Week In Review May 12

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May 122015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Tale of Two Upsets I
Shortly after the British general election, a regular WIR reader and supporter sent me a brief message,

“Doesn’t what happened in England give you second thoughts about LPA [Labor Party Advocates]? They have had a Labor Party in England for generations.”

The question is fair and I had already decided to address the Labor election debacle. Next time I will also say a few words about a promising surprise victory by the Alberta provincial NDP, Canada’s labor party, last week.

For those interested in the history of the labor party question I made a presentation to a Midwest Socialist Educational Conference in Kansas City two years ago, available on the Labor Standard site.

This past week also was marked by celebrations of the seventieth anniversary of V-E Day—Germany’s unconditional surrender, bringing an end to World War II in Europe. Per the deal that had been made in the formation of Britain’s wartime unity government, long overdue parliamentary elections were immediately held. Much to the surprise of the rest of the world, British voters gave their Prime Minister Winston Churchill the boot with a landslide victory for Labor.

It was the first time that Labor was in a position to act on the objectives in the famous Clause IV of their party constitution which called for promoting “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange,” and “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” There was a large and vibrant left wing who wanted to rapidly rebuild postwar Britain along socialist lines. The right wing, led by new Prime Minister Clement Attlee, was content with a much more modest reform program.

Viewed from today’s era of globalized austerity, even the moderate led 1945 Labor government looked like bloody Bolsheviks. They went on to nationalize much of basic industry, launched a much needed construction of low cost public housing, and installed socialized medicine known as the National Health Service.

These reforms certainly brought material benefits to British workers recovering from the hardship of Depression and war. But they failed to bring about fundamental, enduring social or even political change. The nationalized industries were not the beginning of a planned economy and certainly did not feature “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control.” And what could be nationalized could also later be de-nationalized. Over the years all of the major postwar Labor reforms—except the National Health Service–were reversed by subsequent Tory governments.

The professional politicians making up the Parliamentary Labor Party stopped fighting for even such modest reforms. They sought to become the kinder, gentler face of the rule of British capital, much like the Democrats in the USA. Some even jumped ship, hooking up with the aim of reviving the long moribund Liberal Party.

In the mid-90s, Tony Blair became leader of what he dubbed New Labor. The socialist Clause IV was repealed and socialist strongholds in London and Liverpool were expelled. The trade unions—always the foundation of the party—were stripped of their power. The self-renewing Parliamentary Party became the de facto supreme rulers. Serious platforms were replaced with meaningless pablum so familiar to Americans.

This happened as Labor Party Advocates was preparing to launch a Labor Party effort in this country. We were certainly aware of and chagrined with the degeneration of our British namesake. While crafting our constitution and electoral policy we built in as many safeguards as we could think of to ensure democratic control by the union and community chapter affiliates that could prevent a Blairite coup on this side of the Atlantic.

Though not explicitly socialist, the program adopted at the 1996 Labor Party Founding Convention in Cleveland was a clear declaration of working class political independence with the aim of putting our class in power. It ultimately failed because it could not rally sustained support from the class collaborationist leadership of most unions who stake their future and ours in backing one of the two boss parties.

The Labor Party eventually withdrew from active combat with honor intact, and can be revived without reinventing the wheel. Today the Labor Party question in America is relegated to what old socialists called propaganda—patiently explaining basic principles to any who will listen. But as class battles inevitably heat up in the USA that can quickly pass over in to agitation and action. That is why I favor keeping the LPA approach alive.

In Britain, some of the parliamentary elite became unhappy campers under Blair’s New Labor—especially after he became a junior partner in Bush II’s criminal invasion of Iraq. They saw their party developing an identity crisis, alienating many loyalists and failing to attract new ones. Blair’s successor Gordon Brown tried to revive some of the spirit if not substance of Old Labor but lost the 2010 election that produced the coalition Tory-led Cameron government backed by the Liberals.

After Brown stepped aside there was a weird battle between rival Miliband brothers, one leaning old, the other new. Old Ed prevailed to take on the lackluster Cameron’s Tories. Some campaign strategists from past Obama victories were imported. Labor again talked about taxing the rich and defending the National Health Service. Pre-election polls and odds given in betting shops all favored a Labor victory. Instead they suffered a humiliating defeat.

The Conservatives won an outright majority of seats—331 to Labor’s 232. Because Britain uses the same “first past the post” method as American congressional elections seats are not awarded in proportion to party vote totals. The xenophobic UKIP placed third in national vote totals with nearly four million but have only one seat to show for it. While Labor didn’t get a fair share of seats either the Tories got nearly 37 percent of the total vote against a little more than 30 by Labor. Any way you look at it Labor lost big time.

Clearly the single most devastating blow to Labor came in Scotland where they had long held a solid majority of seats. Punished for their eager collaboration with Cameron in opposing the vote on Scottish independence Labor lost forty seats—all but one. The Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.

The British Socialist Resistance cited additional factors,

“Labour lost the election rather than the Tories winning it. They failed over the past five years to refute the Tory claim to economic competence. The leadership capitulated to the Tory’s economic policies and failed to offer a much needed alternative or to project an anti-austerity pro-working class agenda. When they put forward a few good and popular policies such as taxing the wealthy, these were overshadowed by what was seen as its ambiguous attitude to austerity, promising further cuts and leading to abject confusion about its message. Voters deserted it in droves”

The future of the Labor Party will undoubtedly continue to be debated by class aware workers in Britain. Some remain Labor Party activists fighting to reclaim Labor as a workers party. Others believe Labor is beyond reform, that a new mass working class party must be built.

So far, Labor alternatives have not fared well. The Socialist Labor Party initiative by the Miners union never really got off the ground. The far-left coalition RESPECT just lost its only MP, George Galloway, to Labor.

Whether old or new, in Britain as in America, the prospects for mass working class political action depend on revival of class aware struggles by union, student, nationalist, and climate change movements. They will nurture one another. When this will happen in either hemisphere is impossible to precisely predict. But like generations of Irish Republicans I believe Tiocfaidh ár Lá!–Our Day Will Come.

At least when we look next time at the Alberta election it will be, as Monty Python would say, something completely different.

Good & Welfare
Nationwide May 14

Postal workers under attack, and going in to contract negotiations, are asking for solidarity support in a National Day of Action Thursday, May 14. You can find the event nearest you by clicking here. In Kansas City the gathering will be from11:30-1 at the USPS Distribution Center, 1700 Cleveland Ave.

St Paul May 27

ES Library

$15 Now and a Union—Panel Discussion
7-9PM East Side Freedom Library
1105 Greenbrier Street, St Paul
More information here

Portland, Oregon May 30

Labor Notes Troublemakers School
9-5 Panels and Workshops
UA Hall 20210 SW Teton Avenue
Tualatin, Oregon
Details here

That’s all for this week.

Free subscription to the Week In Review is available at RSS

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review May 6

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review May 6
May 062015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Baltimore: We Have Been Here Before
That is the title of a perceptive piece by Rev Jesse Jackson. Of course, every such uprising like the one sparked by the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the Baltimore Police has some unique features. Perhaps the most bizarre was the decision to play the first Major League Baseball game in history without a live audience (Orioles beat the White Sox 8-2) and the shifting of a series with the Tampa Bay Rays to St Petersburg where Baltimore played as the “home team.” A more substantial—and encouraging–difference was the gutsy move by a young prosecutor to promptly file criminal charges against six cops involved in the “rough ride” homicide of Gray after his illegal arrest.

Rev Jackson, aware of the different response in Baltimore, reminds us of the underlying similarities not only to the recent protests against killings of Black men by police in Ferguson, Staten Island, Tulsa, and other places but also a landmark study produced before most readers were born. He writes,

“In 1968, after race riots had erupted in Watts, Chicago, Detroit and Newark, Lyndon Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the riots. The Kerner Report described a nation ‘moving towards two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.’ It called for better training for the police, but also for new jobs, new housing, an end to de facto segregation. Police misbehavior was often the match that sparked the eruption, but there would be no answer without fundamental change.

“Baltimore and America have changed, but for too many in our ghettos and barrios, the reality is the same. The New York Times reports on 1.5 million ‘missing black men,’ one of every six aged 24 to 54 who have disappeared from civic life. They are either dead or locked away. Jobs have dried up as manufacturing plants closed and were shipped abroad. Mass incarceration–with African Americans still suffering from racial profiling and injustice–destroys possibility. The official black unemployment rate is twice that of whites, but that does not even count those who want a job but have given up trying to find one.”

In addition to the enormous losses in decent paying union jobs once held by African-Americans in manufacturing–that more than offset the modest progress for a while under affirmative action in education and employment–not mentioned by Rev Jackson in this article are the setbacks in the public sector. This erosion of an important source of good jobs for African-Americans has accelerated on the watch of the first Black President with massive cuts in the Postal Service and Social Security community offices.

The Obama administration’s attacks on public education have also hit Black educators particularly hard. The pressures of teaching to the test to avoid loss of funding under the rewards and punishments of Race to the Top were dramatically and ruthlessly revealed in Atlanta. Some teachers, with the knowledge of top administrators, allegedly gave improper help to students during testing. If true, while understandable it was wrong and reprimands, even suspensions could have been expected.

Instead, a 2013 Grand Jury indicted 35 mostly Black teachers, principals, and the superintendent on racketeering charges. Most took plea deals to avoid the legal expenses of a trial. Two died before they could be tried. Eight were recently convicted and received prison sentences of up to seven years—more than most violent offenders get for a first offense. And a whole lot more than the community service sentence received by the former 4-star general and CIA director who leaked secret documents to his non-vetted mistress-biographer.

By just about any important measure you choose—employment, income, savings, housing, health care, accessible transit, accessible grocery stores, quality schools, affordable higher education—African-Americans are worse off today than when the Kerner Report was issued nearly 47 years ago.

And the “match of police misbehavior” is now more like a flame-thrower. Dr Martin Luther King opposed riots for both moral and strategic reasons but he understood them and recognized their violence was different than that of police and white supremacists. Shortly before his murder—which ignited a wave of big riots—he famously said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

We need to do more than just say “we hear you.” This is not just a “Black problem.” African-Americans are overwhelmingly working class and that alone makes their injuries our concern. And while Blacks may have claim to being the worst oppressed of all workers there are plenty of pale pigment that share many of their just complaints.

Not far from the ghetto where Freddie Gray lived is a slum known as Billy Town. The name came from the pejorative “hillbilly” used by Baltimore cops to identify poor whites from West Virginia who came to Baltimore for jobs during World War II. The subsequent deindustrialization of Baltimore left them and their progeny facing similar economic challenges—and relations with the police—as poor Blacks.

Dr King recognized that such groups should be natural allies and he devoted a lot of attention in his final years to building a Poor People’s movement that could unite them. Rev Jackson has undertaken similar projects through Operation Push, including reaching out to not so poor predominantly white unions on occasion.

Last Friday, several Minneapolis unions organized a May Day march and rally as part of International Worker’s Day. That holiday with American roots has long been ignored by the mainstream labor movement in this country but Minneapolis is noted for often going against the current and there were other labor endorsed actions in several cities. This year there was an added dimension as described by Barb Kucera on Workday Minnesota,

“Young workers were in the forefront at a Twin Cities May Day event that brought together advocates of the worker rights, immigrant rights and BlackLivesMatter movements…. The day’s actions are ‘not just about staying alive’ in the face of police brutality, but ‘also about making sure we have the wage to take care of ourselves and our families.’ said Mica Grimm, an organizer for BlackLivesMatter. Thirty-four-year old Luke Fahey, wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirt, stood by his bicycle as the May Day marchers gathered. He said there is an ‘intersectionality’ among the issues raised by the demonstrators, which included calls for higher wages, drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers and an end to violence by law enforcement. ‘I believe it goes beyond just police brutality and fair treatment of workers’ to larger concerns like corporate power.”

Such steps are important and need to be expanded. But the fundamental problems require political action that can lead to a government run by worker advocates in the interest of the working class majority. Dr King was studiously nonpartisan. Rev Jackson has devoted his life to reform of the Democrats. And now the “independent socialist” Senator Sanders wants to lead us in to the Democrat primaries as Rev Jackson did in the Eighties.

No Justice—No Peace is a popular slogan in movements for social change. We will find neither in the party whose nomination the “socialist” Senator seeks. It is the party of war abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home. It brought us NAFTA and now peddles TPP. It has championed fracking while wrecking the prospects for climate agreements. It is the party that twice imprisoned Eugene V Debs, who learned his lesson the first time and did just the opposite of Bernie Sanders—Debs left the Dems to become a Socialist. It has been, in fact, the graveyard of progressive causes for over a century.

Class matters. Our future depends on uniting those who work or seek work for a living on the job, in the streets–and in a party of our own.

Upcoming Events
St Paul May 10

The East Side Freedom Library is hosting the St. Paul stop of the Joe Hill 100 Roadshow. This nationwide tour honors the memory of Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant, IWW organizer and songwriter who was executed in Utah 100 years ago. Performers include Anne Feeney, Jan Hammarlund, Bucky Halker, Lil Rev, JP Wright, Emmet Doyle and Paul Metsa. The show takes place Sunday, May 10, at 2:30 p.m. at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier St., St. Paul. Suggested donation is $15.

New Brunswick, New Jersey May 15-17
Second National Labor Fightback Conference
Rutgers Community Inn and Conference Center
The conference will address this key question: “What strategy will enable labor to mount the most effective and powerful fightback possible against the corporate assaults?”For all the details concerning the conference — including workshops, speakers, agenda, registration and logistics — please go to the Rutgers conference website at http://laborfightback.org/conference/

Suburban Chicago May 21
On May 21, at McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting, the Fight for $15 is marching straight to McDonald’s HQ – because it’s time to do the right thing for workers. More details as we get them.

That’s all for this week.

Free subscription to the Week In Review is available at RSS

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member