Political Action

Greensboro, NC Centennial Event

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 08:37
Saturday, September 9, 2017 - 8:35am
Categories: Political Action

Newark, NJ Centennial Event

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 08:33
Thursday, July 20, 2017 - 5:30pm Newark AFSC Invite Photo: AFSC/
Categories: Political Action

Arlington, VA Centennial Event

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 08:30
Saturday, June 17, 2017 - 8:30am
Categories: Political Action

We need to pull the plug on Trumpcare

Socialist Worker - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

Christopher Baum and Danny Katch examine the grassroots resistance to the GOP's nightmare health care bill--and argue against the Democrats' focus on future elections.

Hundreds pack a town hall meeting in Iowa to protest a Tea Party member of Congress

ON MAY 10, Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur walked into a buzz saw.

For almost five hours at a town hall meeting in Willingboro, New Jersey, MacArthur was "booed, heckled and generally chastised" by a crowd of several hundred angry constituents who called their representative things like "weasel," "killer" and "idiot", according to the Guardian.

But this wasn't about name-calling. These people were angry for a very specific reason: The May 4 passage by the House of Representatives of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Trump administration's foul attempt to "repeal and replace" the law that has transformed the structure of health care: the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as "Obamacare."

The AHCA--both in its original form that was withdrawn in March without coming to a vote, and the even worse version that passed the House by two votes in early May--is a disaster that would steal almost a trillion dollars from Medicaid and get rid of the protections mandated by the ACA for people with pre-existing conditions.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would leave 14 million more people uninsured by next year, along with another 9 million over the next eight years. Since 28 million people are currently uninsured under Obamacare, that means the AHCA would leave more than 50 million people without health insurance by 2026.

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THE MAN responsible for the amendment credited with winning crucial support from the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus--whose members felt the March version of the bill did not go far enough--is none other than Tom MacArthur.

And the people of Willingboro let him know how they felt about that. As Jim Newell reported in Slate:

One constituent explained how his wife had died two months earlier from brain cancer, and how he was taking his kids on vacation for Mother's Day. He worked in insurance. "The Affordable Care Act has plenty of flaws," he said. "The problem is this bill has a lot more flaws."

A recovering addict told [MacArthur] that Medicaid was what "kept me clean this long." Without it, she said, "it's jail, institution, or death." [MacArthur] told her, and anyone else asking about Medicaid, that no benefits would be cut, and that the bill's $839 billion in cuts would simply force states to bring about efficiencies and innovation. (Some of those efficiencies that the states could settle on, of course, would be slashed benefits.)

One man, whose wife is a cancer survivor and whose two children each have pre-existing conditions, engaged in a long, furious rant that lasted about 15 minutes. "You are the greatest threat to my life," he shouted. "You are what keeps me awake at night."

At least MacArthur showed up to face his constituents. Few of his Republican colleagues have shown even this much backbone. Citing data provided by the Town Hall Project, the Guardian reported that only 14 of the 217 House Republicans who voted in favor of the AHCA scheduled town-hall events during the House recess during early May.

Even among those 14 were politicians who went to laughable extremes to minimize confrontation. Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, for example, endured a stormy meeting in Salt Lake City after the first health care vote in March, so he held his second town hall at a high school in Sevier County--a rural community roughly 165 miles from Salt Lake City.

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IN ADDITION to filling town halls with angry protesters, groups have organized "die-ins" to call attention to the fatal consequences of the AHCA in cities across the country, including Scottsdale, Arizona, and Concord, New Hampshire.

The Payback Project--described by the Nation as a joining of forces by MoveOn, Indivisible and the Town Hall Project for the purpose of "support[ing] local groups who are targeting their representatives and holding them accountable for their vote on the AHCA"--has played a prominent role in encouraging and publicizing such actions.

The Payback Project website features a searchable event database to find local opportunities such as Republican town halls to protest, and an "accountability wall" on which communities and individuals can share stories of their efforts to hold their representatives' feet to the fire for their health care vote.

"Accountability" is a common rallying cry for Indivisible, the movement founded by former Democratic congressional staffers with the aim of using Tea Party-style tactics--like constituents organizing for confrontations at town hall meetings with their members of Congress).

Indivisible has published specific guidelines for combating the AHCA, and its newly formed branches have played a role recent health care demonstrations in York, Pennsylvania; Palm Beach, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; and elsewhere.

Ultraviolet, to take another example, has shined a spotlight on the devastating impact the AHCA would have on women, by putting sexual assault and domestic violence under the category of "pre-existing conditions" and by barring Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds.

Ultraviolet has an online campaign and has organized protests in cities such as Portland, Maine--a potentially key location since Maine's Republican Sen. Susan Collins is seen as a likely "defector" from Republican ranks on this issue, due to her stated concerns about how the AHCA would affect health care for women.

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GRATIFYING THOUGH it may be to watch the well-earned discomfort of Republicans facing the anger of their constituents, activists need to be wary of a Democratic Party that is less focused on blocking the ACHA than on cynically using the passion of the legislation's critics and opponents to win the midterm elections in 2018.

This is not to say that the focus on electoral politics makes no sense. The next stop for the AHCA is the Senate, and it's very unlikely that this body will produce a bill identical to the one approved so narrowly by the House. This means--assuming the Senate can pass a health care law at all--that the differences between the two would have to be reconciled in a conference committee, after which the new version would then be put to a fresh vote in both houses of Congress.

Thus, there is every reason to put pressure on Republicans who voted in favor of the AHCA in May to change their position--and their prime concern will be losing office in the next election.

But these Republicans should also be facing the threat that if they pass the AHCA, they will endure months of protests that will impede business as usual--from millions of people who are determined not to less this murderous monstrosity of a bill become the law of the land.

That's not the signal that Congressional Democrats sent with their incredibly ill-judged cheering in response to the House's passage of the AHCA. Rather than recognize the stakes involved, they were seemingly happy to see a devastating bill passed in the hopes that it will deliver them more seats in the midterm elections.

Performances like this have led to the Democrats' actually losing popularity since Trump took office, so they may want to hold off on planning their victory galas next November. More importantly, future Democratic victories won't do anything to stop the irreversible physical and financial damage that millions of people will suffer if the AHCA passes now.

One of the people who showed up to Tom MacArthur's town hall was Claudia Storicks, a former nurse disabled from diabetes and nerve damage in her foot. If she loses her coverage under the ACA, she told MacArthur, "my diabetes would get out of control, my foot would probably get worse, and I'd probably end up in hospital and losing my house."

"Next year, the public will have a chance to speak," she told the Guardian afterward. "And I don't think I'm going to vote for him again."

But if the AHCA passes and Storick's worst fears come to fruition, merely being able to vote Tom MacArthur out of office will be cold comfort.

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U.S. HISTORY has shown time and again that progress comes about, not as a result of electoral "accountability," but because of mass mobilizations and a demand for change.

One way to do that, as Sean Petty noted in Jacobin, is to connect the struggle for universal health care with other fronts in the "palpable, hyper-politicized, mass resistance to Trump's overall agenda":

The Women's March on January 21 was the largest march in American history and helped spawn a nationwide defense of Planned Parenthood. Organized actions took place in over 150 cities, with marches of 5,000 to 6,000 in San Jose and Minneapolis. Given that the AHCA will take away Planned Parenthood's public funding, the single-payer movement can directly connect with these activists. The Women's Strike on International Women's Day helped buttress the idea that women's liberation and economic power are intimately connected.

Similarly, a significant movement in defense of immigrants has emerged. Starting with the airport protests against the first Muslim ban, continuing with the Yemeni-owned bodega strike, and flowing into A Day Without an Immigrant protests, these actions have given the consequences of Trump's ruthless policies a human face and highlighted immigrant communities' agency and economic power. This movement should include the fight for immigrant health care, which Obamacare threw under the bus and the AHCA further threatens.

As Petty indicates, we need to be able to fight the Republicans' attempt to repeal the ACA while also laying the groundwork for pushing forward against the severe problems with the current health care system.

"The people who are protesting the Republicans' AHCA nightmare are right to take a stand," Dennis Kosuth and Alan Maass wrote for SocialistWorker.org, "but we shouldn't forget that health care should be a right, and every person should have access to it. The only solution to the crisis is a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system that covers everyone."

Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi continue to rule out single-payer on the false grounds that "the American people [are] not there yet." But single-payer bills are currently working their way through the legislatures in both California and New York.

Both bills face significant obstacles, but they show that there's nothing unrealistic about demanding Medicare-for-all, even with Trump in the White House. It's a fight that needs to be connected to the ongoing protests to stop the AHCA--not to repeal it in 2018, but stop it dead in its tracks right now.

Categories: Political Action

New York subways reach the breaking point

Socialist Worker - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

Natalia Tylim documents the worsening--and completely preventable--crisis of the main public transportation system in the richest city in the world.

Commuters crowd onto a New York City subway platform (Dan Phiffer | flickr)

ON ANY given day, millions of people who depend on New York City subways wake up and wonder how much extra time they should take to make it to their job.

"I never know if I am going to get to anything on time," said Frank Leone to the New York Times. "I give myself an hour to get to work every day, even though it only takes 35 minutes, and I still show up late to work."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is literally taking hours off of our lives each week. If you want to get a quick sense of the stress being caused to New Yorkers by public transportation, a Twitter search of #fucktheMTA should do the trick.

"We are being held momentarily by the train dispatcher" and "We are delayed because of train traffic ahead" are two sentences that New Yorkers dread hearing, and they seem to come on a near-daily basis. They are infuriating not only because of their content but their vagueness. What is causing the delay this time?!

Is it a power outage? Twice over the course of three days in May, power outages at the DeKalb Avenue stop in Brooklyn caused extensive disruptions in subway services. The second required a horrifying evacuation of thousands from the platform at peak rush hour.

Or maybe your train is stalled because chunks of the concrete ceiling have literally fallen down--as happened at the Franklin Avenue stop on May 2. Bystander Yael Reisman told Gothamist that she'd "never worried about the infrastructure in that stop before--maybe foolishly?--but this looked really bad."

Or are you going to be late because of overcrowding? Trains are delayed every morning by the scrum of people--many of whom have unsuccessfully tried to board previous trains--packing themselves into the cars so tightly that the doors can't close.

One in three weekday trains are delayed--more than twice as many as in 2012.

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THE TRAIN system's problems aren't new-- any New Yorker who relies on the subway could tell you that things have been getting worse for years. But it seems that the effects of decades of neglect the subway infrastructure for decades are beginning to come to a head.

As of 2014, of the 468 subway stations, only 51 were not in need of fixes and repairs. A report from the Citizens Budget Commission estimated that at the current pace, the MTA would finish these repairs in 50 years--by which point, of course, hundreds more staircases, platforms and ceilings will be broken.

Incredibly, the subways for the global center of capitalism rely on a signal system that dates back to the pre-computerized Second World War era--and it will take 50 years and $20 billion to update the entire system at the current pace.

In recent years, politicians and MTA officials have prioritized completing the much-hyped Second Avenue subway line, which serves the wealthy Upper East Side neighborhood, over less visible upgrades needed for a system in dire need of repair.

What New Yorkers are experiencing today is a shift from quantity to quality in their declining subway system: years of crumbling infrastructure is now producing a collapsing infrastructure.

This crisis was easy to foresee. A 2005 New York article warned, for example:

[T]he era of improvement has ended, and the subway has reversed course. Money for basic maintenance has been drying up: For the past four years, the funds for keeping the subway in what is quaintly called a "state of good repair" have been 29 percent lower than the MTA's own needs assessments, according to an analysis by the Regional Plan Association. This translated into $483 million less for the relay-and-stoplight system; $685 million less for repairing and modernizing the power substations that deliver electricity to the trains; and $668 million less for line equipment, which includes ventilation, lighting and pumps for the tunnels. The stations themselves got $639 million less.

What makes these shortfalls so ominous is that the New York subway is always inherently falling apart--rigorous maintenance is the only defense against the natural pull of entropy. A constant infusion of money is necessary just to ward off the forces of decline, and yet the system is continually cheaped out by the state: Last month, Governor George Pataki said he would give the MTA only 69 percent of the funds it requested for its next five years of capital upgrades and repairs--an $8.5 billion kick in the trousers. The sounds of alarm are now coming not just from cranky gadflies, but from the MTA chairman himself, Peter Kalikow, who recently warned that 2005 could resemble 1975, the year the subway began to decay rapidly.

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1975 WAS the height of New York City's infamous "fiscal crisis," a turning point in both New York and nationally for rolling back social programs and shifting their costs onto the backs of working people. It's impossible to understand what's happened to the subway system without seeing it as a part of this history.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, trains were dirty and rickety, and the lights never stayed on. Tourists were warned to avoid the underground caves of crime and filth.

The slogan of the New York City subways could have well been "deferred maintenance." Government funding was a non-entity, so repairs just never got made. Instead emergency patchwork held train cars and stations together.

On the elevated trains in the boroughs, falling pieces of metal became commonplace. Complaints about inadequate or dangerous transit were the top reason for contacting City Hall in 1981. A trip that would have taken 10 minutes in 1910 now took four times longer.

Improvements had to be made, but the money wouldn't come from the city's abundant upper class. Instead, these projects were paid for in two main ways: deficit spending and fare hikes.

The half fare senior program and the half fare Sunday program were eliminated (most younger New Yorkers don't even know these programs ever existed), and fares were raised from 50 cents in 1980 to $3 for a single ride today.

Then there's deficit spending. The MTA's debt is $34.1 billion--larger than that of 30 nations. Deficit spending is 17 percent of the operating budget, and debt service and income payments are the largest expense.

As this video from #NoFareHikes breaks down very well, most of the fare hikes New Yorkers constantly endure don't go salaries and pensions for transit workers--as the media likes to portray it--but paying off higher interest rates for already wealthy banks.

One-third of people who ride the subway make less than $25,000 a year and two-thirds are people of color. These are the people making up the bank's surplus fees.

This is the biggest scandal of all, and it's the essence of the neoliberal policies that have dominated politics for the last four decades: starve public services, blame workers for being greedy and wanting their wages to keep up with life, allow ceilings to fall on people's heads, and then have those people foot the bill to repair the very vehicles which allow them to get to work so that profits can be made for the rich.

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IT'S LAUGHABLE that a city that's the center of world finance doesn't have money to get the 6 million people who work for a living to work every morning. But it's even more egregious that the riders who pay a higher amount of their income each year to ride public transit are funding the banks.

And to top it all off, the money we're paying is diverted to opening fancy new stations open to serve the parts of the city where we will never be able to live.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom admit that they barely use the subway, tussle over who holds responsibility for the mess that is public transportation in the city, we need to focus less on their meaningless drama and figure out how to reverse the tide of working-class people being forced to pay more and more for a system giving us less and less.

Demands around fare reductions, better transportation services and repairs to all stations and lines have constant appeal in a city set up like New York City. There is no question that in a moment like this, a movement could be built to pressure the city and state officials to serve working people and not allow our hard-earned wages to bolster bankers.

We should also remember that our most powerful allies in this fight are the public transportation workers, members of Transport Workers United Local 100. They are the ones forced to deliver the bad news about "train traffic ahead" and "due to an earlier incident," but they're not the ones causing the problems.

A movement could be built that links the interests of train workers and riders, that connects the MTA's abysmal service with the racist "broken windows" policing that targets Black and Latino youth for jumping turnstiles--a "crime" that can actually lead to deportation.

To do any of this, we have to build a broad and independent campaign that can put forward a vision for where this funding will come from, why ordinary people deserve better and that workers are the ones who have the power to bring the whole city to a stop until our demands are met.

Categories: Political Action

We are all Copts

Socialist Worker - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

Early on May 26, gunmen dressed in military fatigues stopped a convoy of three vehicles filled with Christian Coptic pilgrims, removed the passengers and perpetrated a massacre. Hours later, the Egyptian government carried out air strikes on several Islamist camps in eastern Libya, purportedly in response to the killings. In response to this new round of violence, the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt released the following statement, first published in English at the group's website.

Family and friends mourn the victims of a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt

THE REVOLUTIONARY Socialists condemn the latest sectarian massacre in Minya in which 28 people were killed, including many children.

We see new victims, whose only crime was that they belonged to the Christian religion, executioners with the most reactionary ideas, and security services whose only concern is the safety of the dictator.

The scattered bodies of children bear witness to the tragedy that the Egyptian people are living through, confronted with terrorists on the one hand and tyrants on the other.

Naturally, the dictator will respond to the massacre with more terror and repression against his political opponents. He aims to further his plan of breaking the political forces to award himself a new presidential term, thus perpetuating conditions under which many more will turn to violence and terrorism.

We believe that this criminal attack at the hand of a murderous force that is the enemy of both revolution and humanity should propel political forces to propose a new progressive and democratic project that would be on the side of the popular masses, be they Christian or Muslim, in order to end this nightmare.

We join our voices to all those calling for the dismissal of the interior minister and the repeal of the emergency laws and the opening of the public sphere; it is only then that it will be possible to contain Daeshi terrorism [Daesh is the acronym in Arabic for the Islamic State--ed.].

We are sure to stand side by side with the Copts who have become a target for the criminal Daeshis, and we call on the social and political forces to express humanitarian and political solidarity with them. Today we must raise the slogan: "We are all Copts."

The Revolutionary Socialists
May 26, 2017

First published at the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt website.

Categories: Political Action

Master of diverse stories

Socialist Worker - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

With its second season just out, Amy Muldoon reviews Aziz Ansari's Netflix series.

Aziz Anzari (right) and Alessandra Mastronardi star in the new season of Master of None

AZIZ ANSARI endeared himself to TV audiences for seven years as a self-involved, pop-culture-obsessed Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation.

A few years of successful touring and an unexpectedly scientific book about online dating titled Modern Romance later, Ansari has emerged at the helm of one of the most surprising new series, Master of None on Netflix. Now in its second season, the show continues to talk about race, class, immigration, love, sexuality, family, dating and, of course, food.

There is something quintessentially Millennial about the show, both in its fashion-conscious, very "New York" vibe, but also in the feeling of seeking and not finding, and the inescapable awareness of all the inequalities surround the characters.

The title alludes to the Ansari's vague "lostness" that gives the show a slight taste of melancholy, despite amazing meals and charismatic friends. The hipness of the show is only skin deep; when it comes to content, Master of None is earnest, daring and compassionate. The show's depiction of young adults is complex, which lends weight to sometimes ridiculous or contrived situations.

Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off, both in tone and topic. The first episode finds Ansari's character Dev in Italy and, in a hat-tip to Ansari's love of Italian culture, mimics the plot of The Bicycle Thief. The episode kicks off another season of troubled attempts to find love.

Drawing on the research used in Modern Romance, the fourth episode is a montage of dates ranging from the intolerable to promising. Some of the exchanges in the episode are drawn directly from anecdotes in the book--including the most cringeworthy example of how apps create the illusion that maybe someone more perfect is out there, like right now.

Review: Television

Master of None, created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. Starring Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe. Available on Netflix.

The episode "Religion" picks up where "Parents" left off, and given that Dev's family's religion is Islam, it's a welcome depiction of what is unique for Muslims versus what is more common for all children who grow up less religious than previous generations.

The episode provides a sensitive depiction of how religion is woven into culture, and parents' heartfelt desire to do right by their children. It also features two middle-aged married Indian Muslims decked out in team gear debating basketball, which is just one of the funny little nuggets that appears without comment. Given that the family in the episode is the real-life Ansari family, not professional actors, the episode is understated and somehow more realistic, even when stiff.

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CREATIVELY, LIKE another Netflix hit Bojack Horseman, the show uses whatever means are necessary to tell a story. While most follow the narrative of Dev making his way through what Modern Romance calls "emerging adulthood"--the time after you leave your parents' household, but before you establish your own family and career--many episodes are self-contained takes on social issues.

The stellar episode "New York, I Love You," slips from one tangentially connected situation to another, depicting the frictions of class, race, disability and sex that New Yorkers navigate daily. The episode has a throwaway reference to Seinfeld, but that "show about nothing" managed to live in a New York who's only concession to what working people face living here was the characters' constant obsession with apartments.

By contrast, this plotless episode seems to be about everything important, without a story arc or any recurring series characters to guide you. The formula of a series of linked vignettes--especially set in New York City--is a cliché, but the show's faith in its audience to not need to be told what to think at every moment gives it a freshness and warmth, despite some of the harshness New York can dole out.

The way the episode engages the viewer around disability is unexpected and subtly brilliant, and illustrates something unique about the series. While not an ensemble piece, the show uses multiple perspectives--never to say, "you can't understand this," but "look, I want to show you this," while expecting a sympathetic response. It is a generous perspective, both from the point of view of a star like Ansari stepping aside to let another actor be in the center, but also to show the importance of the many stories out there.

Given the predominance of a politics that says people from different groups can't understand each other, the show professes that connection is possible. In the startlingly direct Season 1 episode "Ladies and Gentlemen," after a friend is followed home from a bar, every female on the show relates stories of street harassment and online stalking. The episode culminates in a debate about how women experience and perceive sexism, and is worth watching for the final shouted resolution.

This season's "Thanksgiving" episode depicts the challenges of being a Black lesbian with tenderness and without blaming other Black people. The "issue" episodes still manage to be relationship episodes because of depths of the characters, and sincerity of the writing.

The critical success of Master of None would never have been possible in broadcast TV. The financial model of Netflix means not having to try to reach a universal audience, so creative teams can take more risks and tell a wider variety of stories. Chief content officer Ted Sarandos told the press in 2016: "We're not courting advertisers, because we're not targeting a single demographic."

Their success has forced their competitors to similarly embrace of diverse stories. Not every show has to be Game of Thrones--a show like Girls has a smaller audience, but guarantees another loyal segment of subscribers. To the providers, it doesn't matter if you are paying $8 or $15 a month to watch 10 shows or one, as long as you pay your bill. In fact, the more people they can hook on a single show, the better, as it expands their base to a new demographic they previously missed.

Netflix has grown at an incredible rate, and the proportion of its budget committed to original content is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2020. We could be headed for an oversaturation of the market, but with shows like Master of None filling the pipeline, it's one crisis of overproduction that will be enjoyable to watch.

Categories: Political Action

What we'll need to take on the right

Socialist Worker - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

Nate Moore writes from Connecticut about a local experience of protesting the right.

ACTIVISTS AROUND the country who have engaged in resistance to Trump and the emerging far right over the past few months have gained valuable experience as to what works and what doesn't--for example, with the counterprotests against the mobilizations of the far right in Berkeley, California.

This brief report is an attempt to explain how and why a recent anti-Trump protest in New London, reported on in Socialist Worker last week, was successful in countering the right. Although it wasn't as dramatic as other mobilizations nationally involving the right and left, there are some positive lessons that can be taken it.

As SW reported, a counterdemonstration against Trump's commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy drew 350 people, vastly outnumbering the 50 or so Trump supporters.

The protest could have taken an ugly turn at any moment as both pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators were granted permitted access to the same protest space, and the police were out in force. I think the following characteristics, interrelated and mutually reinforcing one another, led to a successful mobilization.

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.

1. The most important factor in the success of the protest was that those protesting Trump outnumbered Trump supporters.

2. How was this accomplished? By having a coalition of left groups, called Unify and Resist, that met regularly to plan for the protest, that built support in New London and surrounding towns, that offered mutual support to participation organizations. Because the coalition was at the heart of the organizing, it increased the likelihood that we would have large numbers to counter the right.

3. The Unify and Resist coalition anticipated escalation with Trump supporters at the protest as a central concern, so it developed a tactical approach that turned out to be effective.

Days before the protest, the coalition organized training for "peacekeepers"--people who would respond quickly if escalations occurred between counterprotesters and Trump supporters. The peacekeepers wore distinctive shirts that could easily be identified. The peacekeepers' marshaling of the protest decreased the likelihood of a police crackdown.

4. Because of this, the coalition was able to keep protesters safe from both Trump right-wingers and the cops. Because the counterdemonstrators had a sense of safety, they could channel their political voices with chanting, effectively countering the hate speech from Trump supporters, despite their advantage of amplification equipment.

And in turn, the success of the counterdemonstration gave those protesting Trump a sense of political confidence in countering the right that they can bring to the next struggle.

Categories: Political Action

Supreme Court Victory for the Right to Tinker in Printer Cartridge Case

Deep Links - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 14:38

The Supreme Court struck a blow today [PDF] for your right to own the things you buy, reversing a lower court decision that had given patent owners the power to sue customers who paid in full for a patented item but then used it in a way the patent owner didn't care for. The Court's reasoning will help us protect your rights from overbroad copyright and other restrictions, like the ones written into "end user license agreements" for software or imposed by technological restrictions given legal teeth by Section 1201 of the DMCA.

Lexmark tried every legal trick in the book to keep you from refilling your own printer cartridges, and had finally found a sympathetic ear at the Federal Circuit, the Federal Court of Appeals with jurisdiction over patent law. The Federal Circuit agreed with Lexmark that a patent owner could write their own rules that customers would have to follow or face liability for patent infringement. Even someone who later acquired a product, like the companies that refill printer cartridges, would have to abide by these restrictions.

Together with Public Knowledge and R Street, EFF filed an amicus brief [PDF] at the Supreme Court. We explained that the ability of patent owners to sell products into the stream of commerce while also writing a wishlist of anti-competitive restrictions, would be a disastrous expansion of patent law, hindering competition, innovation, and your freedom to tinker with and repair your own stuff.

The Supreme Court agreed, explaining that when a patent owner "chooses to sell an item, that product is no longer within the limits of the monopoly and instead becomes the private individual property of the purchaser, with the rights and benefits that come along with ownership." The Court emphasized that, by default, people have every right to make, sell, and use things. The limited monopoly that the government bestows upon a patent owner is a deviation from the norm of free market competition and ownership of personal property, and is subject to important limits in order to protect the public interest.

The Court also rejected the argument, raised perennially by rightsholders, that they are entitled to profit via the business model of their choosing, even if that business model requires an expansive reading of the patent or copyright monopoly they enjoy. This argument arises in many contexts. For example, we've seen video game console makers argue that your traditional rights to modify your gaming console must be restricted to enable the loss-leader business model of selling inexpensive consoles and pricey games. Makers of Internet-of-Things devices often require a subscription to function. And manufacturers often try to place restrictions on reselling digital goods, repair markets, and other uses that the law has traditionally allowed customers to engage in. A rightsholder may be able to make more money if you have to pay to exercise your existing rights, but ownership of a patent or copyright should not be a hunting license that allows an owner to control and destroy any business that threatens their profits. Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that a patent does not confer unfettered control of consumer goods to the patent owner.

We have long fought for your right to own, understand, and control the devices in your life, and patent restrictions have been just one threat to those rights. Today's decision will help on other fronts, as we push back against abusive terms of use and "end user license agreements" that purport to strip you of your rights on pain of copyright infringement. The Court explained that people who buy things are allowed to use and resell them without being sued under patent and copyright law, and explained that this freedom is necessary for commerce to function. The next logical step will be for courts to recognize that people who buy digital goods are owners of those goods, not mere licensees, and can resell and tinker with their digital goods to the same extent as purchasers of tangible property.

The reasoning in the Court's decision also demonstrates why Section 1201 of the DMCA has become dangerously overbroad. The Chief Justice used the auto industry as an example of a market that would be hindered if manufacturers retained a legal right to control the repair and resale of the devices they sold. This argument won't be a surprise to anyone who followed the latest rulemaking process, in which we convinced regulators to (at least temporarily) relieve some of Section 1201's restrictions on auto repair.

Overall, the decision reinforces the freedoms of device owners and fends off the monopolistic threat of patent rights eliminating fair, essential competition in markets for repair and third-party innovation. We applaud the Supreme Court for striking this blow on behalf of the public, and look forward to seeing the ripples of the decision in the years to come.

Related Cases: Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc.
Categories: Political Action

EFF Asks the Federal Circuit to Fix its Terrible API Copyright Decision

Deep Links - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 14:25

EFF, joined by Public Knowledge, filed an amicus brief today asking the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to revisit one of its worst decisions ever. Three years ago this month, in Oracle v. Google, the Federal Circuit held that the Java Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) could be copyrighted. APIs are, generally speaking, specifications that allow computer programs to communicate with each other and with human users, and are different than the code that implements a program. The Federal Circuit’s decision was every bit as bad as some of its oft-criticized patent law decisions. Treating APIs as copyrightable has a profound negative impact on interoperability and innovation. And it goes against decades of tradition and common practice in the software world.

Fortunately for technologists and innovation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a significant ruling that undermines the Federal Circuit’s decision about whether processes and methods of operation like APIs can be copyrighted. In a case about Bikram yoga poses, the Ninth Circuit applied a section of the Copyright Act that forbids copyright protection of ideas, processes, systems, and similar concepts. The court said that a “sequence” of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a particular order, was not subject to copyright protection. If a system of yoga poses isn’t copyrightable, then a system of APIs for operating a computer program definitely isn’t.

In reviewing Oracle v. Google, the Federal Circuit was supposed to apply the laws of the place where the case was tried: California, which is in the Ninth Circuit. But it didn’t—the court disregarded both Ninth Circuit copyright law holding that APIs aren’t copyrightable, as well as law from other circuits.

This is wrong and, if not corrected, will have devastating consequences for innovation. The freedom to reimplement and extend existing APIs has been crucial to competition and progress in both hardware and software. Simply put, excluding APIs from copyright has been essential to the development of modern computers and the Internet. EFF isn’t alone in sounding the alarm about the Federal Circuit’s decision. Other commentators have harshly criticized the Federal Circuit’s decision for its misunderstanding of both computer science and copyright law.

It’s confounding how the case got to this point in the first place. The Federal Circuit usually doesn’t hear copyright appeals. However, it heard Oracle v. Google because of a quirk in federal appellate procedure rules. Oracle had originally sued Google for both patent infringement and copyright infringement, but a jury found the patents were not infringed and the trial judge ruled that the APIs were not copyrightable.  Even though Oracle didn’t appeal its trial court loss on its patents, its appeal of the copyright ruling went to the Federal Circuit, which hears all patent appeals. After the Federal Circuit reversed the trial judge, Oracle v. Google returned to the district court last year for a trial on Google’s fair use defense. The jury unanimously found that Google’s use of the Java APIs was a lawful fair use. Oracle again appealed to the Federal Circuit.

EFF’s amicus brief (filed along with Public Knowledge) asks the court to reject Oracle’s latest appeal. EFF first asks the court to revisit its previous 2014 decision in view of the 2015 Ninth Circuit opinion, and hold that the Java APIs aren’t copyrightable. This will fix at least some of the harms caused by the Federal Circuit’s opinion. And if the court isn’t willing to reverse its earlier decision, we also explain why the jury’s fair use verdict was proper. Fair use should permit copying of functional computer elements and their expression for purposes of efficiency, compatibility, or industry demands.

It’s no understatement to say that much hangs on the Federal Circuit’s decision to follow the rules and apply Ninth Circuit law, and uphold the fair use ruling. Innovation, healthy competition and, ultimately, more and better technology choices for users all hang in the balance.

Related Cases: Oracle v. Google
Categories: Political Action

The World Theatre Map: A digital commons for the global theatre community

Creative Commons - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 13:33

Read our previous interview with the Howlround organizers

HowlRound is a non-profit knowledge commons by and for the theatre community based at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. We are a free and open platform that amplifies progressive, disruptive ideas about the art form and facilitates connection between diverse practitioners. One way we aim to connect the global theatre community is through a new free and open tool called the World Theatre Map. We created the World Theatre Map to try and solve a consistent and persistent problem in the theatre field— the isolation between theatre-makers and practice, especially across national borders.

Theatre knowledge is often limited to how “connected” one is within the field, or else it’s information diffuse or behind a paywall. We wanted to make something that could connect theatre-makers to each other absent of hierarchy or resource, and that could share information openly about what theatre is happening where and when, as well as information about the creative teams behind the work. The result is the first version of The World Theatre Map, which launched in January and is currently in a public beta period.

Why does it matter?
What if we could find ways to more efficiently share resources in the theatre field? What if theatre-makers could self-organize around areas of interest or identity, no matter their geography? What impact would that have on the art that is made? Could the theatre become more relevant to our cultural and political discourse? Could we build more empathy in our world? Could we build a better world?

What is it?

The World Theatre Map is a user-generated directory and real time map of the global theatre community. It’s a digital commons, free and open to all.

Who is it for?

It’s for all types of theatre-makers, theatre companies, and theatre institutions around the world, and anyone interested in theatre as an art form.

What can I use it for?

Anyone can create a user account to contribute (or edit) information on the World Theatre Map. You can create a profiles for individual theatre-makers and/or organizations. These profiles will immediately become a part of the searchable directory. You can add information about specific theatre events and the show profile will link together these events to display the production history of that piece. You can search the ever-growing directory to discover and connect to organizations, people, shows, and events. You can see what theatre is happening today around the world. You can read and watch HowlRound content related to a person or organization on the World Theatre Map.

For folks who feel compelled to participate more deeply in this global endeavor, we’ve recently issued a call for World Theatre Map Ambassadors to help enhance our outreach efforts and more importantly, to begin shaping the future of this map and its functionality.

What’s Next

We are using this public beta period to solicit feedback from the field about what is working, what should be improved, as well as future features that could be useful. This feedback will shape Version 2 World Theatre Map. This version is in English and Spanish and we hope to expand to more languages in the future.



The post The World Theatre Map: A digital commons for the global theatre community appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

A California Mayor's Firsthand Account of the Need for Surveillance Tech Transparency

Deep Links - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:48

Former Mayor of Lemon Grove Mary Sessom has added her voice to the rising chorus for statewide surveillance technology transparency in California.

In a letter to the California state Senate and President pro Tempore Kevin de León in support of S.B. 21, Sessom describes her own pursuit of accurate information about police technology as chair of regional public safety committee in San Diego County. The legislation, she writes, would help policymakers obtain the data they need to make an informed decision about whether the benefits of a particular law enforcement technology are proportionate to the impact on personal privacy. 

S.B. 21 would require law enforcement agencies to seek approval of policies and purchases before acquiring new surveillance technologies. Police would also be required to submit biennial transparency reports, disclosing how a technology has been used, how effective it's been, and whether it's been misused. 

CALifornia: Tell Your State Senator to Vote Yes on S.B. 21

Here is the text of Sessom's letter:

Dear President pro Tempore de León: 

As you consider S.B. 21, I would like to relate my experience as a local elected official tasked with overseeing the approval of surveillance technology. I can say with little doubt that this important transparency measure deserves your support.

From 1996 to 2016, I served as mayor of Lemon Grove, a city in eastern San Diego County. During my last term as Mayor, I served as chair of the San Diego Association of Government (SANDAG) Public Safety Committee, which reviews shared law enforcement technology throughout the region.

My concerns over some of the technology we were deploying in San Diego County began in 2013, when a local resident sued SANDAG to obtain records on how the county’s automated license plate reader (ALPR) system was capturing his driving patterns.

It felt like we knew very little about the privacy implications of ALPR and other types of data collection being conducted by SANDAG-affiliated agencies. I made it my mission to educate myself on not only ALPRs, but facial recognition, cell-site simulators (also known as “Stingrays”), drones, highway cameras, and Palantir data analytical systems.

I wanted to know: what technologies did we have, how were these technologies used, how were they funded, who controlled it, and who retained the data and for how long? But, even finding answers to these basic questions proved frustrating.  If I asked for a record, law enforcement would provide it — but I had to know that it already existed. If I didn’t know a record existed, nobody volunteered to tell me it was available.

That is why SB.. 21 is crucial: it requires law enforcement agencies to provide the baseline information policymakers need to make responsible decisions about surveillance purchases. It also requires biennial reports on surveillance use, which would provide elected officials a way to gauge whether a particular technology was successful. 

The public wants to know they’re being protected, but they also want to know how far that protection extends and are they comfortable with that extension. For example, with license plate readers, the public may be more comfortable with technology that is tracking suspected criminals. It is our job as elected officials to ask on the public’s behalf, “Do you really need to capture everyone’s travel patterns to do that? If you don’t, then why are you doing it?”  

I can say with absolute certainty that transparency results in better policies being crafted to serve the public. Too often, law enforcement agencies do not even propose a policy at all before purchasing a technology.

S.B. 21 also makes fiscal sense. Any given technology may cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars.  A policy body really needs to understand what it is they’re buying, what the ongoing costs are, and what will be unintended liabilities. That doesn’t happen if the only disclosure about a surveillance program is a line item in a 200-page budget proposal.
In my more than two decades in elected service, technology has rapidly advanced but state laws have struggled to keep up. Elected officials serve the people first and foremost, and they must recognize that acquiring surveillance technology requires a delicate balance between two significant public safety interests. On one hand, the public needs law enforcement to combat crime. On the other, the public needs their privacy, and their sensitive information to remain secure and free from unnecessary collection.

This balance is best achieved through transparency and a public process. SB 21 would go a long ways to ensuring uniform standards of surveillance accountability across the state of California.

I support this legislation, and I urge you to vote aye.


Mary Sessom
Mayor of Lemon Grove (1996-2016)
SANDAG Public Safety Committee Chair (2012-2014) 
Lemon Grove City Councilmember (1994-1996)

For more information about Sessom's experience, see UC Berkeley School of Law Prof. Catharine Crump's paper, "Surveillance Policy Making by Procurement," which features the SANDAG Public Safety Committee as one of three case studies. 

Categories: Political Action

Portland stands united against far-right hate

Socialist Worker - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

Jordan Weinstein and Sarah Levy report from Oregon as shock and outrage at a stabbing spree by a known white supremacist takes the form of solidarity and protest.

Community members mourn the victims of an Islamophobic attack in Portland

ON THE first day of Ramadan and less than a week after the lynching of a student at the University of Maryland, another racist killing took place in Portland, Oregon, in the middle of the day on a heavily traveled light-rail train.

The three men were stabbed when they stood up to a known racist provocateur who was verbally attacking two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, on a train in North Portland. The attacker, Jeremy Joseph Christian, was yelling racial slurs at the two, such as, "Get off the bus [sic], and get out of the country because you don't pay taxes here."

When the three men tried to intervene, Christian stabbed them all in the neck, killing two of them: Ricky John Best, a 53-year-old army veteran and city of Portland employee, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Reed College. The third man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a 21-year-old poet and Portland State University student, was injured, but was taken to the hospital, where he underwent a two-hour surgery.

Law enforcement officials were quick to portray the attacker as "mentally ill," and the FBI at first hesitated to classify the stabbings as a hate crime.

The truth was obvious to people in Portland and around the country: The murder of these two men and the assault on two women is the latest evidence of the growth and confidence of the alt-right, from Berkeley to Boston to Maryland--and now, unfortunately, Portland.

But there is another side to the story beyond the awful stabbings: Hundreds of thousands of people who shared this city with Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Mechein were horrified by their murder, and many of them want to do something to stand up against hate.

The day after the killings, some 1,000 people came out to a hastily organized vigil to honor the heroes who tried to stop a racist. People of all ages and races, including many women in hijab, held candles and left flowers at a makeshift shrine at the station near where the stabbings took place.

The racist killings were in the national media spotlight over Memorial Day weekend, and on Monday, a social media campaign finally shamed Donald Trump into sending a brief tribute via Twitter to the two victims of "hate and ignorance"--though he was careful to avoid criticizing Islamophobia.

Those working for social justice in Portland won't forget about this horror. Despite the killings, alt-right organizations are still planning to mobilize on June 4 for a rally for "free speech," but a strong and growing coalition of left organizations is building for a counter-rally under the slogan "Portland Stands United Against Hate"--to show with our numbers that Portlanders will stand up to violence and racism.

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FAR FROM being a bad apple or lone wolf, Jeremy Joseph Christian is a known right-wing extremist and white supremacist, with a criminal record spanning more than a decade that includes first-degree robbery, second-degree kidnapping, and carrying and using dangerous weapons.

His Facebook page is full of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments, among other hate and bile.

"I want a job in Norway cutting off the heads of people that Circumcize Babies [sic]," Christian wrote in one post. In another, he called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh a "TRUE PATRIOT."

As Corey Pain said in the Willamette Week, "The targets of his hate may have been broad--Muslims, Jews, feminists, liberals, police--but there's no doubt Christian had announced his intention to kill."

The day before the stabbings, Christian apparently was involved in another racist incident at a transit station, in which he threw a bottle of Gatorade at a Black woman.

Christian also frequently attended demonstrations by various far-right forces in Portland. Most recently, he was seen at a so-called "March for Free Speech" in Southeast Portland's Montavilla neighborhood on April 29. Christian showed up wearing an American flag as a cape and carrying a baseball bat, with which he attempted to assault left-wing protesters, yelling "fuck all you n*****s" and giving the Nazi salute.

Christian isn't alone in Portland in threatening violence against left-wing protesters. Last July, at a march to demand justice for victims of police murder, a right-wing blogger named Michael Strickland was harassing demonstrators--when asked to leave, Strickland pulled out a loaded handgun and leveled it at the crowd.

And on Monday, while Trump was being shamed into sending a belated message of condolence for the victims of an alt-right racist, the head of the Multnomah County Republican Party told the Guardian that his party would not only continue to mobilize, but would consider asking far-right militias, like the Oath Keepers, to provide "security."

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THERE'S no doubt that bigots like Christian have been emboldened by the election of Trump, who has mainstreamed their racist bile. But Portland police should shoulder some of the blame for the right gaining confidence in this city.

For example, at the April 29 "free speech" rally, though police were familiar with Christian and aware of his posts that threatened violence against Jews and Muslims--and even against officers if they tried to disarm him--the cops claimed Christian had a head injury and was mentally ill.

While police confiscated Christian's bat on April 29, they shortly returned it. Throughout the day, the police force provided protection for Christian and other members of the alt-right to parade down SE 82nd Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Portland known for its diversity.

After the march, police even organized Trimet buses to chauffeur the right-wingers back to the park where they had started, saying it was for the marchers' "safety."

This is the same police force that has been called out by the U.S. Justice Department for its excessive use of force against people with mental illnesses, including killing them. It is also the same force that only three weeks ago killed Tyrell Kyreem Johnson, a 24-year-old man who was known by the department to have mental health issues.

Between a police force that makes sure they have a "safe space" to spew their hate and a president who transmits their hateful rhetoric into mainstream politics, it's no wonder the far right is bigger and more confident than ever. Whereas a year ago, the far right might have mobilized 10 people for a publicized demonstration, today, it can bring out 100 to 200.

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FORTUNATELY, THE overwhelming response in Portland was given expression by last Saturday's vigil and impromptu speakout. It was clear that while people are mourning, they are also angry and understand what happened as political.

As a speaker from the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes said:

Let's call this what it is: This was an act of terrorism. We are here to remember the people who stood up to this terrorist. The response is: 'Not in our town.'...It lets the victims of the crimes know that even though I might not look like you, I'm on your side, and I stand with you, and the members of my community stand with you.

The other reason we do it is that it lets the people who commit the crimes know: I might look like you, but I don't stand with you. I am not on your side.

Speakers voiced a range of emotions--from outrage that the stabbing had occurred to a sense of inspiration at the example of the three men who stood up to hate and paid a terrible price. At the vigil, one PSU student said while surveying the large crowd:

When I heard about what happened Friday, I was angry, and thought to myself, "What kind of city do I have to live in where I have to worry about getting stabbed?" But I realized that this [pointing at the crowd] is the city I live in as well. It's a city where people stand up to racist incidents.

The vigil was attended by some prominent political figures, but when SW asked Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler what he thought needed to be done to stop this kind of racist hate, he didn't point to the crowd. His response, after a pause, was: "You know, I don't have a good answer."

Wheeler has demonstrated time and again why the solution to right-wing violence and hate won't come from elected officials or law enforcement. He signed off on a heavily militarized police presence on May Day and congratulated the department after officers attacked protesters. This was only two days after he shook hands with police at the right wing's mobilization where Jeremy Christian first captured the media's attention.

Rather than putting more police on public transportation or similar solutions from city officials, we need a mobilization that starts at the grassroots to challenge the emboldened right and prove that the vast majority of people despise the bigots and their ideas--and won't let them voice their hate unopposed.

The three men who stood up to Jeremy Joseph Christian are heroes. They didn't know one another, but each chose to stand up when they saw a bigot harassing two women of color.

As many people at the vigil said, we must not be afraid--we must continue to stand up to racism whenever it rears its ugly head. But challenging racism and the growth of the right in the long term will ultimately take mass mobilization and an ongoing movement, which shows not only that the right's ideas won't be tolerated, but points to a real solution to the economic and social problems at the roots of the social crisis today.

The "Portland Stands United Against Hate" mobilization on June 4 is the next step toward building such a resistance. As one young woman at the vigil said, "The bigots want us to be afraid. But if we continue to come together, we will be stronger than them."

Categories: Political Action

The building blocks of Socialism

Socialist Worker - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

This year's Socialism conference in Chicago offers an opportunity to distill the lessons of today's struggles and to build socialist organization to transmit them in the future.

The crowd at the Socialism conference

THE CONTRAST couldn't be more stark--at the same time that Donald Trump's war on immigrants, workers and democracy grinds on, the audience for socialist ideas continues to grow.

It seems like a lot longer than a year ago when Bernie Sanders's socialist campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was shocking pundits with its popularity and outperforming all expectations.

Now, more than four months into the Trump presidency, it would be easy to pronounce that time some strange aberration. Did that even happen?

Instead, Trump's amped-up Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is sowing fear across the U.S., and despite the steady stream of scandals hammering its credibility, his administration is still trying to ram through its agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, increases in defense spending and budget cuts for social services.

But there are actually plenty of signs that the opening for rebuilding socialist politics and organization in the United States persists.

One measure is the large turnouts for left-wing events and meetings, such as the 3,000-plus who packed into Chicago's famous Auditorium Theater in May to hear global justice campaigner Naomi Klein and mass incarceration critic Michelle Alexander in a discussion moderated by author and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

Another measure is the marked increase in attendance at meetings of socialist organization such as the Democratic Socialists of America and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Socialist Worker's publisher.

Yet another is the record number of registrations for the Socialism 2017 conference in Chicago. Already, more than 1,100 people are registered to attend the event, which SW co-sponsors along with the ISO, Haymarket Books, the International Socialist Review and Jacobin magazine.

This year, there will be no shortage of presentations and performances by famous figures such as actor John Cusack, NFL defensive end Michael Bennett, comedian Hari Kondabolu, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.

But the heart of the Socialism conference is the dozens of sessions that focus on the theory, history and politics of socialism from below--with introductions given by people engaged in the day-to-day work of building activist campaigns and struggles for justice in the U.S. and around the world.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

HISTORY DOESN'T remember all the many organizers and activists who made the most important social changes possible. Even when our side wins victories, they are skipped over in favor of the media focus on the words and actions of the powerful.

The Socialism conference puts the focus where we think it belongs--on the people who spend so many hours discussing, strategizing and organizing in order to change the world.

Consider some of the recent struggles you've read about at SocialistWorker.org: The mobilization to defend Carimer Andujar from the threat of deportation. Or Jose Charles--false charges of felony assault of a police officer were dropped by Greensboro, North Carolina, prosecutors after a long struggle organized by his family and supporters. Or the victory won by parents and teachers who came together to protest an abusive principal at a New York City elementary school.

The names of the people who organized these struggles--who made the plans, who wrote the leaflets and posted on social media, who put out press releases, who told their neighbors and friends and anyone who would listen why it was important to take a side--may not be known far and wide.

But they are at the center of the Socialism conference, and they run through everything we write at SW.

We focus on these stories not only because they deserve to be better known, but to learn and generalize the lessons they hold for other people who want to stand up against injustice--most of all, the idea that persistent efforts to mobilize masses of people to demand change can win, even against powerful institutions and stubborn administrators.

Right now, many people--us included--have been focused a lot of the time on the rapid-fire revelations driving the Trump White House's spectacular meltdown.

Of course, the Trump administration is trying to stay on the attack--for example, by pushing through a disastrous health care bill with potentially devastating consequences for people with pre-existing conditions. And by elevating perhaps the most reactionary cop in America--and that's saying something--to a key role at the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump's right-wing agenda is all too real in all our lives. But the building blocks to resist that agenda are real, too, as the local victories reported on at SW demonstrate.

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THE CHALLENGE facing the left is how to assemble these building blocks--now and in the long run--into a bridge that can reach between the different struggles, large and small, in Trump's America, and into the future to the bigger uprisings needed to transform the economic and political structures that uphold inequality and injustice.

We need a revolutionary left that combines urgency and patience--in the right proportions and at the right times--in order to move beyond capitalism.

Socialism 2017 aims to bring together radicals and activists from around the country to engage in discussions about both the past and the present in order to advance a new socialist movement in the U.S.

This process has already begun, but the question of what ideas will serve as the foundation of a new left has yet to be answered. But one thing is certain--there are many different ideas seeking an audience in this moment.

With the rise of the alt-right under Trump, the left faces urgent challenges, including about tactics and strategies, that it must meet. This means, for example, addressing the counterproductive tactics of the Black Bloc on display in Portland on May Day.

With each struggle, it's essential to draw out lessons for the future--and to contribute toward building left organization that can be the bearer of those lessons in the future.

The reason that the Bolshevik Party in Russia was able to win leadership during the 1917 revolution 100 years ago was the years of long and patient organizing before 1917 to build up an organization made up of leaders with the capacity to understand what was at stake in any struggle, explain those stakes to others and put forward a lead for the working-class movement.

No social struggle that aims to achieve lasting success can do so without knowing its history and refining and clarifying its ideas. Socialism 2017 looks like it will be the biggest conference ever--and hopefully, it will be able to contribute that much more to a new era of resistance.

Categories: Political Action

Reflections on the Manchester bombing vigil

Socialist Worker - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

The first instinct of right-wing politicians and pundits was to use the bombing in Manchester to whip up fear and hatred, but the spontaneous gathering of several thousand ordinary people one day later set a very different tone, writes Colin Wilson, in an article for the revolutionary socialism in the 21st century website.

Thousands gather for a vigil in Manchester's St. Ann's Square

THE GUARDIAN reports from a vigil after the bombing in Manchester: The crowd had been standing in silence for a minute in St. Anne's Square when a woman began to sing an Oasis song. Others gradually joined in. By the time they got to the chorus, which everyone knew, most people were singing, especially the title of the song, "Don't Look Back in Anger."

The Guardian interviewed the woman who began the singing, Lydia Bernsmeier-Rullow, a Black woman who speaks with a Manchester accent. She said that Oasis were part of her childhood, and that the song seemed appropriate. People shouldn't look back and dwell on the horror. "We're all gonna join together," she said. "We're all gonna get on with it, because that's what Manchester does."

A few days ago, Newsnight interviewed for the BBC a man in Manchester who had come to give blood. He told them, "We can react in a lot of ways. We can react in anger...This city is a community. I don't care who you believe in, where you're from, this city is for everybody and we all need to rally round today to show support because they want to divide us. They want us to turn on our neighbors and it will never happen. Not here."

Both these people understand what one result of the bombing might be--that the Muslim community might be attacked. With Katy Hopkins talking of a "final solution" and Allison Pearson of the Telegraph calling for thousands of people to be interned, that's an entirely realistic fear. Lydia and the man who came to give blood argue against that horrible possibility in the name of unity, in the name of Manchester.

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"MANCHESTER" CAN mean various things. One version of the city is a commodity produced for sale. The two football clubs with Manchester in their names are both multimillion-pound global enterprises. The iconic Hacienda club of the 1990s has been demolished, but a block of flats built on the site bears its name. A flat there is available to rent "in a development synonymous with the heart beat of Manchester" with "all that the vibrant city has to offer you just a stroll away." The rent is £288 a week.

I don't think this is what Lydia Bernsmeier-Rullow, or the man who came to give blood, meant when they said "Manchester." They may have been thinking of the people in the square, or the local people they knew, or the people they see in the streets. Those will have been women and men, of various ethnicities. And most of them will have been working-class people. The song Lydia sang was an Oasis song, and if Oasis were a Manchester band, they were also without doubt originally a working-class band--the Gallagher brothers are obnoxious millionaires now, but people in Manchester know that they grew up on a Council estate in Burnage.

When people say "we're all gonna join together" or "they want us to turn on our neighbors and it will never happen," they are using a different kind of language from political activists who might call for "working-class unity against racism." What they are saying is not quite that, but it's not a million miles away from it either. It certainly shows a clear understanding of how great the risk is, and how horrible it would be if people did turn on each other. It reflects life for ordinary people in a city where one in three people aren't white--not the experience of life for people like Hopkins or Pearson, who can throw a match into a powder keg, take their pay checks and then watch the results from the comfort of their affluent lives.

It's also worth highlighting just how skillful a thing it was that Bernsmeier-Rullow did. She chose a song that had the right message and caught the mood. She was aware of a danger and acted to prevent it. She wanted to influence people and she succeeded. Of course, it might have fallen flat. But it was still thoughtful, courageous and intelligent.

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THE ACCOUNTS you read in the press of Northern working-class people do not stress thoughtfulness or intelligence. In particular, since the Brexit vote, we hear a lot about the racism and ignorance of the working-class people who voted Leave. This does not come, for the most part, from the right. Rather, it's from the center-left, the people who write Guardian columns, whose contempt for working people has become very clear. The behavior of countless people in Manchester in the last few days demonstrates that this contempt is unmerited. The ambulance workers, the homeless man who held a woman while she died, the café that gave away free chicken biryani to emergency services staff, they all did these things because otherwise, as they put it, they could not live with themselves.

You can think, perhaps, of the forthcoming election as a small chance to share in that approach, to make a little shift in the balance towards common human decency and away from the endless pursuit of money and power. It's a chance to side with working-class people, like these two people taking careful and intelligent action in defense of the places where they live. It's a chance, as Jeremy Corbyn has highlighted yesterday, to finish the failed "war on terror" which has created chaos in many Muslim-majority countries, stoked Islamophobia here and put the army on our streets. The horror of the Manchester bombing reminds us of how much we need to change the world, and the responses of working-class people in Manchester should inspire us to do so.

First published at the rs21 website.

Categories: Political Action

We're in it together against airline hell

Socialist Worker - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

A series of high-profile incidents on airplanes in recent months have illustrated the pressure-cooker conditions for passengers and airline workers alike. While most passengers endure cramped flights and excessive fees--and even all-out assault in a few cases--airline workers are systematically overworked and underpaid by an industry that continues to rake in big profits. In this article, first published at TheNation.com, a Delta airlines employee involved in unionization efforts--and writing anonymously to avoid retaliation--explains why passengers and airline workers have a common interest in better flying and working conditions.

Passengers cram into a Delta Airlines flight (Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse | Wikimedia Commons)

RECENT INCIDENTS of violence and disruption within the airline industry have called into question the policies that airlines utilize to transport people through the sky. Airlines charge excessive baggage fees, cram passengers into narrow seats, and consistently overbook aircraft, causing chaos when gate agents fail to generate enough offers from passengers to voluntarily take a later flight.

As a current Delta Air Lines employee, I feel it's time to set the record straight about why these incidents of violence, distress, and anxiety have become increasingly prevalent in the last 25 years. I have no choice but to write this anonymously given Delta's history of unfairly terminating its employees who speak out about their working conditions. I don't want to become the next victim.

People across the country have developed countless theories for who is at fault in these situations. Some have blamed airline employees for being too quick to call the police, who often unnecessarily escalate a situation to physical confrontation. Others blame passengers for these situations, claiming that because airlines possess the legal authority to demand passenger compliance, they also have the right to violently remove passengers, even those who do not put anyone's life in danger.

The problem with both of these theories is that they place the blame on people without power: flight attendants, gate agents, and the passengers they transport. Instead of blaming those at the bottom, passengers need to recognize that these situations are the result of an incessant drive for airline profits coming from the very top of these corporations. That drive makes conditions for both airline workers and passengers worse.

For instance, take the fact that the biggest economy seats today are smaller than the smallest economy seats of the 1990s. The drive to make room for more seats has not only affected passenger comfort; it has also meant that galley ways for flight attendants have shrunk significantly. Flight attendants at Delta are forced to work in incredibly small spaces, resulting in greater risk of injury for workers who sometimes spend up to 15 hours per day in these cramped conditions.

Additionally, load factors (the percentage of passengers on board compared to the total number of seats) have increased dramatically. In 1995, the average load factor was 67 percent. By 2016, that number had jumped to 83.4 percent, and it is continuing to rise as profitability compels airlines to overbook flights, causing passengers excessive stress and straining flight attendants.

Gate agents have also been strapped with increasing workloads. Gate agents are given about an hour per domestic flight to make announcements, handle passenger questions, ticketing issues, re-booking, gate-check baggage, manage boarding, print flight departure paperwork, and close the aircraft door for an on-time departure. When flights are overbooked (sometimes by more than 25 seats), gate agents are forced to seek volunteers to take a later flight, in addition to the tasks they are already responsible for completing. Overbooked aircrafts create a toxic environment for passengers who fear their seats could be taken, as well as gate agents who are subject to disciplinary action if their flight doesn't leave on time.

Increased load factors have also resulted in more bags for baggage handlers per plane, and the increase in baggage fees has resulted in tremendous profits for the airlines. In 2016, Delta made $866 million from baggage fees alone. Still, Delta often staffs a team of only three ramp agents to handle domestic departures: the minimum standard set by the Federal Aviation Administration. Most of these profits go straight into the pockets of investors, rather than to ramp employees who do the work.

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RATHER THAN blaming these stressful situations on passengers, or airline employees forced to increase productivity and work under unsafe conditions, we must place the blame squarely on those at the top of the industry. The CEOs, boards of directors and major shareholders of Delta Air Lines benefit from both their workers' and passengers' being forced to do more with less. Tighter physical space, lower wages and fewer benefits mean higher profit margins for Delta, which is already the most profitable company in the U.S. airline industry.

Instead of indicting each other (employees and passengers), we should focus on fostering solidarity. Many of our interests are the same.

Most obviously, a passenger's flying conditions are also an airline employee's working conditions. The more room there is for passengers, the easier it is for flight attendants to move freely (without injury) throughout the cabin. The less airlines overbook flights, the less stress gate agents will experience in getting a flight out on time, and the less likely passengers will be involuntarily removed from an aircraft. The more ramp agents assigned to each departure, the less likely that passengers lose their bags.

The declining emphasis put on passenger comfort and airline employee working conditions can be traced back to a common cause: the deregulation of the U.S. airline industry and the relentless pursuit of profit.

Since the 1980s there has been a vicious assault on both passenger comfort and airline employees' living standards across the country. The origins of this assault can be traced to one of Ronald Reagan's first actions as president: to crush the strike of the Air Traffic Controllers Union. Deregulation of the airline industry has decreased our ability to act collectively to maintain a decent life. This is felt most acutely by Delta employees, who remain the least unionized of the four major US carriers that have together monopolized the skies (the others are United, American, and Southwest).

Over the last 40 years our employment conditions have worsened. In the 1980s, the vast majority of our jobs were full time with excellent benefits. Today, our jobs continue to be replaced by cheaper, part time, non-benefit positions that Delta has appropriately named "Ready Reserve." This has all been done in the name of increasing Delta's profitability by introducing hyper-exploitable workers required to do the same work without equal compensation.

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THIS CAMPAIGN against Delta employees has been waged with little opposition, but it doesn't have to remain unchallenged. We can fight back by organizing ourselves into a union that will give us a say in setting our working conditions, the wages we receive, and the benefits we deserve.

As long as we aren't organized, Delta executives can change any of our conditions whenever they please. This was most clearly felt in February, when Delta announced record profits but cut our profit-sharing checks by more than half, from 21 percent to 10 percent. The only group to maintain their profit-sharing payout was the pilots, who leveraged their union representation to negotiate wage increases of 30 percent without a reduction in profit sharing.

There are currently two active union drives: one for Delta Flight Attendants and the other for Ramp/Cargo/Tower employees. Workers who are tired of being bullied into submission, tired of feeling like their jobs aren't secure, and tired of being asked to do more for less should get involved in the union drive, sign authorization cards for an election, and ask coworkers to do the same. Delta passengers who resent the airline industry's incessant cost-cutting can have their say--and support the rights of workers--by standing with us in our fight to unionize and make the flying experience better for everyone.

Together, we can reverse the decades-long assault against both airline employees and passengers, making all of our lives better in the process.

First published at TheNation.com.

Categories: Political Action

Building a left alternative in Macron's France

Socialist Worker - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 01:00

The victory of former banker and government minister Emanuel Macron, representing the new En Marche! formation, over Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) in the second round of France's presidential election on May 7 has led pundits around the world to say that the far right has passed its political peak. Macron and his allies are now campaigning for legislative elections that begin on June 11. The question now is what arrangements he will make with the two mainstream parties that have dominated French politics for many decades, but which were both shut out of the run-off election for the first time ever.

But as Léon Crémieux, an activist in the Solidaires trade union federation and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), explained in an interview with Ahmed Shawki and Lee Sustar, the long-term crisis of neoliberalism that produced the best-ever showing for Le Pen and the NF on the one hand, but that also galvanized support for left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon will continue--and create possibilities for rebuilding the left.

Thousands demonstrate in Paris against austerity the day after Emmanuel Macron's victory

SOME OF the mainstream coverage internationally celebrates Macron's victory as a sign that the electorate in France was turning away from extremism and populism and back to the status quo and faith in the existing system. Is that right or wrong?

ON ONE hand, we can say that, of course, there was a very clear rejection of the National Front. But nevertheless, their candidate Marine Le Pen obtained 10 million votes, which was more votes than for her father in 2002 [the NF's best result in a presidential election previously]. So it was a very bad result in that sense, because a lot of people nonetheless voted for her.

More than 60 percent of people who cast a ballot voted for Macron. Of course, a lot of people voted for Macron not in support of his politics but only to vote against Marine Le Pen. But nevertheless, he was elected--and now that he's here, we have a problem.

Macron is portrayed as new, but he has been active in politics for more than 10 years. He was, in fact, an advisor of Socialist Party President François Hollande at the beginning of Hollande's presidential term, and then Minister for the Economy. Macron was the author of the government's social attacks in 2013 and 2014, including the deregulation of labor laws and tax cuts for business. Macron was also the inspiration for a labor law reform proposal against which we have had strikes and demonstrations all over the country.

So Macron doesn't at all represent a new way of acting in politics. It is exactly the same as what we have in Italy with [former Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi, and what we can have in a lot of other countries. Macron is in the middle between the left and the right, but it's the same politics either way.

And to be clear, many people who were supporting Macron were, as we say in France, "old horses"--all the politicians who understood there was a new situation and tried to go with him. His orientation is not at all new for the system or for society.

IT'S ONLY been a year since the labor law sparked mass strikes, which you compared to other great mobilizations of workers and youth over the last 15 years in France. Is struggle on this scale a possibility in the near term?

SURE, BECAUSE there is a deep crisis of the two traditional parties at a political level.

There is a big crisis of the two traditional parties, the center-left Socialist Party and the conservative Les Republicans [formerly the UMP], the party of François Fillon. It's clear we're going to have a sort of recomposition--a rebuilding of every party in France.

It's possible that Macron can gain a majority in the parliament, the National Assembly [in the June 11 legislative elections]. But in any case, it will be a very unstable situation, because the majority won't be very clear. If he has no majority, there will be an alliance of the mainstream left and right--so at the institutional level, the situation will be unresolved from what existed in previous decades.

The challenge for labor is very clear, because there were 10 million votes for Marine Le Pen. The far right is appealing to people completely disappointed by the situation--people with problems of housing, unemployment and misery. They believed that Le Pen would be a solution, and also a solution for the pressure coming from the European Union. So there are a lot of contradictions.

On the other side, a lot of people involved in social action supported Mélenchon as a left-wing candidate. So we have a sort of polarization. The left is not united, but nevertheless, we can say clearly that within the next months, there is a real possibility with social movements.

And Macron knows that. The best evidence of this is that he wants to move very fast on social issues. There are all sorts of legal ways for the government to bypass the parliament to make new laws--like "ordonnnances" measures made by President Charles De Gaulle in 1967, one year before the general strike of 1968.

That's not to say that we are in the same situation as 1967. But Macron understands things very clearly, so he wants to move fast, even if he needs to defy the National Assembly to do it. So I think we are going to have a very uneven and unstable situation.

Of course, we can't make a prediction concerning social movements in the next months. But we can say all the ingredients for a new social movement are around us. For instance, there were 12 million people who abstained in the second round of the election, and 4 million people who voted blank or spoiled ballots. This is very unusual.

It's clear that there were people who were very much against the National Front, but didn't want to vote for Macron. So we can see that this is a complicated situation in which there are a lot of ingredients for mobilization.

HOW DID votes from traditional working class areas change in this election?

THERE WERE results from industrial workers--as we say in France, the socialist category--in which Marine Le Pen was first in the first round of the elections. But if we look at the votes of all workers, blue collar and white collar, it was, in fact, Mélenchon who came in first, not Le Pen.

But it's clear that in areas of the North with many former mineworkers and textile workers, areas where there is a lot of unemployment, Marine Le Pen came in first. There was a polarization among the people caused by the National Front. This is a very big problem. There was fear – fear of terrorism, fear of unemployment.

MÉLENCHON DID not support a vote for Macron in the second round, unlike the Socialist Party and other forces on the left. What do you think about that?

WE BELIEVE Mélenchon's approach between the two rounds was mistaken.

To be clear, the NPA didn't say to people "Vote for Macron." We didn't share the position of the Communist Party or others who said that we have to vote for Macron.

But on the other side, we said clearly "don't vote for Marine Le Pen, not a single vote for her." For us, Le Pen is not at all the same as Macron. We know that Macron won't protect us from the National Front, but we also said not to vote for the National Front, clearly. And campaigned on that.

We made the campaign during the two weeks between the two rounds about opposing people voting for Le Pen, by saying, "The National Front is not a solution for workers." It is a neo-fascist party, it is a capitalist party.

The problem with Mélenchon is that he did not say that. He had a very confused position about the NF which was not appreciated by a lot of social activists.

For instance, in the trade unions, there was a very clear position not to vote for the National Front. The majority of people in the social movements said, "We are against Macron, but do not vote for Marine Le Pen."

COULD YOU talk about the NPA candidate Philippe Poutou's presidential campaign and why he refused calls to step aside in favor of Mélenchon when it appeared that Mélenchon had a chance at making it into the second round?

THE BALANCE sheet of the Poutou campaign is a very good one, in comparison with five years ago, when it was very hard for Poutou to appear as credible.

One year after the movement against Macron, Poutou could appear clearly as a continuation of the movement. On a lot of issues, he could appear as the voice of social activism. He is clearly not a professional politician like Fillon, with his background of corruption. Poutou was very different from other candidates, even Mélenchon. He also appeared differently from Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouviere (Workers Fight), who was a very scholastic candidate.

But concerning issues of unemployment, the euro and the question of Europe, the campaign was not so good, because all this was a very personality-driven. There was not really debate concerning content or program. It was very difficult to have clear discussions.

Nevertheless, we can say that we had good success among young people. During meetings close to the first round of elections, there were more and more young people. We had a good presence on social media. So for us, it was a good balance sheet.

The NPA appeared as a party that wanted to unify people to try to have political representation. It was saying to workers, "You are not represented by the traditional parties or the politicians, and we need to go with our own organization, gathering not only social activists but also all people involved in the fight against austerity, against capitalism." So for us, that is good.

WHAT ARE your expectations for the June National Assembly elections--for Macron and the left?

NOBODY IN France is capable to saying what the composition of the next National Assembly will be.

In the last two elections, it was sort of automatic that the candidate that succeeds in the presidential election would have a clear majority for their party in the Assembly elections one month later.

Now it is quite different, because, of course, Macron has a new party. Up until now, we haven't known who the candidates will be for him. It will be a mixture of completely unknown people and also old politicians from the UMP [the former name of the mainstream conservative party], the Socialist Party and the centrists from around François Bayrou's Democratic Movement party.

It is clear that Macron can expect to have a really good result because of the rejection and crisis of the Socialist Party and also because of the rejection and crisis of the Republicans. So it is possible for people who are unknown to have good results.

But on the other hand, for instance, some people predict that Marine Le Pen is capable of getting 100 seats. This is only a threat. But she could get 15 or 20 seats, because in the two-round voting system in France, it is possible for the second round to have three or four candidates. One thing is clear: We will have a very low number of Socialist Party seats. It will be a very bad loss for them.

Concerning the right, there is a new leadership in the Republicans as they try to turn the page from Fillon. But it is very hard for them, because a lot of old politicians are now looking toward Macron.

The official leadership of the Republicans says it will be in the opposition to Macron. But on the other hand, people like former Prime Minister Alain Juppé say, "We have to have conservative politics. So we will not say we will be against them."

It's quite the same in the Socialist Party. The voice of the leadership of the Socialist Party says that they will have a "constructive collaboration with Macron." To be clear, the majority of the SP leadership says, "We won't be in the opposition." And besides that, there is the old-fashioned social democratic wing of the party that says, "We are in the opposition: we are not for Macron."

All that makes it difficult to say exactly what the National Assembly will look like after the election. We can say for sure that Macron will have a slim majority of seats or at least large minority of seats. That is clear, even if he does not yet have a real party.

But he will have a program of alliances--with the SP, of course, but also with people of the right-wing parties. I believe in the first part of his term, he will attract people around his policies. So he will be capable of having a majority concerning his project. After that, there will be weaknesses in his own party and in the other parties.

But it won't be a strong Assembly. In previous decades, we had a very strong majority around the right wing, and even one around the Socialist Party in the 1980s. It was very difficult to deal with that.

The next assembly will be a weak assembly. So it will open up possibilities for us and for social activity.

Of course, there is the challenge of Le Pen. Up until now, her movement had only two deputies in the National Assembly. Now they have the capability of getting 15 to 20 or more deputies in the Assembly. It will be very difficult for her to win a substantial place in the assembly, but still, she can have a parliamentary group for the first time.

The situation will also be difficult for Mélenchon, even though he had good results in the presidential election. Mélenchon's movement France Unbowed supports candidates for all 577 seats. But the Communist Party--which backed Mélenchon for president--will also contest every seat, because there was no agreement between Mélenchon and the CP. So already, there is a split inside Mélenchon's movement.

There is also pressure--even if it is weak--in some areas on the grounds that it is completely crazy to have so many candidates against austerity. There are calls for united candidates against the far right and also against Macron--candidates who will say that we will be in the streets and we will be on strike against all Macron's proposals.

We are for rejecting all Macron's projects concerning social laws. But there is a contradiction in France Unbowed, because although Mélenchon succeeded in winning votes because of his reputation for opposing austerity, it is clear that he does not at all want to build a democratic, unified anti-austerity movement. His social and economic program is not capable of attracting social activists. It is very soft--not at all anti-capitalist.

There is also a big problem concerning democracy in Mélenchon's movement. A lot of people supported him because he seems to be the main candidate in the election, but now that the election is over, it won't be the same.

What does it mean to be inside France Unbowed? It's not very clear. It is not the Communist Party. It's not the Left Party that Mélenchon co-founded years ago. It's not a movement or a real party, within which activists are organized with democratic rules, dues and so on. This will be a problem for daily political activity once the election campaigns are over.

WHAT ARE the next steps for the NPA?

THE FIRST thing to be done is organizing the resistance against Macron's policy. Some radical unions and Solidaires Union have already organized several demonstrations. But up until now, the main part of the union leaderships hasn't done anything.

After that, we need to work toward a political gathering of forces for common activities concerning anti-austerity and anti-capitalist issues--not only around the NPA, but also with a lot of activists who supported Mélenchon or who didn't vote for anyone. In several areas, we have begun this work.

Another big challenge for us will be to put out our solution to Europe. We have been weak on that, even in the NPA campaign. This wasn't an issue in the debates during the campaign, other than the question of the currency in Europe. There was no debate of what kind of politics we need in Europe. We have a challenge in dealing with that.

Transcription by Rebecca Anshell Song and Robin Horne.

Categories: Political Action

Understanding the British election

Socialist Worker - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 01:00

In the wake of the horrific attack in Manchester that took 22 lives and has renewed a debate about the British government's attitude to the "war on terror," civil liberties and Islamophobia, the snap general election called for June 8 in Britain is looming large.

Prime Minister Theresa May of the Conservative Party called the election to strengthen her hand as the government deals with negotiations for a "Brexit" from the European Union and renewed calls for Scottish independence. But the Tories' campaign stumbled. In particular, the Labour Party under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, which started out far back in opinion polls, has gained ground thanks to Corbyn's firm left-wing message against the politics of austerity and scapegoating. This, in turn, has bolstered Corbyn's position against the Labour Party establishment that opposes his leadership.

May and the Tories tried to seize the initiative after the bombing in Manchester, and harden support with actions such as raising the terrorism threat level to "critical." But polls taken since the attack show that the tide may not swing wholly to the right after Manchester, especially after the outpouring of solidarity and sympathy following the bombing.

In an interview conducted before the bombing took place, Neil Davidson, a member of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century (rs21)/International Socialism Scotland (ISS) and author of numerous books, including How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?, talked to Haymarket Books' Duncan Thomas about the political terrain of the elections, in an interview published at the Haymarket Books website.

Theresa May (left) and Jeremy Corbyn

TO START off, let's give some background for readers outside the UK. Theresa May insisted that she wouldn't call an election before 2020, which is when her parliamentary term was set to end. Her change of heart has been widely hailed as demonstrating a ruthless political savvy. What does she hope to achieve with a snap election, and do you think she'll be as successful as many people assume?

FIRST AND most clearly, May wants an endorsement in advance for whatever happens with Brexit--for whatever deal there might be with Brussels, or indeed if there's no deal at all. However, she must know that Brexit is going to be a disaster for a lot of the people who voted for it. By calling an early election, she hopes to win a strong majority before those effects begin to kick in or negotiations unravel.

All of this is happening in a context in which Labour is seen to be in deep disarray. Despite making some gains, they are still far behind in the polls, which also show very low approval ratings for Jeremy Corbyn as a leader. This is why people think that it's an advantageous time for the Tories to call an election.

Most importantly, though, is what May herself said about strengthening her hand in Brexit negotiations. Everyone thought that meant in relation to facing down the EU, but I think it's actually intended to bolster her against the Brexit ultras in her own party. The EU doesn't care about the size of her mandate--there's no need for them to be generous, or make concessions, or anything like that.

I think she's probably hoping to pad out the number of MPs and gain enough popular support to increase her room for maneuvering against the extreme Tory Brexiteers. However, that seems quite futile--if she does get the huge majority predicted, it's likely to produce a parliament that's more extreme on Brexit. And of course, if she doesn't get that huge majority, it will be seen as a failure--a disaster even, given all the talk of her matching Thatcher's landslide in 1983.

So the Tories have real problems, and the left has to understand that. In some ways, the election is a desperate move from them. Far from having a coherent plan, they haven't a clue what they're doing. They're deeply divided, and they're carrying out a policy which is opposed by the majority of the class they are supposed to represent.

That's not a good situation for a party to be in, even one as historically successful as the Conservatives. This should be our starting point: not our own weakness, but theirs.

I WANT to come back to some of these bigger themes later, but staying with the two main parties for now, I don't think I've ever seen two more contrasting approaches to electoral campaigning. Labour's only hope is surely to have an unprecedented ground game, while the Tories seem to be doing and saying as little as possible.

THERE ARE two sides to the Tory campaign. The first is Lynton Crosby's [the Conservatives' chief campaign manager] strategy of shutting up, saying "strong and stable" over and over again, and avoiding the public as much as possible to reduce their chances of making a mistake. That isn't a strategy of a strong party that knows exactly what it's doing. Notably, a lot of the hardcore Brexiteers have been kind of hidden away. Boris Johnson is nowhere to be seen, and for good reason.

The other side is their attempt to appeal to working-class voters, with their proposal for a years' (unpaid) leave from work to care for a sick relative, or the pledge to have workers on company boards. Of course, it's a sham, but their need to appear to be acting in favor of workers indicates that they recognized that this constituency won't be won over exclusively through banging on about leaving the EU.

So while the Conservatives are picking up right-wing support from UKIP [the right-populist United Kingdom Independence Party, whose major purpose is to take Britain out of the EU] voters--with UKIP looking dead electorally as a result--their recent announcements are signs that Labour is making an impression on the terms of the election.

Regarding Labour itself, a lot of the liberal media--never mind the right-wing media--is extremely hostile to Corbyn and his project. You can almost hear the sniggering of Guardian journalists as they talk about the impossibility of Corbyn winning.

But they do have hundreds of thousands of new activists, making them the biggest social-democratic party in Europe. That this is still a recent influx probably makes it more likely that these people will actually go around knocking on doors and handing out leaflets. And as we've seen from the huge meetings across the country, Corbyn does have considerable support.

And then there's the manifesto. Taxing the rich, renationalizing the railways...these are all very popular policies. I don't think they've got enough momentum for Corbyn to become prime minister, but the campaign has certainly energized left-wing politics in England.

In Scotland, things are very different. Labour is in a perilous condition there, and probably won't take any seats from the Scottish National Party (SNP). They've also lost sections of the working class who support [continued union with Britain] to the Tories. But certainly in England, there is a revival of left politics and a genuine argument over the politics of austerity, nationalization of key industries and so on, which hasn't really been heard since Blair's New Labour became dominant.

There's a mountain to climb for Labour, as everyone knows, but I don't think the picture is as bleak for them as parts of the media would have you believe, or as rosy for the Tories.

SOMETHING YOU touched on then was the degree to which both of the main parties are undergoing quite serious political realignments. That these tensions are playing out within existing institutions is in large part due to Britain's electoral system, which makes it far harder for new political formations to emerge, as we've seen elsewhere. How much instability does that create within the major parties and in the overall political context?

THE FIRST thing to say about the party situation in Britain is that currently no single party can represent capital across the whole country. In Northern Ireland, now the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] and Sinn Féin have pretty equal support; in Scotland, the SNP is totally dominant; in England, we're told that the Conservatives are in control, but I'm not sure that's necessarily true; and in Wales, Labour [traditionally the major party] is being challenged by the Tories and Plaid Cymru [the Welsh nationalist party]. So there isn't one party that can govern the whole of Britain and easily represent capital on that scale.

In terms of Labour, there is a deep antagonism between the parliamentary wing and the mass membership, which has existed more or less acutely throughout the party's history. However, we are not simply seeing a repeat of that--due, as you say, to the difficulty in creating a new political formation. Many of the people in Labour's recent influx would otherwise have been attracted to a new party like Podemos. As such, this support base is not really like the old Labour left, which makes the dynamic at play now quite different from the 1980s, for example, when Corbyn himself was part of the [Tony] Bennite wing of the party.

Transforming Labour remains a big challenge. And while we are seeing something unprecedented, there have been endless attempts by the left to turn Labour into a proper socialist party, and the structural blocks in the way of that have not disappeared.

But as I've said, this doesn't mean the Tories' rightward shift is stable either. The fact that the main party of capital is falling into positions (primarily their support of Brexit) associated with the petit bourgeoisie or very small sections of capital creates great tension, especially with the City of London, which, alas, is central to the British economy.

I think there are people in the Tory Party who are genuinely deluded about Brexit. It's quite clear that the likes of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Minister for Brexit David Davis haven't got a clue what they're doing, as they stumble from one blunder to another. They are totally incompetent, and it's a serious problem for British capital that these are the people meant to be negotiating on its behalf. The Conservatives might be able to pick up working-class and petit-bourgeois votes with a very right-wing program, but that's in tension with the overall interests they represent.

Just as it's hard to create a new party of the left, it's difficult to imagine a new party of big capital forming in the British context. So these tensions will continue to play out in the party, and managing them will be difficult now that the Tories are ideologically wedded to leaving the EU.

LET'S TALK more in-depth about Scotland. The SNP, as you've said, is very dominant today, and they're broadly seen as quite progressive. Yet they used to be known as the "Tartan Tories." How would you account for their transformation?

THE SNP, as you say, has changed their politics quite significantly. The "Tartan Tory" label was once pretty much accurate. It was quite a right-wing, heavily Presbyterian, small-town party with a petit-bourgeois base, rather hostile to Irish Catholic workers in Scotland, and very hostile to the EU. Gradually, it became a much more mainstream, centrist nationalist organization.

The peculiarities of Scottish politics explain its transformation. When Scotland voted massively against Thatcher, the Labour Party was the first to benefit, and enjoyed a long period of dominance. But this split with the rest of the country also gave rise to the idea that if Scotland votes differently, it should be represented differently and follow different policies. Clearly, this logic leads pretty directly to demands for a separate parliament, and ultimately for many people to independence.

Labour accepted the premise of this logic by granting devolution just as it moved into its Blairite phase. The SNP quite cleverly repositioned itself as the inheritors of some of the social-democratic traditions that Labour was distancing itself from under Blair.

But it's important to understand that it didn't do so in a way that really broke with neoliberalism. Alex Salmond [the former leader of the SNP] used to say that he agreed with Thatcher's economic policies, for example, but disagreed with her social policies. As such, the SNP should be seen as one of the classic parties of social neoliberalism--not that far, in fact, from Blair's Labour, but with a more effective left patina over a fundamentally neoliberal framework. This explains why the SNP is now so thoroughly attached to the EU, as the latter embodies a similar kind of social neoliberalism.

While the SNP has passed some positive policies, the impression of its progressive credentials is enhanced as long as it is able to counterpose itself to a right-wing Westminster government. This image was also boosted during the 2014 independence referendum campaign, when the SNP was quite adept in associating itself with some of the more radical grassroots campaigns without actually concretely adopting much of their ideas.

All this means that the SNP is an odd formation. Many socialists are members, and they see it as a social-democratic party and the best vehicle currently available, but its policies remain very moderate and are certainly not anti-capitalist. The party is something of a battleground, and whatever else we might say about, it can't be ignored. It has to be taken on in a way that is not simply denunciatory, but that recognizes its influence in Scottish society and talks about its actual politics.

THIS ELECTION, and the decision to leave the EU, has spurred talk of another Scottish independence referendum. If this happened, do you think the radical, grassroots politics we saw last time would be able to exert the same influence?

THE LAST referendum ran for about two years before any of the grassroots stuff around the Radical Independence Campaign got going. The left often denigrates itself as a failure, but this was an undoubted success, as the entire debate shifted in a way that the SNP certainly did not intend.

That obviously can't be sustained without an actual campaign, and currently we're nowhere near the level of engagement we saw then. We'd have to re-create a lot of the structures and groups that we had before, and that would take time. It's possible, but I don't think we should obsess over immediately having another independence referendum.

Interestingly, the SNP has also rowed back a bit on claims that this election is a proxy vote for another referendum. While there may be a small majority in favor of holding another referendum, this doesn't tell us how those people would actually vote. In addition, Brexit is not as clear-cut an issue as was first assumed. The SNP initially pushed back very strongly against the Brexit vote. Scotland of course largely voted in favor of staying in the EU, but it has since transpired that quite a large minority of SNP supporters, around 30 percent, voted to leave the EU, as did some of their own MSPs [Members of the Scottish Parliament].

This has meant they haven't been so vocal about calling another independence referendum, which I think is probably a good thing. It would have been an absolute disaster if another campaign was called on the basis of rejoining the EU. It's an enormously divisive issue. Recent polling by John Curtice at Strathclyde University suggests that 25 percent of people in Scotland want to leave the EU, and another 40 percent or so are very suspicious of it and think it should be less powerful, so the situation is not as clear cut as we're led to believe. Making EU membership the basis of a campaign would be counterproductive and might actually see it lose, which is why I think it's essential for the left to separate these issues out into two questions: "Should Scotland be independent?" and "should Scotland be part of the EU?"

The leadership of the SNP are fairly sharp, and they probably realized that this might not be the most opportune moment to hold a referendum after all, despite what was initially thought.

THE FACT that no single party can represent capital across the territory of Britain, as you mentioned, indicates that the 2008 crash is finally having major repercussions in the field of politics. Of course, Britain is not unique in this regard. Do you think, as some do, that we're seeing an "end of neoliberalism?" If so, what might come next? If not, how might a still fundamentally neoliberal order adapt itself to new circumstances?

THIS IS a very interesting question. I spent many years trying to convince people that neoliberalism even existed; now people seem to think it will go on forever.

But every major crisis of capitalism has led to a new phase of development. After 1873, we saw imperialism and the rise of finance capital; after 1929, state capitalism and embedded liberalism; after 1973, neoliberalism. So you would expect the 2007–2008 crash to herald another major transformation, allowing for an inevitable period of lag.

That this hasn't really happened yet might indicate that capitalism is running out of tricks to overcome what David Harvey calls its "limits," and so the countervailing tendencies to the falling rate of profit seem rather weak. There are still populations around the world who can be sucked into capitalist labor processes, but there's no reserve on the scale of China, and I think returns from this will be diminishing. The other major option for restoring profitability would be the writing off of large sections of capital, which for various political, social, and economic reasons is not going to happen.

In the absence of a new paradigm, people are going back to older ones, with talk of protectionism, tariffs, industrial strategies and so on. People like Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, who was a big cheerleader of globalization for many years, has moved with apparent ease into arguing for developmental strategies carried out by the state. This is significant: if people like Martin Wolf are saying it, then there are probably some people within the capitalist class who support this turn as well. Perhaps there's a recognition that, although neoliberalism has massively enriched members of the ruling class, as an actual strategy of accumulation it's becoming less effective.

Another retrograde development has been the return of the racist discourse characteristic of the earlier "vanguard" phase of neoliberalism under Thatcher and Reagan. This has fed into the rise of alt-right or far-right figures like Trump and Le Pen, and given force to their supposed alternatives to neoliberalism. Of course, such politicians are dangerous for workers and migrants, but also to a degree to the capitalist class itself due to the instability and unpredictability they bring. The rational strategy for the trusted representatives of capital would be to work out a post-neoliberal strategy that didn't depend on such right-wing mavericks. I don't know what that alternative would be though, or who would be capable of formulating it.

In any case, while we shouldn't predict some kind of inevitable "end of capitalism," capitalism obviously ages. With this, there is a diminishing effectiveness and range to the various countervailing tendencies to the falling rate of profit. As capitalism has aged, it has become more difficult for it to find a new regime of accumulation to overcome crises, and it may be that it is not able to overcome certain features of the present crisis.

THIS ALL underlines how the British elections are taking place in a wider context of instability and flux. Concretely though, what do you think socialists should be doing in the run-up to the election, and what should we prepare to be doing afterwards?

WELL, ANSWERING this question in full would bring us back to the old question of organization. As everyone knows, it's the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We urgently need to think through what we should keep and what we have to abandon from our own historical tradition.

In the short term, people in England should work for the biggest Labour vote with, as we say, "no illusions." It's possible to do that now in a way that it wasn't, say, under Blair. Clearly, Corbyn is a socialist standing on a left-wing program that we would all support, and we need to do everything to minimize the Tory vote.

In Scotland, it's more complex. I don't think you can call for a vote for the SNP in the same way that you can for Labour, but RISE is arguing for an anti-Tory vote to keep them out of as many seats as possible. Practically, this means working with people both in the SNP and the Labour Party.

But as I said, there is longer-term organizational work to be done. We need to create forms of organization that are habitable for people and don't simply reproduce the old Trotskyist models of one sort or another, despite the contributions these made. We need to think of how we can relate to large groups of people in a way that is principled, that has a program--dare I say it, a "transitional program," not of purposefully impossible demands formulated to "expose" the true nature of the system, but of demands that if implemented would strengthen the working class and therefore the possibility of socialism.

First published at HaymarketBooks.org.

Categories: Political Action