I’ve Been Striking on the Railroad

By Karyn Pomerantz, 11-20-2022

UPDATE: US workers just rejected the contract offer. 11-21-2022

There’s an old song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” that goes like this:

I’ve been working on the railroad

All the live-long day.

I’ve been working on the railroad

Just to pass the time away.

Can’t you hear the whistle blowing, rise up so early in the morn…

Written in 1894, this famous song depicts the back-breaking work of railroad workers. Built in the 19th Century, largely by black and Chinese workers, the railway system played an integral part in building capitalism in the United States, carrying oil, steel, and other critical products to western markets. The “robber baron” industrialists, such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, made a killing in these industries by cheating and violently attacking workers to create massive wealth.

Today, railroad workers are on the rise. This article will describe potential, current, and previous railway strikes. Because these militant multiracial actions disrupt business, they can improve the lives of workers much more substantially than any electoral strategies. Mass struggles teach us how to work together, identify our enemies and allies, and how to make changes.

Continue reading “I’ve Been Striking on the Railroad”

THE FIRST BLACK PANTHER MOVIE: A Review

by a retired teacher, 11-14-2022

Yes, movies are entertaining and fun, but they also convey important viewpoints about life.

Undoubtedly, we won’t all agree about the ideas in a movie. I’m sharing this review to offer some thoughts that you may wish to consider while thinking about the implied themes in the brand new Wakanda Forever film. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Here’s the original review:

For sure – as compared to many thousands of movies with no Black characters; or with just a few Black characters, all depicted as subservient; or with many Black characters but none given depth, complexity and leadership on the world scene – Black Panther is a breath of fresh air.

And it’s truly pleasing to hear about that day on the set, with hundreds of Black actors on the mountainside in a joyous mood between takes, celebrating the fact that so many actors of color have been employed in a major film, in a story about the most technologically advanced civilization on the planet. And it’s great to see women in leading roles: powerful, insightful, and on the cutting edge of scientific breakthroughs.

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Covid Protections- Not War!

Presentation at the People’s Public Health Conference, November 4, 2022

Karyn Pomerantz, 11-8-2022

An audio file with slides is listed at

Introduction:

This talk will define imperialism and apply it to Russia and the US, identify the material and political causes of the war, depict the health and economic costs of this war, and recommend urgent strategies to end it.

Imperialism

Imperialism operates when industrialized countries must find new markets to sell an overproduction of goods and to buy cheap labor to reduce their expenses on the backs of workers losing jobs at home and workers exploited abroad. It is a strategy to carve up the world and control other countries for their  resources, cheap labor, and markets.

Examples include the British Empire occupying India, the Belgians devastating citizens of the Congo, and the US invading Iraq to seize its oil. When imperialists vie for control, inter-imperialist rivalries result, often in wars. That is the scenario today between the US and EU vs Russia and its allies.

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Never Throw Away the Key: The Compassionate Radicalism of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. A Book Review

by Joseph G. Ramsey, 10-17-2022

The editors welcome this article from Joe Ramsey who analyzes Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. He argues that we must extend our compassion and beliefs that people can change to those whose situations lead to harmful actions. He states that: “the hierarchical sorting of people into the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ invariably draws upon and contributes to the toxic legacies of nationalism, race, class, as well as gender, homophobia, ableism, and more. But, as Stevenson makes clear, it is not simply abhorrent as an expression of such injustice. It is fundamentally dehumanizing and alienating for all involved, and corrosive to the potential for positive social change in general.” Ramsey’s review contributes to the discussion of abolition, restorative justice, and mitigation. Is it possible to treat people with compassion under capitalism? Do we want to forgive perpetrators of crimes against the working class, whether police or fascist rulers? Can we abolish or mitigate racism under capitalism? Read on. The Editors.

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Our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing.  Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.”

                -Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

                    “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”*

                                       -Terence, African Roman playwright & former slave

                                               (*favorite ‘maxim’ of Karl Marx)

Far too many people in the United States are officially condemned to have their futures cut short.[1]  The most extreme of these cases are found on Death Row, where thousands now sit, sentenced to be executed by the state—some likely for crimes they did not even commit.[2]  To these we must add another 55,000 people who languish permanently in US prisons, sentenced to “life” without even the possibility of parole.[3]  They too are condemned to die, behind bars, if not today, then eventually—no matter what they do or say, no matter how unfair the events that landed them in prison in the first place.[4]

What does it mean for a society to condemn so many, so finally? 

Continue reading “Never Throw Away the Key: The Compassionate Radicalism of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. A Book Review”

Shut It Down and Shut It Tight, Workers of the World UNITE!

Metro Access workers on the picket line

By Karyn Pomerantz, 9-10-2022

Anatomy of a Strike – Class Struggle or Business Unionism

During August, 2022 in Prince George’s County, MD, 170 paratransit operators of Metro Access in the Amalgamated Transportation Union (ATU 689) walked off their jobs to demand increased wages, more sick leave, and improved health and retirement benefits. Metro Access transports people living with disabilities to medical appointments, grocery stores, and social events. Most are too poor to have cars or pay for cabs or Uber and need transport that accommodates wheelchairs.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which operates the bus and subway systems, contracted out Metro Access to the billionaire French Transdev Corporation known for its anti-union activities. In 2019, WMATA bus operators working for Transdev struck for 85 days to achieve pay parity with other WMATA drivers. These contract arrangements weaken the ability of workers to organize larger strikes and forge solidarity across the work sites.

Continue readingShut It Down and Shut It Tight, Workers of the World UNITE!

Disability Justice

Karyn Pomerantz, 8-11-2022

Demonstration against cutbacks in health care

Covid-19 has re-emphasized the inequities of capitalism, displaying how it leaves the aged, those with chronic illness, and those with low-paying jobs who labor in close-packed, unprotected workplaces and live in crowded housing more vulnerable. Even without Covid-19, capitalists treat older workers, whether sick or retired as surplus, disposable people who drag down profits and require costly health care. Under capitalism, the ruling class values workers only by their ability to produce and thereby create profit.

This article will discuss the politics of disability from a class perspective that supports the participation and inclusion of all workers in society according to their abilities and preferences. It argues against creating another category of identity politics.

Continue readingDisability Justice

Soldiers Must Refuse to Fight to End theWar

Anti-war actions

Karyn Pomerantz, 6-26-2022

Imperialist countries cannot wage war for global power without the tens of thousands of workers they recruit and arm to fight for their empires. To the ruling class and military brass, these workers are cannon fodder for their interests. WWI wasted millions of young men sent to carry out insane combat orders. The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq relied on voluntary soldiers, some motivated by patriotism and more by the economy and difficulty finding jobs. Army recruiters prowled the halls of high schools and promised training and benefits. During the 1960s when the Vietnam War began, the Army instituted the draft, giving deferments and better positions to college students. This deferment ended as the Army required more soldiers.

Class divisions mirrored those in civilian life causing resentments and conflict. During the Vietnam War, most combat soldiers had working class backgrounds and a high school degree or less while the officers had high school and college degrees. Officers working in safety far from the fighting made the combat decisions and ordered the troops to implement them. As we will see, the draft of men who did not want to fight created a tinderbox of rebellion.

As earlier articles on this blog have explained, we, the working class of all nations, should not take sides in the war in Ukraine. Russia, the United States, and the EU are fighting for control of natural resources, minerals, oil, gas, grains, and pipelines. Russia has aggressively and inhumanely devastated cities in order to grab territory to assert power. The US is intent on weakening the power of Russia and boosting the number of NATO military bases around Russia. The US has intervened in Ukrainian politics since 2014 when it installed their new president. Russia has retaliated against these threats with horrendous attacks on civilians.

Capitalism kills, and war is the most extreme example. Capitalists send working class men and women into horrific situations and count success as the number of enemy troops killed and territory seized. These capitalists are willing to sacrifice our lives whether in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, or Libya. As we see on the news, Biden is more than willing to shelter 100,000 Ukrainian refugees while deporting hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who also face desperate situations in their home countries. He sends billions of dollars for military equipment to Ukraine, slashes funding for Covid relief, and maintains trade barriers on distributing vaccines to poorer countries with primarily black and brown people. This war is draining billions for arms (currently over $56 billion) from domestic social needs, such as healthcare, housing, and climate improvements.

On the “positive” side, soldiers have significant power by deserting, sabotaging equipment, and refusing orders. There are some reports of Russian soldiers deserting; over 30,000 have died! International Business News (June 22, 2022) reported that 200 Russian soldiers hid out in a village in Ukraine rather than fight. An officer shot himself in the leg to avoid combat, and another GI ran over an officer with his tank. The Russian Army released 100 national guardsmen who refused orders. Another soldier told a reporter that “none of us wanted this war.”

If soldiers on both sides refused to fight, they could end the war.  WWI and WWII led to revolutions in Russia and China. The role of the armed forces was instrumental for their victories; soldiers mutinied against their ruling classes and refused to attack the revolutionaries. However, this is not inevitable. Successful revolutions require people’s commitment to egalitarianism and anti-racism, and the organization of workers, students, and soldiers into a party.

This article recounts the GI rebellions against the War in Vietnam. Later articles will cover other wars during the 20th Century. Soldiers from Ukraine and Russia must follow these heroic examples to end the war.

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Review: Plague at the Golden Gate

by Karyn Pomerantz, 6-4-2022

PBS film on the bubonic plague of 1901 in SF

Imagine this scenario:

  • Disease outbreak blamed on Chinese
  • Physicians coverup cases in white areas
  • Business needs outweighed health protection
  • Denial of healthcare to Chinese workers creates distrust of physicians and public health officers
  • No cure existed
  • It took years to find the zoonotic cause and control transmission

Sound familiar??

No, it’s not Covid. It is the bubonic plague that appeared in San Francisco in 1901. The Plague at the Golden Gate, a documentary produced by PBS, portrays the desperate search for the cause of the rapid deaths among Chinese residents crammed into a crowded neighborhood known as Chinatown. Out of 120 plague stricken people, 119 died. The handling of the outbreak holds lessons for public health workers, government officials, and the public today.

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Shopping While Black: Fight Racist Violence with Multiracial Unity

Mourners in Buffalo, May 2022

by Karyn Pomerantz

The constant drum beat of white supremacy has enabled the murderers of many people: black Bible Study members in Charlotte, Asian women workers in Georgia, Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh, and Latinx shoppers in Texas. Now a white supremacist has killed 10 black residents in Buffalo. Shopping, working, and worshipping while black, Latin, Jewish, and Asian can get you killed. This shooting is a horrific outcome of the racism in Buffalo and elsewhere.

These attacks appear to be the random work of deranged people. While mental illness may be a factor, these men are deeply influenced by racism. It is hard to predict the exact time and place of these murders, but the intentional and perpetual inculcation of racist ideas by US capitalism ensures that it will sow division and distrust and erupt in violence.

After the shooting, The Washington Post polled a national sample of black residents on its effects, revealing a high level of mistrust of white workers and the police:

  • 70% believed half of whites held racist ideas
  • 55% wanted more economic investment to alleviate poverty and neglected communities instead of increased policing favored by 24%
  • 1 in 4 considered buying a gun (Washington Post, Poll: Black Americans fear more attacks after Buffalo. 5-22-2022, A3).

Some white faces appeared at the funerals and vigils, but more white residents must overcome the segregation and reach out to their black neighbors with support and activism.  While living conditions and racist violence differ in degree between black and white residents, both groups have high rates of poverty, 31% and 18% respectively, both over the 13% in New York State (Census data, 2000-2020, https://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Buffalo-New-York.html).

This article describes how Buffalo businessmen promote segregation and racism to produce wealth for themselves and poor health, educational, and economic outcomes for black residents. It calls for building multiracial solidarity while rejecting the identity politics that divide us into separate silos.

Continue readingShopping While Black: Fight Racist Violence with Multiracial Unity

The Fight for Abortion is a Fight Against Racism, Sexism and Capitalism

by Karyn Pomerantz, 5-20-2022

Overturning a woman’s right to abortion is the latest effort to keep women powerless, providing free domestic labor in the home and under the control of the male-dominated state.

Demonstration to keep abortion legal

It is not the first attack. Seventeenth century witch hunts stigmatized and murdered outspoken women. Slavery turned black women into child and wealth generators for plantation owners. Throughout capitalist history, women have been demeaned and impoverished, especially black, indigenous, and Latinx women, in order to make extra profits. This article documents how capitalism oppresses women and argues that abortion supporters must broaden their demands to address the broader role of sexism under capitalism.

Continue reading “The Fight for Abortion is a Fight Against Racism, Sexism and Capitalism”