by Bill Onasch
Red Caps Under Hazy Skies
Last Thursday, was Stand Up to Verizon Day. There were solidarity picket lines and rallies at Verizon retail stores across the country in support of 39,000 CWA and IBEW workers on strike in eastern states from Massachusetts to Virginia. I arranged for my my long-time friend and fellow retired bus driver, Tony Saper to give me a ride to the Kansas City action at a revamped shopping center called Blue Ridge Crossing.
It was a bright sunny day with nary a cloud as I waited for Tony—but with a high, milky haze. The local weatherpersons had explained the haze was actually smoke from a mammoth forest fire nearly two thousand miles away in Alberta, Canada—more about that another time.
Considering that there are no actual strikers in the Kansas City area, and it was scheduled at 11AM on a weekday, there was a respectable turnout for the Verizon action. A few dozen of us had no trouble covering all the frontage of the store and for about an hour no one entered or left. We made quite a bit of noise and union bus and truck drivers saluted us with their horns. We got the attention of the local Fox channel—but saw neither hide nor hair of KC’s Finest or even Mall Security.
Such demonstrations help maintain striker morale. Photos and video were taken for posting on the strike website to show them the breadth of support they enjoy across the country. Besides a big contingent of CWA folks there were delegations from the UAW Local at the Ford Claycomo plant, SEIU janitors, Jobs with Justice activists, some faith-based groups, and three of us from the ATU.
All in all, it was a worthwhile action. Undoubtedly there will be more such Verizon Days if, as likely, the strike is prolonged. The strikers deserve no less than an hour or two of our time once in a while.
However, while it was worthy there was nothing remarkable to distinguish it from hundreds of similar routine actions I’ve been to over the years. But informal discussions with CWA members before and after the demonstration were a different matter. They provided additional anecdotal evidence of some big shifts in mood and perspective among American workers today.
Jobs with Justice had asked those coming to the Verizon event to wear red. Tony and I opted for bright red baseball caps with “Labor Party” and a union bug emblazoned in white. If we had been accompanied by more hands we would have brought along the Labor Party banner we generally display at solidarity actions.
As we arrived at the Crossing a bit early, our head gear proved to be a good conversation starter with the CWA stalwarts already there with signs to distribute. Larry Cohen, past president of CWA, heads Labor for Bernie, and has written a strategy piece entitled 3 Next Steps in the Political Revolution. Along with the Amalgamated Transit Union to which Tony and I still belong, CWA is one of those unions very actively supporting the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders–and the lads we met genuinely Feel the Bern. They were curious about this Labor Party that they had never heard of and wanted to know what we thought of Bernie. Some readers may have similar questions.
There wasn’t a whole lot of time for discussion before and after the event that brought us together. We told them we agreed with many of the issues raised by Bernie such as single-payer health care, free public college education, and a 15 dollar minimum wage. Enhanced versions of those proposals were part of the comprehensive Program adopted by the 1400 delegates attending the 1996 Founding Convention of the Labor Party.
But Bernie’s strategy of winning such needed substantial reforms through the Democrats was for us a deal-breaker. Many before him have sought to capture this Establishment party only to find themselves in solitary confinement. Tony and I are old enough to have experienced the popular antiwar crusade of Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968—losing to hawkish Vice-President Humphrey who in turn went on to a humiliating loss to Richard Nixon. Another “peace candidate” George McGovern actually won the Democrat nomination in 1972—but was abandoned by the party apparatus and even most unions, handing Nixon a lop-sided reelection victory. Rev Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow campaign in 1988 attracted a lot of support. But at the end of the day Jackson settled for recognition at the convention that the party needed “two wings to fly.” Bush I needed only one wing and won that election.
That was about as far as we could get in the parking lot before we all had to go somewhere else. Names and e-mail addresses were exchanged and hopefully these discussions can be continued. It’s unlikely future historians will determine that these encounters at Blue Ridge Crossing marked a historic turning point for American workers. I’ve devoted this diversion from the main topic of Verizon as additional anecdotal evidence that many workers are beginning to question not only the greedy economic injustice of a particular employer but are also starting to reclaim their stolen class identity.
Three years ago, a declared socialist was elected to the Seattle City Council and Kshama Sawant has since been reelected. A lot of pundits dismissed this as an example that “all politics is local,” and that Seattle is unique. But in this far from traditional national contest for selecting presidential nominees it was a candidate who described himself as a “democratic socialist” who drew the biggest crowds at rallies—and at times raised more money than his Establishment opponent.
Of course, there are nearly as many varieties of socialists as there are competing Christian, Islamic, or Jewish sects. While seldom mimicking crusades or jihad, the differences among socialists are not unimportant–though they tend to get magnified during periods of isolation.
I’m a much different kind of socialist than Bernie Sanders. But I recognize that his campaign has revealed that there are millions in the USA today who are open to socialist options—something we haven’t seen in this country for generations. We’re not on the verge of revolution, political or otherwise. But we have a precious opening that we can’t afford to squander.
The trademark Political Revolution of the Sanders campaign has a shelf life that will expire in a couple of months. Unless some scandal bigger than an e-mail server knocks out Hillary Clinton, Bernie will not be the choice of the bosses’ donkeys. Some will follow Bernie in holding their nose to vote for a second Clinton as a lesser evil than Trump. Others will cast a protest vote for the Greens. Still others will rest their posteriors on election day.
If you think those alternatives don’t seem to be a whole lot better than past elections—don’t feel lonesome. This is not a year for the working class to win, place, or show in national elections. To do that we need a party of our own.
There are some conferences and union conventions between now and the election where there needs to be discussion—in the corridors if not from the stage–about this need. One of those is the People’s Summit in Chicago June 17-19, with a broad list of endorsers from the labor, climate, and other social movements and a final agenda and speakers list not yet finalized.
I’m a Eugene Debs kind of socialist who believes that we should follow the models of other English-speaking countries by working simultaneously for a broad based working class labor party as well as a socialist movement. The best and most recent effort for a labor party was the one launched twenty years ago—and terminated about five years ago. You can find my assessment, and those of others, of that labor party effort here.
Some of us who went through that Labor Party experience have attempted to maintain some continuity through local Labor Party Advocate groups in Oregon and Arizona as well as Kansas City. We signed up for the duration in the class war but we’re short timers now. We’re in urgent need of fresh reinforcements, if not replacements, in the coming decisive battles on the picket lines, in the streets–and ultimately at the ballot box.
The Union at St Louis University Hospital After 3 Years
Jay Coomer, RN, National Nurses United
Thursday, May 19, 6:30PM
Ethical Society 9001 Clayton RD Hanke Room
Sponsored by Missouri for Single-Payer
The Immigrant Past and Present of Payne Avenue
May 22 2-4PM
Join labor historians Dave Riehle and Peter Rachleff for a walking tour of Payne Avenue. We will focus on the street’s role as a center of immigrant working-class life, from the Swedes, Italians, and Germans of the 19th century to the Hmong, Mexicans, and Salvadorians of the 21st century. The tour begins on Payne Avenue, across the street from Yarusso Bros Italian Restaurant, and proceeds about 11/2 miles to the East Side Freedom Library, where refreshments and restrooms will be available.
So Far Behind I’m Taking a Break
Normally, the WIR publishes on Sunday—this one is on Tuesday. Usually I respond to e-mail within a few days—some of you have been waiting for a fortnight. Partially this is the result of some extra writing projects on deadline. But also, starting with this past weekend, there’s a long string of events of a more personal nature—a friends’ 40th wedding anniversary, a special birthday celebration for a special person, a high school graduation for a young woman we have known all of her life—to name some. Two of these require travel to other cities.
So I’m biting the bullet and taking some personal time off. I will post news updates on the Labor Advocate blog tomorrow, Wednesday, May 11 with the next posting slated for Monday, May 23. Hopefully refreshed and all caught up, I’ll post the next Week In Review Sunday, May 29.
That’s all for this week.
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