Week In Review Extra–Fidel

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Nov 282016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch


I feel compelled to comment on the passing of Fidel Castro whose prominence in history is assured. Fidel and the revolution he led inspired me as a teenager and continues to have a profound impact on shaping my world view.

Fidel’s mortality has finally been confirmed at age 90. The Revolution still lives—though with great challenges. That’s nothing new. Since coming to power more than a half-century ago, after an already long struggle against a brutal dictator backed by Washington, Wall Street and two crime Syndicates, they have survived a U.S. organized invasion, CIA plots to murder Fidel, the Missile Crisis of 1962 that brought the world to the very brink of nuclear war—and perhaps most overall devastating, the U.S. enforced embargo and travel ban.

For a while they received substantial trade and aid from the Soviet Union as part of Moscow’s geopolitical Cold War maneuvers. That was lost with the collapse of the USSR and a KGB-led restoration of very unenlightened capitalism. They traded doctor and teacher services for oil with Venezuela during the time of Hugo Chavez but today that neighbor is experiencing a big political and economic crisis of their own that has stopped that flow.

Despite unrelenting attacks by eleven U.S. presidents, and occasional gusano terrorism, the Revolution has secured some important gains for workers and peasants:

* The Revolution inherited a Jim Crow system imposed during U.S. occupation following the Spanish-American War. This was confronted from Day One. About a third of the population is Afro-Cuban. It may take more generations for color prejudice to be eradicated but color discrimination has been aggressively fought with considerable success. And even the U.S. Jewish Daily Forward, never a cheerleader for the Revolution, acknowledges Fidel’s personal intervention against antisemitism directed at Cuba’s small Jewish community.

* The July 26 Movement that led the Revolution also tackled, with more mixed results, the problem of machismo. There were women in leadership even during the guerrilla fighting in the mountains. While still underrepresented in top governmental bodies all women have benefited from reforms such as Cuba’s Family Code. Men not only have to promise to treat their wives/partners as equals but also agree to fairly share household and childcare tasks. And unlike American women, there is no threat to Cuban women’s right to control their own bodies.

* Before the Revolution only the well-to-do could afford quality health and dental care. Some of the ghoulish street dancers in Miami celebrating Fidel’s death were children or grandchildren of doctors, dentists, and pharmacists who rejected participation in the new socialized medicine providing free care to all. They instead opted to relocate to Florida where the U.S. government eased the way to establishing new lucrative practices. But the Revolution trained new doctors as they put together a model health care system that dramatically improved life spans. They have a lower infant mortality rate than the richest country in the world. They could do much better yet if the embargo that limits access to drugs and medical equipment was lifted.

* Illiteracy was a big problem in Batista’s Cuba, especially among peasants and farm workers. An early successful campaign of the Revolution sent volunteers in to the countryside to teach basic reading and writing skills. But that was just the beginning of a revolution in education that enabled every Cuban to advance their learning as far as their interest and progress could take them—free of charge. This not only produced health care professionals but also engineers, agronomists, meteorologists, physicists—and eventually after prodding by Fidel climate scientists.

* The Revolution has been exemplary in international solidarity. This was not limited to revolutionary movements and regimes such as the first FSLN government in Nicaragua and the short-lived New Jewell revolution in Grenada. They have always been the earliest First Responders providing medical and engineering help to victims of natural disasters throughout the hemisphere and beyond.

* After declining health led Fidel to hand over head of state duties to his brother Raul, a revolutionary leader on his own merits, the elder Castro continued to write perceptive articles on the Big Picture issues of our times. He devoted increasing attention to climate change.

Is “Castro’s Cuba” a workers paradise led by paragons? Hardly. There have been some mistakes and false starts. While the planned economy has succeeded in delivering basic needs equitably despite severely limited resources there are few amenities.

This has led to some limited “market reforms.” The track record of attempts at a “mixed economy” elsewhere is not good. This is cause for concern and has sparked some debate inside and outside government in Cuba—including some of the final writings of Fidel–and among supporters of the Revolution around the world. How it will be resolved is still unclear.

I reject the characterization of Fidel as a “dictator.” That charged term implies ruthless repression of the majority. Objective reports from Cuba consistently indicated Fidel enjoyed overwhelming popular support even during the most trying times. This authority has also been largely granted to Raul.

But long standing criticism by socialist supporters of the Revolution of the lack of democratic institutions of worker rule—from the community and workplace level on up to the top—is being validated. Fidel is now gone. Raul is 85 and has said he will retire by 2018. No one individual remains with their popular authority and there is so far little input by the workers in determining either their replacement or the future of market measures.

Genuine friends should always offer constructive suggestions. But it’s up to the working people of Cuba to determine their course of action. Whether thinking them right or ill-advised it’s the duty of friends to support them.

I’m sure there is a variety of views among our readers about Fidel Castro and the Revolution he helped lead. But even if you don’t share my outlook I hope you will tell the twelfth president taking office since the Revolution began to lift the embargo and travel restrictions so that Cuba can determine their own destiny.


A more typical WIR will appear later this week.

That’s all for now.

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Week In Review November 22

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Nov 222016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Our Alternative to AltRight, AltHistory, AltScience

A cartoon in the Kansas City Star suggested that along with a ten foot wall on the southern border to keep Mexicans out a similar wall should be built on the northern border to keep Americans in. It’s the sort of grim humor attributed to soldiers waiting to go in to battle.

A lot of Americans—likely the majority—are mad, unsettled, or depressed about the prospects of a Trump administration. Their concerns run the full gamut of social, economic and political issues. Their angst is shared by the rest of the world.

It’s always hard to prioritize topics for these weekly missives. The class war will soon escalate on many fronts—an imminent threat of resuming mass deportations; a fast track to reversing Roe v Wade; further degradation of already failing health care; erasing the modest recent gains in labor law reform; and uncertainty about the direction of ongoing wars of intervention.

But one issue remains overarching. The mood at the UN climate gathering in Marrakesh that concluded last week would have been gloomy even without the shocking result in the U.S. election. The New York Times reported,

As negotiators meet in Morocco to hammer out details of the landmark global climate change accord reached in Paris almost a year ago, the independent International Energy Agency warned that the nearly 200-nation deal was too weak to meet its avowed temperature target.”

Even that forecast by scientists was based on the assumption that the meager commitments of the Obama administration would be kept. But a Guardian article reminded us,

Trump, who is the first self-declared climate change denier to lead one of the world’s top emitters, has dismissed global warming as ‘very expensive … bullshit’ and claimed the concept ‘was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.’”

Given the fact that China long ago overtook the USA as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases, Trump’s conspiracy althistory defies not only science but common sense logic. The Chinese ruling class clearly has no self-interest in creating a phony crisis in which they are portrayed as one of the main culprits.

It is true, however, that much of China’s mammoth pollution of all sorts serves U.S. corporations who offshore not only jobs that could be done in this country but environmental and climate damage as well. The capitalist elite dba Chinese Communist Party cannot hide the downright unhealthy impact of fossil fuels on daily life both urban and rural. They have in fact also become a leading developer of altenergy, especially solar.

Of course, most bosses have been denouncing “job-killing junk science” since the 1970s battles that won passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air, OSHA and MSHA acts. They certainly have their stooges in Congress, state capitals, and the courts still sniping and haggling. The climate wrecking class has even found some suckers in the union bureaucracy to do their dirty work such as at Standing Rock. They didn’t expect that they would also get Trump and most are probably clueless about the ultimate intentions of this new “populist”–who has chosen a proto-fascist to be in charge of his policy strategy–denouncing Globalization as well as promising deregulation.

Those earlier landmark reforms were won during the Nixon administration. The incongruity of these achievements may not be apparent to most of our readers who are too young to have personal recollections of the only President forced to resign in disgrace—after first securing a Get Out of Jail Free Card from his successor.

I lived through that tumultuous period and participated in some of the mass movements of that time. This is not the place for a lengthy review of those momentous events but trust me—Nixon holds his own in comparison with Trump as a foul mouthed bigot in presumed privacy, and as ruthless in undermining democracy at home as he was pursuing war crimes abroad.

You needn’t remind me that today’s situation bears little resemblance to the 70s—of that I am painfully aware. The point I wish to make is that even with a reactionary crook in the White House the pressure of mass movements in the streets won some game-changing reforms as well as contributing to eventually ending a terrible unjust war.

And I will make a further counter-intuiative suggestion that rebuilding mass movements may be easier under Trump. An energetic antiwar movement under Bush II lost its way with the election of a “Peace President.” Civil rights leaders measured their words about the first Black President. The mainstream environmental groups never faltered in their support of the “Environmental President.” And most union bureaucrats took their marching orders from “Labor’s Friend” in the White House. There will be few such illusions in Trump.

There are already some developments far more promising than the spontaneous anti-Trump gatherings that the opportunists of MOVEON.org tried to corral.

* There was already the ongoing struggle of Native peoples and many allies against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Last Tuesday tens of thousands participated in solidarity events at Federal Buildings across the country. I was proud to help carry a Labor Party banner at the Kansas City action that attracted many friendly remarks and questions. Labor Beat put together a good video about the well attended march and rally in Chicago.

* Next Tuesday, November 29, the Service Employees International Union is coordinating Stand Together local actions around the country addressing both the threat to immigrant workers and the struggle of low wage workers for 15 Dollars and a Union. There will be a voluntary civil disobedience component in most places. You can get more information, and sign up to participate here.

* 350.org is leading an ambitious effort to pull together a People’s Climate Movement coalition including labor and civil rights as well as environmental groups that project a variety of actions to greet and continue to fight Trump’s climate denial and destruction. You can find out more here.

* The Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Health Care is co-sponsoring a Single-Payer Strategy Conference in New York City January 13-15.

Other actions by women’s liberation and Black Lives Matter groups are in the works and the WIR will pass on details as they become available.

We must reject althistory and learn the lessons of the true history of our class. But above all, we need to shake off any lingering depression and embrace our obligation to make new history.

‘Zuckerman Gives Hoffa a Run For His Money’

That was how an In These Times headline described the top of the ticket results of the international leadership election in the Teamsters. Though there are still some challenged votes to be resolved it appears the Teamsters United candidate for president won small majorities in all the U.S. regions but Hoffa piled up a big enough majority in Canadian locals to offset this. I’ll have more to say about this contest another time but for now I want to congratulate the exemplary principled campaign of Teamsters United that brings the Teamsters membership a step closer to the militancy and democracy they deserve.

Help Wanted

I’m sorry that I have no career opportunities to offer. No body gets a paycheck at KC Labor. We’ve never charged to view our content. We accept no paid advertising. To maintain our independence we don’t even want grants from institutions. I was still drawing a “middle class” wage as a unionized bus driver when we launched KC Labor in 2000 but my pockets have shrunk after twelve years of no regular income other than Social Security. I’ve had to rely on donations from appreciative readers and that’s the help I want.

Our needs are relatively modest for an established site–but too expensive for a hobby. My annual domain and server fees along with my AT&T bill runs about 1500 dollars. Our i-Contact e-mail subscriber list is a bargain at 150. Subscriptions to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kansas City Star, Labor Notes, and Monthly Review, come close to 900. Security and file backup service costs another hundred bucks. This bare minimum package needed to function runs about 2650 a year.

Fortunately, a generous monthly pledge from a California reader, supplemented by occasional smaller donations have more than kept up with these minimum needs. We’re not in imminent danger of going dark.

But in the past I have also tried to cover important movement conferences and other major events. A KC Labor information table has become a fixture at biennial Labor Notes Conferences for example. Travel, hotel, and fees for such efforts often run a thousand dollars or more.

I am on my fourth desktop and second travel laptop computer since we went online and it would be prudent to have something put away for replacement in the next year or two. Much of my software is becoming obsolete.

I am just vain enough to think this project will be more useful than ever in the class and climate battles on the horizon. That’s what moves me to overcome my reluctance to shake the can. If you haven’t donated recently your help is wanted—and appreciated.


I wish our U.S. readers a Happy Thanksgiving!

That’s all for this week.


If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

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Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.