Some Reflections on Puerto Rico and Colonialism

by Silvia Brandon-Pérez

October 5, 2017

Cuba y Puerto Rico son
de un pájaro las dos alas,
reciben flores o balas
sobre el mismo corazón…

-Lolita Rodríguez de Tió

We are living in the end times, not as in the Biblical end times, but certainly the end times for this latest, nastiest, most violent, cruel and unjust empire. I come from a beautiful small island in the Caribbean that was a victim of US Empire since its earliest battles for independence from the Spanish Empire. I was there when Fidel Castro Ruz, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and the rest of the milicianos de la revolución cubana marched into La Habana. It took me many years to realize, in an exile which I didn’t seek but had to accept, because I was only eleven years old when my family decided to emigrate, that my country had been a colony of Empire since its foundation, free in name only. When I joined the efforts to close down the fetid jail in Guantánamo, which had been used for torturing and killing the freedom fighters of other countries, labeled terrorists to excuse the violence of Empire, and I began to study the history of my homeland in great depth, I realized I had been taught lies throughout my life. History, after all, is written by the victors.

The damage from hurricane Maria has left most of Puerto Rico without power. Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP.

This most recent disaster in Puerto Rico is heartbreaking. I studied and graduated from la Universidad de Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, a vibrant, excellent center of education. I graduated the year UPR President, Jaime Benítez, called in the shock troops because of a nonviolent protest against the ROTC on campus. It was one more protest against Vietnam. A young woman outside the campus, 21-year-old Antonia Martínez Lagares, who was watching the mess from the sidelines atop a balcony, was shot to death by a cop not because she was doing anything, but because of her words about racism in the United States. It was after the Civil Rights Act in the United States, in 1970, but it was at a time when segregation was still practiced everywhere.

Puerto Rico had fought for its independence from Spain at the same time as Cuba, and at meetings in New York City, had adopted a flag inspired by the Cuban flag, which had been designed by Venezuelan Narciso López. Our Puerto Rican brothers in the fight for freedom had adopted the design, reversing the colors, to symbolize the brotherhood between the Cuban and Puerto Rican freedom fighters, but after the United States sank its own ship, the U.S.S. Maine, in the harbor at La Habana, and used that as an excuse to enter the fight for independence, Puerto Rico became, with the Philippines, part of the spoils of war. Puerto Rican separatists in their struggle for freedom then became “subversives.” Much as happened in the first US genocide of the 20th century, when the US massacred a million Filipinos who were also fighting for their freedom, until 1952 raising the Puerto Rican flag was a crime, and in the early days of annexation, speaking Spanish was also forbidden. Puerto Rico has been a victim of United States violence and depredation since its annexation as a colony of the United States.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Beyond Vietnam speech in 1967 had spoken about the war in Vietnam as imperial in nature, fought at the expense of the poor. Vietnam was “the symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” which, if left untreated, would surely drag the United States “down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

Many think King signed his death warrant with that speech, which refused compromise and false diplomacy. King recalled visiting cities in the wake of riots and the guilty thoughts that attended his pleas for nonviolence: “And I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Mass imprisonment, both in the criminal system and in the dank immigration pens where people die for the crime of escaping war-ravaged countries, is one of the systems we use to divide and conquer. In immigration and asylum practice in particular, many times the ravages to those countries whose unfortunate citizens are forced to flee have been paid for and instituted by Empire.

A protest at the School of Americas in Fort Benning, GA. The text reads “Assasins aren’t born. They’re made here.” Photo by Caravan4Peace.

The training of torturers has long been undertaken in schools such as the recently renamed School of the Americas, presently in Fort Benning, Georgia. Casualty reports in all our wars, and we are always at war, although we don’t always call them wars but downgrade them to police actions or use other euphemisms for the murder of people, show a disproportionate share of poor and people of color. Our jails show the same thing. King bravely described our arrogance, “the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.”

Throughout the world, camaradas and compañeros have spent lives fighting for true freedom, true social and economic justice, and this cannot happen within the confines of any Empire. I find, more and more, that I am a socialist anarchist, or perhaps an anarchist socialist. In February I will turn 69 years old, and after almost three decades of practicing law and of fighting the good fight, I note as a student of history that most governments (whether State or corporate) eventually become corrupt. They develop bureaucracies to deal with everyday problems; these choke out the life of countries, societies, businesses, and now the planet. They take over with the aim of preserving either the status quo, or the prerogatives of power.

I am announcing the establishment of a new publication, to be called El nuevo malcriado, in remembrance of César Chávez’s broadsheet, El malcriado. When I was growing up, malcriado (badly “raised”) referred to those of us who were disobedient in some ways. In these days and times, disobedience is necessary to survive the ravages of Empire. Please join me in disobedience, far and wide. One of the ways to do this is to study history and to share it with others, no matter their ages. Everyone needs to learn what went before in order to figure out what must come after.

There are days when I “don’t speak English.” Days when the surfeit of lies and hypocrisy and bad politics make me loathe the language as a symbol of violence and decay. But as Seamus Heaney beautifully explains in the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Shakespeare’s language is too beautiful to be given up for good. So I write poems in my lengua materna and in English, as well. My bones and sinews and blood are multilingual; I sometimes pray in Spanish and English and French, and sometimes even curse in Italian.

I have written before about having been exposed to massive racism and cultural disrespect since my arrival on the shores of Miami, Florida at the end of October, 1960. As a young student at a local public school I had the parent of a classmate spit on my face and tell me to go home, that “America” didn’t want me. This was neither the first nor the last time I encountered this odious reaction.

As I have aged, and worked with numerous organizations for peace and social justice, I have come up against colonial disrespect again and again. Although I realize my native language is another imperial language, since Spain conquered and massacred indigenous settlers and forbid the speaking of their various native tongues, Spanish itself is threatened daily by the effort of empire and its unwitting minions to make it “mirror” the dominant language of this most cruel empire.

From Miami, my family moved to the Dominican Republic at the time of the counter-coup, after the violent ouster of President Juan Bosch and the fight to bring him back. After all, much as would happen in Haiti years later with Jean Bertrand Aristide, Dr. Bosch was the first democratically elected president after years of dictatorships, the latest by the vile Rafael Leonidas Trujillo and his cadre of US sponsored murderers. This was par for the course for this latest version of empire, which sent out people to bribe and corrupt, and if that didn’t work, murder, important government and business officials. Shades of the Empire Strikes Back…

On the economic front, I have spent years helping the marginalized. My late lamented husband, Jim Forsyth, a lifelong communist who had begun a “Democratic” political club when his efforts to change things as a socialist were not fruitful, had been my partner in sheltering homeless individuals at different times in our home. He worked for international democracy most of his life, and dedicated endless hours to efforts such as the passage of single payer health insurance as a first step toward socialized medicine.

Basically, I have had it. I am sick of the use of the term “America” for a country rather than the continents of the Américas, and the term “Americans” for its denizens. What will happen to the “American” Empire is not in doubt or to be determined. All bad things must come to an end, and in this case the Empire has overstayed whatever welcome it ever had. Racism and cultural disrespect in this country is pervasive, the disregard for people who do not “fit” the exclusively white, Anglo-Saxon parameters, is legion. The only question is how bloody the monster’s demise will be. All Empires have died, some more bloodily than others. But in the United States of Atrocities, the incidence of violence and of “othering” of anyone who does not fit the paradigm keeps rising. President #45 is a symptom of advanced decay, a multiple myeloma on the national body.

Standing Rock, for many reasons, gelled these feelings. That the original settlers of Turtle Island could be so mistreated, abused and disrespected in the name of “the law” added insult to injury. A part of me felt like volunteering for a mission to another planet. But I have realized in the last few years with great clarity that as victims of empire, we are all colonized. Even as we attempt to grow in non-imperial ways, in ways that are free of racism and “othering,” we can no more escape imperial and racist attitudes than we can stop requiring sleep or sustenance or water. This, then, is our greatest mission, to “grow out of” those attitudes that permeate and pervade our daily lives. We must work to look at all our problems in a universal rather than a local or national way. The system is the problem. The system is the endemic illness. The system is our enemy, across race lines, national lines, cultural lines, economic lines. Class and race, used to divide and conquer us all.

I am still a follower of a subversive Palestinian Jew who fought Empire all his life. Subversion is usually given a bad name, but to subvert is literally to turn over. Crucifixion in Roman times was for those seeking to subvert empire. The problem with accepting the system is that you become entangled in its self-serving bureaucracy, a bramble of choking vines that encroach upon, and devour, all life. Corporate bureaucracy is the worst of this, and our system of government is nothing other than a corporatocracy. To the victor belong the spoils, but the victor is that infinitesimal fraction which is less than 1 per cent and which chokes, encroaches upon, and devours, all life upon this planet.

As one of the greatest revolutionaries of all time, and one of the leaders of the Cuban revolution famously said, hasta la victoria siempre: Onward forever until victory!

Silvia Brandon-Pérez is a member of Solidarity in the Bay Area.

Estamos viviendo en los tiempos finales, no como en los tiempos bíblicos, sino ciertamente en los tiempos finales de este último imperio, el más desagradable, más violento, más cruel e injusto de ellos. Vengo de una hermosa isla pequeña en el Caribe que fue víctima del imperio de los Estados Unidos desde sus primeras batallas por la independencia del imperio español. Estuve presente cuando Fidel Castro Ruz, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos y el resto de los milicianos de la revolución cubana marcharon a La Habana. Me tomó muchos años darme cuenta, en un exilio que no busqué pero que tuve que aceptar, porque tenía sólo once años cuando mi familia decidió emigrar, que mi país había sido una colonia del imperio desde su fundación, libre en nombre solamente. Cuando me uní a los esfuerzos por cerrar la fetida cárcel de Guantánamo, que había sido utilizada para torturar y matar a los luchadores por la libertad de otros países, calificados como terroristas con el fin de excusar la violencia del imperio, y empecé a estudiar la historia de mi patria en gran detalle, me di cuenta de que se me habían enseñado mentiras a lo largo de mi vida. La historia, después de todo, está escrita por los vencedores.

Foto por Gerald Herbert/AP.

Este desastre más reciente en Puerto Rico es desgarrador. Estudié y me gradué de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Río Piedras, un centro docente vibrante y excelente . Me gradué el año en que el presidente de la UPR, Jaime Benítez, trajo a las tropas de choque debido a una protesta no violenta contra el ROTC en el campus universitario. Fue una protesta más contra Vietnam. Una mujer joven fuera del campus, Antonia Martínez Lagares, de 21 años, que estaba viendo el desorden desde lo alto de un balcón, fue asesinada a tiros por un policía no porque estuviera haciendo nada, sino por sus palabras sobre el racismo en el Estados Unidos. Fue después de la ley de derechos civiles en los Estados Unidos, en 1970, pero fue en un momento en que la segregación todavía se practicaba en todas partes.

Puerto Rico había luchado por su independencia de España al mismo tiempo que Cuba, y en reuniones en la ciudad de Nueva York, había adoptado una bandera inspirada en la bandera cubana, que había sido diseñada por el venezolano Narciso López. Nuestros hermanos puertorriqueños en la lucha por la libertad habían adoptado el diseño, revirtiendo los colores, para simbolizar la hermandad entre los cubanos y los puertorriqueños separatistas, pero después de que Estados Unidos hundió su propio barco, el Maine, en el puerto de La Habana, y usó eso como excusa para entrar en la lucha por la independencia cubana, Puerto Rico se convirtió, con las Filipinas, en parte del botín de guerra. Los separatistas puertorriqueños en su lucha por la libertad se convirtieron en “subversivos”. Al igual que ocurrió en el primer genocidio estadounidense del siglo XX, cuando los Estados Unidos masacraron a un millón de filipinos que también luchaban por su libertad, hasta el 1952 alzar la bandera puertorriqueña era un delito, y en los primeros días de la anexión, el idioma español también estaba prohibido. Puerto Rico ha sido víctima de la violencia y la depredación de los Estados Unidos desde su anexión como colonia de los Estados Unidos.

El Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. en su discurso llamado “Más allá de Vietnam” en 1967 había hablado de la guerra en Vietnam como de naturaleza imperial, realizada a expensas de los pobres. Vietnam era “el síntoma de una enfermedad mucho más profunda dentro del espíritu norteamericano”, que si no se trataba, arrastraría seguramente a los Estados Unidos “por los largos, oscuros y vergonzosos pasillos reservados a los que poseen poder sin compasión, fuerza sin moral y fortaleza sin visión”.

Muchos piensan que King firmó su orden de muerte con ese discurso, que rechazó el compromiso y la diplomacia falsa. King recordó visitar las ciudades a raíz de los motines, y los pensamientos culpables que acompañaban a sus súplicas por la no violencia: “Y sabía que nunca más podría levantar mi voz contra la violencia de los oprimidos en los guetos sin haber hablado primero claramente con el mayor proveedor de la violencia en el mundo de hoy: mi propio gobierno”.

El encarcelamiento masivo, tanto en el sistema penal como en las inmundas jaulas de inmigración donde la gente muere por el delito de escapar de los países devastados por la guerra, es uno de los sistemas que usamos para dividir y conquistar. En la práctica de inmigración y asilo en particular, muchas veces los estragos a aquellos países cuyos ciudadanos desafortunados se ven obligados a huir han sido pagados e instituidos por el imperio.

Foto por Caravan4Peace.

La formación de los torturadores se ha llevado a cabo en escuelas como la recientemente renombrada Escuela de las Américas, actualmente en Fort Benning, Georgia. Los informes de víctimas en todas nuestras guerras, y siempre estamos en guerra, aunque no siempre las llamemos guerras, sino acciones policiales o utilizamos otros eufemismos para el asesinato de personas, muestran una proporción desproporcionada de pobres y de gente de color. Nuestras cárceles muestran lo mismo. King describió con valentía nuestra arrogancia, “la arrogancia mortal occidental que ha envenenado la atmósfera internacional durante tanto tiempo”.

En todo el mundo, camaradas y compañeros se han pasado sus vidas luchando por la verdadera libertad, la verdadera justicia social y económica, y esto no puede ocurrir dentro de los confines de ningún imperio. Me doy cuenta cada vez más de que soy una anarquista socialista, o tal vez una socialista anarquista. En febrero cumpliré 69 años, y después de casi tres décadas de ejercer el derecho y de luchar la buena lucha, observo como estudiante de la historia que la mayoría de los gobiernos (del Estado o corporativos) eventualmente se corrompen. Desarrollan burocracias para hacerle frente a los problemas cotidianos; estos ahogan la vida de los países, las sociedades, las empresas y ahora el planeta. Ellos se encargan de preservar el status quo o las prerrogativas del poder.

Estoy anunciando el establecimiento de una nueva publicación, llamada El nuevo malcriado, en memoria del periodiquito de César Chávez, El malcriado. Durante mi niñez malcriado se refería a aquellos de nosotros que éramos desobedientes en algunos aspectos. En estos días y estos tiempos, la desobediencia es necesaria para sobrevivir a los estragos del imperio. Por favor, únase a mí en la desobediencia amplia. Una de las maneras de hacerlo es estudiar la historia y compartirla con otros, independientemente de sus edades. Todo el mundo necesita aprender lo que pasó antes con el fin de averiguar lo que debe venir después.

Hay días en que “no hablo inglés”. Días en que el exceso de mentiras, de hipocresía y de mala política me hacen detestar el lenguaje como símbolo de la violencia y la decadencia. Pero como Seamus Heaney explica maravillosamente en la introducción a su traducción de Beowulf, el lenguaje de Shakespeare es demasiado hermoso para ser abandonado para siempre. Así que escribo poemas en mi lengua materna y en inglés, también. Mis huesos, tendones y sangre son multilingües; A veces rezo en español e inglés y francés, y a veces incluso digo palabrotas en italiano.

He escrito antes sobre el haber estado expuesta al racismo masivo y a la falta de respeto cultural desde mi llegada a las costas de Miami, Florida, a finales de octubre de 1960. Como joven alumna en una escuela pública local la madre de una compañera escolar me escupió el rostro y me dijo que me fuera del país, que “América” ​​no me quería. Esta no fue ni la primera ni la última vez que me encontré con esa odiosa reacción.

A medida que he envejecido, y he trabajado con numerosas organizaciones por la paz y la justicia social, me he encontrado con la falta de respeto colonial una y otra vez. Aunque me doy cuenta que mi lengua materna es otra lengua imperial, ya que España conquistó y masacró a los habitantes indígenas autóctonos y prohibió el hablar de sus diversas lenguas nativas, el español mismo se ve amenazado diariamente por el esfuerzo del imperio y sus secuaces involuntarios por hacerlo reflejar como “espejo” el idioma de este imperio tan cruel.

Desde Miami, mi familia se trasladó a la República Dominicana en el momento del contragolpe, tras la violenta expulsión del presidente Juan Bosch y la lucha por devolverlo al poder. Después de todo, como ocurrió en Haití años después con Jean Bertrand Aristide, el Dr. Bosch fue el primer presidente democráticamente elegido después de años de dictaduras, la última por el vil Rafael Leonidas Trujillo y su plantel de asesinos patrocinados por los Estados Unidos. Esto era lo mismo de siempre para esta última versión del imperio, que enviaba gente a sobornar y corromper, y si eso no funcionaba, asesinar a importantes funcionarios gubernamentales y empresariales. Recuerdos del Imperio contraataca…

En el frente económico, me he pasado años ayudando a los marginados. Mi difunto y amado marido, Jim Forsyth, un comunista de toda la vida que comenzó un club político “democrático” cuando sus esfuerzos por cambiar las cosas como socialista no fueron fructíferos, me acompañó en darle refugio en nuestro hogar a personas desamparadas en distintos momentos. Trabajó por la democracia a nivel internacional la mayor parte de su vida, y dedicó horas interminables a los esfuerzos tales como el paso del seguro de salud mediante un pagador único como un primer paso hacia la medicina socializada.

Básicamente, estoy harta. Estoy harta del uso del término “América” ​como nombre de un país en lugar del nombre de los continentes de las Américas, y del uso del término “americanos” para sus habitantes. Lo que le pueda ocurrir al imperio “americano” no está ni en duda ni está por determinarse. Todas las cosas malas tienen que llegar a su fin y, en este caso, el imperio ha sobrepasado cualquier bienvenida que tuviera alguna vez. El racismo y la falta de respeto cultural en este país es omnipresente, el desprecio por las personas que no “encajan” en los parámetros exclusivamente blancos y anglosajones, es legión. La única pregunta es cuán sangrienta será la muerte del monstruo. Todos los imperios han muerto, algunos de forma más sangrienta que otros. Pero en los Estados Unidos de Atrocidades, la incidencia de la violencia y de la “otredad” de quien no encaja en el paradigma sigue aumentando. El presidente # 45 es un síntoma de decadencia avanzada, un mieloma múltiple en el cuerpo nacional.

Standing Rock, por muchas razones, cuajó en mí estos sentimientos. Que los colonos autóctonos de la Isla de la Tortuga pudieran ser maltratados, abusados y despreciados en nombre de la “ley” fue el colmo. Una parte de mí quería a veces ofrecerse de voluntaria para una misión a otro planeta. Pero me he dado cuenta en los últimos años con gran claridad de que como víctimas del imperio, estamos todos colonizados. Aun cuando intentemos desarrollarnos en formas no imperiales, de una manera que esté libre del racismo y de la “otredad”, no podemos escapar de las actitudes imperiales y racistas en la misma forma que no podemos dejar de requerir el sueño, el sustento o el agua.

Esta es, pues, nuestra misión principal, “madurar y abandonar” esas actitudes que permean e impregnan nuestra vida cotidiana. Debemos luchar por ver todos nuestros problemas de una manera universal en vez de una local o nacional. El sistema es el problema. El sistema es la enfermedad endémica. El sistema es nuestro enemigo, a través de las líneas de clase, líneas nacionales, líneas culturales, líneas económicas. La clase y la raza, utilizadas para dividirnos y conquistarnos a todos.

Sigo siendo seguidora de un judío palestino subversivo que luchó contra el Imperio toda su vida. A la subversión se le suele dar un mal nombre, pero subvertir en sí es darle vuelta a algo. La crucifixión en la época romana era para aquellos que buscaban subvertir el imperio. El problema de aceptar el sistema es que uno se enreda en su burocracia egoísta, una zarza de vides asfixiantes, que devoran toda la vida. La burocracia corporativa es lo peor de todo esto, y nuestro sistema de gobierno no es otra cosa que una corporatocracia. Al vencedor le pertenecen los despojos, pero el vencedor es esa fracción infinitesimal que es menos del 1 por ciento y que ahoga, invade y devora toda la vida sobre este planeta.

Como uno de los grandes revolucionarios de todos los tiempos dijera, y uno de los líderes de la revolución cubana, ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Silvia Brandon-Pérez está una miembra de Solidarity.

Declaration of the Fourth International on the current events in Catalonia

from the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International

September 21, 2017

On 20 September 2017, the Civil Guard and the Spanish National Police arrested 14 senior officials of the Generalitat (the Catalan government) and carried out 40 searches of public buildings and private homes. A police operation then seized propaganda material of the CUP (Candidatura de Unidad Popular, the main party of the pro-independence left) and, without any legal authorisation, surrounded its headquarters for the whole day, for no reason other than provocation. Following the prosecution of more than 700 Catalan mayors who support the referendum on October 1st and after repeated complaints against the Bureau of the Catalan Parliament, these actions represent a qualitative leap in the escalation of repression by the Spanish state institutions against the referendum on self-determination.

Escalating repression and intervention of the Generalitat

Spanish police raid government offices in Barcelona. Image by Susana Vera/REUTERS.

Further to this the Spanish Ministry of Finance’s decision to take administrative control of the Generalitat’s accounts de facto amounts to the cancellation of autonomy, after long years of control of public finances by the Generalitat. This under the pretext of ensuring the implementation of austerity policies, although in practice the Madrid government has been seeking to progressively drown autonomy. In addition, Minister Montoro’s measure puts many budget items at risk (starting with the basic insertion income recently approved by the Parliament, aimed at alleviating extreme poverty and social exclusion) and generates uncertainty among civil servants and public employees about their next pay packets.

A clash of legitimacies in Catalonia

Since 6 and 7 September – with the approval of the Referendum Law and the so-called “Disengagement Act” by the Catalan Parliamen – there has been a situation of dual legitimacy in which there are two legal systems that do not mutually recognize each other. The first of these laws is intended to convene the referendum and the second constitutes a kind of “provisional constitution” between a hypothetical Yes victory and a Constituent Assembly. Both laws have been annulled by the Spanish Constitutional Court, but they remain in force from the point of view of the government of the Generalitat and a majority of the Catalan population, who believe that the Constitutional Court has no legitimacy to annul them. This situation contains in embryo a political revolution in a part of the Spanish state and an unprecedented crisis of the post-Francoist monarchy and constitution of 1978. The coming hours and days will be decisive for the outcome.

Supporting the 1 October self-determination referendum and the mobilizations against repression and civil rights

The situation is very tense and the events of 20 September announce an escalation of actions-reactions that points to a situation going beyond the established framework. For the moment, the repressive apparatus has not been fragmented (the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, have not dared to disobey the orders of the Spanish courts, but try to adopt a low profile that prevents them from being tried for disobedience), but it is hard to know what will happen if there is open and massive repression against a population that is mobilizing peacefully.

At the moment, the Catalan government is maintaining the call for the referendum on 1 October although in previously the Civil Guard also seized electoral propaganda, ballot papers and census letters in printing presses and newspapers throughout Catalonia.

The escalating repression of the Spanish state, preceded by the so-called “gag law” (which has already severely curtailed democratic rights to deal with the struggles of the indignados and mareas) has generated a de facto state of emergency in which basic rights are being seriously violated. This not only jeopardizes the future of Catalan institutions but threatens the most serious political regression since the coup attempt of 23 February 1981.

Protests erupted following the repressive actions of the Spanish State. Photo by Albert Gea/REUTERS.

The reaction of the Catalan people, including significant sectors of the organized labour movement, has been an enormous mobilization in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia and has counted on mass solidarity against repression and for the right to decide in the main cities of the whole Spanish state. There are discussions on calling a general strike against the repression and on 20 September the Barcelona dockers decided to sabotage the cruisers moored in the city’s port accommodate the almost 5,000 police and civil guards that the Ministry of the Interior has sent to Catalunya to repress the Referendum.

In the coming days, there will be a trial of strength between the Catalan popular and pro-sovereignty forces, with the support of the democratic sectors of the Spanish people, and the immobilism and authoritarian tendencies of the Spanish state, inherited from forty years of Francoist dictatorship.

Moreover, it seems that for the first time the conditions exist for a real coming together of the two great mass movements generated by the world crisis and the regime crisis in the Spanish state, that until now have remained distant and suspicious of each other: the indignados movement that exploded on 15 May, 2011 and the Catalan pro-independence process that emerged a year earlier.

The anti-capitalist and revolutionary Catalan and Spanish state forces must take advantage of and develop enormous strategic potential for rupture inherent in this. The pressure of events is pushing for an objective convergence: faced with repression, the workers and popular sectors become aware of what is at stake and, in turn, nationalist currents seek solidarity from the progressive and democratic forces of the Spanish state as a whole.

Urgent international solidarity

In this context, international mobilization plays a fundamental role in the conflict. A victory in Catalonia would be a victory for all the popular, revolutionary and democratic forces of Europe and the world. A defeat will lead to a serious setback for democracy and class struggle in Catalonia, the Spanish state and the European Union.

The Fourth International calls on its national organizations to organize solidarity in all countries and to call rallies in front of the Spanish embassies and consulates, forthe right to self-determination and against repression faced with each new repressive action attempted by the Spanish state.

Long live the right of self-determination of Catalonia!

All our support for the 1 October referendum on self-determination!

Down with the repression, the attack on freedoms and political regression!

This statement was originally published on International Viewpoint.

Defend DACA and Demand Justice for All Migrants

from the National Committee of Solidarity

September 7, 2017

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established by an executive order from President Obama in June 2012. Far from a gift from a sympathetic administration, DACA was a victory won only through the brave and militant actions of undocumented activists who were willing to criticize the devastating immigration policies of a supposedly progressive President, including by occupying Obama campaign offices.

Tuesday morning, a new administration that nobody could mistake as progressive announced the phasing out of the program. The impact of this cruel decision will be widely felt and will bring a renewed threat of deportation to hundreds of thousands of young people, including many key organizers in the movement for migrant justice.

Image by Joe Penney/Reuters.

We must fight this racist attack tooth and nail, and fight for the right of all immigrants to live and work freely, regardless of their status or DACA eligibility. But to do this we need to learn the lessons of how DACA and other victories were won to begin with: through the willingness of radical and militant segments of undocumented people, many of them indigenous and/or queer, to challenge politicians of all parties and make the radical demand of #Not1More deportation.

DACA itself, while significant, was never nearly enough. While it granted temporary reprieve to nearly a million undocumented youth, it excluded more than ten million other immigrants, and rewarded only those who fit the “good immigrant” narrative. For every person protected by DACA, five others were deported in the eight years Obama was in office. And, as we’re now seeing all too clearly, it was only ever a reprieve even for those included, and not a permanent or stable victory.

Just as militant struggle from below won the victories we’ve so far seen, so will it be the only way to beat back the attacks from the Trump administration and every future administration, and the only way to win the greater victories we desperately need. As we prepare for a new round of wholly inadequate and half-hearted attempts at Congressional immigration reform proposals, we need to understand clearly that these “solutions” proposed by the ruling class will never be enough, because capitalism itself requires mass labor migration, and mass deportation and enforcement regimes to manage it. Directly (through economic imperialism and imperialist war) or indirectly (through the climate crisis), capitalism is also responsible for the conditions that force migration to begin with. To end the unthinkable violence of this system, we must fight for an end to capitalism itself, while recognizing the important of limited and temporary reforms along the way.

Now is the time to unite and demand an end to all deportations, amnesty and universal rights for all, and a world without borders. An unwavering commitment to these principles and the process of struggling toward them is our best path—perhaps our only path—toward winning and protecting even the limited and short term victories like DACA which grant some relief along the way from the cruelties of capitalism.

From the Gulf Coast to South Asia: solidarity for flooding and rainstorm victims!

from the Steering Committee of Solidarity

August 31, 2017

Torrential monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal have already taken 1200 lives, and left millions homeless and internally displaced in South Asia. A third of Bangladesh is under water; Hurricane Harvey has slammed the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts, where it has continued to rain, resulting in the worst flooding in Texas history and the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. Much of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city, is still flooded.

Hurricane Harvey has caused a tragic disaster in Houston.

What is happening in Houston, like what happened to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, has powerful lessons to teach us about race, immigration, class, gender, poverty, the crisis of climate change and the environment, government, and private “security.” In South Asia, echoes of previous recent monsoons and other disasters (Cyclone Sidr in 2007 for example) haunt those living in marginal hazard-prone areas.

Flooding has submerged twenty districts out of 64 in Bangladesh. Multiple forms of marginality intersect, compounding hardship and increasing the vulnerability of people to the whims of government, industry, and NGOs. Nature might not discriminate, but systems and institutions do. In North America, South Asia and throughout the world, “disaster capitalism” profits.

Of course, capitalism itself is a disaster for humanity. Moments like this show just how brutal capitalism is–today more than ever. The warming of the oceans adds to the ferocity of storms, as evidenced in Harvey’s rapid unforeseen development to Category 4 hurricane status and in phenomena like the weakening of the jet stream that kept it hovering in place day after day. “Climate change” are the forbidden words unspoken by the corporate media, including the ostensibly liberal ones.

Uncontrolled sprawl resulting from “free market” policies have exacerbated the conditions in Houston. In the leadup to the hurricane, immigration checkpoints left many undocumented people in Texas, most notably South Texas, trapped between the threats of the storm if they stayed or of deportation if they tried to leave.

Immediately, the people of the Texas Gulf Coast and the people of South Asia need our assistance. A list of grassroots efforts engaged in Gulf Coast relief appears below. Please donate directly and support them generously.

To respond to the disaster in South Asia, Solidarity calls on members, sympathizers and well-wishers to contribute via our website–see the “Make a Donation” button on the right hand side of the page. In Bangladesh, we are working with the Communist Party of Bangladesh-Marxist-Leninist (CPB-ML) and the Krishok Federation (a peasants’ organization). Please be sure to indicate the donation is for Bangladesh hurricane/storm relief. This is part of an international appeal.

Because of climate change we will continue to see an ever-increasing frequency of deadly storms. These are one aspect of a dim future we are headed in if the working people of this planet cannot stop the fossil fuel industry and enact a just transition. This is the nightmare “new normal.” The future really is ecosocialism or barbarism.

For Gulf Coast relief you can donate directly to the following:

Defend Comrades Under Attack in Franklin, Ohio

from the Steering Committee of Solidarity

August 31, 2017

The monument in Franklin, OH.

Solidarity stands with the courageous activists who are fighting against the restoration of Confederate “monument” display in Franklin, Ohio. These ugly testimonials to white supremacy are coming down, both North and South, and have no place in the public square anywhere. The threats and attempted intimidation of activists by elements of the city government are sickening and must be met by the removal from office of anyone responsible for them.

For additional information and the response to these attacks, we urge everyone to visit this site and join the call-in campaign.

An Orientation Toward Local Independent Political Organizations (IPOs)

from Solidarity

August 14, 2017

The last several years have seen cracks in the hegemony of bourgeois electoral politics unlike anything we’ve seen since the beginning of the neoliberal era in the late 1970s. Tens of thousands of radicalizing young people have been mobilized the campaigns of Bernie Sanders in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and others around the world, and have swelled the ranks of organizations or caucuses like Momentum within the British Labour Party, and DSA in the US.

The contradictions of this moment will be sharply felt. Mass layers of people are discontent and want alternatives to neoliberal politics including the Clintonite Democratic Party. Many will be drawn toward progressive Democrats and Democratic Party primary challenges. Some of these efforts will likely be fruitful in the short term, but we can’t expect them to lead to anything transformative in the medium to long term, and the pressure on organizers to remain within the orbit of the Democratic Party will be immense despite the sharp criticisms many have of the party.

The Green Party has grown and been somewhat revitalized but remains marginal, with its victories limited to scattered and minor local seats. It is simply not seen as a serious alternative by the great majority of people joining the resistance, and no interventions from small socialist organizations are going to change that. Nor is the construction of a new mass party of the working class in the cards for us in the immediate future (at any rate, not through any effort of Solidarity or the forces around us).

Arguments about deprioritizing elections and building movements are similarly unlikely to be persuasive in the era of Trump and the violent incompetence of Republican dominance—and serious socialist strategy cannot forever dodge the question of elections and state power in any case.

We need an approach to electoral politics that can:

  • Win meaningful victories (both in terms of winning office and of winning strategic reforms);
  • Attract important layers of activists and give them an electoral vehicle that is widely seen as serious AND that remains structurally independent of the Democratic Party;
  • Build organization(s) that mobilize people, bridge gaps between social movements and electoral politics, and provide a grassroots base the means by which to hold candidates and elect officials accountable.

Richmond Progressive Alliance member and Richmond councilperson Jovanka Beckles speaks, fist raised, at an RPA event, standing next to fellow RPA member and former Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

For reasons alluded to above, the conditions don’t yet exist for the creation of a new national party that meets these criteria. But the conditions do exist to make this possible on the local level. Local independent political organizations (IPOs), of which the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) is probably our most successful model, have already proven useful tools for achieving all of these strategic goals. These organizations can unite people across strategic differences, from progressive Democrats to diehard third party activists (and they are not mutually exclusive with the goals of some comrades to continue building the Greens or other existing formations). Similarly, they can allow labor unions and other key forces that are unable or unwilling to fully break from the Democratic Party a way to nonetheless engage in electoral work that pressures and challenges Democrats from an independent position.

A careful outline of the parameters of these type of groups and which we would or would not support would perhaps be useful but is beyond the scope of this text. Such an outline would be further complicated by differences in state and local laws around elections, ballot lines, and so on. But broadly we should at least support efforts that do all of the following:

  • Run viable candidates who may have endorsements from one or more parties, but who run formally independently from the Democratic Party;
  • Accept no corporate money;
  • Are rooted in social movements and grassroots organization, providing movements a vehicle to engage in elections, popularizing key demands, and gaining a foothold in local government from which to fight for them;
  • Provide some mechanism(s) by which the grassroots base can determine the program of candidates, rather than just choosing which candidates to support, and hold elected officials accountable to that program;
  • Build organizations which, even if primarily oriented toward elections, maintain year round activity and organize outside of just the electoral context.

Finally, a network of such local IPOs might lay the foundation for new state and national organizations/parties of the scale and level of seriousness that we need, with a grassroots base in local communities of a type difficult or impossible to achieve through calling for the wholesale creation of a new party.

This document was approved by a large majority at Solidarity’s 2017 Convention. It was co-signed by the following members of Solidarity (other organizational affiliations of each comrade listed here for reference only, and not to indicate that these organizations endorse all the ideas in this document):

Aly Baldree (Green Party of Kansas City – Kansas City, MO)

Robert Caldwell (Left Elect – Dallas/Fort Worth, TX)

Steve Early (Richmond Progressive Alliance – Richmond, CA)

Alex Fields (2017 City Council Movement – Knoxville, TN)

Matthew Luskin (United Working Families – Chicago, IL)

Joanna Misnik (Chicago Socialist Campaign – Chicago, IL)

Statement in Solidarity with Activists and Victims in Charlottesville

from the National Committee of Solidarity

August 14, 2017

We express our deepest sympathy and solidarity with the brave protestors–including comrades in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and International Socialist Organization (ISO)–who fell victim to an act of white supremacist terror in Charlottesville, VA this weekend. We are heartbroken and angry to learn of the murder of Heather Heyer, and more determined than ever to continue fighting.

Anti-fascist counterdemonstrators gather in Charlottesville prior to the scheduled “Unite the Right” march. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters.

While President Trump equivocates with statements about “violence on many sides” in Charlottesville, we stand unequivocally on the side of the anti-fascist activists who, refusing to allow the neo-Nazi demonstration to proceed unchallenged, outmobilized and outnumbered the white supremacists with their own mass counterdemonstration on the morning of August 12. We encourage comrades to join local actions in solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville and to seek opportunities to build or support local coalitions to resist the far right, both in the streets and in our community organizing.

As socialists, we believe that building a broad, diverse, mass movement against racism is key to defeating the far right. We cannot rely on the neoliberal center, and certainly not the police or other forces of “law and order” with their roots in centuries of white supremacist violence, to contain this threat. We need not only to outnumber the right, as we did in Charlottesville, but to be effectively prepared for community self-defense, and to organize a broad left around a program that offers a truly liberatory vision and centers the leadership of oppressed peoples.

In the short term, you can donate to Black Lives Matter – Charlottesville. We encourage comrades who are able to contribute.

On the Crisis in Venezuela

a statement from Anticapitalistas

August 6, 2017

In the face of the political crisis in Venezuela, as anti-capitalists, we declare that:

Venezuelans march to commemorate the people’s overthrow of the coup attempt in 2002.

1) We reject the offensive by the opposition against the Bolivarian government. The Venezuelan opposition is led by profoundly antidemocratic sectors, tied to the dominant class. These sectors are preparing an authoritarian reaction against the gains of the Bolivarian revolution, even if some of these gains have been watered down by the crisis in the country. The opposition has not hesitated in resorting to attacking, burning, and assassinating vulnerable citizens in recent years, and have escalated their methods to hijacking helicopters and the use of firearms.

While this offensive is nothing new, it is framed in a context of coups, whether soft or authoritarian in character, in different countries in Latin America, such as the cases of Brazil, Honduras, and Paraguay, which have been met with passive complicity by foreign governments and the international press. The immediate consequence of those coups has been a heavy handed repression of activists and the poor. In this case we see that same complicity and masking of the Venezuelan opposition’s violent nature. If the political destabilization gets its way of mounting a coup, as some in the opposition seek for Venezuela, we very much fear that they will use the same cruelty and viciousness against the leftist activists and the population in the poorest neighborhoods in cities across Venezuela.

2) This does not mean that we blindly support Maduro’s government, since corruption, bureaucracy, and the incompetence of the PSUV are intolerable in a socialist, revolutionary, and radically democratic project. The fact that we prioritize stopping the imperialistic offensive of the dominant class doesn’t mean that we can’t be critical of the limitations of Maduro and his political management. The revolution within the revolution means expanding freedoms, combating bureaucracy, furthering the redistribution of wealth, and constructing institutional mechanisms that guarantee control of the economy and State by the popular classes.

3) We reject all Spanish interference in issues of Venezuela. The PP and Rajoy’s government, as reluctant as they are to defend the memory of the victims of Franco’s dictatorship, utilize the Venezuelan crisis to defend the interests of corporations that are eager to recover their economic power in Venezuela. At the same time, they seek to wear down Podemos here in the Spanish state. The crisis in Venezuela can only have a democratic solution if there is a new revolutionary boost within the Bolivarian revolution, and never from those who have pillaged the countries in Latin America.

Anticapitalistas are a revolutionary current within Podemos in the Spanish state. This statement was published in Spanish on July 30, and translated to English by Lucila Conde.

Labor's Legitimacy Crisis Under Trump

by Barry Eidlin

July 16, 2017

As nativist right-wing populism surges across the Global North amidst the exhaustion of social democracy and “Third Way” liberalism, the United States finds itself at the forefront. Elsewhere, right populist parties have led in the polls, as with the Front National in France and the PVV in the Netherlands, or played key roles in seismic political events, as with UKIP and Brexit. But so far, only in the US has the right populist wave captured a major political party and ridden it to power. The improbable election of Donald Trump reflects deep crises within the US political system, but also this broader crisis of modern liberalism.

The early months of the Trump administration have been chaotic, but one thing remains clear: despite Trump’s rhetorical appeals to the working class, actual workers and unions have reason to be worried. His public pronouncements about bringing back coal and manufacturing jobs are based on pure sophistry, while his less public moves to gut labor regulations and workers’ rights will hurt workers. Labor’s dire situation predates Trump by decades, but it is likely that his accession to the Oval Office will further embolden labor’s foes, much as Ronald Reagan’s election did in the 1980s.

An Anti-Worker Cabinet

President Trump and Secretary DeVos.

Early indications have confirmed these suspicions, as the candidate who portrayed himself during the campaign as a tribune of the working class has packed his cabinet with billionaires and business leaders.

Of particular concern for workers are his picks to head the Departments of Labor and Education. While personal controversies and popular mobilization derailed Trump’s first choice for Secretary of Labor, CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder, his replacement, R. Alexander Acosta, presents more conventional but still troubling challenges for labor. His record while serving on the National Labor Relations Board in the early 2000s suggests an employer-friendly attitude towards labor policy common among mainstream Republicans. Meanwhile his Secretary of Education, Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos, has made her name promoting school privatization and attacks on teachers’ unions in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere.

Policy-wise, Trump has run into trouble implementing much of his agenda, most notably with his failure thus far to repeal Obamacare and courts blocking his Muslim travel ban. However, he and his Republican counterparts in Congress have had much less difficulty rolling back a slew of worker protections proposed or enacted under the Obama administration. These include an effort to raise the threshold above which salaried workers cannot receive overtime pay, regulations requiring federal contractors to disclose pay equity and workplace safety violations, rules on mine safety and exposure to beryllium, and mandates for private sector employers to collect and keep accurate data on workplace injuries and illnesses.

On the judicial front, Trump has nominated two reliably anti-union attorneys, William Emanuel and Marvin Kaplan, to fill vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They are likely to reverse recent pro-labor rulings holding parent companies liable for the labor practices of their franchisees and allowing student workers at private universities to organize.

More significantly, after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year prevented the Supreme Court from overturning decades of legal precedent and allowing right to work laws throughout the public sector via the Friedrichs case, a new case called Janus v. AFSCME has been filed in Illinois which will allow a Supreme Court now supplemented by the conservative Neil Gorsuch to revisit the issue.

At the state level, labor’s situation continues to worsen. On top of recent labor setbacks in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the first months of 2017 saw Kentucky and Missouri become the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh right-to-work states. In Iowa, lawmakers passed House File 291, which, like Wisconsin’s Act 10, restricts public sector unions’ ability to bargain over anything but wages, eliminates workers’ ability to have their union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks, and requires regular union recertification votes.

For its part, labor remains stuck in an organizational and political rut. Total union density currently stands at 10.7 percent, and 6.4 percent in the private sector. This is a level not seen since the Great Depression, and well below levels reached in the mid-twentieth century, when one third of US workers were union members.

Economically, union decline is a key reason that inequality has risen to levels also not seen since the Great Depression. Politically, it has undercut labor’s organizational clout. Not only are there fewer union voters, but unions are less able to educate and mobilize their existing members.

In the 2016 election, despite unions spending millions of dollars and deploying major voter mobilization programs to support Democrats, Trump won 43 percent of union households, and 37 percent of union members. In some of the decisive Rust Belt states, Trump won outright majorities of union households.

All told, it’s a grim picture. Some of the details may be new, but they are part of a decades-long pattern of union decline that is quite familiar at this point. As we enter the Trump era, we are not entering uncharted territory. We’ve been here before.

Dead Ends

The question is how to respond. For at least the next few years, two of labor’s well-worn tactics are off the table.

First, labor law reform is not happening, and anti-labor measures like a national right-to-work law are almost certain. Second, with Democrats now shut out at the federal level, and Republicans in control of either the governor’s house or state legislature in forty-four states, with full control in twenty-five, labor cannot rely on favors from sympathetic Democratic Party politicians.

Leaving aside the deep crises the Democratic Party currently faces, or the extent to which such a reliance has ever been a good idea, this “inside strategy” is simply not available now. Even less viable is a strategy of “cautious engagement” with Republicans, which is what AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten seem to be promoting.

At the same time, as frightening as the situation seems, now is not the time for labor to retreat. Unfortunately, that is precisely the approach that some unions seem to be taking.

Most notably, SEIU’s response to Trump’s election was to plan for a 30 percent budget cut. Instead, labor should follow the advice that SEIU President Mary Kay Henry gave in 2015, when unions were anticipating an adverse decision in the Friedrichs case: “You can’t go smaller in this moment. You have to go bigger.”

Understanding and addressing the threats that the Trump administration poses to workers is a challenge. First, it requires analyzing the particularities of labor’s current challenges in the United States within the broader context of what has happened to labor movements and politics in the Global North in recent decades. Second, it requires addressing a problem that goes deeper than unions’ declining numbers and bargaining power: their eroding ability to shape and mobilize workers’ political identities.

The Broader Context

Much about Trump and his administration is unique, some say unprecedented. His pre-dawn tweets, his disregard for notions of truth and evidence with which he does not agree, his lack of concern with handling much of the basic day-to-day mechanics of governing, and much more, has dumbfounded his critics on the left and right alike.

At the same time, much of his policy agenda and his method of governing has a long lineage. His budget proposal reprises the combination of tax cuts for the wealthy, combined with massive increases in defense spending and massive cuts to social welfare programs, scientific research, and funding for the arts and humanities that President Reagan and subsequent Republican presidents have long championed.

Equally Reaganesque is his penchant for appointing cabinet members whose primary qualification involves attacking the mission of the agency they are tasked with leading. Meanwhile, his “America First” economic nationalism goes back further, echoing a perspective prevalent in the pre-World War II era, and which lives on today in various “Buy American” campaigns.

Likewise, many of the factors underlying Trump’s victory are particular to the US context. Leaving aside the contingencies surrounding the election itself, these include institutional factors like the entrenched two-party system and the disproportionality of the Electoral College.

The first ensured that Trump’s populist mobilization was expressed within the confines of the Republican Party, as opposed to a separate far-right party as is common in Europe, while the second allowed him to win the presidency while losing the popular vote. Also particular is Trump’s electoral alliance with evangelical Christians, as compared to either the resolute secularism or revanchist Catholicism of the European far right.

At the same time, Trump’s success is part of a broader right-populist trend that extends far beyond the United States. Globally, these movements share several common traits, including charismatic leaders; a focus on mobilizing around racial and ethno-religious divisions, particularly Islam; and a deep skepticism of experts and elites. Looking beyond the present moment, historical research suggests that such movements tend to grow in the aftermath of major economic crises such as that in 2008.

Importantly for labor, right populism has emerged in response to a political vacuum on the Left.

Part of this has been the result of a crisis of “third way” social democracy, whereby the traditional parties of the Left adopted the policies of financial deregulation and fiscal austerity that led to economic crisis, abandoning, attacking, and alienating their traditional working-class base in the process. Equally important has been a global decline in labor union power, which has both given employers the upper hand while leaving more workers without any form of collective organization.

The resulting disorientation of the Left has created fertile ground for the upsurge of the populist Right. Beyond simply opposing labor and the Left, it seeks to replace them as the “natural” political home for a (white, native-born) segment of the working class.

These twin crises of working class representation have hit particularly hard in the United States. Politically, social democracy was never as established as in Europe, and while the Democratic Party was unable to serve as a functional equivalent to the social democratic parties of Europe, its Clintonite turn in the 1990s did provide a blueprint for the rest of the Third Way.

Socially and economically, unions are especially weak in the United States, with union density among the lowest in the Global North. And while European unions have generally taken a strong stance against the far right, US unions have been far more fragmented in their response to Trump, as evidenced by Trumka’s abovementioned policy of “cautious engagement” and the building trades unions’ outright endorsement of Trump.

The “Special Interest” Trap

Taken as a whole, today US labor faces today a crisis of legitimacy.

For all the problems that US unions had in their post-World War II heyday, they were a force to be reckoned with. They negotiated master contracts in auto, steel, mining, and trucking that set wage and working condition patterns for entire industries. Labor leaders like Walter Reuther, John L. Lewis, and Sidney Hillman were household names whose opinions were worthy of regular news coverage.

That is no longer the case. Today, few labor leaders get attention outside a small circle of labor scholars and activists, and far from setting industry wages and working conditions, they are more likely to cite non-union competition as a rationale for getting their members to accept concessions. Meanwhile, labor’s concerns are portrayed as those of a narrow, parasitic “special interest.”

Partially this is the result of decades of sustained anti-union attacks, which have now penetrated traditional labor strongholds like Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. But that is not the whole story. After all, labor has withstood far more vicious attacks in the past, including facing down state, federal, and mercenary armies. A key part of the problem is that the “special interest” label tends to stick. Even within progressive circles, unions are pegged as one among many “special interest groups,” albeit one with deep pockets and a knack for getting Democratic voters to the polls.

Perhaps most indicative of this problem is the care with which unions like SEIU and UFCW have sought to downplay their involvement in recent campaigns like the Fight for $15, the fast food strikes, and Walmart organizing, even as these campaigns have won remarkable victories. Presumably the unions fear that these broad-based campaigns might be tainted if they are too closely linked to labor.

The result, as Jake Rosenfeld notes, is that even as labor scores big wins for large swaths of the working class, few are aware of labor’s role. Meanwhile, unions are mainly thrust into the spotlight over political attacks like right-to-work laws that boil down to arguing over technical language about union membership requirements, or contract disputes that are vitally important for the members involved, but can seem distant from the general welfare.

Identity and Organization

Fundamentally, labor today lacks its own core identity.

To be sure, any competent labor leader or organizer can rattle off a list of labor’s accomplishments, as well as the tangible benefits that come with the “union advantage.” More sophisticated labor leaders and organizers can discuss and implement smart organizing tactics and strategic campaigns.

But as any seasoned organizer knows, movements aren’t built on cost-benefit balance sheets and clever tactics. They are built on vision and relationships. Together, these create powerful collective identities, a sense of being on the same side, of sharing a common fate.

Collective identities are crucial because they bring groups of relatively powerless individuals together and change their assessment of where they stand, what is possible, and what they are capable of. Without that reassessment process, workers will quite rationally conclude that organizing is too risky and too likely to end in defeat, and not get involved.

At the same time, the lack of a powerful self-defined collective identity gives movement opponents space to define the movement. In the case of the US labor movement, that’s what has allowed the “special interest” identity to stick.

It hasn’t always been this way. US labor has a long and storied track record of forging powerful collective identities. Going back to the nineteenth century, early unions like the Knights of Labor organized around powerful ideas of “labor republicanism” and the “cooperative commonwealth” to articulate a broad vision of industrial democracy. In doing so, they highlighted the contradiction between their status as formally free citizens in the political realm, and their status as wage slaves at work.

In the early twentieth century, it was the Industrial Workers of the World’s vision of “One Big Union” that mobilized hundreds of thousands of workers. In the 1930s and ’40s, the CIO’s vision of industrial unionism and the spectacle of the sit-down strikes galvanized millions. As an example of how contagious this CIO vision was, soon after its founding in 1935, tens of thousands of workers north of the border in Canada flocked to the CIO banner, even though nobody in the CIO leadership was aware of what was going on, let along lending any kind of material support.

In the 1960s, as an explosion of public sector organizing accompanied the growing civil rights movement, striking sanitation workers in Memphis captured the confluence of both movements with their slogan “I Am A Man.” More recently, we can think of the slogan “Part-Time America Won’t Work,” which united part-time and full-time Teamsters at UPS in their victorious 1997 strike against the shipping giant, or the Chicago Teachers Union’s framing of their successful 2012 campaign as “fighting for the schools our children deserve.”

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union picketing outside of Willa Cather Elementary School in August 2012.

While these examples showcase the galvanizing potential of collective identities, it is important to recognize that they have a downside. Identities work by creating dividing lines that define who is on which side. Depending on how those lines get drawn, collective identities can divide as well as unify workers. We need only think of the sordid history of divisions based on race, national origin, gender, or craft within the labor movement to see how this has worked.

Similarly, unions’ efforts to forge “partnerships” with employers, or to promote protectionist “buy American” strategies, can divide workers by company or country, while blurring divisions between workers and management. The resulting identities can help or harm labor’s fighting capacity.

It is also essential to recognize that durable collective identities, the kind that can create deep and lasting social change, are made up of more than words. They are not the product of proper “messaging” or “framing” of issues. Rather, collective identities are created, maintained, and reshaped through sustained, organized collective action.

More than anything, it’s this combination of galvanizing ideas tied to durable, deep organization that is missing from today’s labor movement.

We can certainly find elements of each. Despite decades of decline, unions still have plenty of organizational infrastructure at their disposal. But this is not tied to a compelling idea or collective identity.

Leaving aside forgettable efforts at doing so like AFL-CIO’s “Union Yes!” and “Voice@Work” campaigns, the ideological work of even more sophisticated campaigns like SEIU’s Justice for Janitors has not been aimed at creating a sense of collective identity among its members. Rather, it has been aimed at creating “public dramas” using scripted confrontations to shame corporate targets into making deals with union leaders. Workers in such a model function not as the collective force driving the campaign, but as what Jane McAlevey refers to as “authentic messengers” dispatched by union leadership to influence media coverage and public opinion.

We have also seen galvanizing ideas take hold in recent years. These include the aforementioned Fight for $15 (and a union, which usually gets dropped), the powerful counterposition of “the 99 percent” versus “the one percent” that animated the Occupy movement, and Bernie Sanders’ message of working-class justice and solidarity that fueled his improbable run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

These, however, have lacked firm organizational links. In the case of Fight for $15, the real organizational tie to unions was deliberately hidden. Occupy, for all its accomplishments in forcing economic inequality back onto the political agenda, foundered on its inability to build lasting organization. As for Sanders, not only was his campaign hampered by most unions’ reticence to back it, but there is little infrastructure beyond email and fundraising lists to organize the millions of people who backed him.

Strikes, Workplaces, and the Future of Democracy

Historically, unions have used two methods to link ideas and organization: strikes and shop floor organization.

The first has gotten plenty of attention, grabbing headlines and filling the pages of labor history books. The second, while often overlooked, has been equally important, a necessary building block for the first. Labor scholars, not to mention any seasoned organizer, know the painstaking, day-to-day work that goes into building a strike. Even in cases where strikes seem spontaneous, there is always organization lurking behind.

But beyond strike preparation, shop floor organization has been what gives substance to the well-worn slogan “we are the union.” Not only has it provided a necessary check on management’s authority, but it has created the setting for the everyday interactions that build trust, solidarity, leadership, and the confidence that members can act collectively. It was an essential part of union building efforts from the nineteenth century to the CIO and lives on in certain pockets of the labor movement.

For the most part though, strikes and shop floor organization are things of the past. Not only are strike rates are near an all-time low in the United States, but evidence suggests that they are no longer as effective as they used to be. Meanwhile, corporate consolidation, financialization, and restructuring means that power and authority have moved not just further up the organizational chart, but have disappeared into a hazy thicket of investment funds, shell companies, and merged mega-corporations.

In this new environment, many argue, workplace organizing can only have limited effects. Unions’ leverage must be exerted elsewhere, either in politics or capital markets. Almost by definition, that means that unions’ primary activities must happen at the staff level, in the strategic research and legislative action departments — not in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, unions that subscribe to this analysis, most notably SEIU, have transformed themselves in ways that make their workplace presence even more remote.

Without denying that these changes are real, and that global strategies that reach beyond the workplace are necessary to confront globalized capital, giving up on the possibility of workplace organizing has troubling implications for labor, politics, and democracy more broadly.

If labor has no way of tying global leverage strategies to workplace organizing, then it is unclear how whatever agreements are worked out between corporations, governments, and unions can actually make daily life on the job better for workers. Agreements mean little without enforcement.

At a basic level, workplace organization is necessary not only to make sure that corporations abide by their agreements, but to provide a check on management’s unbridled authority. Janice Fine’s work on the “co-production of enforcement” offers some ideas as to how this might happen, but labor needs to prioritize workplace organization for these ideas to reach the necessary scale.

More broadly though, if labor abandons the workplace, it implies that workers have no hope of shaping their own destiny; that they remain at the mercy of forces beyond their control, and that they must rely on others to do battle on their behalf. If this is the model of organization and social change that labor has to offer workers in the age of Trump, then the future is indeed dire. If unions are no longer capable of organizing workers on a mass scale to make their voices heard collectively, then that leaves workers vulnerable to demagogues like Trump who proclaim that “I am your voice.”

Fortunately, there is another way. We saw it in the massive majorities of Chicago teachers who struck against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012, and then forced him to back down again in 2016. We saw it in the CWA strikers who struck against Verizon for forty-five days last year to beat back the company’s concessionary demands and win pension increases and protections on outsourcing.

Politically, we saw it in the work of the Las Vegas Culinary Union, UNITE HERE Local 226, which managed to get even white workers in a right-to-work state to reject Trump this past November. We also saw it in the work of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which organized against both major parties and billionaire-funded charter school PACs to defeat Question 2, which would have dramatically increased the number of charter schools in the state.

These are isolated examples and do not yet approach the scale needed to respond to the challenges that labor faces in the coming years. But they show that it is still possible to strike, and it is still possible to win. In each case, building workplace union culture and organization was key. Broadening this model outwards could provide ways of reversing labor’s fortunes.

In a recent message to supporters, Senator Bernie Sanders stated that “The great crisis that we face as a nation is not just the objective problems that we face…. The more serious crisis is the limitation of our imaginations.” In bringing workers together and changing their assessment of what is possible and what they are capable of, labor has the capacity to transcend that limitation. To survive Trump, that work is more necessary than ever.

Barry Eidlin is a member of Solidarity now living in Québec, and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at McGill University. This article was originally published in Jacobin Magazine.

Theresa May’s Katrina: Grenfell Tower and the Election Outcome that Wasn't Supposed to Happen

by Sheila Cohen and Kim Moody

June 21, 2017

We live in a north London street which, despite its impressive 19th century architecture, is peopled mainly by “council tenants” (public housing residents). This is largely due to the left-of-center politics of the local council (government), which bought up large areas of such housing in the 1970s, limiting “development” and gentrification, and preserving much of the working class population. Perhaps as a result Labour MP Emily Thornberry, a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was re-elected with an increased majority of over 20,000 votes–63% against the Conservative’s 21%. Nationally, Labour won 30 new seats and increased its vote by 3.5 million and the Conservatives lost their majority.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks at his closing campaign rally. Photo by Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters.

Despite this, one working class neighbour was disappointed that Corbyn had failed to lead Labour to victory and become Prime Minister. In fact, of course, Tory Theresa May’s lackluster “victory” and Corbyn’s unexpectedly effective campaign was such good news for Britain’s beleaguered left that the election outcome was hailed with cheers and clenched fists. Still, the unlikely reality of a bearded, unashamedly socialist (of sorts) MP winning the affection of working class voters countrywide calls out for further investigation.

The big media story is the “Youthquake” in which the turnout of voters 18 to 34 rose from 41% in the 2015 election to 53% this year. Two-thirds of 18-to-24-year-olds voted for Labour, inspired by Corbyn’s honesty and radicalism. It isn’t just that they voted in larger numbers and proportions for Labour and its left program, but that the swelling number of activists among them, many members of the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum, stormed many marginal constituencies (election districts) to canvass for Labour. Indeed, they broke the older practice of focusing on known Labour voters and invaded areas and front doors of many working class people who had previously not voted, had voted for Brexit, or even voted for the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

Mass training sessions for Momentum activists were led by veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign. To this was added Sanders style mass rallies of thousands during the final month before the election. Corbyn was everywhere. Mass grassroots campaigning and radical ideas long missing in mainstream British politics won votes for Labour that the experts, the media, Labour right-wingers, and Blairites said Corbyn could never attract. For example, young activists played a big role in winning Canterbury, a town that had been Tory since 1918, albeit by the slim margin of 187 votes.

The Workers Come Back

Even more important but less well known was a sizable return of working class voters that Labour had lost largely due to 13 years of the “Third Way,” pro-market, austerity politics of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Polls taken a month before the June 8 election showed support for Labour at a disastrous 24% for skilled manual workers and 25% for the less skilled and unemployed. By the time of the election, after a month of mass canvassing and rallies, the poll showed the skilled workers had moved 13 points to 38% for Labour, while the less skilled moved 20 points to 45%. Given that some working class people continue to vote for the smaller regional parties such as the Scottish National Party, Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland, or Plaid Cymru in Wales, this means that the rise in Labour Party/Corbyn support actually comes close to being a majority of the two major-party vote among the skilled and a clear majority among the less skilled workers.

The UKIP vote, which had previously attracted significant white working class support, collapsed from nearly four million in the 2015 election to just under 600,000. It is also clear that Labour’s relatively radical manifesto/policy statement–calling for nationalizing the railways and utilities, building more council or social housing, an end to austerity, and a halt to the creeping privatization of the National Health Service–attracted working class voters.

In many working class areas this meant an increased Labour majority. In Hartlepool in the northeast, a largely working class town that voted 70% for Brexit, where UKIP came in second with over 11,000 votes in 2015 and thousands of steel jobs were lost just two years ago, Labour more than doubled its majority from about 3,000 in 2015 to 7,600 this year.
Corbyn drew 10,000 to a rally in the rain. UKIP’s vote fell to 4,801. Similarly enlarged Labour majorities occurred across the country.

More important, of course, was the gain of some 30 seats, many in the heavily working class Midlands and North with largely white populations that had gone Tory in past elections. For example, Derby North is an East-Midlands manufacturing town where the largest employers are Rolls Royce and Toyota and the population is about 87% white. It went Conservative in 2015, but returned to Labour this year with a majority of over 2,000. Bury North, which covers three old Lancashire mill towns and is about 88% white, went Tory in 2010 by 2,200 votes, but voted Labour in 2017 by a majority of 4,375.

Tory Meltdown

Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had called this “snap” election believing she could increase the party’s majority in Parliament. Although the Conservatives got the most votes and seats in Parliament, May’s highly personalized and repetitive campaign was a disaster that cost them their previous majority of 12 seats. May had tried to make the election all about her “strong and stable leadership” to negotiate Brexit, but Labour’s left program undermined that strategy. Nor did the three terrorist attacks on the UK in the previous three months boost the Tories’ chances of gaining a bigger majority.

As a result, the Tories are now cobbling together a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has 10 MPs, enough to give the Tories a slim working majority on major issues. The DUP is a right-wing, Ulster loyalist party that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Some of its leading figures are also climate change deniers.

Aside from UKIP, the other major loser was the Scottish National Party (SNP), which lost 21 seats due largely to SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s emphasis on a second independence referendum. The Tories gained 12 seats in Scotland, Labour 6, and the Liberal Democrats 3.

May’s Katrina

The Grenfell Tower fire.

Just six days after the election, a 24-story council high-rise went up in flames. Grenfell Tower housed 600 mostly poor tenants, many of whom were people of color. The outside cladding that had recently been installed by a string of private (corner-cutting) contractors was not fireproof and became the conduit that turned the entire building into an inferno within 30 minutes.

The tenants’ association along with many experts had long argued that these 1970s high-rises were unsafe. Fire alarms didn’t work, there were no sprinklers or fire extinguishers, and these buildings had only one stairwell and no evacuation plan. The material in the cladding used on Grenfell Tower has been banned in U.S. construction since 2012. By the weekend the estimate of the dead and missing were between 58 and 70.

Located in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in Britain, the poor neighborhood in its midst instantly became the symbol of class and race inequality. Firefighters and health workers responded rapidly, people from the neighborhood and beyond rushed to the scene with food, clothing and bedding for the survivors, but government at all levels appeared paralyzed. The local Kensington Council made no effort to coordinate food and clothing distribution or to locate shelter for displaced residents. Survivors could not get information about friends and relatives either in hospitals or trapped in the building. Sorrow turned to anger.

Jeremy Corbyn visited the scene talking to residents and demanding answers from the authorities. London’s Labour and Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan came flanked by police, but at least stayed to respond to the angry crowd. Theresa May finally appeared the next day but ignored residents and spoke only to emergency staff. She returned on Friday to speak at a meeting of residents in a church, but when the audience turned angry she fled. The Guardian newspaper termed her response to this horrific tragedy “Theresa May’s Hurricane Katrina” (June 16).

An enraged crowd stormed the Kensington Council headquarters, but no councillors were to be found. Eventually they marched to the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street but got no answers. At all levels government did what it does best: promised inquiries and commissions. Eventually for survivors will come some money and housing, maybe nearby, maybe not.

As this was being written on Saturday morning, angry crowds were still milling around the area and the government has shown itself incapable of responding to the concerns of residents and their supporters. This may be one more nail in the coffin of the Tory government.

Growing Shift to Labour; And Then?

In the wake of the election, even before the Grenfell Tower disaster, over 35,000 people had joined the Labour Party. A poll taken two days after the election asking how you would vote if the election were held that day actually showed Labour getting 45% of the vote. Given that third parties take up nearly a fifth of all votes, this would mean a clear majority of votes for Labour. The same poll showed that 49%, including many Tories, thought May should resign. What must that opinion be now!

Given the shaky nature of the Conservative/DUP alliance, the inevitable difficulties in the Brexit negotiations, the problems May will have in continuing austerity, and now her own Katrina, it is entirely possible that another election will take place well before this government serves out its five-year term. While the Labour Party is on permanent campaign footing, it is still deeply divided despite Corbyn’s new prestige and his support among the members.

Given the ferocious opposition of “The City” (the powerful financial services industry) and capital in general, if that happens and Labour wins, it will be a test not only of Corbyn and the party’s activist base, but of “parliamentary socialism” itself. Stay tuned.

This article was written before the evening attack on a London mosque. Sheila Cohen is founder of the bimonthly activists’ magazine Trade Union News in the United Kingdom and author of a number of books on workplace activism, most recently Notoriously Militant: The Story of a Union Branch (Merlin 2014). She is now working on a study of workplace representation worldwide, titled A Minority Movement…, due for publication in 2018-19.

Kim Moody was a founder of Labor Notes and author of several books on U.S. labor, including In Solidarity: Essays on Working-Class Organization in the United States and On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War, both from Haymarket. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Westminster in London, UK.