For nearly a month workers at refineries across the country have been on strike. This week the number on strike rose to 14 refineries, out of a total of 63, involving 5200 workers out of 30,000. This strike has followed a path similar to recent contract strikes. Union officials put demands on the table. The bosses reject them. A strike is declared. Workers show up to picket when they are told and then wait on the negotiations.
The refinery workers, like workers everywhere, have plenty of reasons to strike. Their wages and benefits are under attack. And the bosses refuse to deal with health and safety issues because that often means increasing staffing and less profits for them. Like many other jobs, refinery jobs can be dangerous – with workers suffering acid burns, exposure to toxic fumes due to leaks, refinery fires and other hazards.
One thing that has been different about this strike is that the union officials of the USW (United Steel Workers) have called for support for workers on the picket lines. They have appealed mainly to environmental activists and those in the communities near the refineries to join with them.
They have pointed to the fact that those who live nearby have the same interests as the workers do. When there are accidents, workers and community members all suffer the health impacts and the environment is impacted. Poorly run refineries have the same effect just over a longer period of time.
The union officials are right when they say workers and the nearby communities share a common interest. But why stop there? Workers all have common interests. When one group of workers gains, we all have the possibility of gaining. But that’s not the way we are organized, even if we are in unions. Each contract is for a specific group of workers and that group of workers is supposed to defend itself alone.
The reality is, that the bosses rarely stand alone. They know if any workers begin to get wage and benefit increases, they will be faced with the same demands. So they support each other. They use their politicians and the courts. They use their media to present their case. During the 2013 BART contract, the media carried the bosses’ lies without question. Their reporters went from station to station in search of riders who were pissed off and would denounce the so-called greedy BART workers. Even when BART killed two workers it had sent out to work on the tracks, by running a train with unqualified management at the controls, the media did not investigate.
Unfortunately, in the face of the attacks we confront, the union officials usually offer the same old strategy. They may call workers to rallies or short symbolic strikes. But they keep negotiations a secret and the real power of the workers is not organized and mobilized.
If workers were prepared before the contract expires, it would be different. If people come together to discuss and decide on their demands and make the decisions, it becomes a struggle they can be fully involved in. If the workers who are ready are organized to go out and talk with other workers, people in their communities and the people they provide services for about the real issues, the groundwork for a real fight can be prepared.
We need to see our common interests. We depend on each other for the things we need – from transportation, healthcare, the food we eat, schools our kids go to and the water we drink – everything! We face the same obstacles in our daily lives -juggling pressures at work and home while our wages fall behind and benefits are cut.
Today we are bound by the bosses’ legalisms – their contracts and negotiations. According to the USW it “represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, plus the service and public sectors” Imagine if the power of just that one union was organized and mobilized!
The slogan of the early workers’ movement “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All” needs to be revived. When workers are on strike we should give them more than a nod of support. We need to get out there and show our support. And wherever we are, we need to begin to organize ourselves.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s -1970s was one of the most significant social movements in U.S. history. It involved millions of people in its ranks. It was a grass roots movement often organized locally. It involved elementary school children in Selma, Alabama and the elderly, registering a man to vote for the first time, in Lowndes County, Alabama who was over 100 years old. It appealed to the consciences of hundreds of northern white students who came to participate in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. A whole generation of local leaders emerged, people like Robert F. Williams, a machinist from Monroe, North Carolina and women leaders like Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper.
It was a movement filled with ingenuity and imagination. There was certainly violence and danger but it was also joyful, full of singing and defiant celebration – a festival of the oppressed. Consciousness changed overnight and what started out as an act of conscience quickly mushroomed into a massive social movement. The American apartheid system, in place for hundreds of years, was overturned in a decade of action.
The Civil Rights Movement was launched in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and followed in 1957, by the fight to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Then, in 1960, a few courageous Black freshman from a local state university sat in at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The student movement quickly spread. Within two weeks there were demonstrations in 15 cities in five southern states. In 1961, the Freedom Rides challenged the federal government to defend the right of all of its citizens to be treated equally while traveling on interstate buses. By September of 1961 there were actions in more than 100 cities in 20 states, and more than 70,000 participated, 3600 got arrested and 58 college faculty were fired for participating in the movement.
The movement spread with voter registration drives and community organizing on multiple issues. In 1963, there were 1,412 demonstrations in just the first three months of the year. And the March on Washington that summer brought one quarter of a million people to the capitol. Millions of people were active in small and larger ways. Thousands of activists gained valuable experience and a new order was born.
College students and other youth were the spark of the movement but it was made up primarily of working class and poor people. Members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters were often the backbone of the movement, bringing their experience to bear on organizing. The energy and activism of the Civil Rights Movement went on to contribute to every other important U.S. social movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. And it was a movement that had an international impact, linked to the struggles going on all over the world as people fought to liberate themselves from colonialism. Many activists of the Civil Rights Movement helped build the movement against the war on Vietnam.
It is important this February to remember and honor the struggles of the past. The police killings in Ferguson, Missouri and New York and other cities around the country show that many of the same problems the Civil Rights Movement tried to address, continue to exist today. And the response to those incidents in Ferguson and elsewhere shows the same spirit of resistance continues today. It is especially necessary to remember the lessons of the past, for they hold the keys to our future.
Consciousness can change quickly and social movements can be born. When ordinary people decide to stop being treated as victims and instead to be active fighters on the stage of history extraordinary things can happen.
Super Bowl Sunday is a day we get to spend with family and friends whether we like football or not. For some, the Super Bowl is the only football game they’ll watch all year. For others, it is the game they wait for all year. At work the game gets even more exciting if we bet with our coworkers. The Super Bowl is practically a national holiday.
For the past five years, the Super Bowl reached record levels of viewers, with over 110 million people watching. This year it’s expected to be another record, with as many as 50 percent of homes tuned in. With millions watching, corporations pay big money for the chance to sell us more of their crap. This year a 30-second spot costs $4.5 million each, the highest price ever, a twelve percent increase from last year. While normally commercials are a reason to change the channel, Super Bowl ads can sometimes get more attention than the game itself. For the corporations, the Super Bowl is nothing but a chance at more profits.
The Super Bowl is just business as usual for the rest of the season. From overpriced merchandise, expensive tickets, outrageous parking, and souvenirs, to the stadiums themselves – it’s all just another buck for the owners, media, and corporate advertisers. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry. Their goal isn’t to bring us a national past time – it’s to take advantage of it.
It’s this same relentless push for profit that has the players themselves being treated like disposable equipment. The average NFL career lasts just under three years, and players die an average of twenty years sooner than their fans. Professional football has a 100 percent injury rate, and players fight for years to get treatment. Players suffer higher rates of memory loss, various forms of brain damage, and lack of impulse control, which often result in violence against themselves and their loved ones.
These brain injuries have been so severe that some players (Dave Duerson and Junior Seau) have even committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest so their brains could be studied. A study conducted last year found that out of 128 brains studied of deceased football players, over 80 percent suffered serious brain injuries. These injuries are not just from the heavy hits, but from the effects of everyday play. To the owners, these tragedies are just part of doing business.
Football is like any other business – the one’s who do the work are just used up and thrown away once they are no longer considered profitable. Sometimes it’s easy to just look at the salaries of the players, but the real money is being made by the owners, over half of whom are multi-billionaires.
Whether we’re diehard fans sporting body paint on the sidelines, or we only watch one game a year, just because we like to watch the sport doesn’t mean we like the way it’s used for profit. And even though our money is used to build the stadiums, the only way most of us can afford to go is if we’re the ones selling the hot dogs or pouring the beer.
On Sunday, we might be watching one game, but the team owners are playing another. Whichever team ends up with the highest score will get the trophy. But the real winners will be the owners. Their game is rigged – they’re the only ones who win every time.
This past year was a big success for the one percent. Their profits are higher than in decades. Their proportion of the wealth is higher than it was in the 1920s, considered the best period for capitalism. Their tentacles are spread all over the world, monopolizing natural resources, gobbling up the land, privatizing the water, producing what they need to make the highest profits imaginable.
The result of their greed is a planet in distress. Scientists all over the world have told us repeatedly that our continuing use of fossil fuel, oil, gas and coal will likely make the planet uninhabitable if we do not change our way of living, and change it quickly. All over we see the consequences of their plunder in polluted air and water, ruined land, droughts, monster storms, and other crazy weather.
While production is organized for profit all over the world, people are hungry, homeless, living in poverty, dying from malnutrition and other diseases, while tons of food rot and are wasted every day. What is being spent in Africa to fight Ebola is a drop in the bucket compared to what has been spent by the U.S. alone on the wars. The way the economy is organized today means no work for some, part-time unbenefited work for many, and working overtime for others. Tens of millions of people in this country are without health care and child poverty is at an all-time highs.
The rule of the one percent means a world destroyed by war. War continues to be the daily plight of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Nigeria. Drug wars keep killing people in Mexico. All over the world people are turned into refugees or migrants trying to escape and find a better life.
Finding a place to rent is becoming out of the possibility of many in our cities. San Francisco is more and more gentrified. Poor and working class people are forced to live farther and farther from where they work and spending more and more on transportation to get to and from work.
Less than one percent of the population is more or less making the decisions about the way the world is run today. And they are making those decisions based on maximizing their profits. For the overwhelming majority of the people of the world, this is insane.
But not everyone has been willing to face these attacks in silence. All over the world we have seen people struggling to save the planet. The environmental movement seems to be growing and strengthening and forcing the issue of global warming to be addressed despite what the oil, coal and gas bosses want. Recently hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in New York City demanding change to save the planet. This follows local organizing that has been going on all over the world to stop fracking, to stop nuclear power plants, to stop pipelines, to stop hydro-electric dams. Time after time, people have been putting their bodies in the road to block the plunder and ruin of their communities.
And in August, when Michael Brown was killed by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri, the people of that community went out into the streets and they are still out there months later. When the grand jury failed to indict the white policeman who killed Eric Garner in New York City, the whole country exploded. People said and continue to say – “No business as usual” when the police commit legalized murder. And it is this kind of resistance that gives us hope for the future.
Over the last decade we have seen repeatedly how what seems like a quiet period can change overnight. We saw this with Occupy, and with the Arab Spring, and now for the last weeks of 2014 with anti-police brutality demonstrations night after night all over the country.
The one percent has made its plans for 2015. Whether their plans are carried out is up to us. It is a question of what we decide and how willing we are to act. We are the majority. We do all of the work to produce the goods, to provide all of the services, to run the transportation. Without our labor it all comes to a halt. We have the power. The question is will we use that power in 2015 to fight back?
This past Saturday, there were rallies and marches, involving tens of thousands of people in big cites and small towns all over this country. The people who gathered were diverse in age, race, ethnicity and gender, though certainly the majority were young. The cry against police brutality was to “Shut the system down” until there is justice.
This wave of protests against police violence and murder dates back to August, when Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Ever since Brown’s murder, the community of Ferguson has continued its protests. Because of their determination, his murder by the police was brought center stage in this country. When grand juries absolved the cops of responsibility for the murders of both Mike Brown and Eric Garner in New York City, more fuel was added to the flames of resistance.
What can be done about this rampant police violence? Some believe that the federal government should get involved because the problem is at the local level. Or that it is a question of police training or monitoring, or of forcing the police to wear cameras. Are we to believe that police cameras won’t malfunction on command, in the same way that police testimonies almost always support their own criminal activity? We need cameras on the cops – in the hands of citizens. But in the case of Eric Garner, even the video evidence didn’t stop the cop who strangled him from getting off.
Unfortunately these solutions leave things in the hands of those who are in charge of the police terror in the poorest communities in our society. They have not shown concern for the lives of Black people. Asking this government to monitor its police is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse
These solutions ignore the role of the police – which is to maintain and protect the property and control of the one percent, to keep their system of exploitation and oppression in place so their profits keep rolling in. Racism and the violence linked to it have been an essential part of this system. Racism is used to keep Black people in the worst jobs or tossed into the streets.
The wealthy have passed on the cost of their economic crisis by imposing extreme poverty on many, especially in Black communities. Large sections of the population have been criminalized and under attack by a militarized police force in the name of the so-called “war on drugs”. This war on poor communities has locked millions away in prisons. In the eyes of this system, if you are Black and poor you are often considered to be a criminal.
We need to put those in power on notice that we will not tolerate their racist violence any more. And that is exactly what some people have done. Night after night hundreds and even thousands of people have marched in the streets, blocking traffic, bridges, and train tracks. The protests have forced those in power to pay attention. But as determined as these protests are, they are limited to causing temporary disruptions.
To make a real impact, the young activists in the streets will need to become organizers, to help others become active. It means connecting with more people, going to workplaces, neighborhoods, churches and schools. We can talk to everyone we see, provide them with information, with fliers explaining what happened. We can wear armbands so everyone who sees us will think about what happened. We can meet and discuss together about what we can do.
When millions of people begin to take a stand, everything can change. We saw this in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. We saw it in the massive anti-war movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam. All movements begin with a few determined and courageous people who engage others. For us to succeed we can’t just be reactive, we have to be organized and put forward clear aims and goals. We need to mobilize the real power that could change this society. That power lies in the hands of the millions who do the work that makes this system run. And they also have the power to shut it down.
The last weeks are a sign of hope and if the movement grows and continues who knows what possibilities could lie ahead?
In the last weeks, two murderers were freed and the go-ahead was given to cops across the U.S. to continue to carry out their murderous activity. For some the belief in the fairness of this system was shattered. First came the acquittal of Darren Wilson, the cop who gunned down Michael Brown in Ferguson. Then came the acquittal of Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who suffocated Eric Garner, using an illegal chokehold, in New York City. The complicity of those who maintain the order of this society, from the prosecutors and politicians to the police, has been revealed. Their secret courts, known as grand juries, have been exposed as an official system to cover-up and acquit known murderers. The corporate media has tried to distract people from the realities of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old Black youth who did not bow down to the authority of a white cop. Instead of being portrayed as the victim of a racist police murder, he was painted as a thief and a threat ¬¬– responsible for his own death. And Brown’s stepfather is under investigation for his angry outburst following the announcement of the grand jury verdict. The mask of justice was slipping off. With the acquittal of Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who killed Eric Garner, the mask of justice was removed. This wasn’t the orchestrated twisting of facts that we saw in Mike Brown’s case ¬¬– challenging the statements of eyewitnesses and taking Wilson’s pathetic whining as fact. The video of the murder of Eric Garner and his pleas, that he could not breathe as he was being suffocated by the cops, was plain for all to hear and see. And yet, the grand jury declared Pantaleo to be an innocent man. Even for some reporters this was too much. They couldn’t hide their own disbelief and wondered out loud how the murder of a man accused of selling cigarettes was not a criminal act. For many, who understand the nature of this system of capitalism, and the racism that lies at its core, this comes as no surprise. But this open and blatant disregard for human life was more than many expected. The millions who did not take to the streets contained their righteous anger. But hoping that officials will promise to conduct investigations and provide cops with cameras will not change a thing. It will not stop the racism and the violence of this system. Some people refused to be quiet and took to the streets across the country – in the hundreds and sometimes in the thousands. They were right to be angry. Out of frustration, some windows were broken, stores looted and some set on fire. The collateral damage is unfortunate. But a broken window is property damage – murder is the taking of human life. They cannot be compared. The attention now focused on the brutality of the cops may slow the cops temporarily. And if it does – that is a good thing. But we know that police violence will not stop. The system they are serving and protecting cannot allow this. This system values profits, not human life. This system imprisons millions in a life of poverty. It locks millions away in its prisons. A generation of young people is being denied a future because their labor is not needed to produce profits for the one percent – the same one percent that is in the process of destroying life on the planet. What more proof do we need that a fundamental change is necessary? The question we face now is what to do. We cannot hope for things to get better without actively forcing a change. These demonstrations are a start. It is good that some people have shown a readiness to act. But we need to broaden our forces. How? By going into our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and churches, to share information and fliers with others, wear armbands to show how we feel for all to see, and organize discussions and actions. We need to mobilize all of our power. Workers do all the work to make the society run and produce all the goods and provide all the services. If we can make it run we also have the power to make the system come to a halt. Then it isn’t just a question of demonstrating from the outside. It would mean organizing and mobilizing to stop the monster system from the inside. And we also have the power to put a much better society in its place.