I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON THE RAILROAD

A communist worker describes the struggle to build militancy and overcome racism in trade unions in the 1950s-60s

By Wally Linder     

In the 1950s, in order to move the working class to the left, the US Communist Party’s (CP) policy of industrial concentration aimed to build a mass base especially in the basic industries, those areas which held the lifeblood of the country in their hands: auto, steel, electrical, railroad and so on. So in that summer of 1953, I sought a job in auto plants, in GM Tarrytown, N.Y. and Ford in New Jersey but without success, but I soon was hired on the Baltimore & Ohio where I would spend the next decade. I later discovered that the CP had a railroad section comprising 65 members in 13 party clubs on 13 different roads in various crafts. Metropolitan New York’s 90,000 railroad workers comprised the second largest rail center in the US, next to Chicago’s. As it turned out, it became among the most rewarding and exciting decades of my seventy adult years, when I started “workin’ on the railroad.”

 

I joined the country’s largest railroad union (the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks & Freight Handlers) totaling a quarter million members. Our work was essentially to unload freight from trucks and trailers backed up to railroad piers on Manhattan’s West Side waterfront and then load the freight into railroad cars resting on barges (called “floats”) tied to the piers. Tugboats then towed these barges laden with perhaps a dozen fully-loaded freight cars across the Hudson River to Jersey City freight yards, where they were coupled together into trains hundreds of cars long to be moved westward to their destinations. Similarly, we would unload the freight cars towed over from Jersey containing eastbound freight and load that into trucks and trailers, manned by Teamsters, who would then deliver the freight to Metropolitan NYC destinations.

Our role as CP members was to organize mass, militant, rank-and-file struggles, possibly become local leaders, but we were instructed not tell anyone we were communists “because that would isolate us from the [brainwashed] workers.” It was past the era of mass, open communist organizing of the 1920s and 1930s, and heavily into the Cold War period in which the CP had beat a hasty retreat from its leadership days. (I started on the railroad during the Korean War, at the height of McCarthyism.) In all my years on the railroad I never once directly told a co-worker that I was a communist, although I later learned that the company knew, the union officials knew and so did the mass of workers!

Our party club among the B&O freight handlers started slowly, becoming involved in very low-level struggles. My first challenge to the bosses occurred when I was part of a gang unloading a refrigerator car. We were forced to work ankle deep in melted ice water without protective boots (which we knew to be a rule violation). I discussed it with the rest of the gang and we told the foreman we would refuse to work without boots. I was immediately summoned before the station agent who told me I “couldn’t refuse to work. That was insubordination.” I told him the company was being “insubordinate” in not issuing us boots. Did he want us to get sick and not report to work? He smiled and told the foreman to give us boots.

This story spread around the 26th St. Freight Station. (The B&O freight operation comprised Piers 20-23, 39-40, 63-66 and the 26th St. Station, involving about 1,000 workers.) Because of that incident, workers on my shift (7 PM to 4 AM) began approaching me with grievances. We had no steward; the local’s leadership was centered downtown at Piers 20-23. My co-workers petitioned the union to appoint me a steward on that shift. This was at the end of my first year on the B&O.

Sanitary and health conditions on the railroads were abominable. One example: the “bathroom” on the end of one pier consisted of an iron bar on the edge of the pier. One would drop one’s pants, sit on the bar and crap into the Hudson River. We had no locker rooms and very few lunchrooms. This was true of most railroads in the NYC area. So our party railroad section proposed the idea of starting a movement to get a law passed in the two state legislatures guaranteeing minimum sanitation and health facilities on all roads in the area.

Alongside this was what came to be known as the weekly pay campaign. Railroad workers were paid three times a month, every ten days. While seemingly meaningless to workers paid every week or every two weeks, it wreaked havoc on railroad workers. Some pay periods would include six working days, some seven and others eight. It made it very difficult to budget one’s pay, especially when rent time rolled around. Railroad workers were always bitching about being paid so irregularly. So we seized on this apparently universal complaint, which cut across all road and craft lines — there were 23 different craft unions on the railroads at that time — in an attempt to organize a movement which would build rank-and-file unity among the tens of thousands of rail workers in the area.

Joined together as the Campaign for Weekly Pay and Health & Safety, it caught on among thousands of workers. Of course, the union leaders weren’t blind to this development. Finding it difficult to veto something that would guarantee a flush toilet on a railroad pier (among other things) — and not wanting it to be a rank-and-file development — they took it over as their own. As it turned out, both state legislatures passed laws essentially granting our demands and forcing the railroads to institute minimum health conditions, lunchrooms and pay us regularly, every week.

Fighting Racism in the Union

Rail workers were very pleased at the outcome, and knew who the organizers were, despite the leaderships’ claim that they had done it. We had taken some issues that really got under every worker’s skin and combined them into a mass campaign which had involved thousands of workers throughout the area. Simultaneously we had exposed the railroad bosses, putting them a bit on the defensive when they were in the midst of a defamatory campaign of their own, painting workers as “featherbedders,” in an attempt to lay off hundreds of thousands. It also involved the unity of black and white workers on the railroads, historically a racist industry in which the bosses restricted certain crafts as “white only.” In fact, at that time there were still several craft unions that barred black members altogether!

It was our CP section that had previously broken the lily-white craft of brakemen on the Pennsylvania RR. The PRR had never hired a black worker as a brakeman — a generally higher-paid, operating craft job — in its first 120 years. When we saw a Pennsy ad for brakemen, we sent down two black comrades, who were not hired. Then we sent two white comrades the same day, who were hired. The black comrades took their case to the State Commission Against Discrimination and the white comrades who were hired testified on their behalf. The Commission ruled that the Pennsy had discriminated and ordered them to hire the two black comrades. Within the year the PRR hired 200 black brakemen for the first time in its history.

This racism was prevalent throughout the industry. While there were many black freight handlers and some clerks, most had been hired for the first time during World War II when there was a labor shortage. Our union constitution barred black members, so the black workers were placed in “auxiliaries.” They took their case for “first-class citizenship” to court and won a ruling awarding them full membership. The international “asked” them if they wanted to join the all-white locals or have their own locals. With good grounds for suspicion of the white locals’ leadership, they opted for their own all-black locals. So it was that 150 such locals were created around the country.

This was the situation we faced in 1953 among the B&O freight handlers in NYC where among the 1,000 workers, 600 were in the black local and 400 in the white local. We worked on the same platforms in the same gangs under the same foremen, under the same union contract, but were in separate locals. Most workers, white and black, saw this as a disadvantage, if not wrong, and favored one multi-racial local. But few were active in the union. No one organized for it. It enabled the company, obviously, to play off white against black. Merging these two locals, with a multi-racial leadership, became a top priority for our party club, which had members in both locals. (As the civil rights movement grew nation-wide in the late 1950s, a small number of young, newly-hired black workers chose to join the previously all-white local, and were admitted, thus breaking its lily-white character. But the main job remained: to merge the two locals.)

As a steward I had developed ties among some other stewards, both black and white, among whom I raised the idea of both black and white stewards representing any worker who the company brought up on disciplinary charges. This meant that black and white stewards would be representing both black workers and white workers for the first time in the union’s history. Based on painstaking studies of previous cases, and our newfound unity, we began to win virtually every case.

We demanded that the foreman present the company’s case first (this was in front of the railroad station agent who was judge, jury and executioner.) Then we, both black and white, would cross-examine the (usually) white foreman. This hadn’t happened before either. Usually we would so wipe the floor with him, exposing all sorts of lies and contradictions in his story, that the boss was forced to end the hearing before the defendant worker ever “took the stand.” Workers were winning thousands of dollars in back pay. In addition, we would bring up five or ten workers to testify in the hearing, on company time. This also got under the bosses’ skins (and ate into their profits). Soon the number of hearings dropped to a trickle.

This result had a marked effect on the rank-and-file, especially on the black local’s leadership. For the first time they saw white stewards who they could trust. And the fact that we were winning cases led to white workers increasingly supporting the idea of one multi-racial local with a multi-racial leadership.

Rank-and-File, Anti-racist Slate

At that point I tried to develop a rank-and-file slate in the predominantly white local, running on a platform of rank-and-file militancy and multi-racial unity. I approached one worker who seemed somewhat active in the local and critical of the current leadership. His first question took me unawares: “I hear that you’re supposed to be a communist.” I managed to squirm out of the conversation without ever answering it directly. In effect, I “ran like a thief.” But it was the first inkling I had that I was known to be in the CP. As I learned later, the FBI had told the railroad who told the union leaders who told the workers.

So all along workers figured I was a communist, but never really baited me about it (probably because I did a good job as a steward). We decided that I should run against a weak union officer. The local’s vice-president was an assistant foreman (they, and foremen, were allowed in the union) and a blowhard at that, generally disliked by the rank-and-file. I was elected easily. Now the present leadership had to contend with a rank-and-file-supported officer who they knew to be a communist.

I didn’t confront them frontally but rather made suggestions that contained elements of unity. I proposed we have a local paper and that all the officers write for it. They agreed, never realizing what a weapon for class-consciousness such a paper could and would become, eventually helping to turn them out of office. Some examples:

During national negotiations, workers were very dissatisfied with the demands and with the long, drawn-out course they were taking. (RR labor negotiations sometimes went on for two to three years!) The question became how to point out the international’s inadequacy in the local paper without confronting them directly. We felt we didn’t have enough strength at that point from preventing them from abolishing the paper. So we made a series of contract proposals and won a vote at a union meeting to send them to the international. Of course, we expected an answer, one that we figured would be very wishy-washy at best. It was. Then we proceeded to print both letters in the Local’s paper — ours and their answer. The contrast was self-evident, without any comment from the editor.

At another point, the railroad began a speed-up campaign. They sent “efficiency men” from Baltimore to monitor our every move and tried to order us around. We took the position that the contract said we only took orders from the foremen. This frustrated them since they were forced to issue orders through the foremen. The latter didn’t like that either, which tended to drive a wedge between them and these “outside” bosses.

Then we printed a cartoon (drawn by my nephew Alec) depicting three men in suits and ties sitting on a platform wall watching one freight handler pushing a hand truck and entitled it “Efficiency.” This drove the railroad wild. They sent a vice-president up from Baltimore to meet with the Local Chairman and the Grievance Committee (which I was on) to tell us if these “disparaging” descriptions of the railroad continued, it would lead to shippers dropping the B&O’s business and this in turn would lead to layoffs. “Do you want to lose your jobs? The railroad is already losing money.” “How much?” we asked. “$31 million last year,” was the reply. “O.K.,” we said. “We’re making $68.84 a week. You’re losing $31 million a year. Let’s change places. You take our job and make $68 bucks a week. We’ll take yours and lose the $31 million.”

The guy went nuts, saying, “Do you realize that $16 million of that $31 million is going to Chase Manhattan Bank as interest on ‘our’ debt?” Oh, we figured, so that’s where it’s going. In the next local paper we printed a report of the meeting, with the headline, “Chase Manhattan Made $16 Million in Interest Profit Off Our Labor!”

In this way we were able to “report” events without putting ourselves in a position of bringing down the full wrath of the international on our heads too soon. When the paper came out every month, and was distributed through the stewards on all the piers, work virtually ceased on the platforms as everyone, black and white, stopped to read the paper. We had a lot of cartoons and “personals” in the paper as well. The workers loved the paper and wrote to it and for it.

This was not lost on the leadership of the black local, who were somewhat nationalist but didn’t know what to think about what we were doing. We approached them and asked if they wanted to write various columns for the paper. They agreed. We proposed in our (mostly white) local that the paper become a joint effort of the two locals. The black local voted the same. So the move for merger into one multi-racial local got a big boost as the paper became the one voice of the two locals. In this way the paper was building both class-consciousness and anti-racist, multi-racial unity.

Challenging the White Local’s Leadership

By this time we figured we had built up enough strength, through the winning of hearings, grievances and the influence of the paper, to not only challenge the established local leadership, which was generally opposed to any militancy, but to beat them handily. We organized a slate for four of the top positions — president, vice-president, treasurer and recording secretary. I was nominated for president. (We didn’t feel quite strong enough to run someone for Local Chairman, the head of the Grievance Committee, and the most powerful position in the local.)

We ran a real campaign, giving out leaflets, putting up posters with our pictures at all piers, and we held lunch-hour meetings with all shifts at all piers. This bewildered the incumbent leadership. They had been in office a long time and had never been challenged at all, much less by such a “high-powered” campaign. The only card they had to play was red-baiting. But since our base worked at all piers, they were able to deflect this attack based on the militant work I had done over the years. However, the worker on our slate running for vice-president did approach me and said, “I hear you’re supposed to be a communist. But don’t tell me, I don’t want to know!” My reaction was “Whew, another obstacle overcome!” The leadership of the black local watched this contest from a distance, but many black workers openly campaigned for us among their white co-workers, especially because they knew we stood for a merger of the two locals on a multi-racial basis. The election took place at the union hall and we won by an overwhelming 2 to 1 margin.

Organizing A Strike

In January of ’61 our biggest struggle in 10 years on the railroad erupted. The railroads owned the tugboats that towed the “floats” carrying the freight cars back and forth across the Hudson between Manhattan and Jersey City. In a money-saving effort, they dieselized the tugboats. This operation now required fewer workers to man the tugs. They wanted to lay off two-thirds of the 660 tugboat workers. The latter were members of the Seafarers International Union (SIU), ruled by Paul Hall, among the most right-wing of all the union leaders in the U.S. Negotiations had been dragging on for 14 months past the contract expiration date. Finally the railroads were set to lay off the workers, who were now in position to legally strike.

Traditionally, railroad workers always respected the picket lines of other crafts. But this strike, more than any other, absolutely depended on the solidarity of the freight handlers and the Teamsters. (The latter was not a rail union.) The railroads figured they could circumvent the strikers by having the freight handlers load and unload the freight in and out of trucks and trailers and the Teamsters would then haul the freight back and forth through the tunnels under the Hudson River and over the bridges to and from the yards in Jersey. This was a strike not only against the B&O but also on all the other large roads in NYC, the NY Central and the Pennsylvania being the two biggest, richer than the B&O.

Our own union negotiations were dragging on at the same time. We in the CP saw this as an opportunity to not only organize a general strike of all the railroads in the NY Metropolitan area, but an action that would unite all railroad workers across all craft and color lines. It had never happened before. We pointed out to our locals (and to those on the NY Central where party members were also among the leadership) that if we allowed the railroads to pick off the tugboat workers, small though their number, we would be next in their “featherbedding” campaign. We campaigned up and down the waterfront, held union meetings, and called for respect for the tugboat picket lines, if and when they occurred. Most workers agreed, although many were worried; they had never been in an all-out strike on the railroad before and were also nervous about how long such a strike would last, how many paychecks they might miss. The railroads seemed like an all-powerful force to them. Who were we to oppose them in such a high-stakes battle?

We had several things going for us. All the work we had done for eight years had been embedded in the consciousness of hundreds and even thousands of workers. In our own locals, especially, the monthly newsletter had constantly embedded class-conscious ideas in the minds of the workers. Secondly, railroad workers were covered under separate laws. The railroad unemployment insurance law, under which railroad workers collected benefits, stipulated that, in the event of a legal strike, railroad workers are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits from the FIRST day of the strike. Rail strikes were few and far between. The last big one in 1946 was broken by President Truman in four days when he moved to draft all the workers into the army and then court-martial them if they refused to work! (Again this showed the potential power of this basic industry.) The bosses felt they had had little to worry about because of that threatened law. However, it gave us a little edge: we respect the tugboat workers’ picket lines and receive $51 a week, a little more than half our regular net pay.

Finally, the most important factor in our favor was something that might seem intangible and hard to estimate. It was the feeling of power that could develop when the workers saw they had actually shut down these powerful corporations for whom many had worked all their lives and hated their guts. This was something we did not understand completely going into the strike but were to come to realize as it occurred, as will be seen.

On the morning of the first day, B&O freight handlers showed up at the first shifts, 5:01 and 6:00 A.M., but there were no pickets. So they went to work. The striking tugboat workers appeared around 7:30 A.M., about two to a pier, since there were so few of them and they had hundreds of stations in the NY area to cover.

As soon as we saw them start walking with their picket signs, we ran up on the platforms and the “floats” and yelled to the early shifts, “There’s pickets out there! We’ve got to walk!” Most workers didn’t hesitate. They fairly ran off the platforms, happy to be sticking their fingers up at the billion-dollar company. The pickets were amazed and delighted. As the rest of the shifts began arriving hourly, they saw the freight handlers gathered in front of the pier and realized the strike was on. Not one single worker crossed the line. This was true up and down the entire waterfront on all the railroad piers. The railroad end of the strike was complete. Within 24 hours we had shut down the entire rail freight operation in the biggest city in the country. We were amazed ourselves.

Next came the Teamsters. Freight had already been collecting on the platforms. The Teamsters who drove the trucks and trailers (and could drive them through the tunnels and over the bridges to circumvent the tugboat operation) did not work for the railroads. They were employed by freight forwarding companies who operated as middlemen between the railroads and the consignees. These freight forwarding companies would solicit the business of, say, General Electric or all the small garment manufacturers in the garment center, to ship their freight and truck it to the railroad piers, getting paid for by those outfits. Then the railroads would charge these freight forwarders to ship their freight by rail, employing us to do that loading and unloading.

One of the big freight forwarders who operated via the B&O was ABC Freight Forwarding (“ABC” = Arthur Brown Co). Herein lies a tale of real class-consciousness. The B&O freight handlers never saw the president of the railroad in Baltimore, a two billion-dollar outfit. But every day they did see Arthur Brown being chauffeured to work in his Rolls Royce, which was parked near the platform on which many of us worked. The railroad workers concluded that Brown was really the power behind the throne, that he told the railroad what to do, this richest of the rich in his Rolls Royce. We told workers that Brown was really small potatoes, his $25 million company really being subordinate to the railroad. But they were hard to convince.

When some of the workers pointed out that the Teamsters were scheduled to start taking out their trucks and trailers at 8:00 A.M., we acted quickly. (There were no pickets in front of the ABC platforms, only at the railroad piers across the street.) We told one of the two pickets in front of Pier 63 to come with us across the street on 24th St. to the ABC platform, explaining to them that if this freight went out, it could be trucked to Jersey and circumvent the strike. The tugboat strikers, seeing what we had done for them so far, figured we knew what we were doing, so one of them set up his one-man picket “line” outside the ABC platform. A few hundred railroad workers who had been gathering in front of Pier 63 followed us and stood across the street from the platform, watching. It was like street theater.

We yelled to the Teamsters on the platform getting ready to take their trucks out that there was a picket out front. These were workers who we knew quite well, having worked alongside them loading and unloading trucks for years. They immediately called a meeting on the platform right under their bosses’ noses and discussed the situation, with the railroad workers watching from across the street. They took a vote and decided unanimously to respect the lone picket. To a man they walked off the platform, their ABC trucks loaded but with no one to drive them. It had taken five minutes to shut down this million-dollar outfit, Rolls Royce boss and all. The railroad workers cheered. In that moment, they realized more than ever before the collective strength of united workers. Our unity was sky-high. This was to be, we thought, the final nail in the coffin for the divided freight-handler locals, the final step on the road to one united multi-racial local.

Broadening the Strike

Having drawn the Teamsters into the strike, the shutdown was complete. But the railroads were not through. The NY Central bosses figured another way to circumvent the tugboat operation: bring freight trains over railroad trestles across the Hudson way upstate, pull them down the east side of the river into the Mott Haven yards north of Grand Central Station in central Manhattan. They began hauling scab freight into and out of Manhattan. But again we had an answer, based on workers’ solidarity and the militant leadership of party members.

One of our 13 party clubs was among the electricians on the NY Central. There were 1,000 workers in that IBEW local, the largest railroad electricians’ local in the country. Our members were part of that local’s leadership and active among the rank-and-file. The local president knew he was working with communists and respected them (although he was never recruited). He also respected the idea of union solidarity. Our party members raised the fact in the local that scab freight was being hauled over NY Central tracks into Mott Haven in the Bronx and even into Grand Central Station. They said that if pickets showed up in front of Grand Central Station on 42nd Street, the electricians should respect the picket line. The electrician’s president agreed.

Our electricians’ party club relayed this information to the freight-handler clubs on the B&O and the NY Central and again we directed some tugboat pickets across town to Grand Central Station. As soon as two of them appeared, the NY Central electricians shut all the electric power on that road and walked out. The Central (the country’s second largest railroad) was shut tight. But this didn’t just affect freight. All the commuter trains from Westchester and in Fairfield County in Connecticut, which carried 90,000 commuters a day into and out of NYC, couldn’t operate either. In a matter of days the NY Central was shut down as far west as Cleveland.

It was then that all hell broke loose. All the daily papers in NYC (and there were about ten of them then) began screaming for our scalps. We were “holding the city for ransom. Soon starvation would set in. There would be no fuel,” and so on. The editorials were calling for Kennedy (who had just been installed in the White House) to pass a law (a la Truman), call out the troops and break the strike.

But the walkout was gathering momentum. Many workers around the city realized the power of solidarity, even the potential of a general strike. We received tremendous support. So Kennedy, probably not wanting to have one of his first acts in office labeling him a strikebreaker, was not quick to break the strike frontally. He sent his Secy. of Labor, Arthur Goldberg — the lawyer who was the architect of the expulsion of the communist-led unions from the CIO in 1948 and later became a Supreme Court justice — into NYC to “mediate” the strike. He proposed that the workers return to work, that the railroads not lay off anyone at this time and that negotiations resume. Both sides accepted this and, after ten days, the strike was over.

As it turned out some time later, the SIU agreed to the layoff of “only” half (not two-thirds) of the tugboat workers, who each received $10,000 severance pay. While not a real victory, they ended up with more than they would have without this solid strike.

The fight for Job Security

Following the tugboat workers’ strike to save their jobs, we were now confronted directly with our own job security struggle on the B&O. Our progress towards uniting the black local with the mostly white local was advancing. We didn’t realize how threatened the railroad felt about dealing one united, multi-racial local with a multi-racial leadership, and communists involved to boot. It could set an example for the 150 segregated locals nationwide. The company was developing a plan to contract out all our work to the freight forwarders who were the middlemen between the shippers and the railroad. This would lay us all off permanently, thereby wiping out both our locals completely! We later found out that they were fed up with what they called “that element in New York.” Meanwhile, the national union negotiations were dragging on.

We wanted any new national contract to include situations like ours. There were already established agreements to protect workers laid off due to railroad mergers or to one company absorbing another, but they didn’t include specifically the threat of contracting work out to freight forwarders. The protected workers were either offered comparable jobs elsewhere or $10,000 severance pay (now worth upwards of $100,000). Such coverage would make it much more expensive for the railroad to get rid of us.

The union’s international convention was approaching, slated for Los Angeles in June 1963. We figured there is where we could make our last stand. Our city-wide struggles and the tugboat strike had put us in touch with other locals on the NY Central and Pennsylvania, facing the same mass layoffs. Our local’s leadership called together rank-and-file leaders from six locals, all of whom would be delegates to this convention. All six submitted identical resolutions to the convention dealing with the threat to our jobs. We planned to make a floor fight on this issue. We figured that most of the 1,300 delegates would be in the hip pocket of the international’s machine. Were we surprised!

When our resolution came up on the first day of the convention, all six delegates in our caucus took the floor to speak for it. The bureaucrats were somewhat taken aback at this. Their Resolutions Committee had recommended rejection since they were not about to add such a demand into their national contract negotiations.

A couple of hacks spoke against us. Then the chair called for a voice vote. The international president — who had been in office since 1928! — was half blind and couldn’t see to count a hand vote, therefore the voice vote. We had expected this and had prepared some friends and spouses attending as guests in the balcony to yell like hell with us on the floor when the voice vote came up. We hadn’t counted on the fact that there were many locals facing their own job security problems and would vote with us on general principle (and probably were affected by our impassioned speeches).

Our resolution clearly carried on the voice vote. The president was flabbergasted. He called for a second vote (amid cries of “No! No!”), figuring the machine would get the hint and yell louder the second time. But the fact that the first vote was being arbitrarily over-ridden this seemed to anger a lot of delegates,. So the second vote produced an even larger margin favoring our resolution.

At that point the chair “entertained a motion” to send the resolution back to committee, to be brought up later in the week. That passed and we knew what that meant: they’d bring out their big guns, buy off a number of delegates and squash it the next time around — which is what happened. This whole fight had tied up the convention for nearly half a day. Afterwards many delegates, including a number of black delegates, came up to us and thanked us for raising this issue on the convention floor.

The Jobless Fight Back — From City Hall to the White House

Our struggle at the International convention for job security won a lot of support, but it was an uphill battle. In the summer of 1963, all our jobs on the B&O were contracted out without even a whimper from the international, but we refused to take this lying down. Our campaign touched big shots from New York City’s mayor to Kennedy’s Secretary of Labor to rail baron Cyrus Eaton and his buddy Nikita Khrushchev.

I was now part of the newly-organized Progressive Labor Movement (PLM) and intent on keeping many of these laid-off rail workers together to reap some benefits from our decade of struggle. We discussed the idea of a Railroad Workers Unemployment Council to sue the railroad for severance pay (which the union had refused to negotiate), and charge the union with collusion as well, for failing to represent us. Our actions would involve demonstrations and picket lines exposing everyone we perceived to be our enemies or who stood by and did nothing.

The idea caught on. Over 200 former B&O workers — black and white — agreed to join. We formed an official organization, with regular meetings, dues, officers, a newsletter and so on and discussed all our plans and activities at each meeting. We elected two black and two white workers from our rank-and-file to comprise our four leading officers with myself as president and hired lawyer Conrad Lynn to bring suit against the B&O for severance pay and charge the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks and Freight Handlers with collusion. After years of trying to merge the separate black and white locals — the International had 150 of these segregated units — we finally had our multi-racial, merged “union.”

Our first demonstration was directed against the Chesapeake & Ohio RR (C&O), which had bought out the B&O. It turned out that the C&O was headed by none other than Khrushchev’s buddy in the U.S., Cyrus Eaton, who had become the darling of the Communist Party for his championing trade with the Soviets (from which he expected to make a pile). We figured to add a little political spice to the situation. We sent out press releases and about 100 of us picketed the C&O building in lower Manhattan with signs such as “Cyrus Fired Us” and “Khrushchev’s Buddy Is No Friend of the Workers.” (My sister took pictures.)

Our plan was to march from the C&O building to City Hall and picket the Mayor (Wagner, at the time), demanding the city do something about the firing of 1,000 black and white workers. This, remember, was a time of heightened civil rights action; the famous March on Washington led by Martin Luther King had just taken place, in which our Council had also marched with our signs.

In 1963, workers’ picket lines like these were not particularly common. When City Hall got wind of our plan to picket them, they tried to head us off at the pass. The Deputy Mayor called my house and told my wife to tell me we didn’t have to picket; they would meet with us; “tell him to call it off.” “Too late,” she gleefully told him, “they’re already on their way.” As we circled City Hall, the Deputy Mayor emerged to “greet us,” saying he would meet with our committee on behalf of the Mayor. The TV, press and radio were going crazy around us. “Who the hell were these workers?” We went inside and met with this hack for half an hour. He “pledged” the Mayor would “see what he could do.” Our Council members were hip enough to know that this meant zilch, but were happy that we at least made them uncomfortable and publicized our cause.

That night interviews with me ran on seven TV and radio stations and we were in all the papers the next day. I linked the government with the railroad and Eaton with the sellouts in Moscow as one big bunch not interested in helping workers at all.

Attacking the System

Our next action was outside Grand Central Station a couple of weeks later. Our press releases brought out NBC hotshot Gabe Pressman to interview us. I began explaining our grievance and in between each sentence brought up the relation to the government allowing this to happen, that a government representing the bosses was no damn good as far as we were concerned, and that we needed to destroy that kind of system and get a workers’ system.” Suffice it to say, we didn’t get one second on that night’s TV news. Maybe we learned a lesson about not depending on the bosses’ media.

Shortly afterwards the Council organized a demonstration at the White House which taught us another lesson: as all-powerful as the government and rulers might seem, they are scared as hell of workers. Since our severance-pay suit legally involved regulations related to the Interstate Commerce Commission, we decided we should picket the Federal government in an attempt to draw attention to its role in our being denied justice. In the fall, we mobilized 80 of our members to drive to Washington in a 20-car motorcade to picket the White House.

As we started marching with our highly charged political signs directed at Kennedy, we discovered he was at his “compound” in Hyannis, Mass. This incensed a lot of these unemployed workers. With no particular goal in mind, I said, “Well, the Labor Department is walking distance from here, why don’t we go over and picket there as well.” Everyone agreed, so in a Saturday-deserted Washington, we trooped a few blocks and “set up shop” again. Barely 20 minutes had elapsed when an official-looking guy appears and asks us what we wanted. We asked him who he was and he says, “Under Secretary of Labor.” This surprised us a little but we proceeded to relate our case. He then said, “Wait here; I’ll be right back.”

Five minutes later he returns and, to our amazement, says, “Secy. of Labor Wirtz will see a five-person committee.” We couldn’t believe our ears. But the “best” was yet to come. The Under-Secretary escorts us upstairs and ushers us into Wirtz’s office, a huge conference room with a score of empty chairs around a long conference table, filled with a lot of notebooks and half-filled water glasses. Obviously some meeting had been going on.

Kennedy’s man Wirtz then explained that the national railroad labor negotiations were taking place (to which we had originally directed our convention resolutions) and when he “heard about our plight” he had asked the union representatives of the 23 railroad crafts and the representatives of the nations’ railroads to retire to adjacent rooms while he talked to us! We couldn’t believe it. Here were 80 rank-and-filers who had come to march at the White House and by sheer accident had picketed the Labor Department, and now were holding up the national negotiations because somehow we might have represented some hitch in the plans they were cooking up. Imagine if we had had the strength to organize 5,000 railroad workers to picket the place, or, better yet, invade it!

Although, after explaining our case for about half an hour and getting the usual reply of “I’ll see what I can do,” our Council members were happy to feel that our trip to D.C. had gotten what they interpreted to be a little recognition. And a few months later, when Kennedy was assassinated, most of our members’ reaction was, “So what. He didn’t do anything for us.”

It was during some of these picketing actions that fall that an article appeared, written by the nationally syndicated anti-labor columnist Victor Riesel, in the now-defunct N.Y. Journal-American (a Hearst paper) that “exposed” PLM as an agent of China and Che Guevara, out to start guerrilla warfare in the U.S. Among other “examples” cited was the “fact” that ten years ago I had been sent to “infiltrate” the railroad and was a threat to the national security in this industry vital to the country’s “defense.” Most of the Council members had seen the article and rather than cowed by it were incensed. I had already told them about PLM, had shown them PL Magazine (Challenge hadn’t started yet), some with articles about our struggles. Their immediate reaction was to go picket the Journal-American, but that never came off. Some of them began to think that maybe capitalism wasn’t the best system after all.

Final Lessons

The following year our suit finally went before a millionaire judge. (It was in the course of this trial that word came out inadvertently from one of the company lawyers that the railroad had moved to contract out its N.Y. freight operation because of “that element in N.Y.” It was from this that we concluded that they just didn’t want to deal with a multi-racial union led by communists.) The judge actually questioned the union lawyers about why the union hadn’t even raised our case with management as we had demanded — we were also charging the union with collusion in not negotiating protection for us. The union lawyers were flustered and couldn’t drum up too much of an excuse. This exchange led many of us to think we might actually win something from this judge. But those hopes were soon dashed when his decision came down that, “unfortunately,” the company was within its rights to do what it did, without compensation. “Better luck next time.”

This was probably the final blow to our Council which gradually dissolved after that, our demand (which had been holding us together) having been defeated. Most of the workers had found other jobs, at GM in Tarrytown, Ford in Jersey, the Transit Authority, Otis Elevator and so on. But it left the door open for me to point about how rotten this system was, and that we needed “a worker’s system.”

Wally Linder is a life-long industrial worker, a former member of the Communist Party USA and a founding member of the Progressive Labor Party

NATIONALISM – A TOOL TO EMPOWER THE ELITE

by Karyn Pomerantz and Ellen Isaacs, April 12, 2018 

nationalism

Nationalism, also known as patriotism is a widespread concept promoted by capitalists to attain the loyalty of workers of a given country to their own ruling class. Those in power rely on this ideology to win workers to die in their wars or sacrifice wages and benefits so that the rulers can afford to maximize profits and live well and, in the case of imperialist nations, continue to plunder the wealth and cheap labor from smaller nations. Flag waving, parades, national holidays, sporting events like the Olympics and an endless barrage of media and educational input re-enforce this view. Racism plays an important role in depicting “enemies” as subhuman, such as labeling Vietnamese fighters as “gooks” or Muslims as “ragheads” or terrorists.

Similarly, “identity politics” calls on people to unite based on personal characteristics such as religion, skin color, gender, or sexual orientation rather than social class. Racism is also a particularly virulent tool to divide workers within single countries, such as anti-black and anti-immigrant racism in the US. All these divisions hinder workers from recognizing our shared humanity and interests and from organizing together to fight for our needs or take power in order to reorganize society on an egalitarian basis.

Rise of Empires and Revolts

From the 1600s to the early 1900s, imperialists from England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Belgium took over countries militarily and ran them brutally in order to extract raw materials like rubber and gold and many more. From the Americas to Africa and Asia, millions of indigenous and imported poor workers and slaves lived and died in barbaric conditions to harvest agricultural products like tobacco, cotton and tea and valuable minerals. All the while, the imperialists reaped the profits and ran the governments in their own interests through military coercion. When workers rebelled, the colonialists suppressed them mercilessly with torture and murder.

The Global South Responds:

20th Century Anticolonial Revolts and Strategies

Widespread revolNationalism Algerian Revolnts against colonialism erupted during the 1960s, involving the colonies of Algeria, Belgian Congo, Vietnam, Ghana, Kenya, and India, among others. The new leaders of these liberation victories in Asia, Africa and Latin America (the global south), Nehru, Nkrumah, Tito, Sukarno, Castro and Nasser, formed the Third World project to unite the newly independent countries to demand economic and social equality for workers.  Their goals were peace, economic development and independence.  They envisioned the United Nations (UN) as the platform to advocate for their agenda and convinced the UN to establish new departments for disarmament, fair trade and economic development.  They operated by holding a series of conferences and writing numerous reports on how to organize their societies, relate to their former local rulers, and use the United Nations to press their demands.

The liberation leaders also decided whether they should join with the Soviet Union’s alliance of pro-Soviet countries or remain unaligned.  In 1961, 77 countries (the G77) formed the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to advocate for fair trade, respect and recognition from other countries, and social development, primarily through the UN. There were many reasons to remain unaffiliated. The Soviet Union, driven by a Cold War strategy, was more interested in supporting any entities that would oppose the US than in promoting anti-capitalist struggles.

Unity of All Classes OR Working Class Solidarity

The Third World Project and NAM accepted nationalism, the unity of all classes within a country and did not aim to establish socialism. In 1955, 29 post-colonial countries met in Bandung, Indonesia and asserted their goals for economic development and world peace through disarmament.  Their aspirations known as the “Bandung Spirit” emphasized an end to imperialist and cultural oppression (racism).  Conference chair and Indonesian President Sukarno addressed the group:

“Hurricanes of national awakening and reawakening have swept over the land, shaking it, changing it, changing it for the better.” The Darker Nations, page 33)

Eventually the local capitalist ruling classes took total power in most of the formerly colonized countries and oppressed the working class. Dominated by the US, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund established structural adjustment policies requiring countries to pay exorbitant interest rates and abolish funding of schools, health care and other social programs.  They threatened to withhold aid if they were not paid and refused to share new technologies and other forms of intellectual property.  By the 1970s, most countries in NAM were dependent on capitalist aid.  Corrupt rulers, such as Mobutu in the Congo, stole billions of dollars in oil, cash and mineral resources that they spent on themselves while the working class lived in poverty without health care, schools, clean water, food and housing.

 The Defeat of Working Class Movements

 The leaders of the newly independent countries united people of different social and economic classes within their countries rather than organizing workers to oppose capitalist oppression by local or foreign exploiters or unite with workers in other nations.  Thus workers living in the poorer southern nations and Europe remained divided from each other as well as from workers in the north. This split the global working class living in the poorer southern nations among itself as well as from workers in North America and Europe, who also suffer high unemployment rates and withered wages although to a lesser degree. Uniting with the elites makes it impossible to threaten capitalism.  Instead many leaders in the wealthier southern countries limited their demands on the US and its financial institutions to democratizing the United Nations, demanding fairer trading agreements, protecting intellectual property, and removing social adjustment policies that required the elimination of social services in exchange for aid. Some (India) established industrialization and consumerism as drivers of economic growth while others (Tanzania, Cuba) prioritized policies to increase social equity.

 Some Examples

Indonesia under Sukarno

Sukarno helped found the NAM and supported membership for countries that were pro-US.  Principles of unity in NAM included peace, anti-colonialism and anti-racism, allowing many conservatives and leftists to form a united front.  Sukarno formed the Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI) which included all social classes. In 1948 the PNI and the Dutch government, the former colonial rulers of Indonesia, attacked a communist rebellion in Madiun arresting 15,000 members from the PKI, Indonesia’s communist party.  In 1975 the US, opposed to the militancy and size (10,000,000 members) of the PKI and Sukarno’s anti-American, pro-socialist positions led a coup that terminated Sukarno’s rule and supported the new president, Suharto, as he slaughtered millions, including residents of East Timor.

Egypt under Nasser

In 1952 Nasser and other military officers overthrew the monarchy and established the Free Officers Movement that included the military, communists, aristocrats, traditional political parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Yet, five years after the coup, the government jailed the Egyptian communists while forging economic relationships with the USSR to secure aid. Third World Project members, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sudan, also attacked their communist parties.

Egyptian women played major roles in rebellion against old rules and customs.  They advocated for reforms in education, domestic life and income.  Women fought for rights to union membership, lower consumer taxes, and family planning.  (Relationships in the family, however, remained more conservative).

One national liberation leader wrote:

“… Women must fight together with men against colonialism and all forms of exploitation… she must understand that the fundamental problem is not the contradiction between women and men, but it is the system in which we are living.”  (The Darker Nations, page 61)

Jamaica under Manley

The IMF imposed neoliberal trade practices in Jamaica that undercut their production of milk in order to force them to buy from the US. In 1993 Jamaica had to dump millions of dollars of unpasteurized local milk, slaughter 700 cows and close down several dairy farms. The industry has sized down nearly 60% and continues to decline.  Workers found jobs in Free Zones where foreign garment companies paid low rents, maintained poor working conditions, and used 10,000 women to produce clothing at a minimum wage of $30 US per week without the right to unionize.  Under former President Clinton, Haiti was forced to stop producing its rice crop and buy from the US.  This drove farmers into the cities with no income while forests were purposely destroyed for firewood, making the land more vulnerable to erosion and mudslides.

Neoliberalism under Reagan and Secretary of State Kissinger

Under the policartoon for Nationalim articlecy of neoliberalism beginning in the 1980s, the US and the IMF pressured the southern countries to pay back their debt (in some cases over 30% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product,(GDP)) or lose aid.  Some NAM members favored industrialization, as did the IMF, to encourage economic growth.  Others, like Nyere of Tanzania, preferred to build equity, community participation, and social development.  Even the wealthiest Third World Project members, such as India and Brazil, could not resist the economic demands of the imperialists for debt repayment and structural adjustment programs that required taking money from social programs for debt service and trade accommodations.

The southern countries used moral arguments to plead for debt relief.  The UN and finance groups like the G7, seven of the wealthiest countries, ignored these demands and threatened punitive actions including military force.  These powerful countries required the UN Security Council, instead of all UN members, to approve resolutions, isolating the global south from any decision making.  The working class around the world rose up in national liberation struggles in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.  The US sent in troops and created death squads to repress these uprisings in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile, as they had earlier in Vietnam.  Any Third World Project goals died as well

The Perils of Nationalism and the Unity of Social Classes:

More Exploitation

All of the formerly colonized nations included the powerful and wealthy members of the local ruling classes in their meetings and governments.  This limited their ability to improve the lives of workers.  As Prasad writes in The Darker Nations:

“The fight against the colonial and imperial forces enforced a unity … across social classes…. The working class and peasantry … acceded to an alliance with the landlords and emergent industrial elites…. Rather than provide the means to create an entirely new society, these regimes protected the elites among the old social classes .. Once in power, the old social classes exerted themselves…” (pages xvi-xvii)

Eventually the leaders of Tanzania, India, Algeria and others created the Southern Commission in the 1980s to appeal to the major imperialist countries, primarily the US, for respect and justice.  In a series of conferences and reports as in earlier times, the Commission used moral and ethical arguments to appeal to the imagined consciences of these ruling classes.

With advice from Kissinger, countries were played off against each other based on their affiliations with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and NAM or on their economic status.  Well-resourced countries with highly desired exports like oil or minerals (Venezuela) were able to compete and threaten the US with embargoes, such as the OPEC oil embargo in 1973-74.  Others were totally drained, committing exorbitant amounts of their GDP to interest payments.

In conclusion

After independence, the former colonial masters didn’t run governments directly but maintained control via financial loans and debt through international corporations and agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  These institutions, dominated by the US, offered foreign aid and grants to the former colonies as long as the governments paid back this aid by enacting trade policies favorable to the former colonialists and cutting the budget for social services, such as health care, water, food, sanitation, transportation and education.

Between the World Bank, IMF, and the now local capitalist rulers of the government and business, newly “liberated” peoples have never benefited from their countries’ rich resources. Billions of dollars have been pumped out of Sierra Leone, the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and others to enrich the rulers in the US and Europe and, to a far lesser extent, the local rulers of the neo-colonial countries. This is money that could have paid for HIV medications, clinics, schools, and many other essential services. Instead, under pressure from these financial institutions, the governments have fired healthcare workers and teachers.

 Today, the now most powerful imperialists, the US, Russia, and China compete to control African resources, from gold in South Africa to oil in Libya and Nigeria. Various opposition groups call for loyalty to one superpower or another, their own national capitalists, or to ally with religious entities like Islamic fundamentalists. Local and cross-border Islamic organizations, looking to replace the foreign exploiters, spread more deadly and destructive wars in the region. Many so-called left organizations, both local and international, choose sides with either foreign or local rulers rather than call for all workers to unite against capitalist exploiters of any stripe.

Nationalist ideas promote segregating workers from each other based on the country of their birth rather than their class position in society, and racism further divides workers within and between nations. It is easy to understand that black workers would not want to ally with white workers, some of whom, deceived by the capitalist ideology of racism, treat them as subservient. What must be stressed is that racist oppression stems from the rulers of imperialist nations, who have been predominantly white (although we must now include the Chinese and formerly the Japanese), and that workers in imperialist nations are also oppressed, divided by racism and oppressed by capitalism. It is our job to unite all workers around the world, emphasize common needs and aspirations, and question capitalism as the source of our misery. Making deals to improve our conditions under capitalism through such demands as minimum wage or sick leave are only temporary improvements at best. As long as business controls governments, governments will ignore workers’ interests.  Fighting nationalism and racism is a critical strategy to strengthen our class. Even if the struggle is around temporary reforms such as higher wages, against police brutality, for affordable housing, HIV care, sick leave, or immigrant rights, we learn to unite and rely on each other.

Lessons Learned

  • Unify workers with common interests and desires regardless of nationality, religion, gender, “race” and other characteristics across countries instead of uniting all classes within a country
  • Strive for social development goals versus materialism, industrialization and consumerism that the ruling classes promotes
  • The enemies of my enemies are not my allies (Assad, Clinton, Hamas, Sanders)
  • Recognize the power dynamics between the ruling class and workers, and use direct action, not moral arguments, reports, conferences
  • Involve the workers with real popular participation
  • Win hearts and minds to new ideas and practices, don’t dictate policy from above
  • Don’t rely on capitalist organizations, such as the IMF or UN, for social justice when the US and other imperialists control them
  • Don’t rely on NGOs that constrain social action and serve the system
  • Don’t rely on reports and speeches to convince the opposition, no “speaking truth to power” illusions when the speakers have no power

“As the national liberation state removes itself from popular mobilization, begins to cultivate domestic elites in the name of national development, and perhaps opens itself to intervention by imperialism … the military … cuts down on the ability of social movements to move the historical process in a progressive direction.”  (The Darker Nations, page 149)

Sources and Readings

The Looting of Africa, the Economics of Exploitation (2006) by Patrick Bond gives a detailed account of the theft of resources by national governments and Western imperialists.

The Darker Nations (2008) by Vijay Prashad covers the anticolonial period of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Poorer Nations (2014) by Vijay Prashad covers the postcolonial period after the 1980s.

In Love and Debt (DVD, 2001) by Stephanie Black describes IMF policies in Jamaica. (www.inloveanddebt.org)

The Travesty of Haiti (2008) by Timothy Schwartz reveals the corruption of aid organizations in Haiti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIGHT-TO-WORK: ANOTHER NAIL IN THE COFFIN OF ORGANIZED LABOR

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by Ellen Isaacs

with major input by Student Worker Solidarity of Barnard College/Columbia University

The Supreme Court may soon rule against workers in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that will determine whether right-to-work legislation applies to the public sector. Contrary to the deliberately misleading framing, right-to-work laws do not give workers the “right to work.” In reality, they are a concerted well-funded effort to strip workers of their rights at work. Right-to-work laws allow workers at a unionized workplace to have the benefits of a union contract, such as higher wages and health insurance, without joining the union or paying the union a service fee for representing them. In other words, the intent is to undermine workers’ organizing and eventually defund, weaken, and destroy unions. This case would impose right-to-work on state and local governments in 23 states, in effect making it nationwide.

Right-to-work laws are not new. The idea behind “right-to-work” originated in a piece by editorial writer William Ruggles published in Dallas Morning News in 1941. His editorial was welcomed by Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a white supremacist, anti-Semite and anti-communist, who also fought against women’s suffrage, the eight hour day and laws banning child labor. Muse and his allies from the south, as well as northern industrialists like Alfred P Sloan and the Duponts, feared the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act, which legalized unionization. They used blatant racism to support right-to-work, knowing full well that multiracial unity would greatly strengthen the union movement. During the campaign for the law’s passage in Arkansas, a piece of literature said, if it failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Another statement promised it would enable “peace officers to quell disturbances and keep the color line drawn in our social affairs” and “protect the Southern Negro from communistic propaganda and influences.” Right to work laws were enacted in Arkansas and Florida in 1944 and in Texas in 1941, and today they exist in 28 states. The Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947, only allows union shops in states without laws to the contrary.

This combination of anti-labor and racist rhetoric was not isolated or uncommon. Because union membership could provide higher wages, increased benefits, and safer working conditions, stifling union membership became an important tool for maintaining racial hierarchies and limiting opportunities for social and economic advancement. In other words, campaigns to undermine or defund unions–such as the advocacy for right-to-work legislation–were simultaneously campaigns to keep workers of color from making economic advances or even achieving equality. Simultaneously, there were federal and local efforts to maintain segregated housing, resulting in segregated schools and hospitals and disproportionate environmental hazards in non-white areas.

Unions have been critical in obtaining a number of rights we often take for granted today. The weekend, the eight hour day, minimum wage laws, health insurance and the ban on child labor are just a few victories for which you can thank the labor movement. The consequences of right-wing attacks on unions, especially pushes to pass right-to-work legislation, are devastating for working people. Right-to-work states have markedly higher levels of poverty, lower wages, higher risks of workplace death, and more uninsured workers than the rest of the United States.

Today only 10.7 percent of US workers are unionized, compared to 20.1% in 1983 and 34.8% in 1954. The union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.4 %) is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.5 %). Black workers remain more likely to be union members (14.1%) than white (12.8%) workers. Nonunion workers have median weekly earnings that were 80% of earnings for workers who were union members ($829 versus $1,041). Thus the current push for right-to-work laws is most threatening to black and women workers, who are disproportionately employed in public service sector jobs.

RACISM IN THE UNION MOVEMENT

Of course American unions themselves have a long history of racism, which has only recently been partially overcome. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) specifically excluded black workers through the 1950s, and its early leader, Samuel Gompers, overtly supported “racial purity.” The Knights of Labor, the International Workers of the World (IWW), and later, the CIO did organize black and white workers together.

In 1919, the AFL led a huge steel strike, shutting down half the steel mills in the country. Management used many dirty tactics, smearing the union leaders by calling them Reds, deriding the striking workers because they were immigrants, and encouraging local militias to harass the strikers. Ultimately they used the race card, bringing in 30,000 to 40,000 African Americans and Mexican-Americans as strike breakers and taunting the locked-out strikers for losing their good “white” jobs. This would be the big business playbook for decades.

In June 1943, when managers at the Packard company in Detroit actually promoted a few black workers, 25,000 white workers went on strike. Similar racial conflicts erupted in mass transit unions in Philadelphia, in steel plants in Baltimore and in the shipyards of Alabama when black workers gained access to production jobs. This time, labor leaders, especially Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) leaders, worked hard to suppress “hate” strikes and were fairly successful.

As defense and production jobs opened up to African Americans before WWII, the second half of the Great Migration of black workers from the south to the north exploded. The CIO broke away from the AFL in 1935 because the industrial unions were committed to a broader, more inclusive vision of organizing—white and black; skilled and unskilled and they also went south, recognizing the regressive influence the South had on national politics. However the main union of southern black agricultural workers, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, was not that welcome in the industrially centered CIO and broke away after one year.

In 1962, federal employees won collective bargaining rights, which spurred state and municipal public-sector union organizing just as anti-discrimination rules were opening up public-sector jobs to African Americans and Great Society programs were expanding public-sector jobs. In 1960, only two percent of state and local public employees had the right to bargain collectively; by 1990, more than two-thirds did. The rapid expansion of public-sector unions was a boon to both the labor movement and the growth of the black middle class.

UNIONS COLLUDE WITH BOSSES

However, in the difficult period for American manufacturing after the Great Recession of 2007, the United Auto Workers (UAW) demonstrated that their ultimate loyalty was to the preservation of large businesses as opposed to the needs of workers. As American auto manufacturers faced increased competition from Asian and European car makers and shifts in production to low wage areas pushed down wages, concessions were sought from the powerful UAW. The result was union sponsorship of contracts that cut pay and benefits for new hires at GM, Ford and Chrysler by two-thirds, taking on health care costs from the bosses, and accepting dozens of plant closings. Of course these massive cutbacks disproportionately affected the more newly hired black workers and contributed to the decline of cities like Detroit and Flint. The precipitous decrease in union membership in private business was accelerated, never to be reversed. And it gets worse. Currently, the UAW is being investigated for taking a $1.5million bribe from Fiat Chrysler in exchange for a contract that cuts wages and benefits and sharply expands the number of low-paid temporary workers.

As the relative position of the US economy falls in relation to China and other rising powers, the pressure on unions and all workers for concessions will increase. The likelihood of larger wars will also mean that more and more cutbacks will be sought from workers as defense spending increases. Therefore there will be more attempts to weaken the bargaining power of unions, as well as make them loyal partners in the elite’s plans for cutting wages, benefits and social services and promoting nationalism. The recent militant strikes by teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma, right-to work states, give hope that workers will rise up despite the sorry state of most current unions, and reinvigorate a new empowered working class movement. They will not only have to continue to rebel against cutbacks, restrictive laws and sell-out union leaders, but to consider whether they wish to support the political leaders willing to risk workers’ flesh and treasure in the quest to maintain world supremacy.

 

March for Our Lives-Build Multiracial Unity

by Karyn Pomerantz, March 23, 2018

Blog march for our lived feg 2018Thousands of young people are marching against mass violence in schools and neighborhoods.  They are demanding new gun control laws to prevent school murders, impressing many with their determination and maturity.

This movement can become stronger as it attracts thousands of people whose anti-violence demands are often ignored.

These are some of the issues to build a stronger movement:

Join the demonstrations against the police murders of black and Latin men and women. 

These demonstrations have been diverse and have drawn many new activists. Multiracial unity and militancy made the Ferguson Rebellion especially strong, and the rebels welcomed anyone who would participate and accept the consequences. Later, organizations which had provided strong leadership, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), weakened themselves by adopting a nationalist position. BLM refused to allow white participation in its subsequent convention, about the same time as they became funded by billionaire George Soros and the Ford Foundation.  Other organizations that divide people, such as Stand Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which recruits exclusively whites to fight anti-black racism, grew in popularity. Only together can we defeat racism, whose divisive effect hurts us all. We can encourage people to respect and follow black leadership, and at the same time  create organizations of black, Latin, white, Asian and native people.

The leaders of the march could issue statements condemning the police for racism and brutality and call for their classmates to stand with black classmates and to end the swat team and militaristic responses to the protests.

Call for the prevention of school and community based murders of black students.    

While most school shootings of black students occur 1 or 2 at a time, they are frequent and deadly.  DC students at a March 20th town hall meeting reported their fears of traveling back and forth to school with some trips lasting over 2 hours.  Black students have demanded actions against school based violence, more after school programs, jobs, and mental health care.  Their demands are often ignored, and students are blamed as being naturally violent and aggressive, reinforcing a racist stereotype of the “angry black man and woman.”  Teens expressed their severe disappointment at the lack of a response and concern for their traumas.

The government applies gun control differently among African Americans as we saw in the police murder of Philando Castile, the Minnesotan driver who carried a legal firearm but was killed by a cop.  In comparison, the cop who killed the white woman in Minnesota was charged with second degree murder and jailed without bail. White victims are treated with sympathy and respect.

Arming teachers will also reinforce these differences.  Research reveals disproportionate rates of violence against black students by school personnel.  Many teachers are white and view black children as dangerous. Stacy Patton, a Morgan State professor wrote in the Washington Post February 27, 2018:

“Calling for stricter policing, metal detectors and guns in schools is an attempt to change the subject from gun control. This is about protecting the narrative that white suburban schools are places of safety and preserving the idea that violence is elsewhere, that black and Latino youth represent danger. Even white children aren’t immune from the dangers of mass shootings in schools. If their families and governments can’t keep them safe, what reason is there to expect a mostly white teaching force to magically overcome the risks of implicit bias, prejudice and racial microaggressions to protect children of color whom they already have difficulties communicating with and perceive as threats?”

More importantly, how does the government use violence?

Violence has always been used to protect profits and property, not people, and certainly not workers, black or white.  The government used violence to decimate Native Americans, enslave black people, break strikes and unions, and intimidate activists.  It promised Saudi Arabia $350 billion over 10 years that will fund the assault on Yemen where cholera, starvation, and killings have ravaged workers.  The Administration under Trump, Obama, and Clinton have cut social programs to fund the military and ramp up its preparation for war in .Asia.

African American people have a history of defending themselves for centuries: supporting the British against the plantation owners in colonial times, organizing slave revolts, fighting against the Klan, and protecting their homes. Only during World Wars I and II did the government arm them.  Once the wars ended the black GIs faced race wars and extremely limited benefits, such as unfair mortgages, and limited housing options, and union memberships. Disarming black workers leaves them vulnerable to fascist attacks, now encouraged by Trump.

blog march thurgood marshall feb 2018The campaign against violence has the potential to unite all students to reject racism and its violence against the working class. Students from Parkland and DC’s Thurgood Marshall rallied together days before the march (see photo).  The students have demonstrated their commitment and leadership to fight for solutions.  Let’s make sure they are not misled into the Democratic Party.  Black leaders in the Ferguson Rebellion rejected the Democrats, pacifist church leaders, and many non-profit organizations as allies and invited their neighbors to join them.  Let’s build such a movement now!

THE DECLINE OF U.S. IMPERIALISM or What Goes Up Must Come Down

by Ellen Isaacs

 

Imperialism is the stage of capitalism after colonialism when, the whole world having been divided up, the dominant nations fight each other for control of natural resources, markets and cheap labor. Just as capitalists within national borders must continually maximize their profits or be ousted by competitors, the capitalist class of each imperialist nation is compelled not only to optimize its exploitation of weaker nations, but to limit the access of rival powers to its acquisitions. By the late 1800s all the weaker nations had been brought under the sway of the more powerful ones, and the 1900s ushered in a century of world wars and many local armed conflicts. The primary aim of this article is to describe the declining place of the once dominant United States on the ladder of imperial power, and secondly, to assess how we as internationalist communists should relate to this shift.

 

The rising imperialist powers of China and Russia, once the beacons of hope for an anti-imperialist world, are now themselves the main capitalist rivals of the US for power and resources. To discuss how and why this unfortunate transition occurred is not our purpose here but we do hope to clarify the futility of siding with or seeing hope in any of these swings in imperial power.

It is imperative to win workers away from the idea that nationalism, loyalty to their own ruling class, whether of an imperialist power or the weakest country, will be to their benefit. The indigenous capitalists of the colonized nations seek only to gain the patronage and riches of their imperial masters and are no allies of their exploited workers. Nor is the struggle against exploitation any more noble in poorer, weaker nations than in global powers, for all workers must partake in the fight to overthrow capitalism. To do this we must also prioritize the fight against racism, which has been used to dehumanize the workers of the nations that have been deliberately underdeveloped by the imperialists and to divide workers within the imperialist nations.

 

THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN IMPERIAL DREAM

 

The military and economic power of the US peaked in the decades after World War II, and is now on a steady, if lurching, decline. Before we begin to discuss the ongoing downslide of US empire and influence, it is helpful to return to the beginning of the story. The saga of American imperialism and racist exploitation began even before the US became an independent nation, but was still a settler-colonialist enterprise of the British Empire and was bent on controlling/exterminating the native population and expanding westward. As cotton cultivation and industrial production exploded, millions of men and women were kidnapped and imported from Africa to be enslaved. By the mid 1700s, the British, fearing slave rebellions and occupied with conflicts elsewhere, wished to curb westward settler migration and limit the slave trade. As a result, the colonies revolted against these constraints and won independence – all in the name of “freedom” and “equality,” while creating the first apartheid state.

 

The newly independent United States of America declared its ambition to control the entire continent and had eyes set on trade with the Orient (Asia) across the Pacific. Over the next half century, Louisiana was purchased from France in 1803, the Spanish were driven out of Florida by 1821, and the vast territory that became Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming was seized by war with Mexico in the 1830s-40s. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 proclaimed the US domination of all of the Americas, in the effort to oust Spain and Portugal from their Central and South American colonies. Thereafter, the United States conducted military interventions in Panama, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Many of these efforts were to protect the United Fruit Company, which had significant financial stakes in the production of bananas, tobacco, sugar cane, and various other products throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.

 

All this preceded what is usually called the beginning of American imperialism, the Spanish American war of 1898. At that time, the US military seized Cuba from Spain, and forcibly took over Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines. As Congressman William Alden Smith said in that year, “The United States is a great manufacturing nation [and] we must find new markets for our energy and enterprise.” In 1904 the US assured its total control of the Panama Canal in perpetuity, which was critically important to global trade and naval power, as it was the only passage in the Western Hemisphere between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean other than around the southern tip of South America. As the American Empire grew by virtue of cruelty, injustice, exploitation, and genocide its workers and middle class were led to believe that their government was exporting liberty and enlightenment.

empires

The United States was a late entrant into World War I in 1917, a war between the competing empires of England and France against those of Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the end of that war, the US demanded a partial stake in the oil of Iran, as France and England divvied up the Middle East between themselves. Between 1914 and 1918 the US also intervened in Latin America, particularly in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, and Panama. In 1918, the US joined with at least 15 other nations to invade Russia in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik Revolution. During the 1920s, American companies set up shop in various foreign countries based on the available resources needed to produce their wares. American meat packers moved to Argentina; fruit growers established themselves in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala; sugar plantation owners went to Cuba; rubber plantation owners moved to the Philippines, Sumatra, and Malaya; copper corporations went to Chile; and oil companies went to Mexico and Venezuela.

 

By the end of World War II, when the former imperial nations of Europe lay in ruins, the US was the dominant global economic and military power, with its ruling class possessing one half of the entire wealth of the world and producing half of its manufactured goods. The America rulers saw themselves as destined to dominate the Grand Area of the Western Hemisphere – the former British Empire and the Far East – for purposes of control of resources, markets, much of cheap labor, and trade and to prevent what it misinterpreted as a similar desire of the USSR for world hegemony. As Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson said in 1944, “We cannot have full employment and prosperity …without the foreign markets.” Once the Soviet Union also gained atomic weapons by 1950, this need to dominate was expressed in increasingly strident and militaristic terms (National Security Council document 68).

 

Control of the world’s economy fell almost entirely into American hands. In 1944, at the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire, the US-empowered International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)were established and put in place a world currency system based on the dollar. The IMF was set up to make loans to countries to keep trade flowing, while the World Bank was to fund infrastructural projects such as dams, roads, and clean water systems. Western Europe was to be dominated by the US; British and French interests were to be pushed out of the Middle East; and control of Latin America would be absolute. George Kennan, a major State Department figure, advised that the US should “cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization” and must “deal in straight power concepts.”

 

The Korean war of 1950-3 was the result of the post WWII division of the country into North and South after the defeat of the previous Japanese occupiers. The North was under a communist government and tied to the Soviet Union while the US-allied South was led by former collaborators with the Japanese imperialists who had invaded and murdered countless Koreans. The massive US military involvement began because the US mistakenly saw the North’s entries into the South as a Soviet-sponsored attempt to take over the peninsula and threaten Japan. The US rulers also underestimated the vigor with which the new red government of China would defend its borders and American racism caused a gross minimization of the Asian’s ability to fight. The result was a costly war which ended in an unstable truce which persists to the present.

 

All such Cold War conflicts became viewed as part of a global struggle against what the US rulers saw as monolithic communism. Aid to the French to maintain their colonies in Indochina and to the Philippine government to fight a peasant insurrection was increased. The success of the Chinese Communist revolution in 1949 led to US bases being established in Japan, Libya, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia and acceleration of the production of nuclear weapons, including the hydrogen bomb. Three quarters of the 1950 federal budget now went to military expenses.

 

During the 1950s, control of the world’s oil became the priority of the US rulers, though it had been of major import to many nations ever since oil fields were first discovered in the 1800s in the Caucasian region of what later became the Soviet Union. Indeed, the fight over Middle Eastern oil between Germany and Britain was the spark that ignited World War I, and all militaries have depended on it ever since.

 

In Iran, the US CIA deposed Prime Minister Mosaddegh in 1953 when he tried to nationalize oil production and put in his place the brutal and dictatorial pro-Western Shah. Eisenhower prevented Britain, France and Israel from capturing the Suez Canal in 1956, in an effort to build closer ties with Egypt. When this failed, an alliance with Saudi Arabia, which persists to this day, was cemented instead. By threatening overwhelming use of force, the US let the USSR know that it would be the primary power in the Middle East.

 

From 1954, the CIA orchestrated right wing movements in Latin America to halt the growth of left-leaning movements, such as that led by Arbenz in Guatemala. Unsuccessful in militarily toppling Cuba’s Castro in 1961, Kennedy did manage, through threats of a nuclear attack, to accomplish the removal of Soviet missiles from the island. The US supported a military coup in Brazil and invaded the Dominican Republic in 1964 against a left-wing uprising. In Africa, the US feared independence movements, and when diplomacy and foreign aid failed to win the day, force was used, as in the overthrow of Lumumba in the Congo by CIA led forces. As in the previous century, all of these enterprises were presented as exercises in exporting democracy and promoting international harmony, when the real point was to maintain stability for the local capitalists, whom they could control, and large US enterprises.

 

VIETNAM – THE FIRST CRACK IN THE FACADE

 

After World War II and the victory of the communist-led workers’ and peasants’ revolution in China, the US rulers feared the ability of the Chinese to inspire the working class of neighboring countries in Asia, even Japan, to overthrow their own local capitalist exploiters and oppressors. This would remove them from the potential and actual domination and exploitation by American and European imperialists. From the point of view of the US rulers this would be a disaster, one that they termed the “domino theory,” with one domino after another “falling” (out of their reach).

 

In a concerted effort to prevent this dreaded series of events, the US imperialists began by backing the French occupation of Vietnam – part of so-called French Indochina. By 1954, the US was paying 80% of the French bill, but nonetheless, the French military was defeated in 1954 and forced to withdraw. President Eisenhower ordered the prevention of a scheduled free election in Vietnam, in which it was fully expected that the communist leader Ho Chi Minh would garner some 80% of the vote. The US government instead divided the country in two portions, North and South, and set up a puppet regime in the South.

 

In 1961, President Kennedy began sending in troops to occupy the South Vietnam. The war continued for twelve more years, ended in a military and political defeat for the US and brought to a close the post-WWII era of unchallenged American military power. The dedication of the North Vietnamese population to what was really left wing nationalism, combined with the widespread anti-war sentiment of both the American public and a large number of US soldiers – who began to turn their guns on their own officers (mutiny) – forced the capitulation of the once unstoppable US military. However, in one sense it was not a defeat. Due to the collapse of communism in China, the unified Vietnamese nation has developed a capitalist economy ever more friendly to the US.

 

Never again would US imperialism engage in a long-term all out ground war, as waged in Vietnam and Korea. The current US war in Afghanistan, now dragging out for fifteen years, has been a halfhearted attempt to win on the cheap. The “Vietnam syndrome”, the resistance of American civilians and soldiers to the draft and to mass casualties, led to a new era. US capitalists would now try to protect their interests through CIA operatives, air power, special operations troops, and reliance on native combatants.

 

TWO DECADES OF INTENSE COMPETITION

 

By the 1970s, the US imperialists were no longer so far ahead of other global powers, but were no less determined to control access to resources, markets, and overworked and underpaid workers. Europe, Japan, and the USSR had largely recovered from the damage of WWII, and the Soviets had a comparable nuclear arsenal. Increased competition for markets from rival capitalists produced the first US trade and balance of payments deficits since 1945. European banks, holding large amounts of excess dollars, demanded payment in gold. President Nixon, afraid of a huge capital drain, responded by going off the gold standard, making the dollar just another commodity on the world market. American capitalists, afraid of their potential losses, initiated an era of deregulation and government subsidies at home, causing massive service cutbacks. However, the US share of world manufacturing and the power of its financial institutions began a fall that would not be reversed. In the past 40 years the dollar has fallen in value by more than 70% against the euro, the former German mark, and the Japanese yen. The US had a modest net export surplus in 1971 before Nixon started the dollar on its downward path. Despite the cheaper dollar, which should have encouraged purchases abroad of US-made products and improved the US balance of trade, today there is a $502 billion annual trade deficit.

 

As Nixon was looking for a way out of the Vietnam War, he built ties with China, which had become independent of the Soviet Union, and he even visited there in 1972. He also signed the first arms control and trade agreements with the USSR. Despite Nixon’s overtures to the “communist” (no longer revolutionary and now state capitalist) world, in Latin American left wing governments were not to be tolerated. In 1973 the US engineered the overthrow and assassination of the elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, putting in his place the murderous military junta under Agosto Pinochet.

 

In other areas, the US was losing its absolute power to control events. In 1973 Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria, backed by the Soviet Union, in an attempt to win back the territory lost in 1967. Israel was able to win only with a massive US arms airlift, but a price was to be paid. The other Arab countries of OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, began a reduction in oil output, enforced an embargo on shipments to the friends of Israel, and raised their prices. The US rulers were unable to make them back down, and the rise in prices helped create an inflationary economic crisis, just as the US had become dependent on foreign oil for almost half of its rapidly rising energy consumption

 

The overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR in 1979 caused a serious blow to US influence in Asia and the Near East, causing President Carter to utter his famous doctrine : ”An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the USA …and will be repelled by any means necessary.” All imperialists regard control over the rest of the world to be in their “vital interests” – a setup for endless inter-imperialist wars, both widespread and local.

 

The Soviet Union, by then another center of imperialism, was also funding leftist groups in Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia. And Cuba, with Soviet support, was aiding leftists in Nicaragua and El Salvador. By this time, “leftist” or “left-leaning” only referred to groups with the goal of some socialist reforms but not of working-class rule. Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Sunnis were funding Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East and Asia, including some groups, like Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that had been set up by the US rulers to oppose the Russians in Afghanistan. Under President Reagan, elected in 1980, the US again built up its military, directly opposing leftist movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua and intervening in the Lebanese civil war. Other US-sponsored wars to overthrow left-leaning governments took place in Africa, including the Congo, Ghana, Namibia, and Mozambique, as well as in Indonesia, Chile, and tiny Grenada.

 

Symptomatic of US rulers’ loss of economic dominance, by 1980 the US GDP per person had slipped from first to eleventh place, behind many large and small European countries.

 

THE SOVIET UNION IMPLODES

 

The next profound change in international relations came because of internal developments in the USSR, as Gorbachev ascended to power and capitalism was openly embraced, with little remaining attempt to hide it behind the mask of “communism.” Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Berlin Wall came down, and the Soviet republics became independent of each other. The change however, came from internal weaknesses and conflicts in the Soviet system, not because of any US victory, despite Reagan’s claim of credit. But the US Government, along with the IMF and the World Bank, declared capitalism to be triumphant and encouraged worldwide privatization of state enterprises, fiscal austerity, and decreased trade barriers.

 

Attempting to reassert US military power, President Bush Sr. invaded Panama in 1989. Next he encouraged Iraq to send its troops into Kuwait to prevent Kuwait’s drainage of an underground oil field that spanned their mutual border, and using this incursion as a pretext, Bush invaded Iraq “to save US allies throughout the region.” The underlying reason for this Gulf War I charade was to assert US control over Iraqi oil, with the world’s second biggest known reserves at that time.

 

Yugoslavia, previously in the Soviet sphere of influence, underwent a violent breakup into ethnic statelets from 1992-5. This was partly caused by economic hardship brought on by austerity policies and decreased Western aid. The Kosovo region of Serbia was the scene of a second local war in 1999. Ethnic Albanians were being attacked, which gave President Clinton the excuse for another military intervention, this time under the auspices of US-led NATO. While killing thousands of civilians in the name of “humanitarianism,” the war served as an excuse for a $13 billion increase in US military spending, building the largest US army base in the Balkan area and a new NATO policy allowing military action anywhere on the broad periphery of NATO’s realm, such as North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. The US was now not only asserting its might ever closer to Russia’s border, but was setting the stage for its upcoming wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush Sr’s “New World Order” asserted that the US could use its overwhelming military power to achieve its aims anywhere, an extension of the Monroe and Carter Doctrines.

 

While claiming that US interventions in Kosovo and elsewhere were for humanitarian reasons, as always, the hypocrisy in this claim is underscored by the absence of US intervention in Rwanda, among many other places, the scene of massive ethnic genocide in 1994, but where no strategic interests were at stake at the time. Whenever the US rulers do see strategic interests, they have their government provide military, economic, and diplomatic support, as with Indonesia’s slaughter of hundreds of thousands of East Timorese in 1975, and with Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt’s slaughter of many tens of thousands of indigenous people in 1999 – only two of countless examples.

 

Although President Clinton made some cuts in military spending, in 2001 the US still accounted for 37% of all worldwide military expenditures (with only 5% of the world’s population). NATO, supposedly created to fight the USSR, continued to exist and expand eastward. It opened new markets for US weapons and exports. “Free trade,” which greatly advantages the rich, industrialized nations, was one of Clinton’s major priorities. His administration created NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the WTO (World Trade Organization), as the IMF and WB continued to pressure countries to decrease government services to their working-class populations, divest publicly owned enterprises in favor of private ownership, and emphasize free markets, all for the benefit of imperialist investment profits.

 

OIL DILEMMAS MOUNT and 9/11 PROVIDES THE EXCUSE FOR WIDER WARS

 

Even though the US never got the majority of its oil from the Middle East, it had long sought to control the flow of oil to the world as a way to maintain global dominance. In1992 the US led an unsuccessful intervention in Somalia which was, as usual, billed as a humanitarian venture to fight famine, but was in reality a push to gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa. Somalia not only lies next to the strait providing access to the Red Sea, through which millions of gallons of oil pass each day, but was found to contain huge deposits of oil and gas, two thirds of which had been allocated to three American oil firms. Somali resistance to American intervention was unexpectedly intense, and the US was forced to withdraw.

 

Like the British before it, the US imperialists had tried to keep Iraqi oil off the world market for their own use and profit, and sanctions after the Gulf War of 1991 had accomplished just that. However, by the late nineties, France, Russia, China, and others had made deals to develop Iraqi oil, and Saddam Hussein was threatening to demand payment in euros instead of dollars, which would have destabilized the price of oil to the US. This was on top of an already falling American economic position, the US share of world manufacturing having fallen from 60% in 1950 to 25% in 1999.

 

Unable to garner public support to wage war for oil, the 9/11 attack in 2001 was a boon to the US ruling class. As discussed in the bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission Report of 1999, the government expected to be the target of some kind of terrorist action, which they predicted would mobilize patriotism in the manner of Pearl Harbor and overcome the post-Vietnam aversion to foreign wars once and for all.

 

[T]he United States should assume that it will be a target of terrorist attacks against its homeland….Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers….If the stakes rise in such a fashion, one thing is likely to become vividly clear: The American people will be ready to sacrifice blood and treasure, and come together to do so, if they believe that fundamental interests are imperiled.”

 

US rulers did not expect that the attack would be so huge, skilled, or successful, but it was valuable for their aims nonetheless. Nor did they predict that it would be planned and executed by the very terrorists, Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, that the CIA had greatly strengthened to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. Now the Pentagon could invade Afghanistan, the site of important pipelines, and Iraq, even though it had nothing to do with 9/11, to remove the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, and install friendly governments. Thinking that a massive bombing of Baghdad would do the trick and that Iraqis would rise up to welcome the US military, President Bush Jr ludicrously declared victory after the initial assault. Unfortunately for US rulers, more and more Iraqis rebelled against the murderous and incompetent American occupation, and, undeceived by Bush’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (which would have been more appropriately named OIL, Oil of Iraq Liberation), public opposition to the war also grew at home. As of 2016, these two wars had cost $4.7 trillion dollars, about 10,000 US military casualties, and well over 500,000 deaths of Iraqis and Afghans, 70% of them civilian.

 

Once looked upon as a way to gain American dominance over the second biggest oil producer in the world, the Iraq war did not turn out that way. For many years oil production fell precipitously. It is now rebounding, but China is now importing more Iraqi oil than the US. Iraq is now China’s 3rd biggest supplier, after Russia and Saudi Arabia. Even Iran is now importing Iraqi oil (http://wognews.net). Construction of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) natural gas pipeline, that was the real impetus behind Bush’s Afghanistan invasion, was finally begun in 2015 in Turkmenistan. But who will benefit remains in doubt as Afghanistan is still in a state of turmoil seventeen years later, US relations with Pakistan are frayed, and India vacillates in its allegiances between the US and China. As American troops in Afghanistan have been gradually withdrawn, China’s capitalist rulers have increased their manpower and investments there. They are eager for its massive mineral deposits and access to Central Asian markets, all part of their One Belt, One Road expansion policy, designed to connect china to Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe through enormous infrastructure projects.

 

Meanwhile, the US rulers imposed sanctions on Iran for the 1979 overthrow of their ally the Shah and for Iran’s support of “terrorists,” – i.e., forces opposing the US and Israel in Lebanon and Syria. In 2006 the UN increased these sanctions due to the growth of Iranian nuclear capabilities, all of which restricted the sale of Iranian oil to Europe. Sanctions against Russia and the US military assassination of Prime Minister Qaddafi and destruction of oil-rich Libya worsened this European oil deficit, and Russia began mainly selling energy resources to China. Pressure on President Obama to ease the European shortages led to the Iran deal, unpopular with many at home and with the allied Israeli and Saudi Arabian rulers.(https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/27/trump-and-the-decline-of-american-unipolarity/)

 

For the last two years the role of the US in the world oil market has drastically changed, with the US now producing enough shale oil to become one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and natural gas. OPEC is no longer the dominant energy producer and has lost its ability to control prices (NYT 1/29/18). However, there is uncertainty over how long shale supremacy will last, with some experts saying productivity has already been maximized. Trump is also trying to massively increase fracking, following in Obama’s footsteps, and offshore oil drilling. Both these trends are sure to accelerate fossil-fuel-caused climate change by decreasing the economic urgency of increasing alternative energy use.

 

A WIDESPREAD MILITARY WITH LIMITED POWER

 

As Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, ”What’s the point of having this wonderful military if you don’t use it?” The US military budget for 2017-8 is $824.6 billion, larger than the next nine countries combined and accounting for 54% of discretionary federal spending. And Trump wants to increase it even more. All this for military exercises that are failing to guarantee the influence or economic dominance of the US around the world.

 

Despite the fact that the US now has over 1000 military installations (https://dra.american.edu/islandora/object/auislandora%3A55685), in over 100 countries, has deployed Special Forces to 149 countries and has over 4000 bases at home, armed might is not increasing American influence around the world. The most devastating looming defeat is in Syria. There the US rulers supported uprisings against President Assad in 2011 because he failed to support their favored Qatar-EU pipeline and instead supported one favored by the Russian oligarchs. For the last several years, Assad, backed by the rulers of Russia and Iran, has come closer to victory, at the expense of nearly half a million Syrian workers’ lives, and Putin has succeeded in maintaining Russia’s only Mediterranean port, on Syria’s coast in Tartus.

 

Turkey, once a backbone of NATO and crucially located between Russia and Western Europe, is now buying a Russian weapons-missile defense system, allowing Al Qaeda and other US opponents to ship weapons to Syria, and threatening to oust US planes from the military base at Incirlik. Under Trump, the US is now making an increased commitment to The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group in northern Syria, that Turkey sees as a serious threat and that has already entered Syria to attack (NYT 1/22/18).

 

US-dominated NATO has also been checkmated in its attempt to encroach upon Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine. Although US money and influence manufactured the electoral overthrow of the Russia-friendly regime in 2014 (a common US ploy that exposes the hypocrisy of the charge that the Russian government interfered in the election of Trump), the Russian rulers were able to recapture the eastern region of Crimea militarily. Without it, Russia would have lost access to the Black Sea ports, a vital opening to sea trade, which was what the US government had hoped for. The new US-friendly Ukrainian regime is led by the direct political descendants of the World War II Ukrainian fascists, who were allies of the Nazis and participated in their genocidal murder of Jews and communists.

 

In Yemen, potentially a rich source of oil and strategically located across from Somalia in the Horn of Africa, the US-allied President was overthrown in 2014. The US and the UK are now supporting Saudi Arabia, which is bombing the country into a state of massive humanitarian disaster in a bid to control this nation on its southern border and prevent its coming under the wing of Iran. Nonetheless, the capital, Sanaa, remains in the hands of the Iran-friendly Shia Houthis, and the south is a stronghold of ISIS Islamic militants.

 

All Middle Eastern terrorist organizations, as murderous and anti-working class as they are, are responses to the inter-imperialist rivalries that have caused wanton destruction and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of workers. Thus such murderous thugs, with capitalist designs of their own, are able to attract impoverished workers and win them to carry out terrorist atrocities. It is important to recognize the similarity between imperialist war and terrorism. As one wag Imperialist put it, “Terrorism is poor persons’ war, while war is rich persons’ terrorism.”

 

In 2007, the US military established AFRICOM, to coordinate military efforts in Africa. The first military venture was the disastrous coup in Libya in 2011. The US rulers overthrew and assassinated Qaddafi, as he was threatening to sell oil to China and move away from the dollar, leaving a failed chaotic state in its wake, without any lasting advantage to the West. In order to garner popular support for ventures intended to benefit only the US imperialist rulers, the mostly hidden US wars in Africa are fought in the name of “counter-terrorism.” There are now 46 military installations that conduct 3,500 exercises and military engagements throughout Africa per year, an average of 10 per day. US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, made an ominous declaration to a Senate committee: these numbers are likely to increase as the US is expanding its military activities in Africa. Mattis’ justification of the operation as defense against terrorism has served as a pretense for the US to intervene in, and exploit, a massive region with great economic potential. (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/11/shadow-armies-the-unseen-but-real-us-war-in-africa/). According to AFRICOM’s 2017 statement, the largest base, in Djibouti, “is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula” and supports “U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region.” (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176272/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_the_u.s._military_moves_deeper_into_africa/) Of course, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen are important sources of oil, not just terrorists.

africa

A map of U.S. military bases — forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations — across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents (Nick Turse/TomDispatch).

 

According to the Associated Press, “In the last few years, the U.S. has been ramping up its military operations throughout Latin America in the most expensive initiative there since the Cold War.” US troops have been involved in the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002, the 2009 coup in Honduras, and in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia (http://www.coha.org/u-s-military-presence-in-latin-america-increasing/). Although advertised as counter-terrorism or interference with drug trafficking, all military ventures are located in areas of oil or water reserves or in countries with left-leaning governments.

 

THE MILITARY COMPETITION

 

The Chinese rulers’ military budget grew an average of 8.5% a year from 2007-2016 and shows no sign of declining, although it is only one fourth that of the US. China is not only now a major exporter of arms around the world, but is surpassing the US in defense technology, research, and education. China, with four times the US population, has 2.3 million active duty soldiers, compared to 1.4 million in the US. It has a navy and air force that are not only growing but are new and modern and equipped with missiles more advanced than the US’s (http://www.businessinsider.com/chinese-military-compared-to-us-2016-3/#chinas-air-force-8). Last year China completed its first overseas military base, a naval installation in Djibouti, just four miles from the hub of AFRICOM (https://www.military.com/defensetech/2017/03/13/chinas-first-overseas-military-base-nearing-completion). Last year China completed its first overseas military base, a naval installation in Djibouti, just four miles from the hub of AFRICOM (https://www.military.com/defensetech/2017/03/13/chinas-first-overseas-military-base-nearing-completion). In the realm of cyber warfare, China has made staggering progress in the last two years. Its Strategic Support Force (SSF) is now overtaking the US in hacking, espionage, and the ability to disable the American military machine (https://www.cyberscoop.com/china-ssf-cyber-command-strategic-support-force-pla-nsa-dod/). In a more conventional military vein, China’s rulers are aggressively asserting dominance over the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade passes every year and under which lie oil and minerals. The capitalists of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all have rival claims, but China’s rulers did not flinch as the US sent two carrier groups to the region in 2014. It is important to realize that China’s rulers, for the time being, are gaining power not by militarily invading other countries, but rather by diplomacy and economic investment. The use of their military is for now held in reserve, until needed.

 

For the last 5 years, Russia’s rulers have also been committed to a huge military buildup, with increases in defense spending planned for each year through 2020. In addition to the 2009 war in Georgia, they have resumed bomber and naval patrols in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Like the US imperialists, those of Russia face the problem of recruiting a large enough army or keeping up with the technological prowess of the Chinese (http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/russias-military-back-9181). The Soviet military is also rushing to build air and radar bases on remote Arctic islands as it pushes ahead with a claim to almost half a million square miles of the Arctic, now estimated to hold about 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas (https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-01-30/russia-launches-biggest-arctic-military-expansion-fall-ussr). The Russian government is also engaging militarily with Africa, as well as economically, with large number of arms exports. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir recently visited Putin to request protection from US aggression. Most important for the US imperialists, Putin is supporting Assad in Syria, which appears to be leading towards a victory empowering them and their ally Iran.

 

The growing military and economic might of Russia and China has led Defense Secretary Mattis to switch the emphasis of the US military from fighting terrorism to preparing for conflict with Russia and/or China (NYT 1/19/18).

 

THE US IS IN ABSOLUTE and RELATIVE ECONOMIC DECLINE

 

By 2016, the US share of world production had fallen to 16%, from 22% in 1991 and about 50% after WW2. China surpassed the US in that same year with 18% of world production. The IMF predicts that by 2021, the US will fall to 15% and China rise to 20%. Nonetheless, the US persists on a path of massive military spending, recently increased by President Trump, in a doomed attempt to maintain world hegemony and adding further downward pressure on economic production and government services.

 

In the 1990’s, the BRICS powers – Brazil, India, South Africa and China – began to assert their own interests and to challenge the US and European capitalists for the right to set trade rules and to claim territorial sovereignty over parts of the world far from their own boundaries. But most importantly, China is in the process of building a whole new monetary system to replace the US and the dollar as the arbiters of the world economy. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, joined by 57 countries, is taking on the US in trade, investment, and industrial development, primarily in Asia, but even in Europe and South America. The Chinese renminbi was actually anointed as a global reserve currency in 2015, putting it in an elite category with the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen. China’s state-owned development bank has surpassed the World Bank in international lending. (https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/07/evolving-geopolitical-economic-framework-us-vs-china/).

 

 

At the heart of China’s $8 trillion One Belt, One Road (OBOR) strategy lies the creation of an economic land corridor that includes countries on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, as well as a maritime road that links China’s port facilities with the African coast, extending up through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. The project aims to redirect the country’s domestic overcapacity and capital for regional infrastructure development to improve trade and relations within East Asian, Central Asian, and European countries. China’s ultimate goal is to extend the initiative to Africa and Latin America.

 

Since 2000, China has emerged as Africa’s largest trading partner and a major source of investment and infrastructure finance as well, building strategic deep-water ports and railway networks. Their investment in such huge infrastructure projects is in exchange for access to raw materials. One example is the $6 billion deal recently negotiated with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Chinese government will build new roads, railway lines, hospitals, and schools and in return have access to one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and cobalt for the next 20 years. China’s capitalists control 80% of Sudan’s oil, and have invested billions of dollars in the country’s infrastructure. This led the US imperialists to foster rebellions in the south, resulting in widespread death and famine, but little advantage to themselves.

 

Another region China is entering is South America, where the US has traditionally held exclusive sway. At one time they supported only the left-leaning governments in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador, but now that Venezuela is nearly bankrupt and other leftist regimes removed, China is allying with business-friendly governments. There are free trade agreements with Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica, arms sales, satellite tracking stations, and exports of copper, iron, and oil (https://www.economist.com/news/americas/21710307-chinas-president-ventures-donald-trumps-backyard-golden-opportunity

 

Lest there be any doubt that China’s rulers motives are not imperialist but are to improve the lives of the workers of the world, one need only examine their actions in Myanmar. This huge country contiguous to China is desired as a source of energy and access to the Indian ocean. The giant Shwe oil and gas pipeline and a crude oil pipeline from the Middle East and Africa are open or under construction to bring energy to southwest China. Also planned were large hydroelectric dams in the north and a copper mine, which would have displaced thousands of people but were stopped due to massive protests. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-wagner/the-impact-of-energy-of-c_b_7061318.html). Not so fortunate are the Rohingya Mulsim minority on the coast where the Chinese wish to build a port and a huge industrial park. The whipping up of religious prejudice has allowed the cruel expulsion, rape or murder of most of the population in order to make way for these Chinese-funded projects. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rohingya-land-grab-military_us_59b96400e4b02da0e13e79f4).

 

The Russian economy had been doing poorly for the last few years due to sanctions and low oil prices, but rising oil prices and increased consumer demand have led to a predicted 3% growth this year. (NYT, 1/18/18). The Russian government is also counterbalancing the NATO push for influence on its border by making large deals in Eastern Europe, such as a $12.2 billion nuclear reactor in Hungary and heavy investments in Bulgaria. (http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-russia-white-house-eastern-europe-foreign-policy-bulgaria-509478). Ties with Iran are also increasing. In addition to the alliance with Syria’s President Assad, the Russian government is currently helping build two new nuclear reactors on the Iranian gulf coast and is providing an anti-aircraft system. Thus both the US and Iranian rulers may be losing some of their great influence in the Middle East to Russia’s oligarchs, though the Soviets/Russians had not been active there for 50 years ( https://theconversation.com/russia-and-irans-growing-cooperation-hints-at-a-new-middle-east-75181).

 

The US, meanwhile, ranks fourth in the world among advanced industrial nations for economic inequality, with 1% of the population having as much wealth as the other 99%. Mass incarceration, rampant racism, the worst health and health care in the industrialized world, and high poverty and low wages led to the election of Trump. When his inept anti-working class administration fails to solve any of these problems (though no capitalist government could), worsening conditions will lead to mass discontent, if not rebellion.

 

HOW WILL THE LOSS OF AMERICAN DOMINANCE UNFOLD?

 

There is no shortage of scenarios put forward by a variety of pundits of how the US decline relative to China will go down, and most see the axes of power and wealth crossing by 2030. Historian and journalist Alfred McCoy, in his book In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, sees the strain of ties with military allies such as Turkey, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Arab regimes, and the loss of confidence from Germany and South Korea, as critical, along with the rise of China and the growing educational gap between China and the US. Possible scenarios he discusses include

 

  • Economic pressures forcing the US to pull back from overseas military commitments and causing rising clashes at home;
  • Iran and Russia coming to control half of the world’s natural gas and China and others outpacing the US in alternative energies;
  • The US navy being unable to control oil in the Persian Gulf after Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and others form a new Persian Gulf Alliance and oil prices soar;
  • China attains victory by disrupting the American military machine with cyberwarfare; or
  • Actual large scale military conflict breaks out.

 

In All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power, by Thomas J. Wright of the Brookings Institution, a more gradual relative decline of US might is seen, with a retreat to becoming a regional power only in the Americas. According to economist Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University, the US will bankrupt itself if it continues over-investment in a bloated military and invites an arms race with China (Boston Globe,10/30/16).

 

 

We do not know which, if any, of these scenarios will actually unfold, but we do agree that militarily, economically, and technologically US imperialism is in a declining position versus that of China, faces increased threats from Russia’s imperialists. We can be sure that the US government will continue to use its military might in ongoing smaller wars, already having upped the commitments in Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. Furthermore, it is likely to end up sooner or later in major direct conflict with China or Russia, or even possibly with smaller nations such as Iran. A major problem for the US ruling class, and possibly for those of other nations, is that the millions of workers required by the military to carry out these wars may be unwilling to do so. There is also no way to know whether, when pushed to the wall, the US government might resort to nuclear weapons, possibly on a first strike basis. All of this may occur before climate change has destroyed much of the planet.

 

For the workers of the world there is no side to root for in this battle between capitalist/imperialist empires. The challenge is to build common cause among workers throughout the world, and to fight the ideas that allow workers to be fooled into supporting their local ruling classes. Paramount among these deceptive ideas is racism. In the US, Trump openly calls Africa and Haiti “shitholes” and supports white supremacists, while various East and West European leaders, in imitation of the world’s most vicious and determined racists of the US ruling class, build nationalist anti-immigrant racism. All capitalist nations, big and small, build nationalism to preach loyalty to their own ruling class. Internally, racism of various sorts is used to divide workers and diminish the class war against exploitation, deprivation, and oppression. Only by building a strong multiracial international movement will we be able to win millions and millions to understand that capitalism makes inter-imperialist war – and the deaths of millions and/or destruction of the planet – inevitable.

Our task is to unite in struggle for a worker-run egaliltarian world before that happens. It will probably be the specter of war and economic chaos that builds mass rebellion, and our job is to become ready to lead that movement towards eradicating this capitalist system, once and for all, around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tax Cut Bill – A Windfall for the Wealthy Foretelling More Misery for the Working Class

by Al Simpson

December 24, 2017

The Tax Cuts – What’s Going to happen to ordinary people.

Congress recently passed a tax bill that showers billions of dollars on the wealthy.  Most, but not all, working class households will have lower taxes for a while, but tax benefits expire in 2025. After 2027, taxes for working class households will likely go up.  There were no public hearings on the bill, and no open discussion was permitted at all.  The tax cut bill was brought forward in a completely undemocratic fashion.  Details of the final bill are in appendix A, near the end of this article.  Let’s discuss some of the falsehoods that are being used to popularize the bill.

The “it will stimulate the economy” lie.

One of the favorite pet sayings of conservatives is that the tax cuts will lead to more prosperity for everyone.  Let’s see if this is true.  The Bush tax cuts occurred in 2001 and 2003.  The chart below (“Did the Bush Tax Cuts Raise Incomes”) covers the years 2004 through 2016, inclusive.  It provides a graph of median family incomes for all races in blue and for blacks in red.  For all races, the median income in 2004 was $56,332 and for 2016 it was $59,039 an increase of only 4.80 percent over 12 years.  For blacks, the median income in 2004 was $38,418 and for 2016 it was $40,065 an increase of only 4.28 percent over 12 years.  This amounts to a minuscule average increase of just 0.392 percent a year for all races and 0.350 percent a year for blacks.  Of course, the deep recession that started in 2007 held everyone back, but during the recovery, the Treasury stimulated the economy with trillions of dollars of low interest money.  Most of that money went to the top 1 percent of earners. So, we can say with confidence that the Bush tax cuts further fattened the rich and did very little, if anything, for anyone else.  A 65-year study found that tax cuts do not lead to economic growth.[i]  Observe, in the chart below, that the curve that represents incomes for blacks is always below that for all races; this is clear evidence of racism.

Tax DidTaxCutsImprove-page-001

Chart created by author using data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017

The Tax Cuts Will Not Increase the National Debt Because It Will Pay for Itself Lie

Congress tried twice to pass a health care cutback bill that would have increased the number of uninsured persons by 22 million and would have ended Medicaid.  It was openly discussed that this was needed to help pay for the tax cuts, so that the tax cuts would not further increase the National debt.  But the health care cutback bills were voted down.  And guess what?  They voted in a tax cut (for the wealthy) anyway.  The repeal of the individual mandate will make health insurance unaffordable to 13 million people over a 10-year period, so they got part of what they wanted, but it’s worse than that.

If this were a bill to improve health care, build or replace infrastructure, or create a better safety net for the working class, then there would be loud screams that this would increase the deficit and so there would be no money for it.  But the rich paymasters of Congress get whatever they want, regardless of the circumstances.  The tax cuts will increase the national debt by about $1 trillion and will further skew the income distribution towards the wealthy.  The national debt now stands at about $20 trillion; this will increase it to at least $21 trillion.  Who is going to pay?  Answer: The ones who always pay!  The working class will suffer cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.  The bosses’ politicians, Democrat and Republican, will use the enormous national debt as a bludgeon to reduce or eliminate programs that assist the working class.

Skewed Income Distributions Cause Social Distress

The United States is the most unequal of all advanced counties for income distribution.  Income inequality was greatly worsened by the recession that began in 2007.  See chart below.

 

On December 14, 2017, economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, Facundo Alvaredo and Lucas Chancel published the inaugural World Inequality Report that documents the rise in global income and wealth inequality since 1980.  The report shows the enormous increase in wealth of the top 1% of earners at the expense of the bottom 50% of earners in the United States.  See chart below.

Tax Real Income

Top 1 percent vs. Bottom 50 percent national income shares in the US 1980–2016

Tax Top1VsBottom50-page-001

A skewed income distribution creates terrible, desperate situations for people.  In March 2017, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, both of Princeton University, wrote that deaths of despair (drug overdoses, alcohol related liver disease, and suicide) made mortality rates for people in midlife so great as to overcome mortality improvements for children and the elderly.   A study by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found a direct correlation between social inequality and a series of social ills, including homicides and violent crime, poor school achievement and high dropout rates, teenage births, lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality, obesity, mental illness, and more.  There is rampant abuse of opioids.  You don’t have to work hard to see the problem.  About a mile from where I live, a drugstore has a large sign in its window saying that it will not fill any prescriptions for Oxycodone.  The number of deaths from opioid overdoses is increasing all over the country.  Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics also found a significant rise in the number of deaths due to firearms, to more than 38,000. The mortality rate from gunshot wounds also increased sharply in 2015, after staying relatively constant in previous years. While, as in years past, the vast majority of these deaths were due to suicide, the increase in 2016, however, was mostly due to an increase in homicides.

Interestingly, suicide rates among blacks are half of those of whites.  The reason given is: “African Americans score higher on measures of both individualism and collectivism than do whites. Individualism may give them more self-esteem, and collectivistic values offer more community support in times of distress … both of which may play into the lower suicide rates.”[ii]

Compared to other developed countries, the United States is way in front on all measures of social distress. It is simultaneously the most unequal and the most socially distressed.  The proposed tax cuts are designed to make the rich even richer, at the expense of the working class, and will cause even more misery.

During the early 20th century, the American ruling class responded to the eruption of class conflict and the threat of socialist revolution, represented, above all, by the Russian Revolution, with social reforms—Roosevelt’s New Deal (including Social Security), increases in taxes on the wealthy, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s (including Medicare and Medicaid).

These measures, however, were implemented within the framework of preserving a social and economic system based on private ownership of the banks and corporations. Furthermore, they were premised on the strength of American capitalism and its dominant position in the world economy, especially in the post-World War II period when the U.S. had little or no competition.

The shift in ruling-class strategy corresponded to a shift in the position of American capitalism. Over the past half-century, the ruling class has sought to offset the decline in its economic position externally through military aggression and internally through the upward redistribution of social resources from the great mass of the population to the financial oligarchy. The results can be seen in the chart above, which shows the top one percent steadily amassing a greater share of wealth and income.

Fighting Back

How is the working class going to fight back against cutbacks in living standards and who can it depend upon for help?  Can it depend upon the Democratic Party for help?  The Democratic Party is generally a party of the liberal bosses.  Even this is not historically consistent.  Until the 1980s the Southern Democrats were quite racist and conservative.  Then, around the mid-1980s many of them joined the Republican Party.  Even now, there are some very conservative Democrats.  The important thing to observe is that the Democratic Party is one of the two twin parties of the bosses.  The two parties have very similar policies and they are NOT for working people.  Some examples will make this clearer.

Anti-labor attacks in Wisconsin

In 2011, the State of Wisconsin passed some vicious anti-union laws that curtailed the collective bargaining power of unions, banned teacher strikes, and barred the collection of union dues through workers’ paycheck deductions.  Predictably, public-sector union misleaders rushed to sign contracts with most of the economic concessions sought by Wisconsin Governor Walker in order to delay the impact of his anti-union law.  But amongst rank and file workers there was talk about a general strike.  However, after 3 weeks of protests the momentum for a general strike was dissipated as union misleaders and Democratic Party hacks pressured and cajoled union members to approve contracts that contained at least a 7 percent pay cut in order to keep the dues money coming.  A general strike at that time would have been an enormous blow against the bosses and their plans to control and impoverish us.  Also, they would not have had to accept a pay cut.

Let’s get some more insight into this from the writings of William Z. Foster, an outstanding 20th century labor leader.  Here are some of his views regarding the struggle against the steel trust in 1937.

… a further elementary question of good strike strategy is to proceed upon the general principle of the offensive. Workers like soldiers fight best on the attack. A defensive strike is a losing strike. The steel workers should never allow themselves to be put on the defensive. Every halt must be utilized to organize a new attack and every attack by the employers or the government must be offset by some form of renewed counter offensive.[iii]

He also says:

The steel workers should not trust their cause into the hands of the Roosevelt government [the Democrats].  The government is allied with many great capitalist interests, and it cannot be depended upon to force the steel trust to make a settlement favorable to the workers.[iv]

What happened?  The workers put their faith in the Democratic party – a party of the bosses – and halted their movement towards a general strike – on the false promise that they would somehow save the day for the workers.  This is precisely what they should never do.  The workers can only depend upon themselves and their own struggles to fight the bosses.  Also, the last thing you would want in this situation is to kill the momentum towards a general strike.  The workers were then on the defensive and squandered an opportunity for an even greater offensive.  The governor, Scott Walker, a vile reactionary, was subjected to a recall election in 2012, but the election was bought and paid for (Walker outspent the Democratic candidate, Barrett, $36.1 million to just $6.6 million) and he had no trouble winning the recall election.  Even if the Democrat would have won, it is doubtful that he would have done much for the workers because Democrats represent the bosses as well.

Net Neutrality Abolished

Let’s discuss something that happened recently.  Net Neutrality was abolished by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on December 14, 2017.  Millions of people were opposed to this, as it would give Internet Service providers the ability to censor or otherwise slow down internet traffic to some sites while speeding up others – for a price.  This makes democracy on the internet a thing of the past.  What have the Democrats done?  There is no legislation in the U.S. Senate at all.  Here is what they did in the U.S. House of Representatives (notice the dates):

H.R.4585 – Save Net Neutrality Act of 2017

12/07/2017 Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Action By: House of Representatives
12/07/2017 Introduced in House
Action By: House of Representatives

Source House of Representatives website.

There’s an old saying: “Never listen to what they say, but watch what they do.”  The Democrats knew about the FCC vote coming on December 14th for at least 7 months!  But they never lifted a finger until December 7th.  Just as in the case of the tax bill, there was almost complete silence about any opposition they supposedly had regarding the vote in the FCC to destroy net neutrality.  In short, they have done nothing.  In general, they cannot be counted on to work on behalf of working people because of their close association with capitalists in many different industries.

Summary:

Earlier, we posed the question: who can the workers depend upon to help?  The answer is non-other than you and your fellow workers!  The bosses will do whatever they can to divide you; they will use racism, sexism, and any other form of discrimination to divide the workers.  Unity amongst the workers can defeat that.  Some of the things that you can do at work include discussing with other workers and trying to organize – this is with or without a formal union; because you and your fellow workers are the union.  You can call it a shop committee or some other name. Another thing you can do is to struggle against racism.  Don’t tolerate racist put-downs and other such filth.  Little struggles can grow much bigger under the right circumstances.  Russian typesetters in 1905 were won to revolution when an employer would not pay for punctuation marks!

Appendix A – Some Details of the Tax Bill

A tax cut for the rich: The final plan lowers the top tax rate for high-end earners. Under current law, the highest rate is 39.6 percent for married couples earning over $470,700. The bill would drop that to 37 percent and raise the threshold at which that top rate kicks in, to $500,000 for individuals and $600,000 for married couples. This is a significant tax break for the very wealthy,

A massive tax cut for corporations: Starting on Jan. 1, 2018, big businesses’ tax rate would fall from 35 percent to just 21 percent, the largest one-time rate cut in U.S. history for the nation’s largest companies.  It amounts to roughly a $1 trillion tax cut for businesses over the next decade. Conservatives argue this will make the economy surge in the coming years, but most independent economists predict only a modest and short-lived boost to growth.

Working class families get a bigger child tax credit: The child tax credit would be more generous for the working class. The current child tax credit is $1,000 per child. The House and Senate bills expanded the child tax credit, with the Senate going up to a maximum of $2,000 per child. The final bill keeps the $2,000-per-child credit (families making up to about $400,000 get to take the credit), but it also makes more of the tax credit refundable, meaning families that work but don’t earn enough to owe any federal income taxes will get a large check back from the government. Benefits for those families were initially limited to about $1,100, but it’s now up to $1,400.

You can deduct just $10,000 in any combination of state, local and property taxes:  Under current law, the state and local deduction (SALT) is unlimited. In the final GOP plan, people can deduct up to $10,000. The House initially restricted the $10,000 deduction to just property taxes, but the final bill allows any combination of state and local taxes to be deducted, whether for property, income or sales taxes. The move is widely viewed as a hit to high tax states such as New York, Connecticut and California, and there are concerns it could cause property values to fall in high-tax cities and leave less money for public schools and road repairs.

The individual health insurance mandate expires in 2019: Beginning in 2019, Americans would no longer be required by law to buy health insurance (or pay a penalty if they refuse to do so). The individual mandate is part of the Affordable Care Act. This part of the law is unpopular, but it helps keep the insurance markets stable while making other, more popular parts of the law work, such as the requirement that insurance companies cover people with preexisting conditions. Removing it was a top priority for Trump and congressional Republicans in their effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act. The final bill does not start the repeal until 2019, though. The Congressional Budget Office projects the change will increase insurance premiums and lead to 13 million fewer Americans with insurance in a decade, while also cutting government spending by more than $300 billion over that period.  This might destroy or severely cripple insurance markets in some states, which is also one of the goals of this legislation.

The wealthy can inherit up to $22 million tax-free:  The estate tax (often called the “death tax” by conservatives) would remain part of the U.S. tax code, but far fewer families will pay it. Under current law, Americans can inherit up to $5.5 million tax-free ($11 million for married couples). Now the first $11 million that people inherit in property, stocks and other assets will not be taxed ($22 million for married couples).  This is a step towards the dynasties of the 19th and early 20th centuries where huge estates passed to heirs without being taxed, as if they were royalty.

“Pass through” companies get a 20 percent reduction: Most American businesses are organized as “pass through” companies in which the income from the business is “passed through” to the business owner’s individual tax return. S corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships are all examples of pass-through businesses. In tax bill, the majority of these companies get to deduct 20 percent of their income tax-free, a large reduction.   Service businesses such as law firms, doctor’s offices and investment offices can take only the 20 percent deduction if they make up to $315,000 (for married couples.

Corporate [Alternative Minimum Tax] “AMT” tax abolished: The final bill gets rid of the corporate alternative minimum tax, a big relief to the business community. The corporate AMT makes it difficult for businesses to reduce their tax bill much lower than 21 percent. CEOs complained that this was a backdoor tax that would make them less likely to build new plants, buy more equipment and invest in more research, since the corporate AMT made the tax credits for those investments essentially null and void.  However, excess profits are currently being used for dividends and stock buybacks, not for new plants or equipment.

Territorial System: Exempts U.S. corporations from U.S. taxes on most of their future foreign profits, ending the present worldwide system of taxing profits of all U.S.-based businesses, no matter where the profits are earned.

Repatriation of profits made abroad:  Sets a one-time mandatory tax of 8 percent for illiquid assets and 15.5 percent for cash and cash equivalents on $2.6 trillion in U.S. business profits currently held overseas. That foreign cash hoard was created by a rule that allowed foreign profits to be tax-deferred if they were not brought into the United States, or repatriated, a tax rule that would be rendered obsolete by the territorial system.

Changes in the home mortgage interest deduction. Residences purchased from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 25, 2025, it caps the deduction for mortgage interest at $750,000 in home loan value. After Dec. 31, 2025, the cap will revert to $1 million in loan value. It also suspends the deduction for interest on home equity loans.

Fewer families will have to pay the individual [Alternative Minimum Tax]  AMT: The AMT for individuals started in 1969 as a way to prevent rich families from using so many credits and loopholes to lower their tax bill to almost nothing. But what started out as a way to prevent the wealthiest Americans from tax dodging started to hit more and more families over time. The AMT begins to apply to singles earning over $54,300 and couples earning over $84,500, although nearly everyone who ends up paying the AMT earns six figuresThe new tax bill lifts the threshold so very few will have to pay.

The $4,050 individual personal exemption is abolished.

What is NOT changing:

The bill keeps in place the student loan deduction, the medical expense deduction and the graduate student tuition waivers.

Retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans stay the same. No changes to the tax-free amounts people are allowed to put into 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth IRAs.

Religious nonprofits cannot express political views.  Churches, synagogues, mosques and other nonprofits (the Johnson Amendment stays in place) can’t get political and endorse candidates in elections. Trump and conservative Republicans wanted to “totally destroy” (Trump’s words) the Johnson Amendment, which has been in place since 1954 and prevents religious institutions and nonprofits from getting involved in elections via fundraising or endorsements. The Senate parliamentarian to determine that including the repeal in the bill didn’t comply with the rules of the Senate.

About the author.

Al Simpson is a mathematician who lives in the United States.

[i] The Atlantic magazine, September 16, 2012, Tax Cuts Don’t Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds.

[ii] Suicide rate for minorities much lower, Census data indicate By KELLY BURNS School of Communication University of Miami.

[iii] American Trade Unionism.  Principles, Organization , Strategy, Tactics by William Z. Foster.  Page 220.

[iv] Ibid.  Page 221.

Fight the Oppression of Women: From Sexual Assaults to Capitalist Exploitation

by Karyn Pomerantz

 

The rash of sexual harassment charges has generated much attention and rage at women’s treatment in the workplace. Many of these charges have political consequences as they target many Hollywood Democratic Party donors and Republican and Democratic politicians.  While mostly upper class women have come forward to accuse celebrities and politicians, sexual violence and abuse are common among all women.

 

Violence Against Women

 

Violence against women permeates society; 1 in 20 have reported rape and 1 in 5 reported other forms of sexual violence with Native American women experiencing the highest rates (Sexual Violence: Fact Sheet.  CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf. 2012. Viewed December 2017). It ranges from intimate partner abuse among same sex and heterosexual partners, sexual harassment of women soldiers to gang rape as a weapon of social control and warfare as in Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar, Nigeria, and many other countries.  A US study estimated that 2,000,000 women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Peterman A, Palermo A, Bredenkamp C.  Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  AJPH June 2011).  Much of this violence has a long historical precedent.  Enslaved women were routinely raped by their owners to produce children (additional slaves) and assert domination.  Whites often accused black men and boys, such as Emmitt Till, of raping white women to terrorize and lynch them.

 

Economic and Social Violence

 

Violence against women takes many other forms. Women around the world suffer severe economic conditions, magnified in the US for black, Latin, Native and Asian women by racism.  Approximately 10% of white women (2015), and over 20% of black and Latin women in the US lived below the poverty line (2016). (National Women’s Law Center. Poverty Among Women and Families, 2015. https://nwlc.org/resources/national-snapshot-poverty-among-women-families-2015/, viewed December 2017). While the pay gap between women and white men is narrowing, it is still substantial:  women’s average median income is 80% of white men’s but vary by racial and ethnic classifications: 54% for Latin, 63% for black, 79% for white, 87% for Asian, and 57% for Native women (AAUW, https://www.aauw.org/files/2017/09/TheSimpleTruthFall2017OnePager-nsa.pdf, viewed December 2017).

 

women wage gap

 

Other social and economic conditions also destroy women’s stability.  Homelessness and unemployment endanger women’s security.  Women have an official unemployment rate of 4.8% that ranged from 3.9% for Asian women to 7.8% for black women with white (4.2%) and Latin women (6.3%) falling in between.

 

Childcare

 

The US has privatized childcare by making it the responsibility of families, primarily women.  Women bear most of the responsibility for child and elder care with few if any affordable services available. There are few publicly mandated paid parental leave policies, forcing families to forego income after having children.  Childcare can consume 10-50% of a woman’s earnings.  In addition to lost income, women lose retirement savings, and society loses over $80 billion in lost wages when women opt out of the workforce to care for children.  In 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted Social Security but denied it to domestic workers who were predominantly black.  This provision wasn’t repealed until the 1970s.  Overall, women provide free domestic labor, managing households and multi-generational families, basically raising the next generations of the working class with no compensation and little respect.

 

Black women have always worked outside the family.  While enslaved, they raised the children of their white owners.  After slavery, they continued caring for other people’s families at extremely low wages.  Black and Latin full-time child care workers now earn a median income of $20,000 per year, barely over the poverty line (National Women’s Law Center.  Undervalued. https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/final_nwlc_Undervalued2017.pdf, viewed December 2017).

 

Health Services

 

Women’s health services are under attack in ways we never imagined would occur in the 21st Century.  Federal and state laws allow pharmacists to deny birth control to women based on their personal beliefs. Catholic hospitals and health care providers can refuse to perform abortions and provide condoms.  New regulations require clinics to follow hospital standards to offer abortions, causing many to close.  Some states have instituted waiting periods before women can have an abortion, increasing the expense when women need to travel and stay overnight in motels. These policies especially hurt rural women’s access to reproductive health care where there are fewer hospitals, clinics, and physicians.

 

Since the Supreme Court protected abortion in 1973, Congress has denied Medicaid coverage for poor women, and many state jurisdictions have passed restrictions on access to abortions.  With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, families will have poorer health and higher mortality rates.

 

US health policies also affect women in other countries.  Globally, the US enforces the Hyde and Helms amendments that prohibit US funded organizations, such as USAID, from promoting and implementing birth control and abortion.  Any attempts to do so result in defunding all of the programs paid by the contract.

 

While denying care, state governments funded approximately 60,000 forced sterilizations from 1905 to the 1970s, targeting women, men and girls deemed poor or mentally deficient. They primarily coerced working class immigrant, black, Latin, Native American, and imprisoned people living in southern states, Puerto Rico (33% of child bearing aged women), and California (20,000 operations) (Stern A. Sterilized in the Name of Public Health.  AJPH.  2005 July; 95(7): 1128-1138, viewed December 2017).  This practice continues today. The Center for Investigative Reporting documented involuntary sterilizations of 148 imprisoned women in California from 2006 to 2010.  Detained immigrant women have also been sterilized.

 

Community Effects

 

Education is underfunded in poor neighborhoods. Gentrification is increasingly displacing poor families, causing disruption of community institutions and forcing long commutes to work and health care. Developers contribute to displacement as they build luxury homes and sports arenas often funded with public money that push families out of established neighborhoods.

 

Incarceration, disproportionately of black and Latin men, robs communities of bread winners and social support.  Rates of anxiety and depression rise with higher incarceration rates among people not imprisoned.  The pool of single men decreases making marriage less likely.  Women often seek partners who can provide housing and support for their children, often leading to transactional relationships that involve risky sexual practices.  In order to pay school fees and family expenses, South African children often seek “sugar daddies” who believe sex with virgins prevents HIV.

 

Sexist Ideology: Justifying Sexism

 

In order to justify these conditions, the elites create gender roles through education, the media, and religion that establish “appropriate” behaviors and attitudes for men and women, including people who are gay, lesbian and transgender.  Female characteristics include passivity, weakness, and less control over emotions.  Black women stereotypes include the highly sexed Jezebel and the caretaking Mammy.  Advertisers use women’s sexuality to sell products, and women become commodified along with the goods they represent.

 

As admissions of sexual assault continue to mount, many friends are asking why men hate women so much.  Politically, many argue that white men are the main oppressors in women’s lives.  And it is true that white men hold the majority of all ruling class positions in the government and military.  White men hold political positions, have higher rates of wealth and income, and work as CEOs of corporations.  They run Wall Street and educational institutions, dominating higher paying occupations as well.  It looks like men, white men that is, have huge economic and political advantages over women.

 

Capitalism Needs Sexism to Survive

 

Does this mean men benefit from women’s oppression?  Do men cause sexism?  Or does capitalism use sexism to generate profit through income disparities, free domestic labor, and violence to control women?

 

Oppression of women has existed for centuries.  Under feudalism, women worked in the home producing goods for the family.  When early capitalism developed, the factory owners forced the peasants off the land into squalid neighborhoods and dangerous work places.  The rulers smeared women who rebelled under feudalism and industrialization as witches and killed 10s of thousands.

 

Capitalism could not afford to dispense with sexism. The money saved on unequal pay for equal work, keeping women in jobs with lower pay scales, and not paying for universal child care and maternity and elder care leave produces profit that enriches the ruling class of corporate owners and financiers.  Women are expected to be “feminine,” agreeable, represent rigid standards of beauty, repress anger (especially black women), and shop.   Men are allowed to fight back, “take charge,” and harass women.  “Boys will be boys” often justifies and excuses sexual violence.  These sex roles limit the ability of men and women to contribute to society and perpetuate harmful relationships and expectations.

 

These conditions serve the capitalists.  While men and women live together, sexist stereotypes and practices drive a wedge between them creating mistrust and disrespect. This limits the potential for people to fight the system effectively.  Black women workers experience the most oppression since they are attacked by racist and sexist practices.  In addition, black men have been portrayed as rapists of white women, creating even more fear of black men.

 

Fighting Back

 

In response, men and women have created organizations, such as Men Against Rape, to train men and boys to reject “masculine” traits of aggression and misogyny.  Men and women workers need to unite against capitalism and the conditions it creates.  While men make higher wages than women, they still suffer high rates of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, and low rates of higher education while also dying in wars.  Movements for gender equality and transgender rights are loosening strict gender rules that may help liberate people from restrictive behaviors based on gender.  However, to abolish sexism, we must remove its economic and political causes.  That requires fighting for fairer wages, jobs, quality education, and unity among men and women workers in the home, workplace, and community.

 

Women have always fought back against this subjugation with black women leading the fight.  Harriet Tubman rescued enslaved people, Lucy Parsons and Claudia Jones organized workers for socialism, Ida B. Wells attacked lynching, Diane Nash organized volunteers for Freedom Summer in Mississippi In 1964, and Angela Davis advocates for solidarity with Palestinians and prisoners.  The list goes on including white, indigenous, Latin, and Asian anti-capitalist women who collectivized childcare in the Soviet Union, won the right to vote, and established the first working class government with the short lived Paris Commune.

 

In the 1960s, the “women’s liberation movement” developed on college campuses and among middle class, primarily white women, who wanted to end discrimination. They fought for abortion, contraception, self-help, women’s health, an end to stereotypes, and fuller participation in the workforce. Some advocated separation of men and women. Many of these demands served middle class white women.  They did not include anti-racist demands, such as the abolition of forced sterilization, or recognize the more intense discrimination and state violence against black Latin, Asian, and Native women. They did not address the severe oppression of women in other countries.

 

In response, some black women developed a black feminist perspective.  One important group was the Combahee River Collective (CRC) that published a Statement in 1977.  (The Combahee River in South Carolina was the site of a raid led by Harriet Tubman that freed 750 people).  CRC members distinguished themselves from the mainstream feminist movements in several ways: they had a socialist, class perspective on sexism, stressed the connections between gender, “race,” and class, and included antiracist campaigns as critical to their programs.  They did not support separatism or women becoming bosses and politicians.

 

They embraced inclusion within the working class:

 

“…the CRC Statement was clear in its calls for solidarity as the only way for Black women to win their struggles.  Solidarity did not mean subsuming your struggles to help someone else; it was intended to strengthen the political commitments from other groups by getting them to recognize how the different struggles were related and connected under capitalism.” (Taylor Keeanga-Yamahtta, ed. How We Get Free: Black Feminism and The Combahee River Collective.  Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2017).

 

Their work along with other anti-sexist organizers addressed individual aspects of sexism, such as intimate partner violence, while also elevating the struggle by identifying the end of capitalism and racism as critical to the liberation of the working class.

 

We need to build a stronger movement of working class people to challenge capitalism and create a society based on equality and contributive justice where all share their skills and ideas.

 

Women resist demo