Workers' Voice May 2018 English Edition
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Workers' Voice is the Sympathizer Section of the International Workers' League- Fourth International in the U.S. Facebook:VozdelosTrabajadores | Twitter: @LaVozLITci
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CLASS WARS: A NEW HOPE
Teachers are leading the working class resistance to neoliberalism
Gabriel Campanario, The Seatles Times
SOCIALIST AND ANTIOPPRESSION UNION WORK IN THE AGE OF JANUS: PERSPECTIVES FROM UC STUDENT-WORKERS
History & Theory
WHAT IS IMPERIALISM? A Marxist Understanding
Who We Are La Voz de los Trabajadores / Workers’ Voice is a revolutionary socialist organization that emerged in California in 2008. We are the sympathizing organization of the International Workers League - Fourth International (LIT-CI) in the United States. Rooted in the struggles of the immigrant working class and the fight for militant, democratic trade unions and other workers’ and peoples’ organizations, we fight to build a revolutionary party. That is, a strong, proletarian, multiracial organization that defends the principle of class independence and is capable of giving theoretical and political coordination to the struggles of exploited and oppressed communities. Our ultimate goal is to build a socialist society—one in which productive resources are collectively owned and controlled by the people, not by corporations and a rich ruling elite; where wealth and knowledge are invested in human needs (food, healthcare, housing, education, and culture) and not in creating profits for a handful of exploiters; and where government is controlled democratically and from the bottom up by workers, not by capitalists and a corrupt political class. Building a socialist society means distributing wealth equitably, dismantling all forms of oppression (including but not limited to racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, and ableism), ending wars of plunder and conquest, and protecting the environment. We do not believe these aspirations can be achieved under capitalism, a system rooted in exploitation and inextricably linked to inequality, war, and environmental destruction. Hence we reject capitalist parties like the Democrats and the Republicans, whose political projects openly protect business interests at the expense of workers and actively undermine and oppress our communities.
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We fight for the immediate material needs of workers and oppressed people, which include better wages, benefits, and union rights, as well as for social and democratic reforms that benefit the working class as a whole. But we must go beyond reforms and contract fights. To bring about a truly free and just society, we must mobilize the working class, along with all oppressed and marginalized peoples, to take political power and replace the capitalist order. Therefore our intervention in partial and immediate struggles is not only geared toward winning material gains, but also toward building socialist consciousness and strengthening the power and political organization of our class in an independent and democratic manner. We understand the United States as both an imperialist and colonial power. We defend the right to self-determination for colonized peoples both within this country & internationally, including Native Americans & the people of Puerto Rico. We are deeply proud to join the long tradition of anti-racist struggle in the United States. As W.E.B. Du Bois stated: “The emancipation of [humanity] is the emancipation of labor & the emancipation of labor is the freeing of that basic majority of workers who are yellow, brown, & black.” The struggle for a revolutionary party in the US is inseparable from the struggle for a revolutionary international party. The International Workers League, of which La Voz is a sympathising organization, is grounded in the Morenist tradition—a Trotskyist current born in Latin America. Our origins and experience of struggle in Latin America, far from the centers of world power, frame our understanding of the fight against global imperialism and the recolonization of the Americas. We call for the reconstruction of a democratically-centralized Fourth International as the organ of international proletarian struggle for socialism.
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Theory & History
Class Wars: A New Hope
Syria: Seven Years of Revolution and War
No to U.S. Bombing of Syria! (Statement by Workers Voice)
Rebuilding the Antiwar Movement: Mass Action and Class Independence
We Are Against All U.S. Wars, Congresswoman Lee Is Not
What Is Imperialism? A Marxist Understanding - Part I
The 1934 Strikes: The historic struggles that got us union recognition rights and social welfare programs
Socialist and Anti-Oppression Union Work in the Age of Janus: Perspectives from UC Student Workers
Bay Area Janitors' Struggles: Fair Contract and Union Democratization
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Editorial By Workers' Voice Editorial Committee
As we celebrate another International Workers Day in the United States, we are seeing an unprecedented wave of strikes in the public education sector throughout the country. Sparked by the teachers of West Virginia, who were initially fighting back against increases to healthcare costs, they staged a walkout, which then emboldened them to increase their demands and additionally win a 5% wage increase for all public sector workers in the state. This statewide rebellion, organized from below by the rank and file, with democratic and militant methods, quickly spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Colorado. More recently, the Arizona teachers pulled an impressive strike. Like in West Virginia, Arizona teachers are not just looking out for themselves. They are fighting for the “common good”: adequately-funded, high-quality public services, especially education, and for better compensation to sustain the longevity of all workers’ livelihood. While they are demanding a 20% wage increase by 2020, and yearly teacher raises, they are fighting for higher pay to support staff, and a clear material commitment to increase the quality of public education. This includes restoring school funding to 2008 levels, and preventing any further tax cuts, until the state’s per-pupil funding of $8,141 reaches the national average of $11,454. Their determination to not be fooled again by empty promises of politicians, their audacity in organizing mass strikes in states hostile to unions, and their inclusion of racial and gender justice in their fight is nothing short of inspiring. In this issue of La Voz, we analyze the potential of these strikes, and we also revisit the three general strikes of 1934. Workers and union organizers have much to learn from the past and present political experiences of general strikes. This includes leaders from the student-workers union of the University of California and immigrant janitors fighting for dignified working conditions and a democratic union (two fronts in which our party is actively intervening). In all of these cases, the question of political leadership and an independent way forward for our class has been posed. It will be up to us, the socialists and revolutionaries embedded in our struggles, to form alliances between all these activists and leaders, and build a political base in our class, so we can strengthen our solidarity and progress to the next level. We envision national, coordinated days of action that bring together the different sectors in the Movement: educators, immigrant rights, service workers, anti-police brutality activists, and all those committed to do what it takes to bring about a just and egalitarian society. While struggles are brewing at home, the U.S government has renewed its imperialist aggression abroad by once again bombing Syria. We actively participated in the Spring Action coordinated demonstrations on April 15th, “Against the Wars at Home and Abroad”. Workers in the U.S. cannot fight for our needs and liberate each other without openly confronting the Trump administration. Most of our federal tax revenues are spent on funding increasingly corporatized war, militarism, mass incarceration, deportation patrols, and detentions centers. Instead, this money should go to public infrastructure including clean energy and transportation, public services like single-payer healthcare and safe housing, and secure, well-compensated employment. Workers and oppressed communities in the U.S. need to stand in solidarity with all the peoples who are targeted by imperialism. It is the same government that leads the wars domestically and abroad. We must actively fight U.S. policy through mass action and the unification of our struggles with an internationalist perspective.
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Class Wars: A New Hope By Workers' Voice East Bay
Bipartisan Neoliberalism: Decades of Attacks by the Ruling Class The last several decades in the US mark a bipartisan era of neoliberalism, in which austerity measures have eroded public institutions, lowered wages, and swelled income and wealth inequality to historic levels. This convergence of forces intensified with the Great Recession that began in 2008, and it paved the road to Trumpism. The GOP and a network of lobbyists and think tanks funded by billionaires have been waging class war against workers and social services using a litany of attacks, such as privatization reforms, anti-union legislation and media propaganda, politically motivated lawsuits, criminalization of dissent, regressive taxation, and draconian budget cuts. The right wing organization, State Policy Network (SPN), has raised close to $80 million for a campaign to “defund and defang” unions, and the Koch brothers are contributing $400 million for the 2018 midterm elections to make sure they fulfil their reactionary political vision1. The Democratic Party, despite its rhetoric of being the progressive choice, has been largely unwilling and unable to provide an adequate defense against these attacks and has collaborated in advancing the neoliberal project over the past several decades. Public education has been facing great opposition from the political establishment of both parties since the Bush era’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top. Both of these initiatives tied federal school funding to student performance on standardized tests, and in some
states teachers were systematically rewarded or punished based on standardized tests scores. If a school did not meet set standards, which were raised annually, it was cut off from funding, and teachers and administrators were replaced. This penalization of public schools directly fed into the process of charter school takeover. Both Democratic and Republican politicians signed off on this legislation, which erroneously labeled underfunded schools in underserved communities as "failing," closed these schools, and then funnelled taxpayer funds to corporate charter schools in their place. Due to this structural dysfunction, more people are increasingly questioning and becoming critical of the disastrous neoliberal project and capitalist system at large. Private Charter Takeover With “school choice” advocate Betsy Devos as the new face of the Department of Education, the aim to definitively privatize education has become official White House policy. Charter schools earn profits (or demonstrate “efficiency”) through reducing teacher compensation, by far their highest expenditure, and one way they do this is by hiring young, inexperienced teachers. To make up for the inexperience of their teachers, charter schools often implement scripted, traditional curriculum, and enforce strict student rules and codes of conduct with punitive discipline systems. They further compensate for the inexperience of their teachers by significantly increasing the number and length of school days as compared to public schools, exploiting the teachers as much as possible. The resulting combination of frustration, from lack of Workers' Voice | 5
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experience along with overly regimented and demanding working conditions, leads to a high rate of teacher burnout and turnover, both of which negatively impact teaching and learning. At the same time that charters were increasing in popularity and numbers, high-stakes standardized test results became the primary metric for education accountability, with disastrous consequences for the quality of education. “Teaching to the test” has rendered obsolete the traditional goals of education: preparing students to actively participate in a democratic society, let alone become critical thinkers capable of challenging and progressing beyond the status quo. Charter schools have often parlayed higher test scores to a considerable advantage over local public schools. Most state laws require charters to use lotteries in admitting students, but charter schools often create biased lottery systems that target student populations they want, while discouraging students who pose greater educational challenges, including English-language learners, students with special needs/disabilities, and the poor/disadvantaged. Many parents contribute to this phenomenon by using their privileged cultural capital to seek out charter alternatives for their children. Charter schools have often parlayed higher test scores to a considerable advantage over local public schools.
lion members respectively), are educator unions, and public education is the one major sector of the US economy that still has significant union density. If teachers’ unions are successfully gutted, a hard blow would be struck to the labor movement as a whole. There’s an interactive relationship between the school privatization movement and anti-teacher union hostility. Teachers unions are the most powerful and politically effective organizations fighting for public education, and consequently they stand in the way of the attempt to privatize public schools. A telling example of the charter school movement’s commitment to fighting teacher unionization can be seen within the largest and most powerful charter network, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), at its AMP school in Brooklyn. When teachers at AMP formed a union, the school’s leadership refused to engage in meaningful negotiations and hired a union-busting law firm, which ran an anti-union campaign consisting of firings, captive audience meetings featuring scare tactics against unionization, and intimidation of union members. This resulted in many of the teachers quitting at the end of the school year, and prospective new teachers were informed that KIPP was a non-union school and they needed to be anti-union to work there.
“Teaching to the test” has rendered obsolete the traditional goals of education: preparing students to actively participate in a democratic society, let alone become critical thinkers capable of challenging and progressing beyond the status quo. Most state laws require charters to use lotteries in admitting students, but charter schools often create biased lottery systems that target student populations they want, while discouraging students who pose greater educational challenges, including English-language learners, students with special needs/disabilities, and the poor/disadvantaged. Many parents contribute to this phenomenon by using their privileged cultural capital to seek out charter alternatives for their children. In addition, when charter schools make stringent demands on students, resulting in higher rates of suspensions and expulsions, they effectively remove the most behaviorally troublesome and academically challenged students. Otherwise, parents remove their children from these schools because of the heavy burdens that come with these disciplinary practices. Given all of these factors, it is clear to supporters of public education that public schools are being set up to fail and be replaced by privately owned charters. Union Busting 101 Another major aim of the reactionary ruling class, which works in symbiosis with the school privatization movement, is to break one of the last strongholds of organized labor in the US: education unions, k-12 school workers in particular. Two of the largest and most politically effective organized national unions, NEA and AFT (2.9 and 1.5 mil Workers' Voice | 6
A year after the formation of the union, only a handful of the teachers who had organized the union still remained at the school, and management engineered a decertification vote. Anti-labor Laws Right wing governments have recently passed draconian laws adversely affecting public employees, of which the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill of 2011 (Act 10) is a prime example. This Bill greatly reduced the right for public sector workers to collectively bargain, increased their personal pension and health care contributions, added a requirement for unions to annually gather a majority vote of members in the bargaining unit in order to remain a recognized union, and capped wage increases at inflation rates. The bill even allowed the Governor to fire workers striking or engaging in other union actions by calling a state of emergency. The initial response to these attacks on the working class was a powerful uprising. Around 100,000 workers and students rebelled by holding massive demonstrations in the streets and across college campuses, and ultimately they occupied the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison for several days. Instead of continuing this militant strategy of mass actions, occupations, and strikes to bring in broader sectors of the working class, Democratic party leaders and business unionists pushed a failed electoral strategy
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to recall Governor Walker. They moved away from the terrain of working-class struggle to the realm of the bourgeoisie. Instead of pushing for more mobilizations, occupations, and work stoppages leading up to a general strike, they moved towards the “controlled” arena of electoral politics. This resulted in a decrease in mobilizations, and a ‘get out the vote’ strategy to recall Walker, in which the efforts of working people were pit against virtually limitless money from the Koch brothers. Walker remained in power as the recall vote failed. It is important to understand the impacts of this twofold betrayal of the Wisconsin working class by the Democratic Party and the GOP legislators. Following the anti-union legislation and failed Democratic attempt to recall Walker, the next few years brought a reduction in union membership numbers among public sector workers by nearly 40% in the formerly strong union state. Working conditions and wages deteriorated in Wisconsin, workplace injuries have increased, and now there are on average less-experienced public school teachers in the classrooms along with a higher turnover rate, all of which devistates students and families. The latest attack on labor unions comes in the form of the Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court case, in which the majority of conservative judges will undoubtedly rule to make all public employee unions subject to so-called ‘right to work’ restrictions. Unions will need to increasingly motivate members to become and remain dues paying members or risk financial ruin and loss of political influence, primarily as the labor lobby of the Democratic Party. Many current unions are characterized by a top-down bureaucratic leadership structure and culture that disempowers and immobilizes the ranks. This will need to change if unions are to recover any capacity to use mass power to fight for and achieve meaningful transformation of the systems of widespread injustice and oppression. Anti-union Propaganda & the Attack on Public Education The labor movement has also suffered from the effects of conservative think tanks and GOP politicians successfully shifting the public’s opinions of unions by spreading false narratives about organized labor, which mainstream media outlets amplify. The right has mastered the populist language that was once (and is now just becoming again) labor’s domain. One such false narrative is that public sector workers earn more on average than their private sector counterparts and the oft-accompanied framing of workers being greedy to ask for higher compensation. Republicans pit workers against each other by promoting this view along with the scapegoating lie that collectively bargained contracts are major contributors to the growing budget deficits of the states. Actually, public and private sector workers with similar degrees of education and experience have wage parity and the general perception that their contracts are the driving force behind government deficits is incorrect. In fact, there is no direct correlation between states with unionized public workers and those
facing budget deficits. Given the “Great Recession” and weak economic recovery, government workers are continually under attack and opinion polls show declined support for public sector unions particularly. Government workers now make up a majority of US union members and have largely lost the labor solidarity between private and public sectors. Adding to this, the taxpayers shoulder an increasing share of the cost of public sector workers’ salaries and benefits, and more burden is falling on the working class as tax rates on upper income earners have dropped to half of what they were in the mid-1970s. Another side effect of this ruthless capitalist system is that most “middle class” career options necessitate higher education degrees. As the cost of even “public” higher education increases, resentment at the “rigged” system intensifies, and is manipulatively directed by the ruling class toward unions. Teachers unions in particular are often blamed by the public for impeding individualistic advancement in the rigged economy, because they allegedly protect “bad teachers” when student performance test scores do not improve. In fact, the AFT and the NEA, in unity with the Democratic Party, until recently provided little to no protection for experienced educators, and actually advocated for damaging “education reform”. Teachers Lead the Class and Strike Back Unionists must think carefully about how to organize and build power in their schools, worksites, and neighborhoods for long-term gains. It is necessary for workers to educate, agitate, and organize ourselves, each other, and our communities, and unions can be a crucial tool in stemming attacks by the ruling class. The way forward is to engage in the daily work of connecting with every worker through one-on-one organizing conversations. Further, schools and communities need to move those who are already organized to become activists and leaders. We also need to develop strategies that allow us to not only connect neighborhood and community struggles with union struggles, but also to advance a vision of collective, mass actions to fight back against the many attacks we are facing.
The way forward is to engage in the daily work of connecting with every worker through one-on-one organizing conversations. Further, schools and communities need to move those who are already organized to become activists and leaders. With the Occupy movement’s slogan of “the 99%” and more recently Bernie Sanders’ much-hyped ascension, socialism has been put in the spotlight for the first time in decades. Union popularity among millennials has been on the rise to the point that a super-majority of this demographic supports unions and identifies as working-class, pointing to an increase in class consciousness and potential openness to a revolutionary vision. As young people Workers' Voice | 7
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take more leadership roles in union locals, they bring with them new and unconventional organizing tactics, primarily social media. They are propelled by a new current of left-populism that is informed by the changing sentiment in Republican states, a shift from anti-government dogma to a recognition of need for the government to provide or protect a living wage, health care, and a comfortable retirement. Schools are emerging as a central place to organize against corrupt, consolidated wealth and power, and for a progressive, even socialist realignment. In Chicago in 2010, teachers and community activists, driven by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), initiated an exemplary fight back against impacts of neoliberalism, their struggle culminating in the famous Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike of 2012. Schools are the last public institutions that local communities are connected to on a deep level. They are the place where families trust the staff to take care of their children for most of their waking hours, and where they often participate directly in the socially reproductive labor of education by attending meetings and volunteering their time. School employees are one of the few remaining organized sectors of the workforce and school districts are often the largest employers within a local community, as our economic base has shifted from industrial to service and education sectors.
child care, and fully funded schools. In the states most affected by austerity budgets favoring corporate interests over public needs, weakening of labor laws, and the general devaluing of public education, teachers and other public employees are discovering how to fight back for their families’ material well being and in defence of their profession. The recent teacher-led strike of public employees in West Virginia has brought about a revitalization of labor militancy that has sparked workers movements in other states, most notably Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and more recently Colorado. These direct actions have been organized mostly by women in the ranks and leadership, often with their own students or children on the picket line with them, outside the official unions, using social media and traditional organizing techniques of having conversations between teachers, staff, and activist parents and students. In solidarity, people in other states and school districts are becoming emboldened, forming new alliances, and raising class consciousness in the workplace and across the country.
Teachers and support staff can and do provide political and civic education to the next generation of progressives and radicals. Together with students, families, and local-led social justice community groups, schools are integral to most major contemporary activist fronts (labor rights, stopping gun violence, immigration rights, anti-racism). Increasingly, students have been at the forefront of these protests, walkouts, and collective actions. As the youth fiercely challenge the government and provide revolutionary hope, the rebellion stands to grow organically and exponentially. The following words from the 1969 “Strategy for Revolutionary Youth2,” are all the more relevant today:
Insurgent students in a number of countries have already shown how their initiative in confronting the established powers can serve to stimulate struggle in other sectors of society. The young workers will be in the forefront of the movements to break the grip of the bureaucratic machines in the unions and will set an example for the older generation in their militancy and interest in revolutionary politics. Education workers and students make perfect allies as both can authentically espouse the slogan, “working conditions are students’ learning conditions.” By uniting their struggles, workers and students along with parents can win the demands for academic freedom, stable working conditions, pay equity, access to high-quality health care, Workers' Voice | 8
Now is the Time to Build a Mass Movement The function of schools once shifted from that of learning factories, reproducing compliant, obedient industrial workers, to today’s institutions reinforcing systems of meritocracy and an accompanying self-centered pursuit of career and material success. Today the function of schools must shift again, to a project of preparing students for the world we want to collectively manifest, a world that will
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increasingly value fairness, equality, harmony, community, cooperation, and dignity - a world in which socialism has replaced capitalism. The traits of generosity, empathy, and attentiveness should be a prerequisite for educators, and these skills should be explicitly taught to students. School and community leaders have a shared responsibility to see that students, families, all staff, local community, society at large, and the environment thrive. It is imperative that schools offer more complex perspectives, in contexts safe enough to explore inner and outer conflicts, so that students are more likely to make the leap of consciousness required to become leaders in transforming our culture from one guided by fear and scarcity to one anchored in trust and abundance. To sustain the intense level of struggle required for revolution, our communities need to fend off attacks by the ruling class and further strengthen and unite the working class. We must construct a national and international mass movement of connected struggles building towards a socialist society. There are some promising signs that this ambitious task is achievable: more and more workers are relearning that the strike, especially with solidarity across multiple sectors, is a greatly effective tactic to bring about needed material gains and dignity. Overall, union membership and power are growing in locals that have embraced a model of social movement unionism - that is, a model based on rank-and-file organizing, which relies on the strength of the workers themselves and a vision that broadens the scope of workers’ own demands, allowing the union to connect with other social movements3. Business unions are losing their legitimacy in the face of class struggle, which can lead to the growth of more independent leadership among our class, as we’re seeing in Chicago, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and other communities.
The Democratic Party must sink or swim, and while their party treads water, we, as Socialists, have an opportunity. We can help raise the consciousness of educators and other workers inside and outside the unions by first taking the time to understand the particular joys and hardships in each other’s jobs, and beginning to create and strengthen solidarity networks that connect the struggles of workers, families, and communities, while also giving them confidence to take collective action. We must strive to lead the working class in building a party that fights back and aspires to wrest control from the plutocrats in order to create a society that works for the common good. It is our immediate goal to democratize and create and sustain practical systems of accountability in unions, schools, districts, and community organizations from the bottom up. These structures are to serve as models for how we envision the organization of society at large. We want and need to sustain an all-inclusive and fulfilling life with economic security for generations to come. Educators and parents, along with students and children, are naturally at the forefront of this struggle. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/ae_ spring2018_union.pdf and https://www.congress.gov/ crec/2018/04/24/CREC-2018-04-24-pt1-PgS2372-4.pdf 1
Published in the 1973 English edition of Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution. 2
See Lois Weiner’s The Future of Our Schools (2012) for more on social movement unionism. 3
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Syria: Seven Years of Revolution and War By Fabio Orosco
On March 18, 2011, a group of young people wrote the phrase “the people want the end of the regime” on the walls of their school in the city of Deraa, in the south of Syria . They were arrested, tortured and murdered by dictator Bashar al-Assad’s police. This was a trigger for millions of Syrians to take to the streets of the country and begin their revolutionary struggle. Here we offer a timeline of key events leading to the current crisis in Syria. The revolution struggled for the end of the Assad dictatorship, in power since 1970. It also stood against unemployment and for better living conditions. The population organized itself in hundreds of Local Coordination Committees that were formed across the country. After six months of brutal repression against peaceful demonstrations, the population began its self-defense. Joined by thousands of deserting soldiers and volunteers, popular armed militias were formed throughout the country to overthrow the regime. They were called rebels, under the name of Workers' Voice | 10
Free Syrian Army (FSA). In 2013, the rebels advanced across the country. In order to prevent the fall of the dictator, militias linked to the Lebanese party Hezbollah abandoned the fight against the State of Israel and invaded Syria. The Iraqi group self-denominated “Islamic State” (Daesh in Arabic) also invaded the country to fight the rebels and Kurdish militias. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey intervened in the revolution to divert its course from a democratic revolution into a struggle of religious ideology that, in practice, divides the Syrian people and is instrumental to keep Assad in power. Millions of Syrians were forced to flee their homes. The refugee crisis has international repercussions. In 2015, the Russians invaded the country to save the dictator. Russian fighter planes, along with Syrian aviation, bombed the “rebel” areas day and night under the excuse of fighting terrorism. Villages and towns were devastated.
Half a million Syrians have been killed since the beginning of the revolution. Most were killed by Syrian and Russian air power. In the meantime, the U.S. government made an agreement with the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), which headed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The United States armed them on the grounds of “war on terror.” Its real purpose was to control Syria’s oil and electricity production. In 2018, the Assad dictatorship remains in power thanks to the invasion of the country by several foreign military forces: Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah, the Iraqi group “Islamic State” (Daesh) – and attacks by Israeli air forces. Outside Syria, international and regional powerhouses of the ruling class prefer the maintenance of the dictator. Most left-wing organizations outside of Syria support the dictator or remain neutral, preventing the emergence of a great movement of international solidarity with the revolution.
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Yet, most of the population remains in opposition to the dictator, and the rebels dominate 11% of Syrian territory. The Syrian revolution is, so far, the most powerful and potentially liberating revolution of the 21st century. Down with Bashar! All Foreign Military Forces OUT: For a government of Syrian workers based on local coordination committees and rebel militias The working people of Syria struggle on multiple fronts, including the dictator and all foreign military forces that have invaded the country. In order to drive out these foreign forces
and overthrow the dictatorship, Syrian rebels need to form a new National Coordinating Committee that unifies local committees and rebel militias. This Committee must be independent of regional and global powers to represent only the interests of the Syrian working-class workers. In addition, the Committee has to build an alliance with the Kurdish population. Kurds hate the Assad dictatorship and fight for their right of self-determination. However, the PYD made the mistake of allying with the dictator and the United States. Neither the U.S. government nor the Assad regime defend the right of self-determination.
Who is who in Syrian territory?
Who is who in the struggle over Syria Assad Dictatorship and Allies
Syrian Democratic Forces
Militias linked to the Kurdish/Syrian PYD Party and supported by the U.S.
Islamic State Rebels
Free Syrian Army and Islamic Militias
The Committee has to make the commitment of guaranteeing the right of self-determination and bring the Kurds to the side of the revolution. Rebels should also ally with Palestinians working-class struggles for liberation. They have to commit themselves to resume the struggle against the Israeli occupation in the Golan Heights, abandoned by the Assad dictatorship. The International Workers’ League (IWLFI) supports the Syrian revolution and joins the international solidarity with it.
Eastern Ghouta: 400,000 Syrian rebels have been besieged by the dictator since 2013. Russian and Syrian aviation bombard day and night. More than 100 civilians died only on February 9. The aim of the dictator is to expel the entire population to the north and occupy the area with new inhabitants (Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian.) This process of demographic change by force is called “Ethnic Cleansing” and is condemned by international law. Idlib: A rebel province in the north of the country, also under intense attack by the dictator’s forces. Idlib, Ghouta, Deraa and rural areas of Aleppo, Hama and Homs are controlled by the “rebels”. It accounts for 11% of Syrian territory. Afrin: Part of Rojava. It was invaded by Turkey on January 19. Turkish President Erdogan has announced that, after taking Afrin, he will invade Manbij – also under the control of the Kurdish Syrians. It is possible that the Kurdish-Syrian population will be expelled to the eastern side of the Euphrates River in a new process of “Ethnic Cleansing”.
- Assad dictatorship and allies (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah): 55% - Rebels (Free Syrian Army and Islamic militias): 11% - Syrian Democratic Forces (militias linked to the Kurdish/Syrian PYD party and supported by the United States): 27% - Iraqi group “Islamic State” (Daesh): 6%
Kurds: Are an oppressed nationality within Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. In Syria, they are the majority of the population in Rojava – northern areas composed by Afrin, Kobani (Ayn al-Arabi) and Hasaka (that has a strong agricultural production.) The main Kurdish-Syrian party is the PYD. This party represses the dissidents and leads the Democratic Forces of Syria with the support of the United States. The PYD also controls vast areas where Kurds are a minority, such as the city of Manbij and the Euphrates River Valley. This area is rich in oil and has the Tabqa hydroelectric dam, responsible for the production of 50% of all electric energy in the country. Hence the American interest. War for oil: American air force razed a group of 550 Russian mercenary soldiers who wanted to take an oil field on February 7. Daesh: the Iraqi group “Islamic State” (Daesh) controls rural areas in the desert near the Iraqi border under the complicity of the Syrian dictator and the United States. The United States allowed the leaders of the “Islamic State” (Daesh) along with their families, soldiers and arms to safely withdraw from Raqqa in October 2017. Deraa: It is the city where the revolution began. It borders with Jordan. Most of the city is under control of the Free Syrian Army rebels. Palestinians: Syrian dictatorship has always been an enemy of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat. Dictator Assad sponsored the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon during the Civil War (1975-1990). In Syria, the dictator bombed Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp, to expel them. Golan Heights: Syrian territory occupied by the State of Israel in 1967. The State of Israel supports the permanence of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. But it does not want the dictator to have military strength, which is instrumental to help the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. Therefore, it has been bombing warehouses and military convoys on Syrian territory for years with impunity. On February 10, the Syrian regime shot down an Israeli aircraft that bombed the country. It was the first time this happened. Workers' Voice | 11
No to U.S. Bombing of Syria!
Statement by Workers’ Voice
After the brutal chemical attack carried out by Bashar al-Assad in Douma, Donald Trump made a series of belligerent statements in the name of humanitarianism. He has since gained support from his imperialist allies, and on April 13th ordered an attack on Syria. U.S. military forces launched 100 missiles to hit three targets, one in the greater Damascus area, and two near Homs. Both Workers’ Voice and the International Workers League oppose any kind of military intervention by imperialist forces in Syria. While we support the independent rebels who fight for democracy and to oust Assad, we believe in the right of self-determination for the Syrian people. It must be the Syrians and their allies who throw Assad out of power, and not foreign governments backed by multinational corporations. We have always denounced Russian and Iranian interference in support of Assad, as well as the multiple rounds of U.S. bombings and occupying troops. U.S. Intervention in Syria is Not About “Chemical Weapons” The United States government and its imperialist allies began their military intervention in Syria in 2014, attempting to derail and co-opt the democratic uprising by deploying “trained security forces” on the ground. They gained control of key areas of the country under the banner of fighting for “democracy” and against “terrorism” and “radical Islamism”. The U.S. cynically claims it wants to help the Syrian people oust Assad - who has been a very close ally of U.S. imperialism in the past. But what it actually seeks is to have a say in the new government Syrians should have when, or if, they manage to depose the dictator. The U.S. currently has three military bases and approximately 5,000 troops stationed in Syria. The coalition claims to have carried out a total of 29,070 attacks between August 2014 and January 2018. It has also admitted to killing between6,137 and 9,444 people through mid-February (plus 5,000 not in the official count). U.S. airstrikes have by and large targeted civilians and the socalled Islamic State, not the Syrian regime. This recent strike is not much different, as it did not change the status quo or the balance of forces on the ground. U.S. Military Intervention in Syria is Unjustified We want to be very clear: the fact that Assad is a bloody dictator who uses chemical weapons and barrel bombs against his own civilian population, and systematically tortures and murders the political Workers' Voice | 12
Source: Workers Solidarity Movement
opposition, does not justify any kind of foreign intervention by imperialist governments that have repeatedly failed to live up to their professed values of democracy, peace and human rights. Neither the United States, nor France or the UK, can act as the police of the world. Their own war crimes and torture records negate any moral authority. After gassing American Indian protestors and their allies at Standing Rock, and allowing water in Flint and other places to be poisoned, aside for supporting among others the murderous Saudi and Israeli regimes, we do not think the U.S. government has any lessons to give in terms of “human rights” or “democracy”. Their claim of having the right to dictate other countries’ national affairs in the name of democracy is politically and morally unsustainable. The American political elite are up in arms about “Russia’s interference” in the US election, and therefore have no right to interfere in who rules Syria or any other country. In Support of the Syrian People, We Oppose War The Syrian people were right to rise up against Assad and his IMF-backed neoliberal policies in 2011, and they deserve our support. However, U.S. interference in Syrian political life, and even worse military aggression against the Syrian people, will only weaken the fight for self-determination led by the independent Syrian rebel forces. We must vigorously oppose any further interference by U.S. and other foreign nations, and demand the immediate end of military aggression and the return of all the troops and CIA operatives from the region. Bring all U.S. Troops and CIA Operatives Home Now! All Russian and Iranian Troops and Operatives Out of Syria Now! We Defend the Right of Self-Determination for the Syrian People! We Defend and Support the Right of theSyrian People to Overthrow the Murderous Assad Regime!
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Rebuilding the Antiwar Movement: Mass Action and Class Independence
By Orlando Torres
"Spring Action 2018", Oakland, California, April 15, 2018
The master class has always declared the war; the subject class has always fought the battles […] ‘Yours not to ask the question why; Yours but to do and die.’ That is their motto, and we object on the part of the awakened workers. Eugene Debs, 1918 As we mark the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Trump regime spends millions launching a new round of missiles against Syria, a resurgence of the antiwar movement is as urgent as ever. The stakes could hardly be higher: the United States maintains over 800 military bases around the world; ongoing U.S. intervention in Syria risks direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, which would escalate the already-catastrophic war into a conflict of global proportions; U.S. military aid to Israel ($38 billion over ten years) continues to enable the murder of Palestinians and the ongoing occupation of their land; U.S. drones continue to blow up civilians in Yemen, Somalia and other countries; and, despite the dubious
prospect of direct talks between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the threat of nuclear war with North Korea is far from over. But since the first election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the withdrawal of most (though by no means all) U.S. troops from Iraq, the dynamic antiwar movement of the 2000s more or less collapsed—effectively reduced to a small cluster of organizations and coalitions without a mass base. As anti-imperialist socialists, how can we mobilize working people for mass action and build a resilient antiwar movement in the Trump era? In this piece, we look back at the history of antiwar struggle in the U.S. and argue that, to rebuild the movement in the. Workers' Voice | 13
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current sociopolitical context, we must employ the United Front tactic, maintain complete independence from capitalist war parties, and actively weave anti-imperialist demands into vibrant local movements centered around immigrant rights, better working conditions, healthcare, education, housing, resisting police violence, etc. This was the strategy that Workers’ Voice and many other organizations pursued in building the April 15th Spring Action 2018 rally in Oakland, with its call to “end US wars at home and abroad”. On the Shoulders of Giants: The proud tradition of anti-imperialist struggle in the U.S. Any serious attempt at rebuilding the antiwar movement must start by learning from and honoring the rich, anti-imperialist legacy of workers and oppressed people in this country. From the time of the Mexican-American war (1846-48)—when U.S. troops invaded Mexico City and imposed the territorial annexation of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado— there has been a current of principled opposition to U.S. wars of conquest and plunder. Indeed, during the invasion of Mexico, the abolitionist movement and press took a firm stance against the war and many prominent thinkers and political leaders of the time spoke out against the stealing of more than half of Mexico’s territory. Among them was the celebrated abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, who condemned the imperialist land-grab as a “murderous war against […] the interests of workingmen of this country—and as a means of extending that great evil [...], Negro slavery”.1 And it was in opposition to this war (as well as to slavery) that abolitionist philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience”. Six decades later, socialists were at the forefront of popular resistance to World War I (1914-18). After a wave of unionization and strikes swept the country around the turn of the century (there were 37,000 strikes between 1881 and 1905)3, large layers of U.S. workers became more class conscious and militant. This was evidenced in the formation in 1905 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)—a socialist-led union federation that emerged as a radical alternative to the conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL). Following a decade of rapid membership growth, the 1916 IWW convention passed a resolution through which members declared themselves “determined opponents of all nationalistic sectionalism, or patriotism, and the militarism preached and supported by our one enemy, the capitalist class.” The resolution condemned “all wars” and called for “anti-militaristic propaganda in time of peace, thus promoting class solidarity among the workers of the entire world, and, in time of war, the general strike, in all industries.”4 Hence thousands of workers resisted conscription and thousands of anti-war activists (Leftists, liberals, and pacifists) were prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 (still in effect) and the Sedition Act of 1918—draconian laws designed to silence dissent and repress resistance to U.S. militarism. One of the most famous victims of the Sedition Act was Workers' Voice | 14
legendary socialist and IWW founder, Eugene Debs, who was imprisoned and disenfranchised for life after giving a speech against WWI in Canton, Ohio. As part of the remarks that prompted his imprisonment, debs said:
“The master class has always declared the war; the subject class has always fought the battles… They have always taught you that it is your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at a command…the working class who fight the battles, the working class who make the sacrifices, the working class who shed the blood, the working class who furnish the corpses, the working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war… ‘Yours not to ask the question why; Yours but to do and die.’ That is their motto, and we object on the part of the awakened workers.”2
Despite tremendous political repression, there were smaller but courageous mobilizations against World War II and the Korean War (including explicit opposition to both conflicts by the Socialist Workers’ Party). But the largest and most successful antiwar movement in American history emerged in opposition to U.S. intervention in Vietnam (1964-73). It is worth recounting that, after supporting French colonialism in South East Asia for decades, the United States government militarily intervened to prevent the overthrow of a corrupt capitalist government in South Vietnam by the Viet Cong (aka National Liberation Front), in the context of the Cold War. The U.S. invaded Vietnam with over 500,000 troops and carried out an unprecedented campaign of aerial bombardments (including the use of Agent Orange), killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians. In response to these atrocities, and to the morally indefensible justifications for imperialist intervention, a movement of resistance began to develop. Given the insurgent political context of the 1960s, the struggle against the war became a sort of movement of movements in which key sectors of the socialist, civil rights, third world liberation, student, black power, and women’s struggle began coalescing and reinforcing each other. Once again, socialists were at the forefront of the antiwar effort, with the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) playing a leading role in the coalitions organizing many of the largest mobilizations. As U.S. involvement escalated and the number of Americans conscripted and killed climbed dramatically (58,000 died in total), the movement exploded with a wave of mass demonstrations culminating in the national student strike of 1970 and a series of high-profile protests by antiwar veterans. In the end, the fierce resistance of the Viet Cong, and the unprecedented scale and militancy of the antiwar movement forced the Nixon administration to withdraw all U.S. troops in 1973.
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To rebuild the antiwar movement, it is essential to understand why the struggle against the Vietnam war was ultimately successful. Given the absence of a mass socialist party and the lack of leadership of the trade union bureaucracy, coalitions became the main vehicle for antiwar organizing. This entailed the use of a united front tactic, as these coalitions brought together organizations and individuals from a wide range of political currents around the goal of building mass actions against the war. Despite their politically heterogenous character, coalitions enabled the channeling of mass antiwar sentiment into demonstrations that were undeniably anti-imperialist. Yet to sustain the wave of mass protests, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and other principled anti-imperialists had to wage a constant battle to maintain the movement’s axis of mass action and resist the pressures of both reformist and ultra-Left tendencies. The reformist and liberal currents sought to put the movement at the service of “pressure politics” within the Democratic Party—most notably during the 1968 elections, when Joseph McCarthy’s failed primary campaign diverted many antiwar activists from the central task of organizing mass actions. On the other hand, a smaller ultra-left tendency grew frustrated with the continuation of the war and pushed for small-scale, overly confrontational tactics that tended to alienate the masses while providing the ruling class with an excuse for increased repression and media stigmatization. As the SWP wrote in a resolution from its 1969 convention, “the most pernicious feature of the line of small confrontations is its substitution of super-militant tactics and their effects on a few participants for a political line aimed at bringing masses into action.”5 But the SWP and its allies insisted tirelessly on two fundamental principles: 1) the demand of immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam as the only principled way of supporting Vietnamese self-determination (this countered liberal and reformist calls negotiations between the U.S. and the VietCong, framed as a more “realistic” demand); and 2) A mass action orientation focused on building mass demonstrations, as opposed to supporting “anti-war” candidates from the Democratic Party or staging small-scale, hyper-militant actions. It was this strategy that put the working class into motion and enabled the movement to sustain the type of massive, politically-independent demonstrations that turned the public against the war and forced the end of U.S. occupation. After their humiliating defeat in Vietnam, it took several decades for the U.S. to embark on another major invasion of a sovereign country. But in the early 2000s, as part of the so-called war on terror, the U.S. escalated its decades-long military intervention in the Middle East by invading and occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq. This once again sparked widespread opposition and a resurgence of a mass antiwar movement. On February 15, 2003, on the eve of the US assault on Baghdad, millions of people marched across the world (including over 100,000 in New York City) in what is considered the largest antiwar action in world history. Antiwar coalitions were once again the main vehicle for mobilization, with ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice being by far the largest ones.
From 2003 to 2007, the antiwar movement continued to stage massive demonstrations and played a key role in turning a majority of the U.S. public against the occupation of Iraq. The protests were aided by the heroism of veterans and members of the military who spoke out and mobilized against the war—most notably Chelsea Manning, who spent years in prison for leaking classified documents proving U.S. war crimes. Ultimately, however, the movement failed to end U.S. wars in the middle east (despite a significant reduction in the number of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) and more or less collapsed after 2008. What Happened to the Antiwar Movement of the 2000s? Social movements are complex social phenomena and their growth and decline is explained by multiple, dynamic factors. With the goal of drawing the right lessons from the experiences of the 2000s, we focus on two factors that we consider central to the collapse of the movement and that have major strategic and political implications. The first is dependence on the political apparatus and machinery of NGOs and the Democratic Party. After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, many of the antiwar coalitions and organizations (primarily non-profits) with deep ties to the Democratic Party and the system of foundation grants, essentially stopped organizing around antiwar issues. This was the case with Unite for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), Moveon.org, and other large, liberal operations that either assumed a Democratic administration would end the wars, or were simply unwilling to mobilize against a liberal president. More importantly, dependence on these institutions often meant containing the platform and politics of the movement within limits considered acceptable to (or that wouldn’t alienate) politicians and funders of the Democratic Party and the non-profit complex, thus limiting the transformational and consciousness-raising potential of a mass, anti-imperialist movement. This was most evident in the frequent splits and controversies over the inclusion of Palestinian liberation in demonstrations’ platforms. Without a clear axis of political independence, it is much more likely for the power and energy of antiwar organizing—most often built by socialists and other radicals—to be channeled into campaigns to elect (and validate) representatives of a party that is directly responsible for U.S. militarism and war crimes. This is, of course, exactly what happened. As an often-cited study by scholars at the University of Michigan and Indiana University demonstrated, many protesters who self-identified as Democrats simply withdrew from the movement as the their party took over congress and the white house in 2006 and 2008, respectively.6 This unfortunate development stands in contrast to the movement against the Vietnam war, where mass demonstrations were sustained under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Second, the evolving technologies and dynamics of war have enabled the U.S state to rely primarily on drones, airstrikes, and an army of professional soldiers from primarily black and brown, working class communities. Workers' Voice | 15
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Hence, the U.S. can carry out most of its current imperialist ventures—including major interventions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia—without imposing a draft or sacrificing large numbers of its own citizens, which in turn allows the corporate media to uncritically push the government’s narrative or simply ignore much of what happens. This became a major challenge for the antiwar movement of the 2000s. As the majority of troops were withdrawn from Iraq and the rate of American soldiers killed dropped, so did the media coverage and the strength of antiwar mobilizations. The Way Forward: Articulating Movements while Maintaining Class Independence The struggle against imperialism in all its forms is at the heart of any socialist project that deserves the name. It is our moral and political duty to rebuild a resilient movement against all imperialist wars. To that end, we call for using the United Front tactic—building broad coalitions of working class and popular organizations (labor unions, workers, students, immigrants, people of color, religious minorities, women, queer and trans people) to mobilize for mass action, while maintaining complete political in-
We must differentiate and have a different tactic in relation to the leadership and organized Democratic Party with its staffers and politicians on the one hand (pro-bourgeois or directly corporate agents) and working and middle class elements (the electoral base) on the other. dependence from the Democratic and Republican parties. Some currents argue that demanding independence from the two capitalist war parties will alienate their electoral base and condemn antiwar organizing to irrelevant marginality. But we must learn from the mistakes of the 2000s. To declare a United Front to be a space that is independent of the parties of war and corporations— that is to say that we will organize and define our own politics, tactics and methods independently of these two parties and that we will not feature representatives of these parties— does not entail a framing that excludes Democratic or Republican party supporters and voters. We must differentiate and have a different tactic in relation to the leadership and organized Democratic Party with its staffers and politicians on the one hand (pro-bourgeois or directly corporate agents), and working and middle class elements (the electoral base) on the other. Maintaining class independence allows us to mobilize the broadest movement of workers and oppressed people to confront the capitalist class, which declares and profits from all imperialist wars. Collaborating with and conflating the institutions that enable imperialism with the working people that oppose it will only lead to the cooptation and demobilization of our movements. What liberals and reformists often fail to understand is that U.S. wars are not merely driven only by greed and “bad government”, but rather by the need to secure access to markets and natural resources for the capitalist class, which will use all institutions under its control Workers' Voice | 16
(including the Democratic and Republican parties, the corporate media, congress, the military etc.) to advance its objectives. In addition to using the United Front tactic, we must come to terms with the evolving dynamics and technologies of warfare. While our opposition to imperialism is a matter of principle, we must recognize that the absence of a draft, the growing reliance on drones, and the relatively low numbers of American casualties in current U.S. wars make the task of building a mass antiwar movement significantly harder than during the Vietnam or even the Iraq eras. This requires us to adjust our tactics and be much more deliberate in articulating anti-imperialist demands with vibrant local movements that are already mobilizing masses of workers throughout the country. We must organize in the immigrant rights movement and raise consciousness about the imperialist wars that force millions to migrate; we must organize in the movement against police violence and raise consciousness about the connection between the military industrial complex and the growing militarization of police departments; and we must organize in the movements for healthcare, housing, education and all human needs for which governments claim to lack funding, while agitating about the obscene amount of collectively-produced wealth spent on building and maintaining the U.S. war machine ($770 billion in the recently approved budget for 2018). http://www.blackpast.org/1849-frederick-douglass-mexico 1
https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1918/ canton.htm 2
https://www.jstor.org/stable/1170880?seq=1#page_ scan_tab_contents 3
https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isr/ vol30/no06/antiwar.htm 5
We Are Against All US Wars, Congresswoman Lee Is Not
The Spring Action 2018 Coalition came together around a very clear platform of 8 demands, a strategy to win our demands through mass action of working people and oppressed communities (and not through lobbying), and a democratic method of organizing. We strongly believe in these three political pillars to build a new antiwar movement. In the course of our organizing important debates have emerged. In the Bay Area coalition, last minute pressure to include a statement by Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee divided our coalition politically, and strained some working relations. Our group and many allies opposed Congresswoman Lee’s statement being read at the rally for 3 reasons: first because the vote happened without even having read her statement, and many of us know that Lee’s opposition against war is partial and that she does not fully support our platform in her actions. This was confirmed when we got a copy of her very generic statement. Secondly, Lee didn’t accept our request that she advertise our antiwar action, which could have helped build the mobilization and public support for our Spring Action 2018 Coalition by exposing her constituency to our cause. Thirdly, our coalition did not have adequate time to democratically discuss its relation to elected democratic politicians in general and to specific ones- We are opposed to doing united front efforts with elected leaders and official sectors of the Democratic Party. Those pushing for the inclusion of Lee attempted several times to violate our democratically agreed upon process. In the end, there was a last minute vote to include this speaker who is very controversial in the coalition. Given all of this, we must acknowledge that we lost the vote and we respect the decision for the good of the order. We want to debate the content of Lee’s positions against war by clarify the true meaning and implications of the Spring Action 2018 Platform, and explain why her positions are contradictory and damaging for the political credibility of our antiwar coalition.
The Spring Action Platform The content of our platform is very important, it clearly calls for the “end to all US wars”, for bringing “all all U.S. troops home now”, for the “end of U.S. overt and covert wars, drone wars, sanctions/embargo wars, death squads and assassination wars”, as well as the closing of “all U.S. bases on foreign soil”,
and the dismantling of “all nuclear weapons.” Our platform is clearly opposed to all US wars, regardless of their duration, casualties or “legality”. Our opposition to war in the coalition is a principled one, and not one based on an economic calculation. We fundamentally disagree with the United States government attacking other nations or interfering in their affairs. One of the significant principles of this platform in relation to other antiwar actions is that it explicitly includes the demands to “end U.S. aid to apartheid Israel” and publicly supports the Palestinian struggle for self determination. More importantly, our antiwar platform, beyond making very clear demands, provides a political rationale for these demands: the right of self determination for all the world’s regions and countries where the U.S. has a heavy military and political presence (Middle East, Africa, Asia & Latin America). We state very clearly that “the U.S. cannot be the cop of the world.” We believe that peace among nations can only be built on the political principle of respecting the right for self-determination. We believe that no nation in the world, neither the U.S., nor any European nations can attribute to itself the role of being a moral arbiter or a military enforcer of justice. The very countries that control the Security Council of the UN, or are grouped in the NATO military coalition, are responsible for the vast majority of wars and violence in the world today. What they seek with their “human rights” and “democracy” rhetoric is to ensure the public’s consent in their political domination over other countries and the monopoly of war.
DEMANDS of the Spring Coalition Action - Bay Area
• End U.S. overt and covert wars, drone wars, sanction/embargo wars, and death squad assassination wars.
• Close all U.S. bases on foreign soil. Dismantle all nuclear weapons.
• Bring all U.S. troops home now. Self-de-
termination not military intervention. U.S. hands off the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. End U.S. aid to apartheid Israel. Self-determination for Palestine. The U.S. cannot be the cop of the world. Workers' Voice | 17
• $Trillions for human needs. For jobs and social services, quality debt-free education and single payer health care. No to anti-union legislation. For $15 and a Union Now.
• Defend the environment against life-threatening fossil
fuel-induced global warming. For a rapid transition to a 100 percent clean, sustainable energy system and retraining and jobs at union wages for all displaced energy workers.
• No to white supremacy and racist policies and actions
against Muslims, immigrants, people of color, and indigenous peoples. No to police brutality/murder. End racist mass incarceration. Black Lives Matter!
• No human being is illegal. No to deportations. Yes to
DACA and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) and a just and early path to citizenship. No ban, no wall!
• No to sexism, sexual violence, and harassment and
targeting of LGBTQI communities. Yes to equal work and pay. Support women’s reproductive rights.
We Are Opposed to ALL U.S. Wars and Foreign Operations For the reasons stated above, we were not surprised when we read Lee’s statement, which in our opinion does not represent the demands of the coalition and the political principles of non-interference and self-determination we put forward. Her statement sounds like a re-election speech and makes no reference to the need to build an anti war movement through mass action. We do not question the fact that Lee was the only member of the U.S Congress to vote against the AUMF (Authorization for the use of Military Force) in Iraq in 2002. Nor that she repeated her opposition to the Afghanistan war. Our problem is that Lee is not opposed to all U.S. wars, military intervention and expansion of military, she is just opposed to some wars, and has never voiced her opposition to the other dimensions of U.S. military presence all over the world. In her statement, Lee talks about saying "no” to “the blank check for war", meaning there could be a reasonable and acceptable funding for some wars, as long as the cost is finite. This is a soft support for war and US militarism, just not that war, done in such a poor and rushed way. The main problem of Iraq and Afghanistan wars for her is ebration of U.S. militarism both the Democratic and Republican parties support, it implicitly reinforces it. In our opinion, this is not consistent with our opposition to war in the platform, which is based on the right of self-determination of nations and the refusal that the U.S. "be the cop of the world." The statement has no mention of the threats of military aggression to North Korea and Syria. Nor does it include all Workers' Voice | 18
the other 150 plus countries with up to 800 U.S. military bases, as well as the U.S. funded foreign and domestic military forces, most notably Israel and Saudi Arabia abroad, and state police, ICE, and the national guard at home. Congresswoman Lee’s Twitter page came out against the recent bombing of Syria with the following statement: “By illegally bombing Syria, President Trump has once again denied the American people any oversight or accountability in this endless war.” In our coalition, we do not believe that the major problem with U.S. aggression to Syria is one of process or legality! Lee is implying that there would be a proper, clear and legal way to carry out the war and continued intervention in Syria and all the Middle East region. We reject that door she leaves open, and our coalition must be clear on this: there is no possible moral or political justification, and no good “process” by which the American people should support any U.S. aggression. Finally, Lee’s statement only partially reinforces the first item of the platform and makes no mention of the other items directly or indirectly, and she neglects to mention the Spring Action event at all. It fails to mention the demand to end military aid to Israel, for example, and this is because Lee disagrees with this demand, and has a record of voting for the U.S. financing and support of the apartheid state of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. Granted, her record shows progressive action and rhetoric as compared to other members of Congress, she is perhaps the most fervently against war, but this doesn’t excuse her lack of vision and resolve to stand up for our demands and explicitly and fully endorse our event.
Why the Democratic Party Cannot Claim Anti-War Credentials The Clinton and the Obama years only confirmed to the American people and the rest of the world that the Democratic Party is still a party of war. Clinton has enthusiastically and uncritically supported all of the recent U.S. wars and operations carried by the Bush administration. Obama, who won the elections in 2008 with the promise of ending the Afghanistan war and closing Guantanamo Bay, did not fulfill his promise. He partially retreated from Iraq, leaving occupation troops and military bases, he did not end the war in Afghanistan and he did not close the scandalous prison and torture center of Guantanamo Bay. But this is not all. Furthermore, the U.S. was directly involved in the 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted a progressive president, and in the murder of Berta Cáceres in 2016, the indigenous environmentalist and social justice activist who was leading the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. In 2011, Clinton led the U.S. intervention into Libya under the open and illegitimate banner of ensuring a “regime change,” sent covert U.S. operatives and established a “no-fly-zone” (i.e., military control of Libyan airspace) with the excuse of “protecting civilians.”
Starting in 2014, the U.S. began direct involvement in the Syrian uprising that had turned into a civil war between pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces. It has sent thousands of troops and opened military bases in the country. For all these reasons we cannot allow the DP to claim any antiwar credentials. There is no room in the Democratic Party for a real, coherent and principled opposition to war. Quite the opposite, the DP top leadership is political supporters of most U.S. wars and foreign interventions.
The Antiwar Movement Needs to Be Open to All But Independent from the Parties of War and Corporations Prior to the debate, the Spring Action coalition had not clearly discussed a position of independence from the DP. We think the time has come to take a clear stance of political independence. By independence we mean that our coalition should be open to and actively recruit any working class individuals and organizations that agree with our demands and strategy regardless of their political identifications (Liberals, Conservatives, Independents, Anarchists, Socialists etc). We do not ask people to clear their political affiliations or to renounce them, as long as they agree to support the platform and build the mass actions. But our coalition cannot be used opportunistically as a campaign platform by “progressive” Democratic Party elected officials, or Libertarian Republican ones. Nor can it serve to provide unfounded credentials to politicians that want to claim their affiliation to our movement without doing a thing to build it and clearly fight for our demands. Our actions and rallies need to maintain an independence from the established politicians of the two parties that have consistently supported U.S. wars at the expense of other people’s and the American people’s welfares. We do not believe this is a sectarian position. We believe this is a coherent and strategic position that will allow us to build real and meaningful unity, defend (and not water down) our platform, and gain some political credibility among the oppressed communities in the United States and our political allies outside of the United States that are equally opposed to war. The last elections showed that the youth in this country and many working class sectors are breaking with what they perceive as the “political elite,” “establishment parties” of the “1%.” The role of our coalition is not to rebuild a base for these parties, but to propose a political alternative to win our demands through independent mass collective action.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee's Statement (13th District, California) Dear friends, As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, let us remember that he was not only a civil rights champion, but a champion for peace too. And as he once advocated, we must call for the end of the chaos of militarism and war. The 16-plus-year war in Afghanistan and the 15- year war in Iraq continue today with no end in sight. Many more wars are killing civilians and military personnel every day, and our brave troops are sent into harm's way without Congress doing its job to debate the cost and consequences of war before they are deployed. Back in 2001, I was the only member to say NO to the blank check for war because I knew that it would set the stage for perpetual war. Last year, we came the closest we have come to repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), but Speaker Ryan unilaterally killed my bipartisan amendment, refusing to debate it. We must repeal the 2001 AUMF and bring these forever wars to an end. We must also put a stop to wasteful military spending, which is why I introduced the bipartisan Audit the Pentagon Act of 2017 (H.R. 3079). With an excessive military budget over $700 Billion dollars, this country continues to fund a war machine at the expense of education, housing, and healthcare here at home. Dr. King reminded us - 50 years ago that "the bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America." Therefore, let us not forget the devastating impact war has here at home. It is time to stop kicking the can down the road. Congress needs to step up and hold a debate and vote on our ongoing wars and repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and I will not stop fighting until it happens. Sincerely, Barbara Lee Member of Congress
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Socialist and Antiopression of Janus: Perspectives from Interviews By Florence Oppen and Orlando Torres
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n Union Work in the Age m UC Student-Workers The UAW 2865 local represents 17,000 academic student employees across the nine campuses of the University of California. In 2009 graduate students organized a massive fight back against cuts to programs and fee hikes with impressive strikes and occupations in conjunction with the undergraduate students and other workers. As we say, “mass action gets the goods” and they won some important partial demands. From this grassroots rebellion from the ranks, a new generation of union leaders emerged and formed the reform caucus Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), which won the leadership of the local in 2011. They believed in democratic and militant unionism, in integrating social justice issues into contract campaigns and the role of unions in defending public services, like education and bargaining for the common good. Most of the original founders of AWDU have graduated, but they left a series of key accumulated experiences of union democratization, strike organizing, and political education to the next generation of union leaders. Today the fight to continue the militant and democratic legacy of the local is more alive than ever, this time in a different context: the right-wing attacks against unions are raging (i.e. the Janus vs. AFSCME case) and yet teachers across the country are leading an unprecedented wave of statewide strikes. La Voz interviewed some socialist comrades currently active in the union, to pick their brains on the current challenges the union faces and the socialist vision they are proposing to strengthen their local and propose an alternative model of unionism. Alex Bush is a Film and Media Studies doctoral candidate and the newly elected financial secretary of the union; Margaret Mary Downey is chair of the Berkeley Campus Unit, a member of the local’s Bargaining Team, and a student in the Social Welfare PhD program; Ángela Castillo is an Anthropology doctoral student from Bogotá, Colombia, a member of the People of Color Caucus, and a newly elected head steward for the Berkeley campus; and Alborz Ghandehari is an Iranian-American Ethnic Studies doctoral candidate and a member of the People of Color Caucus and the Anti-Oppression Committee. These feature interviews are divided in two parts: 1) Janus, Bargaining, and the Role of Strikes and Staff in Militant Unionism; and 2) Racial Justice, Anti-oppression, and the Role of UAW 2865 in the Broader Labor Movement.
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Janus, Bargaining, and the Role of Strikes & Staff in Militant Unionism La Voz: The looming Supreme Court decision on Janus—which threatens to defund unions by eliminating fair share fees—has put all public sector unions on the edge. We have seen many different responses: from passive acceptance of the cuts to come, to real attempts to reconnect with the members. The first passive reaction, however, has been the rule. How has your local UAW 2865 reacted to Janus? Concretely what have you done and what is yet to be accomplished?
Alex Bush: Our local is grappling with Janus on many fronts. For the past eight months, we have been engaged in an ambitious organizing drive across the state to build and strengthen membership in preparation for the case. This has the twin effect of both shoring up our financial resources and broadening our democratic practices by bringing more members into the union. In October, our statewide local agreed to a coordinated membership drive that was in direct response to the threat of Janus, with membership targets designed to shield us from the worst effects of the decision. Currently, our leadership is discussing and debating the best way to move forward with (hopefully temporary) budget cuts in order to maintain a balance between keeping our commitments to our members and adjusting expenses to account for a significant loss that we anticipate with the decision coming down in June at the latest. Personally, I believe that a supermajority, active, and politically educated membership is the only way unions can maintain strength through the nationalization of so-called “right-to-work” laws. Margaret Mary Downey: I think we’ve taken Janus as an opportunity, and that is not to be overly positive and undercut the very real violence that it represents to working people and all those who care for them and for whom they care. However, given the reality, we’ve needed to develop as Alex said an ambitious, coordinated, politically-informed organizing model Workers' Voice | 22
across the state. This is hard because not every union leader agrees with what organizing should mean or what it looks like. These debates are healthy, as long as we press ourselves and one another to come up with adaptations and alternatives that still challenge “right-to-work” (though we should say, right to work for less!) on the scope and scale that it demands. That’s how I feel our Union has responded to Janus - by reckoning logistically, politically, even emotionally with the scope of our power and the scope of the challenge in continuously organizing thousands of workers in their Union. However, this is what we need to be constantly doing even if Janus were not on the horizon. Again, I don’t say this to be blase about its impacts but rather to highlight what I feel our outlook must be given the dire circumstances. LV: Some union leaders usually argue that unions need to get to majority first, and only then they can take on important political campaigns, like the fight for racial justice, for public education etc. As socialists actively involved in leading the union, do you believe that there are two stages of the fight, first a stage to get "strong", and win members, and then a stage to get "political"? Can you give concrete examples?
AB: No, I do not believe in this stageism. My argument with this theory of union work comes not just from having a strong political commitment to racial justice and gender equality, for instance, but also from my experience on the ground organizing. Issues like gender and racial inequality, or equal access to public education, are often at the forefront of workers’ minds. Only by demonstrating to them that our union is committed to bringing our collective strength to bear on these questions can we win them over to membership. While I do believe that supermajority membership makes us enormously more powerful in these struggles, they must be integrated into the philosophy of how we build to supermajority.
In our last contract negotiations, even with a minority member-ship we were able to make significant progress on gender justice with access to all-gender restrooms guaranteed in our contract, an issue some might consider “minoritarian” but that I believe we must consider part of our solidarity-based fight for justice for all workers. MMD: Stageism is a trap. We have to be very wary of simply trying to “win” without being clear about what we are winning and why. Another trap though is signaling radicalism through very beautifully-worded statements but ignoring the need for deep-seated, durable shifts in our political-economy. We have to be clear about what our discourse about a thing achieves, and what it doesn’t. I believe that workers - humans in general! - are moved and radicalized through struggle. As Alex said, through on-the-ground organizing I think one finds out very quickly that many many of us experience exploitation and oppression at work along the lines of what some would call “minoritarian” identities and experiences that shape and inform our commitment to ending exploitation and oppression at work. At the same time, many many workers with racial, gender, ability, etc. privilege really do care about solidarity. I think stageism underestimates us as organizers and as the un-organized. We can move, and we can move each other. I can imagine “stageist” arguments against Unions taking strong stances against white supremacy and fascism for instance, claiming that this sounds way to radical and “abstract” for a majority of workers. What we saw with the visits of Milo Yiannopoulos, etc. to UC campuses was that this is politically objectionable, morally offensive, and at the same time, not coincidentally, impacted our working conditions in some really extreme and vivid ways. This became clear even to workers who weren’t previously invested in a Union conversation about white supremacy on our campuses. Now, we do have to stay in touch with
our membership and see where variously situated people are at on issues of white supremacy, fascism, racial justice. Not all members will be at the same place at the same time. I do believe in meeting most people (I mean, those who are at it in good faith) where they’re at when it comes to one-one organizing conversations. Sometimes saying the righteous thing (“Fuck the Police!”) doesn’t work for someone who otherwise wants to live in a world without state violence, coercion, and punishment. This is where public education and organizing work together - I believe people can and will be moved politically through collective struggle and are strengthened (when their newfound ground is shaken) through learning about theory, history, and art that explains their newfound ground back to them.
LV: What is your bargaining and contract campaign strategies? We saw you invited around 200 rank and file workers to the first bargai-ning session at UC Berkeley. Quite unusual don't you think? Why did you do that?
AB: We are committed to a bargaining process called “open bargaining” that is becoming more common among progressive unions. In this process, any member of the union can come to a bargaining session, rather than restricting access to those on the negotiating teams. It is central to our philosophy as a union that every worker has the right to speak directly to the people who control their working conditions, and open bargaining is a chance to do that. Especially at an institution as large and bureaucratic as UC, it can be difficult to find out who the decision-makers even are. During bargaining, they are legally required to come to the table with us, and we think it is essential that workers be present,
LV: What is your general understanding as a socialist on the role of strikes in contract negotiations and in the labor movement in general?
AB: As socialist unionists, our theory of power is that the ultimate leverage held by any worker against the employer is the collective withholding of labor. As such, we think that any union engaging in a high-stakes struggle with the employer should always be ready to strike. However, the decision to strike must be up to the workers, who will have to vote on authorization. In organizing conversations, we try to explain to people that the strike is the basis of our collective power, and something we may need to deploy to win our strongest demands. Sometimes this takes more than one conversation, which is why on-the-ground organizing is so central to our vision of union democracy.
I’ve had in my head this metaphor of a bicycle versus unicycle for a minute LV: In the course of bargaining, now. Political education is one wheel, how are you planning to decide and organizing is the other. You can which demands are still have one without the othon the table and which We reject the opposition of “bread and er (the unicycle of political will be off the education, the unicycle of butter” and “minority” or “social justice” demands table? There are some organizing), but you will issues. We embrace campaigns that address members that see barbe less stable, less gracethe whole worker: not just wages, but also gaining as a "trade-off" ful, and won’t go nearly as and then the inevitable safety, shelter, and sanctuary. far as fast with as many dilemma emerges of people with as much as "bread and butter" wins power as if you had the bi(wages) versus "minoriboth to voice their concerns and to see cycle. Zoom! ty" issues being addressed (protecthe boss in action for themselves. It is tions for immigrant workers, housLV: You are currently bargaining a some of the best radical education we ing, sexual harassment protections new contract. What are the major can offer to our members. etc).... what is your take on this? issues that affect today the more than 17,000 academic employees MMD: Coming to open bargaining in AB: We reject the opposition of “bread 2014 is what radicalized me to activethat your local represents? and butter” and “minority” or “social ly participate in our Union - before, I justice” issues. We embrace camAB: Our issues will be familiar to was coming to membership meetings, paigns that address the whole worker: workers in all sectors: low wages, high liked the people I was becoming com- not just wages, but also safety, shelter, costs for childcare and dependent rades with, and was generally sympa- and sanctuary. Inevitably, we will have care, racial and gender inequity in the thetic but I didn’t really understand to let go of some demands in order to workplace, including harassment, the just how fundamentally antagonistic get others--this is what bargaining is-need for real sanctuary protections for the interests of UC management are to but our first priority is to get as strong our workers, and protections from ex- our interests as workers. I think open as possible so we get as many of our treme workloads. We are also fighting bargaining is central to our strategy demands as possible. The tough decifor justice for international students because one ounce of open bargaining sions down the line will be made demby demanding an end to special fees (seeing management be rude to your ocratically by our bargaining team in for international students only. Due to fellow workers, seeing them refuse to consultation with our joint council. the statewide housing crisis in Califor- acknowledge housing or police brutalnia, our workers are also facing a very ity as worker issues, seeing the vague LV: As a reform local, led in part by hostile housing market, with some of titles and roles that comprise manage- socialist militants, what do you think our in-unit workers even experiencing ment’s team) provides more political is the role of staff in the union? How education than any reading or training! or from where should the union houselessness. It’s a lot to fight for! Workers' Voice | 23
Intervention recruit its staff, what relation it should have with the membership and how staff should be treated? Do you support the unionization of staff?
MMD: This is an incredibly important question for us, and I think for most labor unions, now. Whenever possible, if the skill-set and capacity are there, staff should be hired from the rank-and-file membership. Longterm, I think staff should also be elected to clear terms, though I don’t want to pretend that voting would automatically make staff accountable. It wouldn’t - strong engagement from a majority of workers in the governance of their union, guided by a militant socialist political vision, does this. By militant socialist political vision, I mean one that advances worker control over their labor power and the means of production, builds international solidarity, and fights to end all forms of social, political, and economic coercion, oppression, and exploitation. In certain scenarios I think that staff time, resources, and skills can be necessary to build towards this goal and train up rankand-file workers to animate a militant organizing program. In the same way, I think staff should be supervised by a transparent central body that is democratically elected; then it’s clear to staff who their support people are, and it is clear to members whom to go to if they have a question about staff. However, I do want to highlight again that elections are for me a necessary but insufficient way to talk about democracy and I hope to see our Union become one where a majority of workers are actively engaged in its life and governance. If the capacity and skill set are not there in the membership, hiring staff who are not from the membership is an acceptable and sometimes necessary step. I believe in expertise, or rather accumulated experience in the struggle. I don’t believe that expertise is an essential quality that some people (“professionals”) have and some people (“workers”) lack. I really believe in organizing oneself Workers' Voice | 24
out of a job. It is also, incidentally, how I approach my work as a social worker. I think we must make decisions as socialist militants in the labor movement based on the formula of assessment of objective material conditions + principles. Thus any decision to hire staff must be made from both an assess ment of objective material conditions AND principles. I believe that whatever the arrangement, staff should of course be supported in their right to unionize. At a very basic level this is just
a practical reality - in our current legal current legal framework right now an employer (in this case, a Union) can challenge a unionization effort or not, and if the employer does challenge unionization the case will go to the Public Employee Relations Board or National Labor Relations Board for a final decision. It is not an employer’s role - whether they are a Union or not to decide for workers whether or not a Union is necessary. As employers we should respect this fundamental right of all workers or fall prey to the same logic we fight in the bosses.
Racial Justice, Antioppression, and the Role of UAW 2865 in the Broader Labor Movement LV: In the months leading up to bargaining, there has been a lot of discussion about the union’s strategy and tactics for advancing racial justice while pushing for majority membership in preparation for the Janus ruling. As socialists of color and union activists, what do you think is the role of the labor movement in the struggle for racial justice? How are you fighting to advance that vision within the UC student-workers union?
the individual. Unions set in motion collective modalities of power. These modalities make unions and workers’ organizations capable of larger transformations. If workers get organized in collective ways to improve their labor conditions, those same organizing efforts can be oriented to transform society in general, and in the American context, that meanstransforming the structural racism and sexism that pervade every social relationship.
Ángela Castillo: The labor movement has a major responsibility in advancing and pushing for socio-economic reforms that transform the workplaces of people of color into spaces where neither labor exploitation, nor racial or gender discrimination are the norm. Furthermore, from a socialist perspective, unions are funda-mental in the struggle for racial justice because they are one of the more powerful tools of the working class. Despite nearly four decades of attacks aimed at destroying the labor movement in the U.S., unions and other spaces of organized labor are still the sites where workers' power is instantiated in concrete ways. Which ways? We need to remember that the kind of power that workers express is a collective one. We live in a society where neoliberal, liberal, or late-capitalist forms of governing groups and persons emphasize
Finally, I want to stress that we need to be cautious when we talk about this articulation of the labor movement and racial justice struggles as though it is something that has never happened. Several historical studies have shown that the labor movement has embraced racial justice fights. More importantly, the work of historians like Lane Windham shows that people of color, specially women of color, were the main characters of the 1970s labor movement. They were at the forefront of the main labor struggles during the 1960s-1970s. They transformed the labor movement by taking much of the political knowledge gained during the civil rights movements into unions. They fought for these rights within unions and they diversified the labor movement. For instance, currently black men tend to unionize more than
any other sector of public employees. Now, acknowledging the role of social justice activists in the labor movement is different from asserting that the labor movement is free or does not reproduce structural racism or sexism. It is also true that many unions coalesce with racists and white supremacists. We need to say that out loud. How do we fight in our union? Our union is currently on a project of seriously embracing social justice struggles. We are working in multiple fronts. We are connecting with student-workers of color on campus. In our Berkeley Unit, several self-identified students of color created the People of Color Caucus in order to raise awareness of the specific working conditions students of color face when working as academic employees and to influence the current negotiation of our labor contract by pushing for anti-discrimination provisions. However, making the problem of racism public is only one step in our commitment for social justice. We need to fight for material resources that support and help the social justice struggles of student-workers. I see the fight for racial justice in our union as related to: (1) allocation of resources and (2) political education of members. The union should allocate resources to bring students of color to the union and to create spaces where our specific issues or problems are addressed as a priority. And, the union should educate its members in how to embrace the fight against structural racism. Alborz Ghandehari: The labor movement must be a primary site for struggles of racial justice. When I think about what this means, I think about the history of autoworkers in the 1970s, many of whom were Arab-American who pushed the UAW International to boycott Israeli bonds as a protest against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians; I think about the fact that it was Black workers of Polaroid in the U.S. who refused to make the racist passbooks that Black South Africans were forced to carry under that country’s apartheid regime. I think about the struggles of the mostly Black sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968 who demanded dignity as
The union should allocate resources to bring students of color to the union and to create spaces where our specific issues or problems are addressed as a priority. And, the union should educate its members in how to embrace the fight against structural racism. both Black people and as workers. The historic struggle of the mexican and philipino/a farmworkers and the Delano grape strike. In the case of our union, white graduate students outnumber all other racial and ethnic groups because of institutional racism in the education system. Yet in the last several years, members of color have successfully pushed for demands around undocumented students, sanctuary campus, police violence, and solidarity with global struggles like that in Palestine. Members of color have also played leadership roles in making sure that demands such as new unionized positions tasked with access and retention of grad students of color are part of the bargaining team’s docket, as well as other demands such as sanctuary campus and demilitarization of campus police. The fact that we were able to form a POC caucus at Berkeley and push for these demands means that much has changed. With the Janus decision, our union will lose much of its funding sources. This will be detrimental to student-workers of color and thus is a priority for our POC caucus which has stressed recruiting more workers of color into our caucus and our union. Janus represents an attack on our union; without resources we cannot pursue issues related to members of color; this is why building majority membership is important to us. We must build majority membership while at the same time engaging in political education so that we build consciousness in struggle among all student-workers at the UC. LV: Do you think it has been challenging to recruit academic workers of color as both members and
elected leaders of the union? If so, why do you think that is? What do you think are the best approaches for bringing more POC communities into the union? Can you give concrete examples?
AC: Yes, it is challenging. First, students of color perceive our union as a space that isn’t committed to fight structural racism. Second, we need to understand that many students of color are participating or leading social justice struggles in their own contexts. Even though they aren’t in the union, many students of color are very active political actors in different contexts. I mention this because we need to acknowledge that many students of color really don’t have time to dedicate to the union, they are in the position of not having more time for political work, mainly if they feel that they aren’t valued as leaders or if they feel their fights are underestimated. We need to address those material constraints by embracing, supporting, and learning from their struggles. Right now, the struggle against police brutality comes to mind, the demilitarization of campus police, the divestment for the prison complex, and the struggle for full-citizenship for the undocumented working class. Those are struggles that will make our universities and society in general more egalitarian. In terms of approaches, I think Academic Workers who are not people of color should be aware of how they reproduce problematic readings. I’ve heard for instance that our People of Color Caucus has been described as a “people of color club”. This framing problematically reproduces the narrative that people of color Workers' Voice | 25
think they are entitled to special treatment. We do not think we are entitled to “special treatments”, we just think we are entitled to the very same rights other Academic Workers have, such as non-discrimination in our evaluations, etc. AG: I think graduate students in general are hard to organize because many may have become burnt out from undergraduate political work or feel too burdened with the demands of grad school to get involved in organizing. These issues are compounded for many grad students of color who face added burdens of being first-generation, having to support families through other jobs, and racially insensitive actions and harassment from advisors, faculty, and students. Among many friends of mine, there is also a sense that they do not see the union as a primary place to organize as people of color. They decide to spend their time in other organizations that are more explicitly centered around racial justice. So yes, it has been challenging to get student-workers in our communities to see the union as a place to organize. But we have had successes when we build substantive campaigns around issues that members of color face. In my post as anti-oppression committee coordinator in 2017, I helped organize know your rights workshops for student-workers affected by the Muslim ban. As an Iranian-American, I saw both international and domestic student-workers with ties to the seven countries that were banned look to our union as a place of support and care. It was heartening for me to see other Iranian student-workers, for example, become active union members through that process. Another example was when we ran the BDS campaign in solidarity with workers in Palestine in 2014. Palestinian American union members led that campaign and through doing so, I remember other Arab American student workers developed trust and respect for our union and saw themselves as a part of our union. When David Cole, a Black service worker at UC Berkeley was attacked and Workers' Voice | 26
arrested by police at his union’s protest for better wages and working conditions, our union came out in strong support calling racial violence a labor issue. I think often, both members of color and white members who want to be “allies” call out the absence of workers of color in the cadres of our core activists and call for internal conversation. Internal conversation is important. However, often white people who want to show that they are “allies” engage in this calling out while stopping short of actually acknowledging and uplifting the organizing work that is actually happening--though that they for whatever reason may not be seeing--among leaders and workers of color. As we have seen historically in our own union, organizing is the most important thing that gets student-workers of color to join our union: organizing campaigns that address our various needs. It also serves as consciousness-building among those white members who may not have thought about the importance of these issues before.
that protect students who are working. The POC Caucus is a space that embraces this perspective. The main challenge we have faced is involving students of color as members and also expanding these social justice struggles to other campuses. AG: Berkeley’s POC caucus is engaged in supporting demands for the contract campaign, organizing student-workers of color to become union members and core activists, and putting on political education events. For example, last Fall, we sent delegates to the Bargaining Convention in Santa Barbara to present demands that the POC caucus had endorsed as important racial justice demands. These demands included creating positions represented by our union that would work on access and retention of graduate students of color to the UC, divestment of the UC from the oppression of Palestinians, sustained funding for undocumented students including expanding our last contract win of TA opportunities for undocumented students,
As we have seen historically in our own union, organizing is the most important thing that gets student-workers of color to join our union: organizing campaigns that address our needs. LV: What is the role of the POC caucus and the Anti-Oppression committees in the union? What kind of work are those two spaces engaged in during this semester and what kinds of challenges have you encountered?
AC: The POC Caucus role in the AC:Berkeley Unit is a productive space to discuss working issues for students of color and to advance our demands. Please note that we do not make a distinction between “better working conditions” and “social justice struggles”. For us, these are the same. Anti-Discrimination provisions that protect us from discrimination due to changes in the migratory status or the current state of migratory status are not “special social justice demands”, these are just demands
and non-discrimination issues such as sanctuary campus policies and demilitarization of police. In February we organized a well-attended event called “What is the role of labor in the struggle for racial justice?” where leaders of color spoke from AFSCME (UC service workers), the Black Labor Center, ILWU 10 (dockworkers), and from our own union. In my experience, I have seen how these kinds of events are transformative and consciousness-raising for all members who attend, not just members of color. Our caucus has steadily grown from a few people to almost 30; I think a good goal for us to grow to 50 members by the end of the year. The Anti-Oppression committee has also been a space where racial justice struggles have been waged by union members.
As a member who myself was organized first through this space and as someone who later served as the AOC Coordinator, I think the AOC is a hugely necessary and important space. While our union has developed an organizing structure over the past year to build to majority membership with the creation of Organizing Committees, there have been some questions around what are the distinct roles of the Anti-Oppression Committee and the Organizing Committee. Some members have come to the conclusion that the AOC does internal dynamics work to address harms between union members and leaders and the OC does organizing work: I think this is fundamentally wrong. Internal dynamics can be one aspect of the AOC but it must also continue to be an organizing space alongside the OC; The rich history of the AOC in building issue-based campaigns can serve as a model to the OCs while the OCsâ€™ development of rigorous organizing trainings, and sustained member engagement and recruitment can be of great use to the AOC as well. All of these spaces approach the question of how to organize student-workers, yet each from a unique and equally necessary perspective.
A number of unions at the UC system are in bargaining negotiations. Our union UAW 2865, AFSCME (custodians, patient care workers, other service workers, UPTE (healthcare workers and IT workers, and AFT (lectures and librarians). See map below
majority of the workers are members of the union. It means educating and mobilizing members around for instance the importance of state funding for public institutions and
militant action to make the UC a school with truly quality education run by workers and students. When we hear about teachers in West Virginia going on a successful illegal strike due to poverty wages and terrible working conditions that shut down all schools in the state, we must learn from their example. I think the role we can play in the labor movement is by sharing our organizing model with other unions: member recruitment that constantly provides opportunities for members to get involved in campaigns, not the type of recruitment that just stops at getting cards. I think we can share our strategies about how we are a social movement union, meaning we support community struggles around housing, police violence, and xenophobia because many of our members face these issues every day.
The University of California is composed of nine campuses located across the entire state.
LV: Your local is one of the most militant and democratic in the state. What do you think should be the role of UAW 2865 in the broader labor movement? What would playing that role look like in practice? Can you give concrete examples?
AC: I think Iâ€™m going to repeat some ideas that others have mentioned during these days: we are seeing the relevance of education workers in revitalizing the labor movement in the U.S. through the uplifting mobilizations in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. I think the role of UAW 2865 in the broader labor movement is deeply related with the fight for public education, real public education. In practice, it means educating the UAW 2865â€™s members in the importance of public education for getting a more egalitarian -less destructive- society. It means building a strong union where the
consequently the severing of ties between the University of California and the fossil fuel industry. AG: A number of unions at the UC are in bargaining negotiations now: our union UAW 2865, AFSCME (custodians, patient care workers, other service workers), UPTE (healthcare workers and IT workers), and AFT (librarians). We must all build together, we must coordinate and engage in
These two examples--sustained rankand-file engagement and leadership, and being a social movement union-are the bedrock of how I understand democratic unionism in UAW 2865. If we can build trust, confidence, and courage in every worker over the forces of isolation and fear, then we can build a labor movement that is a true threat to capitalism.
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Bay Area Janitors’ Struggles: Fair Contracts and Union Democratization
By Workers' Voice San Jose
The Deterioration of Janitors' Working Conditions and Their Campaing Against These Attacks Arturo1 is a Mexican worker who has spent 20 years working for Lucky supermarkets, a subsidiary of The Save Mart Company (TSMC), which specializes in providing food for the San Francisco Bay Area. Starting at midnight, for six days a week, Arturo begins a six-hour workday as a janitor. The janitors are in charge of taking care of and cleaning the store buildings. While most people sleep, janitors sweep and mop floors, and clean walls, shelves and products. It is they who prepare the stores to be ready for customers the following day. This labor exposes janitors to harmful chemical substances and causes injuries to their backs, arms and legs. Because they work during the night shift, janitors live an altered life-cycle: they sleep in the hours that their family and friends are active, so they are not awake at times when social relationships are normally strengthened. Today, Arturo works in one of the stores located in the city of San José, in the South Bay. Their co-workers, mostly migrant workers from Mexico and Central America, work in different places such as San Leandro, Concord, Portola, Livermore, Pleasanton Hill, Daly City and San Ramon. In recent years, janitors’ working conditions have been deteriorating. An example of this happened in 2017, when a group of almost 200 janitors linked to the SaveMart stores were impacted by unexpected changes in their employment contract. In May of that year, janitors with fulltime contracts, corresponding to seven or eight hours a day, were notified that their contracts would be reduced to part-time or five hours. For virtually all these workers, the changes - imposed without consultation or negotiation - profoundly impacted their quality of life. Shifting to parttime work implied a reduction in health insurance coverage for them and their families, as well as an unexpected reduction of their monthly salaries. Also, it was not clear how the janitors were supposed to complete the cleaning of the stores in only five hours. In all likelihood, they would have to double their physical efforts to achieve in five hours what they used to do in eight. It was a difficult and demoralizing situation. Workers' Voice | 28
Janitor's action against the reduction of full-time positions. August 2017
One explanation for these unforeseen changes is found in the outsourcing processes that SaveMart started a few years ago. Outsourcing, or subcontracting, is a form of contracting in which the company that directly benefits from workers' labor - in this case janitors’ cleaning work - refuses to hire them directly in order to delegate their employer responsibilities to others. To justify this, companies argue that outsourcing is a sound financial decision for their business. In the case of SaveMart, outsourcing meant that this company would start hiring cleaning services through a third party, King Services. The latter became the direct employer of the janitors, while SaveMart benefited from the services offered by King. In this case, it was King Services that carried out the deterioration of the employment contract and violated workers’ rights.
The power of workers, that is, the ability to demand from their employer the working conditions they deserve and desire, depends on the strength they exercise when refusing to continue with their work activities. It is worth clarifying that in addition to economic arguments - for example, that the company saves more money if it contracts cleaning services through another firm - the central objective of outsourcing is to break workers’ right to collective bargaining and struggle. The power of workers, that is, the ability to demand from their employer the working conditions they deserve and desire, depends on the strength they exercise when refusing to continue with their work activities. This is nothing less than the right to strike that every worker holds. Let’s recall that this right, the right to refuse to work under unjust conditions, was won through the workers' struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. This right to strike - which is undoubtedly the most powerful, non-violent political action that exists in modern states - was not a concession of the employers or the capitalist class, but rather the outcome of the organization and political work of the international working-class. The possession, but above all, the exercise of this fundamental right (that is, collectively planning and carrying out a strike collectively with clear political goals) gives workers the ability to control and demand better working conditions. On a national and international scale, the power of workers to carry out a general strike can change the entire economic structure of a country or even the world. It is because of this open possibility of social change through collective power that employers look for mechanisms to break the power of workers. Over time, employers, bosses and companies have developed various strategies. Outsourcing, as experienced by the janitors, has the objective of displacing the role of the employer and thus diminish the effectiveness of a strike. For example, if the employer is a firm like King Services, how do workers strike at the stores? And if workers do strike at these stores, how would this impact King Services? Although it is true that the challenges to successfully organize workers increase in the framework of outsourcing, the experience of the janitors' struggle to recover their full-time contracts shows that organized, collective mobilizations and strike actions remain the most effective vehicle to win better working conditions. After learning about the changes in their contract, according to Arturo and Jorge, two of the workers who have been most committed to organizing their colleagues, the janitors went to their union, SEIU-USWW (United Services Workers West), and demanded that the union support a mobilization campaign that would reverse the changes in the contract.
Initially, the union was not ready to put in place a plan to fight these attacks, it did not want to lead this vital struggle. However, the pressure from a group of workers, organic leaders among their peers who do not hold leadership positions in the union, got the union to assign an organizer to coordinate a mobilization campaign to defend the janitors’ rights. In this way, throughout the second half of 2017, the workers and the assigned organizer - who was later removed from the union - designed a mobilization strategy focused on (1) creating awareness among customers about the janitors’ unjust working conditions and (2) the interruption or hindering of the normal operation of the supermarkets in order to put pressure on both Save-Mart and King Services. For almost two months, says Arturo, groups of workers were dedicated to carrying out these actions. "We went with flyers, banners and then with our purple T-shirts. Our families, children and wives came out with us, which made us stronger. Every eight days we visited different Lucky stores in the Bay Area, including in San Jose, San Leandro, San Ramón, Paseo de Saratoga, Pleasanton. In short, we really visited many stores throughout this fight.” The actions were effective, as they managed to draw local public attention to what was happening with the janitors. Arturo recalls that the customers did not see that abuse with good eyes and that's why the actions in the stores were a successful tactic. "We started the group actions,” describes Arturo, “workers and families entered the stores in a line. One after the other, we sang: "Long live the union, down with exploitation! The people united will never be defeated! No contract, no work!" As they walked through the different corridors of the store, the workers approached customers and gave them flyers explaining their situation. In many cases, when people learned about what was happening, they decided to support the workers and left the store without completing their purchases. Other times, people ignored the workers. These direct and non-violent actions that took place inside the store were limited to ten minutes, after which the workers organized themselves outside the stores to continue distributing flyers and chanting. After two months of continuous actions, the company, SaveMart, - despite not being the direct employer - decided to get involved in solving the problem and returning the labor contracts to their previous status. In this way, the workers recovered their full-time hours, their salaries and their health insurance. The experience of these janitors is fundamental to show how, generally, improved working conditions are the result of the organized struggle of workers and not of the concessions of employers. Currently, the janitors face a new challenge because their new employment contract began to be negotiated in recent days. What new attacks will the janitors suffer from these companies? How will the janitors face these attacks and start up mobilization activities that guarantee good working conditions? How can the lessons learned from previous mobilizations be applied and strengthened for this new contract fight? Workers' Voice | 29
Workers’ Mobilization and the New Contract What happened with janitors from Lucky stores in 2017 is an example of how national economic dynamics, such as job insecurity, have very concrete impacts on the living conditions of the migrant working-class in California. For several months, workers held protest actions that contributed to the restitution of their violated rights. This triumph must be celebrated, but above all, it is necessary to understand what was at stake, what was done well and what could have been done better, so that these answers help strenghen the janitors’ organizing efforts. On the one hand, this struggle showed the need to have democratic unions, in which staff is at the service of workers and their rights, not of the companies and the union leadership. Faced with the apathy and disillusionment that can come from unions run by bureaucrats who disregard their own members’, workers should refuse to be marginalized by their own unions. Turning away from these spaces of worker organization, however, will only result in the loss of labor benefits and rights, such as wage increases, health insurance, paid days off, etc. Faced with a union controlled by staff who do not organize and mobilize workers, the important thing is for workers to take that organization and mobilization in their own hands. Only an organized group of workers willing to engage in direct actions can pressure both employers and unions to meet their demands. Likewise, only an organized group of workers, ready for mobilization, can encourage their more indifferent colleagues to join these struggles. It is important to understand that although a process of union reform begins with critiques of the current union leadership, it must quickly move beyond that. A productive process of union reform is one that gives workers the opportunity to articulate and carry out the struggle for the defense of their rights and labor benefits. This direct experience is fundamental, because it is through engaging in collective struggle that workers understand how labor rights are won and defended and, above all, they get to experience their own collective power. In this sense, the first step to advance processes of union reform and improvement of working conditions is to choose a concrete struggle and organize around it. In the case of the janitors, workers can start getting involved in the negotiation of the new contract, which began in recent days. Let’s remember that what is at stake in any contract negotiation are the working hours, salaries, medical insurance, the price of co-payments, days of work, etc. of the workers themselves. How can workers who do not have leadership roles in the union get involved in a contract negotiation campaign that can truly win better working conditions? The first step is to talk with co-workers and get organized to gather more information about what is being negotiated. What are the demands presented by the union? Then, in conversations and meetings with those same fellow workers, they must analyze if those demands Workers' Voice | 30
reflect what the workers actually need. In the case of the Bay Area, do the demands of the union reflect the importance of asking demanding a salary of $ 15 per hour of work or do they not? Based on this information, workers can strengthen their organizing process through the creation of committees and working groups that attend the negotiation sessions, closely follow what is being negotiated, and demand for the contract and the bargaining sessions to be translated to a language that immigrant workers can understand. Above all, the organization in working groups aims to encourage workers to participate in direct actions, to get involved in the struggle to defend their rights.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the workers. 1
Theory & History
What Is Imperialism?
A Marxist Understanding Part I By Florence Oppen
Today many people use the word “imperialism” with a wide variety of meanings. There is however, a popular use and understanding of “imperialism”, especially in the social movement milieu, and among Black and Brown communities, which has a clearly negative connotation: “imperialism” is used to refer to a way of conducting an aggressive and militaristic foreign policy, one rooted on war, invasion and intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. In many ways, imperialism is used as a synonym for hierarchy between countries, colonial expansion, and violence. But why did these historically violent processes emerge and continue to occur? Are they a fate of human nature? In this two-part article, we want to explore the key features of the Marxist concept of imperialism, which was first developed by Marxists inside the Second International in the 1910s, and also to give an updated understanding that applies to the 21st Century. The largest socialist parties in the 19th century were rooted in European industrialized countries, which were going through a new phase of rapid colonial expansion driven by capitalist development. The position of socialists in relation to this expansion was a point of heated debate, which, among other differences, led to the split between revolutionary socialists and reformist socialists (or social-democrats) on the eve of World War I. In 1916, Lenin published a theoretical text (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism) to define imperialism as an economic system and not just as a way of conducting political affairs or as “bad government”. He defined imperialism as a new phase or stage of capitalism, one that breeds violence, wars and increasing inequalities. Lenin coupled his scientific study of imperialism with political texts on the right of self-determination of oppressed nations, establishing a strong theoretical basis to regroup revolutionary workers under a clear understanding of the nature of imperialism and a common anti-imperialist strategy. These texts were foundational positions for the Third International
and for the clear division between social-democracy (or reformist socialism), which ended up supporting wars and capitaluting to nationalist and racist versions of “socialism”, and revolutionary socialism that was clearly internationalist and definitely on the side of oppressed peoples, ready to fight for their liberation on a principled basis. We argue that we still live in an imperialist world, a world of advanced and decaying capitalism as the one described by Lenin, even though some important mutations of the imperialist system developed after WWII. We think it is of utmost relevance for working people in the United States, and for union organizers and social activists, to have a clear understanding of imperialism. Our slogan as socialists and union militants is “workers of the world unite”. Yet one cannot really unite the working class in the U.S., let alone in the rest of the world, which has been divided along multiple ethnic and national lines, without questioning and combating the existing relations of oppression and over-exploitation generated by the imperialist system. 1. The Emergence of Imperialism as Monopoly Capitalism The term “imperialism” emerged with the expansion wars of Napoleon III in the 1860s, and it became synonymous with the surge of European colonial conquests in the 1890s. As Lenin and other Marxists pointed out, these colonial wars did not occur in a vacuum, nor were they simply a matter of “aggressive foreign policy”. Quite the opposite, they were a response to an economic logic of the maturing industrial capitalist system that most ruling elites saw as “natural” and “inevitable”: the emergence of monopoly capitalism. In his study of imperialism, Lenin followed Marx’s critical insights on the true nature of the capitalist economy and its inherent tendency towards the concentration and centralization of capital: “Half a century ago, when Marx was writing Capital, free competition appeared to the overwhelming majority of economists to be a ‘natural law’. Official science tried, by a conspiracy of silence, to kill the works of Marx, who by Workers' Voice | 31
Theory & History
a theoretical and historical analysis of capitalism had proved that free competition gives rise to the concentration of production, which, in turn, at a certain stage of development, leads to monopoly. Today, monopoly has become a fact.” 1 In the early 19th Century, small and medium-sized companies abounded in each branch of industry. In that period of capitalist development, labeled as “free competition,” the tendency of markets was to increase the productivity of workers, to drive prices down, and to run companies that were unable to make sufficient profits out of business. This was a period of recurrent bankruptcies, with established businesses purchasing smaller or growing companies, and a rise of “large-scale corporations”. Lenin identified a dual process of concentration and combination of production: concentration was the absorption of smaller companies by bigger ones within a sector, and combination was the process of “grouping in a single enterprise of different branches of industry, which either represented the consecutive stages in the processing of raw materials … or are auxiliary to one another.”2 This twofold process of concentration and combination of the industry accelerated after the economic crisis of 1873 and peaked in the 1880s, producing as a result the consolidation of production into the hands of monopolies or trusts, where entire branches of industries were dominat
ed by a handful of big national corporations. This process was very prominent in oil, coal and steel production, where, for example, the Rhine-Westphalian coal production in Germany controlled 86.7% of the output in 1893, and the U.S. Steel Corporation accounted for 66.3% of the total steel output in the U.S in the early 20th Century. This defining feature of imperialism as an era of “monopoly” capitalism is still in effect today. Most of the industrial and service sectors are highly concentrated and dominated by 1 or 3 giants with no significant competition—e.g. Apple, AT&T, Chevron, GM, General Electrics, Johnson and Johnson, WarnerTimes Corporation, etc.. As Lenin pointed out, “Cartels come to an agreement on the terms of sale, dates of payment, etc. They divide the markets among themselves.They fix the quantity of goods to be produced. They fix prices. They divide the profits among the various enterprises, etc.”3 There are many problems with monopolies and cartels. The major one is that they control the market to keep prices high, thus ensuring profits. The antitrust laws and efforts to break monopolies apart have repeatedly failed. This is because monopolies began to gain direct political access and partial control of the state apparatus in imperialist countries in the early 20th century. This process led to the undermining of bourgeois democratic institutions and procedures, such as elections and parliament. Big cartels developed
The Consolidation of the Banking Industry After the Financial Crisis of 2008. “Between 1992 and 2017, the number of commercial banks in the United States has decreased from 11,463 to 5,796, or approximately -49%. The decrease can be attributed to bank mergers, acquisitions and consolidations, which resulted in the fall of small banks and the growth of large and giant banks. In 2017, there are fewer than 5,700 small and mid-sized banks remaining. They collectively hold 17% of all commercial bank assets and make up only 21% of commercial loans and leases. In contrast, there is a total of 122 large and giant banks that collectively control 82% of all commercial bank assets and are responsible for making 78% of commercial loans and leases. JP Morgan Chase Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo Bank are the four largest commercial banks in the United States and collectively hold about a 41% share of total bank assets in 2017.”
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Theory & History
powerful think-tanks, lobbying groups, and the means to influence government through secret meetings and backdoor deals. Finally, monopolies limit and subordinate technological innovation and key advances to the narrow goal of the production of profit, often burying true innovative projects that would benefit humanity (particularly in the field of public health and environmental justice) in order to protect their existing products and marketing strategies. 2. The Role of the Banks and Finance Capital Banks played and continue to play a key role in the constitution of big industrial trusts and monopolies. While initially banks were only intermediaries in financial operations, by the end of the 19th century, and with the beginning of the process of concentration, they become directly involved in industrial production. Because large monopolies require huge quantities of capital to operate, they become more heavily dependent on banks. Banks, on the other hand, also utilized a similar process of concentration, which enabled them to accumulate large amounts of capital to finance the big industrial giants, mainly in the oil, infrastructure and manufacturing industries in the early 20th century. However, a qualitative change occurred through the combination of these concentration dynamics in the two main areas of capitalist economy: commodity production and banks. The process of concentration of banks led to the emergence of giant financial entities that began to buy shares of the industrial trusts they lent money to, so they could better control their operations and “obtain fuller and more detailed information about the economic position of its client.” The result of this process is, as Lenin pointed out, “that the industrial capitalist becomes more completely dependent on the bank.”. This fusion of monetary and industrial capital is what Lenin calls “financial capital,” which is the byproduct of this mutation of capitalism. Financial capital, the defining feature of imperialism, structures a capitalist market economy dominated by large monopolies, which in return are controlled by giant banks and financiers. Lenin remarked that “a personal linkup, so to speak, is established between the banks and the biggest industrial and commercial enterprises, the merging of one with another through the acquisition of shares, through the appointment of bank directors to the Supervisory Boards (or Boards of Directors) of industrial and commercial enterprises, and vice versa.” A century later, this defining feature of imperialism in the early 20th century is more true than ever. A 2011 study by Swiss researchers that analyzed 43,000 transnational corporations, found that 147 of today’s corporations (less than 1% of the total surveyed) control 40% of the total global wealth. The study also shows that 75% of those companies are financial corporations (J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, BNP, HSBC or Credit Suisse being at the top)4. And of these top 200 corporations, 122 are located in 5 imperialist countries (or rather, we call these countries imperialist because these are the homelands of those powerful corporations that control the national states and the world market).
3. Imperialism: More than Wars Imperialism is a phase of capitalism that is intrinsically linked to wars. Big corporations are in constant need of increasing their profits and thereby expand markets and find new resources to exploit. This pressure to “expand” and make more profits, is the same pressure that led to the early 19th century wave of industrialized-led colonization and appropriation of land and human labor by European and U.S. financial capital. It also led to major wars between the European Empires over control of key regions, as was the case with WWI, a conflict that left between 9 and 11 million casualties. However, wars, population displacement, and phases of colonisation existed before the emergence of imperialism at the end of the 19th century (e.g. the genocide of Native American peoples and the enslavement of Black slaves in the Caribbean and U.S. South). This process of dispossession and accumulation was the economic precondition for the emergence of industrial capitalism in Western Europe. The fact that it was driven by a different stage of capitalism, a capitalist economy still in formation, does not make it any less terrible or morally reproachable. Imperialism cannot be reduced to violence, wars and domination. These have been features of every class society and necessities for the emergence of industrial capitalism in Europe and the United States. But this cannot lead us to conclude that war and violence are a constant of human nature, like the liberal economist Joseph Schumpeter asserted in 1918, right after WWI, qualifying “imperialism” as “atavism”, and the manifestation of a “will to war,” a sort of “aggressiveness in itself” which was either a pre-capitalist “heirloom of the monarchical state”, of the warrior-like characteristic of the nobility, or simply a trait of human nature.5 World's eight richest people have same wealth as poorest 50%. As this recent article from The Guardian shows, income inequality and the excessive concentration of global wealth into the hands of a few families, conveniently located in imperialist countries, is still a defining feature of our society, perhaps this is the most visible symptom of the decaying nature of the capitalist system: “The world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population, according to a charity warning of an ever-increasing and dangerous concentration of wealth.In a report published to coincide with the start of the week-long World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam said it was “beyond grotesque” that a handful of rich men headed by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates are worth $426bn (£350bn), equivalent to the wealth of 3.6 billion people [...]Last year, Oxfam said the world’s 62 richest billionaires were as wealthy as half the world’s population. However, the number has dropped to eight in 2017 because new information shows that poverty in China and India is worse than previously thought, making the bottom 50% even worse off and widening the gap between rich and poor.” https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/16/worlds-eight-richest-peoplehave-same-wealth-as-poorest-50 Workers' Voice | 33
Theory & History
Our understanding of imperialism and wars is an historical and materialist one, rooted in the contradictions that emerge from class society. The economic interests of the elites who advocate for war are not the same as the masses who are forced to fight and suffer the consequences of these conflicts. Wars and military violence are fueled by exploitation, and the need to protect concentrated economic and geopolitical power. However, the common explanations of war - those put forward by the ruling elites - range from overt racism and demonization of ethnic and religious groups, to the fatalistic conception that violence is a given of the human condition.
Blood and Oil, War at the Service of Imperialist Interests. “The use of force to protect oil is not a new phenomenon. The British Empire— which had long thrived on coal—first viewed oil as a major military priority during World War I, when oil-powered ships, tanks, and planes made their debut in battle. After the war, Britain extended its military reach to the oil kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, including Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait; the Soviet Union followed a similar path in the Caucasus, then a major producing area. The pursuit of foreign reserves also shaped the strategic plans of oil-poor Germany and Japan during World War II, prompting the former’s invasion of the USSR and the latter’s assault on the Dutch East Indies. The United States got into the act after the war, when it sought to establish a protectorate over Saudi Arabia and to deny the Soviet Union access to the greater Gulf region. In 1980, the protection of Persian Gulf oil was made an explicit goal of US foreign policy when President Jimmy Carter told Congress that the United States would use “any means necessary, including military force,” to block efforts by hostile powers to cut off the flow of petroleum. This doctrine was later among those cited by President George H. W. Bush to justify the first Gulf War, and clearly it remains in force. But while the Persian Gulf remains the major focus of American concern, it is not the only oil-producing region to provoke this sort of interest: the US military is being gradually transformed into a global oil-protection service.”
This is why we say that wars under imperialism are not a merely a question of “foreign policy”, rather they are the necessary continuation of the pursuit of profits by financial capitalists who control the state machine. Let’s take for example the invasion of Iraq, where the Bush administration fabricated lies of Saddam’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion and occupation. In fact we know today that the major motive of the war was the satisfaction of the geopolitical and economic interests of the Pentagon (and allied nations) and its co-conspiratorial corporate industries, including oil extraction and weapons manufacturing. 4. Imperialism: More than Colonialism Imperialism also cannot be reduced to colonialism, understood as “acquisition of and rule over territories (colonies) outside the mother country,” (23). Colonialism has an earlier history, which began with the Greeks and Romans (the first “empires”), and later the expansions of early modern colonial powers like Spain and Portugal. Colonialism, as a political process of conquest, has been inhabited by different economic logics of exploitation. As Saccarelli and Varadarajan explain: “The internal economic engine of Britain in the late nineteenth century, for example, was substantially different from that of sixteenth-century Spain. Whereas the latter essentially looted silver from the New World to fill the coffers of the ruling monarchy, the plunder exercised by the British was of a very different character, insofar as it fed into modern capitalist circuits of accumulation and investment that were simply absent in Spain. Colonialism in Spain merely led to the accumulation of wealth, while the colonies of British imperialism led to the accumulation of capital. From this standpoint, even the early English colonialism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was qualitatively different from the enterprise exercised by Cecil Rhodes, in spite of the fact both happened to involve territorial possessions.”6 The late 19th century wave of colonisation was a specific development of imperialism, it responded to the economic pressures resulting from increased technical innovation and productivity as well as the rise of mass production. The emerging industrial monopolies needed an unprecedented access to raw materials, cheap labor and most importantly new markets to sell their products. This phase of colonization corresponds to the first wave of capital exports, and the progressive imposition of the capitalist mode of production all over the world. If we reduce imperialism to colonization, we would have to acknowledge that the decolonization process which curred mostly in the post war period (1945-1960) meant Workers' Voice | 34
Michael Klare, “More Blood, Less Oil,” 2005 https://nplusonemag.com/issue-3/politics/ more-blood-less-oil/
the end of imperialism. We know that this was not true. The defining feature of imperialism, the engine of the 19th century wave of colonial expansion and 20th century wars, was still alive after the decolonization phase and became even stronger in the post-war period. After WWII, the ruling classes of imperialist countries found new ways to increase their profits. Colonization as a form of political domination between states was formally gone, but the ocrelation of over-exploitation of former colonized countries, economic dependence, and political inequality continued to develop. Notes and References 1
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228354500-revealed-the-capitalist-network-that-runs-the-world/ 3 4
Emanuele Saccarelli and Latha Varadarajan, Imperialism, Past and Present, (2015). P. 24 5
Emanuele Saccarelli and Latha Varadarajan, Imperialism, Past and Present, (2015). P. 23. 6
Theory & History
The 1934 Strikes:
The historic struggles that got us union recognition rights and social welfare programs By Florence Oppen
In this article we will review the three victorious strikes of 1934 and the major lessons we can draw from them today to fight back against the renewed anti- union forces we encounter today. The 1934 local and city-wide strikes inaugurated a wave of labor unrest in response to rising unemployment and wage loss faced by millions of US workers during the Great Depression. This organized rank and file revolt was the social force behind the major conquests for workers in this country, including union rights and social welfare programs. It also gave rise to a new model of unionism, a democratic and militant one we need to revive today. 1934: The Turning of the Tide In the 1930s, the composition of the U.S. working class and the state of the labor movement was quite different from today. In a context of the rapid expansion of capitalism, the major labor federation, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), defended a model of craft unionism only, leaving millions of industrial workers unorganized. The AFL was also a racist and top-down union federation, which defended a model of business unionism, that is to say of conceiving of union activity as a private service of representation for which workers pay out of their wages, and not as an organized movement from below of workers who collectively and democratically unite on the job and organize to improve their working and living conditions. While the social composition of the U.S. working class has changed, both in the kind of labor performed by wage workers, and also the gender and racial composition of the class, the shortcomings of the AFL model of unionism are unfortunately still present today in the current AFL-CIO. In some cases these problems have been exacerbated. But history teaches us that our political and social institutions are not pre-fixed and eternal, rather they are a product of our struggles and material conditions.he working class, which not only unionized themselves, but all wage-workers, part-time and full time, as well as prison labor, reproductive labor, and the unemployed have the key to shape and vitalize their own class institutions - including labor
unions. The uprising of Wisconsin public workers in 2011 and the West Virginia strike of 2018 are the proof of that. A similar process of rank and file rebellion occurred in the 1930s as an organized response to the 1929 economic crash and its consequences. By 1932, it is estimated that one third of the working class was unemployed and 75% was living in poverty. Beginning in 1933, workers organized strikes to fight for their immediate needs without waiting for the green light or support from the AFL labor officials. Many times, as we will show, they did it against the AFL leadership. Socialist historian Sharon Smith shows that it was with organized rank and file strikes, mass actions and real solidarity that workers made their right to have a union a reality: “In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt granted workers the right to organize into unions in Section 7(a) of the National Recovery Act, and workers rushed to join unions. But everywhere the employers put up violent resistance. In 1934, when 400,000 East Coast textile workers went on strike to win union recognition, the bosses responded with a reign of terror, provoking one of the bitterest and bloodiest strikes in U.S. labor history. In the South, the ruling class unleashed a torrent of racism and anti-communism, while armed mobs attacked strikers. … But these early defeats were not decisive. If anything, they strengthened workers’ resolve to fight back, as the center of struggle shifted away from hunger and unemployed marches toward strikes for union recognition in industry after industry. In 1933, there were 1,695 work stoppages, twice the number of the year before, involving 1,117,000 workers, nearly four times more than the previous year. In 1934, the figures rose still higher: 1,856 strikes involving 1,470,000 workers.”1 1934 was a decisive year for the US labor movement. We propose to examine the three major strikes that took place in the country, which began as local strikes which then gained city-wide mobilization, Workers' Voice | 35
Theory & History
and achieved national attention and historical significance because of their victorious end. These strike efforts show the road to a renewed labor militancy that could ‘get the goods’ and set the path to a broader anti-capitalist transformation. The San Francisco Longshoremen Strike On May 9th, 1934 the International Longshore Association (ILA) went on an 83-day strike as roughly 14,000 longshoremen from Seattle to San Diego, walked out, shutting down port shipping along the entire West Coast. On February of the same year, the ILA Convention voted to organize a strike for a pay increase, shorter work hours, and union recognition. The longshoremen strike was followed by a four-day strike in the city of San Francisco between June 2nd and June 5th as a response to the violent repression from the police. The port workers were able to convince rank-and file truckers and other maritime workers to support their strike. On July 5th, police and employer militias launched a violent assault and repression against the picket line, opening fire on a crowd of strikers. Four workers were killed, hundreds were injured and this day became known as “Bloody Thursday.” In response, the SF Strike Committee called on other unions to join in a sympathy strike. On July 15th, 115 local unions voted to join in a general strike against the instructions of the AFL President who publicly disavowed the labor action. On the first day of the SF General Strike, 130,000 workers walked out of their jobs, yet unfortunately the Central Labor Council and labor bureaucracy infiltrated the Strike Committee and managed to shut down the growing strike on its fourth day. Despite this betrayal of the labor leadership, the general strike had disrupted enough maritime business. As a result, by October the union won a raise to $.95 per hour, a 120-hour month, and the effective union control of the hiring hall. The Toledo Auto-workers Strike In Toledo, Ohio, at the Auto-Lite factory, around 6,000 workers joined the auto-workers picket line of the AFL affiliated 18384 local, from April 12th to June 2nd of the same year. The first strike began in February for union recognition but it met the staunch opposition of the national AFL leadership, and the employer, thus it quickly ended. Auto-workers then decided to organize the unemployed in the Lucas County Unemployed League to support their strike. Violating a court issued injunction, initially 1,000, and then 4,000 and finally 6,000 unemployed workers joined the picketers to defend the auto-workers strike. At its peak, 10,000 workers participated in the picket line. As in most such union actions, the National Guard was called in, killing one worker and injuring 200 others. Between May 23rd and May 30th the workers resisted the ever growing assault against them. Troops attempted to break the strike with gas bombs, company thugs armed with iron bars, and fire hoses directed at them as water cannons - workers used bricks and stones in defense. Many strike leaders were injured and arrested after this confrontation, and on May 31, 40,000 workers marched in the city to demand their immediate release. The company finally caved in on June 4th and was forced to recognize Local 18384 as its Workers' Voice | 36
exclusive bargaining agent, sign a 6-month contract, give a 5% wage increase, and rehire all the workers. According to labor historian Sidney Lens, "The path was opened for organization of the entire automobile industry...With the Auto-Lite victory under their belts, the Toledo auto workers were to organize 19 plants before the year was out, and, before another 12 months, were to lead the first successful strike in a GM plant, the real beginning of the conquest of Geeral Motors."2 Toledo remains today one of the most
unionized cities in the United States, with a 30% union rate, more than twice the national and state average.3 The Minneapolis Truck Drivers Strike In Minneapolis, the Teamsters local 574 organized a wave of strikes to win higher wages and the recognition of their local: In February, the truck drivers went on strike shutting down 65 of the city’s 67 coal yards; then the truck-drivers and warehouse workers struck on May 16th, and finally there was a massive strike in July. The success of this strike eventually led to the unionization of truckers regionally and nationally. On the second wave of strikes on May 20th, also with the goal of wining union recognition and material gains, 35,000 builders and taxi drivers joined the 5,000 truckers in a sympathy strike. Similar to San Francisco and Toledo, this strike expanded to other sectors. The Minneapolis strike gained national reputation for its tight organization of the pickets which were in constant communications, its regular mass meetings, the organization of food supplies and material support for the striking workers, and the provision of medical services. Workers seemed invincible and were set to defeat the pro-business lobby, Citizens Alliance, that wanted to keep Minneapolis an anti-union town. In response to the third wave of the strike launched on July 16th, the cops fired on the crowd on July 20th, killing two workers and injuring more than 55. This was termed, “Bloody Friday.” Gov. Olsen sent in the National Guard who raided the union headquarters and arrested the strike leaders. In response, a big mobilization of 40,000 workers demanded their immediate release and on August 22nd the employers caved in. The Minneapolis victory had enduring effects for the Teamster union, which went from a 75,000 member union nationwide in 1934 to a 400,000 strong national union five years later. Some Common Traits and Lessons of the 1934 Strikes These three strikes share some notable characteristics that need to be analyzed today, for we can extract some important lessons. We need to demystify the labor mil
Theory & History
itancy of the “radical thirties” as something of the past, and instead identify the key features of the success of these struggles to adapt and apply them for the present day.
The 1934 Local Strike Wave Managed to Get National Gains
These were victorious strikes in that not only did they win for these workers the recognition of their local unions, and got workers a binding contract with their employers, but they had a national impact on workers rights, eventually gaining labor recognition at the national level, with the later passing of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. These three strikes, as part of the 1934 strike wave, were conceived as fight backs aimed at enforcing the union recognition rights established by the 1933 National Recovery Act. They proved in practice that the first Roosevelt Law was ineffective and misleading. These strikes also laid the ground for the next strike wave of 1936-1937 (the sit-down strikes in the big industrial corporations) and eventually to the formation of the CIO between 1935 and 1938. The CIO broke with the conservative model of craft unionism that only wanted to unionize ‘deserving’, skilled workers. Industrial unionism on the other hand, had the idea that all workers of every branch should be part of the same union, regardless of the level of skill, gender or race. This was an important step forward. Because it was born out of militant strikes the CIO locals were initially more democratically managed and militant than AFL union locals, despite the attempts of the CIO leadership to control the ranks.
Rank-and-file Democracy and Strike Committees Were a Key to Success
Second, all of these three strike waves were initiated by rank-and-file workers despite their local or their national union leaderships. In all cases, the workers managed to impose the strike action as a matter of fact, as a collective action that could not be reversed or stifled from above, and that controlled the strike process at the local level. This is because, in all cases, workers attempted to build strong local strike committees and involve a maximum number of workers and community members in the planning and executing of the strike plans. Strikes were not decided last minute by two people in a bargaining committee, they were the matter of daily discussion in the workplaces and sometimes in the city as a whole. In the Minneapolis case, striking workers elected a 75100 member strike committee which was composed of both rank-and-file workers and union officials that reported every day to the ranks at nightly mass assemblies. This mechanism of democratic control by the rank-and-file ensured the unity of workers in their actions, prevented the cooptation by politicians and the AFL leadership, and gave confidence to workers. They were deliberating, voting and acting together; experiencing their own power. It also allowed them to extend the strike to involve other sectors. In San Francisco, however, the SF Labor Council attempted to contain the strike by imposing from above a “Strategy Committee of Seven.” They did so after more than a dozen unions voted to support the longshoremen into what was
becoming a city-wide strike. This committee of seven had no actual union leadership in support of a city wide general strike. As Todd Chretien explains in “The Battle for the Docks,”4 this committee, which was tagged by Communists the “Tragedy Committee,” wanted to impose its leadership over the 50-member strong Joint Maritime Strike Committee (JSC). Unfortunately “the JSC deferred to representatives from the Strategy Committee of Seven under the (mistaken) impression that the Labor Council would finally now move decisively towards a general strike. Darcy claimed that confusion surrounding the Strategy Committee's role was so great that even the Communists at the meeting failed to argue against handing strike authority over to the Seven.” Despite this first maneuver, the Teamsters joined the city wide strike on July 12th , spurring 60 other locals to join in. At this point the Labor Council “realized that the Strategy Committee did not have the power to prevent the general strike from taking place. Therefore, late in the evening of July 13th, it announced the formation of a General Strike Committee, consisting of five delegates from every union in San Francisco. The Labor Council set the first meeting for 10 a.m. the next morning, intentionally making democratic elections of delegates impossible. Labor Council officials stacked the General Strike Committee with paid officials and conservative workers--and in this way, succeeded in capturing control over the general strike movement….The Labor Council leaders used their authority almost immediately to begin undermining it, sending individual unions back to work, bit by bit. The strike was called off after only four days on July 19, before any of the unions' key demands had been met, and leaving the maritime workers to stand alone.”5 The Communist Party failed to instill in the rank-and-file the determination to defend the democratic and bottom up organizing and leadership of the strike, because CP members in the ILA union were not trained in a defense and practice of workers democracy as were the SWP members. One key take away of these strikes is that first workers had to build their own strike committees, their own union rank-and-file bodies, formed of rank-and-file and the most active and committed labor leaders to lead and expand the strike. These strike committees were key, as was their independent from state and national labor leaderships. The second lessons is that those committees had to be democratically elected, and had to be able to coordinate the defense of the strike, the negotiations process and the inclusion of new sectors in the struggle.
The Strikes Mobilized and Involved other Sectors of the Working Class
Third, all these locals who organized the strikes from below sought to win the support of other unions and to forge alliances, appealing of course to solidarity, but going even further by using the strike committees to develop a united workers front with common demands. This united the working class at the city-wide level to reverse the relation of forces with big employers and city politicians. What is most remarkable about the Toledo strike is how it united employed and unemployed workers, as the Minneapolis strikes did to bring women into the strike activity, also delivering their demands and militancy. In all cases, these local strikes grew into general strikes, that is into a generalized mobilization of the city and region to support the strike. Workers' Voice | 37
Theory & History
Workers Won Because they Organized their Own Independent Power and Self-defense
Fourth, all of these strikes were met with very violent repression. In response, workers sought the solidarity of other unions and community members to organize worker power inenforcing the strike and self-defense to defeat the attacks and grow their movement. In the case of Minneapolis, workers created “flying squads,” that is to say mobile pickets of workers and supporters. The pickets stationed throughout the city were dispatched from the central headquarters by telephone to enforce the strike and prevent scabs from crossing the picket line. These pickets guarded major roads and prevented the entrance of non-union trucks. Furthermore, the strike committees organized the supply of food (for up to 10,000 people), and established a clinic with two doctors and three nurses. Workers did not, and could not, appeal to the sympathy of a higher institutional authority to protect them (the state, the media, the courts). They had to trust in themselves and their class to organize their own self-defense of their material interests and dignity. The government and employer intimidation and military repression were met with both fierce, mass self-defense tactics from the workers and also by a growing wave of solidarity. This is the challenge of the strike, to the reactionary forces of state power and the ruling class which pulls the levers through a myriad of organized tactics, and also to the bureaucratic union leadership structure, which is now relearning where the true power lies: in the workers themselves. *Below is the letter that the Auto-Lite strikers sent to Judge R.R. Stuart to inform him of their intention to violate his injunctions against picketing.
Socialists Played a Defining Role in Initiating and Leading the Strikes
And finally, this new wave of rank-and-file fierce militancy did not emerge “spontaneously.” In the three cases, it was initiated by Socialists and Communists, it had a political leadership that emerged and operated from the ranks, and with heavy reliance on mass action and democratic methods of organizing. The Communist Party led the SF strike, and the trotskyist Communist League of America (predecessor of the SWP) led the Minneapolis one, and the American Workers Party, a socialist led the Toledo Strike - yet A.J. Muste AWP member and auto worker union leader would join with the Trotskyist Communist League in December of 1934. IBT (Teamsters) President, Daniel Tobin denounced, like AFL Green did, the strike leaders as “socialists and communists,” but many communists did not back down. On the contrary, SWP members developed within the union a strike newspaper called The Organizer that reached a circulation of 10,000 at its peak, and allowed them to put forward a political leadership for the strike. Palmer, recounts that many teamster militants were won to the SWP in the process of the strike as they realized that “We couldn’t have done it without a disciplined revolutionary party.” 6 Workers' Voice | 38
Below is the letter that the Auto-Lite strikers sent to Judge R.R. Stuart to inform him of their intention to violate his injunctions against picketing. May 5, 1934 His Honor Judge Stuart County Court House Toledo, Ohio Honorable Judge Stuart: On Monday morning May 7, at the Auto-Lite plant, the Lucas County Unemployed League, in protest of the injunction issued by your court, will deliberately and specifically violate the injunction enjoin On Monday morning May 7, at the Auto-Lite plant, the Lucas County Unemployed League, in protest of the injunction issued by your court, will deliberately and specifically violate the injunction enjoining us from sympathetically picketing peacefully in support of the striking Auto Workers Federal Union. We sincerely believe that this court intervention, preventing us from picketing, is an abrogation of our democratic rights, contrary to our constitutional liberties and contravenes the spirit and the letter of Section 7a of the NRA. Further, we believe that the spirit and intent of this arbitrary injunction is another specific example of an organized movement to curtail the rights of all workers to organize, strike and picket effectively. Therefore, with full knowledge of the principles involved and the possible consequences, we openly and publicly violate an injunction which, in our opinion, is a suppressive and oppressive act against all workers. Sincerely yours, Lucas County Unemployed League Anti-Injunction Committee Sam Pollock, Sec’y
“When [revolutionary socialists] enter the labor movement and apply their ideas intelligently they are invincible. The labor movement grows as a result of this fusion and their influence grows with it.”7 Yet, being a socialist in a generic term was not enough, and the difference between democratic revolutionary socialism on the one hand, and top-down bureaucratic socialism was palpable in the kinds of political experiences that unfolded. The key difference between the two is that Trotskyists were better prepared to resist first the hostile opposition and later the attempt to take-over and co-opt the struggles from the national AFL leadership and the Progressives and Democratic Party forces.
Theory & History
This led to the isolation of communists from many sectors of rank-and-file activism, and the development of dual unionism since 1929 under Stalin’s order, that is to say to abandon the oppositional intervention in the AFL and develop “revolutionary” unions with a communist program under the banner of the Trade Union Unity League. CP members in the ILA were able to intervene in the strike process and play a leadership role precisely because they abandoned locally the dual unionism orientation of the national CP leadership and went into the organized ranks of mass unions. If more local CP chapters had done the same, we would have probably seen more strikes of the kind in the same years. Those revolutionary socialists learned how to act inside the labor unions in a democratic way, by providing real leadership, and avoiding the twin pitfalls of being either passive spectators, that is to say pessimists who are convinced of the uselessness of unions or mass action, or of arrogant sectarians who from the outside tell workers what to do. Instead, they organized with the workers, learned with and from them the best paths of struggle, brought to them a socialist understanding of exploitation and the current crisis, that expanded beyond their local situation, and provided a national and international strategy for political emancipation. Notes and References Sharon Smith, “1930s: The Turning Point for U.S. Labor”, International Socialist Review 25, 2002. http://www.isreview.org/issues/25/The_1930s.shtml 1
Sidney Lens, Labor Wars.
Todd Chretien, “The Battle for the Docks”, 2009. https:// socialistworker.org/2009/09/21/battle-for-the-docks 4
5 https://socialistworker.org/2009/09/21/battle-for-thedocks Brian D. Palmer, Revolutionary Teamsters – The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934, p. 73. 6
“Learn From Minneapolis!”, The Militant, 26 May 1934.
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La Voz/ Workers' Voice magazine/newspaper: www.lavozlit.com Workers' Voice is the Sympathizer Section of the International Workers' League-...
Published on May 17, 2018
La Voz/ Workers' Voice magazine/newspaper: www.lavozlit.com Workers' Voice is the Sympathizer Section of the International Workers' League-...