Week In Review March 14

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Mar 142016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

When I was a shop steward I got to listen to many excuses for being late. Now it’s my turn. I blame being a day later than usual with the WIR on Daylight Savings Time. If you find this credible perhaps I could interest you in a good deal on a 1999 Ford Contour.

Can It Happen Here?
In my senior year in high school I was so impressed with the movie Elmer Gantry that I decided to read the book—and that led to reading all the novels of the prolific Sinclair Lewis including his lesser known It Can’t Happen Here.

Written in 1935 and set in the near future, it was a cautionary tale about the danger of fascism coming to power in America. After a “populist” politician combining elements of Hitler and Huey Long won a three-way contest for President he used para-military forces to establish a repressive “Corpo-State.” Many fled to Canada where they organized a New Underground. That’s as much of the plot as I will reveal.

I was reminded of this book I read more than a half-century ago in following the headlines about the bizarre and disturbing campaign of Donald J Trump. His vague political positions are no more—perhaps even less–reactionary than his far-right competitors for the Republican nomination. They are all for flat tax, austerity, union busting, clinic closing, deportations, religious exemptions for businesses that don’t want LGBT customers–and every other in your face attack on us their think tanks can devise.

But Trump’s signature racist and xenophobic demagogy has now added elements of violence against protest–even suggesting that hecklers be removed on a stretcher. Reminiscent of the sieg heil salute to Hitler at the Nuremberg Rally, Trump now asks his audience to raise hands high to pledge fealty to him in coming victory.

And the most frequent question of U.S. users for Google is how to emigrate to Canada.

Even though there was a significant fascist movement in the USA it didn’t “happen here” in the 1930s. The workers movement grew even faster and stronger, often led by socialists and Communists. Especially the CIO unions took great care to combat racism and sexism within their ranks. When FDR skillfully assembled an informal coalition of not only unions, Black activists, and some left groups but also with segregationists and more than a few anti-Semites, the dominant sectors of the ruling class saw no need to give a piece of the action to fascist thugs.

Outside KC Trump Rally

It’s not likely to “happen here” now either. After a well publicized beating of a lone Black protester in North Carolina, Trump’s advance team made a serious tactical mistake– scheduling a rally on an urban campus in Chicago. Demonstrators forced the cancellation of that event. The following night in Kansas City, Trump was interrupted numerous times by hecklers inside and outside, mounted cops twice sprayed pepper gas to disperse a throng of hundreds of protesters waiting to confront the Trumpites as they left the Midland Theater.

The media has devoted much less attention to the rallies of Bernie Sanders. It’s estimated that Trump’s Saturday night Kansas City rally drew maybe 3,000. The previous week, a weekday afternoon rally for Bernie in my home town attracted 7,500.

As much as I have enjoyed numerous visits to Canada I don’t expect to ask for asylum there. The richest ruling class in history has no need for a fascist solution at this time. They were already concerned that the Republican party was stirring up more trouble than their extremism was worth. For them, a GOP led by their class brother Trump is bad news indeed.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remain vigilant. We should follow Trump’s advice—whenever we get hit we should hit back harder twice. We will not be intimidated by a blow-hard megalomaniac who dreams of putting the Trump brand on a Corpo-State.

Old Lessons Like Vintage Wine—Time to Serve
In the last WIR, commenting on an interesting opinion piece in the Guardian, Why Are There Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America?, I again advocated socialists should work for a labor party. I promised to write about the views of America’s most prominent socialist on that question.

I will borrow from a talk I presented at a Midwest Socialist Educational Conference three years ago that was published by Labor Standard, American Socialists and the Labor Party Question From Debs to Mazzocchi. I am not an historian but I do try to learn from history and share my take with others. As a member of one of the smaller socialist groups commenting on the views of other groups I tried to follow the lead of C Wright Mills: “I aim to be objective; I do not claim to be detached.”

Eugene V Debs was first and always a trade unionist. For that he is still revered by rail workers today. But he also recognized the need for workers to organize politically. Like so many union leaders then and now, he began as a Democrat and was elected to the Indiana legislature—a part-time gig–on the donkey party ticket.

His regular day job included trying to unite the fragmented rail craft unions in common action. This eventually was briefly achieved through a coalition, the American Railway Union. When that new body in 1894 effectively shut down all the railroads in support of Pullman sleeping car workers in suburban Chicago judges immediately ordered them back to work. The union ignored the injunctions and Pullman and the carriers turned to labor’s Democrat “friend” in the White House for help–and the bosses were not disappointed.

Grover Cleveland promptly sent thousands of Federal marshals and 12,000 U.S. Army troops to break the strike. Thirty strikers were killed and 57 wounded. Even though defended by the legendary Clarence Darrow, Debs and ten others were sentenced to six months at the prison in Woodstock, Illinois.

During Debs’ incarceration Victor Berger, a German-speaking Jewish immigrant who later became the first socialist to be elected to Congress, came down from Milwaukee several times to visit him—and to introduce Debs to Marxist literature. Debs was an immediate convert and a quick study. He brought along with him a number of rail unionists to help Berger establish the Social Democratic Party. They won over even broader forces, including Dr Antoinette Kornikow, a pioneer in birth control, from the Socialist Labor Party to launch the Socialist Party of America in 1901.

The high point of socialist influence in the USA was during the first sixteen years of the SPA. At its peak there were 118,000 dues paying members. The party even had some modest electoral success—2 members of Congress, numerous state legislators, over 100 Mayors, and a bunch of lesser local offices. Debs ran for President five times, winning six percent of the vote in 1912—and nearly a million votes in 1920 when he was again in prison, sent there for his opposition to the First World War by orders from another Democrat “friend” Woodrow Wilson. These statistics for the new party are even more impressive considering that the U.S. population was then less than half of today’s.

But Debs also firmly believed that the Socialist Party had to be involved in all areas of class struggle—not just elections. He had long advocated industrial unions, embracing all workers in a workplace, and all workplaces in an industry, as far superior to the prevailing fragmentation in craft unions.

He participated in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905 with enthusiasm, as did many other socialists. In its earliest years the IWW won some impressive organizing and strike victories. But relations between the socialists and the syndicalists—who believed only in direct action and opposed most other political activity—were strained to say the least. Factional splits, and especially brutal persecution by both government and murderous vigilantes during World War I, reduced the effort for One Big Union to a small vanguard. They are still in business today and do some good work organizing low wage workers in some areas.

Even during the peak of the party’s success, Debs favored working to launch a broader labor party, such as socialists had done in Britain. It was by no means the first time that was suggested for the USA. As the historian Eric Blanc noted,

“As early as 1886, German Marxist Frederick Engels had declared that the formation of a Labor Party ‘with no matter how inadequate a provisional platform, provided it be a truly working-class platform — that is the next great step to be accomplished in America’ and advised the Socialist Labor Party to advocate and work within a Labor Party.”

The SLP ignored the advice and wound up becoming an isolated sect. Debs saw a labor party not as a substitute for the SPA but a broadening of working class solidarity in to the political arena to involve those not ready to embrace the full socialist program. After he was freed from prison by a pardon from a Republican President, Debs devoted much of his final writings to the labor party question.

From 1919-24 a number of state and local labor, or farmer-labor parties sprung up around the country. In Minnesota, the Farmer-Labor Party became dominant and the Democrats were reduced to minor third party status until a war-time shot-gun marriage of the two in 1944. To this day the Minnesota Democrats dba Democratic Farmer-Labor Party.

In the early 1920s, there were several conferences exploring the feasibility of fielding a labor party candidate in the 1924 presidential election. They were initiated by an impressive group of unions including a coalition of rail craft unions and the Chicago Federation of Labor. Debs followed these developments closely and commented often.

He wrote before one of them,

“If a genuine labor party is organized at Chicago I shall not expect the platform to go the limit of radical demands but shall be satisfied with a reasonable statement of labor’s rights and interests as well as its duties and responsibilities, doubting not that with the progress of the party its platform will in due time embrace every essential feature of the working class program for deliverance from industrial servitude.”

Unfortunately, this diverse movement got hijacked by “Fighting Bob” La Follette, senior patriarch of a Wisconsin Republican dynasty, who ran as a Progressive. It was neither socialist nor class based and it was the end of a promising opportunity.

Senator Bernie Sanders identifies with Debs. Most of the impressive Labor for Bernie probably do as well. But all proportions guarded, Bernie’s Political Revolution more closely resembles Fighting Bob. The main difference is that La Follette ran a third party line protest while Bernie is committed to the Democrats.

While technology has changed, class relations in society remain essentially the same since Engels and Debs advocated a labor party in the USA. It’s still the next indicated step for the American working class—and certainly deserves consideration by those “millions of new socialists.”

In Brief…
* The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, “Several hundred retired union workers and their families rallied Saturday at the State Capitol in St. Paul to denounce proposed deep cuts to Teamsters pensions. Trustees of the giant Central States fund want to reduce the pensions of nearly 275,000 people nationwide by an average of 34 percent. The proposal would affect more than 15,000 Minnesota retirees. The protesters, many of them retired truckers and their families, denounced the cuts via song, chant and speech, waving U.S. flags and placards.”
* From a March 10 blog post on In These Times, “Activists from across Chicago gathered in downtown Chicago last night at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple to demonstrate a united front in the face of continuing budget cuts and austerity measures proposed by state and city officials and a potentially impending strike of the Chicago Teachers Union. Organized by the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, a group of community activists dedicated to supporting the union, many sitting in the pews wore the CTU’s bright red t-shirts. But onstage, representatives from transit workers union ATU 308, AFSCME Council 31, the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100 and the Chicago Student Union joined CTU President Karen Lewis in calling for solidarity across unions and non-union groups.” An unspecified CTU mass action is in the works for April 1 which would coincide with the Labor Notes Conference.

* The British Telegraph reporting on demonstrations against the French government’s labor “reforms” that include chiseling away at the 35-hour work week, “Unions claimed that half a million people took to the streets around the country, while the government put the figure at quarter of a million. Protests were mainly peaceful, although there were skirmishes with police in the southeastern city of Lyon. More than a million people have signed a petition against the proposed bill, which would loosen France’s notoriously rigid labour laws to make it easier to fire employees, also capping the amount companies have to pay out in working tribunal disputes.”

Just as I was preparing to post this very long and tardy WIR I received a podcast of remarks by Mark Dudzic, former Labor Party national organizer, currently coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer, as broadcast on WDEV’s Equal Time Radio. It’s titled Sanders, Labor for Bernie & Steps Toward a Party of Our Own and runs about 25 minutes. I’m sure I will have some comments on it next time. In the meantime you can access Mark’s message here. And thanks to my friend Traven at Equal Time for passing it along.

That’s all for this week.
The WIR is available by RSS

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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 March 6

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review March 6
Mar 062016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Et Tu, EU?

In the run-up to the COP21 Paris Climate Summit last December the European Union was pretty snooty. They claimed bragging rights to being the most consistent in compliance with the 1997 Kyoto Accords. They had dutifully established cap-and-trade schemes—now known as the Emission Trading Systems (ETS)–to meet their obligations. They tried to shame not only the two top emitters–China and the USA—but also the developing countries who had long been excused from accepting any quotas. The EU submitted a moderately improved preliminary goal to COP21 and implied they would do much better if everybody else took on their fair share.

Fair or not, nearly every country submitted non-binding goals subject to periodic review and adjustment. But now instead of enhancing their first offer it appears Brussels will renege. A Guardian article about a leaked internal EU memo began,

“The EU is set to emit 2bn tonnes more CO2 than it promised at the Paris climate talks, threatening an agreement to cap global warming at 2C, a note from the European commission has revealed. Carbon prices will rise too slowly to cut industrial emissions as much as needed, says a confidential note prepared for MEPs on the environment committee, which the Guardian has seen.”

The Paris agreement had set an “aspirational” goal of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels because many scientists believe the 2C mark adopted in Copenhagen six years ago will not prevent major, irreversible climate damage. To hear that failure in just Europe alone will lead to breaking the 2C barrier is very bad news indeed.

But it is hardly a surprising development. The EU—and other major industrial powers—bet the future of humanity on altering industrial greenhouse pollution through market incentives. ETS is supposed to make conversion to clean renewables increasingly more profitable than using fossil fuels.

It’s been as successful as “Reaganomics” was for creating middle class jobs. They’ve been doing it in Europe for 19 years now—and emissions have continued to climb. Already at the time of the Paris conclave carbon prices were falling, led by a Saudi-induced plunge in oil. Countervailing market forces were canceling out the purported attraction of cap-and-trade before the delegates could leave town. It was Free Enterprise at work.

The priority for the governments of the so-called rich countries is to save global capitalism from the threat of social change. To save our climate requires a different approach—one that rejects the market. Those of us who do the work have to organize politically to place polluting industries under public ownership–and operate them with a democratically determined plan to restructure for ecologically sustainable methods and products. While doing so, we will create a net increase in good jobs.

Nothing else can prevent today’s crisis from evolving in to a new epoch of decline of humanity along with other living species. But we need to move quickly and decisively.

The upcoming Labor Notes Conference would be an ideal venue for discussing how we can get started educating and mobilizing workers. I haven’t yet seen a conference schedule but I remain hopeful.

Who Let the Socialists Out?
Harold Meyerson wrote an interesting opinion piece for the Guardian, Why Are There Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America? A subheading gives a clue to his answer, “It used to be a dirty word. Bernie Sanders helped remove the stigma – but it’s the spectacular failure of capitalism that has really changed people’s minds.”

Meyerson cites a number of authoritative polls documenting the resurrection of socialism including:

* A New York Times poll last November showing that 56 percent of Democrats—including 52 percent of Clinton supporters—had a favorable response to socialism.

* Prior to the South Carolina primary—won by Clinton–39 percent of likely voters described themselves as socialists.

* Forty percent polled before the Iowa caucuses declared themselves socialists.

Meyerson goes on to say,

“Indeed, the current socialist emergence was foretold by the polls that showed most Americans looked positively upon the message of Occupy Wall Street – that the 1% has flourished at the expense of the 99%. It was foreshadowed by the rise to bestseller status of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and by the success of the Fight for $15 movement in prompting cities and states to raise the minimum wage.”

He also doesn’t neglect an inconvenient truth—like advocates for capitalism, these new, or newly discovered socialists are more motivated by issues than ideology. Few belong to an organized socialist group—of which there are many, most quite small, some tiny. There is currently only one office holder in the USA who ran as a member of a socialist party—Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative Party who sits on the Seattle City Council.

As I’ve often noted before, Senator Bernie Sanders has taken advantage of this unorganized positive identification with socialism and popular reforms to mobilize it on his behalf on the big stage of presidential politics—as a Democrat. He has found a great response among tens of thousands of college students who have attended rallies—and Democrat caucuses. In Kansas on Saturday they helped Bernie trounce Hillary Clinton 2-1.

His followers also include many organized, veteran Marxists who have been particularly helpful in getting some important unions on board with Bernie in his contest with Hillary to lead the currently governing party. They believe this is the best way to meet latent socialists and win them to a new mass movement for socialism.

One of the weaknesses of Meyerson’s article is that it tends to give short shrift to significant past socialist movements—the Socialist Party of the Debs era; the role of socialists and communists, and state labor parties during the Great Depression, and in the immediate post-World War II period; and prominence during the movement against the Vietnam war.

There are valuable lessons from this history that are relevant to today’s radicalizing workers and students. In the next WIR I will examine a neglected part of the Eugene V Debs legacy—his advocacy of a labor party. For now I’ll mention some other brief time sensitive remembrances of our history

Days to Remember
None are official holidays in this country but both Monday and Tuesday are memorable dates in the history of the working class and those oppressed because of gender or color.

One that you undoubtedly heard about last year was Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. That vicious attack on peaceful civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama rallied broader forces than ever to the civil rights cause and sparked voting rights legislation. This pivotal event received considerable attention, and was depicted in a film nominated for an Academy Award, around its fiftieth anniversary. Few African-Americans were able to vote in Democrat dominated Alabama in 1965. On “Super Tuesday” last week the big majority of voters in Alabama’s Democrat presidential primary were Black. That reflects both gains of Black access to the polls–and a massive shift of white Dixiecrats from the donkeys to the party of Lincoln.

This Tuesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. Much like May Day, IWD grew out of class struggle in the USA and is widely observed around the world—except in its country of origin. Last year Marisa Taylor did an excellent piece on the Aljazeera America site entitled The Socialist Roots of International Women’s Day. I suggest that you read—and try to save—this article soon because unfortunately the AjAm site and television channel will go dark by the end of this month. She explains how American socialist women trade unionists in the needle trades convinced both party and unions to focus on their issues through mass marches and rallies. The Socialist International adopted this approach with coordinated actions on a global scale, finally settling on March 8 as an annual mobilization.

Probably the most impactful IWD was during the third year of the First World War in 1917 Russia. Women textile workers demanding peace and bread marched in Petrograd (later called Leningrad, today changed to St Petersburg) and were ruthlessly attacked by police. Thousands of workers came to their defense in what proved to be the beginning of the revolution that overthrew the Czar. Because the metaphobic monarch had clung to the calendar of Julius Caesar long discarded by the rest of the world, it became known as the February Revolution. That opened up a contentious period of dual power between a provisional government that tried to continue the war and councils (soviets) elected by workers, soldiers and sailors. The Soviets finally vanquished the provisional government November 7 of that year—known as the October Revolution—establishing the Soviet Union. An early act of the new Soviet government was decreeing International Women’s Day as a national paid holiday.

IWD is a recognized holiday in dozens of countries. But while there are still some worker based observations the day has largely been co-opted and sanitized by NGOs and even the Establishment. Wikipedia describes most events as a blend of Mother’s and Valentine’s Days. The semi-official IWD website features prominent ads by corporate sponsors such as BP, the European Bank, Met Life and Western Union.

In the USA more attention is now focused on March as Women’s History Month. As we have come to expect, the St Paul East Side Freedom Library has an interesting program of films and discussion for the occasion. A grasp of history can only help revive a sorely needed working class movement for women’s liberation.

Before leaving the March 8 calendar page I will mention yet another anniversary that while no where near the scale of significance as the others mentioned is important to me. March 8, 2000 was when kclabor.org went online. There were few labor-oriented websites when we launched. Finding those few was not easy; the Google search engine was still being developed at Stanford and Wikipedia didn’t arrive until the following year.

So while KC Labor hasn’t won any prestigious awards we’re near the top of the seniority list. Sixteen years is a long time for a site that doesn’t sell or advertise anything or have some institutional support. I don’t have any length of service goals but with the help of a spouse supportive in so many ways, along with endangered Medicare, I will keep going as long as readers find it useful. Muchas gracias!

That’s all for this week.
The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to:

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

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