Reflecting Back on the Peterloo Massacre at 200

 

By Karyn Pomerantz, August 2019

         On August 16, 1819, 60,000 men, women, and children gathered in St. Peter’s Field in the heavily industrial city of Manchester, England to demand political representation and better living conditions. It was the most massive assembly to have taken place at the time, amounting to roughly half the population of Manchester. Wearing their Sunday best and accompanied by musicians, they carried banners and signs calling for liberty, a parliament of the people and repeal of the Corn Laws. It was a peaceful, celebratory, yet emphatic crowd: little did they expect the brutal response of their “own” government. However, the ruling class was terrified of insurrection that would topple them from power, as had the French Revolution 30 years earlier. No sooner had the speeches begun than the rulers sent in the British cavalry, backed up by local volunteer militias, to strike them down, disperse the crowd, and arrest the leaders. The sabre-wielding forces wantonly murdered 18 men, women, and children, and injured 650. This pivotal incident became known as the Peterloo Massacre, and this year marks its bicentenary.        

As Mike Leigh, director of the film, Peterloo, writes about its continuing significance:“Despite the spread of universal suffrage across large parts of the globe, poverty, inequality, suppression of press freedom, indiscriminate surveillance, and attacks on legitimate protest by brutal regimes are all on the rise… Peterloo is of seminal importance.”           This article looks back on the events of 1819 and the lessons they hold for us today. It draws on the book, Peterloo by Jacqueline Riding and the film by Mike Leigh, as well as the contemporaneous commentary of several leaders and participants.

Continue reading “Reflecting Back on the Peterloo Massacre at 200”

Taking Action Against Detention Prisons

by Karyn Pomerantz, August 2019

While the US ruling class clamps down on the freedom of migrants seeking asylum and survival in the US, ordinary people are mobilizing to liberate the incarcerated. These protests have taken many forms.  Immigrant rights organizations educate immigrants about their so-called legal rights to avoid detention, communities and religious institutions provide sanctuary, lawyers negotiate to stop the police from sharing arrest records with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of Homeland Security), and activists confront anti-immigration institutions with direct actions.

In recent weeks (Summer 2019), there have been more direct actions and civil disobedience to stop detentions. Direct action protests and civil disobedience can use illegal or legal disruptive tactics to change conditions and policies.  Instead of negotiations and voting, they include strikes, demonstrations (think Yellow Vests in France), mutinies, prison rebellions, attacks on right wing rallies, urban rebellions, and sit-ins. They are instrumental in securing reforms and making revolutions.  While individuals can use direct action, such as assassinations or suicide bombings, they are not effective and usually harm co-workers or the public. Successful, militant protests involve large numbers of participants, unity, collective outrage, and organization.  

Imagine if thousands of anti-racists operating in a planned cohesive manner opened the prisons and released the children and individuals held in these camps!  Are we headed for this? Would this strategy succeed?

This article explores the value of direct action and civil disobedience, and recent and historical examples of workers defending their brothers and sisters.  We welcome your examples.

Continue reading “Taking Action Against Detention Prisons”

International Solidarity Marks Amazon Strike

by Karyn Pomerantz, July 19, 2019

On July 15, 2019 during Amazon’s Prime Day sale, Amazon warehouse workers around the world walked off the job to protest grueling working conditions and poor wages. US workers also demanded that Amazon cut its collaboration with ICE and implement climate control practices. Strikers hit Amazon sites in the US and 50 locations in Europe, including France, Germany where 2000 participated, and the UK. French employees blocked trucks from leaving distribution centers, and European unions coordinated their efforts across borders. Unions in Spain and Poland also planned protests during the week.

Amazon represents the worst of modern day capitalism, extracting as much profit as it can by increasing productivity among its workforce, contracting out many delivery services, and automating many functions that reduce expenses. It has attacked the unions, claiming safe working conditions and adequate pay and benefits, and accusing unions of using strikes to recruit more members to increase revenue. Yet Amazon earned $5.8 billion over the two days. In 2018, Amazon made $232 billion in sales with CEO Jeff Bezos earning $110 billion, generating the strike slogan, No more discounts on our incomes!

Brutal working conditions include holding workers to the rate, the time it takes to retrieve, box, or process merchandise, an average of 6-8 seconds per task. Workers are docked time to use the bathroom and threatened with firing if they fall below the rate 4 times. Workers report that they limit drinking fluids to avoid bathroom times. While robots deliver products to workers, many report they walk 10 miles a day to retrieve them. Amazon invests heavily in robotics to reduce their payroll, threatening jobs. Constant surveillance of worker movements adds to the stress. Over a 5 year period, Amazon called emergency services in the US 189 times for workers experiencing severe mental health problems. While these problems may have occurred prior to their Amazon employment, the speed up, social isolation, and surveillance promote suicidal ideas. As one employee wrote, “It’s this isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence. It’s mentally taxing to do the same task super fast for 10-hour shifts, four or five days a week.”

Multiracial and Multiethnic Leadership

The Amazon strikes and organizing highlight the strengths and potential of collaboration with workers of various religions, nationalities, and racial categories. In the major Minnesota site in Shakopee, the Awood Center for East African Muslim workers, mostly from Somalia, organized the work actions. They also protested Amazon’s denial of their religious needs, such as time to pray during the work day. Unions and community organizations supported them, and workers of all backgrounds followed their leadership to strike.

While the number of strikers was low and the strike only lasted 6 hours, it demonstrated the potential for tech staff, Amazon airline pilots, warehouse workers from multiple countries to unite around common goals. It also appealed to the public to boycott the Prime Day sales. Demands included economic, safety, and political issues, such as climate change and opposition to anti-immigrant attacks by ICE. Employees showed that they could not be co-opted by Amazon’s recent $15 per hour minimum wage.

Such fightbacks can reinvigorate a docile labor movement and increase class consciousness around the world. It can turn workers against the capitalist system and not just one of its worst examples. It will take militant organizers who refuse to rely on politicians and union leaders but instead fight for an equitable society.

Read more:

No Bargain for Workers. https://www.france24.com/en/20190716-amazon-workers-strike-prime-day-france-germany-usa

https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/15/business/german-amazon-workers-strike-prime-day-scli-intl/index.html

Video on Amazon’s delivery processes and safety issues from company reps and workers at https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/15/amazon-workers-prime-day-strike-begins-in-minnesota.html

Citizenship Questions, the Census, and Continued Attacks on Immigrants

By Bill Williams, July 17,2019

Introduction

On July 11, 2019, President Trump scrapped his plan to place a citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census and instead ordered federal agencies to provide citizenship data to the Census Bureau. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile pursuing what such a question would have done, its purpose, and other related subjects.

A Vicious Betrayal

I used to work at the Census Bureau (1974-1979), and I processed the entire 1970 Decennial Census many times for many different projects. I was familiar with how the Decennial Census is collected and processed. While I was not directly involved in the collection of Census data, I worked with people who were involved with it. Despite all efforts at trying to convince vulnerable minorities that the Census Bureau, unlike Immigration and Naturalization, is not out to harm them, it is nevertheless treated with distrust. This distrust is well founded, as I found out. During my last years at the Bureau, there was a test of the Census questionnaires in a certain Texas city. This was essentially a dry run for the actual 1980 Census. The Census Bureau put out the word that they will treat your information with care and keep it confidential and so on and so forth. The day after the test, immigration ran massive raids on that same city.

Continue reading “Citizenship Questions, the Census, and Continued Attacks on Immigrants”

Life as a Communist Organizer in the Farm Fields of California: the Autobiography of Epifonia Camacho

By Karyn Pomerantz, June 11, 2019

This autobiography of a revolutionary farmworker offers insights into the lives of the workers who plant and harvest our food under brutal working and living conditions. It highlights the need for militancy, revolutionary ideas, and total opposition to capitalism. Told in accessible language with clear explanations of complex political ideas and organizing strategies, it has much to teach us. Continue reading “Life as a Communist Organizer in the Farm Fields of California: the Autobiography of Epifonia Camacho”

A Book Review: ON THE MATTER OF WHITE POWER IN THESE UNITED STATES

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White supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., 2017

by Ellen Isaacs            June, 2019

In Bring the War Home, University of Chicago History Professor Kathleen Belew presents a picture of the broad and coordinated nature of the white power movement, which ultimately aims to destroy the U.S. Government and establish an all-white state. She provides convincing evidence that many supposedly “lone wolf” attacks are actually part of this grand conspiracy, most notably the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Builing in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and for which Timothy McVeigh was executed. She documents that federal agencies have long been aware of the mass character of the white power movement, and yet law enforcement and justice agencies have not responded in proportion to the threat, and the media has almost completely ignored its cohesive character. Although the author sees violent white power at home as a consequence of a violent foreign policy, what she does not consider is whether the growth of such a mass racist movement is useful to those in power. Nor does she contrast the undersized response to it with the aggressive targeting of foreign-inspired terrorism or left-leaning opponents of racism. She also does not discuss the extent and success of anti-racist opposition to white power activities. Continue reading “A Book Review: ON THE MATTER OF WHITE POWER IN THESE UNITED STATES”