A conference of this nature is desperately needed here in Minnesota.
One has to ask how there possibly could have been a "lack of interest." If there was this "lack of interest" we need to get to the bottom of why there would be a "lack of interest" on such an important topic.
Given that this "Conference on Disinvestment" was "initiated and organized" (organized about as well as the trade union bureaucracy undertakes organizing of the unorganized or the attempt to save closing plants and thousands of jobs) by the "leadership" of the trade union movement and the Labor Education Service of the University of Minnesota.
It is fair to ask why the Minnesota AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor federations and their affiliated state and local unions and labor councils could not pull off a successful conference of this nature.
In fact, the conference was doomed from the start as the leaders of the Minnesota AFL-CIO and Change to Win refused to allow the question of saving the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant to be the focus for this "Conference on Disinvestment."
In fact, the regional and local "leadership" of the UAW did not even push forward the need to focus on saving this important Ford Plant, some two thousand jobs and the hydro-electric generating dam which powers the Plant with electricity to spare.
In fact, the organizers of this "Conference" wanted to have a conference which would make them look good but lead to no action locally... all talk, no action.
The United Steel workers were among the endorsers as were the building trades unions and even AFSCME and SEIU. Even the Teamster's Union was involved.
So, how could there have been a "lack of interest?"
One would think so many unions with high paid staffs who made a commitment to organizing this conference would have had no problem getting interest in this conference.
The initiators and organizers of this conference need to explain why this conference did not come off.
There was a very good article by Carl Bloice (a former editor of the Daily World--- formerly "The Daily Worker")who writes "Left Margin" and publishes on "Black Commentator." One of Bloice's essays is on the "reinvestnow.org" website:
Taking the Train to a Clean Environment, a Sustainable
Economy & Jobs
There was once a train that ran straight from downtown
Los Angeles to Santa Monica on the coast. I think it
was painted red - memory being what it is and being
that is was when I was a kid. My family would leave
home in South Central and be at the amusement pier or
the beach in about an hour. It was part of the Pacific
Electric Railway, at the time the largest trolley
system in the world, running 1,100 miles around
Southern California. Unfortunately, it went the way of
so many rail lines in the country as LA yielded to the
oil industry and the auto companies in their desire to
put everybody into a car (or cars; there are two and a
half cars for every family in the state.) or an
exhaust-spewing bus. Now the only way to traverse that
distance is on a thick maze of congested freeways.
I got to thinking about the red train the other day
when I came across Paul Krugman's May 19 column,
"Stranded in Suburbia," in the New York Times. Noting
that oil prices continue to soar, and the idea that oil
production will soon peak and go no higher is being
widely assumed, Krugman noted that Europeans "who have
achieved a high standard of living in spite of very
high energy prices - gas in Germany costs more than $8
a gallon - have a lot to teach us about how to deal
with that world." He was writing from Berlin.
"If Europe's example is any guide, here are the two
secrets of coping with expensive oil: own
fuel-efficient cars, and don't drive them too much."
"I have seen the future, and it works," Krugman wrote.
Those words immediately recalled to mind the feeling I
had in making my way around Berlin last summer. My
feeling was not so much that I had seen the future but
rather that I was experiencing the present and my
homeland was so far in the past.
Krugman might have also mentioned Berlin's advances in
environmentally-friendly building construction methods
or the provision of other alternative transportation
means such as widespread safe bike lanes and provisions
for the physically challenged to get around.
The day after the Times column appeared, columnist
Derrick Jackson took up the subject in the Boston
Globe. He noted that over lunch with an Amtrak
machinist, Presidential candidate Barack Obama
commented, "The irony is, with the gas prices what they
are, we should be expanding rail service." The previous
week in Michigan, Obama had raised the question of fuel
efficiency standards, concluding "We are taking steps
in the right direction. American automakers are on the
move. But we have to do more."
We can expect a lot of pandering to the auto industry
between now and November, wrote Jackson. "Everyone
knows that whatever Obama says about the US auto
industry is subject to the obvious. American automakers
are on the move all right, but to Washington, to lobby
against higher fuel efficiency. Any steps in the right
direction have been baby steps. High-speed rail could
use some of this pampering and pandering."
Higher fuel efficiency standards are a given. The
European Parliament is right now taking up a proposal
to have every car sold on the continent in 2020 use
less fuel than nearly all autos sold there today. And
Jackson is quite right that right now in Washington
fuel efficiency is the political battlefield. But
that's a far cry from sane and sensible national
transportation and environmental policies that will
bring Americans even close to the Europeans. That's
where his comments on Amtrak come in.
"It is obvious that the pressure will mount on Obama,
the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for
president, to bow to the interests of the auto and
airline industries," wrote Jackson. "In 2000 and 2004,
two-thirds of campaign contributions from both those
industries went to Republican causes, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2008 cycle, the
Democrats are getting about half of the money from both
"It is one thing to meet with an Amtrak worker for a
photo-op," wrote Jackson. "It is another to get on
board for the rail service America needs for a green
economy, less urban congestion, and a more civilized
future. Obama says, 'Detroit won't find a better
partner than me in the White House.' In the past, that
has also meant making a pariah out of Amtrak. Nothing
would symbolize a break from this past more than a
whistle-stop tour in the presidential campaign, to
promote trains themselves."
Both Krugman and Jackson cite some reasons for
optimism. Jackson notes that rail travel is sharply on
the rise in response to soaring gas prices. The problem
is that it is a drop in the bucket. And Amtrak doesn't
go everywhere people want - or sometimes need - to go.
And it's expensive. It still cost more to go from one
region of the country to another on the train than it
does by air - even with the extra $15 a bag.
"There have been many news stories in recent weeks
about Americans who are changing their behavior in
response to expensive gasoline - they're trying to shop
locally, they're canceling vacations that involve a lot
of driving, and they're switching to public transit,"
says Krugman. "But none of it amounts to much. For
example, some major public transit systems are excited
about ridership gains of 5 or 10 percent. But fewer
than 5 percent of Americans take public transit to
work, so this surge of riders takes only a relative
handful of drivers off the road."
It was reported last week that many working people in
the country are deciding to give up on trying to meet
their mortgage payments in order to be able to pay off
their car loans - having no other way to get to their
Krugman speaks of the need to retreat from suburbia and
learn to live in more compact areas, saying "Any
serious reduction in American driving will require more
than this - it will mean changing how and where many of
us live." While that's not exactly utopian it's not
likely to happen soon.
Jackson is quite right that the country needs greatly
expanded rail service "for a green economy, less urban
congestion, and a more civilized future."
However, there is one thing glaringly left out of these
recent commentaries on the cost of fuel and the need
for an improved public transportation system at all
Jackson suggests that Obama and others are pandering
not just to the auto industry as such but to auto
workers as well. There's a reason for that.
Unemployment rates are increasing and the ability to
secure good, adequately remunerated jobs has to be one
of the principle challenges before the nation.
There's been a lot of talk recently about the need to
do something about repairing and upgrading the
country's infrastructure, including roads, bridges and
levees (another area where the Europeans and Asians are
way out ahead). But mostly it's lip service. What we
need is a massive public works program to create a
physical environment suitable for the rest of the 21st
Century. Any program to create a "green" economy or
reducing dependency on petroleum must include the
project of getting us out of the present cul-de-sac of
over dependence on the automobile. There are new rail
cars to be built, tracks to be laid, computer networks
to be constructed and power lines to be erected. What
better way to create meaningful work for those who can
no longer depend on machinery production to fully meet
the need and the urban youth increasingly faced with a
dismal economic future?
Given the dismal depths to which the current electoral
campaign has fallen, it would be hard to generate a
sensible, comprehensive discussion of the country's
future transportation policies. But it would be a good
thing if it were somehow injected into the debate. It's
a tall order but one that has to be faced up to if we
are to avoid falling further behind. The future of
train travel would be a good place to start.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly
worked for a healthcare union.
For some reason, Carl Bloice has not written about public ownership of the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant and this is unfortunate.
Had the initiators and organizers of the Twin Cities "Conference on Disinvestment" made saving the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant the centerpiece of their conference, the conference would have been a great success. A previous "Labor and Sustainability Conference" held at the UAW Local union hall and at the UAW-Ford-MnScu Training Center drew hundreds of labor activists.
The crux of the problem in mobilizing the working class to take united action to defend their own interests was recently pointed out by Lynn Williams--- the former International President of the United Steelworkers who said that labor leaders look negatively upon rank and file activism when they should be encouraging such activities even if it means rank and file activity makes going a little uncomfortable for the union leaderships once in awhile.
Perhaps the Conference initiators and organizers made a mistake in not inviting Lynn Williams and former Manitoba Premier and Manitoba New Democratic Party member Ed Schreyer, who initiated the public takeover of the bus plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba which saved the plant and hundreds of jobs, as participants in the "Conference on Disinvestment."
The cancellation of this "Conference on Disinvestment" for "lack of interest" is not the kind of message we want our class adversaries to be getting during this important election year. First of all, the signal sent is that education of the working class is not taking place. Second, the message this sends to our class adversaries is that working people don't care. Third, the message sent is that working people are not capable of thinking through their problems and formulating alternatives to the "crisis of everyday living" working people are experiencing because capitalism is on the skids to oblivion and is going to take us all down with this rotten system based upon the exploitation of workers where the capitalist class takes all the wealth created by workers and lives high on the hog while so many working people are forced to go without decent jobs, housing, health care and even the basic requirement of food and clothing not to mention clean air to breath and good water to drink.
The signal this cancellation sends to the Republicans and those in the "Summit Hill Club" and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce who dominate the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party is that working people don't have the means to stand up to them in bringing forward a progressive, working class agenda with solutions to the problems which have been created by the neo-liberal agenda promoting capitalist globalization of which United States imperialism is the pillar.
I find it strange that I find the highly paid staff members of these unions very interested in the free booze and all the "goodies" at the Minnesota AFL-CIO conventions and the keggers at the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party conventions yet there is no enthusiasm to conduct outreach to the rank-and-file to stimulate interest in a "Conference on Disinvestment."
The Labor Education Service of the University of Minnesota, the prime "mover and shaker" behind this "Conference on Disinvestment," could use a little reorganizing itself to bring it into line with the reality that there really is a class struggle and capitalism is the source of our problems with socialism the solution. Breaking from the grip of the cowardly business-dominated Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party might also be of some help to the Labor Education Service in pulling off a successful conference of this nature which is sorely needed if we are going to bring forward real solutions to the problems confronting the working class.
We all know this "Conference on Disinvestment" wasn't canceled for "lack of interest; this "Conference on Disinvestment" was canceled because the initiators, organizers and conveners ran away from the real issues just like the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party State Convention later this week will run from the issues of importance to working people... from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to single-payer universal health care to the myriad of problems plaguing the working class here in Minnesota ranging from the "Casino Compacts" intentionally created with an anti-worker bias to the problem of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development being biased against working people to bringing forward solutions to global warming in a way which will create jobs and livable communities.
In general, there remains a big fear in talking about the politics and economics of livelihood... working class, socialist politics which have deep red roots here in Minnesota; the time has come to do a little cultivating to assist fresh shoots of rank and file activism in breaking through the hard, crusty soil of class collaboration and capitalist apologetics.