Origins of Racism


by Al Simpson

The strike by 70,000 auto plant workers in Matamoros, Mexico is now in its second week. They just held a “day without workers”, where the plants were idle, and production was completely halted. The strike has already cost the bosses $100 million and is slowing production at General Motors and Ford assembly plants. Photos on social media showed deserted factories and union bureaucrats struggling to keep production lines operating after workers put down their tools en masse. Over 50 factories have now stopped production as a result of the strike. The union bureaucrats and the bosses have been shown to be impotent.

After refusing to show up to work, the auto parts and electrical workers held a massive march through the city of 500,000, chanting “we will win this fight no matter what,” “the workers united will never be defeated,” and “empty plants, a day without workers!” The workers’ demands include:

  • A 20 percent wage increase.
  • $1,700 bonus payable immediately.
  • A shorter workweek.
  • A cut in union dues.

The workers understand that they are much stronger if they look beyond the national boundaries set up by the bosses. The rally began at the town square in Matamoros, but the workers decided to march to the border near Brownsville, Texas in order to appeal to American workers. Needless to say, there has been an almost complete news blackout of the strike and this march to the border. Nevertheless, workers in the United States and Canada have heard of the Mexican strike and are grateful for it, especially given all of the plant closures recently announced by GM and Ford.

The shortages at US plants because of the Mexican strike shows the international nature of capitalist production. Many auto manufacturers moved much of their operations to Mexico in order to save money on wages and break the strength of the auto workers’ unions. Meanwhile, despite Trump’s ranting against immigration, American agriculture depends on poorly paid Latin American immigrant labor, whose ability to organize is weakened by amti-immigrant terror. This strike demonstrates why fightbacks by the working class are much more powerful if international. Of course, the bosses and the union misleaders would fight such a prospect with all their might. But the workers can, by putting their trust in themselves and building rank and file strike committees, run strikes that would be international in nature, and would do a wonderful job of crippling the bosses.


by Ellen Isaacs

            There is one thing the now 30 day old government shutdown shows for sure – neither Donald Trump nor his opponents have any concern for poor U.S. workers, the biggest victims of this power game between the main wing of the ruling class and the usurpers of the on the right. 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (CNBC 1/9), and now 800,000 federal employees and hundreds of thousands of contractors, who are 40% of government personnel, are without one, whether or not they are being forced to work. To understand the devastation, we must know that 21.2% of U.S. families have no savings, including over 32% of Latin and 37% of black families. 40% of all families have less than $400 in available cash for emergencies, according to the Federal Reserve. What more proof need there be that workers cannot afford to live under this capitalist system?

            Native Americans living on federally funded land have been hardest hit. Snow covered roads are not being cleared, ambulances cannot run and medical care is devastated by a 60% unpaid healthcare workforce. Some of the other concrete effects of the shutdown, which disproportionately affects black and Latin workers, are:

            *food stamps, used by 38 million people, were given out early for February and will no longer be available;

            *federal cash welfare for $34 million is gone and being temporarily replaced by states; USDA loans and federal rent subsidies for low income rural dwellers will end by 2/1;

            *food inspections have markedly decreased;

            *approvals for opioid drug antagonists cannot be had.

If workers have not already died from these measures, they soon will, and it is certain that widespread effects of the stress and deprivation will continue long after the shutdown ends.

Why Make a Crisis out of Immigration?

            Trump pretends that there is an “immigration crisis,” but illegal border crossings have dropped from 851,000 in 2006 to approximately 62,000 in 2016, and both immigrants with legal status and undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate and have lower unemployment than the native born (NYT 1/11/19). Most illegally imported drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry. Given the falling fertility rates of native-born Americans, the U.S. would need to admit more than a million immigrants a year until 2050, more than double the current number, just to maintain current levels of production (NYT 1/15/19).

            What the maintenance of legal barriers to immigration does accomplish is to keep this large body of workers in a state of constant fear, drastically limiting their ability to demand higher wages or organize. By branding immigrant workers as dangerous and criminal, racist and nationalistic divisions are also sown between them and other poor workers, including blacks and legal immigrants or their descendants.

Why is This Happening Now?

            There may be no better explanation than that Trump is a bumbling politician, devoid of any stable advisors representing the usual ruling class forces. He sees himself as beholden to his most racist and reactionary base to fulfill a campaign promise to “build the wall” and earn his racist and nationalist stripes. However, there should be no illusions that the Democrats or liberals who oppose him have any interest in treating immigrants with humanity. Since a century ago, Presidents Wilson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, both Bush’s and Obama have set up draconian barriers to immigration and deported huge numbers, about 3 million by Obama alone, and all of them have divided families without mercy.

            The Democrats today, representing the main finance wing of the ruling class, are anxious to weaken Trump, who is destroying years of policies that strengthened international military, political and financial alliances. They are horrified by his general undisciplined behavior and that he is withdrawing from Syria and Afghanistan, threatening to withdraw from NATO and risking precipitous armed conflicts by taunting Iran, North Korea and China, before large numbers of workers are ready to fight and support war. They also oppose his total destruction of environmental regulations, overt white supremacy, and destruction of “free trade,” all damaging to the reputation and sway of America’s large corporations and their relations with international cronies. The Democrat’s majority in the House gives them the clout to carry on with this game of chicken and perhaps bring impeachment closer or, at least, shake loose some Republican allies of Trump.

            Ultimately, workers must rise up collectively to defend themselves from both parties. Mass sickouts among airport workers are already happening and may spread. Although federal workers are legally banned from striking, job actions are needed to defend their very ability to survive as all the bosses ignore their needs. The government would not be able to fire all federal employees, like Nixon did the air traffic controllers in 1981 when they struck. Once again it is clear that capitalism cares naught for workers’ lives and that, if organized and united, workers could change this whole game, demonstrate their power to themselves and the politicians, and save themselves from want and hardship.


by Ellen Isaacs

The Women’s March, which will occur in many cities on January 19, 2019, began two years ago as Trump became President. It was in large part a response to his coarse and disparaging behavior toward women, and involved several million marchers in the U.S. and around the world. Issues included reproductive rights, criminal justice, defense of the environment and the rights of immigrants, Muslims, gay and transgender people and the disabled. Unfortunately, many of the slogans implied that workers would have been better off if Hillary had been elected. No leaders and scarcely any marchers related the problems of racism and sexism to capitalism.

To have any hope of improving the lives of the working class, ending war or saving the planet, workers must unite across all genders, nations and ethnicities to fight for a society run by and for themselves. That will take a revolutionary change, and to be strong enough to do that, we must stick together and avoid the false promises of liberal, even if well-intended, reformers.

This year’s March suffers from the same weaknesses as before, but has been further marred by accusations of anti-Semitism against the leaders. Two of the four have had some relationship with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, who is overtly and loudly anti-Semitic. Farrakhan has referred to Jews as termites and claims that they hold vast disproportionate amounts of power in the U.S. However, his views of blacks are just as distorted. Without any class analysis of racism, he simply asserts black separatism and aims for more blacks to become successful capitalists. He also, in a form of racism, blames the inferior social status of black people on their own bad behavior, as poor fathers or providers, rather than on the ravages of racism.  This was the theme of his famous Million Man March of 1995. Of course, there is no room for seeing that black and white workers are both hurt by the divisiveness of racism and must unite together to make reform or revolutionary change.

The two Women’s March leaders accused of anti-Semitism, Linda Sarsour and  Tamika Mallory, have repudiated this racist idea, especially Sarsour, who is a vocal supporter of anti-Zionism and Palestinian rights. She has also raised significant sums to support the victims of anti-Semitic attacks, as in Pittsburgh. In fact, most of those accusing her of anti-Semitism do so because she criticizes the brutal apartheid policies of Israel. Rather than being concerned about fighting racism, her detractors promote Israel’s debasement and murder of Palestinians. So bitter is this dispute that the march has been cancelled in Chicago and several other locations, and two competing marches scheduled in NYC.

However, none of the March leaders have made any criticism of nationalism per se, with reference to Farrakhan or in general, nor do they discuss capitalism as such. In fact, the Guiding Vision statement (  of the Women’s March movement states that it wishes to bring together people of all political affiliations in “shared resistance and self-determination.” They call for “accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling,[dismantling] the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system,… an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity,… and equal pay for equal work.” Even more radical is the call for “cessation to the direct and indirect aggression caused by the war economy and the concentration of power in the hands of a wealthy elite who use political, social, and economic systems to safeguard and expand their power.” However, the only means discussed to accomplish these goals are a new Constitutional amendment, adherence to UN Human Rights Declarations and maintaining the right to unionize. Change, presumably, will come via the ballot box.

Such a call for anti-racism, anti-sexism and economic justice is not progressive when it is limited to a call for separate self-liberation of each oppressed group and to exercise one’s civil rights under capitalism. Instead, we need a unified and fighting working class. Whether we are using terms like the now-popular intersectionality or national liberation or identity politics, we are creating divisions based on ethnicity rather than class. In every identity group there are representatives and supporters of the capitalist elite, be it Barack Obama, Keith Ellison, Condoleeza Rice,  Robert Menendez or Chuck Schumer, to name a few. Instead, we need to unite as workers all and not allow ourselves to feel the lack of our common interests or be pitted against one another. Only a united working class, which includes the unemployed, the teacher, the welder, the nurse or the home aide – all who need to work for survival – has the power to bring about change, be it significant reforms or eventually, revolution. Although now couched as somehow progressive, identity based divisions and the false attribution of blame for social ills on “others” is what paves the road to fascism.

Despite an apparatus for voting which allows for a periodic (and often manipulated) choice between various members of the ruling class, there is no hope under capitalism to maximize the quality of workers’ lives – any workers.  Capitalism survives by making profits, that is by paying workers less than the value of what they produce and minimizing benefits and social expenditures. Capitalism inevitably leads to wars between competing capitalist nations and to the destruction of the environment, in order for short-range profits to be maintained. Racism and nationalism allow us to be recruited to fight these wars. So, in this time of dissatisfaction, let us expand our horizons and march together in multiracial unity and for an end to capitalism.


by Nayvin Gordon

     The scientific Public Health approach to preventing and controlling sexually transmitted diseases has been well established for some 70 years.  Why is it then that the HIV epidemic, which began in the US in 1981, has continued to infect over 38,000 people a year, declining only 8% from 2010-15? What was the role of the government as “guardians of the public interest”? The Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that there is a governmental and societal interest in preventing the spread of disease. The historical record demonstrates that the US Government has, for political and financial reason, not only refused to take the necessary well known steps to end the HIV epidemic, they have also cut funding to the major institutions responsible for bringing the epidemic to an end. 

            Today the HIV epidemic rages across the nation, disproportionately affecting black and Latin people. There are a total of 1.1 million victims of HIV/AIDS in the US, of whom 43% are black, and the rate of new infections for blacks is 8 times that of whites and 2.5 times that of Latins. Heterosexual contact is also a more common route of infection in black men than white men, 35% vs 14%, and is the most common mode of transmission among black women. Drug use accounts for only around 10% of cases.

            Within four years after the HIV epidemic began, a blood test was developed.  There is now effective treatment available for HIV, which not only reduces morbidity and mortality, but prevents transmission. Treatment should be administered as soon as the diagnosis is made, preferably as early as possible after infection. Nonetheless, 14% of those infected are unaware of their diagnosis – much higher in the young- and only 49% are effectively treated as of 2016. Once again, the rates are grossly racially skewed. HIV death rates (deaths for which HIV was indicated as the leading cause of death) are highest among blacks; in 2015, blacks had the highest age-adjusted HIV death rate of 7.9 per 100,000, compared to 1.1 per 100,000 whites. 

            A sustained medical prevention policy would include: universal screening, partner identification, treatment and prevention.  But a Public Health strategy also would require providing housing, substance abuse and mental health care, living wages and employment, which all help to prevent HIV.  Incarceration contributes to HIV as well by limiting the number of men in neighborhoods and narrowing the pool of partners. Criminalizing HIV transmission or outlawing gay sex creates enormous fear and shame, driving people away from testing and treatment. Strategies to address all these issues could have been put into effect if priorities and funding had allowed an expanded Public Health workforce to take the necessary actions to end the epidemic. Tragically this was not allowed to happen. 

    During the 1980’s, while the HIV epidemic accelerated, the administration under President Reagan was focused on making cutbacks in federal health spending. Huge cuts to the Public Health Services were made as extra billions of dollars were poured into a massive military buildup. In New York State activists had to fight for an HIV partner notification law (1999), a key component for eliminating sexually transmitted diseases and crucial to protecting the Public Health.  In 2008-9 cuts were made to public health funding as billions more were given to bail out banks and corporations. In 2018, there were $1.3 billion in cuts to Prevention and Public Health Funds as $1.5 trillion in tax cuts was given by the Trump Congress to bankers, corporations and the rich.

            Globally close to 38 million people live with HIV, primarily in sub Saharan Africa, due to limited access to care, poverty, and homelessness.  Large numbers of children (1.8 million) live with HIV/AIDS acquired through childbirth and breastfeeding. In 2017, 940,000 people died, a actual decline in mortality due to funding for testing and medications from PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, and the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria, and TB. Activists around the world have demanded housing, low cost, generic medication, and debt relief in countries where the International Monetary Fund demanded loan repayment that pulled funding from education and health care. They also organized against policies that attack sex workers and people who are LGBT. 

            The grim reality is that for 30 years HIV has been infecting thousands of new victims every year, and to this date, a complete public health prevention strategy for combating HIV has not been introduced as a comprehensive national program or international program.  The Institute of Medicine declared in 1988 that the American Public Health System had fallen into disarray. Another way to conceptualize these failures is to understand that the global economic system has been shown to place corporate profits and war above protecting the public from disease, especially the most vulnerable.  It is time to think about an economic system that puts the people’s health first.    


Dr. Nayvin Gordon is a California Family Physician.  He can be reached at


My Life as a Union Steward in a Government Union

by Sarah Harper, December 19, 2018

AFGE Dec 2018

This article discusses my union work as a public sector employee. When I started the job, I became a shop steward within my first year. My platform was fighting racism. I held a low level job as a technician, and was one of the few white techs in the library. I distinguished myself as a militant supporter of my coworkers against the bosses.

I started leafleting outside the building with InCAR (International Committee Against Racism) flyers. The topics dealt with across-the-board wage increases instead of percentages because percentages harmed the lower grades. The lower grades were held by predominantly Black workers. The leaflets also talked about larger social issues such as apartheid in South Africa. I put out flyers supporting the Metro workers when they went on strike. Flyers supporting the air traffic controllers (PATCO) workers and the Greyhound Bus workers when they were on strike were distributed.

Every time I ran for various union offices: President, executive board, shop steward. My campaign literature was devoted to fighting the racist, sexist practices by the bosses, I was known as a militant antiracist who stood toe to toe with the bosses. I did not back down.

One small struggle helped a Black woman get her job back. She and a quasi-supervisor tried to doctor their leave and earning statements to show higher salaries were necessary to get credit cards. The woman, a low level typist in a typing pool, decided not to do it, but left the evidence in the trash can. The quasi supervisor ratted on her to the boss! The bosses said the rest of her coworkers couldn’t trust her now. That was the reason they fired her. I knew the women in the typing pool. I struggled with them to sign a letter which said they trusted the woman and wanted her to have her job back. The woman was pregnant. I then passed out flyers in front of the building calling out the racist firing of the pregnant worker. Who should call me? The vice president of the union called to tell me that the bosses were upset and I should stop! I told the vice president that was not my concern. The firing was unnecessary and racist. I wanted the woman to get her job back. I went through the whole grievance procedure, as well. In the end, the union, under pressure, found the woman another job in another department.

Civil Rights Committee

It took 20 years to set up the Civil Rights Committee in our union. Why? The union misleaders did not want a group of angry workers fighting the bosses at work! When the Civil Rights Committee was established, it was little more than window dressing. The workers on it were weak and toed the line of the misleaders of the union. They did not make waves! I was able to get on the Committee when the union leadership changed. We started off with a forum on racial inequalities in the workplace. It was well attended. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of the forum. As a member, I tried to build coalitions between the diverse groups in the workplace: Blacks in Government (BIG), HACE, the Hispanic group, persons with disabilities and Native Americans. The public sector had special interest months. January was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; February Black history month; March Women; May Asian-Pacific; June LGBT; September 15 to October 15 Hispanic; October Disabilities; November Native American. We tailored programs to those months. We served lunch because free food was a big draw. The programs showed the union’s involvement and visibility.

During this time the bosses were harassing outspoken Black and Latin male union members. If they tried to speak to the Secretary of Labor about discrimination on the job, or fight back vigorously, security escorted them out of the building and told not to come back to work! They were put on administrative leave. When Civil Rights Committee members discussed their situations with our union misleaders, they passed the buck. We were told “Don’t worry, no reprimand or other disciplinary action has been taken yet!” What about the workers who were sitting at home worrying about their job?? Our Committee decided to write Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. These FOIA demanded how many workers were on paid administrative leave, the race of the workers, the gender of the workers and the reason for the administrative leave. Management decided to ignore our request. We just kept firing back our FOIA requests and made it public that we were doing so. Several union members were given their jobs back in this way. One of them approached me on his return and thanked the Civil Rights Committee for pressuring management. He felt that was the reason he was brought back to work.

Our Committee was very diverse with Asian, Latin, Black, white, Native American workers, and those with disabilities. We showed movies. We also had speakers. We had people from the community come and speak about police brutality. Redmond Barnes came from the People’s Coalition for Police Accountability and spoke about the struggle against the police murder of Prince Jones. We had a Hyattsville City council member come and speak about the fight against the racism of the rental agreement bill that the City of Hyattsville was trying to pass. Residents along with CASA were fighting the bill.  CASA is a group that helps immigrants fight injustices and deportations. The bill targeted the immigrant workers who rented rooms in their houses. We played Dr. King’s speech against the war in Vietnam with a montage of pictures playing in the background that my son had produced. This presentation was always a standing room only crowd. We wanted people to know that Dr. King was more than just his “I have a Dream” speech and cared about economic justice for all.

For Women’s month we showed ”With Babes and Banners” a documentary about the Flint Sit down Strike at the GM Plant in Flint Michigan. It highlighted the Women’s Brigades who won the strike by fighting off the company goons and the tear gas of the Michigan National Guard! The women decided that babysitting and cooking the meals was not enough. Being on the front lines was necessary to keep the men in the factory until the strike was won. When the cops and National Guard lobbed tear gas at the factory windows, the women broke the windows so air could get in so the men could breathe. The women held off the police so reinforcements could come and help. The women’s brigades were vital to the strike.

We also had discussions about the myths of immigrants not paying taxes and taking away jobs from US citizens. We had a speaker from Pew Research come to speak. We wanted to make sure that our members to expand their consciousness. We knew that our members did not only care about their paychecks.

The Committee members enthusiastically planned the programs. We divided up responsibilities so no one member struggled with all of the work. The members appreciated how collective the Committee was run. In order to float new ideas, I would discuss them with members before the meeting. We worked as equals rather than top down leadership. We played to the strengths of the members. Local 12 members enjoyed our presentations. Many presentations were filled to capacity.

Lessons Learned

My template for organizing was InCAR, which allowed rank and file members to pick struggles in the local areas with little top down directives. We collectively decided in which antiracist struggles to join. We knew that including all workers helped. We believed in multiracial unity and militant struggle.

The larger purpose of going into the job with the idea of fighting racism at every turn motivated me on the job. It enabled me to know diverse groups of workers. The Washington, DC area is diverse but very segregated. Without the mindset of bridging the racial divide, I would have remained in a “white bubble” both at work and in my community.

Learning to be more patient and less judgmental was essential in being a shop steward and advocate for workers. I boasted and believed that 99% of the time I blamed management for the workers’ situations.

The union leadership tried to stop me by not supporting me when I fought battles with management. They tried to isolate me from the members and intimidate me. I threatened their power by organizing the union members to press for more militant fight back against management.

Unfortunately during the first years the members thought it was a personal battle between me and the union president. Separating the personal from political was hard because both of us exhibited strong leadership skills. The fact that the president was Black made it harder to convince Black union members he did not act in their best interests.

Organizing is a process. Talking to workers and listening to them are essential elements. Taking things one step at a time became clear to me. Being only twenty-two and fresh out of college, a steep learning curve loomed ahead of me. My approach consisted of being accessible. I became friends with my coworkers. I ate lunch with them. I invited them to my house for parties. I spoke up when the supervisors tried to intimidate workers. Filing grievances was one avenue but not the only option. Informing workers about major struggles both in the workplace and in the world helped build a base for action. Passing out flyers before work was the main tool. The flyers calling out racist supervisors and unfair firings helped put pressure on the bosses and the union to get restitution for the employee. It was a matter of knowing that following the contract with the grievances and deadlines were important, but organizing other workers to get involved in the struggles were most important. If other workers did not stand up to fight back, nothing would change. Doing these activities made the union leadership upset. They then would have to act militant to cover themselves for not doing anything! I also called out the mistakes the union leaders were making. I would struggle with coworkers to attend the union meetings and pass resolutions to make the union leadership do the right thing.

My outlook enriched my life and my husband and children’s lives. My children gravitated to whom they liked knowing it made no difference to us what the color of their skin was.




Desert Storm

by Ellen Isaacs

            The first George Bush (Bush I),President from 1988-1992 and dead on November 30, 2018, has since been lionized by the same media and politicians that endlessly deride and mock Donald Trump. But Bush I was ever so much more successful at wreaking death and suffering around the world and on poor black and Latin Americans than Trump will ever be. They call him a statesman, for which we can read efficient imperialist; humble, for which we might substitute sinister and deceptive; and heroic, which we might recast as brutal assassin. The real lesson is that the U.S. ruling class wishes its murderous actors to carry out their roles with finesse, rather than bumbling ineptness, like Trump. Bush committed mass murder in the name of spreading democracy, as do all U.S. presidents since the beginning of the American enterprise. It matters not whether we assess liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican presidents – they all kill and conquer the workers of the world in order to preserve power and resources. It is the imperative of the capitalist/imperialist system.

            By no means a self-made man, Bush was born to two wealthy parents with deep ruling class connections. His father, Prescott Bush, had ties to Standard Oil, did business with Nazi Germany before World War II and continued to sell arms to Hitler through 1942. His grandfather, George Herbert Walker was a wealthy international banker descended from slave traders.

            As a college student at Yale, Bush I belonged to one of the secret societies for wealthy white Christian men, from which the CIA did much of its recruiting. After graduating in 1948, Bush I went into the oil business in Texas and began his covert association with the CIA, using his business ventures as cover. His Zapata drilling company, ironically named after the Mexican freedom fighter, was involved in the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected left-leaning Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. It was also implicated in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, where Walker-Bush family sugar holdings had been seized by Fidel Castro.

            Bush I became a Congressman in 1966 and soon afterwards traveled to Vietnam with a CIA official to examine the Phoenix Program, a massive U.S. terror and death squad operation that tortured and killed 25,000-50,000 insurgents. He also became involved in Operation Condor, a program enabling right wing dictators in Latin America, as in Chile and Argentina, to brutally kill tens of thousands of dissidents. Later, when Bush was running the CIA from 1976-7, a CIA asset with the Chilean secret police blew up a Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier, and his aide in Washington, D.C. Bush deliberately misled the FBI investigation, away from the killer.

            In 1980, Bush became Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Jimmy Carter had lost his bid for re-election largely because 52 Americans taken hostage in Iran after the overthrow of the U.S.-supported Shah in 1979 had not been freed. Since the hostages were released the day after Reagan’s inauguration, it is strongly suspected that Bush had made a secret deal with the Iranians to insure Reagan’s victory. Sound familiar?

            Once in office, the Reagan-Bush team began a long sequence of secret and nefarious actions in Central America. Somoza, the dictator of Nicaragua installed by the U.S. in the 1930s, had been overthrown by the Sandanistas in 1979. Hoping to reverse this revolution, the U.S. trained death squads and torturers, the Contras, at the School of the Americas in Georgia and supplied them with arms. After Congress passed an amendment in 1984 banning aid to the Contras, Bush, together with his National Security Advisor Donald Gregg from the Phoenix Program and CIA head William Casey, began a secret arms plan to supply them with weapons. It was financed by illegally selling arms to Iran and cocaine in the poor, mostly black areas of American cities (the Iran-Contra affair). This influx of drugs became an excuse for the subsequent War on Drugs and mass incarceration.

             When running for President in 1987, Bush’s most successful tactic was a viciously racist ad featuring a convicted black murderer, Willie Horton, who was on a weekend furlough from prison when he committed another crime. Bush used this rare event to smear his opponent as soft on crime and, by implication, not sufficiently wary of violent black men.

             But Bush I was responsible for far more extensive death and deception when he became President. Soon after, he invaded Panama, ostensibly to arrest the dictator Noreiga for drug trafficking, although Noriega had been a CIA asset for years and had allowed the Contras to ship drugs from Panama. Over 24,000 troops invaded this tiny country and killed at least 3,000 people, mostly civilians. This invasion was meant in part to overcome the embarrassment of the American failure in Vietnam, to re-establish U.S. supremacy in the hemisphere and to get rid of Noriega, whose drug-running had become too well publicized. It was, of course, touted as an exercise in “restoring democracy.”

            But this was just a rehearsal for the horror that Bush I was to unleash on Iraq, Operation Desert Storm, as well as setting the stage for his son’s wholesale invasion in 2003. The U.S. had soured on its erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein, who sat on the world’s second largest pot of oil, was threatening to begin selling it for euros instead of dollars, and might even pose a threat to Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration appeared to give Saddam permission to enter Kuwait via its ambassador and then, in order to justify attacking the invaders, publicized a completely fake story about babies being murdered in a hospital nursery by Iraqi soldiers.  As the Iraqis retreated, Bush I told his soldiers to “put some hate in your heart” and attacked the fleeing troops mercilessly on what became the Highway of Death, as well as bombing Baghdad, including targeting 400 people in an air raid shelter. The hoped for overthrow of Saddam did not materialize, nor did the short war that was supposed to demonstrate the infallibility of new high-tech American weaponry forestall further wars.

            Domestically, Bush also left a legacy of death and discrimination. The HIV epidemic was in full flower in the 90s, and 70,000 mostly gay men died during his presidency. Funding for AIDS research was cut, while Bush repeatedly urged people to change their behavior and criticized Act Up, the main organization advocating for AIDS victims, for using “excessive free speech.” When the Supreme Court seat of Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights icon, became vacant, Bush replaced him with Clarence Thomas. A black man, Thomas was extremely conservative, a denier of the role of racism in American life, and was credibly accused of numerous episodes of sexual harassment by Anita Hill and others. But there he sits,today.

            The legacy of that great “statesman” Bush I is massive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are still unresolved, millions of deaths in those countries, the rise of Islamic extremism, thousands of American soldiers dead or maimed, millions of American workers dead or disabled by disease, drugs, or incarceration, and an increase in racism and xenophobia. Let us vote for no more “great politicians” who ruin our lives, but organize ourselves to fight in our own interests.


George H.W. Bush,Icon of the WASP Establishment—and of Brutal US Repression in the Third World,Greg Grandin, The Nation, 12/4/18

George H. W. Bush’s Presidency Erased People with AIDS. So Did the Tributes to Him, Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, 12/7/18

Lucy Parsons, Working Class Anarchist

by Karyn Pomerantz, Dec. 2, 2018.

The wealth of this country should be equally distributed … if one man through shrewdness should then amass more wealth than his neighbor, his surplus should be taken away from him. Every man should carry arms and have the right of self-defense. Shops and means of transit should be free. There would be no need of elections, police or standing army… Every man should bring his products to an immense clearinghouse in each city or town, and every family to receive an equal portion.” Lucy Parsons, 1891.
LucyParsons photoThe life of Lucy Parsons holds many lessons for the working class and students today, especially since we recently witnessed a polarizing election, increased xenophobia, and racist, anti-Semitic murders. Lucy gained fame as the widow of Albert Parsons, the labor leader and anarchist whom the city of Chicago executed for his role in the fight for the 8 hour day in 1887. Known as the Haymarket Massacre, cops threw a bomb into the crowd that killed 7 policemen and blamed the deaths on the anarchist and socialist leaders, including Albert. May Day, the international workers’ day, commemorates this event. Lucy spent her life celebrating her husband’s and her political ideas. Today she is honored as a revolutionary leader in her own right.

The Parsons lived through a tumultuous period of history marked by severe exploitation, racism, and strikes. Thousands of immigrants arrived to escape violence and poverty in Russia and Eastern Europe, and millions of black sharecroppers fled north during the Great Migration. There were no labor protections and little solidarity among white and black workers. Workers organized numerous political and labor organizations from the trade union Knights of Labor and various socialist and anarchist parties to the militant International Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies).

This blog piece will cover her current relevance, using several biographies and her own writings. It includes her positions on political organizing, electoral reforms, unions, racism, women, and family. She prefigures many current political trends and remains a controversial activist. Scholars and biographers disagree on her racial and ethnic heritage, her antiracist activities, and her later role in the Communist Party USA.

Brief Background
Lucy’s early history is obscured by many lies and a tangle of family relationships. Born in 1851, she was enslaved in Virginia until her owner marched his “property” to Texas in 1863 where she became free after the Civil War during Reconstruction. With her light complexion and education she passed herself off as the daughter of a Mexican father and Native American mother, never denying this fabricated heritage. During the more liberal Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War she married Albert, a white radical Republican politician from Texas. Eventually they fled to Chicago in 1873 and joined various left wing organizations and wrote for several radical publications. Albert worked as a printer and joined the printers union. Lucy earned an income as a seamstress and organized numerous women’s organizations, and joined various socialist and anarchist groups. She eventually became a member of the Communist Party.

Their contemporaries included the anti-lynching journalist Ida Wells-Barnett, labor organizer Mother Jones, IWW founder Big Bill Haywood, socialist Eugene Debs, anarchist and free love advocate Emma Goldman, union leader Samuel Gompers, and anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.
LucyParsonsRR StrikeThey supported some of the most important struggles of the 19th Century, including the 8 hour day fight, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 that developed into a general strike, and other union campaigns in major US industries. The Parsons frequently gave public speeches, eventually traveling throughout the United States. After Albert’s hanging in 1887, Lucy maintained a leadership role until she died in a house fire in 1942 at the age of 92.

Political PrinciplesAnarchism
As anarchists, Lucy and Albert advocated for a revolution to topple capitalism. Anarchists promoted individual freedom versus collective or centralized governmental control. They repudiated the concept of a state and operated as independent activists rather than long-term members of political organizations or parties. Lucy was highly critical of other revolutionary groups and extremely caustic in her dealings with colleagues. As one of a few African American women leaders, she demanded that others take her seriously. She was very popular with workers and feared by the police and industry.

While the Parsons organized within major labor unions, their primary focus was revolution, not reform. They used personal appearances, meetings, writings, parades and picnics to whip up hatred of capitalism, reaching thousands of laborers in the Midwest and beyond. They exhorted their followers to use violence to eradicate the ruling class and warned striking workers against compromising with the bosses.

LucyParsons quote on the systemOne of Lucy’s famous speeches, An Open Letter to Tramps (1884) portrayed the plight of 35,000 impoverished, unemployed men and their wives and children in Chicago, and urged them to take up weapons to fight the larcenous industrial bosses:

“…Have you not worked hard all your life, since you were old enough for your labor to be of use in the production of wealth? … Then can you not see that the “good boss” or the “bad boss” cuts no figure whatsoever? That you are the common prey of both, and that their mission is simply robbery? Can you not see that it is the INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM and not the boss that must be changed?…each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail yourselves of these little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land. Learn the use of explosives!”

Lucy helped organize the International Workers of the World (IWW), the Wobblies, along with many anarchists, Marxists, and socialists. Their militancy, commitment to class struggle, and inclusion of anarchists attracted her. The IWW recruited unskilled laborers from major industries, including women, black and immigrant workers who were excluded from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Led by Bill Haywood, the Wobblies led militant strikes in the mines, lumber fields, and textile factories where they won a 5% wage increase and an 8 hour day in Lowell, Massachusetts. They often used mass violence to win their strikes, until they were framed and many leaders executed.

“An injury to one is an injury to all… For one dollar a (boss) didn’t earn is one dollar a worker didn’t get.” (Big Bill Haywood, IWW)

Lucy Parsons Voting“Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth.”

The Parsons opposed electoral politics, arguing that elections maintained capitalism. They refused to participate in any political campaigns or endorse any candidates, even those who identified as socialists. They consistently argued that capitalism was the problem, not political parties or politicians.

“…so-called laws” were not “worth the paper they are written on because capitalists had the power to do as they wanted even if “the producers of all wealth had willed it otherwise.”

Lucy’s inaction on racism diminishes her role as a labor activist. It is the most serious weakness of her and others’ political work. Many other union members and supporters held racist ideas and denied union membership to black people. This opened the door for the bosses to use black workers as strikebreakers, further inflaming white racism. A woman social reformer actually endorsed lynchings as a way to maintain social control over black people!

There is no evidence that Lucy (or most anarchists and socialists) organized black and white workers together. There was little multiracial unity. Although most industrial workers in Chicago were white, this was also the period of the Great Migration when 6 million southern black people fled the south to live in northern cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. White workers and their unions viewed black workers as strikebreakers and cheap labor who threatened their jobs; women workers were also viewed as cheap labor threatening men’s pay. US born workers feared immigrant workers from Europe as purveyors of communism and threats to their jobs.
This was an opportunity to include black workers in unions to strengthen the labor movement and unite immigrant and US born people. The Parsons made no effort to counter anti-black racism. They settled in white immigrant neighborhoods largely populated by German families. Many Eastern European immigrants were socialists and active labor organizers who strengthened US labor struggles and introduced new political ideologies, but did not advocate for black workers either.
Black workers led significant struggles outside of the northern labor movement. Ida Wells-Barnett risked her life organizing against lynchings. Socialists and communists organized the Southern Workers Tenant Union that united black and white sharecroppers in the south. When black soldiers returned from WWI in 1919, they battled white racists who attacked them, destroying lives, homes, and businesses in Tulsa, Detroit, and Rosewood. During the 1930s, black and white communists in the Communist party USA (CP) fought the prosecution of the Scottsboro Boys who were falsely accused of raping a white woman. Lucy participated in the Scottsboro movement but considered antiracist issues a distraction from class struggle. She didn’t appreciate the power of racism to divide and weaken the working class. (Williams in The Mythologizing and Re-Appropriation of a Radical Hero disputes this. Michael Goldstein in The Color of Politics writes that Lucy did endorse multi-culturalism and united workers across racial barriers although he only devotes 1 page to this assertion without any evidence).

Lucy helped to organize and joined the IWW but did not maintain her membership preferring to work more independently. She never held jobs that offered union membership. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 affected her deeply, confirming her ideas regarding direct action and rebellions as a strategy for challenging the state. She supported many strikes but primarily worked as a small business woman, as a seamstress, employing other women in her businesses. She never worked in a factory where she could have formed political and social relationships with other women. She focused on gravitational revolutionary work, writing and speaking about the need to eliminate capitalism. She viewed unions as models of cooperative working class organizations under a society built on anarchy although most aimed to reform capitalism rather than abolish it.

Lucy and other anarchists urged workers to arm themselves with dynamite to destroy factories and fight the police. They correctly believed that revolution required violence, not the ballot. However, they never utilized dynamite themselves or joined unions that could carry out strikes and rebellions. Their call for violence predates the 1960s Weather Underground who used violence such as bombs and provocative actions (like running through a high school topless) in ludicrous attempts to instigate revolution. They used inflammatory rhetoric urging violence but did not practice it themselves. Nonetheless, the police and government portrayed them as terrorists and criminals.

“(The working class) should rise and overthrow aristocracy by means of dynamite…” Lucy Parsons.

Lucy fought for recognition as a leader in labor and radical circles at the time in which male activists relegated women to the home. Even the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) did not welcome women, believing that they jeopardized men’s pay and their own health if they worked. The SLP also opposed women’s suffrage and ignored black workers. In their view (as for many today), racism distracted from class struggle. Lucy developed several organizations of women who primarily worked as seamstresses and servants. The Working Women’s Union (WWU) held weekly discussion meetings as Lucy tried to involve them in anarchist politics. It dissolved in 1880 due to decreasing attendance.

Meanwhile, Albert organized an American chapter of the International Working People’s Association (IWPA), an anarchist group founded in Europe. It agitated for anarchism and published the Alarm to voice their political ideology and strategies, such as violence against the state and the rejection of voting.

After Albert’s death, Lucy spent the rest of her life promoting Albert’s politics and martyrdom. She had several affairs, offending her comrades for betraying her husband and defying the moral customs of the period. At the same time, she rejected the free love practices of Emma Goldman and recoiled from gay or bisexual sex.

Lucy’s experiences with her children were sad. Her daughter, Lulu Eda, died from lymphedema when she was 8 years old. Lucy committed her son to a psychiatric hospital when he joined the Army during WWI, a war Lucy and the left opposed. He never left the hospital in the more than 20 years until his death.

Lessons Learned

Organizing labor: Lucy and her comrades encouraged strikes and disruption by workers to thwart the capitalists at the workplace and in the cities. They organized social events in the form of picnics and parades to attract thousands of workers to hear their messages.

Rejection of politicians: They rejected voting as the means to change the fundamental goals of capitalism – to make profit from the work of others. They did not support any candidate or bourgeois party.

Endorsement of direct action and violence: The anarchists understood that only violence would eliminate the bosses’ power and urged workers to arm themselves.

Lifelong commitment to revolution: Lucy committed herself to revolutionary principles and practice for 70 years without stopping her outreach, publishing and family responsibilities. She opposed US imperialism and wars, including WWI and the invasions in the Caribbean and Far East.

When one organization failed to accomplish its mission, she would form another. She also committed herself to keeping Albert’s memory alive through her speeches and writings about his life.

Powerful communication: She was an expressive, forceful speaker and writer who called directly for action against the wealthy and their politicians. She contributed to many newsletters, newspapers, and books to promulgate anarchism.


Racism: Lucy mirrored the racist ideas of the left and ordinary people of the time, ideas that are once again in fashion. The socialists and related parties viewed black workers as a category of workers, oppressed only from poverty, not from super-exploitation due to “racial” categories. In true “blame the victim” mentality, she wrote “…to the Negro himself we would say your deliverance lies mainly in your own hands.” (!)
“These were the men and women (communists, socialists, anarchists of this time) who claimed for themselves the mantle of radical change, but whose own prejudices served to replicate the unequal society against which they professed to be fighting.” (Jones J., The Goddess of Anarchism)

Sectarianism: Lucy denounced other anarchists and socialists who did not accept her outlook. She did not develop alliances with other labor radicals or with any antiracist activists. Her responses to them were caustic deal breakers. She had two close friends during her life but outlived them as well.

As Jacqueline Jones, the author of The Goddess of Anarchy from which much of this blog is based, concludes that:
“…Lucy Parsons lived a singularly eventful life… full of remarkable achievements… her story in all its complexity remains a powerful one for its useful legacies no less than its cautionary lessons.”

Her life holds many lessons for us today: fight for an inclusive, multiracial/ethnic strategy; use mass violence as necessary in strikes and rebellions; reject politicians; and build leadership among people who have been powerless. Build a movement of workers to take state power to replace capitalism instead of relying on reform organizations and workers’ spontaneity.

Asbaugh, Carolyn. Lucy Parsons: an American Revolutionary, 1976.
Greer, TS. A Lifelong Anarchist: Selected Works and Writings of Lucy Parsons. Ignacio Hills Press, 19??
lucyParsons GoddessJones, Jacqueline. The Goddess of Anarchism. NY: Basic Books, 2017.

Williams, Casey. Whose Lucy Parsons: THE MYTHOLOGIZING AND RE-APPROPRIATION OF A RADICAL HERO.…/casey-wiliams-whose-lucy-parsons
Viewed 11-28-18