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, December 31, 2012

Conventions of labour; Movement or paralysis?


Conventions of labour

Movement or paralysis?

The status quo is not working for working people. Unions need to seriously overhaul the way they operate if they are to remain relevant. One key example that reveals the directionlessness and impotence of contemporary unions is the perennial convention charade where the organized labour movement convenes with the professed aims of advancing the interests of workers and improving society as a whole. If only this were the case.

With few exceptions, a recurring drama plays out at conventions on the backs of working people, “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing” (to quote Macbeth.) Here are some of those recurring acts that paralyze a movement.

Every convention begins with some kind of rhetoric about “democracy” and the importance of the labour movement coming together to debate and participate with a view to social progress. Seriously, who are we kidding with this pretend democracy? Labour conventions are typically contrived. Everyone knows the fix is in – but no one wants to say it out loud. In some cases the problem goes as far as paid staffers attempting to influence the proceedings in the backrooms or even acting as delegates, when for all intents and purposes they are actually representing their employers, the top elected officers.

Limited debate

During these precarious times, one would think this coming together every three years would lead to deep and fiery discussions on where our labour movement is headed and what it will take to develop an effective resistance. Just the opposite is true. For example, during the 2011 Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention, debate was limited to approximately nine hours for an entire week. This script ensures that workers, representing their unions as delegates, will have precious little time to debate the issues. Further, the show is always conducted by those orchestrating the front stage at the expense of the delegates who become mere spectators of the labour scene.
Speaking out in the context of a union convention feels much like speaking out of turn in church. You know how far you can go and where to stop. Some topics, like any critical reflection on the relationship to the New Democratic Party (NDP), capitalism, class, strategy, and especially direct action, are mostly off limits and treated as unmentionable.

Time is typically stuffed with uninspiring speakers – very few could be described as especially challenging or insightful. Given that some unions hold seminars for the purpose of educating members, this is highly disappointing. Another problem is that some speakers from the floor have more rights than others, which is reflected in the amount of time allocated to delegates to speak.
The CLC achieved a new low at the last convention when space was taken up by CBC personalities Ian Hanomansing and Wendy Mesley. Hanomansing, serving as a moderator, voiced his disapproval with the claim that a corporate bias exists in mainstream reporting. The problem, according to Hanomansing, is that the left fails at both making their stories sexy enough and packaging their message as well as the right, thus confirming that journalism in today’s mainstream media is more of a public relations exercise than about finding and reporting the news. I guess Hanomansing means that journalists shouldn’t be doing the work of putting stories together and that in essence everyone is on the same playing field with equal resources to have our stories told. Migrant farm workers, for example, then must be assumed to be in the same position to tell their story as Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. To further demonstrate the disingenuous nature of union convention debates, questions for panellists had to be submitted in writing, thus ensuring no challenging or embarrassing moments for invited guests. A debate that is scripted is in fact not a debate at all.

Rhetoric no substitute for action

Labour conventions are long on rhetoric but short on substance. The process is predictable and repetitious. Speaking to the converted, the right is assailed and the NDP lionized. Meanwhile, labour leaders – except during the occasional election – prop each other up, slap one another on the back and avoid discussing the systemic problems plaguing workers or naming the elephants in the room all the while preferring instead to heap on personal accolades. Personality politics, not discussions of political systems, fill the space and agendas. So-and-so is a “great guy,” a fighter for their members, a hero in the fight against Prime Minister Harper, or whichever non-NDP leader is in office. Delegates cheer. Little happens. But in those moments, under the lights in the house of labour, we sure do feel good about ourselves. There is a fetish about leadership and playing follow-the-leader, but nothing comparably passionate about the significance of struggle and the necessity of resistance. It’s easier for the union aristocracy that way. No one need feel uncomfortable.

I wonder if anyone was listening when the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) convention guest speaker, Canadian Union of Postal Workers President Denis Lemelin, broke the mould somewhat by calling on labour to develop our own “social project”? Lemelin explains that sectoral divisions and defensiveness can be replaced by a basis of unity with a clear long-term strategic plan to gain public support and fight for all of society.

Silencing dissidents

It is noteworthy to see who gets in and who doesn’t at labour conventions. At the Montreal 2005 CLC Convention anti-poverty activists from the Belleville Tenant Action Group, fundraising in the main lobby of the convention center, were threatened with expulsion until delegates passing by came to their defence using a little direct action of their own.

While labour conventions are a place to pick up information, finding a table of radical or challenging literature may be difficult. There is limited space, and the organizers have final say over who is invited and who isn’t. A number of spaces were taken up by insurance companies at the recent MFL convention held in June 2012. Regrettably, challenging or critical materials were in much shorter supply.

Backroom mechanisms, never out in the open, are used to keep resolutions that may not be palatable to the leaders from ever making it to the floor. It matters not where the resolution came from (a local union, workers from the shop floor). If it seems “controversial” or doesn’t fit the pre-structured schemes of leadership it may magically disappear in spite of “process.” A case in point is the recent MFL resolution on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) directed at Israeli Apartheid. While the resolutions committee recommended concurrence unanimously, behind the scenes the MFL executive asked the committee to reconsider its decision. Concurrence was pulled under the guise that the resolution did not reflect CLC policy. This raises the question of who gets to decide policy for organized workers in Manitoba. It does not appear to be a bottom-up process, but instead, a top-down corporate model. After some wrangling, face-saving, and negotiation, the resolution received again the desired concurrence only to have the motion tabled on the floor after a number of delegates spoke in its favour. To add further insult, activists were prevented from distributing information on BDS and the situation of Palestinians to delegates, even though that literature was produced in a unionized print shop.

Manitoba requires 65 per cent sign-up to certify a union. Two bold activists held a silent protest during Premier Greg Selinger’s speech to convention delegates by holding up signs pointing out that a government majority can be achieved with much less than 50 per cent of the votes but for workers in Manitoba, the bar is set at 65 per cent, the highest in the country. They were told to sit down. Silence and politeness remain the order of the day, thus making any criticism of the NDP off limits. The Manitoba NDP have been in power for 13 years and did not deliver on anti-scab legislation (now called “replacement workers” by organized labour, an example of neoliberal Newspeak that incorporates the language of the right). While perhaps an NDP government is not quite as hostile as a Tory one, can a “lesser of the evils” really be considered enough of a victory? Neither the NDP nor organized labour challenge the neoliberal capitalist system; in fact, neither can even bring themselves to utter the words to address its very existence.

Toothless resolutions

Resolutions have become a kind of shopping list without any pith or substance. Mostly toothless, they allow us to feel good about ourselves, as if we crossed another one off the list of things that need doing without the slightest mention of how we are going to do them. At the MFL convention 172 non-administrative resolutions were submitted. Of these the resolved action called on lobbying the provincial government 110 times. Sometimes the resolution stated the MFL will “continue to lobby” on an issue indicating that this is not the first time the issue was raised. The word “urge” is used 12 times, “encourage” five times, and “call on” three times. Stronger words like “demand” and “insist” were used four and two times respectively. This begs the question, what do we mean by lobby, urge, and encourage exactly? Does it mean beg, plead, take a minister to dinner, or mobilize a movement that can ensure the stated goals are met? Why do union conventions spend so much time, effort, and expense to make empty pleas and to obediently prop up governments and their agendas that clearly work against workers’ interests?

When potentially popular and effective resolutions appear, they are frequently watered down inside policy papers to give the appearance of democratic process while keeping the lid on things.

Waste of scarce resources

Conventions are financially costly. For a CLC convention, delegates fly in from across the country and typically book one delegate per costly hotel room and receive generous per diems for meals. Imagine what kind of organizing and support for real struggle and change there could be were we a little more frugal, creative, and long-sighted. Meanwhile, labour organizers in the Global South often seem to be able to consistently do more with less, while producing far more effective results.
According to David Camfield, associate professor in labour studies at the University of Manitoba and author of Canadian Labour in Crisis, “it’s worth noting that in many cases the people who attend as delegates aren’t the best activists, the ones who are troublemakers on the job, supporters of community struggles, and critics of complacency in the unions. Such activists often aren’t delegates, either because they don’t get elected or – in unions where delegates are selected, not elected – because officials deny them delegate credentials. Some people on the left think conventions are the most important moments in the life of a union. I disagree, for two reasons. First, conventions often don’t have that much impact on what happens in the union. For example, if a resolution gets passed that the top brass don’t like, they can often find a way to ensure it never gets acted on. Second, unions matter most when ‘union’ means workers taking action together in the workplace or on the streets.”

What now?

What is the purpose of a labour convention? I would argue that it is to challenge the growing capitalist disaster with a strong and vibrant force of organized workers, both unionized and non-unionized, including the unemployed and underemployed.

Labour centrals and organizations need to stop spending significant amounts of members’ dues money to stage events that maintain the status quo and privilege a few at the expense of the many. The International Trade Union Confederation, CLC and provincial federations of labour have proven themselves to be lacking vision, which robs workers while reproducing a labour aristocracy void of ideas for these times. It is time for critical questions and tough self-reflection.
What is unclear is how trade unions intend to challenge the austerity agenda. Merely coping, hanging on, and focusing a great deal of energy on electoral politics at the expense of other forms of struggle will not be enough to overcome the challenges that lay before us. Given the state of the current economic arrangements, it’s probably safe to say that it won’t serve future generations well either.

What is to be learned from our history? Labour movements and the victories gained from them were not built by “urging” and “lobbying.” They were created by the collective dignity and expression of human beings who took risks and action against capital. What can be learned and applied from autonomous, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, migrant, Indigenous, student, and social movements that might shift this theatre of empty rhetoric and surrender to create a coordinated body of workers prepared to take the offensive, not just in the present, but for future generations?
The questions to be asked are not about Harper and the corporations. The questions to be asked are of us.

Dave Bleakney is a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the national union representative for education (Anglophone). On matters of anti-capitalism, the dude abides.

Hope springs eternal: A New Year's worker's message

Hope springs eternal: A New Year's worker's message

| December 31, 2012

Photo: Rob Chandanais/Flickr
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The question now is where to go from here. All workers and most people are now expendable waste in the global corporate market. We feel demoralized and defensive and are picked off one by one. We face "austerity" as the banks earn record profits. We compete to death while trillions are shored up in offshore bank accounts. Some of that loot was robbed from us after the 2008 failure of the banking system for which our children and their children and likely their children will be paying for their lifetimes as the planet screams for relief. Is it fair that someone that hasn't been born yet should be paying banks money after they have already robbed and pillaged billions in profit? Apparently, yes. There does not appear to be much understanding of system failure by most workers and their leaders.

We keep puttering on, looking for someone to blame, a name we can hang our hat on while systems of destruction rise around us. We use the bosses' courts in vain attempts to settle scores with an occasional victory. We keep running on someone else's treadmill while they control the wheel. This system cares not about our bodies, our histories, our cultures or our dignity. At one time, it was Indigenous peoples in this position. Now it is all of us, everything, every country, every town, every workplace, every street, and every body. The Indigenous territories continue to be colonized. And we of the settler class have self-colonized ourselves along the way and behave by cue in this absurd trap. Even with resistance rising all around us, we go shopping and hope for the best, like compliant little victims programmed by the system as Rome burns, or more aptly, as the Earth screams.

Unions are woefully self-immobilized; seemingly unable or unwilling to explore the processes to shift the terrain or acknowledge that one might exist. That is left to the youth, the defenders of the land, the frontline and marginalized peoples who are the most penalized fallout of capitalism and a colonial mess that remains unresolved. We play by the rules; the same rules made to penalize resistance and silence opposition to corporatism (some would say it has the hallmarks of soft fascism). We play the game on their field in an unsustainable order based on greed and destruction and then predictably complain about it.

Are you as tired of being a victim as I am? We blame corporations for what they were designed to do, blaming politicians for what they can't, or won't, do, and living in the shadows of denial or fear or both. We tolerate a system controlled by others that is based on an alleged "lesser of evils," where no matter who is elected they will be hamstrung by a global corporate initiative of investors and bankers that can bring a country to its knees.  It is the system which promotes a corrupt nature of relations that robs workers, punishes the poor and destroys the land. It is a place of record profits and jobless recoveries. The "economy" as they call it, is spoken of with reverence and scared fervour as if we exist and are designed only for it.

But like Patti Smith sang, "people have the power," more power than they know, "the power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the earth from fools." We have the strength in numbers that can occupy and blockade and the power to withdraw our labour and bring the production of goods and services to a halt. We have the power to write the script any time of our choosing. How many of us are afraid of that power in the hour it is needed most? Many working-class people participate in this surrender whether they know it or not. They would rather talk about Christmas turkey or the latest abuse by their bosses rather than joining or creating spaces of resistance while staid, ineffective institutions rule us. A lack of creative power, and spaces to find it, is a course designed by the enemy that we travel day after day. It continues to rob us, with our compliance, silence and ineffectiveness.

If you think there is something more, something greater and something better, then we need to find a way out. This system is broken. Let's get over it and plan for real. What is the old adage: don't get mad, get even. Better yet, make our opponents irrelevant; perhaps not an easy task, but certainly a noble and desired one. Never has this been so vital to so many people. We face more than getting even: it is the survival of our species and all living things with a little human dignity in the here and now.
So what to do? I certainly can't claim to have the answer, and I would be suspicious of anyone who claims they have them all. We are made of many answers, many voices and all we lack is the space to find and articulate them in a world that has been designed for us; a kind of corporate matrix that leaves us feeling powerless, helpless or just plain angry with nowhere to go.

If you step outside for a moment, leave the box, as Idle No More has done, and just for an instant consider all things possible and that maybe our biggest enemy has not been those that rob us and fill their pockets, but rather ourselves. It is our compliance, our blind faith, our system of acceptance, as if chained to an illusion that we can really change things with a ballot while the strings are pulled inevitably by invisible puppeteers. This farce which is now global no longer has meaning or vision. We are atomized, broken up into disconnected parts, right down to the neighbourhood and even family level. We have been taught suspicion and that we live in "democracies" and have special "Canadian values" in a land based on theft of Indigenous territories and a culture of war. We see invisible enemies everywhere. Up is down and down is up. So we look for refuge in a pile of distractions and circuses. Time is almost up. And so we avoid. We are the sheep, making it possible for the ruse to continue.

So what processes will we unleash? Will we remain a bunch of hopeless victims satisfied with an absence of ideas about resistance? Will our spaces be denied by well-meaning "leaders" hamstrung by processes from another era that don't work? Or shall we mould ourselves into something else, something fit for the times, something that leaves a legacy to be enjoyed by those who follow us to build on; organized collectives of workers that seize opportunity and turn disadvantage into advantage to join with defenders of these lands and waters around us? Will we become a movement defined by us and not our opponents? Will we become real allies and join the resistance rising up all around us? Will we nurture a wiry resistance that is always moving, strategizing and inviting processes that are participatory and feed on the collective power we carry together?

Our governments (and unions) are "pretend" or "part-time" democracies. The backrooms, the hidden and the unseen, fear, and a lack of ideas dot the terrain. Thus defeatism and social management of struggle have become our practice, part of our nature. We have a poor understanding of participatory democracy because we have not been given a chance, nor do we claim it.  It is too easy to blame "mis-leaders" or general incompetence on others. That is unfair, though in some cases quite true. We have allowed ourselves to be locked into processes with little wiggle room. That means changing the terrain, and creating new rules. We have the right to dream and create. Let us never forget that. That project deepens now which leaves us with choices.

I don't need to list all the things that strangle our hope. We live them everyday. And making more lists of our misery and what the corporatocracy is doing to us is no longer on. Righteous victims don't change anything. But new structures and spaces of possibility can lend themselves to something vital. This is not a game. We can no longer tippy-toe with a paralyzing fear that creates no victories and waits for others to find them for us and merely complain and blame when they don't.

Workers, and the increased destruction of rights, are not inevitable. It is only inevitable if we allow ourselves to be "managed" under rules and practices designed to rob and destroy us that we reproduce. So instead of playing on their field, chasing paper thrown at us by employers, filing grievances that go nowhere, and tying up unions in bureaucratic processes, why not unleash another kind of unionism. One grounded in the power of our work and dignity and in harmony with the thousands of years of Indigenous wisdom placed on these lands that was never extinguished, even in the darkest of times.

We don't lack resistance; we lack places to nurture it. Active unionism would require that every worker contribute time and effort to developing spaces and processes for resistance and acknowledge these destructive systems of control rather than "manage" what we all agree is a woeful decline in union power. A real struggle involves the personal, the emotional, the direct contact, not hollow proclamations posted on bulletin boards in the hopeless drudgery of workplaces. What we lack are the assemblies and places to tap into our unity and power.
As the resistance rises around us, let us not be cautious and afraid anymore. The politics of blame are over. None of us are alone. People do have the power; they just struggle to realize it. Consider it an invitation.

Dave Bleakney is the national union representative for education for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and has written and published in numerous publications on resistance, neoliberal globalization and adult education pedagogy.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movement building key to real change.

Majority of Canadians support protests, demonstrations and movement building in order to achieve real change:


The "Idle No More" movement is picking up support.

We should all learn the simple fact that politicians don't care about phone calls, letters or petitions UNLESS they are part of movement building initiatives.

It is growing movements politicians take note of.

Letter I sent to the Frances Perkins Center

This is a letter I sent to the Frances Perkins Center in response to a newsletter I received from them:

Season's Greetings;

A couple points about the current Frances Perkins Center newsletter.

I have never been to the Center; but hope to visit it soon.

You state the Center is on the "shores" of the river; I am wondering if "shores" is the correct term because usually people refer to the "shores" of rivers as "banks." A minor point.

However, a more important point is this: You keep failing to mention the tremendous people's movement that Perkins and FDR were "partnered" with in pushing through Social Security. In fact, Perkins was FDR's liaison of sorts to these powerful movements more properly called "The People's Front;" without all three, I doubt we would have Social Security today.

You also state:

"We are one of over three hundred organizations participating in the national Strengthen Social Security coalition; we have sponsored a number of educational forums, published a collection of essays on the history, financing and challenges of administering Social Security; and we continue to advocate for measures that will ensure that the “promise to all generations” made by Frances Perkins and Franklin D. Roosevelt will be kept."

This coalition really concerns me because it seems like many of your "coalition partners" have already stated their intent is to back whatever President Barack Obama does with the intent to protect Obama's political butt rather than defend Social Security from Obama's and the Democrat's initiated attacks on it.

As part of your "educational forums" on Social Security I hope you are pointing out that most Democrats in Congress and the existing labor federation, the AFL, did not support, but opposed Social Security.

I, and am sure many others, would be very disappointed with the Frances Perkins Center should you go along with ANY cuts at all to Social Security or its associated programs--- in fact, I think Frances Perkins would be insisting Social Security should be strengthened and expanded--- both its benefits and programs.

The only real way to put Social Security on a firm financial basis is:

1. Prevent the government from delving into the Social Security Trust Fund diverting these revenues to the general fund which is mostly used for militarism and wars, which Frances Perkins abhorred; and,

2. A full-employment economy where everyone pays in and everyone gets something out.

Full-employment could be created if the National Public Health Care System Frances Perkins advocated for were brought into existence--- this would create some 12 to fifteen million new jobs.

Frances Perkins was also a tremendous and untiring advocate for children. If we created a National Public Child Care System for working class families we would be creating some three to five million new jobs.

In addition; if we brought back the WPA and CCC, more of Frances Perkins' favorite public works projects, another 6 million or so jobs would be created.

All of this could be paid for through the kind of sensible budgets Frances Perkins advocated; budgets which would entail drastic cuts for militarism and wars resulting in a huge "peace dividend" to fund these human needs programs putting people to work solving some of our most complex social problems.

If a "peace dividend" wouldn't be plenty to pay for such a human needs centered budget then we simply would have to tax the rich, tax corporate profits and place a tax on all Wall Street transactions.

It is my hope you will share these thoughts with your coalition partners who should be gearing up for a powerful "people's front/people's lobby" if we are going to save Social Security and secure real living income benefits for Social Security recipients.

The age for receiving Social Security benefits should be reduced to age 55 and not increased.

The national Strengthen Social Security coalition [ http://strengthensocialsecurity.org/ ] the Center is a member of should be much more than a public relations gimmick; either bring the grassroots of America out in force in a massive mobilization to protect, defend and expand Social Security or state up front this is not the coalitions intent so others will know this has to be done.

I would note that in the past, many of the participants in this coalition [ http://strengthensocialsecurity.org/about/coalition ] have done little more than hold a few press conferences voicing concerns then doing nothing which would include Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO which is on your coalition's Steering Committee.

A powerful movement won Social Security. That movement has friends of Social Security in the White House and Frances Perkins. Today, Social Security has no friend in the White House, no friends in the Obama Administration and very few real friends in Congress. In addition, And Social Security lacks the kind of grassroots people's movement required to defend it like the powerful movement that won Social Security even though it is quite obvious the movement to defend Social Security will have to be even more powerful because the Wall Street crowd which opposed Social Security in the beginning is even stronger today.

I would point out that Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO has already sent out signals he is willing to accept cuts to Social Security even though he goes through his usual moans, groans and vulgarities lamenting concessions.

I would further point out that this coalition has no authorization from Social Security recipients or the American people to accept any kind of cuts to Social Security.

A list of members of this coalition is not enough; the members of these organizations have to be brought into the battle and struggle to defend Social Security.

Appreciative of the work the Frances Perkins Center does,

Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

Monday, December 24, 2012

Northwest grain terminal lockout would pit longshoremen against strikebreakers

From Michael Munk:

The article suggests the Lesser Evil, just re-elected with massive union support, may follow Bush’s 2002 example and invoke Taft-Hartley (T-H) to force the ILWU to keep working grain ships. T-H was the savage post war (1947) counter-attack on labor’s New Deal gains. Vetoed by Truman as a “slave-labor bill,” 20 Dems joined Senate Repubs to override his veto.

For more background: http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/09/06/how-many-democrats-voted-for-taft-hartley/

Northwest grain terminal lockout would pit longshoremen against strikebreakers

By Richard Read

The Oregonian, December 23, 2012

Two of three fully-crewed non-union tugboats wait on the Willamette River in Portland to dock ships in case of a lockout of longshoremen at Northwest grain terminals. Strikebreakers dispatched by J.R. Gettier & Associates are also standing by on high alert.

Scores of out-of-state strikebreakers wait on high alert in Northwest hotel rooms, ready to replace longshoremen in case of a lockout at grain terminals.
Three fully crewed, non-union tugboats protected by armed guards stand by, prepared to keep grain ships docking. In a provocative move, a California company has moored the tugs on the Willamette River near longshore Local 8's Northwest Portland union hall.

Quietly, owners of Portland, Vancouver and Puget Sound terminals have spent months preparing for a battle royal on the waterfront, lining up troops and assets like chess pieces. The agribusiness giants have laid legal groundwork for a lockout, which could occur anytime after a Monday noon deadline.

If Columbia Grain Inc., United Grain Corp. and Louis Dreyfus Commodities lock out dockworkers, Portland will become the new front line in a war between unions and a shadowy industry of strikebreaking companies that send tough guys across picket lines.

Confrontations can last months and turn violent.

But with billions of dollars of grain exports at stake, President Barack Obama could intervene, as President George W. Bush did in 2002, when he invoked the Taft-Hartley law to send West Coast longshoremen back to work.

One thing that probably won't happen, according to a national expert on lockouts and strikes, is permanent replacement of dockworkers, given labor laws and the tightknit, tenacious nature of the San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

"The companies would be subject to picketing constantly, and these folks would never go away," said Michael LeRoy, a University of Illinois labor law professor. Longshore workers, he said, "can be aggressive about asserting their rights."

Longshoremen displayed that resolve last year when some were arrested for trying to block a train from entering a grain terminal in Longview, Wash. They showed it last summer, slowing Port of Portland operations in pursuit of jobs, and again in Portland and Los Angeles by making employers provide job security for guards and clerks.

Before dawn Friday, longshoremen began pulling up in large pickups at Portland's Local 8, and at other union halls in Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma, to vote on the companies' "last, best and final" contract offer.

The companies want concessions similar to those the union made at a competing Longview grain terminal, saving the elevator millions of dollars in labor costs. But a "no" vote is all but certain, given the union bargaining team's unanimous thumbs-down recommendation.

"The vote is in the hands of nearly 3,000 men and women who have made these elevators successful by working in conditions that are not only strenuous, but also hazardous," Jennifer Sargent, a longshore union spokeswoman, said in a news release. "These members are exercising their democratic union right to decide whether the industry's proposal is positive or negative for their families, as well as for Northwest jobs and communities."
If a lockout ensues, picketers will face a familiar adversary: J.R. Gettier & Associates, a Delaware company that serves employers. Gettier is one of several strikebreaking companies nationwide.

The strike companies deploy hardened workers derided by union members as scabs, mercenaries and worse. Strikebreakers often leave home abruptly without knowing their destinations until a boss hands them plane tickets.

Once there, they hang out in hotel rooms until a work stoppage begins. They're bundled into vans and driven past protesters furious at outsiders for undercutting their cause.

Union members try to videotape strikebreakers and post images online. Strikebreakers do the same to union members.

Encounters can be dangerous. Ten years ago at 39, Canadian tool-and-die-maker Don Milner joined a picket line to support fellow union members striking at a Navistar truck plant in Windsor, Ontario.

A van driver working for a strikebreaking company ran over Milner and other protesters. The vehicle split his pelvis bone, broke an arm, shattered his bladder and kidneys and damaged his lungs.

Milner spent almost two months in a coma. He has spent almost two of the past 10 years in the hospital. But he disproved doctors who told him he'd never walk again.

"I just think scab workers are not seeing the whole picture," said Milner, who forgave the driver and declined to prosecute. "If they work for a plant for less money, they're taking all that away from a town."

Managers at Gettier and competitors Strom Engineering and Special Response Corp. declined to comment. Company web sites say they conduct pre-strike property surveys, develop strategies, post guards, replace workers and videotape picketers.

A strikebreaker who has crossed more than 20 picket lines said he's become accustomed to running the gauntlet, which initially spooked him. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution and because strike companies prohibit interviews.

The strikebreaker said he gains satisfaction from learning to operate equipment and beating union production rates. He knows union members hate him. But he believes he actually helps them by keeping employers operating until they reach agreement.

That sort of logic disgusts Brenda Wiest, contact campaign coordinator for Teamsters Local 117 in Tukwila, Wash. She's helping strikers nearby at United Natural Foods Inc., a Rhode Island-based food distributor that has hired replacement workers.

"They come out here and try to intimidate and threaten workers who are standing up for their rights," Wiest said. "They film you constantly. They're the lowest form of humanity."
Strike companies, let alone tugboat operators such as California's Greger Pacific Marine Inc., charge employers handsomely. The mere presence of replacement workers waiting in hotels boosts employers' leverage.

Not all staffing companies will do that sort of work. In Portland, Maine, temp firm Rock Coast Personnel declined last month when Twinkies maker Hostess Brands called for replacement workers. "We didn't want to be a part of busting good well-paying jobs for hardworking Mainers," said Bill DiGiulio, vice president of operations.

In Portland, Oregon, the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association has given longshore leaders until noon Christmas Eve to say whether or not the union will accept the contract offer. The employers -- minus one, Temco, a Cargill venture that defected without explanation -- won't say what they'll do if the union turns it down.

The terminal owners have taken pains to prove talks reached an impasse, which would allow them invite back locked-out workers only on the final offer's employer-friendly terms. The Union could strike, and may well do so in the event of a lockout, saying the talks hadn't reached impasse and accusing the employers of unfair labor practices.

As the lockout looms, a separate union that represents longshore workers along the East and Gulf coasts is threatening its first Maine-to-Texas dock strike since 1977. The International Longshoremen's Association strike expected Dec. 30 would affect container cargo, as opposed to grain and automobiles.

Both there and in the Northwest, Obama could issue a back-to-work order under the Taft-Hartley act. The act empowers the president to seek a court injunction that imposes an 80-day cooling-off period while federal mediators seek a settlement.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Social Security

This is the labor "leader" who led 1,300 American Crystal Company workers in the Red River Valley into a dead-end losing lock-out.

Are you going to trust labor "leaders" like him and Richard Trumka to defend your Social Security?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012




December 19, 2012

Mark Charles stood near the reflecting pool in Washington, DC on Wednesday morning and led a reading of a 2010 US Congressional letter of apology to Native Americans.
Charles, a Christian Reformed Church member, consultant and promoter of Native American rights, organized the reading and has been traveling across the US in the last several months raising awareness of the event.
After holding a moment of silence to commemorate last week’s tragedy at the elementary school in Connecticut, Charles spoke to the 55 or so people, many CRC members, who were there.
He started by sharing his feelings and sketching the background of why they were there.
“I felt grieved and hurt,” he said in live streaming over his wirelesshogan website and on his UTube channel.
As he spoke, the dome of the capitol was in the distance behind him.
“There are people who need to know that their country was trying to apologize to them.”
Many of the CRC members, including Calvin College students, traveled to Washington in a chartered bus. Also in attendance were several Native Americans and others.
Artwork created for the event by two Native American artists was on display as well. Native American flute music and singing also took place.
Everyone gathered for the reading to highlight the fact that the apology to Native Americans, signed into law three years ago on Wednesday, was buried on page 45 of the 2010 Defence Appropriations Act.
“Because our leaders were not going to read this apology, we came up with a plan to be here today to read it,” said Charles.
Called The Native American Apology Resolution, the act was sponsored and  put forward by former Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., “to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.”
The resolution officially apologizes “on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.
A majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for. And most of the five million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to, says Charles.
Charles also says that the apology isn’t really an appropriate apology to the Native peoples.
“The wording of this apology and the way it was buried in an unrelated document were not appropriate or respectful ways to speak to the indigenous hosts of this land.”
Additionally, he says, it is important to communicate the contents of the letter to “Native American elders, many of whom personally endured the horrors of boarding schools, relocation, and disenfranchisement.”
Some of the non-native people at the gathering read parts of the bill and the apology. Two others read the apology in Ojibuway and the  Navajo languages.
In some ways, burying the apology in the defence bill only highlights how Native Americans have been forgotten and marginalized over the years.
But Charles said after the reading that he is not really holding the event in protest or in anger.
Rather, he says, he hopes the reading will launch a new conversation between US government officials, including President Obama, and Native American people.
“I am asking for a new conversation about reconciliation in our country,” he said.

Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council
58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763

Phone: 218-386-2432
Cell: 651-587-5541

Primary E-mail: amaki000@centurytel.net

Monday, December 17, 2012

Violence and guns.

Judging by the conversations and discussions taking place about this tragedy of all these little kids being killed what I am going to write probably won't find too many people agreeing with me but I'm going to say what I have to say anyways.

Start taking the guns away from the police and the military and the biggest part of violence relating to guns is solved.

I notice no one is talking about ba
nning the manufacturing of assault rifles and handguns; how come?

The fact of the matter is if someone goes berserk and wants to kill a bunch of little kids they can use a baseball bat or a knife.

It's possible this guy just "cracked" but more likely he wasn't getting the help he needed even though quite a few people knew he needed help but no one cared enough to get help to him.

I work with a lot of women in the casino industry who are really violently abused by management people who try to use their positions of authority to "get what they want" any way they want and I am surprised none of these women end up dead.

Almost every single day some woman will tell me about a problem of violence with a spouse or boyfriend and more often than not the children are getting the crap beat out of them, too.

It is just about impossible to get any government agency to intervene from the position of helping short of having the guy arrested.

In my opinion, politicians have sucked us into focusing on this or that really horrible act of violence as a way to evade discussing the real causes of violence and, more importantly, escape having to fund the kind of programs that really help people in a way that prevents the violence against people in the first place.

Of course we have a system that is devoid of morality which treats human suffering as "collateral damage."

If we were to ban the sale of hand-guns and assault rifles while continuing to allow their manufacture the only thing you do is the same as what has happened with drugs: you force up the price of obtaining these guns and the criminals are going to profit selling them as the manufacturers profit the most.

In my opinion, what this terrible and tragic killing really shows that we need in this country is a National Public Health Care System with neighborhood and community health care centers spread out across this country instead of military bases dotting the globe; health care centers providing free health care that would include mental health care in addition to general health care--- publicly financed, publicly administered and publicly delivered.

The left shouldn't be sucked in by making this strictly a "ban hand-guns and assault rifle" debate.

People in this country are indoctrinated with a culture of violence from the very beginning of life and then we think when something terrible and tragic like this happens there is some kind of quick CHEAP fix to the problem.

In one way or another, capitalism is an extremely violent system.

Anyone want to join me in calling for a ban on manufacturing assault rifles and hand guns? Ya; see how fast these politicians run away from talking about protecting kids when they have to concern themselves with protecting corporate profits; corporate profits which go to pay lobbyists who make huge campaign contributions.

I find it interesting our great free media hasn't talked much about what company manufactured the guns and how much that company contributed to the campaigns of which politicians.

"Austerity - At Whose Cost?"

From: Becky Dunlop <dunlop@binghamton.edu>
Date: Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 7:29 PM
Subject: Immanuel Wallerstein's Commentary No. 343
To: COMMENT@listserv.binghamton.edu

Please do not reply to the listserv. To correspond with the author, write immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu. To correspond with us about your email address on the listserv, write dunlop@binghamton.edu. Thank you.

Commentary No. 343, Dec. 15, 2012
"Austerity - At Whose Cost?"

Everywhere, austerity is the demand of the day. To be sure, there are seeming exceptions for the moment in a few countries - China, Brazil, the Gulf states, and possibly a few others. But these are exceptions to a demand that pervades the world-system today. In part, this demand is absolutely phony. In part, it reflects a real economic problem. What are the issues?

On the one hand, the incredible wastefulness of a capitalist system has indeed led to a situation in which the world-system is threatened by its real inability to continue to consume globally at the level at which the world has been doing it, especially since the absolute level of consumption is constantly increasing. We are indeed exhausting basic elements for human survival, given the consumerism that has been the basis of our productive and speculative activities.

On the other hand, we know that global consumption has been highly unequal, both among countries and within countries. Furthermore, the gap between the current beneficiaries and the current losers has been persistently growing. These divergences constitute the fundamental polarization of our world-system, not only economically, but politically and culturally.
This is no longer much of a secret to the world's populations. Climate change and its consequences, food and water shortages and their consequences are visible to more and more people, many of whom are beginning to call for a shift in civilizational values - away from consumerism.

The political consequences are indeed quite worrisome to some of the biggest capitalist producers, who are realizing that they no longer have a tenable political position, and therefore they face the inevitable shutdown of their ability to command resources and wealth. The current demand for austerity is a sort of last-ditch effort to hold back the tide of the structural crisis of the world-system.

The austerity that is being practiced is an austerity imposed on the economically weaker parts of the world populations. Governments are seeking to save themselves from the prospect of bankruptcies and to shield mega-corporations (especially but not only mega-banks) from paying the price (lost revenue) of their egregious follies and self-inflicted wounds. The way they are trying to do this is essentially by cutting back (if not eliminating altogether) the safety nets that were historically erected to save individuals from the consequences of unemployment, serious illness, housing foreclosures, and all the other concrete problems that people and their families regularly face.

Those who seek short-term advantage continue to play the stock market in constant and fast trading. But this is a game that is dependent in the middle run upon the ability to find purchasers for the products on sale. And effective demand is steadily disappearing, both precisely because of these cutbacks in safety nets and because of the massive fear that there are still more cutbacks coming.
The proponents of austerity have been regularly assuring us that we are turning the corner or will soon do so, and that a revived general prosperity will return. However, we have not in fact been turning this mythical corner, and the promises of revival are becoming ever more modest and projected to take ever longer.

There are also those who think that a social-democratic solution is available. Instead of austerity, we should augment government spending and tax the wealthier segments of the population. Even if this were politically realizable, would it do the trick? The proponents of austerity have one plausible argument. There aren't enough world resources to sustain the level of consumption everyone wants as more and more individuals demand politically to be among the higher consumers.

This is where the exceptions to which I referred come in. They are at the moment expanding the numbers of high consumers, not merely shifting the geographic location of high consumers. The countries that have been “exceptions” are thereby increasing the economic dilemmas, not resolving them. There are only two ways out of the real dilemma involved in this structural crisis. One is to establish a non-capitalist authoritarian world-system which will use force and deception rather than the "market" to permit and augment the inegalitarian world distribution of basic consumption. The other is to change our civilizational values.
In order to realize a relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian historical system in which to live, we do not need "growth" but what is being called in Latin America buen vivir. What this means is engaging in continued rational discussion about how the whole world can allocate the world's resources such that we all not only have what we really need to survive but also preserve the possibility for future generations to do the same.

For some parts of the world's populations, it means their children will "consume" less; for others, they will "consume" more. But in such a system, we can all have the "safety net" of a life guaranteed by the social solidarity that such a system makes possible.

The next twenty to forty years will see an enormous political battle, not about the survival of capitalism (which has exhausted its possibilities as a system) but about what kind of system we shall collectively "choose" to replace it - an authoritarian model that imposes continued (and expanded) polarization or one that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian.
by Immanuel Wallerstein

Becky Dunlop
Secretary, Fernand Braudel Center
Binghamton University
PO Box 6000
Binghamton NY 13902

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Under the guise of "liberalism" and "progressivism" we are being fed massive doses of ideological poison.

Under the guise of "liberalism" and "progressivism" we are being fed massive doses of ideological poison.

All the more reason for working people to read and study Marxism themselves instead of allowing those like Paul Krugman to "explain" to us what Marx had to say.

This crowd of over-paid "thinkers" includes: Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz, Dean Baker and George Lakoff.

Their "

meeting of the minds" seems to take place under the auspices of The Century Foundation which very few people are familiar with but which has a primary role in smashing movements before they get off the ground to where these grassroots movements have real influence and power.

The great "philanthropists" who profit so richly from their Wall Street investments then spread their money through foundations in a way intended to control their working class victims from whose labor they derive their wealth certainly can't have a working class so ideologically armed with Marxist ideas which will ultimately lead to challenging Wall Street 1% for political and economic power.

A few of the movements these foundation-funded outfits have crippled with their ideological poison include:

* The single-payer universal health care movement.
* Occupy Wall Street.
* The working class struggle in Wisconsin (Michigan is next on their hit list).
* The civil rights movement.
* The peace movement.
* The environmental movement.

And last, but not least,

* The labor movement.

Of course their ideological poison being forced-fed to us in large doses under the guise of "liberalism" and "progressivism" has clobbered and pummeled any attempt to get an anti-imperialist movement off the ground here in the United States--- just look at the demise of the United States Peace Council.

And to even contemplate creating a socialist movement with the strength to replace this rotten capitalist system is deserving of a good strong dose of ideological poison as effective as the clunk on the head from a policeman's billy-club.

Oh, wait; I forgot one of the movements they really abhor--- starting a political party that would enable the working class to free itself from Wall Street's two-party trap which would challenge Wall Street for political and economic power--- an anti-monopoly concept brought forward by Marxists.

These over-paid ideological shysters hired by Wall Street to confuse us can wax poetic--- for a big price of course--- about all of societies' injustices... so long as they are, also, simultaneously, a movement wrecking crew.

This isn't to say we shouldn't read and disseminate the things written by Democratic Party hacks like Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz, Dean Baker and George Lakoff whose writings usually come wrapped in very powerful kernels and grains of truth; but, we shouldn't be afraid to look more critically at the ideas they bring forward because along with very powerful kernels and grains of truth they more often than not peddle lies and myths intended to disorient and confuse in a way that prevents effective movement organizing.

George Lakoff's most recent book, "The Little Blue Book; the essential guide to thinking and talking Democratic" is a perfect example of the poison being disseminated under the guise of "liberalism" and "progressivism" while fostering a sinister, lying attack on socialism and Marxism.

Anyone who doesn't believe me need only read pages 120 and 121 in Lakoff's most recent book. Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz and Dean Baker are following George Lakoff's attacks on socialism and Marxism religiously.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Coast Guard, Northwest grain terminals gear up as lockout appears imminent for longshore workers

1,300 American Crystal Sugar Company workers locked out for over a year now in the Red River Valley.

And here comes another lockout on the west coast.

Anti-lockout and anti-scab legislation is needed.

International united militant working class resistance, struggle and solidarity is required to end these corporate lockouts.

Cross border working class action is required.

No government union busting.

Coast Guard, Northwest grain terminals gear up as lockout appears imminent for longshore workers

The Oregonian, December 15, 2012
A vessel takes on wheat at Columbia Grain Inc.'s North Portland terminal on the Columbia River, where Coast Guard officials have established one of the zones they recommend for protestors in boats.
The U.S. Coast Guard has established a safety buffer zone around grain ships calling on Portland and Vancouver as a potential lockout of longshore workers looms.

Owners of Northwest grain terminals, which could impose the lockout at any time, have brought in three towboats with non-union crews on standby, a law enforcement official disclosed Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of a gag order issued by federal mediators who supervised last-ditch contract talks that ended Wednesday between the owners and the longshore union.

Coast Guard officials have also recommended "on-water picket areas" to local leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, in case of protests on the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
The steps by the Coast Guard and the employers reenforce signs that a lockout or strike is imminent at six of the Northwest terminals that handle a quarter of U.S. grain exports. Mediators say only that the union and the employers are considering options after the talks that continued after Sept. 30, when a longshore labor contract expired.

Coast Guard Capt. Bruce Jones, commanding officer for Oregon and southern Washington, issued safety rules posted Friday in preparation for publication in the Federal Register.

"There is the potential for injury and damage to both protestors and shipping due to the labor dispute," Jones wrote. "The Coast Guard believes that a safety zone is needed ... to ensure that protestors and other river users are not injured by deep-draft vessels ...."

The temporary zone, already in effect, bars people and boats from an area 500 yards ahead of grain vessels and 200 yards beside and behind the big ships. Jones has also recommended safe but prominent areas for any protestors in boats near Columbia Grain Inc. and Temco terminals in Portland and United Grain Corp.'s elevator in Vancouver.

The companies have towboats standing by to replace local boats that maneuver vessels to and from terminal docks, according to the law enforcement official. Towboats that usually handle the work, and that haul grain barges, are operated by members of unions that plan to honor any longshore picket lines.

Towboats that stood by in Longview, Wash., earlier this year, at a terminal where labor protests turned violent, came from as far as the Gulf Coast, via the Panama Canal.
Who are the grain bosses (3 of 4 foreign owned)
Columbia Grain Inc.
Based in Portland, Columbia Grain is owned by Marubeni Corp., one of Japan's trading powerhouses.
Columbia, founded in 1978, operates a grain elevator at the Port of Portland's Marine Terminal 5, a sprawling industrial complex on North Lombard Street. On April 10, firefighters doused a blaze in one of the elevator's 125-foot silos.
Columbia supplies the terminal from a network of elevators and rail hubs across Washington, Montana and North Dakota. The company sends grain, pulses and oilseeds to Asia, East Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America.
Louis Dreyfus Commodities
LD Commodities Inc. is a Netherlands-based arm of Louis Dreyfus Group, a French global conglomerate.
LD owns a Portland grain terminal on the Willamette River's east bank, north of the Steel Bridge. Some civic leaders have long lamented the structure for blocking Rose Quarter development.
LD, which employs more than 35,000 in 55 countries, also owns a Seattle terminal covered by the bargaining agreement.
Temco is a 50-50 joint venture between Cargill, an agricultural and industrial giant, and CHS Inc., a grains, food and energy company merged from numerous farmer-owned cooperatives.
The venture operates two terminals included in the current talks: the Cargill Irving Elevator, on the east bank of the Willamette River north of the Broadway Bridge, and a Tacoma facility. It also owns a terminal in Kalama, Wash., not covered by the bargaining agreement.
United Grain Corp.
United Grain is part of Mitsui & Co. Inc., another giant Japanese trading company.
The company bills its terminal in Vancouver as the largest elevator on the West Coast. Built in 1935, the terminal was expanded this year to hold as much as 202,000 tons of corn and soybeans in silos up to 20 stories high.
The $72 million expansion enables United Grain to export as much as 5 million tons a year from the Port of Vancouver. A recent deepening of the Columbia River shipping channel allows bigger ships to call on the port, transporting grains consumed by Asia's expanding middle class.
Cargill, founded in 1865, employs 142,000 in 66 countries.

Thanks to Michael Munk for this information: