Political Action

Scott's anti-teacher agenda in Vermont

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

Vermont's Republican governor is taking a first step toward implementing a right-wing agenda for schools with an attack on teachers' health benefits, writes Nolan Rampy.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott

VERMONT TEACHERS have found themselves in the crosshairs as first-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott rolls out his anti-worker agenda.

With appeals to fiscal responsibility that have become all too familiar, Scott is attempting to restructure how teachers negotiate for health care to deal a substantial blow to one of the state's most powerful unions, the Vermont National Educators Association (VTNEA). Scott's plan appears to be rushed and sloppy, but the goal is nothing less than destroying collective bargaining and hitting teachers with a backdoor pay cut, shifting more health care costs onto workers.

Scott's plan, dropped into the middle of budget negotiations late in the legislative session, shifts teachers' bargaining over health care from the local level, where teachers in a school district bargain with their school board over health benefits as part of their contract negotiations, to the state level.

The proposal threw Vermont's political establishment into a frenzy, and Scott vetoed the budget passed by the legislature that did not include his plan. The legislature convenes this week for a special two-day, closed-door session to try to forge an agreement in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Scott claims that his proposal for a single statewide health care plan for teachers will save taxpayer money. Though Scott leaves unstated how these savings will be generated, his aim is clear enough--to find a more effective means of shifting responsibility for health care costs from the state to teachers.

A report by the legislature's legal council claims that the proposal would likely make it illegal for teachers to strike over health care, but also states that the details of how the proposed changes to bargaining would function in practice is still vague--in fact, the legality of the entire plan is questionable.

The projected savings for taxpayers, claimed by the governor to total $26 million per year, will have little impact on the wallets of most ordinary Vermonters.

Scott's motivation is essentially twofold.

First, his proposal works as a union-busting Trojan horse, wreaking havoc on the collective bargaining of the teachers' union, one of the strongest sectors of organized labor. Bargaining over salaries and benefits go hand in hand, and the integrity of district-level contract negotiations will be seriously undermined if health care and wages are bargained separately.

Secondly, it is intended to make up for shortfalls in the state's general fund by hacking away at teachers' health care instead of generating additional revenue by taxing the rich. In short, it is an attack on workers from the top, carried out through a convoluted legislative process.

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THE ORIGINS of the current controversy can be traced back, at least indirectly, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as Obamacare. The ACA mandates penalties on so-called "Cadillac" health plans (translation: high-quality health insurance) that are slated to go into effect in 2018.

As a result, Vermont teachers, who have enjoyed these quality insurance plans, are in the unusual situation in which every school district in the state is simultaneously bargaining over health insurance in order to comply with the terms of the ACA. Scott seized on the statewide synchronization of health care bargaining as a unique opportunity to push his plan.

The Democrats in the legislature have, for their part, agreed with Scott's premise that education spending is too high--an unsurprising but nevertheless disappointing position.

The counterproposals initially put forth by the Democratic leadership preserve local bargaining over health care, but they mandate that savings be extracted at the local level and issue penalties for a failure to do so. The effect of this option is potentially equally heinous--while it preserves the veneer of local bargaining, it mandates in advance that the outcome of the bargaining must be cuts in education spending.

The legislature's upcoming closed-door session to resolve the budget impasse and avert a government shutdown will bar any press coverage of the proceedings in a move that is clearly designed to stifle public involvement. The legislature hopes that Vermonters will passively accept whatever deals are handed out when they are announced with the closure of the special session.

Even before the start of this session, closed-door negotiations have been taking place between party leaders, without the opportunity for public testimony or press coverage. This model of governing is so obviously undemocratic that even state Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a leading figure in the process, acknowledged, "It should not be the way we do business."

The VTNEA denounced Scott's plan from the start, and called on members to rally at the Capitol and around the state as the fight heated up. Hundreds rallied in the middle of May in Montpelier, calling Scott's proposal a bid to take power away from working people. Unfortunately, the VTNEA also supported the Democrats' problematic counterproposal, seeing it as a means of preserving collective bargaining.

Missing from the response of both the Democrats and the union is an unapologetic defense of spending on public education.

While both state Democrats and Republicans point out that education spending is a large portion of the state budget, unions and Vermonters should state enthusiastically that this is, in fact, a good thing. States should be devoting their resources to education, health care, and other social services, not police and prisons.

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SCOTT HAS a long-term, right-wing vision for public education and teacher unionism. While his larger plan is unknown, some speculate that this proposal is an initial step toward pushing for all public school bargaining to move to the state level, culminating in a single statewide teacher contract.

Considering the difficulty of divorcing bargaining over health care from the rest of the contract, if Scott is successful in his current proposal it seems likely that the logical next step would be to push for ending local collective bargaining altogether.

Close by to Vermont, Maine's ultra-reactionary governor Paul LePage is in the midst of pushing for a single statewide teacher contract. This effort is being billed by Maine Republicans as an issue of equity, because, like in Vermont, large pay discrepancies between teachers in different districts help to perpetuate inequalities in education between poorer and wealthier communities.

With LePage's and Scott's right-wing, anti-worker track record, though, we can safely assume that their motives in pushing for bargaining at the state level are really about austerity, not addressing inequality.

While the totality of Scott's plans for public education remains shielded from view, it is obvious that his administration is targeting teachers, schools and unions. It will be up to the left in Vermont--in unions and political organizations--to chart a path forward to resist Scott's right-wing attacks and present an alternative vision for a better education system.

Our vision should reject austerity altogether and instead call for full funding of education from pre-K to the university level, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. With trillions of dollars devoted to war, the notion of scarcity in public resources is entirely manufactured.

But shifting the priorities of government spending won't happen without a massive campaign to challenge the political leadership of both parties, which agree with one another about imposing austerity on public education.

A mass movement of workers and community members is necessary--both to defend the wages and benefits of Vermont's educators, but also to make advances in creating a more just, equitable and accessible public education system for all.

Categories: Political Action

Oakland struggles after the spectacle fades

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

This year's NBA Finals brought the wealth gap into sharp relief, writes Luke Pickrell.

A homeless encampment underneath an interstate overpass in Oakland

EVERY SO often, the national spotlight turns to Oakland, California, a city of about half the population of its better-known neighbor San Francisco.

For the past three years, that spotlight has come courtesy of the NBA Finals, where the Golden State Warriors, led by the god-fearing "baby-faced assassin" Stephen Curry and an all-star crew, have met the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

Along with the Finals come a slew of celebrities and other sports personalities, plus the teams' billionaire owners: Joe Lacob of the Warriors, with a $1.5 billion fortune accumulated as a venture capitalist at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers; and Dan Gilbert of the Cavaliers, who wrangled his $5.9 billion as founder of the notoriously criminal Quicken Loans Inc.

These two men--not to mention Warriors minority owner Peter Guber at a mere $800 million--are well within the super-rich 1 Percent. As the league's PR slogan goes: The NBA Cares--about the filthy rich.

Meanwhile, the "other half" barely survives in Oakland. The city has a murder rate that is five times higher than across the Bay in San Francisco--with the casualty rate for young Black men in Oakland higher than for Black men in the U.S. military serving in Afghanistan.

Because of gentrification, rents have been rising at a double-digit pace each year, but the income of low-wage workers sure hasn't. At the time of the 2010 census, the unemployment rate in West Oakland was more than 40 percent, and two-thirds of residents lived below the poverty line.

But all of this is hidden from most viewers behind the dizzying array of lights and sounds. We are asked to tune in to the game and tune out of a world that capitalism has brought closer to disaster.

Those who have $133,000 they can do without can view the spectacle up close, though the rest of us are invited in via the warm glow of our television screens.

The elite enter the arena via doors locked to the rest of us, opened by keys made of dollars and power. Everyone stands for the National Anthem--an exercise in nationalist propaganda like few others. The stage is set, cue the lights and the game begins.

Then the series was won--rather easily at that by the Warriors--and the spectacle starts to wear off, with the celebrities fading back into the covers of magazines, the champions showering in champagne, and the fans preparing for work in the morning.

On a Thursday in mid-June, the championship parade was routed through downtown Oakland, attended by masses of people. The celebrating took place far away from where the homeless encampments are swelling under freeway overpasses (see 5th and Harrison, 7th and Alice, East 12th and 22nd) after being pushed out of parks.

Oakland's story isn't unique to any other city where the NBA Finals have been held. Only the details are different: the locations where the homeless take shelter, the statistics of a police department that enforces the rule of private property and is allowed to rape and kill with impunity.

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MY POINT isn't to scold those who enjoy basketball or any other sport. I watched the clinching victory in game five, and I cheered when Kevin Durant caught fire in the fourth.

But I also drove past the homeless camps on the way home--and noticed how many cops were patrolling the streets.

We want to remember that reality, too, in a world where the wealth gap is the largest it has ever been--where eight people are worth more than the poorest half of the population. It's a world in which extreme wealth and mind-bogglingly dumb celebrity culture can converge in a sports arena--named after a corporation, funded by public dollars, and guarded by militarized police--while thousands sleep in tents and go hungry.

The Warriors are champions, but it means little or nothing to most people in Oakland--at least nothing that can make their daily scramble to get by any easier.

And now, the team will take its all-star cast to a new arena in San Francisco by 2019--yet another example of capital's unfettered mobility across land and water. Whatever jobs were tied to Oakland and revenues that came into the city because of the Warriors will vanish, too.

Meanwhile, homelessness is on the rise; Libby Schaaf will remain mayor, where she can help out local and international developers; and the Oakland Police Department is still as brutal as ever, adding its share to a list of killings nationally that, as of this writing, already includes 565 names since January.

The Warriors will get rings and can party like kings, but after the spectacle fades, Oakland's troubles--like Cleveland's, Detroit's, Baltimore's, and many others--remain. These troubles are connected by a common source of pain: capitalism. That's the reality hidden beneath the Finals glitz in Oakland.

Categories: Political Action

MoveOn on Jon Ossoff’s Narrow Defeat in Georgia’s 6th District

Move On - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:51

Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, issued the following statement in response to Karen Handel’s apparent victory in today’s GA-06 special election: 

“Jon Ossoff’s close finish and the closer-than-expected elections in Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina are proof that if Republicans continue to follow Trump, they will be following him off a cliff — one that may cost them the House in 2018.

“There are two lessons in the Georgia results. One, that the Resistance movement is putting deep red districts and states in play. Two, even so, Democrats cannot take any race for granted — and if they want to win these tight races, they must do more than just be anti-Trump and spend millions of dollars. They must put forward a bold progressive vision for our country, running on core Democratic values.

“In the closing weeks of the race, Ossoff and the DCCC missed an opportunity to make Republicans’ attack on health care the key issue, and instead attempted to portray Ossoff as a centrist, focusing on cutting spending and coming out in opposition to Medicare for All. This approach did not prove a recipe for electoral success. Democrats will not win back power merely by serving as an alternative to Trump and Republicans.

“To win back the House, and elections up and down ballot, the Democratic Party must be the party of real change. Democrats must vociferously reject the status quo in which corporate lobbyists and the wealthy have too much influence within both parties, and they must stand for a bold, inclusive populism that offers the sort of sweeping change and leveling of the playing field that the American people are clamoring for.”

On March 6, MoveOn.org members in GA-06 voted overwhelmingly to endorse Jon Ossoff. Since then, MoveOn mobilized grassroots volunteers and more than half a million dollars for Ossoff. MoveOn’s campaign has included:

  • Conducted an early poll of the race, showing bi-partisan opposition to Trumpcare.
  • A $250,000 TV and digital ad buy focused on Trumpcare;
  • Bundling $340,000 in contributions from 15,567 MoveOn members directly for the Ossoff campaign;
  • Launching a text message peer-to-peer voter turnout program;
  • Mobilizing MoveOn members to volunteer for Ossoff;
  • Contacting 16,000 MoveOn members in the district for GOTV.
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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn: The Constitution Could Not Be More Clear And Trump Could Not Be More Clearly Violating It

Move On - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:38

Applauds Largest Ever Congressional Lawsuit Against A Sitting President

Statement of Anna Galland, Executive Director of MoveOn.org:

“The Constitution could not be more clear in the emoluments clause and Donald Trump could not be more clearly in violation of it. The founders of this nation explicitly intended that no President could receive foreign payments while serving as President without the consent of Congress.

“In this nation, no one is above the law. Donald Trump’s attempts to profit from the Presidency and put his own financial self interest before the security of our nation are not only shameful—they are illegal.

“It’s evident that Donald Trump cannot muster a basic respect for a bedrock Constitutional principle, forcing members of Congress to use all available legal measures to hold him fully accountable.

“We applaud the 194 members of Congress—led today by Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative John Conyers—for taking decisive action to stand up for our Constitution and the security of this nation.”

MoveOn also released a video on the lawsuit, which has attracted more than 600,000 views in less than a week. It can be seen here.

Categories: Political Action

Which path to take from the People's Summit?

Socialist Worker - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

Tyler Zimmer writes from Chicago about the questions raised by the second annual People's Summit held earlier this month--and who had answers for which ones.

Bernie Sanders speaks at the People's Summit in Chicago (National Nurses United)

CAN THE Democratic Party be reformed from within by radicals following the lead of Bernie Sanders? Or is an independent alternative rooted in labor and left movements necessary?

Those were two big questions underlying the discussions at the People's Summit in Chicago--where there was unanimity among attendees on the need for a radical break with the status quo, but debate, sometimes sharp, on what kind of break and where to go from here.

This was the second year that the People's Summit--a political conference convened by a coalition of labor and left-leaning political organizations, with the National Nurses United (NNU) playing a leading role--was held.

As with last year, the gathering drew thousands of people from across the nation, ranging from rank-and-file nurses and other union workers to left-wing journalists and unaffiliated young leftists energized by the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The political moment has changed considerably since the first People's Summit, held at the end of the presidential primary season last year. But if anything, the defeat of Bernie Sanders' campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and the ascendancy of Donald Trump have underlined the importance of left-wing reforms such as Medicare for All and tuition-free higher education--and intensified the resolve of activists to fight for them.

Yet along with the spirit of opposition to the status quo, there were questions about what path to take after the summit.

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ONE YEAR after Sanders' presidential bid was sabotaged and snuffed out by the conservative machinery of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), a growing number of people--and even a few of the conference's most visible figures, such as National Nurses United President RoseAnn DeMoro--expressed some degree of skepticism about whether the Democratic Party is worth saving.

This flowed from the searing criticisms of the Democratic Party establishment shared by speakers from the front of the conference and attendees in the audience.

Sanders himself set the tone. "I am often asked by the media and others, 'How did it come about that Donald Trump, the most unpopular presidential candidate in the modern history of our country, won the election?'" Sanders said during his keynote address to the conference, as chants of "Bernie would've won!" began to reverberate through the crowd.

"My answer," he said, "is that Trump didn't win the election, the Democratic Party lost the election."

Sanders, along with the vast majority of speakers at the People's Summit, share the belief that the Democrats lost in 2016 because the party clings desperately to an unpopular pro-business agenda that has resulted in staggering economic inequality, the largest prison population in the world, environmental disaster--the list goes on and on.

Praising the performance of the British Labour Party under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, Sanders pointed out that Labour did well in a general election held on the eve of the People's Summit "not by moving to the right, not by becoming more conciliatory--they won seats by standing up to the ruling class."

This particular criticism of the Democrats was a consistent theme throughout the weekend.

When introducing Sanders before he spoke, DeMoro underscored the ways that his presidential campaign had "been rejected by those who control the [Democratic] Party and their moneyed interests." Summing up this sentiment, Nina Turner, a former state senator from Ohio who was among the first politicians to publicly endorse Sanders, quipped that the unofficial slogan of the Democratic Party had become "#NotWokeYet."

But if conference attendees were united in their rejection of the aggressively neoliberal agenda of the Democratic Party, they were deeply divided on the question of how to move forward. There was a sweeping consensus that we urgently need to build a left alternative to Trumpism and neoliberalism, rooted in unabashed class politics. But there were a variety of views among attendees on how to make that happen.

Thus, for all their fiery criticisms of the Democratic establishment, the vast majority of speakers from the front, including Sanders himself, encouraged attendees not to abandon the Democratic Party, but to work to transform it from within.

Again and again, speakers urged those frustrated with the right-wing tilt of the DNC to either run for office themselves or help campaign for a Democrat who shares Bernie's political perspective. They pointed to recent electoral wins, such as those of Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Ro Khanna in California, as templates for more victories to come.

Others seemed to speak directly to the "Democratic establishment," as if to say: "You better listen to us, or else we'll come after you in the primaries."

But is this strategy likely to produce the desired outcome? Certainly a number of conference attendees weren't convinced.

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ALONG WITH many others over the course of the weekend, Sanders celebrated the impressive showing by Jeremy Corbyn--and correctly identified that Britain's Labour Party did well because Corbyn shifted it sharply to the left, instead of creeping right as the Democrats have done for decades, by putting forward unapologetic class politics.

But can this left-wing shift be replicated within the Democratic Party? For all its problems, the Labour Party is a membership organization. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party, despite the ruthless opposition of the party's establishment, because the head of Labour is elected on a one-member-one-vote basis.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are more of a bureaucratic cartel than a political party like Labour. Within the Democratic Party, very little of significance is determined democratically. The big decisions about allocation of resources and political positions are typically made behind closed doors by established leaders and big-money donors.

Sanders knows this better than anyone else--he is well aware of the variety of ways that the party's machinery sabotaged his campaign and stymied his supporters at every turn.

The leaked e-mails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta confirmed what many had suspected all along: The Democratic Party apparatus did everything in its power to thwart Sanders and his supporters. As DeMoro put it at last year's People's Summit, the presidential primary was "maligned by massive corruption in the political machinery of the Democratic Party and manipulation by the press."

Despite this firsthand experience, however, Sanders was clearer than he's ever been about his commitment to working to change the Democratic Party from within--and he joined most of the official conference speakers in explicitly and emphatically calling for activists to try to follow that path.

To support his case, Sanders touted recent victories by left-leaning candidates in "down-ballot" races ranging from state senate to city council to school board. It's easy to see how People's Summit attendees would view these small victories as positive, but the bigger question remains: What is the strategy for challenging the commanding heights of the national party machinery when it remains firmly--as it always has been--in the control of the rich?

Unfortunately, nothing beyond exhortations to register to vote and run for office was offered as an answer to this central question. But it's precisely the intransigence and concentrated power of this bureaucratic apparatus that leads to the conclusion that working people and the left need to abandon the Democrats and build a party of their own.

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THIS POINT of view was defended by some speakers and a number of conference attendees--many of them young, unaffiliated activists inspired by the left-wing character of Sanders' campaign.

Over the course of the weekend, several hundred people stopped by the International Socialist Organization's booth at the People's Summit--it was clear from discussions there that a substantial number were dubious about the project of transforming the Democratic Party, though there was little consensus about how the left should move forward.

Surprisingly, there were a few moments where it appeared that some conference organizers might be open to a break from the Democrats.

After Sanders finished speaking on Saturday evening, NNU President DeMoro came back on stage to field questions from the audience on Sanders' behalf. When a question about independent politics came up from a member of Draft Bernie--a group led by a former Sanders campaign staffer, which advocates for Bernie to leave the Democratic Party and form an independent "people's party"--DeMoro appeared to express sympathy.

"I'm with you," she said to the audience member representing the Draft Bernie initiative. After a conspicuous glance at Sanders and his wife, DeMoro turned back to the audience and said, "Nurses, are we with them?" As the audience cheered, DeMoro looked back at Sanders and remarked, "I always say heroes aren't made, they're cornered."

But Sanders himself made it clear where he stands. "Look, as the longest-serving independent member of Congress, I know something about that," Sanders said. "Where my energy is right now is in fundamentally transforming the Democratic Party into a grassroots progressive party."

Actually, DeMoro herself sent a different message in her prepared remarks introducing Sanders, when she said: "Bernie Sanders and our movement--and it is the same thing--can save the Democratic Party from itself." And whatever her comments on stage, she was a central organizer of a conference whose main thrust was transforming the Democrats.

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"WE'LL SEE where it goes," Sanders concluded in answer to the Draft Bernie activist. But many of us know all too well where this road leads. As Paul Heideman documents in a Jacobin magazine article last year about the failed attempts to reform the Democrats from within during the 1960s and '70s, the Democratic Party is remarkably impervious to left-wing transformation.

Although it may look as if it is even more difficult to build a left-wing, third-party alternative to the Democrats, the People's Summit itself gives us reason to think otherwise.

A growing layer of young activists, after seeing how the DNC treated Bernie, is at least questioning whether there needs to be a left alternative to the Democrats. If the organized left was larger, with a stronger presence in trade unions and in social movements more generally, it's reasonable to think that growing support for an independent left/labor party could be converted into a new political vehicle separate from the Democrats.

As I wrote about last year's People's Summit for SW: "[T]the well-funded, well-attended and smoothly organized event might have served--in a not too distant, but different world--as a preparatory step toward building a new third party of labor and social movements."

There are many good reasons to join a socialist organization in this political period, but making the possibility of independent politics into a reality is surely among the most pressing.

Categories: Political Action

A system that let working-class people burn

Socialist Worker - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

London's tragedy has transformed celebration of Labour's strong showing into white-hot anger, writes Australian socialist Corey Oakley, in an article written for Red Flag.

A deadly inferno consumes Grenfell Tower in London (Natalie Oxford | Wikimedia Commons)

THE HORRIFIC fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower in London, killing at least 58 people and possibly many more, was not simply a tragedy. The disaster has exposed in the starkest possible terms the true horror of an austerity-racked, class-divided society, and the inhuman, brutish nature of the Tory government and the system it rules over.

People died in Grenfell Tower because they were poor. They died because the Conservative Party-dominated local council hated them and would not lift a finger to put measures in place to stop people burning in their beds. They died because public housing has been left to rot, and successive governments, in the name of a "war on red tape," have ripped up safety regulations and left working-class people at the mercy of unscrupulous, cost-cutting private firms.

The exterior cladding likely responsible for the fire is banned even in the U.S. because it is a known fire hazard. It would have cost just $6,000 to put in a fire-safe alternative. And now it has emerged that the cladding was put up not to improve the lives of the residents of the tower, but to make it less of an eyesore for those in nearby rich areas. What greater symbol could there be of the utter contempt with which the Tory council regards its working class constituents?

In the wake of the fire, endless stories have emerged, painting a sickening but accurate picture of government and power in the age of neoliberalism. For example, Theresa May's new police and fire minister, Nick Hurd, was among the 72 Tory MPs who are also residential landlords and who voted against a motion to make homes "fit for human habitation." And her new chief of staff was one of a series of housing ministers who sat on a report warning that high-rise blocks such as Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire.

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A WEEK earlier, when votes began to be tallied late on election night, young people poured out of clubs and pubs around the country, chanting Jeremy Corbyn's name. It was an extraordinary moment of hope. Now, as Britain digests the full horror of what happened at Grenfell Tower, that sense of hope has been replaced by white-hot anger.

Thousands have taken to the streets demanding justice for the victims, and opposing the whitewash that has begun.

It's not just anger at the Tories. The fact that Grenfell sits in the richest borough of the country, only a short walk from some of Britain's wealthiest streets, lined with opulent houses owned by bankers and billionaires, underlines the monstrousness of the class divide. Those at the top have everything--unbounded riches, more wealth than all the kings and queens of history combined. But even a sprinkler system in a tower block is too much for the poor.

Anger against austerity has been building for years. But the political establishment and the ruling class it serves, consumed by hubris, has done nothing to change course. When longtime leftist Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party and promised to fight austerity, restore public funding to health and education, and take on the power of the rich, he was ridiculed in the media and mocked by political opponents--both Tories and Labour MPs. He was living in the past, they said: socialist politics are dead, there is no alternative to the neoliberal consensus.

Now the apparatchiks of the old order are reaping the whirlwind. The Conservative Party is in tatters; its majority in parliament gone, its leader utterly discredited. In the days after the Grenfell fire, when Theresa May refused even to meet with the surviving residents, the magnitude of the gap between rulers and ruled became glaringly apparent.

The indifference of the Tories to the suffering of working-class Britons is not news, but to see their callousness and inhumanity on display in such a manner was almost beyond belief. All the false sympathy, the crocodile tears of politicians who leap in front of the cameras within minutes of any terrorist attack, manipulating mourning in the service of their grubby interests, was suddenly exposed for the vile hypocrisy that it is.

If the party had any honor, it would respond with compassion and contrition to a catastrophe that was so clearly the result of its own policies. The Tories ran and hid. Not just May, all of them.

Virtually no one has come to the government's defense. Even Rupert Murdoch's tabloid, the Sun, ran a front-cover headline "It was murder" alongside an image of thousands of protesters marching on Westminster. Its editorial said, "Tory failures are stark as poor lay dead in the blackened Grenfell Tower block after fire so close to Britain's most opulent homes."

The editors of Murdoch's vile rag don't give a damn about the poor. But they can see what is happening around them. YouGov reports that 59 percent of people back Jeremy Corbyn's demand that some of the empty houses of the rich in the Kensington area be requisitioned to house those displaced by the fire. It's a reasonable and perfectly sensible suggestion, but one that would usually meet howls of protest and be offered as proof that Corbyn is a dangerous communist. Not anymore.

In the Labour Party, the endless array of Corbyn critics fell silent after the election, stunned by the results. The Grenfell tragedy should make them hang their heads in shame. It's not just Tory policies responsible for this disaster--Blair's New Labour was equally committed to the neoliberalism that caused it.

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IT IS right that so many millions reacted to Corbyn's dramatic election success with joy and hope. It was proof that it is possible to conceive of a radical alternative to the right-wing consensus of cutbacks, privatization and handouts to the rich.

But the horror of the Grenfell fire shows that hope for the future is not enough. The Tories may have been battered at the polls, but they are still in charge. The system that creates disasters like Grenfell, and which every day entrenches a brutal class divide and grinds working class people into the dust, remains entirely intact.

As thousands of people take to the streets demanding justice, the powerful are behind closed doors, plotting ways of protecting themselves from the onslaught of anger. In coming weeks, there will be an avalanche of solemn promises that they will do better, that changes will be made.

It is all lies. The politicians, the media owners and the bankers aren't shamed by the injustices of the social structure off of which they grow rich. They regard the bulk of the population as nothing but the means to create the wealth of the powerful. For them, this disaster is a political tragedy, not a human one. They are moved by it only insofar as it threatens their position.

To beat them, we need not just hope in a different future, but anger as well: furious anger, and a determination to resist, to fight back, to overthrow a system and a social class whose murderous indifference causes working class people to burn to death in their beds.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

Sakuma workers win their first contract

Socialist Worker - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

Years of farmworkers' struggle at one of the largest producers in the Skagit Valley has finally yielded a victory that can serve as a model for other fights, writes Steve Leigh.

Farmworkers march for a fair contract in Washington state (Familias Unidas por la Justicia | Facebook)

FIVE YEARS of organizing by farmworkers paid off on June 16 when members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice, or FUJ) overwhelmingly ratified their first contract with the Sakuma Bros. Farms, one of the largest berry growers in Washington's Skagit Valley.

"I'm proud to be a union member and to have participated in the negotiation of a contract," said Celestino Santos, a member of FUJ's negotiations committee. "I learned that it's possible to ensure both good wages and protections from retaliation."

FUJ is rare--a union of farmworkers independent of, but supported by, the larger labor movement. This breakthrough victory--which won a contract for hundreds of workers in the fields about 60 miles north of Seattle, many of them undocumented--is especially significant in an age of repression against immigrants. It's also a step forward in the low-wage workers' Fight for 15 campaign.

The two-year contract, which covers all berry pickers at Sakuma Bros., includes a target average wage of at least $15 per hour, with a minimum wage of $12 per hour. Workers' wages will still be based on how much they pick, but the per-pound rate will be adjusted depending on the average pick rate of workers, according to the FUJ.

The contract bars discrimination on the job, establishes seniority in hiring and layoffs, institutes a grievance procedure, and requires that the company complete fair and objective investigations before issuing discipline.

According to the FUJ, there will be up to eight union representatives in the fields available to assist members with their issues and represent members in disciplinary meetings. The company and the union agreed that there will be no strikes and no lockouts during the course of this contract.

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THIS VICTORY was won over years of struggle in response to poor wages and working conditions and disrespect on the job.

Workers faced regular abuse from foremen and got no rest breaks during workdays that lasted 12 hours or longer. Workers are paid by how much they pick, and the piece rates often yielded less than the state minimum wage of $9.47 an hour. The company also charged deposits for workers' housing.

Sakuma Bros. withheld Social Security contributions from undocumented workers' paychecks, even though they'll never receive benefits. Workers in their 60s could be seen laboring in the fields because there is no pension plan. There, they were exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Sakuma workers' first strike was in 2004, but organizing picked up in the summer of 2013, and since that time, there have been no fewer than eight strikes.

On June 10, 2016, more than 100 workers walked out and won a pay increase from 24 to 28 cents per pound of strawberries picked. Sakuma's distributor Driscoll's charges at least $3 a pound for strawberries in the store. There was another work stoppage in August 2016 around similar issues.

A march of several hundred on July 11, 2016, to Sakuma Brothers headquarters was key to forcing the company to the bargaining table, and ultimately winning a union election in that summer.

Over the years, workers' organizing managed to force concessions from the growers. Workers won their demand that a deposit no longer be required for company housing. They also defeated Sakuma's attempt in 2014 to replace the mostly Indigenous Mexican workforce with people working under the H-2A temporary visa program.

Strikes in 2013 won the reinstatement of terminated worker Federico Lopez, the firing of an abusive supervisor, $6,000 in back pay, an agreement against retaliation and a temporary minimum wage of $12 an hour.

To build solidarity for the strikes in the fields, FUJ launched a boycott of Sakuma berries and its distributor Driscoll's. This boycott ended last summer when Sakuma agreed to negotiate a contract.

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FUJ IS an independent union, but it had the support of the AFL- CIO in Washington state for its boycott and at rallies. And the FUJ's struggle for a union and a contract is providing many lessons for further battles in this often difficult-to-organize industry.

The turnover from year to year in migrant farm work means that workers have only a short period of maximum leverage during a harvest. Many workers have no formal legal rights in the U.S. In many places, there's a language barrier between workers who speak Spanish and those who speak the Indigenous languages of Triqui and Mixteco.

The Driscoll's boycott helped to show the growers that the farmworkers had public support, but the key factor was farmworkers' ability to shut down production during harvest time. These strikes forced the company to finally come to the negotiating table.

"This is a historic victory for all our members that harvest berries," said FUJ President Ramon Torres. "They are happy to be working at Sakuma Farms with a union contract, everybody is ready to get to work, there will soon be union berries in the marketplace."

Categories: Political Action

These workers shouldn't go to jail for protesting

Socialist Worker - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

For nearly two months, workers at the Torah Cement Company have been holding a sit-in to demand a full-time contract and retroactive payment of wages. Though some of these workers have been at the company for more than 10 years, they are employed on a part-time or temporary contract, denying them the rights and benefits of full-time workers.

In May 2016, a Cairo appeals court ruled in favor of the workers, who had filed suit to compel the company to extend health care, profit-sharing compensation and other employment rights. The company has so far refused to abide by the court's decision.

In late April of this year, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning Egypt's relentless assault on the rights of workers. "The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined both in Egypt's Constitution and international human rights law," said Najia Bounaim, campaigns director for North Africa at Amnesty International. "Egyptian authorities must stop punishing people for exercising and demanding their rights."

Here, we are reprinting a joint statement from leading parties, unions, movement leaders and human rights groups in Egypt. The statement was first published at the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt website.

Workers at the Tourah Cement Company in Egypt organize for justice and dignity

WE, THE signatories of this statement, express our shock and stupefaction at the verdict issued on June 4, sentencing 32 workers of the Torah Cement company to three years in jail. The workers were accused of gang violence and assault on civil servants, but not a single piece of evidence was shown in court. The sentence was issued only 15 days after the workers' arrest and their sentencing, and the judge's bias was made clear when he declared he was convinced that demonstrations and strikes should be "forbidden and criminalized"! All of this means this was anything but a fair trial.

The government has shifted the burden of so-called economic reforms on workers and the poor who are alone in footing the bill for the surge in prices and poverty levels and the collapse in living standards. Not content with that, the government is now hell-bent on cracking down against workers who raise demands and has them jailed or sacked.

These and other crimes have put Egypt back on the International Labour Organization's blacklist for the fourth time, along with the countries that engage in the most blatant infringements of workers and trade union rights in violation of international conventions.

The signatories reaffirm the legitimacy of the Torah workers' struggle. They have resisted attempts at sacking them and demonstrated on their company's premises for 55 days. The workers have been employed there for years and therefore have a right to permanent contracts instead of employment through subcontracting companies (the use of which the government seeks to generalize in the project of the new labor law), which live off the sweat of the workers while preventing them from receiving any social security benefits or participating in profit-related bonus schemes.

What you can do

Add your name to a statement in solidarity with the cement workers at the Egypt Solidarity website page about the defense campaign for the Torah cement workers. You can also find other ideas about how you and/or your union can show support.

The signatories reaffirm their total support to the imprisoned Torah cement workers and that they will use all available peaceful means to secure their liberation in the face of the tyrannical rulers whose policies impoverish millions of Egyptians while repressing their protests.

The signatories call on human rights groups, trade unions and workers' organizations in Egypt and the whole world asking them to show solidarity with the workers.

The signatories reaffirm the fundamental right of the working class to strike and demonstrate in the face of waves of price increases, impoverishment and exploitation. This right was hard-won by the workers of Egypt through their long struggle and is protected by international conventions signed by Egypt as well as by the 2014 constitution.

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Bread and Freedom
Popular Socialist Alliance
Dignity Current
Strong Egypt
Dustour Party
Muhebb Abboud, workers and peasants secretary in the Social-Democratic Party

The Revolutionary Socialists
6th April Youth Movement
6th April Movement--Democratic Front
January Socialist Movement
Strong Egypt Students' Movement
Front for the Defence of Journalists and Liberties
Legal Cooperative for Workers' Consciousness

General Union of Tourism Workers
Egyptian Union of Oil Workers
Rashad Kamal, President of the Federation of Independent Suez Unions
Union of Workers in the Spinning, Weaving, Garment and Leather Industries
The General Union of Workers in the Port Said Free Zone
Amr Rashad, Qasr al-Aini al-Faransawi Hospital workers' union
The Permanent Congress of Alexandria Workers

Human rights groups
Al Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Egypt's Conscience (Committee for the Defence of the Oppressed)
The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights

First published at the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt website.

Categories: Political Action

Views in brief

Socialist Worker - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00
More uniting to fight the right

IN RESPONSE to "Portland stands united against far-right hate": It seems like now would be a good time to try and build a national anti-racism campaign in the vain of Kerfa in Greece or Stand up to Racism in the UK.

Having just moved to Portland, it was heartening but bewildering to see so many different groups at May Day. I counted close to 100. I hope that Portland stands against hate is successful, but perhaps a campaign that specifically calls out racism and fascism (and makes the distinction clear) would be a powerful unifying idea.

The recent murders by Jeremy Christian have really shocked everyone I meet, and people are looking for answers and actions. While it is great that the mayor would turn up and stand against "hate," it would be interesting to see if he would directly confront the racism that led to these two men losing their lives.
Sean, Portland, Oregon

Capitalism and colonialism in Tibet

IN RESPONSE to : Thank you for the well-researched article! I'm wondering if you could address the question of colonialism more specifically, in terms of its relation to capitalist exploitation, and to the institution of the nation-state that stabilizes capitalism.

Readers' Views

SocialistWorker.org welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Unlike the extractive regimes of European colonial empires, which directly profited a lot from the colonies, China does lose a lot of money controlling Tibet with its massive security apparatus and so-called "welfare projects" for the Tibetans (like the shoddy housing you mentioned), much more than whatever it profits from controlling Tibet (at least for now, and definitely for the past few decades, when there were few extractive industries in Tibet).

It seems to me that it is rather Chinese nationalism at play, this fixed image of a nation-state that sees China as an indivisible unity encompassing Tibet, Xinjiang, etc., and which must be defended from "hostile forces."

And of course, the nation-state is an institution that helps to stabilize capitalism--as we know. Chinese nationalism/jingoism (of which there's a lot these days) takes away the focus from issues of capital and labor, and "threats to the motherland" are used as pretexts to crack down on activists.

The colonialism we see in Tibet is related to this nationalistic conception of the Chinese "motherland," and to the nation-state as a violent institution that secures (and securitizes) territory at all costs. This is somewhat different from the colonialism of European powers, which sometimes bartered territories with each other, and which were forced to (formally) decolonize (albeit with lots of resistance, of course) when their financial situation with overseas colonies became untenable.

I would think Palestine would be a much closer parallel, whereby the current Israeli colonial apparatus is driven by this millenarian idea of a Jewish state from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea. You have the same checkpoints as in Tibet, the same restrictions to movement and heavy-handed security apparatuses, and the same division of the colonized into "good" and "bad" ones.

Of course, settler-colonialism hasn't proceeded to the same extent in Tibet as it has in Palestine, and maybe some liberal Zionists would tell you they can get on without the West Bank.

But in both cases, the colonialism cannot be economistically reduced to extractivism and capitalist expropriation the way European colonial empires could perhaps be. The Chinese and Israeli governments perhaps both lose more than they gain (e.g., from Soda Stream or selling weapons).

I'm not saying there's no connection to capitalism--there absolutely is, and it lies in the nation-state, in nationalism. I think a critique of Chinese colonialism in Tibet should also implicate a critique of the nation-state as a violent institution that securitizes territory and populations--the Chinese thinking they could buy off Tibetan herders with shoddy high-rise flats in ghost towns, etc.--and that props up capitalism.
X Guan, New York City

The transit system we deserve

IN RESPONSE to "New York subways reach the breaking point": This article on the state of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) comes at a pivotal point in the need for a massive shot of investment to keep the system running.

I do wish the author had done a little more research into current campaigns to deal with the ongoing lack of commitment from the state, and the most recent push by such organizations as the Riders Alliance toward half-price Metrocards in light of the most recent fare increase this past March.

Riders in New York have the power to help plan and create a transformative transit system that more fully connects us to one another if we can envision it.
MLH, Brooklyn, New York

Has anything changed at UPS?

IN RESPONSE to "Why isn't UPS on trial?": Three years later now, and why isn't UPS on trial? Everyone is scared of them is why.

I fought those bastards for 30 years. I witnessed more violence than anyone would even think possible in this country, let alone at a company like UPS. I worked in another state, but it seems to not matter where you are, conditions are the same.

Personally, I always wondered why the post office got all of the negative publicity about workplace violence. For the most part, I thought perhaps having the union gave us a little more leeway to express our frustration and cuss a little and not be punished for it. I once witnessed a supervisor locked into an empty trailer to baste in the heat, only to be rescued by his fellow supervisors.

Shortly after I retired, a supervisor threw a computer system at an employee in front of customers at the building. Eventually, they settled in court and relocated the supervisors--which is the UPS way.

Maybe all these years later, we need a follow-up on UPS workplace violence to see how UPS is doing. I'm told that with all the technology now, drivers are monitored and harassed for things as small as time spent idling and how far they back up to a dock.
Rick James, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Mahwah residents are fighting, too

IN RESPONSE to "Ramapough Lenape make a stand": This article does not fairly represent the facts.

I am a resident who has been fighting the pipeline for over three years. Mahwah has been a leader in opposing Pilgrim--the town passed an ordinance banning unregulated hazardous materials pipelines. It also passed the first wellhead protection act in Bergen County and is passing a more stringent version of that ordinance.

Mahwah was also key in forming the Municipal Pipeline Group, a coalition of 15 towns that contributed funds to retain the law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck to work on the revised ordinance and provide legal support in the effort to stop Pilgrim.

We welcome the tribe's recent support in opposing the pipeline, but be clear: this issue between the town and the tribe is not a pipeline issue. This is not Standing Rock. This is a land-use issue.

We hope that all the parties involved can come a satisfactory agreement that respects the landowner's rights and the land. But do not misrepresent that fact that the township of Mahwah would in any way want to keep the tribe from opposing the pipeline.
Anne Powley, Mahwah, New Jersey

Categories: Political Action