Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Please note I have a new phone number...


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...

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Radical Vision for Today's Labor Movement

"A Radical Vision for Today's Labor Movement" by David Bacon is an interesting analysis with a lot of good points.

However, one important point is missing:

The role of the Communist Party.

It wasn't just "radicals" who gave impetus to the progressive rank-and-file initiated struggles which have been immortalized by progressives and radicals in the labor movement today and those middle-class intellectuals who would like us to think of working class history as a history without the role of the Communist Party USA included... and, unfortunately, David Bacon falls into these traps.

We on the left better learn about the importance of a communist party as being the spark igniting the progressive spirit and resistance to capital in the labor movement if we want to take advantage of this very narrow window of opportunity David Bacon points out that working people have opened up by voting for Obama as the way to end eight, long, dreadful years of Republican dominance over our country.

Right-wing dominance of our country is far from broken as some on the left would lead us to believe and Bacon has quite an ambiguous position on this.

Communists Earl Browder, William Z. Foster, James Ford, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, John Bernard, Phil Raymond and Wyndham Mortimer were the architects of building the popular front and its powerful "People's Lobby" which won the New Deal reforms in the process of building powerful industrial unions... the type of unions David Bacon is obviously referring to.

These Communists had important "friends" working together with them like Minnesota's socialist Governor Elmer Benson and the many other leftists the "popular front" elected to public office.

We don't just have to pressure the present union leaderships to change as Bacon is suggesting... we need to replace them... they are part of the problem... they have bought fully into class collaboration and "the politics of pragmatism" which is the ideology of imperialism.

Just take a look: Obama and both John Sweeney and Andy Stern remained silent as the Israeli killing machine went into action with its pre-planned pogrom against the Palestinian people in Gaza Strip... the only labor federations in the world to remain shamefully silent. Whether the AFL-CIO and Change To Win remained shamefully silent as the carnage went on for days because they support the Israeli killing machine or because they were afraid to step forward as they should have done and called on Barack Obama to end his shameful silence isn't all that important--- although it was probably for both reasons.

Whether or not having a strong Communist Party USA as was the case in the 1930's and 1940's is required at least needs to be explored because no one can write out of history the important role of the Communist Party USA in creating the kind of labor movement David Bacon says we need today--- which I heartily agree with--- but, if David Bacon has an idea how this can be accomplished without a strong Communist Party USA, I would like to hear his thinking on this because it was the powerful national network of Communist Party clubs that became working class think tanks and action centers which contributed the union and community organizers and built the powerful "popular front" and "people's lobby"... taking grassroots and rank-and-file organizing to new levels in the United States.

Joe McCarthy didn't smash it all... there is still a firm progressive base that endures... the trick, in my opinion, will be to re-build the Communist Party USA from its present sorry circumstances as we move quickly to push forward with a real progressive agenda to counter what the Wall Street coupon clippers have in mind.

Whether or not Obama is what David Bacon makes him out to be or is the flam-flam man and con-artist willingly manipulated by Wall Street puppeteers is not all that important either... if an aristocrat like Franklin Roosevelt could be pushed by a powerful popular front movement, a much less powerful and influential self-serving politician like Obama can be moved too. I'm certain Obama will go the way the most powerful winds carry him.

Here in Minnesota, State Senator David Tomassoni has introduced "The People's Bailout" now working its way through the legislative process.

Senator Tomassoni has made it very clear that he doesn't think we can buy or spend our way out of this economic mess... that we will need to work our way out... which means putting the millions of unemployed in this country and the tens of thousands of unemployed Minnesotans to work as quickly as possible.

We need a similar "People's Bailout" at the federal level.

Working class activists might want to brush up on the politics and tactics used to create the historic "popular front" and the "people's lobby" because "The People's Bailout" is facing some very formidable opposition in Minnesota right now--- not only from Republicans; but many of the very same Democrats who supported Barack Obama.

David Bacon mentions the Cold War but he doesn't explain why members of the Communist Party USA and its friends were the primary targets of Cold War repression here at home--- because the U.S. ruling class needs a very complicit working class easily manipulated and controlled which will not oppose capitalism or the imperialist beast it has turned into. And of course a strong Communist Party USA countering the military madness and corporate agenda of Wall Street with a progressive agenda placing people before profits was not acceptable at all.

An entire army of well-paid capitalist sooth-Sayers has been hard at work shaping American thinking for over sixty years... now with capitalism on the skids to oblivion taking all of us down the bumpy road to perdition we are living in a "Marxist moment"... we are all socialists now... what better time than now to re-build the Communist Party USA into a powerful, fighting working class organization.

If there isn't a Communist Party USA club in your neighborhood or place of employment--- think about starting one.

Check out what David Bacon has to say; there is a lot of good stuff here contributing to the discussion dialog and debate working people will have to engage in if we are going to get a handle on this mess--- a mess created by the Wall Street coupon clippers in quest of profits; a mess the working class is being forced to pay to clean up.

We don't need a labor movement where we need to constantly be trying to influence the leadership of unions as if these "leaders" were some kind of capitalist politicians--- we don't need this kind of crap... the left-led unions of the 1930's and 1940's were not left-led by accident... their leaderships were chosen by left-thinking members of the rank-and-file... both rank-and-file and leadership were educated and influenced during union organizing drives and the struggles for the New Deal by the Communist Party USA whose members and leaders came from the working class... no better examples of these Communists can be found than in workers like Phil Raymond, Nadia Barkan and Wyndham Mortimer who were true working class leaders.

The "red" Finns of the Iron Ranges of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan were such outstanding Communists and trade unionists that you couldn't tell the leaders from the rank-and-file and you didn't know who in the Finnish community was a Communist Party member or not one. This is the way it should be in the working class movement... we don't need high-paid leaders--- labor leaders or communist leaders--- sitting in towering glass offices giving orders to those below... especially when those orders run counter to everything the working class movement should be opposed to: the injustices of capitalism.

A Radical Vision for Today's Labor Movement

by: David Bacon, Monthly Review

February 2009 Issue

The importance of internationalism and civil rights.

During the Cold War, many people with a radical vision of the world were driven out of our labor movement. Today, as unions search for answers about how to begin growing again and regain the power workers need to defend themselves, the question of social vision has become very important. What is our vision in labor? What are the issues that we confront today that form a more radical vision for our era?

The labor movement worked hard to elect Barack Obama president and a new Democratic majority in Congress, creating new possibilities for gaining labor law reform, universal healthcare, immigration reform and ending the Iraq war. But to win even these reforms, promised by the Obama campaign, unions will have to do more than simply support the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Labor's ability to move forward depends on finding a new and deeper relationship with its own members, and their willingness to fight for even a limited set of demands. Our history tells us that when workers have been inspired by a vision of real social change, the labor movement grows in numbers, bargaining strength and political power.

At the heart of any radical vision for our era is globalization - the way unions approach the operation of capitalism on an international scale. In the discussion that led to creation of the Change to Win federation, the Service Employees made a proposal about how unions should conduct their international relationships. It called on unions to find partners in other countries, even to organize those unions, in order to face common employers. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said the same thing in New York ten years earlier, when the Sweeney administration was elected. At the time, it represented a big change from the Cold War - that unions would cooperate with anyone willing to fight against our common employers. It rejected by implication the anticommunist ideology that put us on the side of employers and US foreign policy and shamed us before the world.

This idea is an example of pragmatic solidarity, and a good first step out of that Cold War past. But it is no longer radical enough to confront the new challenges of globalization - the huge displacement and migration of millions of people, the enormous gulf in the standard of living dividing developed from developing countries, and the wars fought to impose this system of global economic inequality. What's missing is a response from the labor movement to US foreign policy. International solidarity involves more than multinational corporations. Corporate globalization and military intervention are intertwined, and in the labor movement there's hardly any discussion of their relationship. In the aftermath of 9/11, this led some unions into support for the "war on terror," and eventually even into support for the Iraq invasion. Unless unions can begin to see military intervention and corporate globalization as part of the same system, many will support the war in Afghanistan as a new and popular Democratic president calls for increased intervention.

Unions in the rest of the world are not simply asking us whether we will stand with them against General Electric, General Motors or Mitsubishi. They want to know: What is your stand about aggressive wars, military intervention and coups d'etat? If we have nothing to say about these things, we will not have the trust and credibility we need to build new relationships of solidarity.

US corporations operating in countries such as Mexico and El Salvador are, in some ways, opportunistic. They take advantage of an existing economic system, and make it function to produce profits. They exploit the difference in wages from country to country, and require concessions from governments for setting up factories. But what causes the poverty in El Salvador that they exploit to their advantage? What drives a worker into a factory that, in the United States, we call a sweatshop? What role does US policy play in creating that system of poverty?

Unions need the kind of discussion in which workers try to answer these questions. Labor education is more than technical training in techniques for grievance handling and collective bargaining. It has to be about politics, in the broadest and most radical sense. When unions don't work with their members to develop a framework to answer these questions, they become ineffective in fighting about the issues of peace and war, globalization and their consequences, such as immigration.

When the AFL-CIO campaigned in Washington against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, labor lobbyists went up to Capitol Hill to mobilize pressure on Congress. Some unions went to their local affiliates and asked members to make phone calls and write letters. But what was missing was education at the base. Had unions educated and mobilized their members against the Contra war in Nicaragua, and the counterinsurgency wars in El Salvador and Guatemala (and certainly many activists tried to do that), US workers would have understood CAFTA much more clearly over a decade later. But because there's so little effort to create a conscious, educated union membership, it will be hard to get members to act when labor's Washington lobbyists need them to defeat new trade agreements, in the upcoming battles over the Colombian and South Korean FTAs.

The root of this problem is a kind of American pragmatism that disparages education. We need to demand more from those who make the decisions and control the purse strings in our unions.

Since grinding poverty in much of the world is an incentive for moving production, defending the standard of living of workers around the world is as necessary as defending our own. The logic of inclusion in a global labor movement must apply as much to a worker in Iraq as it does to the nonunion worker down the street. The debate over the Iraq war at the AFL-CIO convention in 2005 highlighted more than the effects of the war at home. It proposed that even in the face of US military intervention, US and Iraqi workers belong to the same global labor movement, and have to find common ground in opposing those policies that brought the war about.

The generation of antiwar, solidarity activists who were young marchers and war veterans during Vietnam, and rank-and-file militants during the Central American interventions, today is leading unions. Some of them may have forgotten those roots, but many have not. They're tired of seeing their movement remain quiet when the US military is used to prop up an economic system they're fighting at home. The labor movement may be awash in internal dissention, but it has grown surprisingly united in opposition to the Iraq war. US Labor Against the War, which started as a collection of small groups in a handful of unions, has today become a coalition of unions representing over a million members, and represents the thinking of an overwhelming majority. Its resolutions, passed in convention after convention, are the product of grassroots action at the bottom of the US labor movement, not a directive from the top.

Iraqis themselves provided US workers with a new way of looking at the occupation. Iraqi unemployment has been at 70 percent since it started. Order 30, issued by occupation czar Paul Bremer in September 2003 (and still in force), lowered the base wage in public enterprises, where most permanently employed Iraqis work, to $35 a month and ended subsidies for food and housing. Law 150, issued by Saddam Hussein in 1987 to prohibit unions and collective bargaining in the public sector, was continued under the occupation. The current Iraqi government still forbids the Oil Ministry to formally recognize the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), seizes union bank accounts and won't allow unions to function normally.

Iraqi unions see these moves as a way to soften up workers to ensure they don't resist the privatization of the country's economy, particularly its oil. Iraqi unions, especially the IFOU, are the backbone of the country's popular movement against oil privatization, without which the multinational oil giants would have taken control of the industry long ago. In Iraq, as in most developing countries, privatization defies the tradition of social solidarity. Iraq needs its oil revenues to rebuild the country, creating a public sector that can put people to work and ensure a self-sustaining national economy.

So US labor's call for rapid withdrawal should mean more than just bringing US soldiers home. It should put American workers on the side of Iraqis, as they resist the transformation of their country for the benefit of a wealthy global elite. This is a transformation happening in country after country. Iraq is a place where US workers can see it clearly, if the labor movement would give them the information and material they need. They certainly won't get it from the mainstream press, but they could get this education from their unions.

That education would help workers understand the political and economic objectives of war and intervention. It would help them understand the huge displacement of people caused by the effort to maintain this unjust system. And that, in turn, would help them understand why we see waves of those displaced people moving around the world, including coming to the US.

Opposing the war means fighting for the self-interest of our members, and being able to identify that self-interest with the interest of workers in Iraq. The same money that pays for the corrupt contracts with KBR and Blackwater is money that doesn't get spent on schools here at home. We won't have the money for a New Deal-style economic recovery under President Obama, much less a full-employment economy, without peace. It's that simple. And to imagine that we can produce millions of jobs at home, and keep people in their foreclosed homes, while fighting yet another war in Afghanistan, is a dangerous illusion.

Union members are not ignorant. They think about the issues of war and jobs all the time. They are becoming more sophisticated and better at understanding the way global issues from war to trade affect the lives of people in the streets of US cities. A more radical program of labor education would not be swimming against the tide, but with it.

At the same time, however, educating union members alone is not enough. A radical vision should address workers far beyond the formal ranks of organized labor. The percentage of union members is declining, and the organization union members need to put their understanding into practice is getting smaller. Deeper political awareness alone will not create a larger labor movement.

Just after the Second World War, unions represented 35 percent of US workers. It's no coincidence that the McCarthy era, when the Cold War came to dominate the politics of unions, was the beginning of the decline. By 1975, after the Vietnam War, union membership had dropped to 26 percent. Today only 12 percent of all workers, and eight percent in the private sector, are union members. Declining numbers translate into a decline in political power and economic leverage. California (with one-sixth of all union members), Hawaii and New York have higher union density than any other states. But even here, labor is facing a war for political survival.

While the percentage of organized workers has declined, unions have made important progress in finding alternative strategic ideas to the old business unionism. If these ideas are developed and extended, they provide an important base for making unions stronger and embedding them more deeply in working-class communities. But it's a huge job. Raising the percentage of organized workers in the United States from just 12 to 13 percent means organizing over a million people, and our goal should be to double that percentage. Only a social movement can organize people on this scale.

Gaining a fairer process for winning union recognition and collective bargaining agreements, and real penalties on employers for anti-union firings, puts the Employee Free Choice Act deservedly at the center of labor's political agenda. But a legal process alone will not create strong unions. Only a movement among workers themselves, in which rank-and-file members play a much more active role, can build unions that will survive an employer offensive, and that can fight effectively for social reforms, from single-payer health care to true legalization and equality for immigrants.

In addition to labor law reform and structural reforms to make unions more effective, the labor movement needs a program that will inspire people to organize on their own. Unions need to lose their fear of radical demands, and reject the constant argument that any proposal that can't get through Congress next year is not worth fighting for. One big part of that program is peace. Another is reordering economic priorities.

Today working-class people have to fight just to keep their homes. For the last several decades, many were driven out of cities to lower-cost suburbs, often disproportionately workers of color. Now the families forced into unpayable loans in order to buy houses are losing them to the banks. This certainly calls for a return to the direct action of an earlier era. If we don't mobilize to keep our members in their homes, what good are we? But beyond direct action, unions and central labor councils need to have a concrete program for economic development, housing and jobs. That would start to give us something we lack: a compelling vision and a militant movement in the streets demanding action.

That's where millions of people have been for three May Days in a row now, in the largest street outpourings since the 1930's. To its credit, the labor movement helped raise the expectations of immigrants when the AFL-CIO passed a resolution in Los Angeles in 1999, putting forward a radical new program - amnesty for the undocumented, ending employer sanctions, reunification of families, and protecting the rights of all people, especially the right to organize. The marches and movements of immigrant workers of the last decade demonstrate convincingly the power of this radical political vision.

Congress, however, moved in a different direction, criminalizing work and migration, and proposing huge guest worker programs. While the congressional bills failed, states passed laws that were even worse. Mississippi made it a state felony for an undocumented worker to hold a job, with prison terms of up to five years. And the Bush administration simply began implementing by executive order the enforcement and guest worker measures it couldn't get through Congress. In the wave of raids that followed, hundreds of workers, including union members, have gone to federal prison on bogus criminal charges of identity theft, for inventing a Social Security number. And when nonunion workers have stood up for a union or a higher wage, raids have been used to terrorize them.

It is time for the labor movement to fight to stop this wave of anti-worker repression, and propose a freedom agenda for immigrants that will give people rights and an equal status with other workers on the job, and with their neighbors in their own communities. Instead of holding its finger to the political wind, labor has to convince a new administration that passing that program is not only politically possible, but also politically necessary to hold and expand Obama's own electoral base.

Instead of an alliance with employers based on Washington political calculations, winning immigrant rights requires an alliance between unions, immigrants and other communities of color. The common ground for building that alliance is linking immigrant rights to a real jobs program and a full-employment economy, with affirmative action that can come to grips with the devastation in communities of color, especially African-American communities. And without challenging the war, the resources for building that alliance will be lost on guns and more intervention.

The labor movement must inspire people with a broader vision of what is possible. Workers' standard of living is declining, and they often have to choose between paying their rent or mortgage or going to the doctor. There's something fundamentally wrong with the priorities of this society. Workers know it, and unions have to be courageous enough to say it.

Working families need a decent wage, but they also need the promise of a better world. For as long as we've had unions, workers have shown they'll struggle for the future of their children and their communities, even when their own future seems in doubt. But it takes a radical social vision to inspire that wave of commitment, idealism and activity.

It's happened before. The 1920's were filled with company unions, violence, strikebreakers and the open shop. A decade later, those obstacles were swept away. An upsurge of millions in the 1930's, radicalized by the Depression and left-wing politics, forced corporate acceptance of the labor movement for the first time in the country's history. Changes taking place in our unions and communities today can be the beginning of something just as large and profound. With more radicalism and imagination, the obstacles we face can become historical relics as quickly as did those of that earlier era.