Against the Current, No. 152, May/June 2011

— The Editors

THE FULL FRONTAL assault on public workers and their unions in one state after another — stripping collective bargaining rights and dues checkoff, slashing wages and pensions and health benefits, abolishing seniority and tenure for teachers, mandating yearly decertification votes, threatening jail terms for strikers — is as massive and instantaneous as it was unexpected by the labor bureaucracy and many union members. To say “the class war is back” is an understatement. It’s an authentic firestorm sucking the oxygen from labor rights, from Wisconsin to Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and other states.

In an act of symbolic vandalism, Maine’s governor proposes has removed the mural depicting the state’s labor history and will purge the name of Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal-era Secretary of Labor, from the state’s labor department building....

— The Editors

THE SWEEPING UPHEAVALS in Arab countries and North Africa continue to unfold. Among these events, the uprising in Libya and the subsequent United Nations/NATO intervention have provoked intense controversy within the international left and antiwar movement. The debate is an inevitable and necessary one — given both the imminent massacre that appeared likely to occur if the Qaddafi regime recaptured Benghazi and other opposition population centers, and what we well know to be the far-from-humanitarian motives of the imperialist intervening powers.

We will not attempt here to develop a full position,...

— Suzi Weissman interviews Mark LeVine

SUZI WEISSMAN INTERVIEWED Mark LeVine on March 25 for her program “Beneath the Surface” on KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles. Her earlier discussion with Mark LeVine on the Egyptian uprising appeared in our previous issue, ATC 151 (March-April 2011). This interview was transcribed by Meleiza Figueroa and has been abridged for publication here.

Suzi Weissman: Welcome to “Beneath The Surface.” Mark LeVine was in Bahrain, just over a week ago, as the Saudis sent in over a thousand troops to quell the protests there. He’s a professor of history at University of California, Irvine. He’s also a musician; he brought us music a few weeks ago directly from Tahrir Square, and we’re going to talk a little more about that too. He speaks multiple languages and he’s an accomplished rock guitarist....

— Malik Miah

FLAILING AFTER MUSLIMS is a convenient way for the right — extreme and mainstream — to prove their credentials as “genuine, God-loving Americans.” Islam, they charge, is not a religion of peace, of Western values; it’s an ideology of terror. “You can’t trust Muslims.”

Anything goes in this drive. Last year Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure barring “state courts from considering international or Islamic laws in deciding cases.” Who could have known that Islamic Sharia laws were taking over the state? How many Muslims live in Oklahoma?...

— Tessa Echeverria and Connor Donegan

AMONG THE FIRST the first publicized actions in opposition to the union-busting Budget Repair Bill was the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) February 14th delivery of valentines to Governor Walker’s office. Colin, an adjunct professor of English and a new member of Solidarity, recalls: “We marched on the sidewalk, not the street…People would look at each other to make sure others were chanting. Some clearly felt embarrassed and most didn’t know the chants.”

Barely 24 hours later, a tectonic shift in the political terrain had transformed and expanded the realm of possibility. An electrified mass of people, tens of thousands strong, took to the state house demanding furiously that the union-busting bill be killed....

— Dianne Feeley

ALMOST SIXTY MORE Detroit public schools are to be closed over the next two years — with up to 45 open to being taken over by charter operators. This is the “Renaissance 2012 Plan” developed by state-appointed “Emergency Financial Manager” Robert Bobb. As Bobb’s two-year term ends it appears to have been a pilot project for the wholesale and anti-democratic restructuring of local governance.

Following his appointment by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm (Democrat), Bobb arrogantly refused to work with the elected Detroit Public School (DPS) Board. He hired incompetent consultants* at astronomical salaries and closed schools — resulting in 10,000 students per year leaving the district for public schools in neighboring towns or for charter schools....

— Jase Short

AS ATTACKS ON public sector workers heat up around the nation, Tennessee has experienced its own battles over collective bargaining — even though few segments of the public sector workforce belong to unions.

The Tennessee State Employee Association (TSEA) has been historically more of a surrogate than an actual union. After the inspiration of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike and the struggles of the 1970s, mostly by K-12 teachers, achieved the right to collective bargaining, the TSEA arose as a counterweight to actual efforts at unionizing public sector workers. In exchange for dues checkoff, public sector workers lost the right to strike. The TSEA — after purging itself of radicals and progressive Democrats — effectively ceased to function as an organization....

— Michael Connery

AS IN SO much of the country after the recent election cycle, a newly-elected Republican administration has taken the reigns of state government in Ohio. The centerpiece of their ambitious austerity agenda is the notorious Senate Bill 5, which will severely restrict the collective bargaining rights of most public sector workers in the state. The bill has galvanized a section of Ohio workers to a degree not seen a decades. On March 31, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed SB 5 into law, but the movement to defeat the bill still carries on.

SB 5, one of many similar legislative attacks on public employees in several states, most notoriously Wisconsin, contains a number of provisions that both directly and indirectly undermine the bargaining rights, working conditions and compensation of public employees....

— Kim Moody
“I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war in this country...” —Doug Fraser, UAW President, 1978
“...20 years or so down the road we’ll be talking about the ‘before Wisconsin’ and ‘after Wisconsin’ movements.”
—Tom Juravich, labor organizer and researcher 2011
“...the organization does not supply the troops for the struggle, but the struggle, in an ever growing degree, supplies recruits for the organization.” —Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, 1906....

IN THE SPRING of 1886 workers at Chicago’s McCormick Harvesting Machine Company struck for the eight-hour workday. They were locked out by the employers, who hired strikebreakers in their place. On May 1 a protest parade was held outside of the plant; two days later police attacked the demonstrators, killing one.

The following day a mass meeting was held at Haymarket Square. Albert Parsons, August Spies and Samuel Fielden, active trade unionists and anarchists, were among the speakers. As the rally was winding down, police dispersed the crowd and a bomb went off. The police opened fire. A total of 11 died, including seven policemen; more than 100 were injured....

— Sherie M. Randolph

SEVERAL DECADES AFTER the 1960s political upheavals, very few people recognize the name of the Black feminist lawyer and activist Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (1916-2000). However, during the late 1960s and 1970s Kennedy was the country’s most well-known Black feminist. When reporting on the emergence of the women’s movement, the media covered her early membership in the National Organization for Women (NOW), her leadership of countless guerilla theatre protests and her work as a lawyer helping to repeal New York’s restrictive abortion laws. Indeed, Black feminist Jane Galvin-Lewis and white feminists Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson credit Kennedy with helping to educate a generation of young women about feminism in particular and radical political organizing more generally....

— Nathaniel Mills
Wrestling with the Left:
The Making of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
By Barbara Foley
Duke University Press, 2011, 464 pages, $29.95 paper.

HERE’S WHAT’S AT stake in any examination of Ralph Ellison: he published only one novel in his lifetime, yet no other African-American writer — indeed, no other writer — has played as large a role in shaping mainstream convictions about the role of the African-American artist, American society and culture, and the relation of both to politics.

— Kit Adam Wainer
Out of the Frame:
The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel
By Ilan Pappe
London: Pluto Press, 2010, distributed in the U.S. by Macmillan, 256 pages,
$22 paperback.
Gaza in Crisis:
Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians
By Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe
Chicago: Haymarket Books. 2010, 240 pages, $16 paperback.
The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty
The Husaynis, 1700-1948
By Ilan Pappe
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010, 400 pages, $29.95 hardcover.

AN IRONY OF Israeli political culture is that Zionism is exceptionally rigid in comparison....

— Jimmy Johnson
The Returns of Zionism:
Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel
By Gabriel Piterberg
Verso, 2008, 298 pages, $29.95, paper.

ZIONIST HISTORIANS — LIKE their counterparts in Australia, South Africa, the United States and other settler societies — hold the dispossession of the Palestinian people to be extraneous to their general history, rather than the integral part that it is. Studying Israel’s foundational myths and historiography through the lens of comparative settler colonialism allows Gabriel Piterberg to keep the Palestinian half of the relational history ever present....

— Dan La Botz
Egypt: The Moment of Change
Edited by Rabab El-Mahdi and Philip Marfleet
Zed Press, 2009, U.S. distributor Macmillan, 224 pages, $28.95 paperback.

WHY HAS THE Arab world suddenly erupted in revolution from Tunisia to Egypt, from Bahrain to Yemen? Above all, why Egypt, the largest and most important of the Arab nations?

Popular accounts on television and in the press focus on social media, on Facebook and Twitter. Others, especially Al Jazeera’s chiefs, not surprisingly, give a lot of credit to Al Jazeera. The central issue, we are told by almost everyone, is the desire for political democracy. The principal actors: the young professionals....

— Steve Downs
Stayin’ Alive
The 1970s and the Last Days
of the Working Class
By Jefferson Cowie
The New Press, 2009, 488 pages,
$27.95 hardcover.
Rebel Rank and File:
Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s
Edited by Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner and Cal Winslow.
Verso, 2010, 472 pages, $29.95 paperback.

IN MY WORLD as a teenager becoming politically aware in Detroit in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the issues that mattered most were the war in Vietnam and race relations at my school....

— Enku MC Ide
The Right to Be Out
By Stuart Biegel
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, 320 pages, $19.95 paper

IN OUR IMMEDIATELY post-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell society, Stuart Biegel’s The Right to Be Out invites us to create a public education system where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) equality is a reality.

Biegel’s clear and concise book succeeds in shining “a light on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in American public education.” Beyond this, the book could be an important resource for lesbian and gay educators, school administrators and staff, and their allies.

— J. Martorell

WILEBALDO SOLANO, THE last member of the original leadership of the Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista (POUM — Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification), died in Barcelona on September 7, 2010, at 94. As an anti-Stalinist communist party, the POUM helped lead the Spanish Revolution of 1936.

Solano had been named the party’s secretary-general in 1947, while an émigré in France. Most POUM members inside Spain had joined the clandestine Socialist Party of Catalunya (PSC) in the aftermath of the Second World War. With the PSC’s achievement of political dominance on the left in Catalunya, following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the legacy of the POUM was recognized in political and academic institutions and monuments....

— Suzi Weissman

I FIRST MET Wilebaldo Solano in Paris in 1997 after corresponding with him since the late 1980s. I had translated an article Wilebaldo wrote about Victor Serge and the POUM,(1) and finally meeting him was an inexplicably emotional occasion, a moment of warmth, solidarity and enthusiasm for us (Wilebaldo, his wife Maria Teresa and myself).(2)

To hear Wilebaldo describe the meeting he and his young comrades from the POUM had with Victor Serge in 1939 confirmed what I sensed when I translated his account: it was so much more than that word reuníon (meeting) could describe....

— Brian Dolinar
Magnificent black women
the poets and singers have been remiss
have sung too few poems and songs of you
And the image makers have not recorded your beauty.

MARGARET BURROUGHS, LONGTIME Chicago artist and activist, died on November 21, 2010 at age 93. Producing poetry, block prints, paintings, sculptures, and participating in theater, she was a modern day renaissance woman. She leaves behind two major institutions — the Du Sable Museum and the South Side Community Art Center — that are her legacy to a life dedicated to promoting African-American art and culture....

— The Editors

WE MOURN THE tragic and senseless assassination of the brilliant revolutionary filmmaker Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was gunned down April 4 in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. His documentary film “Arna’s children,” about his mother’s lifelong struggle and her work in founding the Jenin Freedom Theater, and the realities of life for Palestinian youth under occupation, is a masterpiece. The Freedom Theater is a priceless center for resistance as well as the healing of these young people....

— Steve Bloom and Dayne Goodwin

FIRST, THANKS TO David Grosser for starting an important discussion in the pages of ATC (“Going Where the Millions Are,” ATC 150, January/February 2011). However, as two socialists who have been involved in antiwar organizing, we think the problem is more complex than he suggests. Further, the specific solution he calls for would mistakenly shift the focus of the movement away from mass action as a strategic orientation.

David writes: “Exclusive reliance on mass demos has failed . . . I am not saying that mass mobilizations are never an appropriate tactic. But they are only a tactic, one among many that range from writing letters to the editor to civil disobedience or a general strike.”...