, of how labor often neglects its own past.
Perhaps, even more, however, the rally is neglected because the potential working class power it expressed was underutilized. The goal of halting the government-sanctioned assault on working people fell short; labor power was not revitalized – and thereafter the corporate assault on unions grew ever bolder and more brazen.
Setting the Stage
The make-up of that 1981 march reflected the anger among shop-floor workers who were not prepared to accept that business had decisively turned the tables against labor. Union members had won meaningful victories during the late 1960s through the mid-70s as organized workers resisted attempts to make them bear the cost of the war in Vietnam. The degree to which shop-floor actions improved wages and benefits, the extent to which speed-up and oppressive working conditions were resisted made corporate power all the more determined to break labor strength — in public opinion, through economic policy, by legislation and ultimately by breaking strikes.
All this preceded Ronald Reagan’s Administration, as can be seen in an open letter that then United Auto Workers (UAW) President Doug Fraser wrote in July 1978 announcing his resignation from a national Labor-Management group. Widely circulated within the labor movement, his words perfectly captured the feeling of the time:
I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country—a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society. The leaders of industry, commerce and finance in the United States have broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a past period of growth and progress.
Fraser’s words struck a chord as union leaders began to recognize that a crisis was approaching as the percentage of unionized workers dipped to 20%. Large industrial and construction unions were losing ground as business began to move investments (and jobs) to right-to-work states or overseas. Technology designed to reduce the workforce, clearly directed at reducing union strength, was being developed and introduced. Organizations like the Business Roundtable, the Committee for a Union Free Environment, the Right-to-Work Committee, and similar groups pursued more aggressive bargaining, demanded concessions in wages, pensions and other benefits throughout entire industries. Companies began to force strikes, using scabs and the threat of plant closures to weaken or wholly eliminate unions, then using similar pressure tactics – both legal and illegal – to decertify existing bargaining units and to defeat organizing drives.
Business pressure also was used to defeat labor politically – the Carter Administration particularly angered union leaders when a labor law reform bill designed to restore rights and protections undermined by management actions failed — despite a Democratic House and Senate. Carter’s steps to deregulate trucking and airline industries served to weaken union strength in those industries as well, just as his budget policies were leading to an increase in unemployment. This led some unions to support Ted Kennedy’s challenge to him in the primaries and even to stay neutral during the 1980 presidential election (the position of the Machinists Union led by the open socialist William Winpisinger).
Fraser’s letter also spoke to that sentiment. After describing all the means being used to suppress voter participation, he added:
Even if all the barriers to [voting] were removed, there would be no rush to the polls by so many in our society who feel the sense of helplessness and inability to affect the system in any way. The Republican Party remains controlled by and the Democratic Party heavily influenced by business interests. The reality is that both are weak and ineffective as parties, with no visible, clear-cut ideological differences between them, because of business domination.
Reagan’s election, however, made matters worse in ways that even progressive union leaders did not fully anticipate. In the first instance, nearly half of all union members (and perhaps more than half) voted for him; many motivated by his attacks on public workers, on public spending – code words for racism, for resentment toward immigrants and for resistance to the gains women in the workforce had made. Thus it was that public employee unions, which had grown as the large private sector unions began to contract, saw themselves as targets. And it is no accident that these were unions that had given new strength and voice to those who had been most excluded: African-Americans, Chicanos, and Puerto Ricans, and to women of all races and nationalities.
The broader political terrain that surrounded workers bargaining rights and strength thus were also at the center of the ground swell of support that led to Solidarity Day. Fraser anticipated this too – his concern over lost ground on issues of social insurance, employment, welfare and security was to prove prophetic as Reagan openly put into practice the long-planned corporate political agenda:
There are many other examples of the new class war being waged by business. .. [T]here is no chance the business elite will join the fight for national health insurance or even remain neutral, despite the fact that the U.S. is the only industrial country in the world, except for South Africa, without it. We are presently locked in battle with corporate interests on the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill. We were at odds on improvements in the minimum wage, on Social Security financing, and virtually every other piece of legislation presented to the Congress recently. Business blames inflation on workers, the poor, the consumer and uses it as a club against them. Price hikes and profit increases are ignored while corporate representatives tell us we can’t afford to stop killing and maiming workers in unsafe factories. They tell us we must postpone moderate increases in the minimum wage for those whose labor earns so little they can barely survive.
So it was that Reagan’s victory – in the victory it represented over the values of the New Deal and Civil Rights era, in the green light it gave to an intensification of a corporate assault on working people that had already been under way – caused alarm bells to go off among union activists. Such activists, however, first have to organize to get their own organizations to act. For the AFL-CIO had, since its founding in 1955, never shown any inclination to lead any kind of mass action. But the crisis Fraser identified was real enough that the potential to move it now existed. All the more so as it was a time of leadership change.
Throughout the 1970s the number of strikes – and the number of large strikes – had increased, reaching a peak in 1978. On the one hand, these strikes were a demonstration of labor’s strength, of its ability to fight to maintain or advance members’ interests. At the same time, they reflected a greater intransigence by business, which was forcing confrontations as it sought to resolve a crisis of profitability and turn back challenges to its power on the backs of working people. The changing tenor of the times was not appreciated by AFL-CIO President George Meany, who in his blindness and arrogance not only presided over labor’s slow decline in strength, but sped it up by his insistence of the unparalleled virtues of US capitalism, his absolute commitment to war abroad, and his rejection of all voices of difference that were making themselves felt throughout the country during the 1960s and 70s.
When he retired in 1979, Meany left his hand-picked successor Lane Kirkland with an institution that, despite its outward appearance of strength, was decaying from within. While sharing the same general outlook as Meany – and likely being even more committed to collaboration with the State Department, Pentagon and CIA, in support for US global supremacy — Kirkland at least had eyes enough to see the underlying weakness of unions and the cost of its isolation, recognizing that Reagan’s domestic policy posed a challenge to unions not seen since before FDR’s election in 1932. So he made attempts to bring back to the AFL-CIO the UAW, which had left the Federation because of differences over bargaining/organizing and over the Vietnam War. Moreover, being new in authority, Kirkland lacked the autocratic strength of Meany and so was more open to pressure from national unions, as well as from local unions.
And that pressure was first expressed by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, which called for a national protest against the corporate assault on unions at its annual Memorial Day conference in 1980 (when Carter was still in office). CBTU was particularly well-placed to do so for its members in industry were exposed to the attacks on private sector unions, and its members in the public sector unions also saw themselves under threat while increases in unemployment and decreases in public spending impacted the black community across the board. Thus, the public/private sector, taxpayer/consumer divide that weakened unified labor resistance elsewhere in society was less a source of division for black trade unionists.
Once Reagan took office and the full scope of his cutbacks on social insurance and public benefits became clear, support for the call spread amongst left-wing and mainstream steel, auto, meatpacking unionists in Buffalo, Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities. Chicano workers from Arizona and New Mexico’s mining communities (including early support from the copper miners local featured in the 1950s blacklisted movie Salt of the Earth), joined in the demand for action, support spreading to unions North and South, on both coasts.
The breadth of the calls for a public display of union strength and resistance to Reagan’s policies was also reflected in the early support given to the action by the Coalition of Labor Union Women – CLUW also drawing from a cross-section of unions, and from national and local leaders, as well as activist women workers, thus cutting across the institutional lines that inhibited inter-union cooperation. The combination of calls from all sides led to concern by Kirkland that a national labor rally might be held without the AFL-CIO’s sponsorship, a concern all the greater because Winpisinger, then newly elected IAM president, joined AFSCME’s Jerry Wurf on the AFL-CIO Executive Board as militant critics of stand-pat labor policies.
And it was precisely such a combination of bottom-up pressure, getting the entire labor movement on board, that led to the march having a genuinely rank-and-file, popular character – and expressing the shared anger felt by unionists, whether they were politically conservative opponents of the social upheavals of the times or had themselves been part of the movements organizing those upheavals. Thus, although he originally opposed a national demonstration, by May 1981, about one year after CBTU first proposed such an action, Kirkland and the AFL-CIO Executive Council approved a call for the September 19 rally.
Lines already drawn hardened and anger deepened as negotiations between the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) and the federal government broke down. On August 3, 1981, the union went on strike against the Federal Aviation Administration. Although the action was illegal, 85% of the union membership of the union walked off the job. Within 48 hours, Reagan fired the 12,000 striking controllers, jailed union leaders and militants, brought in military personnel to do the work, and gradually hired scabs to replace the fired strikers. PATCO members with federal mortgages had their homes taken, and the union’s $3.5 million strike fund was frozen while the union was fined millions of dollars.
PATCO had been involved in earlier acrimonious negotiations with the Carter Administration, and differences between the two sides were never resolved. When he was a Republican presidential candidate Reagan had promised them fairer treatment; therefore, unlike almost all other AFL-CIO affiliates, PATCO endorsed him in 1980. But once in office, Reagan’s tune changed, and no agreement was forthcoming. The union had demanded pay increases; the heart of the dispute, however, had to do with staffing levels. Air traffic controllers were subject to long hours in stressful conditions that jeopardized their health and public safety. Thus, their other demands included a 32-hour work week and the elimination of extended shift patterns. To do so would require new hiring, and this was anathema to the Reagan Administration which was out to reduce the federal workforce. Reduction in workforce was the sword of Damocles hanging over all federal employees in the early 1980s.
But more was at stake. Air traffic controllers had staged a “sick out” in the early 1960s without suffering for what was in essence an unauthorized strike. In 1970 postal workers staged an illegal national wildcat strike, also without suffering prison time or job loss. On a state and municipal level, teachers, sanitation workers, transit workers, and other public employees had staged illegal walkouts – and while fines and jail sentences sometimes resulted, there were no mass firings, and negotiations always remained at hand.
The Reagan Administration saw in the PATCO strike an opportunity to send a different kind of message. Firing the entire workforce and making clear that they would be permanently blacklisted from their trade (as indeed happened) would send a signal that the gloves would now be off for all workers, public sector or private sector.
Within months PATCO was bankrupted and decertified. The outline of that fate was already visible while preparations were underway for Solidarity Day. Union activists and leaders, however, understood that the same fate was in store for others who stood up to management, even when their strike actions were fully legal. As was indeed the case. And so demonstration preparations took on an added dimension.
Rally and March
Official union publications, in the months leading up to the march, began to run articles and editorials expressing a class perspective long absent from their pages; many articles referred back to their roots in class struggles of the late 19th century or the 1930s. Although long suppressed, denied or ignored, these spoke to the working class as constituting a “distinct interest” in society, hitting a note of recognition amongst members who did not see themselves as socialists.
Labor Day 1981, about a month after the PATCO firings, was the site of numerous militant parades, often in cities where they had long been neglected or had taken on a purely celebratory function, devoid of serious demands or issues. These served as a prelude to the imminent Solidarity Day rally, helping to build participation. New York City’s can be taken as emblematic when 4,000 PATCO members led a seven-hour march along 5th Avenue that drew about 200,000 union members in an outpouring of solidarity and strength. And to show that he refused to listen, Reagan flew to New York that day, ignoring the parade while meeting with the anti-labor Democrat/Republican Mayor Ed Koch.
Reagan also pointedly refused to stay in Washington DC on the 19th, unlike predecessors Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter who stayed in the White House at times of public protest no matter how hostile the protestors. His lack of respect for working people did not deter those who came. Beginning at the reflecting pool, the largest contingent – the 60,000-strong gathering of AFSCME members – led the march up Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues from the staging area at the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building. They were followed by contingents of auto workers, steel workers, hospital workers, transit workers, contingents from state and city labor councils, including broad participation of unionists from DC, suburban Maryland, Northern Virginia. The banners spoke to the distinctiveness of each, a sense of the history of unionism amidst its diversity everywhere apparent.
Speakers and banners alike talked to an array of issues, a central demand being the rehiring of PATCO strikers. And another common theme was protection of Social Security – for Reagan, repeating a long held right-wing position had threatened to eliminate it altogether. Reagan’s cuts to school lunch programs, to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), to minimum wage increases, to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) alongside his massive program of tax cuts for the rich, high interest rates, cuts to college student loan programs were all criticized from the podium and in banners. Speakers referred to the high rates of unemployment especially among black and Latino youth, and criticized Reagan’s ending of CETA (an employment program put in place under Carter).
Numerous banners also called for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment – a goal of NOW and of CLUW. A Constitutional Amendment had seemed to be on the verge of ratification, but was then facing defeat because of the anti-feminist politics of the religious right as a constituent part of “Reaganism.” Although Kirkland and the AFL-CIO in its majority remained wedded to Cold War policies and military spending, the extreme increases in arms spending and the growing danger of nuclear war created space for some who called for cuts in the defense budget and for a nuclear weapons freeze. So too attacks on civil rights laws as well as of labor laws were denounced.
Most of the demands were not specific trade union issues; rather they spoke to the array of programs and economic policies that constituted the “social contract” between business and labor that had provided a genuine safety net and paths of mobility for working people in the years since the Great Depression. And whether consciously articulated or not, it was defense of that social contract that formed the unifying thread of the rally’s participants and speakers. Fraser in his letter defined just what that meant:
[T]he business community in the U.S. [for a considerable time] succeeded in advocating a general loyalty to an allegedly benign capitalism that emphasized private property, independence and self-regulation along with an allegiance to free, democratic politics.
That system has worked best, of course, for the “haves” in our society rather than the “have-nots.” Yet it survived in part because of an unspoken foundation: that when things got bad enough for a segment of society, the business elite “gave” a little bit—enabling government or interest groups to better conditions somewhat for that segment. That give usually came only after sustained struggle, such as that waged by the labor movement in the 1930’s and the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.
The acceptance of the labor movement, such as it has been, came because business feared the alternatives. Corporate America didn’t join the fight to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act, but it eventually accepted the inevitability of that legislation. Other similar pieces of legislation aimed at the human needs of the disadvantaged have become national policy only after real struggle.
This system is not as it should be, yet progress has been made under it. But today, I am convinced there has been a shift on the part of the business community toward confrontation, rather than cooperation. Now, business groups are tightening their control over American society. As that grip tightens, it is the “have-nots” who are squeezed.
Solidarity Day ought to be recalled as the last and largest attempt to save and protect that social contract.
Saved it was not – one successful battle does not win a war. The social contract in years since has frayed to the point of non-recognition; the forward motion expressed by Solidarity Day soon hit the wall of demoralization and demobilization and so was defeated. Because defeated, it lies forgotten by labor activists and the broader social justice community today. But perhaps because of the potential it reflected, it lies wholly ignored by establishment politics and mainstream history as well. Both are reasons to remember, reflect and learn.
The beginning of the defeat can be marked by the fate of PATCO. It can also be measured by the fate of the UAW, then a union of 1.3 million members, and today down to under 400,000. Ironically, growing numbers of UAW members are not auto workers, and many auto workers work at non-union plants. A similar story of loss can be told of numerous other industries and unions — declines due to layoffs and plant closures, declines due to new non-union plants being opened, a story of defeated strikes at Phelps Dodge, Greyhound, Eastern Airlines and a slew of others. It’s a tale of pyrrhic victories that held the line but could not stop the decline at Caterpillar or Pittston or many other industrial workplaces in years since.
Labor in the 1980s was ill equipped to take on the corporate behemoth with the law behind them (or, in what amounts to the same thing, able to ignore the law). Unions were also unable to respond politically. For example, the absence of clear-cut demands at Solidarity Day reflected an unwillingness on the part of the leadership to use that massive outpouring to continue organizing bottom up around an agenda for social change to defend that social contract or to advance a new, stronger one taking into account how the economy and workforce had changed. Many of the union activists who made up the crowd on Solidarity Day would themselves be laid off, the strength of a nascent labor left finding itself undermined in the process.
And the AFL-CIO leadership, calling the march under pressure of events and pressure from affiliates, had no clear idea how to follow-up, and thus, the movement lacked a strategy to counteract the official challenges. Some attempt was made to continue to turn Labor Day parades in following years as Solidarity Day 2, Solidarity Day 3; but they lacked national coordination or sense of direction and so gradually faded. Only in electoral action did some concrete follow-up take place. Reagan’s policies did finally complete the process of the labor movement being wholly committed to the Democratic Party and helped begin the process of revitalizing electoral action beginning with registering members to vote. Increased union activism did bring about Democratic congressional gains in 1982 and did put some stop lines to Reagan’s cutbacks (e.g., Social Security was not eliminated, the EPA was not abolished), though the damage done was not repaired.
Moreover, 1984, an attempt to replicate the alliances formed around Solidarity day in a presidential election, led the AFL-CIO to directly intervene in the Democratic Party with a primary endorsement of Walter Mondale – Mondale then getting the endorsement of the NAACP, of NOW, of the Sierra Club, of other coalition partners. But this attempt to revive the New Deal had no legs, it was wholly top down, it had no real vision, and it remained trapped in a Cold War foreign policy that pushed away many whose activism was most needed. Union weakness in numbers and influence within society and amongst their own members was now made painfully clear as Mondale won only one state in a Reagan triumph. Union influence then declined even within the Democratic Party – as became evident when Bill Clinton was elected president.
Labor’s crisis in those years – alongside much of the social justice movement and the organized left in all its forms – could not be overcome by any one action, no matter how large, no matter how profound. But the currents that created Solidarity Day, that refused to give in or give up, that looked to regain a labor-based social justice hegemony that could speak not just against reaction but for progress, continued. The connections made in the march, the rebirth of union activism that recognized the organic connection between injustices at work with injustice anywhere in society began to overcome the deep divides that put too many unionists on the wrong side of questions of peace, of racial justice, of women’s equality, of environmental protection. It is that legacy that needs to be ever with us as we strive to create a new vision of a social contract that speaks to socialist possibility rather than acceding to capitalist dominance.
Fraser had few illusions as to how difficult such a reorientation would be – but he concluded with a passage that spoke to the path that had to be taken:
I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold. We in the UAW intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat-down in the factories in the 1930’s and who marched in Selma in the 1960’s.
I cannot assure you that we will be successful in making new alliances and forming new coalitions to help our nation find its way. But I can assure you that we will try.
And so we must continue again and again to try and breathe solidarity in all we do, all we build until corporate power over our lives is forever a thing of the past.
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Bill Mosley
On the 53rd anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which featured Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, more than 100 Washington-area residents gathered in front of the planned “Trump Hotel” on Pennsylvania Ave. to register their objections to Donald Trump’s racist, nativist and Islamophobic presidential campaign.
The rally was called ahead of the planned opening of Trump’s hotel in the historic Old Post Office building, which is scheduled for Sept. 12. Franklin Garcia, DC’s “shadow” U.S. Representative to Congress, organized and emceed the rally, which featured a rainbow of elected officials and activists from DC, Maryland and Virginia. A contingent of Metro-DC DSA members attended.
Trump’s racist rhetoric “is the kind of hate we aim to stop with a message of peace, hope and unity,” Garcia said.
Several speakers, including DC Councilmember David Grosso and Eugene Puryear of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, said they hoped local protests would cause the hotel to fail as a business.
A second protest, organized by AnswerCoalition.org, will be held on the Sept. 12 opening date from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in front of the hotel, located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Photo by Merrill Miller
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
DSA Statement on November 2016 Elections
“Dump the Racist Trump; Continue the Political Revolution Down-Ballot; Build Multiracial Coalitions and Socialist Organization for Long-term Change”
Democratic Socialists of America believes that the Left must balance two crucial tasks in the November 2016 elections. On the one hand, the progressive movement must roundly defeat Donald Trump’s racist, nativist, Islamophobic and misogynist presidential campaign, as well as isolate and delegitimize the far-right hate groups that his campaign has strengthened. On the other hand, the Left must sustain and expand the independent electoral and social movement capacity built by the insurgent Sanders campaign, while broadening it out in an explicitly antiracist and multiracial direction. Thus, through November, DSA will prioritize two goals:
- Building an independent “Dump Trump” movement, primarily in swing states where we have the capacity to make an impact, and
- Developing local multiracial coalitions and campaigns that can build independent socialist organizing capacity and challenge neoliberal, pro-corporate Democrats in November and beyond.
As an organization primarily oriented towards social movement building, DSA does not normally endorse presidential candidates. We decided to encourage Bernie Sanders to run for President — and then proudly participated in his movement — because he offered a political program that genuinely advances the democratic socialist vision. Hillary Clinton’s politics are quite different, and therefore DSA will not offer her our endorsement.
Nonetheless, DSA recognizes that a Trump “law and order” authoritarian administration would threaten the most elemental rights of immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, workers and the LGBTQ community – as well as bring greater repression of left movements such as #Black Lives Matter. Even bracketing the many other actions he could take through Executive Branch agencies or in league with a Republican-controlled Congress, Trump’s capacity to appoint at least two new Supreme Court justices alone would spell disaster for many of these communities. Further, having witnessed the radical rolling back of voting, labor, reproductive and immigrant rights brought about by Republican control of all three branches of government in 25 states – including Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio – we have a clear picture of just how devastating GOP control of all three branches of the federal government would be. While we also vehemently oppose the pro-corporate, imperialist policies of neoliberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton, we recognize that defeating the authoritarian Donald Trump is a crucial step toward building both a strong opposition to neoliberal democrats as well as a powerful democratic socialist movement.
Dump Trump in Contested States, Down-Ballot Races and Multiracial Social Movement Work in Safe States
As a result, many DSA chapters, particularly in swing states, will work within what we believe will be a growing independent “Dump Trump” movement. Through this work, which will consist largely of registering voters in black and Latino communities, fighting voter suppression and attending/organizing anti-Trump rallies, DSA and other radicals can increase the likelihood of a Trump defeat without working with the official Clinton campaign. While many DSA chapters in swing states will be focusing on Dump Trump work, many of our chapters in non-contested states will focus on down-ballot races that feature Bernie Democrats, as well as explicitly socialist candidates both within and outside of the Democratic Party. Many chapters will also continue focusing on grassroots, multiracial campaigns against police brutality, mass incarceration, and white supremacy, and for affordable housing and high quality K-12 education. Finally, while most DSAers in contested states will likely vote for Clinton and work actively to defeat Trump, some members in non-contested states will vote for, and/or work for the Jill Stein presidential campaign. DSA believes, however, that for any third party effort to be viable in the long-term, it will have to focus less on largely symbolic efforts at the presidential level and more on building the grassroots base necessary to win partisan races at the local and state level.
Fighting Neoliberalism: Building a Multiracial, Antiracist “Post–Bernie” Trend in U.S. Politics
Both before and after November, DSA’s more general objective will be to broaden the base of “the post-Sanders trend” both within and outside of electoral politics. The Clinton neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party rose to power in the 1980s and 1990s on a program of financial deregulation and a racial politics of punitive “welfare reform” and harsh federal criminal justice policies that can be best described as “Republican lite.” The Sanders campaign demonstrated that many rank-and-file Democrats are deeply opposed to this trend within the party. The campaign showed that both millennials and older working-class voters realize that they and their children cannot have secure and meaningful lives without an expansion of public goods (such as universal, free higher education and publicly financed childcare and paid parental leave) financed by progressive taxation.
The Clinton campaign’s description of this moderate social democratic program as “unrealistic,” “unaffordable” or “socialist” failed to scare off a Democratic primary electorate that has an increasingly favorable view of the “s” world. The term may not yet mean democratic control over the workplace and economy to many, but an increasing number of voters equate socialism with a more just and egalitarian society. This is a base from which to build a powerful socialist movement that fights to expand political, civil and social rights while fighting to democratize control over the economy and social life.
The left wing of the Democratic Party’s base has long opposed neoliberal policies. Many in the Congressional Progressive, black and Latino caucuses have progressive voting records. For example, only 40 House Democrats out of 190 supported fast track for the TPP. But it was not until the Sanders campaign that many of the positions long advocated by progressives within the Democratic Party started to see the light of day in the party’s official statements. The strength of the Sanders campaign led to platform concessions on, to name a few: a $15 per hour minimum wage (indexed to inflation), free higher education, a commitment to overturn Citizens United, the expansion of Social Security, the addition of a public option to the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicare coverage to those 55 and over. While it is highly unlikely that a Clinton presidency would free itself from corporate influence and actively champion these initiatives, the relatively progressive platform won by the Sanders movement provides at least some momentum for progressive movements to press for the enactment of these promises.
But the failure to win an explicit condemnation of TPP or to use the word “occupation” to describe illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank demonstrates the persistent power of the Democratic establishment, as does the clear bias of the Democratic National Committee against the Sanders movement and the partial continuation of the superdelegate system, among many other examples.
Building a Strong Socialist Left within the Post-Bernie Progressive Movement beyond the November 2016 Elections
DSA views the November elections as just one tactical stage in a long-term effort to build an independent grassroots, antiracist and feminist Left capable of exercising political power. Such efforts will have to creatively link social movement insurgency to democratic socialist electoral activity independent of the pro-corporate political establishment of both parties. Given the structural biases of the federal and state electoral system in favor of two major parties, much of this activity will come through insurgent campaigns in Democratic primaries. But DSA’s goal is build an independent democratic socialist movement powerful enough – in coalition with other progressive forces – to take on the power of corporate America and to build forms of international solidarity that can confront global capital. We see dumping Trump, while also building independent left electoral and social movement capacity through the fall 2016 electoral season as just one step in this imperative long-term project. Going forward, DSA believes that it is only by prioritizing work around issues of racial justice – broadly conceived – that the emerging Sanders trend in U.S. politics can become a truly multiracial, majoritarian movement. Only by legitimating antiracist and feminist democratic socialist politics and fighting for the ultimate democratization of economic and social life – what is known around the world as “democratic socialism” – can we build a society that serves the needs of the 99%.
Adopted by the National Political Committee, and posted on DSAUSA.org Aug. 16 2016
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Woody Woodruff
“Many Americans face an ever-shifting voting landscape. The national struggle over voting rights is the greatest in decades.” That observation from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University gets truer every day, as onerous voter suppression efforts in 17 states are challenged and in some heartening cases overturned by courts, while other states try to find wiggle room for their restrictions to survive court scrutiny.
Simultaneously, activist groups try to find work-arounds to beat restrictions the courts won’t overturn.
Voter suppression comes in two basic flavors: measures that actually disqualify otherwise eligible voters from casting a ballot, and measures that make it more difficult for voters. What these flavors have in common is their disproportionate effect on the poor and working poor and minorities, who often vote for Democrats, and their near-perfect alignment with the list of states run largely or solely by Republican state governments.
The Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, says “Today in dozens of states, laws are being used in partisan politics to keep millions of Americans from voting. These include new measures that require voter ID or proof of citizenship, eliminate early voting days or locations, restrict or shut polling locations, and a myriad other tactics designed to unfairly limit and discourage voter participation by African-American, Latino, Asian, young, and lower-income Americans.”
It’s about class, finally.
Progressives who find the presidential race an occasion for holding their noses can nevertheless agree that the people most affected by voter suppression are the people we want to help emerge from the toils of capitalism-fueled inequality through the whole panoply of democratic means. Voting is not the only weapon of the weak in the armory of progressive democracy, but it is central. Activism on the terrain of expanding the vote and including the excluded in use of the tools of power is, progressives all agree, a social good. Conversely, voter suppression frequently takes advantage of capitalism’s more general form of oppression – keeping workers and out-of-workers alike anxious and busy with survival. When your life offers few opportunities to raise your head and examine your rights and opportunities to effect change, it takes fewer and more seemingly trivial barriers to keep you from the polls.
Reflecting the sensibility of many DSA members and other allied progressives, the DSA National Political Committee’s statement on the November election is equivocal on the presidential choice but notes it backs “…a growing independent “Dump Trump” movement. Through this work, which will consist largely of registering voters in black and Latino communities, fighting voter suppression and attending/organizing anti-Trump rallies, DSA and other radicals can increase the likelihood of a Trump defeat without working with the official Clinton campaign.” (emphasis added).
Local DSA members and progressive allies have numerous opportunities to work against voter suppression and for voter inclusion in neighboring states, principally in Virginia and West Virginia. The latter passed a voter-ID bill this spring later signed by the governor. Pennsylvania, another neighbor state, passed a voter-ID law in 2014 but it was overturned by a court. Now run by a Democratic governor’s administration, the state is less vulnerable to top-down voter suppression but (as we see) may still have varying levels of access in the many counties between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that are GOP bastions.
Positive attempts to improve the access to voting for poor and minority voters frequently run into resistance from those same Republican forces. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey recently vetoed a very progressive automatic voter registration law that would have broadened access for many marginal voters. Perhaps surprising to many, there is not an affirmative right to vote in the US Constitution – just a recitation of items that may not be used to deny that implied right, such as race, gender etc.
The news on voter suppression has not been muted, and the court decisions of the past six weeks or so have highlighted them nicely for a wider public. One of the most complete accounts is from ProPublica. Sarah Smith reported on Aug. 12 that “There are 15 states with new voting laws that have never before been used during a presidential election, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. These laws include restrictions like voter ID requirements and limits on early voting. Many are making their way through the courts, which have already called a halt to two laws in the past month — one in North Carolina and one in North Dakota. Most recently, the US Supreme Court deadlocked on whether or not to review the 4th Circuit panel’s devastating rejection of the North Carolina law, but the Washington Post, in a lengthy backgrounder, showed that local officials were still trying to restrict low-income and minority voters even after the state law, clearly crafted to impose such restrictions, had been invalidated for at least the November 8 election.
“ ‘All the sides were pushing for opinions over the summer so that nobody would run into the concern that it was all of a sudden too late to shift what the state had been planning to do,’ said Jennifer Clark, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.”
Still, the uncertainty about voting in North Carolina and other states where suppressive measures are in play means that many voters on the margin will have less incentive to assert a right to the polls and more incentive for the induced passivity that has frequently reduced the ballot-box impact and power of poor and minority voters in the past. This is open terrain for activism.
Republicans are not missing the opportunity this affords. The Trump campaign, according to Politico, is recruiting election observers to pursue the (quite debunked) notion that voter fraud is rampant – which is the pretext for many of the more onerous voter ID laws. “In a move that’s unprecedented in a presidential election, the [Trump] campaign late this week launched a page on its website proclaiming, ‘Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election! Please fill out this form to receive more information about becoming a volunteer Trump Election Observer.’, ” Politico reported Aug. 13. Voter fraud has in fact been almost entirely absent from US elections and “ballot security” efforts are notoriously prone to tactics of intimidation and discrimination. The Lawyers Committee for Civil Right Under Law, parent group of Election Protection, assembled a 75-organization coalition that wrote an open letter to chairmen of the four parties contesting this presidential election urging them to refrain from ballot security activity and discourage it throughout their organizations. Election Protection’s state by state information map is among the most complete in the array of progressive organizations working to expand ballot access.
The source of the immediate peril is laws in a wide array of Red states modeled on American Legislative Exchange Council proposals and introduced quite quickly after the Shelby decision in a lockstep fashion that is hard to see as merely coincidence. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights issued a report earlier this year mapping the state-by-state danger. The Afro-American published in our region reported June 22: “Scott Simpson, the report’s co-author and director of Media and Campaigns for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, said there’s reason for concern. ‘As we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, we’re seeing the perfect storm of a diversifying electorate and a set of states and localities responding by implementing a broad array of voter discrimination tactics,’ he said. “In 2016, it is entirely possible that the presidency, control of the Senate, and a number of governorships could be determined by the voter discrimination made possible by Shelby.”
Voter suppression is of course no new wrinkle; the poll taxes and arcane questionnaires arbitrarily applied in the Old Confederacy (and elsewhere) to suppress black votes are part of the history. The documentarian John Wellington Ennis, investigating the 2004 election in Ohio, catalogued “a staggering number of approaches to voter suppression and election theft: Biased officials, voter registration prevented, wrongfully purged voter rolls, voter intimidation, voter misinformation, confusing polling places, untrained poll works, voter ID barriers, long lines, provisional balloting, and that’s all before you even get to cast your vote on what may be a touch screen voting machine unable to verify your vote was properly recorded.”
The civil rights organization Advancement Project catalogues those practices in a handy graphic: not only voter ID laws, for instance, but requirements for cross-checking ID and systematic closure of motor vehicle offices in the state that can make it convenient to get an ID.
Many of the state voter suppression measures were quickly passed after the Supreme Court (in Shelby v. Holder, 2013) overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act as having served their purpose, being no longer needed. Those states that because of their long history of Jim Crow discrimination formerly had to clear their voting regulations with the US Justice Dept. were off the hook, and moved quickly. The American Civil Liberties Union argues “We cannot let this be the first presidential election in 50 years without full protections for voters of color.” And the NAACP is one of many organizations supporting passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, filed in 2015 and restoring most of those protections (S. 1659 / H.R. 2867).
A new congressional voting rights caucus has formed to back the voting rights rehab bill, with Virginia’s Bobby Scott as one of four chairs and Maryland’s Elijah Cummings a deputy vice chair. Members also include Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen and D.C.’s Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Another of the chairs, Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas, has filed a more specific bill that prohibits any state from requiring an ID that costs money to acquire – a “poll tax” prohibition.
Activism on the ground is only beginning to be visible at this point, about 60 days out from the election, though many organized voter registration efforts roll in a push to make sure that registrants have easy access to the polls, including transportation options and help understanding ID requirements and securing the paperwork they need. In many states efforts will also be under way to combat other typical voter suppression tactics such as reducing early voting days or the hours for voting on Election Day, cutting the number of polling places or the staff at those polls in poor or minority areas. Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), said it provided live assistance for voters in Arizona and Florida during the August 30 state legislative and federal primaries.
One of the hot battlegrounds, of course, is North Carolina, with one of the earliest, most wide-ranging and most draconian voter suppression bills. There, a governor facing a tough election is digging in his heels on court-ordered easing of the state bill in order to excite his base. As noted above, though the law itself has been downchecked for the Nov. 8 election, local boards controlled by Republicans are deploying the full array of difficulties to keep poor and minority voters away from the polling places.
DSA activists in the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area have in the past traveled to neighboring states to register voters in underserved areas, and other work against voter suppression can be folded into that effort. Virginia beckons this year because its voter ID law, upheld by a lower court earlier, will be weighed by the 4th Circuit appeals court in Richmond Sept. 22 and however the decision falls there will be little time left to organize before the Oct. 17 voter registration deadline.
Voter suppression can exist at many levels and masquerade as ignorance or accident, but increasingly the tools of deliberate suppression are becoming clearer to the public and easier to combat. However, the battle still must be fought on the ground as well as in the courts.
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Carolyn M. Byerly
It has been talked about for years, but this could be the year that Congress actually takes up major revisions to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – the infamous law that deregulated our communications industry.
The T-’96, as it is often called by those close to the communications world, is in the sights of both Democrats and Republicans, and it’s not easy to tell what they have in mind at this point. According to recent articles, both parties began to focus attention on a rewrite of the law over the summer, after the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the FCC’s net neutrality order, adopted in 2015.
House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), has referred to that court ruling as “kind of blowing things up.” Depending on the way the November elections go, there could be major shake-ups in this (and other) congressional committees, something that would bring the matter of revisions to the law into clearer view. Democrats have a good chance of retaking the Senate and potentially also the House. Attention to the T-’96 hangs in the balance.
The FCC’s net neutrality rule last year was adopted along party lines, led by Obama-appointed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Republicans overwhelmingly agree – and some Democrats are with them – that Internet service providers (ISPs) should be allowed to charge some customers more than others and provide a “level of service” commensurate with payment. It was widely believed within the media justice movement that residential customers, small businesses, and non-profit organizations would get second-rate service if net neutrality went away. The FCC rule of “net neutrality” prevented that kind of tiered pricing and the service that would follow.
Another hot issue for some time has been the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, which historically has had a significant portion of it dedicated to broadcasting signals. Broadband companies want broadcasting’s allocation to be available for their use. Broadcast is still widely used by many in the US, particularly radio listeners (including this author!), and broadcast TV is popular in many rural and low-income communities. Media justice groups have vehemently opposed the conversion of the spectrum from broadcast to broadband use.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, was supposed to increase competition within an industry quickly transforming the nation and world into a digital era. Instead, it allowed the Federal Communications Commission, which implements communication law, to deregulate the industry, lowering ownership limits and laying the groundwork for a few already wealthy giant corporations to acquire smaller and weaker companies across platforms and genres. As a result, almost no major cities today have competing newspapers, and all other media companies are now owned by about half a dozen gigantic corporations – conglomeration, concentrated ownership, whatever we call it is with us.
We are clearly in the midst of the digital revolution, but analog (which includes broadcast signals and some of the equipment used to receive it) is still needed. Stand by for updates as the political landscape comes into clearer definition these next months.
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Austin Sydost
Labor Day should invite conversation on the state of labor’s movement and market. My aim here is to focus on what Marx called “exploitation upon expropriation” from the latter.
In the essential relation of capitalist exploiter to wage earner, a latest exploitation strategy is appearing: extraction of additional value from wages already earned but (because of legacy pay intervals convenient to the expropriaters) yet unpaid.
Criticism of Uber and the gig economy for the potential long-term structural changes it could bring about to the supply and demand for labor, a deepening of the “precariat,” might be misdirected. Kim Moody, in a recent essay in Against the Current, analyzed the long-term trends of the labor market and found that there are cyclical increases in self-employment, and, in fact, there has not been a greater number of self-employed or gig-workers since the 1990s; rather, workers are finding work through Internet applications rather than in the classifieds and through temp agencies. The gig-economy does not constitute the epochal shift in the labor market that it is made out to be, though it remains a profoundly exploitative externalization of costs onto workers that deserves our condemnation.
The area where the gig economy might have the greatest influence for the rest of the labor force in the long term is in the payment of wages. It becomes clear when speaking with Uber drivers that one of the strongest pulls of the model is the same day payout. A friend who drives for Uber exclaimed that it was “easy money,” and that he could decide that he needed $60, get in his car, do several rides and receive his pay. One of my students noted this as a principal reason for looking at Lyft, which is now renting Lyft cars to Lyft drivers and paying the insurance and upkeep costs for the fleet, suggesting that the model of pushing off costs onto workers is
The same-day payout phenomenon, along with a confluence of factors, the most important of which is growing public awareness of the wide usage of payday lending services, seems to have caused employers of wage workers to offer advances on pay. PayActiv and FlexWage have ATMs in employee areas that either advance their own money (which is paid back directly from the employer on payday) or pull directly from the employer’s account. As an article in the New York Times made clear, though, “FlexWage and PayActiv charge rates that typically cost $3 to $5 per transaction. A worker who pays $3 to withdraw $100 a week before payday is effectively paying an annual percentage rate of 156 for the money”.
In the case of FlexWage, which pulls money from the employer’s account, the worker is paying to have the compensation they have already earned. There can be no mistaking how remarkably exploitative this is and how rooted this exploitation is in capitalist social relations. The worker must sell his labor power as a commodity, by virtue of his labor’s use value for the employer as labor power, and yet only exchange value for himself due to his lack of possession of the means of production,. As put so succinctly by Ernest Mandel in The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx, “it is this juxtaposition of two social classes, one of which is obliged to sell its labor power to the other, that transforms labor power into a commodity, and the means of production into capital. And this transformation is sufficient to explain both the exchange value of this labor power and the necessary difference between the value produced by labor power and its own value, the difference that constitutes surplus value.”
It is precisely the workers’ lack of ownership or possession of the means of production that creates the social conditions of their class that allow them to be doubly exploited – first in not receiving the equivalent in wages to the actual use value for the capitalist of his labor power, and second, because they do not receive this equivalent, they must surrender wages (in fees) in order to have a portion of the wages they have already earned. The exchange value of their labor power is due to the adherence to the practice of bi-weekly and semi-monthly payouts, a practice that is in place for the cost efficiency of the owners of production.
It is important to emphasize the essential nature of this exploitation and not be too molded to this example, which throws this manner of secondary exploitation localized in wages into greatest relief. What is important is not the specific dollar value of the fees for advance, but that there are costs at all when workers are receiving pay for work they have already completed but are not set to receive because they are paid when it is convenient to owners of production. What is important is not that the work always have already been completed when they ask for an advance, but that the exchange value of their labor power is low enough as to oblige them to accept the costs of an advance on pay.
Rather than raise wages, the owners of the means of production are deepening indebtedness to meet the needs of household consumption. Marx observed in Volume III of Capital that, “it is plain enough that the working class is swindled in that form too [the renting of housing], and to an enormous extent; but it is equally exploited by the petty trader who supplies the worker with the means of subsistence. This is a secondary exploitation, which proceeds along the original exploitation that takes place directly within the process of production itself.”
While not a new development beyond the private debt stage that succeeded the inflation and public debt stages in the legitimization crisis of post-war capitalism, per Wolfgang Streek’s Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, the owners of production expanding their surpluses by loaning their workers their own wages would be a remarkable development. Yet the reign of financialized monopoly capitals, which are increasingly concentrating and centralizing capital, make it increasingly likely that the operations of Marx’s petty trader, or today’s FlexWage, will be performed by a subsidiary firm of the same monopoly capital.
Secondary exploitation of this sort provides an opportunity for more critical discussions of capitalism with the reformist left and petty-bourgeois “liberals.” Payday lending operations are broadly condemned by this grouping, as evidenced by the variety of sources of criticism of such operations, ranging from left think-tank criticisms of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s inept reforms of payday lenders in Florida, to New York Times Editorial Board pieces on the general practice.
Per this line of argument, we can regulate those modes of production that are capitalist in ways that prevent gross injustice done to the proletariat (and that growing stratum of the proletariat that is the precariat) but we need not seek to abolish capitalist social relations in general. That secondary-exploitation is evolving internal to capitalist firms elucidates the point that capitalist exploitation is the fundamental form of exploitation. Payday lending, in its various forms, is a secondary form of exploitation that proceeds from the primary form of exploitation that is constitutive of the capitalist mode of production. Check-cashing operations can be regulated out of existence, but without abolishing the fundamental exploitation of capitalist modes of production, exploitation upon expropriation will reemerge in new forms.
The capitalist mode of exploitation must be the primary focus of critique and condemnation for the Left. However, payday lending schemes and the ire they provoke in progressives and liberals provide a great opportunity for Marxists to engage said groups and foster a broader anti-capitalist Left.
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Michael Bindner
The hallmarks of socialism, including cooperative socialism, are the employees controlling the means of production and that control being democratic. How to do that has always been the challenge in getting to socialism without making it seem scary to the general public. Cooperative socialism provides the answer – not only do workers vote for the means of production, but they vote for the market basket of consumption.
Most workers make these choices implicitly by working for money. Cooperative socialism allows another way. Workers would first decide collectively whether they want to provide the good for free, at cost, provide the means for the employee to make the good itself or provide money to let the employee-owners buy the good independently. Let me illustrate.
Breakfast and lunch at older firms can be purchased at the employee cafeteria. Employee-owners could make this free. Either way, the firm can decide whether to grow its own food and process it or buy it on the open market – or from cooperative members. Or it decide not to provide this service and workers could eat at home, either after growing the food or buying it at a cooperative store or an outside supermarket. (Some employees may face this question differently. Younger employees might have a dormitory apartment and cafeteria in the dormitory area, which might even include dinner. )
Housing could be in dormitory apartments, outside apartments or eventually in single family homes -either purchased through a cooperative credit union (or through an account at work) – and possibly with the cooperative building the homes. Homes could either be standard or food producing. For more on this option, see the essay on InterIndependent homes at http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2003/04/inter-indendence-cooperative-habitats.html
A key decision employee-owners make is how to attract and grow new members. I propose getting them involved after sophomore year in college. See my essay on the cooperative career at http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2003/05/cooperative-careers-mutual-self.html
For Transportation, cooperatives can either use public roads or build (with or without neighboring cooperatives) an electric car/electricity distribution and power generation system. See http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2002/09/green-transportation-systems.html
A big reason to go cooperative is to rationalize pay, so workers at age 40 won’t be fired in preference for two 20-year-olds. If firms do it right, workers will get more incentive to innovate than they have in the average hierarchical capitalist firm. See how at http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2003/03/pay-equity.html
There are many ways to get to cooperativism. One is to convert ESOPs or union-owned firms to a more advanced management structure – part of which is to check out the choices in this essay and exploring whether these would be desired by cooperative members. If so, governance is important, which is highlighted in this essay http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2003/02/corproate-governance-esops-and-unions.html
The way to get most of the economy into cooperativism is Social Security reform. For more on the real causes of the Social Security crisis, see http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2002/12/the-real-social-security-crisis.html To see how personal accounts investing in Social Security would work, go to http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2003/01/social-security-and-ownership.html To see how they fit into tax reform overall, see http://bindneranalytics.blogspot.com/2013/04/budget-and-tax-reform-proposals.html
September 4th, 2016 / Author: woodlanham
The Washington Socialist <> Labor Day 2016
By Andy Feeney
It may seem like a story from The Onion, but evidently it’s real. According to journalist Vince Beiser, a protégé of the Pulitzer Foundation who’s doing a book on the subject, the global economy faces serious shortages of the modern world’s most common construction material – sand. And as shortages worsen, Beiser and other observers note, the dredging and mining of sand from fragile environments is causing destruction to communities of farmers and fishermen – as well as endangered species of plants and animals — in many different countries.
The destructive extraction of sand is particularly widespread in many developing economies, the experts indicate. In India in particular, illegal extraction is often done by “sand mafias” who at times kill government officials and green activists who stand in their way.
Although sand has never fascinated politicians and intellectuals the way that, say, gold and diamonds and fossil fuels have, certain grades of it are essential ingredients in construction materials used in building modern cities – notably concrete, asphalt, and glass.
Sand also is what nation-states use in large quantities when constructing artificial islands and reclaiming urban lands from the sea, as China, Singapore and some Gulf States have been doing recently. Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast in states like New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, sand is what coastal resort towns use in replenishing beaches at risk of shrinking or disappearing due to heavy storm activity and gradual sea level rise.
The state of Louisiana, meanwhile, which has been losing extensive coastal areas to the Gulf of Mexico for decades now, has recently approved a long-term coastal defense plan that will make extensive use of sand in creating artificial barrier islands and coastal wetlands to hold back the sea. This suggests that as global climate change worsens, this particular demand for sand could grow dramatically.
Sand even is employed in hydraulic fracking for natural gas in some parts of the United States, and it’s obviously important in the manufacturing of silicon-based computer chips and silicon-based photovoltaic cells. In short, Beiser has stated, in a June 23 New York Times op ed on the subject, “Sand is the essential ingredient that makes modern life possible. And we are starting to run out.”
Beiser and David Roche, an attorney who tracks the impacts of the world’s $70 billion sand extraction industry for the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), discussed the issues at stake in sand mining and dredging on Aug. 8 on the Diane Rehm Show. Joining them were Barry Holliday, head of the industry trade association Dredging Contractors of America; and Geoffrey Wikel, an official with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) who oversees the offshore dredging of sand along the U.S. Continental Shelf, essentially for use in beach replenishment.
What Beiser and the other Diane Rehm Show panelists indicated is that the destructive effects of sand extraction in the United States may be relatively well regulated, at least where the dredging of ocean sands is concerned. However, Wikel of the BOEM warned that Miami Beach and other coastal communities in Florida have used up so much ocean sand that near-offshore supplies of it are getting depleted, so that Florida communities are now thinking of importing sand from other places, such as Bermuda.
The land mining of sand in the Midwest, including in parts of Wisconsin where extensive acreages of farmland have been torn up to provide sand for the hydraulic fracking industry, seems less regulated. And in the San Francisco Bay area,environmentalists are growing concerned about dredging in the Bay to provide sand for the local construction industry. Such dredging is extensive enough to be depleting Bay area beaches, according to Diane Rehm’s guests.
The problem of illegal sand extraction is particularly acute in India, Beiser said on the show: “cities are just exploding, the amount of construction that’s going on there is just absolutely unbelievable, and there’s so much of it, there’s so much of a shortage of sand in some places that it’s created a black market in sand, which is now run by criminal gangs.”
The gangs in the Indian “sand mafia,” Beiser added, resemble criminal gangs in many other places: “they bribe police, they bribe government officials … (and) if you really get in their way, they will kill you. Hundreds of people have been murdered over sand in the last few years in India.”
In his Times op ed article, Beiser also has identified other developing nations where sand extraction – legal and otherwise – is creating social and environmental damage. The list includes Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, among other places.
The sand extraction industry of Cambodia has especially come to the attention of an NGO called Global Witness, which focuses on investigating and exposing human rights abuses and environmental destruction associated with extractive industries around the world.
According to its website, Global Witness’s work “exposes the hidden links between demand for natural resources, corruption, armed conflict and environmental destruction” within the global political and economic system. In a 2010 report on sand mining in Cambodia, the group’s campaigner George Boden concluded that “Cambodia’s sand-dredging industry poses a huge risk to its coastal environment, threatening endangered species, fish stocks and local livelihoods.”
The Cambodian government in 2009 purportedly banned sand dredging in the country, Boden’s report noted. However, the industry a year later was still operating under the protection of two corrupt politicians with close ties to the country’s president, and there was “no evidence that basic environmental safeguards have been applied, with boats reportedly turning up and dredging sand, often in protected areas, with no local consultation.”
According to Global Witness, demand for sand from the thriving city-state of Singapore is largely responsible for the continuation of destructive sand extraction in Cambodia. Singapore has expanded its land area by 22 percent since the 1960s and was the world’s largest importer of sand in 2008, the report notes, and Singapore’s demand for sand has caused “havoc” for the coastlines of several other nations in Southeast Asia.
Yet however much blame attaches to Singapore, Global Witness finds that Cambodia’s government likewise bears much of the responsibility for destructive sand extraction. Illegal sand dredging in the country “points to the increasing stranglehold of Cambodia’s kleptocratic elite on its natural resources,” according to Global Witness. Such dredging is “replicating a pattern of corruption, cronyism, and rights abuses previously found in the forestry sector and extractive industries.”
Whether either the U.S. environmental movement or green activists within DSA want to involve ourselves in the battle against illegal sand dredging is debatable at this point. So far, we’re not doing as well as we should in fighting against U.S. contributions to greenhouse gas emissions that drive global climate change.
However, the work of Beiser, Roche and the activists at Global Witness points to yet another environmental crisis arising not only from global population growth – as Beiser rather suggests in his New York Times piece – but also from the ongoing industrialization of the world economy and the urbanization of the world’s population at the hands of capitalist economic forces, as Marxist geographer David Harvey has written in The Enigma of Capital and as socialist Mike Davis suggests in Planet of Slums. As eco-socialists and other green activists go about fighting for a more sustainable and socially just world economy, we need to keep the sand extraction crisis in mind.
For more information on Beiser’s and Roche’s appearance on the Diane Rehm Show, please click here: https://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2016-08-08/the-global-demand-for-sand .
For more on Roche’s work at ELI on sand extraction, click here: https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog/sand-mining-biggest-environmental-issue-no-one-talking-about .
For a web page at the Pulitzer Foundation on Beiser’s work, click here: http://pulitzercenter.org/blog/india-california-sand-mining-poses-challenge-environmentalists . You can click here for Beiser’s New York Times op ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/23/opinion/the-worlds-disappearing-sand.html .
For the 2010 Global Witness report on illegal sand extraction in Cambodia, click here: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/archive/environment-risk-cambodia-exports-millions-tonnes-sand-singapore-new-global-witness-report/ .
More on Global Witness and its work can be found here: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/about-us/ , and here: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/about-us/meet-our-ceo/ .