Labor Day – When the Workers Used Their Power

For those of us who have jobs, Labor Day means a day off work, or possibly overtime. Some union officials may organize a picnic or a parade. But, it has little or nothing to do with dealing with the situation facing us as workers.
Eighty years ago, in the early months of 1934, workers in the U.S. faced desperate times. The Depression, starting with the stock market crash of 1929, had gone on for five years. Not only were tens of millions unemployed and many homeless, but at the same time the employers were piling extra work on those who still had jobs. Prices of necessities were rising while wage cuts remained in force. Employers acted as if workers had no rights they were obliged to respect.
By Labor Day 1934 US workers had shown that they could start to turn things around for the better. In the spring and summer of 1934 thousands of longshoremen in San Francisco, teamsters in Minneapolis and autoworkers in Toledo, Ohio showed that workers could successfully unite and organize. These workers organized and carried out mass strikes, prevented strikebreaking, and police attacks and defied the National Guard and the courts. These militant strikes won important concessions from the bosses, including higher wages, shorter hours and recognition and respect for themselves as workers and for the new fighting unions they had built.
Key to these victories was the fact the workers themselves controlled their struggles. They selected their leaders from their own rank and file, people whose determination and skill they had come to trust. In Minneapolis, the teamsters (truckers and warehouse workers) had mass meetings every night led by an elected strike committee of 100 rank and file teamster workers. Everyone active in the strike participated in making important decisions. The inclusive democratic way in which the teamsters organized their strike unleashed tremendous creativity, sustained the workers’ courage and insured mass participation in the strike.
The teamsters in Minneapolis organized mass picketing, rallies and marches and also published a daily newspaper to answer the propaganda of the bosses and expose the tricks of the bosses’ politicians. The teamsters used their newspaper to explain the goals of their strike and to explain how winning the strike would benefit all workers. A victory would show the bosses that they could no longer take workers for granted. In Minneapolis and the other big strikes in 1934, working people in the surrounding areas supported the strikers. They joined picket lines and held mass marches that brought tens of thousands into the streets. Sometimes other workers even went on strike in solidarity.
By Labor Day 1934, workers everywhere in the US could see that at last someone was fighting back. The successful strikes of 1934 inspired workers throughout the country to build even larger and bolder mass movements. These massive strikes included factory sit-downs, where workers stayed inside and occupied the factories, paralyzing the most profitable and powerful industries. Thanks to these struggles, workers in the 1930s won important gains, not only higher wages and better conditions on the job but also government programs such as Unemployment Insurance and Social Security. If we have lost most of these gains over the last decades it is because we forgot we had to fight to keep them.
This past Labor Day we didn’t have much to celebrate. Our wages, benefits and working conditions have been under attack for decades. Our basic social services like schools, transportation and social programs are being dismantled. Today, like in 1934, it is more and more obvious that the employers and their politicians will continue to try to make us pay the cost of the crisis of their system. But like those who fought back in 1934, we are the ones who make this society run and we have the power to bring it to a stop.
It’s up to us whether Labor Day next year will be any different. We can learn from the struggles of the past and like the workers of 1934 use our power to begin to turn things around.

Ferguson – People Are Right To Resist!

On Saturday, August 9, an all-too familiar incident took place in Missouri. Another unarmed young African-American man was murdered in cold blood by a cop. Most of us had never heard of Ferguson but soon it was on the lips of people – both in the U.S. and around the world.

An African American man murdered by a cop, is not a new story. It followed the same script as the murder of other young African-American men like Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford and many others in the Bay Area and around the country. The cop murders an unarmed man. The cop is put on leave, continues to get paid and often leaves town. After dragging out an investigation, no charges are filed. This time, in Ferguson, the cop might be charged. Even if he is, this is not justice. Michael Brown is dead.

Now, after years of repeating the official line on these murders, the mainstream media says there is a  pattern. From 2006 to 2012, at least two African-Americans were killed by a cop each week. Other studies say the rate is higher. This is not news. The cops are used to subjugate and terrorize people.

What was Michael Brown’s crime? Walking in the street! We can only imagine the exchange between this white cop and a young African-American man – ordering him to get off the street. And when Michael Brown didn’t bow down to his authority, the cop shot him at least six times.

The outrage didn’t stop there. Michael Brown was left to die in the street with no medical aid. And his body was left there for at least four hours! This was an official lynching – just like the bodies of young Black men hanging from a tree for all to see some decades ago – with the same racist message.

People took to the streets and were met with the same force that Michael Brown faced. Day after day police forces from the area and the National Guard were mobilized against the population, turning Ferguson into a war zone. The invading forces, outfitted with high-tech battle gear, moved in with massive weaponry. They terrorized those in the streets and in their homes, with armored vehicles, flash grenades, tear gas, bean bag guns, sound cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

This show of force was not enough to cause people to quietly retreat. The rage that exists across this society erupted in this small town. The crisis that is daily life for so many – the poverty, the unemployment, the foreclosures, the drugs, the hopelessness that dominates so many lives burst out on the streets of Ferguson.

Ferguson is not alone. Cities like Detroit, New Orleans, and Oakland are symbols of the crisis this system has imposed on so many. And the racism of this society means that the impact of the crisis hits African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other minority groups the hardest. The cops and the prisons exist to enforce these conditions.

So, it should come as no surprise that we would see a rebellion like we have seen in Ferguson. It is long overdue. And it has resonated across the nation – giving voice to those who have suffered under this system for too long. And it has shaken the authority of those who maintain this order.

The officials who run this society for the 1% have rushed in to quell the unrest. They claimed “outsiders” were responsible for the explosion in the streets. Who are the majority of cops, the state police, National Guard and FBI? They are the outsiders. They tried to blame Michael Brown, claiming he had taken some cigars from a store and had small traces of marijuana in his blood. Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, flew in, assuring that an investigation will be held.

We don’t need their investigation. This murder is an indictment of their whole system – a system that values the wealth of a few over the well being of the majority, a murderous system that doesn’t value life.

People’s refusal to quietly accept this murder is a step toward finding a solution. The solution lies with us, the working class, taking action to defend our rights and our lives, to rise above the racism that is pushed on us and unite our forces – in the streets, on the job and throughout the society.

Our Planet or Their Profits

Last month the Richmond city council approved a billion dollar project for Chevron’s Richmond facility to refine dirtier and higher sulfur containing crude oil, which is more toxic than regular oil. This is barely two years after the 2012 fire which sent black fumes into the air and 15,000 people to local hospitals. That was the third major explosion over twelve years.

After the explosion, Chevron was charged with willful neglect by Cal-OSHA for having known in advance that the plant’s equipment needed repairs. Leaks that needed permanent fixes were just clamped shut all over the plant. Chevron, one of the world’s most profitable companies, pulled in 71 billion dollars in profit the year of the explosion. Of course they could have afforded the repairs and safety maintenance, but Chevron made a clear and conscious choice to put profits first.

Chevron has made the argument that their expansion project is about job creation versus the environment, saying that if they were denied the right to expand production, then new jobs that Richmond desperately needs won’t be created. Everything about how we make a living is phrased as do it their way or kiss our jobs goodbye. If we voice concern about conditions at work they tell us we’re even lucky to have a job at all – implying that we must simply accept our conditions.

In return for the expansion Chevron promises to upgrade plant safety, as if they need to be paid off in order to operate a safe plant. One of the promises they made was to fix corroded pipes. As if that were a concession! They also promised to give $90 million over ten years for special projects in Richmond. Some money will go for education resources and student scholarships, Chevron will also give some land to the city for the development of solar panels.

What does Richmond need? This money will go to a few programs, but an expansion of the refineries means more health problems for the community.

Richmond has double the child asthma rates compared to Marin across the bay. As one resident said, “Don’t give our kids backpacks and ice cream and then give them asthma and cancer.” What does it mean to create jobs or send kids to college if we all get sick?

This isn’t just about the Chevron Richmond oil refinery. This is part of a much larger problem that we are facing. The warnings become more desperate, environmental disasters more catastrophic, and the signs much clearer. But capitalism continues to press forward in finding newer and more dangerous ways to exploit the environment and make the problems even worse.

Capitalism is based on the extraction of maximum profits, with complete disregard for the environment Rivers are drying up, oceans are becoming more acidic, sea levels are rising, and what’s left of forests are dying on a massive scale – our planet is in crisis. But the corporations maintain their destructive practices.

The system we live in, that we are taught and trained to believe is the only way to live, is pushing our species down a path of extinction and taking the whole planet with us. As long as the corporations and the politicians who serve them are left in charge, they will keep pushing us in the same direction.

Around the world, people are taking up the struggle against global climate change. From Peru to India to the United States, groups of people have begun to protest the pollution of the planet. This past Saturday in Richmond, hundreds of people gathered to voice their anger and to say that Chevron has no right to bargain with our lives and our planet. Of course, it is not just Chevron. Their system which values profit over life is the root of the problem. It’s up to us to say, our lives and our planet are worth more than their profits. And it’s up to us to change their system, because it is our planet and our future at stake.

Stop the Murder in Gaza! End The Occupation!

In the last weeks, Israeli bombs and guns killed nearly a thousand people in the Gaza strip. The list of atrocities keeps expanding. Hospitals and schools are being blown up. Nearly one child per hour was killed during the height of the attacks. People taking refuge in a United Nations facility were bombed. Are we supposed to accept that this mass slaughter is an act of self-defense by Israel? Only those who are blind and deaf to the suffering of ordinary people could believe such a thing.

How did this latest round of violence start? It supposedly began with the murder of three Israeli teenagers. The murders were carried out by two Palestinians. These men kidnapped the teenagers who were hitchhiking in the occupied territories. The teenagers were able to call the police who listened as the panicking kidnappers shot them. This was without a doubt a horrific tragedy, but what came next was cold-blooded political manipulation.

In the following days, the Israeli intelligence agency, Shin Bet, placed a gag order on the Israeli media, censoring the facts as they emerged. Then, Israeli politicians, knowing that the teenagers had been killed, called for a massive manhunt and rescue mission. They told the teens’ parents that they were possibly still alive and brought the boys’ mothers before the United Nations to call for international support. Meanwhile, the Israeli Minister of Defense called for village after village in Gaza to be flattened in revenge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned all Palestinians, saying “They are not like us. We sanctify life, they sanctify death!”

The Israeli public, manipulated by the politicians was overtaken by a horrific racist attitude. Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated calling for revenge. And, in an act of unspeakable violence, six Israeli men captured and murdered a 16-year old Palestinian boy, forcing him to drink gasoline and burning his body. By that time, the politicians had done their work. The murder of children was used to launch an even greater atrocity in Gaza.

As of July 28th, 1058 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured. More than 1,134 Palestinian homes have been torn down. There have been nearly 100 schools destroyed and three hospitals. More than 100,000 people have fled their homes, looking for shelter. Imagine if this sort of destruction took place in the Bay Area. Gaza is smaller than San Jose with twice as many people!

This is not the first time that the Palestinians have suffered military assault. For half a century the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been occupied by the Israeli military. Israel controls every aspect of daily life from the borders, to the water supply, to the power supply. A blockade has been imposed, depriving Gaza of food, medicine, and building materials. Israel measures the food sent into Gaza, keeping 1.8 million people barely alive. In addition, every day the Palestinians face military violence including invasions in 2006, 2009, and 2012.

Some Palestinian groups have responded to Israeli violence with improvised rockets fired across the border into Israeli towns. These attacks have resulted in the death of 26 people since 2004. More than ten times as many people died in automobile accidents in Israel just last year. This is hardly a threat to the existence of the state of Israel as American and Israeli politicians claim.

The blood of Palestinians and innocent Israelis is not only on the hands of the Israeli government. The U.S. has supported Israel militarily and politically since its founding. In 1948 the state of Israel was established, displacing 750,000 Palestinians and seizing 78 percent of the land of Palestine. The U.S. has supported Israel in return for Israel’s support of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.

The oppression of the Palestinian people is a historic crime just like slavery in the American South, apartheid in South Africa, the genocide of the Native Americans, or the oppression of Jews in Europe. But this crime is taking place in front of our eyes, not in the history books.

It is up to us to say loud and clear – END U.S. SUPPORT FOR THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE NOW!

All Out For Palestine!

There are two protests being called in the Bay Area this week against Israel’s latest assault on the people of Palestine. Please join others in demonstrating your opposition to this slaughter.

Look for members of Speak Out Now at the following demonstrations:

 

Thursday July 24
4:00pm Downtown Oakland
Ron Dellums Federal Building
1301 Clay Street, Oakland, California 94612

 

For more info on this demonstration, visit:
http://www.iacenter.org/actions/gaza-immigrant072314/

 

Saturday, July 26, 2014
1:00pm San Francisco
Justin Herman Plaza
Embarcadero BART Station
San Francisco, California

 

For more info on this demonstration, visit:
http://www.answercoalition.org/sf/events/end-israeli-colonial.html

 

Israel receives $4 billion in military aid from the United States each year. The bullets and the bombs that kill Palestinian men, women and children are bought and paid for by American tax dollars. More than 200 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 1,500 have been wounded from Israeli bombs and missiles. This has to end!

Israel’s latest attack on the people of Palestine has been one more act of brutal violence by an occupying power. In order to maintain its military occupation of the Palestinian people, Israel is willing to kill families with children, blow up homes and schools, and make life intolerable for 1.5 million people. This has nothing to do with the rockets that were fired from Gaza. There can be no real peace until Israel ends its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Summertime Living Isn’t Easy, But It Should Be!

The summer months are a time to spend with our families, visit relatives in other cities, and simply hang out and get some rest. But for workers, the family time and relaxation has to be squeezed into our schedules before we have to clock back in to work. Without a job all you have is time and no money. And for those who are working, it seems like we have no time and still not enough money.

The United States is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee workers annual leave. If by chance we work for an employer that offers vacation time, we often have to work for decades to get close to four weeks. And if we do get time off, we rarely get the days we want since we have to request the days off so far in advance. Staffing is constantly being reduced, with companies not replacing workers who either get injured, sick or leave. Not only does this mean that we are stuck with more work, it also means that it is harder to take time off because there aren’t enough workers to cover absences. We can use our sick days but for many of us that might mean risking our jobs. More times than not, it ends up meaning we get no real time off at all. Or if some of us do get time off, it just means even more work piled on the rest of us who are stuck at work.

Everywhere, the bosses are taking advantage of the fact that so many workers are looking work, desperate to find jobs. Where workers are seeing more misery, the bosses see an opportunity to make even more money. They tell us we are lucky to even have jobs. Then they want to dump the rest of the work onto fewer workers while they cut our wages at the same time. If they do hire new workers, the bosses are doing their best to make sure it is for a part-time or temporary positions. Our poverty, our uncertainty, our desperation – to the bosses, it is just a chance to squeeze more out of every one of us.

The truth is, that there is so much work put on so few people that we are working harder than ever. The amount of work each worker does in the average workday has increased by 18 percent since 2008, the highest increase since 1947.

We are working harder and longer hours than ever before but our income has either stayed the same or gone down over the past 30 years when considering inflation. With the rising cost of goods, the mounting debt, and wages that won’t go up, we know that we’re working more for less.

We see examples of this in every industry. Teachers are being laid off, leaving the rest to teach larger classrooms and for less pay. Bus drivers have seen their wages cut and work hours increase. Nurses have had to treat more patients and cover more medical stations. Our break times are being shortened, if we even get breaks at all – many of us either work through our breaks or sneak a meal in between the cracks.

And with any time off that we can get, it’s harder to spend it doing what we actually want. Not only do we have less money, the price of everything has become more expensive. If we were thinking about going on a road trip, the gas prices make us think twice whenever we fill up our tanks. The same is true for traveling by air. Airline prices jumped nearly 18 percent since 2011. Interested in going camping? California’s budget cuts have not only closed down many state parks, but also raised fees to visit them. So even if we get time off, it’s not likely we’ll spend it on a vacation.

If there ever was a time we might be able to spend more time with our family – summer should be it. But just because our kids are out of school does not mean that we are freed from work. So what should be a time to spend with our kids turns into a time to find somewhere to drop them off. The more we work, the more we are deprived of family life.

There is only one solution – for workers, those of us who do the work of this society, to organize together and fight for a life in which we can spend time with our families, take vacations, and enjoy life. This summer we should take as much time as we can with friends and family, and get some rest and relaxation. But we should also get ready to fight. We do the work, and we should have the good things in life as well, especially the most valuable thing in the world – time.

Iraq’s Civil War – Engineered in Washington

In the last weeks, armed forces calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have seized over ten northern cities in Iraq, including Mosul, one of the most important cities. This conflict is an escalation of the violence inflicted on Iraq by the U.S war of occupation since 2003. The government put in place by the U.S. is based on a divide and conquer strategy has become the basis of a civil war which has increased the horrors of life for Iraqis.

Like every population in the world, people in Iraq are defined by different cultures and religions. In Iraq this includes the two major sects of Islam, Sunnism and Shi’ism. Between 60 and 65 percent of Iraq’s population are Shi’a, and much of the remaining population are Sunni.

The U.S. put in place a government run by Al-Dawah, a Shi’a Islam-based political movement who for decades had fought Saddam Hussein with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Iraq. The government led by Nuri al-Maliki relies on terror to rule, not only using the guns, tanks, and helicopters provided by the U.S., but also arming and funding militias that carry out mass murder and terror against the Sunni population. In urban centers like Baghdad, neighborhoods that were once mixed ethnic and religious communities have been “cleansed” by these militias, and the Sunni population murdered or driven out.

At the same time the U.S. armed and funded tribal militias in the villages and towns with a Sunni majority. The Sunni tribal and religious leaders accepted weapons and funds with a promise to keep the peace in their regions, and allow the U.S. occupation to continue.

Many media and political commentators say that Iraq has been divided for centuries between Sunni and Shi’a communities. This is a lie. Since the 1920s, Iraqis have fought against imperialism together, first against the British, then against the U.S. Even Saddam Hussein’s regime, for all its violence and ugliness, did not instigate violence among the population along religious lines.

In its efforts to control Iraq, the U.S. has funded and set in power violent forces whose politics are based on religious identity. And now the divide and conquer strategy has led to a violent explosion. In other words, the U.S. government has engineered a civil war.

There can be no question of the origin of this conflict. Since 1991 and the first gulf war, the U.S. has waged war against the people of Iraq. Through both Bush administrations, the Clinton years, and the Obama presidency, the goal of the U.S. government has been the same – to control the oil for the benefit of U.S. banks and corporations. Those who control the banks and corporations always feared that this region and its massive oil resources, would fall under the influence of one of their competitors in Europe or Asia.

In 1991 the U.S. invaded Iraq, destroying its military and infrastructure. From 1991 to 2003 the U.S. imposed sanctions making it impossible for Iraq to trade on the world market. During this time half a million children died from starvation, malnutrition and disease. Meanwhile the U.S. military kept up a constant bombing campaign. Finally in 2003, the U.S. undertook the invasion and occupation, which has led to the death of over a million people and has forced millions of people to flee. The goal of this violence – to either gain control of the oil, or destabilize Iraq so that no one could control it.

It is no wonder that Obama has announced his intentions to intervene militarily. It is a continuation of this same policy. Some 300 so-called “military advisors” are headed to Iraq to attempt to ensure the survival of the Iraqi government and the delicate balance of power they have imposed.

There is no question what the root cause of the violence is – U.S. imperialism’s policy in Iraq. We should not fall for the lies and the excuses of the politicians as they send money, weapons, bombs, and finally troops. The U.S. is the greatest perpetrator of violence in the world, and this is more true than ever today in Iraq. We should say clearly – U.S. out of Iraq!

World Cup – Rooting For The Working Class

The eyes of billions of people all over the world will be watching Brazil in the next weeks during the World Cup. The most popular game in the world, soccer is a source of joy and excitement, more than any other sporting event.

But there is another story taking place behind the scenes, the real story of the suffering and struggle of working people. This is a story, which – like the games themselves – people all over the world can identify with because the rich of Brazil are using the games to make billions of dollars while ordinary people suffer from their greed. But as we shall see in the coming weeks, people won’t suffer in silence.

What is at stake in Brazil? The ruling party is known as the Worker’s Party. While the Worker’s Party pretends to be a party that supports workers, in the last decades since it has governed Brazil, there have been huge cuts to social spending, and workers suffer wage cuts and massive unemployment. This same so-called Workers’ Party has spent billions of dollars on hosting the World Cup. FIFA, the world soccer association, demanded huge investments in return for allowing Brazil to host the games. Estimates of the cost of the games themselves are around $15 billion, including the construction of twelve new stadiums, the largest one costing almost one billion dollars.

The Brazilian state has used the games to increase repression on the poor and working people. The government has passed so-called anti-terror legislation, forming riot squads and militarized police forces, an army of over 170,000 people. These police have already been used to clear out over 200,000 residents of Brazil’s favelas, the poor communities of the big cities. The wealthy in Brazil have wanted this real estate for decades, and now the World Cup has become the pretext for bulldozing homes and seizing land.

The stadium for the World Cup is not only a waste of money and resources, it is a major blow to the environment. The stadium is constructed deep in the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the world,” which produce 20 percent of the oxygen for the atmosphere. The construction of the unnecessary stadiums means massive destruction for the sake of a couple of soccer games. The Brazilian government even suggested it might use the stadium as a massive prison afterwards. No wonder the construction is making people angry!

All of the attacks that have accompanied the World Cup have not gone unanswered. It’s not that Brazilians are opposed to soccer, but they are opposed to the waste and exploitation that the World Cup is being used to cover for. Last year, Brazil saw the largest protest in a generation with a million people taking to the streets under the slogan “we want FIFA quality hospitals and schools.” Only 22 percent of Brazilians plan to root for Brazil’s team in the coming games!

In the last few weeks we have already seen resistance beginning with bus drivers. The official bus drivers union is linked to the ruling government party but the bus drivers themselves have gone on strike, paralyzing transportation in Sao Paulo. In addition, 10,000 people occupied a square near a stadium, calling themselves the “People’s Cup,” protesting the government’s priorities. Anger is boiling under the surface of Brazilian society.

As the World Cup begins, the eyes of the world will be focused on Brazil and the struggle between the soccer teams but the struggle of the poor and working people in Brazil will go on in the streets. This is a struggle against the agenda of the wealthy and their government that any worker in any country can identify with because it is the same struggle in every country in the world. Soccer fans may root for different teams depending on who they like, but we should all see which team is ours in the streets of Sao Paolo – not the wealthy or their government or their police, but the workers and the poor struggling to get what they need.