Thursday, July 2, 2015

Denouncing 'Corporate Democrats

Published on Wednesday, July 01, 2015 by Common Dreams

Denouncing 'Corporate Democrats,' Labor Leader Joins Sanders Campaign

Larry Cohen, outgoing president of Communications Workers of America, cites Hillary Clinton's sidestep on Fast Track in decision

Hillary Clinton's hedging on Fast Track has pushed at least one labor leader to Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign. (Composite photo: Senate Democrats/flickr/cc, keith kissel/flickr/cc )
Larry Cohen, the labor leader and outgoing president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), is officially backing Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign—at least in part thanks to Hillary Clinton.  Cohen will reportedly serve as an unpaid volunteer for the U.S. senator from Vermont, who is running on a platform of progressive issues like workers' rights and campaign finance reform, among others.

Cohen told the Huffington Post on Wednesday that he made his choice after Clinton, who is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, continued to evade questions from the media and consumer watchdogs over her stance on Trade Promotion Authority, also known as Fast Track—a bill that gives President Barack Obama expanded power to push pro-corporate agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress without input or amendments from lawmakers.

Fast Track passed Congress last week. Obama signed the legislation into law Monday. "I did everything I knew how to do to get Clinton to speak out on fast track, and she wouldn’t," Cohen told HuffPo. "We begged her to speak out." HuffPo continues: "Bernie is movement-building, and we need a new movement."
—Larry Sanders, CWA

Cohen, a staunch progressive, said Clinton's handling of the trade issue helped clarify why he wanted to get behind Sanders, whose candidacy is still considered a long shot despite standing-room-only crowds he's been drawing early on the trail. Sanders has been a vocal critic of giving Obama fast-track trade authority.
“Without a candidate like Bernie, we’re going to get a repeat of the same stuff," Cohen said. "Bernie is movement-building, and we need a new movement. We need to get big money out of politics."
While the CWA has not publicly endorsed a candidate for president, the union came out strong against Fast Track and the TPP. In April, before the legislation passed Congress, Cohen called on lawmakers to "put the brakes on Fast Track."
Cohen said: "TPA pretends to be about trade, but in reality it is about protecting corporate profits above all else and defining our national security in terms of giving away our jobs, depressing our wages and then rewarding the responsible multinational corporations, often U.S. based, with guaranteed profits in the nations where they invest."

The labor leader will officially announce his support of Sanders at a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa later this week. "The key is him being the progressive candidate," Cohen told HuffPo. "You build the movement—you don't just inherit it from labor or any other tent."  And Clinton's hedging on Fast Track "won't be forgotten," Cohen added. Organized labor is "not a rubber stamp for the Democratic Party and certainly not for corporate Democrats."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Turkey's President Erdoğan is isolated as Rojava's People's Defense Forces (YPG) liberate Tel Abyad/Girê Spî

Rojava's People's Defense Forces (YPG) liberating Tel Abyad/Girê Spî

Reposted from Harvest.
Yesterday we talked a bit on this blog about the crisis the Turkish government is experiencing in this new period after the June 7 elections and as the liberation movement moves to take Tel Abyad/Girê Spî from ISIS. Since Tel Abyad/Girê Spî is on the Turkish-Syrian border, and since that border crossing has helped ISIS resupply, Turkish President Erdoğan and his government have been put in a tight spot. A new refugee crisis has added to those problems. The liberation movement took Tel Abyad/Girê Spî today and the border at Akçakale and Girê Spî/Tel Abyad is now under the control of Rojava’s People’s Defense Forces (YPG) and the Liwa Al-Tahrir forces tied to the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
These events must be among the Turkish President’s nightmares. He only recently said, "On our border, in Tel Abyad, the West, which is conducting aerial bombings against Arabs and Turkmens, is unfortunately putting terrorist members of the PYD and PKK in their place.” The PYD is Rojava’s Democratic Union Party and the PKK is the Kurdistan Worker’s Party. Erdogan can see no further than this and his remarks may be understood as either supporting ISIS or as preferring that ISIS be at the border rather than the Kurdish freedom movement and Rojava’s democratic forces. Erdoğan and some in his government went even further by accusing the West of backing "Kurdish terrorists" in northern Syria, charging that the refugees from Tel Abyad/Girê Spî were fleeing the anti-ISIS bombings being carried out by US-led coalition forces and initially refusing to open the border to the Tel Abyad/Girê Spî refugees as they suffered in 95-degree heat without water or shade while ISIS forces sought to take some of them as human shields.
Erdoğan's government, already battered by the June 7 election results which allowed the progressive People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to enter Parliament as a party, is taking quite a hit under these new circumstances. We have argued here that Erdoğan and his government support ISIS, actively or passively, and now these forces are being routed by the liberation movement. The government has done almost nothing over the past 48 hours which will reassure the leading imperialist powers. Indeed, it is clear that the government’s ability to do crisis management has suffered.
ISIS must now withdraw to Raqqa and find other supply routes. The US-led coalition airstrikes may continue and aid Kurdish forces, whether this is intended or not. Revolutionary Rojava can unite their cantons and continue to build a peoples’ democracy. We have maintained that it is this revolutionary democracy, led as it is by women and by popular forces, that poses the fundamental problem for Erdoğan's government and ISIS. Even as the center of the fighting now moves to Raqqa, the contest between revolutionary democracy and fascism deepens. Erdoğan might have positioned himself as a regional leader firm in his opposition to ISIS and similar forces, but with the passing of time the liberation movement has instead gained credibility in the west. Cizîrê Canton Public Services Vice Minister Newroz Muhammed was exactly right when she recently said that the international community is well aware that no problems in Syria can be solved without the Kurdish forces.
Erdoğan has been to tell the pro-government media outlets that the YPG is deliberately targeting the indigenous Arab and Turkmen population in northern Syria and that Rojava and the YPG are threats to Turkey’s national interests. Some of these views have been echoed by the powerful and reactionary Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam organizations in Syria, and by some allegedly liberal groups and people in the Kurdistan Regional Government as well, in a cynical effort to divide the liberation movement and the forces gathering around it as ISIS is forced to retreat. The false claim has been made that "YPG forces ... have implemented a new sectarian and ethnic cleansing campaign against Sunni Arabs and Turkmen under the cover of coalition airstrikes which have included bombardment, terrorizing civilians and forcing them to flee their villages" by these forces. Even the United States has distanced itself from such remarks. The YPG has liberated more than 500 Kurdish and Christian towns and strategic positions and have pushed into Raqqa province.
Turkish interference in Syria continues and is part of the crisis. The Cumhuriyet and Birgün newspapers have both recently exposed links between the ruling reactionary Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdoğan’s party, and ISIS in northern Syria. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) at one point transported ISIS fighters through the Akçakale border gate to fight against the YPG and allied forces. Erdoğan’s immediate maneuvers have been to again attack the media and the judiciary.
Today Erdoğan went even further and said, “But if the party that came first in the election cannot achieve (forming a government) and neither can the second one ... then going to the ballot box again as per the constitution would be inevitable. I don’t call this a snap election, but a re-run.” In other words, the President is not coming to terms with the new political reality in Turkey which brought the HDP into Parliament, created something like a political stalemate in government and showed the weaknesses of the AKP after 12 years in power. This new reality is driven in part by struggles taking part across the region, Syria included, and by the enthusiasm generated by Rojava’s advanced revolution. For that matter, it is also driven in part by Turkey’s 10-per-cent-plus unemployment rate and high inflation rate as well, which are very much related to the regional conflicts. A rerun of the last elections would be an undemocratic and power-grabbing move which might well further undermine Erdoğan and his AKP.
The situation or crisis in Syria went on the agenda for a cabinet meeting today while a liberal Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader finally stated the obvious---a government can now form in Turkey without the AKP. The fascist Nationalist Movement Party offered to cooperate with the AKP in forming a government but put forward conditions Erdoğan is unlikely to agree to since they potentially expose graft and corruption in his party and government. He started with a program that argued for a more powerful presidency at the expense of Parliament and an authoritarian security package that the AKP passed through Parliament over the objections of the democratic forces. He may soon be floundering as Rojava’s revolution expands and as the crises in Syria and Iraq intensify and as the most democratic forces in North Kurdistan and Turkey advance.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Audacity to Win: A Call for Strategy for the US Left

Posted by admin on June 11, 2015 under Socialism, Strategy | Be the First to Comment
By Left Strategy Collective Members
May 30, 2015 – There is something bubbling beneath the surface in the US. Everyone can feel it. Everywhere there are mass actions – on issues ranging from fast food workers’ rights, to deportations, from the latest police killing, to community displacement, from defending collective bargaining, to getting clean water, from getting the water turned back on, to ending the occupation of Gaza.
There is something bubbling, but the question remains whether it will evaporate into steam or explode like a volcano. Capitalism confronts people all over the world, including the US, and its crises implicate the very survival of humankind. Yes, there are sprinkled victories, hopeful uprisings, and electoral surprises, but we know in our hearts it is not enough.
We go to sleep with the question, "When and how?" When and how will the tables turn? When and how will we become a force in US politics and win power? When and how are we going to be able to change the nature of the field we are forced to play on? In order to address these questions, we need a strategy for the left. We will refer to "the left" here as those forces that oppose the capitalist, white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal system and seek to build an alternative society.
In this paper, we will make the case for the importance of strategy, we will lay out our definition of strategy and the components we believe are necessary for the building a game- changing strategy for the left. We would like to see the development and implementation of a strategy for power –where the oppressed are able to determine their own livelihood and how society functions. This strategy would necessarily be aimed at an emancipatory transition from capitalism.
This paper will not be the strategy. It is a contribution to the many left voices that are calling for the need for strategy, and to begin to build a shared language of what strategy is. We are a small core of leftists from different sectors of the movement. We do not believe that we alone can build this strategy. However we have some thoughts about what is to be done and we have a commitment to building the space to develop this strategy with like-minded leftists. Our hope is that the process of engaging in this level of strategy development will promote a new movement culture of more intentional, collective, and focused movement development that will bring us to game-changing victories and power that will transform this country.
The act of developing strategy should result in more than a political line, a political program, or a new organization. It will not be enough to have a clever slogan. It will not be enough to focus on a single task, tactic, or campaign. The type of strategy that is necessary to build among leftists would: 1) imagine and formulate a vision of an alternative to capitalism; 2) analyze the current conditions both on our side (the working class, organized forces, and the left overall) as well as the opposition (the ruling class and the capitalist state); and 3) work toward that vision through devising a continually evolving program that would strengthen the forces for liberation and weaken the capitalist forces on an economic, political, and ideological scale to the point of "putting it out of business" all together.
Tactics are different from strategy. Tactics are the specific types of actions we take to execute our strategy. The series of actions may make up a particular program, but they are not the entirety of our strategy. The strategy will determine plans, to be put into action, evaluated and summed-up. It will not be based on what worked in one city and then applied to a different city with completely different conditions. It will not be based on our personal moods, whims, or the flavor of the month. It will not be a mere goal with no way to achieve it. Goals are the aims that our strategy is built around. It will be a comprehensive approach that includes our analysis of conditions, our hypothesis of how we will build power and win. This strategy becomes a living course of action that is implemented, tested, summed-up, evaluated, and reworked. (Continued)
A football team has a strategy. (We are not pretending here that the NFL with all its contradictions is the extent of the totality of the strategy that the left needs, but it offers some helpful analogies.) A football team knows their players very well– their strengths and their weaknesses. They know how the overall the team works together. After a game they look at reel footage of their previous games, where mistakes were made, and successes were gained. They work to strengthen their team and play to its strengths. Likewise we need a full assessment of our social forces for change. Maybe there are communities who have not been organized yet. We may need to "draft them" (or rather organize them).
In preparation for an upcoming game, the team studies their future opponents, the weaknesses that they can take advantage of, the capabilities of that team that maybe our team cannot match but can out-maneuver. They come up with plays to defeat their opponents that are both offensive and defensive. We need that playbook for the left. We need to be looking for and identifying opportunities to shift the correlation of forces, that is, the social forces for change as well as the opposing forces that maintain the current state of affairs. Understanding the correlation of forces allows us to interpret why our forces are losing and why the opposing forces are winning, and maneuver accordingly. In Marta Harnecker’s paper, Instruments for Doing Politics, she explains that what we are pinpointing in this process is, "the relationship between the capacity that one force has to impose its interests on an opposing force and the capacity that the opposing force has to do the same." Knowing who’s on the opposing team, what they are capable of, what their weaknesses are, and the same of our team, aids us in our planning.
Football players and coaches must understand the objective conditions. Objective conditions are the reality of the situation we are in, and the realities of the actors in play. If they are playing at the Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers’ outdoor stadium in Wisconsin, they will be in extreme cold and it’s likely that it will snow. The team must prepare for how these conditions will affect their performance. A coach can also look objectively at their stats of players and determine their strengths and weaknesses. We can also look at our stats, where we have had wins and defeats, and what were the conditions we played in.
But this metaphor only takes us so far. The process of developing our strategy ultimately needs to identify what "game" we are going to play. What is our theory of transition? How do we believe we can defeat capitalism given the conditions, and forces we face? What is our alternative vision for society? Knowing where we are headed will help us determine this path. Toward that end and with the analysis of the correlation of forces in mind, we are also analyzing and identifying what the primary issue or contradiction we must address in a given time, place and conditions and the vision of the transformative change we want to see in this area, as well as to shift the balance of forces and win more power. It is identifying what type of formations and tactics will allow us to wield the most power to win and implement our plan. Then we will go back and look at the "reel" – constantly summing up and evaluating.
We therefore propose the creation and implementation of left strategy aimed at building power and ultimately ending capitalism and winning a just, sustainable, and emancipatory future. This process of building strategy must take on developing a rigorous analysis, with hard numbers and an honest assessment of the correlation of forces. The strategy will identify primary contradictions that in the process of struggle will move us to gain more power, and win transformative changes in society. It identifies the formations and tactics based on analysis that will get us to victory. Strategy is a continuous process. Once a developed strategy is employed, we are continuously evaluating and taking what we have learned in action, towards modifying the strategy and applying these lessons toward the development of future plans. To borrow from Harnecker, "Strategy is the way that diverse battles are planned, organized and directed to achieve our goal."
Strategy for what? Defining Our Goals
The strategy we are referring to relates to a struggle for power between those who own and control the economy and politics of this country, on the one hand, and the working class and vast majority of the U.S. people, on the other. For many of us, this is a struggle for our very survival and for some, a matter of life and death. The struggle for power against such a formidable adversary requires precision and clarity at each stage along with meticulous definition of what our goals are.
A vision of a new society will inform how we approach developing strategy.
While a full elaboration of such a vision is outside of the scope of this paper, we offer some thoughts about a new society. We need a vision of an alternative to capitalism which will 1) develop the capacities of human beings to live full, creative, healthy lives, and 2) achieve social ownership of the means of production focused on production for human need rather than profit, 3) reorient production towards meeting social needs and protecting the earth, 4) free workers to guide and plan their own productive work.
Human development must be the enduring measure of a socialist alternative to capitalism. A socialist government would facilitate planning the production and distribution of socially necessary goods with the active participation of the working and popular classes through a framework centered around solidarity, efficiency, internationalism, environmentalism, engaged protagonism and human rights. Human development must be understood as development which respects and protects our planet’s ecology. Considering the repair and survival of the planet’s health in constraining methods of production and use of natural resources as a means of achieving human development, allows us to ensure longevity of the planet and human survival.
In summary, we have argued that strategy building is a critical aspect of left work. We defined and characterized what strategy is, and identified elements of a strategy building process. These elements of strategy building include the identification of the social forces at play, the contradictions between such forces, the correlation or balance of forces, and the objective conditions under which the strategy has to be crafted so as to shift power towards a new society envisioned by the left.
We also wish to raise a few flags that are important to keep in mind as we undertake the strategy building project. For one, this work must be undertaken alongside bringing together a range of concrete data – demographic and social – that will give us a grip over the real nature of the objective conditions. Further, such work must not be individual driven and will involve the bringing together of meaningful collective(s) of movement activists and socially grounded intellectuals as also a clear understanding of the scale and scope of the work. Finally, the strategy building process must be seen as organically connected to consciousness raising and the dynamic articulation of our vision.
As activists working inside the United States, we know that the lead role that the U.S. has played and continues to play in advancing imperialism means that any viable left alternative must not further the subjugation and exploitation of the peoples of the global south, but rather must be built in collaboration with revolutionary forces organizing against U.S. imperialism around the world and must be thoroughly anti-imperialist, internationalist and act at all times in solidarity with the world’s peoples.
In this paper, we of Left Strategies argue that developing strategy is crucial to achieving both short-term reforms and revolutionary transformation of our society. We have sketched out an initial approach (or methodology) and raised some of the questions around strategy theory and development that are necessary to move forward. Strategies that we develop don’t have to (and won’t be) perfect. As we work together to develop and test strategies, the lessons we will learn and the progress we make will encourage us. We want all of us to engage in a movement- wide discussion and debate on the importance of strategy and how we can work together to develop it. This is a call to action. Developing left strategy is not an academic exercise. It is a way to enhance our ability to win. Successful left strategy will make our organizing more effective and build the leadership of the masses in struggle. We all must be in the streets to support the struggles of all those who are under attack. But we cannot fall prey to pragmatism which would limit our ability to strategize and take maximum advantage of the more favorable balance of forces our organizing is producing. It is up to us have the "audacity to win" a new society for the majority of people in the U.S.
-Left Strategies Collective* members: Rishi Awatramani, Jake Carlson, Bill Fletcher Jr., Jon Liss, Garry Owens, Biju Mathew, Merle Ratner, Claire Tran, Helena Wong o A longer version of this paper will be forthcoming.
Feedback: We look forward to hearing your feedback. If you agree with us, please give us your suggestions on how can we move forward on strategy work. If you disagree, please tell us why and how you would approach the situation in which our movements find themselves.
In either case, we’d like to hear about any strategies your movement has tried and what you have learned from implementing them.
You can contact us by emailing [1]
* The Left Strategies Collective was founded to create conversation within the Left around strategy development. Between 2013-2014, the Left Strategies Collective conducted a number of national calls bringing people together to talk about issues such as Worker Organizing in the 21st century, and Lessons from the Moral Mondays movement.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Unity & Struggle

The journal Unity & Struggle #29, organ of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations, is available. It includes an article from the Party of Labor (EMEP) of Turkey, “Confusion and Disintegration in the Middle East,” analyzing the role of U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalist groups in disrupting the anti-imperialist and democratic movements in the area.

Also available is an article “Chile and the Road to Socialism,” by the ML Party of Germany criticizing the “peaceful road” to socialism during the Allende period. It includes an independent introduction analyzing the role of revisionism in the CPUSA and CPSU regarding Chile.

The journal and the article are both available, for $5 and $2 respectively (postage within U.S. included), from:

George Gruenthal
192 Claremont Ave. #5D
New York, NY 10027

Please make check or money order out to George Gruenthal

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NLG Calls for Immediate, Independent Medical Attention for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Author: Tasha Moro
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
National Lawyers Guild

FRACKVILLE, PA--The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to give NLG Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal immediate independent and specialized health care, including his choice of medical specialists.

On March 30, Mr. Abu-Jamal collapsed in the prison infirmary at SCI Mahanoy from diabetic shock before being hospitalized in the ICU at Schuylkill Medical Center. Despite his serious condition, he was transferred back to the prison just two days later. Although he had sought care for classic warning signs of the disease over the previous three months, including extreme weight loss and severe eczema, the prison infirmary had failed to diagnose him with type 2 diabetes which, with proper medical attention, could have potentially prevented Mr. Abu-Jamal’s current illness.

The medical attention given to Mr. Abu-Jamal thus far has been administered without adequate information and has raised questions of medical neglect, as it was only after a flood of calls by activists and supporters to officials at SCI Mahanoy that he was allowed a handful of very brief visits by family. His family and attorneys are demanding he see a diabetes specialist and dermatologist who is independent of the Pennsylvania DOC health care system.

“Mumia’s medical situation is serious, he remains at risk, and must be allowed immediate and independent medical care without further delay,” said NLG member Bret Grote, attorney for Abu-Jamal. “We applaud the thousands of supporters worldwide who have called the Pennsylvania DOC demanding immediate medical attention and visitation rights for Mumia and encourage people of conscience to continue doing so until demands are met,” he added.

“Abu-Jamal’s voice and his political analysis have guided our work to end racially discriminatory mass incarceration. Now we must speak up for him, as he confronts yet another problem endemic to US prisons—lack of adequate health care,” said Pooja Gehi, Executive Director of the NLG.

Imprisoned for the killing of a police officer more than 30 years ago, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and author whose case and writings about the criminal justice system from inside prison have garnered international attention. A former Black Panther, the NLG has long maintained that Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case has been from the outset, plagued with procedural irregularities and blatant constitutional violation, and that he is entitled to a new and fair trial.

Take Action:

Read, sign, and share this petition [1] by Mumia’s supporters, including a list of demands.
Contribute toward lifesaving medical care and other costs incurred by Mumia’s family at [2].

Call the following numbers to demand immediate, independent medical attention for Mumia. Please mention that you're calling regarding Wesley Cook #AM8335 (as Mumia is registered with the DOC).

SCI Mahanoy
Superintendent John Kerestes
(570) 773-2158

SCI Mahanoy
Chief Health Care Administrator Steinhardt
(570) 773-2158

Christopher Oppman
Director, PA Department of Corrections Health Care Services
(717) 728-5309

John Wetzel
Secretary, PA Department of Corrections
(717) 728-4109
- See more at:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Don't Let Congress Sell Out Workers for Corporate Profit

Defend worker and human rights by taking action to stop Fast Track and trade deals like TPP.  Don't let Congress sell out workers for corporate profit. Learn more about the dangers of Fast Track and TPP here. Go to this link to view a brief video: "TPP: The Dirtiest Trade Deal You've Never Heard Of." Call Congress today using this special union number: 1-855-712-8441.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Morocco’s unions took advantage of the Arab uprisings





 A man chants slogans during a protest in Rabat, Morocco, on Feb. 20, 2011. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

 By Matt Buehler, March 24

Research on the Arab uprisings has tended to focus on states that experienced regime change or major violence. But Arab regimes that never came close to collapse, such as in Morocco, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states, experienced popular protests that thrust open political opportunity structures. These protests created exceptional opportunities during which political movements could vocalize demands, pressure regimes and force concessions. This brought into play a diverse set of political actors – Islamists, ethnic and sectarian groups, women’s movements, labor unions and others – who exploited the unrest to advance their interests and elicit concessions. By asserting themselves during the uprisings, such actors succeeded in winning specific benefits for their supporters, even when they failed in implementing broader strategies of democratization. Showing which actors gained or lost from their mobilizations, whether or not regime change occurred, provides a deeper, more holistic understanding of the importance of the Arab uprisings and how it reconfigured domestic politics in these states.

The labor movement in Morocco exemplifies this new dynamic, as I demonstrate in a new
 article in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Even though Morocco’s monarchy retained firm control of the country throughout 2011, Moroccan trade unionists used instability from the uprisings to drive change in domestic politics. They successfully secured new material benefits, which they had been demanding since the late 2000s, for their supporters. Moreover, union mobilization provided an opportunity for two traditionally antagonistic opposition groups – Islamists and leftists – to ally to pursue similar goals and reward their predominately middle class supporters.
Although Morocco’s entrepreneurs accrued benefits after economic liberalization in the 1990s and early 2000s, costs fell upon the middle class, especially employees of the public sector (teachers, government clerks and others). By 2009, the costs of living in Morocco were rising 16 percent annually. Beginning in the late 2000s, unions representing Morocco’s Islamists, the Union Nationale du Travail au Maroc(UNTM), and its leftists, the Fédération Démocratique du Travail (FDT) and Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT), joined forces to exert pressure on the governing regime. To compensate for price increases, the unions demanded that the regime boost wages and raise pensions. The regime refused in 2009, and maintained this hardline position throughout 2010. Concurrently, the number of incidents of contentious labor actions – strikes, marches and sit-ins – rose dramatically.
Preceding the youth-organized protests of Feb. 20, 2011, union unrest in Morocco increased by 8 percent in the first eight months of 2010. To signal their dissatisfaction, unionists shut down important public institutions, including schools, municipalities, courts and state agencies, through strikes. Some of the largest strikes occurred in early January 2011, and striking workers constituted over 90 percent of total public employees employed in some provinces. This statistic held true for some of Morocco’s most economically marginalized and geographically isolated provinces, especially Oriental, Sidi Ifni and Sefrou. In stopping service delivery in key public institutions, the unionists exerted pressure on the regime and hoped to force it into negotiations over their demands. Yet, the regime continued to reject labor demands for higher wages and better pensions.
After protests began in Tunisia and Egypt, they spread to Morocco by late February 2011. As protests exploded in major urban cities, labor unions joined the fray. Unionists, affiliated with Islamist and leftist labor organizations, rallied around common material demands. In addition to calling for better material compensation, they demanded that the regime loosen its ironclad grasp over major sectors of the political economy, notably monarchy-owned companies in finance and agriculture. These companies, held in royal business conglomerates, enriched regime loyalists but not the middle class.
The regime feared these unions, even more than youth activists. In the 1980s and 1990s, labor protests that had started peacefully had ended violently, transforming into major urban riots in the cities of Fez and Casablanca. The regime seemingly realized that although labor activists did not harbor violent intent, their mobilizations created opportunities during which unemployed citizens and slum dwellers took to the streets, escalating the seriousness of protests. It appears for this reason, the regime decided to deal with the unions and concede to their demands rather than court potential riots. So unlike the late 2000s, when the regime chose to ignore union demands, it responded to labor unrest. It sought to buy social peace with unions through material concessions.

Through Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi, who headed Morocco’s elected government between 2007and 2011, the regime opened talks with the unions on Feb. 21 2011 – only one day after the largest protests rocked Morocco’s cities. Throughout April 2011, the regime and the unions went back and forth in negotiations over material demands in what became known as the “social dialogue.” At points, the unionists – especially the Islamists – threatened to walk out of talks and rejoin street protests. Forcing the hand of the regime, the unions eventually won new concessions that enhanced the material status of their middle class supporters. These new benefits included a 600 dirham ($80) increase in wages for all public employees regardless of their rank in the civil service, and a 70 percent increase in retirement pensions (from 600 to 1000 dirhams per month). The regime also implemented substantial reforms to the civil service promotion system, which led to the promotion of 33 percent of employees. Finally, the regime relinquished control over some of its business holdings, selling large shares of firms involved in dairy farming, biscuit production and banking services.

 The case of union activism in Morocco during the Arab uprisings carries important implications for scholarship and policymaking. The first is that labor unrest in the first eight months of 2010 foreshadowed the popular mobilization of youth activists of the Arab blogosphere, what became known as the February 20th Movement in Morocco. Although Twitter and Facebook empowered such “wired” youths to spread the message of protests, my research suggests that the origins of the uprisings lay with deeper causes: economic discontent and inequality. The second implication is that major political changes occurred in countries, like Morocco, where unrest did not produce systemic regime change. These micro-political changes significantly improved the material conditions of the country’s middle class public employees.
Matt Buehler is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee. He thanks the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar for its support.

Friday, March 13, 2015

IN THESE TIMES, Tuesday, Mar 10, 2015, 4:58 pm

Acknowledging “Ugly History of Racism” in Labor Movement, AFL-CIO Creates New Commission on Race

BY Bruce Vail
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at a recent summit on raising wages nationwide convened by the union federation. (Ben Wikler / Flickr)  

Citing “an ugly history of racism in our own movement,” the leaders of the AFL-CIO voted in late February to create a new Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to examine how issues of race can be better addressed by the confederation’s member unions.
The move was prompted by the riots and related conflicts last year in Ferguson, Missouri, which highlighted the stark racial and class divide in the St. Louis suburb, says Carmen Berkley, Director of the AFL-CIO’s office of Civil, Human and Women’s Rights. The shooting death of African-American teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson inflamed racial schisms nationwide, including within the labor movement, she says. But “we have to have a relationship with the [African-American] community,” that is an improvement over the status quo, Berkley tells In These Times.

Berkley cited an unusually emotional speech delivered by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in Ferguson last year in which he said:
We as a movement have not always done our best to support our brothers and sisters of color who face challenges both on and off the job—challenges that you don’t really understand unless you live them.  The test of our movement’s commitment to our legacy is not whether we post Dr. King’s picture in our union halls, it is do we take up his fight when the going gets tough, when the fight gets real against the evils that still exist today.
Trumka’s speech also harkened back to the East St. Louis race riots of 1917, when angry white workers attacked African-American strikebreakers. The labor conflict ignited a wider riot that is judged by historians to be one of the worst outbreaks of racial violence in any U.S. city during the 20th century.

With this legacy in mind, the new Commission will attempt to develop programs to improve communication and cooperation between AFL-CIO unions and African-American communities, Berkley says. The first step will be to convene public meetings in a number of cities to air the important local issues and to formulate responses.

No such meetings have been scheduled yet, she adds, but it is expected that six to eight gatherings will be held within a year. Nor have any specific individuals been named as members of the Commission, although each is expected to the president or chief executive of one the AFL-CIO affiliated unions, she says. In any event, the Commission is expected to produce a formal report to the AFL-CIO leadership, which will then decide what further action is called for.

Patrick White, President of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, says the commission is a necessary idea. Unions in the St. Louis area have been rattled by the Ferguson developments, he says, including the St. Louis police officers union, which is a member of the city’s labor council even though it is not formally affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

“A lot of the African-American legislators here have called us on the carpet. They want their young people to be included” in job training programs that would help alleviate the chronic unemployment problem in the African-American community, he says. “They are definitely rattling that cage, and they want us to be held accountable.”

St. Louis-area unions have a mixed record of offering opportunity across the color line, he continues. “Our percentages are better than the national numbers—for example we had 33 percent of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) apprentice class come from the African-American community, and it’s about 50 percent for the trainees for the police department—but I don’t think we are where we need to be,” White says.

Progress at IBEW and the St. Louis Police Officer Association   notwithstanding, “some of the locals really haven’t gotten out of their own way” and need to open up more opportunities, he says.

In its formal statement on the creation of the Commission, the AFL-CIO Executive Council was careful to avoid to making any specific commitments. It concluded:
The commission will attempt to create a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard. The results of the commission will lead to reports and tools to transform how we think about racial justice issues, and to providing the tools to support these discussions at the city and state levels.
“This is an internal conversation we need to have. This is not [just] a local thing in St. Louis—we see the same issues in communities across the country,” Berkley says. “A lot of the tensions with the black community come from a feeling that they want a piece of the pie,” of good-paying union jobs. Given the low numbers of African Americans in union trades that Patrick White referenced, the feeling seems understandable.
     Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA's Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper's New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What can chimpanzees teach us about human nature?

Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group explores the relationship between sex, language and culture

What can chimpanzees teach us about human nature?
Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group explores the relationship between sex, language and culture
Almost identical DNA, radically different behaviour

Many Darwinians argue that humans are basically apes, who are rank-conscious and violent, and that is why we have rape, war, hierarchy and inequality. As Darwin argued, we must have evolved from a primate, chimp-like ancestor, so it is no surprise that we are genetically very close. And if you think genes determine behaviour then it makes sense to argue that you cannot change human nature, so socialism is an unworkable dream.

A good thing about Noam Chomsky is that he refutes all this, arguing that human nature is utterly different. The main difference, he says, is that we have language, which has been genetically installed. But then he goes to the other extreme, arguing that humans are so utterly different from apes or monkeys that the question of evolution is irrelevant.

If you ask Chomsky how language evolved he says simply that it did not. So what did happen? He talks about a cosmic ray shower which caused a mutation which instantaneously “installed” what is probably the most complex entity in the entire universe - the uniquely human language organ.1 This is not science, but a slightly disguised biblical miracle account of human origins.

My own ideas on this subject were originally inspired by what Frederick Engels had to say. He linked the origins of language with increased levels of social cooperation, focusing especially on sex. I quote from his preface to The origins of the family, private property and the state:

Here we see that animal societies are, after all, of some value for drawing conclusions about human societies; but the value is only negative. So far as our evidence goes, the higher vertebrates know only two forms of family - polygyny or separate couples; each form allows only one adult male, only one husband. The jealousy of the male, which both consolidates and isolates the family, sets the animal family in opposition to the herd. The jealousy of the males prevents the herd, the higher social form, from coming into existence, or weakens its cohesion, or breaks it up during the mating period; at best, it arrests its development.

Engels is pointing out that sex can be disruptive, and that neither language nor labour can have evolved until that basic problem was overcome. He continues:

This alone is sufficient proof that animal families and primitive human society are incompatible and that, when primitive men were working their way up from the animal creation, they either had no family at all or a form that does not occur among animals. In small numbers, an animal so defenceless as evolving man might struggle along even in conditions of isolation, with no higher social grouping than the single male and female pair, such as Westermarck, following the reports of hunters, attributes to the gorillas and the chimpanzees.

For man’s development beyond the level of the animals, for the achievement of the greatest advance nature can show, something more was needed: the power of defence lacking to the individual had to be made good by the united strength and cooperation of the herd. To explain the transition to humanity from conditions such as those in which the anthropoid apes live today would be quite impossible; it looks much more as if these apes had strayed off the line of evolution and were gradually dying out, or at least degenerating. That alone is sufficient ground for rejecting all attempts to draw parallels between animal forms of family and those of primitive man.


Monday, February 2, 2015

History: Civil rights struggle slowed by McCarthyism

On September 16, 2014 Professor Toni Gilpin spoke in Louisville, Kentucky, both at the University of Louisville and at Greater Louisville Central Labor Council Meeting. 
The talk was sponsored by the Department of History, University of Louisville; University of Louisville Anne Braden Institute; Pan-African Studies Department, University of Louisville; Kentucky Labor Institute; and the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council. 

Her presentation is not merely local history, not merely the history of a large, Left-led Farm Equipment (FE) union, Local 236, in the upper South. The talk contains profound insights into the wider impact of the destruction of the CIO Left by McCarthyism. That destruction slowed down and changed the nature of the US civil rights struggle. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

We Are Not Dangerous: A call for police accountability and policy

From the Center for Cultural Organizing:

Join us in reclaiming our identity and community. Across the nation, we have seen cases of police brutality, use of excessive force, and in some instances, law enforcement homicide. These events have spurred a discussion and jump started action around policy accountability in New York, Ferguson, Los Angeles, and beyond. We want to highlight the historic and present efforts of persons working on these issues. We will be meeting to talk to each other about what is happening and honor those who we respect who have shaped our growth.

The event will start with a warm welcome, as well as a video showcasing clips from the civil rights era and present day showing the parallels and growth. On one wall, there will be an altar to honor those who have lost their lives to law enforcement. We encourage you to come and add names of people you know, inspirational leaders, and folks you know who are organizing for change. Participants can also opt to have their pictures taken with signage saying “We are not dangerous,” which will be added to a wall of photographs.

There will be information on tables about efforts, happening in Oregon, to demand accountability. No one should be questioned or searched because of their religion, race, national origin, LGBTQ status, housing status, or age.

January 26, 2015
6:30 PM
700 N Killingsworth St. Portland, OR 97217

to RSVP click here.