Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

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Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Working Class Studies Association

An open letter: To the participants of “The 2007 Conference of the Working Class Studies Association.”

To find out more about the "Working Class Studies Association" click on the title or check out this link: http://naples.cc.sunysb.edu/CAS/wcm.nsf/pages/wcsa

From: Alan L. Maki

Working people are under attack in this country perhaps like no other time before.

Working people need assistance from the intellectual community of professors and students from community colleges and state universities.

It is important that the distinction between organized labor, its present leadership, and the over all working class is made because very often the present leadership of many unions, and especially the leadership in the national labor federations— the AFL-CIO and Change To Win— do not represent their own members very effectively, let alone the entire working class.

This is evident in many struggles.

Two examples here in Minnesota make this point.

First is the struggle of the more than 20,000 casino workers who are employed in an industry making money hand over fist where these workers go to their jobs in smoke-filled casinos day after day, night after night receiving poverty wages without any rights under state or federal labor laws. The leadership of the Minnesota AFL-CIO sits in deafening silence showing more concern for corrupt and incompetent politicians getting big campaign contributions from the casino managements while ignoring the terrible exploitation and abuse of the most basic and fundamental human rights of casino workers. The Minnesota AFL-CIO and the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party were partners in creating the “Compacts” that gave birth to the casino industry in the first place, which completely ignored the rights of casino workers... the indifference continues over fifteen years later.

The second example we have is the closing of the St. Paul Twin Cities Ford Plant and the issue of who will own the Ford Hydro Electric Dam. The UAW’s National President, Ron Gettelfinger, has not shown his face in the Twin Cities in spite of the fact that thousands of auto-workers over the years have paid dues to the UAW to protect, not only their own interests, but the interests of future generations of working people in this community and state and their right to future employment in this plant.

The local UAW leadership, in spite of having vigorously campaigned for Democratic party candidates over the last fifty years, while previously these auto-workers had been the base and the back-bone of the socialist Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, were not even able to convince the MN DFL to pass legislation aimed at saving the plant from demolition and keeping the hydro dam and plant as one... in fact, the local UAW leadership did not even insist on basic and fundamental accountability from the MN DFL by insisting that the DFL Caucus vote as one during the committee process in the state legislature... and, to make a bad situation even worse, the UAW leadership, which had no help from the MN AFL-CIO, refused to insist that a roll-call vote be taken in the legislative committees so there would have been complete accountability so all Minnesota workers, along with the UAW membership, would have been able to identify those politicians opposed to keeping the plant open. This legislation aimed at saving the plant and keeping the plant and hydro dam intact could not have been defeated were it not for DFL opposition, in spite of the MN DFL leadership’s trying to use this issue in their political games... they played a game with the lives of working people and generations of workers to come... and working people are closer to losing as a result.

Suffice it to say, the MN DFL Caucus has a majority in both the State Senate and the State House... and , a majority on the legislative committees in question where legislation to save the plant and hydro dam intact did not even pass the State Senate committee. Even the State legislator from the district where the Ford Plant and union hall are located, Rep. Michael Paymar, who received heavy support from the UAW did not back saving the plant and has campaigned for its demise; and, other MN DFL legislative members who have received financial and other support from the UAW never showed up for Committee meetings they were voting members of. In fact, only two state legislators can account for their votes in support of saving the Ford Plant: State Representative Tom Rukavina and State Senator David Tomassoni... apparently the rest of the DFL Caucus went to lunch at the invitation of their Republican colleagues, the Summit Hill Club, DFL Business Caucus, and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce while the votes were being taken.

The issue of saving the Ford Plant is not one for UAW leaders like UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the local UAW leadership to decide alone as they arrogantly think they have the right to do. Obviously, the membership of this UAW local is fully in support of keeping this plant and the hydro dam intact and operating. Why hasn’t the Local’s leadership broached the issue of Public Ownership of the Ford Plant and Hydro Dam with its own membership? This becomes a very serious and troubling question requiring some answers. Why didn’t the UAW Local’s leadership insist on accountability from the MN DFL Legislative Caucus? Again, a very troubling question requiring some answers.

This becomes a community and statewide issue for all working people, and the larger society, to participate in the decision making process as to what will be the future of the Ford Plant and Hydro Dam. Time is short, much research needs to be done; a legal challenge needs to be mounted to halt the sale of the Hydro Dam; a community and state-wide fight-back on every level needs to be mounted... the State Legislature needs to be convinced to revisit this issue without haste; the struggle needs to be taken into the communities and into the streets as 40,000 workers were recently mobilized in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in opposition to the effects of capitalist globalization on their community; an alternative political agenda needs to be developed outside the frame-work of the MN DFL since it is unwilling to respond to these needs of working people that go well beyond this issue of the plant closing and right to the heart of what democracy is really all about; are working people mere observers to a political process that determines their future for them in a way that drives down the standard of living of the working class— this is a multi-faceted “class” issue. In fact, a text book explaining for working people the true nature of capitalism and globalization could be written around this very issue.

Working people in Minnesota now have a long list of grievances which academia needs to consider, assess, and become involved in; including:

* The need to repeal at will hiring, at will firing which is the major obstacle to union organizing in Minnesota... an issue the MN AFL-CIO and Change to Win continue to refuse to address— card check can not even over-come this hurdle to union organizing;

* The need for a minimum wage that is a real living wage, where the minimum wage is tied directly to the calculations of the United States Department of Labor and Minnesota Department of Labor— why pay all these university educated statisticians and researchers employed by the Departments of Labor if their findings are ignored, a question that needs to be explored and answered by working people in conjunction with professors and students;

* Ending the right of employers to challenge unemployment claims without having to state a reason;

* Predatory lending... home foreclosures are rising rapidly, this is an outright rip-off of the wealth of working people who have paid for their homes with exorbitant interest rates many times over. The need to consider a State Bank financed with union pension funds is now in order as the mortgage banking industry is ripping off working people in the same manner the Wall Street coupon clippers have been ripping off the union pension funds for years as union “leaders” have bought into the capitalist system rather than opposing capitalism as most union leaders do around the world including in Canada;

* The robbery at the pumps... many workers now need second and third jobs just to pay for gas to get to their first job. Socialist governors Floyd B. Olson and Elmer Benson were right in saying that working people would pay a heavy price in the future for failing to bring the energy industries under public ownership and control. We need to consider this option now, especially in view of global warming;

* Winning single-payer, universal health care... so far the labor movement has only paid lip-service to this issue, having failed to fully mobilize the membership. As we have seen from how the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party played working people for fools on the issue of the Ford Plant, they are now prepared to betray working people on the issue of single-payer, universal health care. In fact, the leadership of organized labor is acquiescing to the MN DFL in much the same way the MN DFL has acquiesced to the Republicans on every issue impacting working people;

* Ending the war in Iraq... organized labor in Minnesota has failed to actively participate in the peace movement and has continued to support reactionary Democratic politicians like United States Congressperson Collin Peterson who makes the boast that he is more conservative than any Republican in Minnesota. A leader of the AFL-CIO actually nominated the ultra-conservative, ultra-reactionary Collin Peterson.

Working people, the few who remain union members, and the entire working class, face these and other very serious problems requiring urgent action. Liberals, progressives, radicals, socialists, communists, and anarchists in the intellectual community--- professors, instructors, adjuncts, and students--- need to understand the urgency, which at this time does not exist, of the present situation confronting working people as they are attacked from every direction and are being used to attack others as is the case with the Iraq war.

For a community that has so many colleges and universities as in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area we need to take a good hard look at why the intellectual community and all the resources at its disposal have not been brought into any of these struggles.

For a long time I have been suggesting that what is required is a network of Worker Resource Centers throughout Minnesota that would:

* teach workers organizing skills;

* teach labor history;

* serve as art and cultural centers for workers to show-case their talents;

* allow working people places to gather and discuss their problems;

* provide the tools to empower working people to become full participants in the political and decision making processes;

* most importantly, become centers for rank and file led and initiated organizing efforts that will once again involve entire communities in building the needed networks of solidarity which make union organizing campaigns successful... the issues surrounding undocumented workers and casino workers demonstrate just how desperate the need is.

* these Centers would be a place for working people to come together over problems in both their communities and at work.

* the creation of a network of Worker Resource Centers would be the obvious project for a “Working Class Studies Association” to undertake.

There is nothing new in this concept of Worker Resource Centers. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUP-W) has been experimenting with such centers... the organizers of the steel workers, the auto workers, the electrical workers and other basic industrial and public sector unions employed various versions of such centers in their successful organizing campaigns. That most union organizing drives are not turned into organizing campaigns launched from such Centers and end up without success is a call to re-try this approach.

The UAW members at the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant are at a great disadvantage in not having a strong rank and file organization that could have effectively come to the forefront to fight-back to save this plant... the intellectual community should gather quickly in getting together with Ford Workers and community members to plan a fight-back to save this plant... whether or not the local and international UAW “approves” of, or participates in, such an approach; hopefully they would get the message they are welcome to join in.

A joint UAW-Ford-MnScu Training center is integrally connected to the Twin Cities Ford Plant... both physically and as a part of the industrial complex. It is absolutely mind-boggling that the issue of Public Ownership and rank and file activism have not been class-room topics, which calls into question just what kind of, or more properly, the lack of education workers are receiving.
If the national and local union leaderships want to continue to sit on their hands and accept the dictates of the Ford Motor Company and the refusal of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party to undertake the required fight-back to save this Plant, then the rest of us have a responsibility to work without them to make the effort and attempt to save over two-thousand good paying jobs; and, an important plant which has become an essential part of maintaining an industrial manufacturing base in Minnesota.

There are no excuses for not putting up a struggle... and working people and the intellectual community need to come together quickly— we each have essential skills important to a victory on these and the other issues I have cited— and beyond.

This national conference of working class educators has a responsibility to take a good hard look at the issue of the future of the Ford Plant closing and the plight of casino workers and figure out how its work can assist these struggles of working people. It is such struggles that require immediate attention and the issues can not be studied to death to decide if action is required... study must take place as an integral part of these day to day struggles of working people lest we end up studying why successful struggles were not mounted.

The concept of Public Ownership of essential industries and financial institutions needs to be actively discussed in the class-rooms and beyond... on the shop floors and in working class communities. It is both naive and far-fetched to believe that a rotten capitalist system that has bred so many problems will now somehow miraculously solve these problems. This conference has by and large challenged the capitalist system and its advanced state of globalization, or imperialism; however, the cooperative system of socialism was seldom talked about as a solution and alternative to capitalism.

In the workshop on Native Americans and class, the casino industry was not even mentioned by those on the panel even though the casino industry is by far the largest industry employing Native Americans today... again, this lack of discussion on this issue was probably due to a fear of broaching the subject.

Clearly, the entire topic of genocide against Native Americans needs to have a far wider discussion among professors and students as this five-hundred year campaign of genocide is not understood as a component of, and “special feature”of, capitalism as this continent was conquered with this campaign of genocide continuing today as hundreds of thousands of Native Americans are shoved into the casino industry because there are few other job opportunities; the casino industry is one of the filthiest industries in America, ruled over by organized crime, where workers are employed in smoke-filled casinos as Minnesota’s legislators have approved “Freedom to Breath” legislation to protect all other workers except for casino workers... women of child bearing age who make up a very large segment of the casino industry suffer the worst health consequences of this second-hand smoke. For the university community to continue to ignore the plight of casino workers is a reflection of everything that is wrong in academia today... from racism to a moribund capitalist system where working people are treated with complete contempt. The lack of attention to this problem by academia has led to political parties like the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party escaping its responsibilities to casino workers.

At this conference, red-baiting was not thoroughly discussed from a historical perspective, or from the perspective of how red-baiting is related to the serious problems in organized labor today... there were even some very erroneous ideas put forward that the Communist Party USA supported Harry Truman when nothing could be further from the truth. On the positive side there was some mention of red-baiting and the need to oppose it as well as its disastrous results we are living with today.

All in all, this was a most welcome conference and hopefully the organizers will find a way to correct some of the short-comings; most notably, when a conference like this is held there should be a focus on specific local, state, regional, national, and international issues with a sense of urgency in lending support to the struggles of working people.

Conference organizers and participants along with those who attended this conference on Working Class Studies missed out on what would have been a very good opportunity to bring forward the issues of the closing of the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant and the plight of casino workers; both issues would have provided a means to “measure” how quickly and effectively working class studies are being integrated into the class struggle.

I don’t think the university community of professors and students understands the urgency of such issues for working people... research is still being treated as a way of looking back at history, which is all fine and good in helping us draw conclusions to assist the struggles taking place in our times; but, this too is still lacking as current struggles don’t receive the required and needed assistance from academia.

We should all understand the fundamental need to bring labor and the academic community into a working relationship; this is as it should be.

With these criticisms in mind, it is very important for working people to understand the role, and need for, working class education at all levels in the educational system which all too often completely ignores the needs of working people for a working class based education. The organizers of this conference are to be highly commended for taking the time to organize these bi-annual conferences. It is a shame more unions in Minnesota did not take the time to involve their memberships and leaderships in this important conference that really reflected and highlighted how international the working class and its struggles for peace and social justice are.

Organized labor, specifically the Minnesota AFL-CIO and Change To Win affiliates, really missed an important opportunity here... but then again, this is a reflection of the over-all problems in organized labor and its continued resistance to rank and file initiatives. In fact, this “Working Class Studies Association” is a rank and file initiative in its own right... of educators who understand they are first, and foremost, working people; many who are from the ranks of the working class..

Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Red Lake Casino, Hotel, and Restaurant Employees’ Union Organizing Committee


Member, Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party State Central Committee

58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763
Phone: 218-386-2432