Barbara Zeluck Presente!

Barbara Adler Tucker Zeluck
August 18, 1923 – June 5, 2010

On Saturday, September 18 at 4:00 pm we will gather in Manhattan, New York to celebrate the life of Barbara Zeluck. Please join us at The Murphy Institute for Worker Education & Labor Studies, 25 W. 43rd Street, on the 18th floor.

Our comrade Barbara Zeluck died at her home June 5 in New York City. She recently successfully battled a case of septicemia that occurred while she was in hospital for a urinary tract infection. Friends and comrades have been visiting her in the weeks since. A memorial event is being planned for mid-September.

Born in 1923 into a coal mine owning family in Birmingham, Alabama, Barbara traveled far — socially, politically, and geographically — in her life. She joined the Communist Party while a student at Vassar in the early 1940s. Like many others, she left it following the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and the revelation of Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” outlining Stalin’s crimes. She was subsequently a member of the Socialist Workers Party, the International Socialists, Workers Power and then from 1986 until her death a founding member of Solidarity.

Her journey through the U.S. left was always grounded in her commitment to a vision of socialism achieved through the action of a self-organized working-class. Likewise, her belief in radical democracy and her anti-capitalist politics guided her work in the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s when she was deeply involved, through CARASA (the Coalition for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse), in efforts to build a movement for reproductive rights led by working class women of color.

The political causes Barbara was involved in ranged from opposition to the Vietnam War to support for self-determination for Palestine to support for a single-payer health care plan. In her later years, she remained a stalwart member of Solidarity and provided much needed political and financial support to efforts promoting rank-and-file organization within unions.

She helped build the White Lung Association to fight the outrages of corporations who visited the white deaths of mesothelioma and asbestosis on hundreds of thousands of workers and workers’ families. This passion was inspired by the death of Barbara’s husband Steve Zeluck, a veteran teacher unionist and longtime socialist militant, who contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos decades earlier as a shipyard worker.

Beyond Solidarity we knew Barbara through her vast knowledge and love of opera (she shared tickets for terrific seats at the Met with many over the years) and her work around occupational health and safety.

Barbara had a long and active life, unwavering in her support for radical social change and movements that she felt were dedicated to mobilizing the working class and raising class consciousness. She always believed that a better world was possible. It would be wonderful to hear from those who worked with and knew about different aspects of her life. Please send any memories you would like to share with Solidarity and her daughter Merry and son Paul to Marsha Niemeijer, marshapn@gmail.com.

The Lay of the Land for Labor in 2008 - Draft Pre-Convention Document

by Mark B. (NYC) and Jane S. (Detroit)
August 2008

Download a PDF version of this document

Despite Weakened State, Labor Still a Key Force for Social Change

  • The labor movement is the largest mass of independent, working class organizations
    in the country, with over 10,000 local unions nationally counting 16 million
    union members
  • As the west coast dockworkers recent May Day work stoppage to protest the Iraq war indicated, some unions continue
    to wield serious economic leverage, capable of striking a blow to profits.
  • Unions also have tremendous financial resources, taking in close to $10
    billion in dues each year (and holding another 19 billion in assets).
  • Labor represents a key player in national elections, spending upwards
    of $250 million in 2008, and mobilizing tens of thousands of people to walk
    precincts, phone-bank, and do other voter education and turnout. In the
    2004 election 25 percent of voters came from union households.
  • Despite some unions’ history of racism and exclusion, unions have had
    an important positive impact on white working class consciousness. Although
    it’s admittedly an imperfect measure, white working class voters who are
    union members (and not evangelical Christians) support Democratic candidates
    60/40 in elections. Non-union white working class voters are the reverse,
    supporting Republican candidates by roughly the same margins.
  • Unions are also, of course, the workers’ organizations that are by definition
    and by law created to fight the boss, either a capitalist employer or a
    government one. They remain organizations where workers are forced to come
    together across racial and gender lines and where hundreds of thousands
    of workers have the experience of getting to know and working together with
    people of other races that they do not have in their communities. The union
    (and the workplace) is where the reality of “an injury to one is an injury
    to all” is there for all to see (even if it’s not always seen).

Economic Landscape for Labor: Global Integration, Rise of Finance and
Logistics

  • With the entry of the former Soviet Union and China
    into the world capitalist market, together with the opening of India’s economy,
    we have experienced an effective doubling of the world labor market.
  • The rules of the global economy have been written by global corporations,
    though trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and are now being enforced
    by the WTO
  • These two factors, together with the “logistics revolution” of the last
    30 years, have allowed corporations to truly globalize production, stretching
    supply chains across countries and regions. One stark measure of this trend
    is shipping container traffic in and out of the U.S:
    • 8.4 million in 1980
    • 15.6 million in 1990
    • 30.4 million in 2000
    • 45.0 million in 2007
  • While these trends have had a major negative impact on some sectors of the U.S. economy like manufacturing,they have also tremendously increased the leverage of workers positioned
    at the chokepoints of today’s cargo chain. Together, and in some cases individually,
    the clusters of ship hands, longshoremen, truck drivers, railroad operators,
    and warehouse workers have the power to cripple today’s “just-in-time” delivery
    networks, idling the ships, terminal yards and trucks now used as mobile
    warehouses.
  • The evolution of financial markets in the last three decades, both globally
    and inside the U.S.,
    has changed the dynamic of profit-making, shifting resources and attention
    out of the sphere of production into what is often speculative activity.
    In the U.S.,
    for example, in 2007:
    • 5% of all workers were in the financial sector
    • 15% of gross value added came from the financial sector
    • 40% of total profits came from the financial sector
  • This has made capitalism, especially in the U.S., even more unstable and “irrational.”
    It has also removed some of the traditional leverage that workers have on
    the job (e.g., if GM makes most of its profits through its financial arm
    rather than making cars, this weakens the power of on-the-job activity by
    auto workers). It also has put workers involved in ‘production’ in competition
    not just with workers in other regions or countries, but with the choice
    of no production at all (that is, capital could choose to invest in speculative
    activity instead).

U.S.
Economy Continues Long Trend of Getting Leaner and Meaner

  • The recession that marked the beginning of this decade never ended in
    some sectors, and the situation will only get worse given the current economic
    turmoil.
    • We have lost over three million manufacturing jobs this decade
      • 2000: 17.2 million
      • 2007: 13.7 million
    • These losses have been especially concentrated in core union industries
      like automotive and heavy equipment.
    • Part has been due to trade, given the enormous increase in the flow
      of goods in and out of the country (see container traffic statistics above).
    • Also due to technology, owing to the heavy investment in capital equipment
      in the 1990s.
  • Recent trends are a continuation of ‘Lean Production’ – a corporate squeeze
    play that dates back at least 30 years. The results are now depressingly
    familiar. Lean production not only reduces the number of jobs through straightforward
    methods like speed-up, it also fundamentally changes the way the workplace
    is structured (both physically and in terms of the balance of power on the
    shop floor). Workplaces are redesigned to isolate workers and minimize opportunities
    for solidarity and collective action. Work processes are re-engineered to
    strip workers of discretion and reduce their power on the job,
  • Corporations have also found new ways to attack workers:
    • Gutting union contracts through the bankruptcy courts (e.g. Delphi
      and Northwest)
    • Shifting the social risks associated with pensions and retiree healthcare
      onto unions (e.g. VEBA at Goodyear, GM, Ford, looming proposal at Verizon)
      or eliminating pensions and retiree healthcare altogether for newer, second-
      tier workers.
    • Using large pools of capital (i.e. private equity), Wall Street investors
      are now capable of taking over major corporations (even giants like Chrysler),
      often pulling a quick “strip and flip,” chopping the company into pieces,
      and/or piling on debt to goose up stock prices and line their own pockets.
  • The place where unions have had success organizing in the past 40 years,
    namely in the public sector, is increasingly becoming an island of decent
    jobs, in terms of pay and pensions, in a sea of low-wage, no-benefit, non-union
    private sector options. Conservatives are gunning for public sector workers:
    • Exploiting the gaps between higher public sector standards and the private
      sector (for comparable work) to push for privatization, contracting out,
      and the creation of charter schools.
    • Using the poor pay, pensions, and benefits of most private sector workers
      to pit them against “overpaid” public sector workers, bolstering general
      opposition to taxes and public spending, and deepening the general cynicism
      and mistrust of many voters towards government.
      • Conservatives’ concrete strategy is to exploit this distain for taxes
        and mistrust of government to “starve the beast,” i.e., fight tax hikes
        or other means of increasing public sector revenue.
      • Choking off new revenue creates a material crisis for the state, forcing
        it to cut spending and services. These dynamics are only exacerbated
        by other conservative policies like balanced-budget mandates and new
        changes to pension accounting rules (which force governments to count
        all future pension obligations as current liabilities).
    • After decades of rightward political drift many public sector unions
      are too willing to accept the stereotype of voters as conservative and
      anti-tax. This has led many to shy away from high-profile “us-versus-them”
      campaigns—where the risks are high—relying instead on incrementalism
      and their status as “insiders” in the political process to protect members’
      standards. Not only has this reinforced many voters’ picture of unions
      as a special interest, it has also ensured that most public sector unions
      won’t touch the “third rail” of U.S. politics—the tax system—since “insiders”
      all agree that this is political suicide.
    • We can only expect these trends to intensify as the current recession
      deepens.

Private Sector
Remains Hostile Territory

for Unions, Low-Hanging Fruit in the Public Sector Has Mostly Been Picked

  • Private sector union density is at its lowest point in 100 years.
    • 12 % overall, 7.4% in the private sector
  • Large scale organizing in the private sector remains an elusive goal.
    • Where unions have succeeded it has often been by getting employers to
      agree to card check or neutrality agreements (see more below).
    • Another successful strategy has been to use the leverage that comes
      from ties to the public sector, such as forcing new publicly-funded construction
      to use union labor, or requiring vendors and contractors at public airports
      to remain neutral in union organizing drives, or even using zoning and
      permitting processes to extract “community benefits agreements” (which
      typically include neutrality provisions) from big developers.
  • Today most newly organized workers come into the labor movement outside
    of a typical NLRB election procedure, usually through a card check or neutrality
    agreement with the employer. There is wide variation in how unions secure
    neutrality deals and organize within them.
    • It is possible to win a card check/neutrality agreement through beating
      up on the employer.
      • The 1999 card check agreement that eventually helped CWA organize
        more than 17,000 retail workers at Cingular Wireless was the product
        of five years of struggle with Southwestern Bell,
        Cingular’s predecessor company.
      • The 2006 neutrality agreement giving San Francisco-based UNITE HERE
        Local 2 the right to organize in the suburban markets and outlying counties
        was the product of two years of “bargaining to organize” that included
        strikes, lock-outs, and civil disobedience the targeted hotels.
    • But in many of these agreements, the union explicitly or implicitly
      agrees to mute struggle against the employer, before or after the contract
      is signed, and to keep improvements in workers’ conditions minimal. Such
      agreements result in more members and more dues for the union involved,
      and may even beef up the union’s political muscle in elections, but the
      “union advantage” for new members is sub-par.
      • For example, in 2002 the UAW secured a neutrality agreement with parts-maker
        Metaldyne and agreed to wages $10 lower than Big Three standards. This
        included forcing UAW members at DaimlerChrysler’s New Castle, Indiana plant to take pay cuts
        when their portion of the operation was sold to Metaldyne (or to transfer
        out of town).
      • SEIU secured a quiet quid-pro-quo agreement with California’s Nursing
        Home Alliance that gave the union organizing rights at facilities the
        companies chose, provided the union help get more money into the nursing
        home industry through the state legislature. The union spread “template
        agreements” to newly organized homes that gave up the right to strike,
        limited workers’ ability to talk about patient conditions publicly,
        and contained wages and benefits below those in other SEIU-organized
        nursing homes. Ironically, SEIU organized more non-Alliance nursing
        homes during the time period of the agreement, usually with better contracts
        and standards.
    • While there is lots of variation with neutrality agreements, a few points
      are clear:
      • Sweetheart contracts, or playing junior partner with management,
        is
        not the way to rebuild the labor movement.
      • The recent experience of the Steelworkers at Dafasco
        in Ontario also illustrates
        that employer neutrality is not enough. You still have to organize the
        workers and convince them that there are good reasons to join the union.
      • You also still have to build a union. And how you organize in the
        first place has a tremendous impact on what you are able to build down
        the road. If the union is a product of struggle, of grassroots rank-and-file
        involvement, then it will be a different organization than if it’s the
        product of backroom deals or sweetheart contracts.
      • Given the prodigious difficulties of organizing today, because of
        employers’ ability to break the law at will, it would not be tenable
        to dismiss neutrality agreements out of hand. The question is what kind
        of neutrality agreement is negotiated and, as always, the involvement
        of workers in fighting for their own union.
  • Given the hostile terrain, raiding between different unions will continue,
    and may intensify (e.g., the war between the SEIU and the CNA as seen in
    Ohio, California, Illinois, and Nevada and the recent raid on AMFA at United
    Airlines by the Teamsters). Raiding or unions fighting over the same members
    is very often unproductive and wasteful, a substitute for organizing the
    unorganized. But sometimes it makes sense for members to switch unions—to
    one that is more likely to fight concessions, for example (as when United
    Airlines mechanics left the Machinists for AMFA), or when the incumbent
    union is hopelessly corrupt or undemocratic. Union officials don’t “own”
    their members, and while the burden of proof may be on the raiders, raiding
    should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
  • After decades of growth, new public sector organizing has also slowed
    down.
    • New, large-scale organizing requires moving into largely non-union,
      right-to-work states in the South and Southwest. It also requires actually
      establishing the right to collective bargaining for public employees (just
      over half of all states permit public employees to bargain collectively,
      with the rest either denying bargaining rights explicitly or offering
      limited “meet and confer” options).
    • Unions have also branched out in the public sector to organize new kinds
      of workers. In fact, it is important that the largest single chunk of
      new organizing in the last decade has moved unions pretty far away from
      their traditional model, namely, the organizing of more than half a million
      homecare and childcare workers. These workers have become new union members
      through ballot initiatives and/or gubernatorial decree. By creating public
      entities to serve as the employer of record for such workers—who ultimately
      receive their pay from the public purse—unions (usually SEIU or AFSCME)
      were able to sign them up as members.

Top Union Leaders Recognize Crisis, Abandon the Fight

  • For the first time in its modern history, the bureaucracy recognizes the
    crisis it’s in.
  • The first outward response was the contested election for AFL-CIO president
    in 1995, which brought John Sweeney and the “New Voices” slate into office.
  • But 10 years of trying to rebuild the labor movement “from above” brought
    few results, leading to the 2005 split in the AFL-CIO and formation of the
    Change to Win federation. In many ways, Change
    to Win is a paradox.
    • The public rationale for breaking with the AFL-CIO was the need for
      a stronger federation, one that could force affiliates into line and “on
      program”.
    • But in practice CtW has even less infrastructure
      and resources as a federation than the AFL-CIO.
    • Despite their weak center, CtW projects an
      even more intense program of revitalization “from above” through its driving
      force the SEIU. Since the split in the AFL-CIO, for example, SEIU has
      created a wave of mega-locals—administrative units of tens, sometimes
      hundreds of thousands of members that often span multiple states—and the
      union has centralized more resources and control over bargaining in the
      hands of SEIU’s national leaders.
  • Now, top leaders of unions in both the AFL-CIO and the CtW
    are managing the decline of union standards (and sometimes the decline of
    unions themselves) as we’ve known them for the past 60 years.
    • Some unions are trying to manage the decline straightforwardly.
      • The UAW and the Steelworkers, for example, have argued that global
        competition is too tough, that U.S.
        workers can’t compete with workers in China who are paid so little.
      • The UAW has openly said that a large portion of its members in auto—parts
        supplier workers, “non-core” workers in the Big Three, and new hires
        in the Big Three—should not be paid the decent wages/benefits of the
        past, and has enshrined this point of view in every major contract negotiation
        in the last five years.
      • The spring 2008 strike at American Axle,
        was, on the level of International leaders’ wishful thinking, a last-gasp
        resistance to the pauperization of parts-sector workers, but in reality
        it had no strategy to win, with predictable results.
    • Some are trying to manage the decline via spin, accepting lower standards
      (which will ultimately serve as a drag on better union standards everywhere)
      and claiming they are immense victories. Unions in the “spin zone” are
      primarily associated with Change to Win.
      • At UPS Freight, a formerly non-union division of UPS, Teamsters refused
        to use their leverage inside the rest of the company to bring UPS Freight
        workers into the union and up to the standards of the National Master
        Freight Agreement. Instead, they won a neutrality agreement which forced
        them to organize each UPS Freight terminal one-by-one, with contract
        standards that will undercut Teamsters in other parts of the freight
        industry.
      • In 2002 SEIU launched a janitors strike in Boston. Rather than organize an effective work stoppage (there
        was never more than 15 percent participation in the strike), the union
        waged a series of highly visible and even militant public actions in
        the streets, counting on political pressure from city leaders and state
        officials to coerce the contractors association into a decent settlement.
        While the strike was tremendously important in terms of making the work
        of Boston’s immigrant community visible, the contractors held out
        and the union took a weak settlement, which it trumpeted as a major
        victory.
  • Where unions do exist they have continued to cede the workplace, not even
    showing up for the continuous bargaining that should be happening daily
    between workers and management, both over the ordinary give-and-take on
    the shop floor and over the changes that management is continually introducing
    (technological, workplace organization).
  • The most ominous trend is for outright acceptance of the corporate agenda,
    in hopes that corporations will let their “partners” survive. More on this
    below under “Survival Era.”
  • Meanwhile, many local leaders who have not given up the fight continue
    to try to represent their members, including through militant and sometimes
    innovative struggles. Unfortunately, their hands are often tied by their
    national unions’ policies or lack thereof.

Union Strategy in the ‘Survival Era’

  • The shift in union policy we are seeing today can be described as a shift
    from retreat to organized surrender. This shift is not a thorough one; there
    are still many areas where retreat—or even resistance—are still the order
    of the day. But the growing trend among top union officials is to surrender.
  • The “retreat” line that top leaders have enforced for over two decades
    says to the members “We have to take givebacks now because we’re not strong
    enough [though they usually don’t organize any fight to in fact test the
    balance of power between employer and union]. In order to level the playing
    field between employers and unions, we need to get the politicians to carry
    our water.” So unions have focused all their hopes (and their considerable
    financial and staff resources) on the political arena. The message is that
    “Organizing in the private sector is too hard. Corporations are too powerful.
    The deck is stacked against us. Congress needs to do something.”
    • That something is the Employee Free Choice Act, which is made to sound
      like a cross between the passage of the civil rights legislation in the
      1960s and the second coming of Jesus Christ.
    • The drumbeat has gotten even stronger with the Democrats in (bare) control
      of Congress and with a chance to win the White House. But there are a
      few holes in the logic:
    • First, these are the same politicians who gave us NAFTA, refused to
      ban permanent replacements for striking workers, and worked so hard on
      behalf of Wall Street during the Clinton
      years that we’re now left with the biggest gap between rich and poor since
      the Great Depression.
    • Yes, organizing is hard, but unions could do a lot of it with the quarter
      of a billion dollars labor will spend in the 2008 election.
    • This logic reverses the history of our labor movement, the civil rights
      movement, and every significant advance ever made in the U.S. We didn’t
      take those steps forward because a light bulb went off in somebody’s head
      in Washington.
    • They were the product of struggle: the hard-won fruits of millions of
      ordinary people, convinced of the righteousness
      of their cause, acting together, willing to face fire hoses, attack dogs,
      employer goon squads, Pinkertons, and even the
      National Guard. Politicians aren’t the motor force of history, people
      are.
  • While labor’s current knee-jerk spending on Democrats—usually with little or no
    accountability required—won’t get workers anywhere, it is certainly true that
    labor needs a political program backed up by mass action in the streets. Many
    of the battles workers are now in cannot be won workplace by workplace. Pensions
    and health care are essentially political problems.
  • There
    are also positive signs on the political horizon. Although DC insiders in
    both the AFL-CIO and CtW are maneuvering to sideline their efforts, more and more
    unions are endorsing single-payer legislation. In the same vein, the center
    of gravity within the labor movement is solidly against the Iraq war and occupation. In
    both cases, what is missing is any vision for how to spark a movement that
    can take these struggles into the streets and communities.
  • In
    the big picture, however, we still face an uphill battle, trying to foster
    consciousness for which there is no concrete political expression. The U.S. working class has no
    political party of its own, and when shifts do occur in working class consciousness
    they usually cross squarely through the Democratic Party. The Democrats remain
    stumbling block on the road to a socialist alternative, and labor’s allegiance
    is not just at the level of the officialdom but among most rank-and-file activists
    as well. Our task remains finding a working class solution to the current
    economic and political turbulence and achieving that task will force us to
    moves past the tremendous barrier of not having our own political organization.
  • The
    surrender mode of operation goes further than retreat. In this mode, unions
    volunteer to carry the corporations’ water. Go straight to the source,
    and try and prove your worth to the corporate bosses. “If we help you, you
    will let us live, right?” Everyone knows that CEOs are reasonable people,
    just looking for ways to “add value” to their bottom line—and unions are just
    the people to help them. This is the ideology of partnership that has infected
    nearly every corner of the bureaucracy. It comes in different flavors.
      • Old School: Union leaders surrender in two ways here:
        • At American Axle the union was so timid that it didn’t take the minimum
          steps necessary to win a strike. The Canadian Auto Workers’ early contract
          negotiations, before expiration, in order to make preemptive concessions,
          is another example.
        • At Chrysler during the last Big Three negotiations, union leaders
          put down rank-and-file efforts to fight back.
      • New School: Implicit and explicit promises are made to employers
        that if the union is allowed to sign workers up, it will help corporate
        profits. Not only will the union promise not to strike and not to disparage
        the company, and to keep wages down, it may also put its political apparatus
        at the company’s service.
        • For example, in California SEIU initially backed legislation to make
          it harder for nursing home residents to sue the homes, until their quid
          pro quo with nursing home operators was discovered and they had to disavow
          the deal.
        • SEIU represents the vanguard of this trend, with a well worked out
          and even public rationale that sometimes dismays (and shafts) even
          its Change to Win partners. SEIU puts itself forward as fighting for
          all workers, not just union members (“Justice for All”). But the more
          in bed the union is with the corporations, the less tenable that posture
          is.
        • It is important to note that the new-school surrender mode requires
          more discipline in the union, to carry the line and to keep resistance
          from breaking out. Megalocals, appointment of local officers from above,
          armies of appointed staffers, bullying, and a general corporate modeling
          of union functioning are almost a prerequisite for this survival strategy.

Can The Ranks Save Labor?

  • We can’t ignore the facts. Private sector union density is as low as it’s
    been in the last 100 years.
  • Worse still is action where it counts – strikes and work stoppages – face
    to face confrontation with the boss, wielding our economic muscle.
    • In this decade there were about 200,000 workers in any given year idled
      by strikes and work stoppages.
    • To put that in perspective
      • 1910s 581,000
      • 1930s 889,000
      • 1940s to 1970s roughly 2 million
      • 1980s 718,000
      • 1990s 384,000
  • What do ‘survival era’ politics at the top mean for rank and file activists
    and our interventions in the labor movement?
  • This moment coincides with the end of an arc for many of the interventions
    we’ve made in the labor movement:
    • New Directions in transit and various reform movements in auto.
    • Consolidation of Hoffa’s power inside the Teamsters
    • We’ve also seen the disappearance of some newer reform movements in
      other unions, and the immigrant rights movement that pulled off massive
      marches in 2006 has pulled back in the face of repression and political
      backlash.
  • What does all this mean for class consciousness?
    • Most workers have not had the experience of fighting back on the job,
      or any experience they had was quite a long time ago.
    • The 1970s upsurge is gone, and the generation who thought open combat
      with their bosses—or civil war within their own unions—was a
      sensible idea are
      now retiring or already gone.
  • Organizing and fight-back, however, continue, whether at labor’s grassroots
    or in new formations like pre-majority unions, or workers centers.
    • Rank-and-file union members and local leaders continue to prove that
      the fight—on the shop floor or in the streets—is not over and that winning
      is even possible.
      • On May Day dock workers up and down the West Coast shut down the ports
        to protest the Iraq
        war, a move initiated by rank-and-file longshore
        workers.
      • Union reformers inside the 40,000-member Los Angeles teachers union
        put more than a quarter of their membership in the street demonstrating
        during their last contract fight, winning reduced class sizes and more
        control of school curriculums in some schools. Just last month LA teachers
        delayed the start of school to protest looming budget cuts, with close
        to 15,000 community members joining them on the picket lines.
      • Healthcare workers from Massachusetts to California have struck to protest mandatory
        overtime and unsafe staffing levels. They have also been at the forefront
        of political fights to save public hospitals in cities like Los
        Angeles and Buffalo.
      • A two-hour wildcat strike by 100 train dispatchers in Fort Worth,
        Texas in 2005 snarled train traffic from Seattle to Chicago, as union
        workers walked off the job to protest unilateral changes to the company’s
        vacation policy.
      • Even after losing two organizing drives, workers at Smithfield’s
        largest hog processing plant, in North
        Carolina, continue to fight for a union. The primarily African American
        and Latino workforce has staged wildcat strikes and walked off the job
        to win the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and workers are waging in-plant
        protests in support of the union.
    • Faced with intense employer opposition, some unions forego representation
      elections and contracts, organizing “non-majority” unions using Section
      7 of the National Labor Relations Act to “fight like a union” before they
      are recognized or have a contract.
      • Organized through Black Workers for Justice and UE Local 150, workers
        at the Consolidated Diesel engine plant in Whitakers, North Carolina,
        have gotten fired workers reinstated, forced the state government and
        the company to pay unemployment benefits during slow periods, won a
        paid holiday for MLK Day, and forced the company to deliver on its broken
        promise to pay out more than a million dollars in bonuses.
      • Philadelphia security guards, working with Jobs with Justice,
        formed a non-majority union for guards at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple
        University, winning paid sick days, significant
        raises and at U-Penn a new building for the guards’ office. They are
        now moving their organizing campaign city-wide.
      • In Texas nurses are organizing
        non-majority unions together with the National Nurses Organizing Committee
        (the national arm of the California Nurses Association), forming patient
        care committees inside the hospitals to fight for patients’ rights,
        and pushing for a safe-staffing bill in the state legislature.
    • And many entirely new workers organizations—mainly in the form of workers
      centers—are sprouting up across the country, primarily organizing immigrant
      workers or those in the freewheeling segments of the service sector (restaurant
      workers, domestic workers
      • Some worker centers have been able to win impressive victories against
        corporate behemoths, like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have
        forced Taco Bell, then McDonalds, and now Burger King to pay more for
        the tomatoes CIW members pick.
      • Others have won millions in back wages and overtime (e.g. the New York Restaurant Opportunities
        Center’s recent victory against the Fireman Hospitality Group).
      • These are organizations with strong internal political education,
        typically organizing workers of color (especially immigrant workers),
        and tackling the challenge of organizing where there are large numbers
        of workers in the economy overall (e.g. restaurants and retail). They
        are also more organically rooted in communities than most unions, despite
        their overall small size and limited leverage at any one workplace and
        their heavy reliance on staff direction and foundation funding.
  • At the same time that resistance continues so too does the development
    of working class consciousness. The reality of “us” versus “them” is still
    present, and if anything spreading. But collective solutions to what are
    indeed collective problems don’t seem viable, so people resort to individual
    solutions.
    • Looking up the corporate (and social) ladder, rather than to the people
      standing right beside them (going back to college, starting own business,
      going into management, making deals with supervisors).
    • Taking no action on the things that outrage and disgust them (war, healthcare,
      rich getting richer) because action doesn’t seem viable.

A Bridge to Socialism?

  • Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to transforming organized labor
    into a true social movement. This is an essential task if the U.S. working class has any hope of achieving
    its revolutionary potential. A militant, class-conscious labor movement
    is needed if we want to reconnect the U.S. working class to socialist politics
    in any large-scale fashion. (“Labor movement” is broadly defined to include
    not just unions but other kinds of workers’ organizations as well.)
  • The building blocks of union transformation are no mystery:
    • Struggling to defend workers’ gains against the employer offensive.
    • Expanding labor’s ranks through large-scale member-driven organizing.
    • Re-connecting labor to its community roots and linking it to other social
      struggles.
    • Enabling women and people of color to take the lead.
    • Re-creating unions as consciously pro-immigrant, LGBTQ-friendly, anti-racist
      and anti-sexist organizations.
  • All of this requires breathing life into limp local unions, rebuilding
    them as ‘instruments of struggle’ and equally importantly as ‘schools of
    democracy’ where workers become, in Marx’s words, ‘fit to rule.’
  • In the here and now this requires taking unions in a different direction.
    That is why we’re involved in building—or leading—reform movements within
    unions. Victories, even small ones, change consciousness, offer lessons
    and serve as building blocks for further organizing and organization.
    • Particularly important are winning shop floor victories—everyday skirmishes
      with the boss to try to make the work day bearable—because the workplace
      is typically where class conflict is most apparent, where workers are
      thrown together across racial, ethnic, and gender lines, and where all
      workers have a chance to participate in struggle, whether they are active
      at the union hall or not.
    • The fight for union democracy has a similar long-run impact, building
      the possibility for workers to look upon unions as truly their own organizations.
      This sense of ownership is a precondition for renewed engagement with
      the life of the union, and a necessary condition for workers to take the
      kinds of risks needed to win against today’s aggressive employers.
  • It also requires a different vision for the labor movement, which is why
    we’re involved in building cross-union formations and networks, like Jobs
    with Justice, Labor Notes, and the many local variants, together with projects
    that expand the political and social vision for labor— embodied in initiatives
    like the Labor Party, U.S. Labor Against the War, and the myriad labor-community
    and international solidarity campaigns that have sprung up in the past two
    decades.
  • These efforts at sparking a grassroots labor revival stand in sharp contrast
    to other alternatives. For example, Steven Lerner, architect of SEIU’s
    Justice for Janitors campaign, has recently argued that their current “Justice
    for All” program is much bigger than their union, that in fact it represents
    a comprehensive vision for advancing the interests of the entire working
    class. While most of their goals (expanding healthcare, raising the minimum
    wage, making it easier for workers to form unions) are unobjectionable,
    their method for achieving these ends leaves members largely on the sidelines,
    and minimizes the role of struggle. Gains are secured from above, within
    the system, and the role of the rank-and-file as the agents of their own
    emancipation is short-circuited. This approach misses the critical point
    that how we get where we want to go matters. It also ignores the fact that
    struggle is the best school for socialism, not just because of its transforms
    consciousness, but also because it forces us to grapple with profound questions,
    like how to build a democratic movement, or what change do we actually want
    to see in the world.
  • Our job, as always, is to engage in struggle, whether it’s fighting over
    discrimination in daily job assignments, circulating a petition, spearheading
    a contract fight, organizing drive, or a strike, contesting in a union election,
    picketing a boss’s house, or arguing politics. Struggle changes consciousness
    on a scale and to a depth that we cannot match through any other means.
    It’s also important to recognize that even in better times we lose more
    fights than we win. As such, our challenge is to build struggles which offer
    a greater sense of power and a deepening sense of history and social purpose,
    even when we lose. Thus the way we build fights and organizations is not
    predicated only on winning a victory—though we want to win—but also on fighting
    in way that means we come out the other end with more committed fighters,
    a clearer sense of which side we’re on, stronger organization, and a sense
    of the bigger picture historically and socially, so that even if we lose
    today we are increasing our capacity to win tomorrow.
  • A socialist labor activist first and foremost is a reliable ally. We
    have our co-workers’ backs in a way that inspires them to have ours. We
    get to know what moves our co-workers and what gets in their way. We experience
    camaraderie not as a tactic but as part of our own survival. We know our
    co-workers quirks, their warts, and their sometimes astonishing moments
    of bravery, solidarity, and kindness.
  • We cannot necessarily foresee the clash of forces that will spur masses
    of workers into motion. What we do know is that we want to be there when
    they move.

As Pop Culture Leans Left, Does it Really Matter?

Writers on Strike in Boston

Jaime Paglia (creator of Eureka), Rob Kutner (writer for The Daily Show), and Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) at the Writers Guild of America Rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., on Friday, December 14th, 2007. Photo from Brad Searles

Last Friday there was a rally by striking writers in Boston. Joss Whedon, the Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the big names at the event. A friend of mine asked me if I had ever seen the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy gets pulled into a demonic sweatshop. Basically it goes like this — runaway kids are kidnapped from Skid Row, dragged into this netherworld sweatshop, worked until they are nearly-dead, and then spit back onto the streets of Los Angeles. Ever Buffy, she busts the place up and frees all the captives. My friend mentioned it because he thought it was a great example of the left presence in pop culture, since in a key scene Buffy uses a hammer and sickle to kick the demon guards asses, striking a bad-ass Stakonovite pose in the middle of the fight sequence for good measure.

Not content to just write about this (and avoiding doing other more serious things), I set out to find this video. Well, it turns out my friend had it on DVD, so voila, the fight scene in question:

While we were talking, I also remembered a Simpsons episode that had always stuck with me. At some point the Simpsons take in an Albanian foreign exchange student Adil Hoxha (possibly the son of the unrepentant Stalinist, and onetime inspiration to a small segment of the U.S. left in the 1980s, Enver Hoxha?) As it turns out the kid is a spy — code name Sparrow — who is there to try and get nuclear technology (since Homer does work at the nuclear power plant).

The scene that stuck with me was one where Adil gets into a big argument about the injustice of life in U.S. with Lisa (an otherwise sensible character on the show). Homer tries to break things up by splitting the difference between the two sides. When he gets to Adil’s position he says “Maybe Adil has a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled with the blood of the workers.” I always used to think that it was really amazing that the Simpsons could say stuff like that on TV. I figured that they were able to get away with things (such as their commentary, during the 2000 election, on the fact that the Democrats and the Republicans are basically the same) because it’s a cartoon.


Now, with most young people getting their news from The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Onion there is more grounds than ever for arguing that pop culture is tilted to left. What my friend and I couldn’t decide, was whether it made a difference?

whats the matter with kansas

In particular, it made me think about the argument in Tom Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas?. Frank is one of my favorite writers of the past 15 years. I got hooked after reading an essay of his called “Hip is Dead,” which led me to Commodify your Dissent, a collection of essays from the magazine The Baffler which he edited. The anthology is really genius — finger on the pulse of the 1990s economic and political trends. And the only downside to Frank’s success is that he stopped publishing The Baffler because he’s been so busy (oh, and that fire that burned down their office in Chicago probably had something to do with that too).

Anyway, in What’s the Matter with Kansas? one of the most interesting points that Frank makes is that despite all the hysteria infused into the far right’s discussion of “culture war” issues like abortion, gay marriage, or women’s rights, they never actually seem to win what they say they are after. The 10 commandments aren’t in every school house in the land, women continue to work in large numbers, queer visibility and acceptance continues to expand, and abortion is never really banned (although access to abortion has been substantial curtailed–falling faster under Bill Clinton’s tenure as president than under either Reagan or Bush the father — no data are available past 2001).

Frank argues that the formula works great for upper class economic conservatives, who are in some sense waging an intra-party class war (which somehow manages to strengthen their working class targets’ loyalty to conservative politics). The harder these social conservatives (primarily white and working-class) are hit by deregulation, privatization, and off-shoring the more it stokes their drive to ban gays from the military (and everything other facet of public life), to burn Hollywood to the ground, and to retreat to home schooling children in the literal interpretation of the Bible.

They stick with it because they do make real gains — witness the rightward shift in U.S. politics in the past 25 years, not to mention the fact that every major party candidate for President in 2008 falls all over themselves to talk about God and values and family. The fact that they don’t ever get the final victory — banning abortion, prayer in school, etc. — is just more evidence of how liberal elites still run the country and that the conservatives need to keep fighting harder. Almost as a consolation prize, losing proves they were right all along.

This brings me to the left and pop culture. I worry sometimes that we suffer from some of the same dynamics as the far right. We take solace in the fact that Steven Colbert gets to stick it to George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner (too rich not to show — see below). We are comforted by the fact that we’re right about Iraq being an illegal and immoral war (and we’re right on health care, education, and so many other issues). The evidence is everywhere — hell even mindless teen dramas like The OC feel like they can take take swipes at the right wing or point out the lunacy of fighting a war in Iraq so we can keep driving SUVs and rushing headlong into the face of global warming.

But how does all this move us towards our actual real-world political goals (leave aside socialism — lets just start with ending the war, getting healthcare for everyone, and rebuilding the Gulf Coast)? I sometimes worry that all this cultural acceptance is our booby prize. We get to have witty TV, with ever so subtle allusions to ravages of capitalism. Michael Moore can even win an Oscar. But we continue to fall further behind when we turn off the TV or put down our books and walk outside. Worse still, maybe this type of cultural “resistance” is what helps to stabilize the system, giving fodder to the right wing that they can use to stir up social conservatives.

How I got from the Simpsons and Buffy to this I’ll never know, but I’m embarrassed to admit I feel like I am making the same argument that the slippery Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek recently made in a highbrow piece I found on the web while searching for more thoughts on left culture. He wrote:

The big demonstrations in London and Washington against the US attack on Iraq a few years ago offer an exemplary case of this strange symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’

Are we in the same dreadful spin-cycle as the home-schooling, book-burning evangelicals? Is this a 21st century, pop culture version of Waiting for Godot? Help me out here!?!?

My Neighborhood Police State

I live in Crown Heights, which is a mostly West Indian and African American neighborhood in Brooklyn. I’ve been there for two years, and like most black neighborhoods in New York, the cops are pretty much a constant presence.

Two months ago I was walking home from the subway one night about 11 o’clock and walked into a crowd of cops taking up the sidewalk for an entire block. Probably 40 cops were there, not in full riot gear, but near enough. I watched them from my window for about half an hour, and as near as I could tell all they did was sweep up a couple of kids with pot in their pockets.

police crane on the ground

I didn’t think it was possible, but things have gotten worse. Last month, after someone got stabbed on my block, the cops brought in this machine that looks like its out of that horrible Tom Cruise movie War of the Worlds.

At night they put floodlights up on three corners and raise this crane- like thing up in the air, so they can video-tape everything happening 360 degrees around the thing. The first night I came home and this thing was going on, I thought they were shooting a movie on my block (which they do do from time to time). They kinda were, I guess, but I’m much happier to see the Teamsters who come with those other movies than the FOP members working on this reality TV episode.

police crane on the ground

In a neighborhood where rents are skyrocketing, and people are getting displaced, I can’t help think about all that money New York sinks into occupying places like my little corner of Crown Heights. I did a little digging and found out that the city is spending almost 4 billion dollars a year to maintain an army of close to 38,000 police officers.

For a bit of perspective, consider the fact that Housing Here and Now, a group pushing for more affordable housing in the city, is fighting to get a billion dollars in new funds over the next decade. According to them, this kind of cash could finance more than 10,000 new affordable housing units and preserve a minimum of 5,000 existing units throughout New York City.

Sounds like one pretty obvious solution to New York’s housing crisis is taking “just” a quarter of the current NYPD budget and putting into something more useful than occupying my block with this crazy robotic bullshit.

Additional Resources on Immigration

The Immigrant Rights Movement: The Return of May Day

The second annual May Day mobilizations for immigrant rights brought an outpouring of 100,000 people into the streets of Chicago; tens of thousands in Los Angeles, where peaceful marchers with their families, as well as journalists, were met with a police riot at MacArthur Park; five thousand or more in Detroit; and thousands or tens of thousands in many other cities.

While this year’s protests couldn’t match the gigantic turnouts of 2006 – partly because this year there isn’t the “Sensenbrenner Bill” in Congress that enraged immigrant communities, partly because Los Angeles mayor Villaraigosa threatened punishment for student walkouts, and for a variety of specific local reasons – nonetheless these marches have confirmed that May Day is back.

This workers’ holiday began in nineteenth century America as a demand for decent pay and conditions, spearheaded by immigrant workers. Today’s immigrant rights movement has reclaimed it as a day to demand full legal status for all, and end of the brutal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations that are tearing families apart, and a rapid path to U.S. citizenship for those who desire it.

LA immigrant march 220px

Last spring, in response to punitive legislation proposed in Congress and increased repression of immigrant workers, millions of predominantly working-class Latina/o immigrants took to the streets across the United States. Support and organization was broad: the Catholic Church, local hometown associations, unions and worker centers, and local Latina/o media played major roles in mobilizing for the actions. Immigrants from other countries have turned out to march in various cities.

The result: the largest series of demonstrations in U.S. history and, in many areas, what amounted to one-day strikes. In Los Angeles, the garment and port trucking industries were nearly paralyzed. In the Midwest, the meatpacking industry was shut down.

NYC March 200px

In New York, over 10,000 businesses closed (mostly small delis and ethnic businesses). Investment bankers on Wall Street were heard saying “let them [Mexicans] in so that we can get some coffee.” Many employers responded by firing or disciplining workers; others supported workers’ efforts and a new immigration reform policy.

The movement sparked a lively debate in the media about immigration, with politicians scrambling to pass an immigration reform bill. The bi-partisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed the Senate a short two months after the bill that sparked the wave of street demonstrations – Jim Sensenbrenner’s HR 4437 – passed the House. The Senate bill created substantial debate and division in segments of the immigrant rights movement. Many immigrant workers, religious organizations, unions, and politicians supported the bill. The movement’s left wing opposed it.

Among its most controversial elements, the Senate bill included a divisive, 3-tier path to legalization (which many undocumented immigrants could not utilize), an expanded guest worker program, instant verification (an extension of the Social Security “No Match” Program), and increased border enforcement (see resources below for a more detailed analysis). Ultimately the Senate bill failed to pass the House and the hope of comprehensive immigration reform was essentially “off the table.”

The Border Fence Bill, passed by Congress last year, further militarizes the border and creates an even more repressive and coercive environment for immigrants.

On the ground, last year’s immigrant rights demonstrations have provoked unprecedented Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the new INS) raids. According to an ICE spokesperson, there have been over 18,000 arrests so far, mostly people in their homes. These raids have targeted workers in the meatpacking industry, construction, cleaning services, and especially those firms where workers are fighting for their rights or organizing unions.

ICE arrests 420px

The left wing of the movement responded to these repressive tactics by holding a strategizing conference in August 2006 in Chicago, and organizing marches for Labor Day of that year. At the August meeting the 10 points of unity were:

  • Immediate unconditional legalization for all undocumented currently in the United States
  • No mass deportations
  • No arbitrary, mass or indefinite detentions
  • No employer sanctions
  • No guest-worker programs
  • Full labor rights, civil rights, and civil liberties
  • No militarization of the border
  • No border wall
  • No criminalization of workers
  • Increase of family reunification visas

These actions and this movement – like the civil rights struggles in the “long decade” of the 1960s – are key to breaking down racial and economic barriers in the U.S. and forging bigger struggles for social justice.

More Immigration Resources

The Middle East: Window on a Spreading Crisis

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THE CRISIS IN the Middle East deepens as the Bush regime twists in the wind, offering non-solutions that even the establishment media openly question. The new Democratic majority in Congress has neither unity nor a coherent alternative. Republicans lost the November 2006 midterm election for one overwhelming reason-the U.S. population’s repudiation of the war in Iraq and the leadership that produced this disaster. Now both pro-war parties share responsibility for continuing a war that the majority of the American people want ended. Enter the long-awaited “Iraq Study Group” report. It attempts to work out how the United States can leave Iraq and stay at the same time.

WHAT’S THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND U.S. AGGRESSION – Is it about oil? Ideology? Domestic political lobbies? Is it more a question of power and control in a unipolar world? Ismael Hossein-zadeh raises the controversial and intriguing argument that the military-industrial complex provides the primary dynamic, around which other reinforcing factors converge.

WHILE NEITHER PARTY IS WILLING TO CONSIDER immediate withdrawal of the troops from Iraq, this is the crucial debate. Even in radical circles there are some resigned to a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq. Kale Baledock argues that the occupation both fuels the insurgency and simultaneously holds a full-scale civil war in check. Gilbert Achcar, on the other hand, argues that the longer U.S. presence continues, the more the situation deteriorates. How is the disaster of the Iraqi occupation linked to U.S. policy throughout the Middle East? David Finkel argues that the threats against Iran for its developing nuclear power while overlooking the really-existing nuclear-armed states of Israel, Pakistan and India foretell the possibility of new disasters throughout the region.

HAVE U.S. PRESENCE IN IRAQ UNLEASHED OR RESTRAINED tensions throughout the Middle East and beyond? Michael Schwartz takes Kale Baldock’s scenario of a possible regional disaster seriously but views the occupation as the principal engine that drives the region toward catastrophe. Baldock responds with the argument that the dynamics of rage and reaction in Iraq aren’t simply focused on U.S. occupation and won’t be resolved by a prompt exit.

WHAT ARE THE LESSONS antiwar activists might learn from Vietnam? David Finkel reviews three books, and compares Washington’s eventual decision to withdraw from Vietnam with the situation facing Bush today. The books provide a way to look at the differences in the eras, the wars, and the development of a domestic antiwar movement, and draw differing conclusions.

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THE QUAGMIRE IN IRAQ shines the light more clearly on the crisis of Bush’s empire building. The Bush gang invaded Iraq under the guise of the war on “terror,” and quickly declared victory. George W. Bush’s imperial-messianic presidency was based on maintaining a permanent climate of fear and the image of a president who keeps the world safe. But when the populations of Iraq and Palestine, under military occupation, voted, Bush praised one result and denounced the other.

EXAMINE THE CONTRADICTIONS Of the Bush Empire through one lens and its obvious that the verbal assaults on Iran and Palestine are designed to isolate and demonize Iraq and Palestine and foster the myth that any opposition to U.S.-Israeli foreign policy is doomed to failure. The real costs of empire include not only endless wars but blend the war abroad with the war being waged on working people from Katrina through domestic surveillance. Viewed through another lens the Bush administration’s binge and hangover reveals how his team backed Israeli aggression in Lebanon and then insured that the war raged on for more than a month.

WHAT ROLE WILL ISRAEL, Washington’s ally, plays in the region, given that its army was unable to meet its objective during the Lebanon war and destroy Hezbollah? This interview with Gilbert Achcar analyzes how the Israeli army’s defeat represents Washington’s failure as well.

BACKED BY WASHINGTON to the tune of $3 billion a year, Israel has occupied Palestine since the 1967 war. Dianne Feeley, who took her first trip to the West Bank and Israel in November 2006, describes the virtual prison in which the Palestinian population is trapped. The Israeli authorities have established a sophisticated system of settlements, bypass roads, checkpoints, identity cards and a Separation Barrier that prominent figures, including former president Jimmy Carter label “apartheid.”

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TWO PERSONAL ACCOUNTS OF PALESTINE reveal how nationhood is experienced. Tikva Honig-Parnass, a veteran Israeli fighter for Palestinian rights, reconstructs from old letters her views as a teenaged Zionist soldier in the 1948 war, when the Palestinians as a people were invisible to her as they were to most of her comrades. Anan Ameri, a leading Palestinian-American activist, remembers her reaction to the reality that it’s not just the territory of Palestine that was appropriated with the war, but the culture as well.

THE ASSAULT ON INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM, particularly the right to investigate U.S. complicity in the injustices perpetrated by Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine, is illustrated in Nadine Naber’s account of the attack on her when she publicly supported setting up a committee to consider divestment.

SOLIDARITY STATEMENTS round out our page, with a resolution on the Palestine/Israel conflict, adopted by the Solidarity National Committee in December 2000. Also included is the leaflet, “War Abroad, War at Home” in English and Spanish. You can also download Why Palestine Matters to the Antiwar Movement,” a two-page cartoon developed in April 2006.

More Resources on the Middle East Crisis

A Response to Kale Baldock: Urgency of Withdrawal

Michael Schwartz

I APPRECIATE KALE Baldock’s thoughtful argument (The Case for Staying in Iraq, ATC 122) that “continuing the occupation” is necessary because “it offers the best chance for the chaotic forces now at work in Iraq to settle, over time, into some type of coherent nation.”

His argument does not rest on the unconvincing premises so often offered for this position: that Bush’s invasion was justified; and/or that we must “stay the course” to insure against a humiliating U.S. defeat; and/or that steady progress is being made toward creating a democracy in Iraq.

Instead he rests his case on a Realpolitik argument that the American presence is needed to protect the Iraqi people from the horrors of what would “likely happen if the mediocre framework of security now in place were to dissolve.”

But in perfecting the “we must stay” position, Kale Baldock reveals its fatal weakness. By inspecting his argument, we can see the absolute urgency of an American withdrawal.

Baldock makes his case by chronicling the indubitable horrors that could occur if the current internecine warfare matures into a full fledged civil war. His scenario is vivid. The current stream of bodies found in ditches could become “thousands upon thousands of dead;” the current tension the war has created in the Middle East could mature into a regional war that would, in Dilip Hiro’s words, “suck in all six of Iraq’s neighbors;” the already spreading terrorism could topple the Saudi monarchy, and bring the “world economy to a halt without its precious petroleum fix;” and the ongoing chaos could trigger a collapse of the Pakistani government and allow Islamist terrorists to get “their hands on nukes.”

All this is part of the terrible legacy that escalation of the conflict in Iraq might create. But what Baldock fails to acknowledge is that the U.S. presence is not preventing disaster; it is, instead, the principal engine driving the Middle East toward each of these catastrophes.

Taking each of these nightmares very briefly:

  1. The occupation has been a key factor in generating the ethno-religious warfare that has been building since the invasion. Three examples. First, the horrific annihilation of the city of Falluja led — as state terror so often does — to the raft of suicide car bombings last year; desperate Sunnis were won over to the idea that the United States and its Shia allies understood nothing but profound violence.

    Second, the United States organized the death squads that Baldock mentions as so dangerous; this was done (as it was in El Salvador 20 years ago) in a desperate attempt to use terror to demoralize the anti-occupation resistance. Third, the U.S. uses Shia troops against Sunnis and Sunnis against Shia; this cynical ethnic exploitation is inflaming the hatred that fuels ethnic warfare and providing the opportunity for all manner of gratuitous brutality.

    If the United States were to leave, most (but not all) of the provocation generating the violence would dissolve. If the U.S. stays long enough, the hatred may become self-sustaining.

  2. The U.S. presence has been the key factor in rising Middle East tensions. Threats of attacks on Iran and Syria have made each country more belligerent and undermined efforts to bring stability to regional relations. The political chaos in Iraq has created tensions between Turkey and several of its neighbors, and intermittent threats by the Turkish to militarily intrude into Iraqi Kurdistan.

    The threatened division of Iraq has set in motion destabilizing shockwaves around the region. As long as the U.S. occupation remains, these forces will continue to escalate and heighten the risk of war erupting among two or more of Iraq’s neighbors.

  3. The violence and brutality of the U.S. occupation has resulted in an exponential increase in terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and throughout the region. As the United States continues its air attacks in Iraq, it also creates more and more revolutionaries and fundamentalist jihadists, not only in Iraq, but also in all the neighboring countries. Saudi Arabia is particularly vulnerable, and will become more vulnerable for as long as the U.S. presence extends. The best way to protect against a regional war is to remove the U.S. military from the region.

  4. The Pakistani government’s alliance with the United States is the single most important reason for its shaky condition. So long as the U.S. presence remains in Iraq, the more vulnerable the regime in Pakistan becomes. The best way to prevent the replacement of Musharraf in favor of Islamist fundamentalists is for the United States to promptly withdraw from Iraq.

    In short, Baldock rightly argues that the chaos in Iraq contains the seeds of a much larger catastrophe. To stop these seeds from germinating, we must remove the key nutrient of chaos: the American occupation.


    Michael Schwartz is Director, Undergraduate College of Global Studies and Professor of Sociology, State University at Stony Brook, New York.

Can the Democrats Spank Bush?

–from Solidarity’s Anti-War Working Group

With the recent leak of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration’s own intelligence agencies have confirmed what the anti-war movement has been saying since 2003—the US invasion and occupation of Iraq have not promoted peace and democracy either in Iraq or around the world. Even on its own terms, the US war has been a failure– providing a fertile environment for the growth of terrorism around the world. (Mark Mazzetti,
Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat
, New York Times, September 24, 2006)

As US and allied forces find themselves in quicksand in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration talks only of expanding the war—supporting Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, encouraging the Israelis to bomb Syria, and arguing for pre-emptive military action against a mythical nuclear threat in Iran. Bush’s solution to terrorism consists only of torture and open-ended detentions of supposed terrorists at home and abroad.

American soldiers need to be removed from harm’s way now. Only the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the dismantling of US bases in the region, and the return of both political sovereignty and economic resources to the peoples of the region will create the possibility of lasting peace in the Middle East. This is also the only way to put a brake on the growth of terrorist forces that do not distinguish between the US government and the American people, and the only way to redirect billions of dollars to what working people need here at home, such as rebuilding the Gulf Coast and providing universal health care.

Are the Democrats an Alternative?

For many in the anti-war movement, the 2006 elections seem like an opportunity to inflict a defeat on the Bush administration. Many hailed the victory of Ned Lamont, the “peace Democrat,” over pro-war Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary. Others are encouraged by what appears to be growing Democratic opposition to the war, manifested in support for Representative Murtha’s (D-PA) call for the redeployment of US troops.

The problem is that the Democrats—including the “peace Democrats” like Lamont—have only tactical differences with the Republicans.

Most Democrats running for Congress in 2006—whether incumbents or challengers—support the continued US occupation of Iraq. Most take the same stand as Hillary Clinton (D-NY) or Maria Cantwell (D-WA): hey acknowledge that Bush’s justifications for the war were lies. They say that if they had known then what they know now they would have voted against the war. But they believe the US must stay the course. Either redeployment or phased withdrawal would, according to most Democrats, encourage the “enemies of freedom.”

Neither redeployment nor phased withdrawal will get US forces out of Iraq. Murtha’s plan calls for the troops to pull out of Baghdad and other hot spots and reposition themselves in safer regions of Iraq and in Kuwait. The US would continue to train and supply Iraqi troops, while launching an intensified bombing campaign against the cities. US forces would be over the horizon, ready to redeploy at a moment’s notice.

Phased withdrawal of US forces—again to Kuwait and US bases near Iraq—has more support among the Democrats. The “Korb-Katulis” plan (Korb is a former Reagan Defense Department official), developed by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic policy group, calls for a gradual reduction in US forces over 18 to 24 months. The troops withdrawn from Iraq would be redeployed to Afghanistan—doubling US troop presence there—and to the US carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf.

Neither the Murtha nor Korb-Katulis plan will end the war. Both involve a de facto escalation—increased bombing in Iraq, more US troops in Afghanistan, and no guarantees that the US military presence in Iraq will not increase “if needed.”

The Democrats are also united in their support of Israeli’s occupation of Palestine and invasion of Lebanon. Very few politicians of either party criticized the assault on Lebanon (the US supplied the cluster bombs), or questioned US aid to Israel. When the Palestinians elected a government the US and Israel do not approve of, the overwhelming majority of both parties voted for legislation to starve the West Bank and Gaza by cutting off economic assistance and financial access.

Neither are the Democrats protectors of human and democratic rights in the “war on terrorism.” Although they are a minority in both houses of Congress, the Democrats could have blocked passage of what could be called the “Indefinite Detention and Torture Enabling Act” of 2006. They did not. In fact, a substantial number of Democrats voted for it.

Why do most Democrats support US policies in the Middle East? The same corporations and wealthy individuals finance both the Democrats and the Republicans, and both parties are committed to US corporate interests—especially oil–in the Middle East and the rest of the world. They may differ in tactics—whether or not to redeploy from Iraq—but their strategy is the same. When one party is discredited, as the Republicans are now, the corporations have a second party to promote their interests. We can see this process at work now, as wealthy individuals and corporations are shifting their campaign donations from vulnerable Republicans to their Democratic challengers. (Zachary A. Goldfarb, “GOP’s Financial Edge Shrinks: Challengers Gain on Incumbents, Washington Post, August 20, 2006, A 01)

The Lesser Evil

Many anti-war activists acknowledge that the Democrats do not support bringing all US troops home from the Middle East now. They believe, however, that we will come closer to our goals if we elect the “lesser evil.” In order not to alienate or embarrass Democrats, many in the anti-war movement—both in 2004 and 2006—have downplayed our demand for immediate withdrawal of US forces and have been hesitant to call mass demonstrations. This makes our movement weaker–without massive pressure we cannot force the government to end the occupation.

In the name of “political realism,” many anti-war activists end up supporting pro-war Democrats in order to defeat Republicans whose politics are not much worse. In Washington, the anti-war Democrat Hong Tran and her supporters are toning down their criticism of pro-war Maria Cantwell even before the primary election and have pledged to support Cantwell in the general election. (William Yardley, Critics of War Spare Senator in Close Race, New York Times, September 19, 2006, A 01)

We need to build our movement around anti-war politics—not the politics of the Democratic Party. We need to continue to educate, organize, and agitate for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. While there are no national demonstrations planned for this fall, anti-war activists have the opportunity to build a diverse movement—organizing local demonstrations and teach-ins with anti-war forces in the labor movement, with counter-recruitment activists on campuses and in communities, and with military families, veterans, and active-duty military personnel.

Solidarity members are joining other anti-war activists in supporting independent anti-war candidates. The Green Party is the only party financially and politically independent of the corporations and running candidates committed to bringing the troops home from Iraq now, ending US aid to Israel, and ending the attacks on working people, immigrants, and people of color at home. The 2006 Senate campaigns of Aaron Dixon, a former Black Panther, in Washington, Todd Chretien in California, Rae Vogeler in Wisconsin, Michael Berg in Delaware, Howie Hawkins in New York, and Aimee Allison in Oakland, California are an opportunity to agitate against the war in the upcoming elections.

Katrina Neighbors Tour

The Katrina Neighbors tour launches its Southeast leg October 24-30. The main goal of the tour is to bring attention to the many displaced persons who are scattered around the country and who deserve to be able to return to their homes in the Gulf Coast region.

The tour will kick off in Durham on October 24 with events to view documentaries produced by local activists. On October 25, a community program with speakers and cultural presentations is also planned for Durham. Visits to Greensboro, Charlotte, Columbia, Greenville and Atlanta are planned to include a slide show presentation and participation of Katrina survivors.

**Durham Events**

October 24, 2006
Documentary Screenings

11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
The Know Bookstore
2520 Fayetteville Street | view map

6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
Center for Documentary Studies
1317 W. Pettigrew St.| view map

October 25, 2006
Community Program
6:00 p.m. Stanford L. Warren Library
1201 Fayetteville Street | view map

* Featuring *
Tim Jackson, Spoken Word
Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble
Katrina Neighbors
Kali Akuno, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund
And Much More!

**South Carolina Events**

October 28, 2006
Community Program
7:00 p.m. The Jazz/Poetry Garaj
119-F U.S. Hwy 29, Lyman, SC 29365 | view map

Malcolm X Grassroots Mvmt & The Jazz/Poetry Garaj hosts the Katrina Neighbors Solidarity Tour with a poetry / film fest at the Jazz/Poetry Garaj (119-F U.S. Hwy 29, Lyman, SC 29365, 864-906-7716), Saturday, October 28th, 7:00 p.m. (Door open: 6:30 pm). A number of short documentary films will be screened followed by a panel discussion, poetry and song.

**Atlanta, GA**

October 29, 2006
Presentation and Discussion
5PM Georgia State Student Center – Speaker’s Auditorium
Corner of Courtland Ave. and Gilmer St.
2 blocks north of GSU Marta Station

A discussion of life after the storm featuring displaced hurricane survivors who are now our Katrina Neighbors.
Contact 770-256-1882 (Addis) or 404-291-9686 (Isaac) for more information

For more information: theresaelamin@aol.com or (919) 824-0659
For transportation needs: r.eur@verizon.net or 682-2821, 280-1067.

This is a national project initiated by Solidarity in collaboration with the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF).

The plan is to cover 4 regions beginning with the Southeast, then West (spring 2007), Midwest (fall 2007) and Northeast (spring 2008).


For more information:
Theresa El-Amin
(919) 824-0659