Nov 072017

  by Bill Onasch

Ten Days That Shook the World

That is the title of an old book still worth reading. It was an on the scene account of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia by an American socialist journalist John Reed. Warren Beatty produced an excellent 1981 film Reds that expanded coverage of Reed’s perceptive work pre- and post-revolution in both Russia and building solidarity in America.

Because the Romanavs had clung to an outmoded calendar, this historic upheaval became known as the October Revolution. But in fact today is the actual 100th anniversary of that initial validation of Marxist revolutionary theory in practice that is by no means diminished by the subsequent degeneration, and eventual destruction of the workers’ state it established. While the exact same circumstances will never be replicated some general lessons of October warrant our attention a century later.

The WIR is not a proper venue for extensive education and discussion of those lessons. But if you are interested there is plenty of literature available. The most definitive record of the period from the February Revolution that toppled the Czar to October remains Trotsky’s three-volume History of the Russian Revolution.

My old friend Paul LeBlanc, who has written quite a bit about Marxist and labor theory and history, has posted suggestions for further reading about the Bolshevik revolution on the Haymarket Books site currently offering substantial discounts.

It gets my dander up that the Kremlin office where Lenin once worked is now occupied by an apostate Communist, a former colonel in the dreaded KGB secret police, now a billionaire capitalist oligarch. But today I will set that anger aside to joyfully celebrate the centennial of Red October.

No VIPs In St Louis

[A version of this item also appears in the Labor Briefing column in the November issue of Socialist Action.]

The AFL-CIO quadrennial convention to elect officers and pass policy resolutions was held in St Louis October 22-25. While some of the biggest unions—the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, and Carpenters–are not affiliated, the federation still represents 12.5 million workers.

In response to police killings of African-Americans, racial profiling, and voter suppression, St Louis became the launching pad for the Black Lives Matter movement. A pre-convention conference on Diversity and Inclusion attracted hundreds of arriving delegates along with many in the local communities.

When speakers from Black Lives Matter didn’t show it was discovered that entry of a BLM contingent had been blocked by Convention Center management. Hundreds of delegates then took the conference outside to join them in solidarity. After only a few minutes, management relented and all marched in to the scheduled venue.

The three top officers—Richard Trumka, President; Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer; Tefre Gebre, Executive Vice-President–were reelected without opposition. In their acceptance speeches all three spoke to the convention theme—Join Together; Fight Together; Win Together. But underlying this surface of unity were currents of major differences that often were responsible for glaring omissions and compromises in the 56 adopted resolutions.

There was a resolution War Is Not the Answer but unions in the war industries insisted on another, Support 100 Percent Buy American In Defense. The Labor Campaign for Single-Payer did a good job in putting the federation on record supporting the Medicare For All campaign. But the same resolution said they would for now also keep on keep on championing the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, written by and for the insurance Robber Barons.

Perhaps the most contentious issue of all is climate change. The building trades, rail, and mine worker unions, eager to get fossil fuel-related jobs, take a position similar to Trump’s. Other affiliates like National Nurses United and the Amalgamated Transit Union are part of the Labor Network for Sustainability that advocates a Just Transition approach to protecting workers whose jobs will be lost in the switch to clean, renewable energy. The two sides faced off and nearly came to blows during the Tribes’ occupation at Standing Rock attempting to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Resolution 55, Climate Change, Energy and Union Jobs, was in most respects a big advance. It unequivocally endorsed the consensus of climate scientists about the devastating impact of global warming resulting from carbon emissions and urged the U.S. government to implement commitments in the Paris Climate Accords. And it advocates Just Transition for displaced workers and their communities affected by energy restructuring.

But while promoting clean renewable energy alternatives crucial to ending carbon emissions it also throws a dangerous sop to coal miners and the building trades by including gimmicks like the coal industry pipe dream of “carbon capture and storage”– and nuclear power.

There is never going to be “clean coal.” Nuclear reactors don’t emit greenhouse gases but they do leave behind radioactive waste that remains dangerous to humans for centuries. There is no known protocol for securing this threat over such a time span. And, of course, there is the danger of catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island. Nukes have no place in our energy future.

There were other good resolutions on immigration, public education, fighting fascism, 15 dollar minimum wage, and the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. But all 56 share a common attribute—their objectives cannot be achieved through collective bargaining. They are all essentially political questions. But American unions are the only labor movement in the English speaking world not to have a labor party of their own.

Past AFL-CIO conventions typically featured speeches by big name Democrat “friends of labor.” Usually that was about all that interested the corporate media. But such Establishment VIPs were not invited this year. This was a belated recognition of what polls have shown over the past several years—the working class majority is fed up with both major parties and think there should be a new alternative.

Resolution 2, An Independent Political Voice begins–“For decades, the political system has failed working people. Acting on behalf of corporations and the rich and powerful, the political system has been taking away, one after another, the pillars that support working people’s right to good jobs and secure benefits.”

That’s true enough—though socialists would begin the time line around the Industrial Revolution. Resolution 2 continues– “Against this, we have one choice. We must give working people greater political power by speaking with an unquestionably independent political voice, backed by a unified labor movement.”

But voice is not a party and power can not be shared between hostile classes. There appeared to be three distinct camps with incompatible visions among the delegates.

* The bureaucracy that still follows the advice of Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor, to reward your friends and punish your enemies among the candidates of the two boss parties.

* Leaders of several major activist unions that support the effort of the “socialist” Bernie Sanders to transform the Democrats in to “labor’s voice.”

* A smaller but significant group that wants to revive the once promising, now defunct Labor Party.

The first two strategies have a long, well documented track record of failure. It’s high time American workers, like our British class siblings, choose option 3.

A Socialist Alternative In Minneapolis

That would be Ginger Jentzen–and the name of her party. Ginger is running for City Council from Ward 3 in today’s municipal election. SAlt candidates have made a good showing in this working class district in past elections and many observers think she has a good chance of winning this time.

Ginger has secured endorsements from the Minnesota Nurses Association; state council of the Communications Workers; Democratic Socialists of America; and the Berniecrat Our Revolution.

I was particularly impressed by support coming from the United Transportation Union, forwarded to me by a retired UTU Local Chair–“Upon request of numerous active and retired members and after working in Solidarity on several fair labor standards and minimum wage issues, UTU-SMART-TD Minnesota has proudly endorsed Minneapolis Ward Three candidate Ginger Jentzen.”

Ginger hopes to become the second elected socialist in the USA joining her comrade Kshama Sawant who is serving a second term on the Seattle City Council.

In Brief…

UE Beats Koch Brothers—The Trumpite Iowa state legislature hoped to wipe out public sector unions by requiring them to be recertified every year in which they negotiate a contract. That means winning an election with a majority of the bargaining unit, not just of those voting. The independent United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers has six contracts coming up. The UE won all six with 87 percent opting to stay union.

Glad Grads–Finally overcoming objections and delays by the University of Chicago administration, U of C graduate student workers got their chance to vote in an NLRB representation election in late October. It wasn’t close—1,103 to 479 in favor of Grad Students United, affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers. This necessary first step now leads to the challenge of negotiating a first contract.


While renovation work affecting my home office is not yet complete I expect to be able to work around what remains to return the WIR to a weekly schedule. I resumed posting links to news stories on our companion Labor Advocate blog yesterday. Thanks for your patience.

That’s all for this week.

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