Political Action

Take Action: Oppose military action with North Korea

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 14:07

Contact Congress and the Trump administration and urge them to pursue diplomacy, not war, with North Korea.

Categories: Political Action

End Biometric Border Screening

Deep Links - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 13:25

This blog post was first published in The Hill on July 18, 2017.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expanding its program of subjecting U.S. and foreign citizens to facial recognition screening at international airports. This indiscriminate biometric surveillance program threatens the personal privacy of millions of travelers. DHS should end it.

The history of this program is a case study in mission creep. In 1996, Congress authorized automated tracking of foreign citizens as they enter and exit the U.S. In 2004, DHS began biometric screening of foreign citizens upon arrival. In 2016, DHS launched a pilot program of facial recognition screening of all travelers, U.S. and foreign citizens alike, on a daily international flight out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. In March 2017, President Trump’s revised travel ban ordered DHS to expedite the completion of biometric entry-exit screening of foreign citizens. Today, facial recognition screening is underway for all travelers on certain international flights out of two more pilot sites: Washington’s Dulles airport and Houston’s Bush airport. Later this summer, DHS will expand this program to five more international airports.

To be clear—what began as DHS’s biometric travel screening of foreign citizens morphed, without congressional authorization, into screening of U.S. citizens, too. In the words of DHS’s recent testimony to Congress: “U.S. citizens are not exempted from this process.” Privacy advocates have long opposed biometric screening of immigrants. Now we also oppose the expansion of biometric border screening to cover U.S. citizens.

For many reasons, DHS should end its ever-growing biometric border screening program.

First, facial recognition is a unique threat to our privacy. Most of us display our faces wherever we go. Cameras are increasingly accurate at great distances. Facial recognition algorithms are increasingly powerful. Computer systems are increasingly interoperable. Thus, for example, an easy-to-use Russian mobile app called FindFace allows strangers to identify each other by using facial recognition to link an ordinary phone camera to a popular social networking site. If identity thieves or stalkers target us, we can change our credit card numbers and even our names, but we cannot change our faces.

Second, facial recognition has significant accuracy problems. Thus, many international travelers will be unjustly delayed and scrutinized, and scarce law enforcement resources will be wasted, due to the inevitable errors of government biometric screening systems. Worse, facial recognition error rates are even higher for African-American travelers than for white travelers, perhaps because people of color are underrepresented in algorithmic training data. So the DHS program will have an inevitable racial disparate impact.

Third, data thieves might steal DHS’s biometric information. In the infamous 2015 data breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, hackers absconded with the fingerprints of over five million people. As part of its border screening, DHS plans to retain the biometric information of U.S. citizens for as long as two weeks. DHS does not rule out keeping this sensitive information even longer. DHS retains the biometric information of foreign citizens for many years. DHS processes more than 300,000 international air travelers every day. Their biometric information will be an enticing target for data thieves.

Fourth, government employees might misuse DHS’s reservoir of biometric data. NSA and police officials alike (usually male) have abused sensitive government databases to acquire information about people (usually female) that they are romantically interested in.

Fifth, DHS might share with other government agencies the biometric information it seizes from travelers. Many government agencies share their biometric data with each other. For example, the FBI’s facial recognition system has access to more than 400 million photos held by other agencies (in addition to the FBI’s own repository of 30 million photos). Likewise, half of all adult U.S. drivers live in states whose motor vehicles agencies share their license photos with police facial recognition systems, according to a 2016 study by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. DHS’s biometric border screening system is part of this larger web of government biometric surveillance. If DHS shares its biometric data, the photographs of millions of innocent travelers could wind up in criminal justice databases.

Sixth, DHS might expand the ways it uses its biometric screening system. Today, DHS uses it to enforce immigration laws and ensure traveler identity. Tomorrow, DHS could try to use it to identify travelers who are wanted on outstanding warrants. Police warrant databases are riddled with error. And they include many people sought for traffic infractions and other minor offenses, which should not impede anyone from flying to a family event or a work opportunity.

DHS recently took the alarming position that “the only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling.” But our government should not try to force us to abandon one of our human rights (biometric privacy) in order to enjoy another (travel).

It gets worse. DHS is now exploring how to subject U.S. and foreign citizens to biometric airport screening not just for international departures, but also for international arrivals and even for domestic flights, according to a recent article in The Verge. A DHS executive explained: “Why not look to drive the innovation across the entire airport experience? . . . We want to make it available for every transaction in the airport where you have to show an ID today.”

Far from expanding its system of biometric border screening, DHS should end it. At a minimum, DHS must publish clear policies to ensure that any such screening is a knowing and voluntary opt-in choice, and that border agents do not coerce or trick any traveler into surrendering their biometric privacy.

Categories: Political Action

The resistance needs to be anti-imperialist

Socialist Worker - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 01:00

The opposition to Trump and the right wing can't just stop with their domestic agenda.

Donald Trump and senior military officials in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley | flickr)

"A BAD leader that dreams of being a dictator." It could have been a comment about the current president of the United States--but that was Donald Trump himself denouncing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in July, as the U.S. government discussed imposing sanctions, while asserting that "nothing was off the table."

Weeks later, Trump was threatening North Korea after the government's announcement that it had successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that might be able to carry a nuclear warhead and reach the continental U.S. The North Korean government should stop making threats, Trump declared, or it would "be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen."

With all the wild talk and saber-rattling, there are a lot of reasons to be terrified--most of all that Donald Trump is the president of the country with the greatest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the history of the world, and he doesn't seem very hesitant to use them.

As the "leader of the free world" announces foreign policy decisions through his Twitter account, it projects a sense that anything can happen--that threat by tweet could become an open military conflict, with deadly consequences.

It's gross hypocrisy for the Trump administration to act as if it is defending democracy against dictatorship. Even beyond the current occupants of the White House, with their fondness for authoritarian methods, the U.S. government has never played that role.

With all these threats in the air, it is important for everyone who opposes the Trump administration to have an understanding of the U.S. regime's imperial aims--and why its role around the world has never been to take on dictators or defend democracy, but to promote U.S. interests.

Venezuela has endured a long history of meddling by the U.S. government--not in the interest of the Venezuelan people, but U.S. capitalism. The U.S. was bitterly opposed to the left-wing governments led by Hugo Chávez and even backed several coup attempts against him.

The crisis currently facing Venezuela--where a government that once spoke out for "socialism in the 21st century" has more recently ruled by increasingly bureaucratized and repressive methods--has only been made worse by the actions of the U.S. government, particularly in backing a right-wing opposition that uses sabotage and terrorism against the Nicolás Maduro government, with the aim of taking back the social gains of the Chávez era.

In North Korea, whose people suffer under a dictatorship that falsely claims to be socialist, the Trump administration has no more solutions than the Obama administration before it, which isolated the country with economic sanctions and added to the misery suffered by ordinary people in a desperately poor country.

With Trump and his flock of hawks and anti-communist throwbacks surrounding him, things will only get worse for the people of North Korea.

Those who want to oppose the Trump administration have to challenge not just its domestic priorities, but international ones--and that means embracing anti-imperialist politics that provide a clear understanding of the role the U.S. government plays around the world.

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THE TRUMP administration's policy mantra of "America First" takes the possibility of U.S. conflicts abroad to a new level, with increased nationalist rhetoric--and swollen military spending to back it up.

In June, when the Trump administration proposed $603 billion for the 2018 defense budget, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees did them one better, proposing $640 billion.

It's not just the administration's generals, like chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis, but the entire team that backs the idea of U.S. supremacy around the world, which links American economic dominance with military superiority.

Though Trump puts a wildly more aggressive spin on it, he inherits a world of war and conflict handed down from the Obama administration--along with the "war on terror," now used by three U.S. presidents to rationalize wars abroad, which could turn out to be an even deadlier tool for Trump.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, the administration of George W. Bush saw its opportunity to get popular support for U.S. intervention anywhere--first of all in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by attacks on any forces deemed terrorist threats in places like Yemen and Somalia.

According to the Bush administration, countries were either fighting terrorism or a sponsor of terrorism. Iraq, Iran and North Korea were identified as part of the "axis of evil," with Cuba, Libya and Syria added to the list later.

Internationally, world leaders fell in line, and in the U.S., the Republican and Democratic Parties came together in bipartisan support for never-ending war--both abroad, but also at home in the form of an attack on civil liberties and increased xenophobia and racism against Arabs and Muslims.

Immediately after September 11, the forces on the left that should have immediately coalesced to fight the "war on terror" were at first caught off-guard by the intensity of support for war. But by 2003, there was a vibrant antiwar movement as the Bush administration prepared to jump from Afghanistan to an invasion of Iraq.

Over the course of the antiwar movement, debates emerged that are still important for activists today: What do we do when the U.S. government says its intervention is "humanitarian" or in the interests of "democracy"? Should the antiwar movement support sanctions as an alternative to U.S. military intervention? Does opposing U.S. intervention include support for governments targeted by the U.S. that oppress their citizens, like Saddam Hussein's Iraq? How should antiwar activists in the U.S. support national liberation struggles?

As Paul D'Amato, author of The Meaning of Marxism, explained at SW:

Historically in the Marxist, as opposed to Stalinist, movement, the fight for national self-determination has been seen as a democratic task, along with the fight for universal suffrage and freedom of assembly. But Marxists never argued that, in the fight for national self-determination, the masses of an oppressed nation must forego the struggle for other rights as long as they are threatened by imperialism...

As consistent anti-imperialists, we do not pick and chose what countries we defend against a U.S. assault. We do not, however, in our desire to expose the reality about U.S. imperialism, allow ourselves to ignore the truth when it comes to discussing the nature of the regimes under U.S. attack.

These arguments ring true today.

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TODAY, WITH Trump in office, the "war on terror" is still the backdrop for U.S. foreign policy aims. Outright Islamophobia is more public under the Trump administration, with the idea that the U.S. is conducting a war against Islam at its core.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo explained the administration position well in a speech to a church group in Wichita in 2014, when he said the "threat to America" was from a minority of Muslims "who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer.

"They abhor Christians and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world."

While they don't use the same racist rhetoric as the Republicans, the Democrats generally support the same policies in the name of fighting a "war on terror" that targets Muslim countries.

Throughout Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, for example, she repeated her support for the "war on terror" and boasted about her hawkish foreign policy record. She was convincing--according to a recent poll, her pro-war stance likely lost her the election in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which had some of the highest casualty rates of U.S. service members during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Now with Trump in office, some Democratic politicians are moving even further to the right, embracing disgruntled Bush-era advisers like Al From, who came up with "axis of evil." As Glenn Greenwald points out at the Intercept:

The union of Democrats and neocons is far more than a temporary marriage of convenience designed to bring down a common enemy...[T]he union is grounded in widespread ideological agreement on a broad array of foreign policy debates: from Israel to Syria to the Gulf States to Ukraine to Russia...These two groups have found common cause because, with rare and limited exception, they share common policy beliefs and foreign policy mentalities.

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IF THERE'S going to be an antiwar opposition to the Trump administration, it's going to have to come from below.

A clear understanding of U.S. imperialism and its aim is the foundation for a consistent opposition to U.S. war that cuts through the phony rhetoric about fighting terrorism, defeating dictators or defending democracy. Such a view also links the fight against Islamophobia with opposition to the right's attack on immigrants and refugees.

Unfortunately, some on the left have downplayed issues connected to foreign policy--with Bernie Sanders being a prime example. During his presidential campaign, opponents of imperialism were encouraged not to challenge Sanders on issues of militarism or Israeli apartheid, for the sake of his messages against corporate greed.

But avoiding the question only makes our side weaker, because it means there is no alternative to Clinton on these issues.

At their convention in Chicago, the Democratic Socialists of America took an important step in officially endorsing the pro-Palestinian boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign against Israeli apartheid--a concrete example of an organization energized by the Sanders campaign embracing a broader call for social justice.

On the other hand, there are debates that need to be had related to U.S. imperialism and North Korea and Syria--where the legacy of Stalinism has led some on the left to conclude that you can't oppose U.S. imperialism unless you support the dictatorial regimes under attack.

As Ashley Smith argued in the International Socialist Review,

Some on the left support rival imperial powers as a counterweight to American imperialism. Thus whole sections of the left back Russia and Assad in Syria against the United States. They justify this reactionary position with the preposterous claim that Putin's Russia and Assad's brutal dictatorship are an anti-imperialist alliance standing up to Washington's alleged policy of regime change in Syria...

The emerging new left must...base itself on principled opposition to all imperialisms--understanding, of course, that here our chief concern is U.S. imperialism--combined with solidarity with national liberation struggles like that of the Palestinians and revolutionary struggles like that in Syria, regardless of which imperial camp such struggles are in opposition to. This approach will be essential in the coming period that promises to be characterized by explosive struggle from below and intensifying struggle for global supremacy between the United States and China, amidst sundry other interstate conflicts.

Categories: Political Action

China's "one road" to global power?

Socialist Worker - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 01:00

Khury Petersen-Smith looks at China's "One Belt, One Road" infrastructure initiative and asks whether it will be a highway to further economic and political power.

A steel mill in China's Liaoning province (Andreas Habich | Wikimedia Commons)

AT THE beginning of this decade, China overtook Japan to become the world's second-largest national economy, and its increasing rivalry with the only country with a larger economy, the U.S., has been one of the major stories in world politics in all the years since.

China's rise as a global manufacturing powerhouse is well known--but it is now rolling out its most ambitious and assertive economic initiative yet: One Belt, One Road.

One Belt, One Road (OBOR, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI) is a project that establishes new infrastructure paths over land and sea to facilitate Chinese imports and exports with the world via Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa and Europe.

Advanced by Chinese premier Xi Jinping, who pledged an initial $124 billion--the equivalent of the total economic output of Hungary for a year, and that's just China's first round of investment--at a summit launching the initiative in Beijing this May, OBOR would create a network of roads, railways, ports and other facilities linking commerce across 68 countries.

The plan, whose conservative estimated total cost is around $900 billion, would involve a "Eurasian land bridge" connecting the east coast of China with Rotterdam in the Netherlands ("One Belt")--and sea routes and facilities to link ports in China and Indonesia with those in South Asia, East Africa, and Mediterranean Europe ("One Road").

The infrastructure megaproject has multiple economic purposes. It would streamline the import of raw materials from outside of China, transporting them to industrial centers. As the manufacturing center of the world, it's obvious why China would seek to enhance its ability to export.

Another critical purpose of OBOR is the hope that it will solve China's overcapacity in heavy industrial goods, such as iron, steel, aluminum, cement and glass.

China's rise as an economic powerhouse led to rapid economic expansion, fueled by producing consumer goods for foreign markets--and in the process, the country underwent a spectacular process of urbanization. When the 2008-09 global economic crisis caused a sharp drop-off in foreign demand, the economy was directed inward in an effort to soak up supply domestically, through massive state spending.

All these dynamics produced a construction boom in China whose proportions are so large that they are difficult to appreciate. Between 2011 and 2013, for example, China used more cement than the United States did in the entire 20th century.

The construction boom was meant to house and provide amenities for millions of people moving to cities, but it also involved the overproduction of building materials and waste typical of the capitalist boom-and-bust cycle anywhere in the world, but on a vast scale. The waste was embodied dramatically in China's "ghost cities"--newly constructed urban and suburban areas with few or no residents. Several provinces have managed to lure enough residents to begin to fill some of the ghost cities, but the problem of overcapacity remains acute.

Thus, one aim of One Belt, One Road is to provide a foreign outlet for goods that the domestic market cannot absorb. The construction of infrastructure as part of OBOR is meant, in and of itself, to put a dent in overcapacity, too. Once these facilities are built, according to the plan, "development" projects in Southeast Asia's expanding economies will continue to draw on China's pool of goods.

According to an official from the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, writing in the South China Morning Post, "In the short term, benefits will be derived from infrastructure construction. Medium-term benefits will accrue from expanded trade opportunities. Long-term dividends will be reaped from greater economic growth based on sound infrastructure in ASEAN countries."

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The Economic Is Political

WHILE OBOR has major implications for the Chinese and world economies, it isn't simply an economic initiative.

The project is the latest step in China playing more of an assertive role in world politics. Indeed, China's economic superpower status has been the key vehicle to becoming more of a player on the world stage--and a competitor to the U.S. and other powers in the so-called "development" of other countries.

China's launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2014 created a fairly explicit competitor to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund--the institutions of global finance and economic governance that the U.S. developed during the Cold War to pull the "Third World" into its orbit and discipline economies of the Global South by consigning dozens of countries to debt servitude.

Speaking about the AIIB with dread in 2015, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told National Public Radio, "We're contemplating a major institution in which the United States has no role, that the United States made substantial efforts to stop--and failed."

So not only has China stepped in as an alternative financier of debt-amassing, community-displacing and environment-devastating infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it has done so with the clear aim of involving itself in the politics of places where it's investing.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was the Chinese finance and construction of the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The entire $200 million project was paid for by China, and gifted to the AU.

Overall, OBOR takes China's growing profile on the world stage--and its rivalry with the U.S. in particular--a step further.

The project excludes the U.S. in a way that is new. Previous Chinese initiatives like the AIIB and Shanghai Cooperation Organization didn't invite U.S. involvement and were meant to counter U.S.-aligned financial institutions, military alliances and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led economic initiative that specifically excluded China. These projects, however, were regional in scope.

One Belt, One Road has a global reach, developing a new trade network that spans regions and continents--and conspicuously leaves out the U.S.

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China's Response to Trump

DONALD TRUMP'S ascent to the throne in the U.S. has provided more opportunities for China to play a leadership role for the capitalist states of the world.

The nationalism of Trump's campaign slogan to "Make America Great Again" expresses a debate within the U.S. ruling elite. The U.S. ascended to superpower status through an extensive system of military violence and the construction of an infrastructure of global political and economic governance, with itself at the center. Washington used those structures to politically and economically underwrite states around the world, provided they comply with U.S. interests.

Trump's promise to put "America first," his effective scrapping of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his contempt for multilateral accords like the Paris Agreement on fossil-fuel emissions, and his disinterest in the timeworn and hypocritical tradition of American presidents paying lip service to the ideals of democracy and human rights as guides for foreign policy--all of these are a shift in U.S. imperial strategy, reflecting skepticism about the previous model of domination among at least a section of the ruling class.

On the other hand, Trump's bombing of Shayrat Syrian Arab Air Force base in Syria--supposedly a humanitarian response to dictator Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons in his ongoing siege of the population--show there are those in his administration with the view that U.S. imperialism shouldn't simply walk away from the infrastructure and ideology of its rule it has built up over more than a century.

As these debates play out in the U.S. ruling class, China has been increasingly able to step in and position itself as a responsible and stable leader for world politics and economics.

At the most World Economic Forum (WEF) summit in Davos, Switzerland in January, for example, Xi Jinping put forward China as the world defender of free markets in the wake of the Brexit vote and in anticipation of a protectionist Trump administration. WEF founder and chairman Klaus Schwab introduced Xi by saying, "In a world marked by great uncertainty and volatility the world is looking to China."

In Xi's speech, he responded to Trump's "America First" rhetoric by comparing protectionism to "locking one's self in a dark room" and declaring that "no one will emerge as a winner in a trade war."

The response of the world's political and economic elite in Davos was enthusiastic. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt reacted to the speech on Twitter with the comment: "There is a vacuum when it comes to global economic leadership, and Xi Jinping is clearly aiming to fill it. With some success."

The construction of OBOR is part and parcel of the assertion of China's geopolitical leadership.

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Not a Smooth Road

THOUGH THE wind may be in China's sails at the moment, carrying out OBOR will not be easy. Aside from the countless logistical problems with networking infrastructure in nearly 70 countries, there are the even more complicated political ones.

One component of OBOR, for example, is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with $55 billion proposed in spending on railways, power plants, ports and other infrastructure for Pakistan. Part of CPEC involves construction in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which concerns India--Pakistan's bitter rival and also an occupier of Kashmir. China's entanglements in the India-Pakistan conflict--and in particular, the issue of Kashmir--led India to boycott the launch celebration of OBOR in Beijing.

Indeed, India is teaming up with Japan to compete with OBOR to carry out their own financing of infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa. Last November, the two countries' prime ministers, Narenda Modi and Shinzo Abe, launched the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor at a meeting of the African Development Bank in Gujarat.

Then there is, of course, the United States, which will respond to OBOR as the latest effort by China to challenge U.S. supremacy on the world stage.

In an August 2 press conference darkly hinting at the U.S.-Chinese antagonism, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked how the two countries could work out "differences in a way that does not lead to open conflict? We test this relationship through things like the situation in North Korea."

China has an ability to lean on North Korea that other states don't. The Trump administration can point at any reluctance on China's part to do this and question whether it is living up to its responsibility as a member of the "international community."

On the other hand, the friction between all these states and China is balanced by their economic interdependence. China is the biggest trading partner both of India and the U.S. In the world of international capitalist competition, conflict, nationalism and economic integration exist as different aspects of a single reality.

OBOR will not only face challenges from other states. As with all projects that advance neoliberal trade, the program will accentuate existing inequality in China and other countries where the project unfolds.

After all, dam construction and other infrastructure projects financed by the World Bank have produced significant resistance movements against the displacement of communities and environmental destruction--and OBOR has the potential to do the same.

Regarding the environment, China postures on the need to reverse climate change. Its actual track record on mineral extraction and the construction of ecologically destructive dams, however, show that the state prioritizes expanding the Chinese economy and its involvement in economies around the world--and OBOR is set to continue those dynamics.

Thus, OBOR may produce struggle from below. Chinese workers are already leaders of the international class struggle with their incredible strike activity, and this figures to increase as China continues to restructure its economy.

This resistance represents hope in a world of growing inequality. If capitalists around the world salivate at what OBOR can do for international commerce--or fear how it will boost geopolitical rivals--we need to take the occasion of this initiative to discuss how we can build greater international workers' solidarity.

Thanks to Eric Ruder and Charlie Hore for their contributions to this article.

Categories: Political Action

How should the left respond in Venezuela?

Socialist Worker - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 01:00

Following recent elections that were widely boycotted, a Constituent Assembly charged with rewriting the Venezuelan constitution met in early August. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called for the Constituent Assembly in May, proposing it as a solution to the crisis that Venezuela has faced in recent years. The U.S., the right-wing opposition in Venezuela and the Washington's European and Latin American allies denounced the Constituent Assembly as an undemocratic power grab. When the "Constituent" convened, the Trump administration announced new sanctions against Venezuela.

While Trump and the U.S. have no business lecturing the Venezuelan government on democracy, the Constituent Assembly has also caused controversy in the Latin American and international left. This debate is only one part of a broader discussion about what attitude to take to the Maduro government in its confrontation with the right-wing opposition and its imperialist backers--see articles by Mike Gonzalez, author of Hugo Chávez: Socialist for the 21st Century, reprinted at SocialistWorker.org; and George Ciccarello-Maher, author of We Created Chávez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution.

This interview with Carlos Carcione, a leading member of the socialist organization Marea Socialista, provides a perspective on events from the vantage point of the Venezuelan opposition to the left of the government. Originally published in June at Aporrea, the Venezuelan site for news and commentary from a left perspective, it provides some essential background for understanding the dynamics in Venezuela today. Carcione also addresses the debate in the international left about the nature and direction of the Maduro government.

Carcione refers to the government of "Maduro, Diosdado and Padrino"--that is, the government whose main leaders are a troika of President Nicolás Maduro; Diosdado Cabello, the first vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and PSUV leader in the now-dissolved National Assembly; and Vladimir Padrino, the defense minister and chief of the armed forces.

Carcione criticizes government plans, announced in 2016, to encourage foreign investment for mining of diamonds and other minerals in Arco Minero in Orinoco, a large zone in the south-central part of the country. Environmentalists and Indigenous rights activists have protested this decision. He makes that case that the left must develop a project independent of both the government and the right-wing opposition. This interview was translated for Socialist Worker by Lance Selfa.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (center) and former National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello (front left) (Xavier Granja | Wikimedia Commons)

THE COMPLICATED and uncertain situation in Venezuela has opened up a debate in what we might generically call the Latin American and international left. As the situation in the country has gotten more serious, it seems that that two more or less clearly articulated groups have arisen. One defends the government of Nicolás Maduro and the other questions it. How do you see this argument?

WHAT WE see in the press is, to me, a simplification that stems from a deeper argument. I want to make clear that our stance is from a position of being part of the Bolivarian process and not just against the Maduro government, a government that a dear friend, Santiago Arconada, correctly labeled as the government of Maduro, Diosdado, Padrino.

Because from my point of view, what's at stake in that debate is your stance on the policies of the government/PSUV: its orientation, what social sectors it expresses, what interests it represents, and what are the consequences of these for the country and the population. It's not only about the leading figures in the government or speeches or the demagogic appeals to the geopolitical conflict.

Speaking from what's generally called the "left," if we analyze those elements, noting what I said earlier and in light of the Maduro's proposed Constituent Assembly, we see that there are two broad sectors on the left in Venezuela today. One is on the side of the PSUV-government-Polo Patriótico, and the other is the ensemble of broad and varied platforms of social and political struggle--like the Citizens Platform in Defense of the Constitution, which fights against the Arco Minero in Orinoco; newly formed regroupments of the labor and social movements; of the Platform for a Public and Citizen Audit; Marea Socialista as a political organization; and Bolivarian political parties like Unidad Política Popular 89; as well as some well-known personalities.

The current of that left that I'm describing advances proposals that grapple with the collapse of Venezuela's oil-based rentier economy. If we understand this, if we understand what these differences are and that they are radical, we can understand the controversy more clearly. It shows more clearly where each side on the left stands.

This vantage point, from inside the Bolivarian process, has additional importance. Take, for example, Marea Socialista, which recently left the PSUV and since has said that its politics aren't represented either by the PSUV or the MUD. It is an opposition from the left to the Maduro government, and it should go without saying that we have nothing to do with the right-wing opposition or MUD.

Marea Socialista doesn't repudiate its membership in the Bolivarian process, unlike a group of ex-ministers in the Chávez government--such as Héctor Navarro, the ex-minister of Education and Electric Energy or Ana Elisa Osorio, the ex-minister of the Environment, among others--or the heterogeneous movement known in the media as "critical Chavismo."

On the contrary, the criticisms, warnings, proposals and policies that Marea and like-minded others take as their starting point the conscientious defense of the economic, social and political gains of the Bolivarian process, including the 1999 Constitution--gains that are under ferocious attack from this government.

As long as the pro-government left and those who support them internationally--with automatic and unconditional support for the president--don't look critically at government policies nor at the Constituent Assembly, they are either tacitly or explicitly expressing support for those policies.

COULD YOU clarify the differences between those two parts of the Venezuelan and international left that you've identified?

IN SCHEMATIC terms, those differences revolve around the brutal economic crash that we're living through, the pronounced regression in the political system into an authoritarian model that they're trying to consolidate and deepen with the Constituent Assembly, and the tremendously regressive counter-reforms to the social policies. I will try to synthesize these briefly.

Regarding economic policy, we can see two distinct periods under the Maduro government. First, there is a period of gradual macroeconomic adjustment that failed spectacularly. We can specify the time between the February 2013 currency devaluation, a month before Chávez died, and the second half of 2014 when the government approved the first packet of Enabling Acts, as an attempt to cut spending and social investment in the social Missions, to reduce imports and to cut real wages through inflation. This policy has a clear regressive outcome, because the adjustment falls heavily on income and access to basic goods for working families and the poorest sectors. It fails.

And it fails because, among other reasons, not only does it not attack, but it actually deepens, the mafia-like pattern of rentier accumulation that is rooted in the illegal capital flight stemming from two fraudulent financial mechanisms: first, illegal diversions of petro dollars designated for imports to large construction projects or big contracts or international agreements; and secondly, illegal speculation with the sovereign national debt or the debt of the national oil company PDVSA, including domestic debt that has been shown to be outsourced.

These maneuvers have driven the nation's debt to somewhere around 80 percent of the GDP, according to a thorough study by Oly Millán Campos and Paulino Núñez, who work with me on the Platform for a Public and Citizens' Audit. These illicit maneuvers make this debt illegitimate and odious, as Paulino says every time he gets the chance.

Despite all the warnings about this, despite all of the documentation, despite all of demands we've made, the government punctually makes every payment on this debt, while reducing imports, precipitating the sharp crisis of shortages of food and medicine that is putting us on the verge of a humanitarian crisis. It is seriously compromising the nation's patrimony.

Instead of accepting the Public and Citizens' Audit proposals that he take the same attitude to the debt that [former President Rafael] Correa took to the Ecuadorian debt, Maduro has continued to pay while refusing any type of investigation or independent audit. [Translator's note: In 2008, Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion in foreign debt. At the time, Correa said the debt was "illegitimate" and called bondholders "real monsters."]

As a result, Maduro has frittered away $60 billion in three years. And we never tire of insisting that this debt is paid for with the Venezuelan people's hunger, literally, because complying with these debt obligations means eliminating essential imports.

The second period that we point to begins at the end of 2014 with the passage of a new Enabling Act that allows the government to rule by decree. These laws make possible the creation of Special Economic Zones where Venezuelan law doesn't apply. These take full force as the price of oil was falling. Above all, from the beginning of 2016 when the government presented the so-called "15 motors of the productive economy" as a plan to overcome dependence on oil, what is really happening is a colossal extension of extractive industry and making the country even more dependent on raw materials exports. From the "Mining Motor" with the Arco Minero mines in Orinoco, to the "Energy Motor" with the opening of offshore drilling, to the "Timber Motor" to the "Tourism Motor," they are saddling us with a ferocious opening to transnational capital.

The international left that supports Nicolás Maduro unconditionally says nothing about any of this. They don't explain why this plan would be necessary, nor if it's beneficial, nor have they heard or read any of the criticism of it, nor have they proposed alternatives. On these grounds they're silent, a complicit silence.

It's as if all of this didn't happen, as if reality was frozen in the year 2012. All they talk about is economic blackmail, extortion and imperialism's economic way--none of which we deny--but these would have about one-tenth of the impact they do, if they weren't bolstered by these policies of selling out the country, and this mafia-like pattern of accumulation that, while existing long before, has been boosted exponentially by the Maduro government to today's levels of looting of the country.

As Oly Millán writes in his article "It's the Economy, Stupid," the Constituent Assembly has, among other goals, providing the legal framework to sustain this model.

WHAT ARE the counter-reforms to social policy that you mentioned?

IN THIS respect, the left that gives the government knee-jerk support continues to cite statistics from 2012-2013, the last full and complete figures the government published. Those statistics describe a country that doesn't exist anymore. Yet the left holds onto those numbers because, if they acknowledged today's reality, most of their argument in support of the government would collapse.

What in reality happened is this: Where there had been popular markets like Mercal or PDVDAL where a large part of the population could get good quality food at subsidized prices, today there exists, barely, a door-to-door system of state-run distribution, the Local Committees of Supply and Production [known by its initials in Spanish, CLAP], that still has only managed to reach a very small number of families, who can just access these boxes or bags every month and a half.

Where there was a national system of primary medical care, for everyone--the Barrio Adentro program--where people could receive treatment, basic and some more advanced medical tests, and free medicines if needed. Today there is a wasteland, where equipment doesn't work, medicine isn't available, the ability to perform basic medical tests is lacking, and neglected infrastructure is decaying. Staffing of medical professionals has declined dramatically.

There were communal kitchens [casas de alimentación] in the poorest areas, organized so that those who needed them received free meals, operated by volunteers and housewives in the neighborhoods. But after months, going into years, of shortages of cooking supplies, a phenomenon unknown in Bolivarian Venezuela began to take place: more and more people "dumpster-diving" to eat. This is just one of the long list of successful social policies that are today disappearing.

The same is happening will progressive legislation, like, for example, the Law of Labor Rights [Ley Orgánica del Trabajo]. These laws remain on paper, but that's about it, because they don't really apply. And let's not even talk about wages that are some of the first in Latin America that have fallen to the levels of those in Haiti. Meanwhile, big business--both domestic and foreign--receives outrageous handouts of all types.

In the face of all of this, the pro-government left doesn't want to look at reality, so it looks elsewhere and repeats outdated statistics, and talks about old social advances, that have long been refuted by Venezuelans' lost weight from what the people call "Maduro's diet."

Because of mistreatment, persecution of the most oppressed sectors and the criminal hiding of all official information, we don't even know what the real budget of the country is. It's been converted into a secret under lock-and-key.

WHAT DO you mean by the strong authoritarian tendency in the political system?

ABOUT TWO years ago, the government began developing, I would say, as a state policy, a process of dismantling the rights and guarantees established in the Constitution of 1999. Suppression of political and social rights. Elimination of economic rights and sovereignty in much of the national territory. Suspension, obstruction and elimination of union and student elections, from autonomous institutions like universities and from political positions such as regional governors, elimination of the right to the recall.

As professor and activist Edgardo Lander points out in a recent interview, "I think that after the parliamentary elections of 2015 the government seems to assume that its continuity in power is not possible if it appeals to the popular vote or if it respects the Constitution."

Here I will not describe the growth, also exponential, of state police violence outside the protests, in relation to, for example, the "People's Liberation Operation" [Operación de liberación del Pueblo] policy of clean-up operations and extermination of what the press calls "common crimes" against all legal and human standards. [Translator's note: The original interview describes this operation as a "police policy that consists of patrols in the poorest parts of major cities to arrest, raid, repress, and even use deadly force without any respect for constitutional rights or minimum standards of legality."]

This trend started earlier. Its major milestone was the Supreme Court's failed Resolutions 155 and 156, abolishing the National Assembly, in late March 2017. These decisions amounted to a mini-coup, led Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, to denounce them as "breaking the constitutional thread." They had to be "reviewed" and revoked because of the national and international outcry they provoked.

The trend has accelerated since the start of the protests in April 2017. There are two recent studies that correctly describe and assess the situation in which there have already been 60 killed in the course of demonstrations. [Translator's note: Since this interview, the figure of those killed in demonstrations has increased to more than 100.]

But perhaps the most striking symbol of the deepening of this tendency is the deployment, against all legal principle, of military tribunals for the summary trial of civilians, and the use of military facilities for the detention of civilians condemned by the military courts. The Constituent Assembly is designed, according to the objectives assigned to it by all the official spokespeople, to consolidate this authoritarian tendency.

We are going to insist on this point that it's clear that there are those on the side of MUD sectors that are taking advantage of the climate of protest to launch guerrilla attacks. No doubt, these groups are no doubt financed, and some of them are trained by the United States or by the Colombian right, followers of ex-President Álvaro Uribe and his paramilitary supporters, do not seek a democratic or electoral exit from the crisis but seek the liquidation of chavismo. But this, which we repudiate, can in no way justify the de facto elimination of the right to protest and other elementary human rights, let alone the disproportionate and indiscriminate state repression of the protests.

In this case, the same thing happens in the previous ones. The pro-government left automatically lines up the government of Maduro, exaggerating "terrorist" role of the guerrilla actions, and lets the state off the hook from its responsibility for how it is handling the protests and repression.

This brings us to the extreme case of [left intellectual] Atilio Boron who advises President Maduro in a recent article to crush some unidentified "terrorists." In the context of the article, the word "crush" can be read as "exterminate."

Therefore, that old left demands that we unconditionally close ranks with an alleged "revolutionary leadership" in the face of imperialist threats. We demand the application of clear policies to break with the domination of finance capital, beginning with the suspension of payments of the debt. And we denounce all those policies that compound dependence on this system of capital, that ruin the environment, that eliminate national sovereignty, that dismantle the social, economic and political achievements of the Bolivarian process, that consolidate the government's capitulation to imperialism and that open the door to foreign interference or intervention.

Four years into this period, we can no longer speak of mistakes. On the contrary, for us the government of Maduro, Cabello, Padrino is following a planned policy, hoping to placate these concentrated sectors of big capital.

Similarly, because, unlike the confusion spread by sectors of the left who unconditionally support Maduro, or who timidly demand a partial and limited policy change, we do not trust the leadership of the PSUV/government. That is that we are engaged in the construction of a new alternative that is anti-capitalist, environmentalist, feminist, and that recovers the democratic, anti-imperialist and Bolivarian keys of the process, fighting to deepen them.

BUT WOULDN'T the Constituent Assembly be a way out of the crisis? Could it not stop the escalation of violence and open a dialogue to establish rules of the game that everyone accepts?

BEFORE ANSWERING your question it's necessary to establish a characterization of the current moment. And why, from my point of view, the resolution to the crisis can only be one that is favorable to the country and working people, with more democracy and not with more authoritarianism. And more democracy means at this moment, making the Constitution of 1999 work again.

Today we are moving between Maduro's fraudulent Constituent Assembly and the civil war/crushing [of the protests] that Borón proposes, knowing that these two options seek the establishment of an authoritarian system to consolidate the sellout of the country that I have been pointing out.

Or, on the other hand, we can reinvigorate the Constitution of 1999, hold regional and municipal elections and specify a clear timetable for the presidential election. This would include full guarantees of political participation for all expressions of national political thought, without exclusions or proscriptions.

I think it is also important to make another distinction. The characterization of the current confrontation between the two leading political forces (i.e. the government and the right-wing opposition), is--unlike the one in 2002-03, and against what the government's side spills rivers of ink maintaining and what pro-government intellectuals internationally argue--not a fight between the popular sectors against the oligarchs. On the contrary, it is a struggle to define which of these two leading groups guarantees itself, in the next period, control of the state so as to manage and distribute the oil wealth.

They are two sectors of the elite, both subordinated to the international financial capital, a traditional one and an emergent one. And neither sector is democratic. Both have made clear that they need a completely authoritarian political system to successfully implement the ongoing economic counterrevolution and the counter-reforms to the political and social achievements, which, with all their shortcomings, were gained in the best years of the Chávez period.

As comrade Oly Millán says in the article I quoted earlier: "But also, the history of the oil industry has another characteristic very sui generis and that is, in each process of oil boom, there is a rearrangement of the groups in power, i.e., some fall by the wayside, while others are strengthened and emerge anew." Today, on the downside of the oil boom and at a time of collapse of the rentier model, there is a predatory war between these two sectors of the Elites.

In this context, another goal of the Constituent Assembly is this: The leadership that today has control of state power but is threatened with losing its privileges, as punishment for the anti-popular and anti-national policy that has been applied in the last four years, is trying to retain it by means of a Constituent Assembly. The calling of this assembly is spurious and its electoral underpinnings are, without a doubt, dishonest.

On this point, many left-wing militants and intellectuals, chavista or not, agree. On Aporrea.org you can read interviews with Héctor Navarro, Edgardo Lander or Gonzalo Gómez and read articles by Nicmer Evans, Jesús Puerta, Sergio Sánchez, Felipe Pachano Azuaje and Javier Biardeau, among many others, who make this point. The government is taking the route of the Constituent Assembly so that it doesn't have to renew its mandate in a universal election, in which, undoubtedly, according to all the polls, it would be defeated.

In these conditions, the Constituent Assembly is not a "weapon for peace," as the PSUV/government leadership says. On the contrary, it is the weapon with which it will try to construct an authoritarian regime. The regional elections promised for December or the plebiscite for the new Constitution that Maduro will call, are just the mask to dress up this process with a false "democratic" breadth, a ruse. And since it is not a weapon of peace, the enormous danger that it entails is that it ends up turning into an instrument which, in the current escalation of violence between the new elite that controls the state and the old elite that believes that it's time to regain that control has arrived, opens the door to a civil confrontation with unpredictable consequences.

However, the calling of the Constituent Assembly has opened another door, unexpected by the leadership of the PSUV, through which has begun to seep dissent from a significant part of chavismo. Militants, deputies and middle leaders of the party, current officials, former officials, intellectuals and academics, and according to many reports even a substantive part of the armed forces, strongly reject the antidemocratic maneuver.

With this sector we agree on an essential point: the only democratic road, which cannot be captured by either of the two elites that are instigating violence, is the struggle to renew the Constitution of 1999. We are part of that effort, while the old left, in its decline, with its allegiance to a government that has broken with the process that carried it here, continues to show the world its poverty.

First published at Aporrea.org. Translated into English by Lance Selfa.

Categories: Political Action

A team turns out to protest

Socialist Worker - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 01:00

Lizandro Claros Saravia had a soccer scholarship waiting for him, but Trump's immigration police turned that future on its head, writes Nation columnist Dave Zirin.

Family, friends and teammates gather to speak out for Lizandro Carlos

DONALD TRUMP'S immigration policies--and the marching orders he has given to Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE)--are destroying lives. Many people intuit this in the abstract, but when it hits home it gets very real, very quickly.

It's a reality that recently smacked the members of the elite Bethesda Soccer Club right between the eyes: Their teammate and friend Lizandro Claros Saravia was detained by ICE, along with his older brother Diego. Both were deported.

Lizandro, like many players on the Bethesda Soccer Club, has an athletic scholarship waiting for him at Louisberg College in North Carolina. He is considered one of the top 50 soccer players in the extremely competitive DMV region. "He didn't always have access to a car, but he was at every training session, whether he had to take the bus or walk," said Matt Ney, who coached Lizandro for two years on the Bethesda club, according to The Washington Post. "He would show up no matter what."

The brothers migrated to this country as children in 2009, fleeing widespread violence in El Salvador. Their status in 2012--again, as child refugees fleeing violence--involved "voluntary check-ins" with immigration officials. But that was ICE under the Obama administration (which was brutal enough). When they went in for a check-in under Trump, they were imprisoned like criminals and immediately scheduled for deportation. Lizandro had a promising future as a soccer player, and Diego worked in a car-repair shop in Baltimore. Neither brother had a criminal record. None of that mattered to ICE.

Their heartless imprisonment and wrenching separation from family and friends speaks to the Trump agenda of using ICE as a tool of psychological and physical violence against non-European immigrant families. It's perfectly in line with the Miller/Bannon/Gorka wing of the White House, which is obsessed with racial demography and openly contemptuous of the immigrant journey that their own parents and grandparents had to make. This seething trio is a part of Trump's inner circle that has been conspicuously untouched by firings and resignations.

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THE ONE satisfaction in this horror story is imagining their mottled faces when learning that Lizandro's teammates--many of them white, private-school educated and economically comfortable--protested the pending deportations outside the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in northwest Washington this past week. They must have choked on their coffee when reading about young people like Lizandro's former teammate and St. Albans graduate Foster McCune, who was out there in the summer heat protesting the DHS. McCune has a full athletic ride to Georgetown, one of the top soccer programs in the country. "This is about so much more than soccer now," he said to The Washington Post. "We want our friend back."

People like Foster McCune were standing side by side with Lizandro and Diego's sister, Fatima, who wept during the team's demonstration and held a sign that read: "Stop separating families. Let my brothers live their American dream."

The sports world is currently in a flutter over LaDainian Tomlinson's Hall of Fame speech, where he said:

All our ancestors, unless we're American Indian, came from another country, another culture...America is the land of opportunity. Let's not slam the door on those who may look different from us. Rather, let's open it wide for those who believe in themselves, that anything is possible, and are willing to compete and take whatever risks are necessary to work hard, to succeed.

It's a lovely sentiment. But journalists and athletes should back their glowing tweets with deeds, and stand with a great young athlete whose life is being destroyed by an amoral administration running an anti-immigration operation straight out of the West Wing. I want to plead with my fellow journalists to report on this story in the name of athletic solidarity and basic human justice. We should fight to get the Claros brothers back to Maryland where they can live their lives in the home of their choice. There is a pressing need for all of us to take a lead from the Bethesda Soccer Club--a sentence I never thought I'd write--and stand up. Those of us who are not threatened by deportation have a duty to our friends and neighbors. In the decades to come, you don't want the shame of telling your grandchildren that you looked the other way.

First published at TheNation.com.

Categories: Political Action

Listos para responder a ICE

Socialist Worker - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 01:00

En abril de este año, agentes del Alguacil de Los Ángeles, en colaboración con la Patrulla Fronteriza de California (CBP, por sus siglas en inglés), iniciaron una redada en unos apartamentos en Boyle Heights. Ahí arrestaron a Teresa de Jesús Vidal Jamie, madre de dos que ha vivido en Estados Unidos desde 2001. Su hija, Claudia Rueda es una activista por los derechos de los inmigrantes y estudiante en la Universidad Estatal de Californioa, en Los Ángeles. Esta acción sorprendió a muchos activistas que estaban organizando para las acciones del Primero de Mayo. Sin embargo, respondieron con una campaña para liberar a Teresa. Con ayuda de la Coalición Juvenil de Inmigrantes (IYC, por sus siglas en inglés), Claudia pudo garantizar que Teresa no tuviera que permanecer en el centro de detención. Esto fue el resultado de una estrategia que incluyó cartas, protestas, y ayuda legal.

En respuesta, CBP arrestó a Claudia el 18 de mayo cuando salía de la casa de su tía para mover el carro de su madre. Ahora, los mismos activistas que ayudaron a liberar a Teresa, organizaron la defensa de Claudia. El 9 de junio, lograron que CBP dejara libre a Claudia bajo fianza. Ahora, ella está organizando la lucha contra su deportación. Las acciones de la migra contra Teresa y Claudia son un ataque contra los inmigrantes y contra toda la clase obrera, específicamente contra aquellos políticamente activos.

Víctor Fernández, miembro de la Organización Socialista Internacional y activista local por los derechos de los inmigrantes, entrevistó a Jazmín, una organizadora con la Coalición Juvenil de Inmigrantes, para discutir el arresto de Claudia y la respuesta de los activistas.

¿NOS PUEDES dar más detalles de cómo arrestaron a Claudia?

LA ESTABAN buscando. Después de la redada donde agarraron a Teresa, Claudia fue a vivir con su tía. CBP regresó al edificio de apartamentos y estaban preguntando por Claudia. Allí, algunos ya sabían que no le debes abrir la puerta a la migra, pero otros no. La migra arrestó 5 personas. Luego, fueron a buscar a Claudia en la casa de su tía, que vive en una casa de dos unidades. Cuando agarraron a Claudia en la calle, decidieron entrar a la casa. Su tía estaba preparada para no dejar entrar a la migra sin una orden judicial, pero no sus vecinos. Ahí, la migra apresó siete personas más.

PARECE PARTICULARMENTE cruel que no solamente ella haya sido singularizada por ser una activista, pero que además aprovecharan la oportunidad para arrestar a más gente. ¿Cómo respondió la comunidad a este atropeyo?

LOS ABOGADOS que trabajan con IYC la visitaron en el centro de detención. Ella sabe que no debe de firmar nada. Mucha gente firma los papeles para su propia deportación. Ella áprovechó su tiempo para hablar con otros detenidos, los educó sobre sus derechos y los puso en contacto con IYC. Pero los mueven adentro del centro, por lo que esto es un poco difícil.

IYC trabajó con varios grupos como "ICE fuera de Los Ángeles" y "Defiende a Boyle Heights". La diferencia entre IYC y otros grupos es que ellos tienen un equipo de respuesta rápida listo. Cuando alguien es detenido, ellos tienen una estrategia para ayudarles. Cuando detuvieron a Teresa, Claudia inmediatamente llamó a la directora del equipo de respuesta rápida. Entonces el Coordinador de Defensa de Deportaciones y organizadores de toda California tomaron el liderazgo de la campaña para su defensa.

La estrategia más importante de la IYC es la creación de coaliciones con otros grupos en favor de los inmigrantes. También tienen una campaña de hacer llamadas telefónicas al director de ICE y otros oficiales. Ellos colectan cartas de apoyo y hablan con políticos locales, como Kamala Harris y Kevin de León. También reclutan a gente para asistir a los familiares cuando tienen que ir a la corte.

TRUMP DICE, como Obama solía hacerlo, que solo arrestán indocumentados criminales. Sabemos que esto es una mentira. Ellos arrestan a todo tipo de indocumentados, muchos que han vivido aquí muchos años. Pero ahora parecer ser diferente, al atacar a activistas. ¿Cómo ha respondido el movimiento inmigrante a esto?

DEFINITIVAMENTE, TENEMOS miedo. Antes decíamos "indocumentados y sin miedo", pero ahora el hay peligro de deportación es más real. Siempre estamos en contactos entre nosotros. Si algo me pasa a alguien, sabemos que hacer. Cuando agarraron a Teresa, la gente estaba escribiendo cartas de apoyo y tenían que poner su información de contacto en estas cartas. CBP tomó esta información y visito la casa de alguien que escribió una de las cartas. Creemos que CBP sabía la dirección de la tía de Claudia porque ella también escribió una carta de apoyo. Ahora cuando escribimos cartas, tenemos más precaución con nuestra información. Sí, da miedo porque nunca hemos visto algo como esto, pero tenemos que tener cuidado, porque no nos vamos a rendir.

FINALMENTE, ¿QUÉ puede hacer la gente para defenderse?

LA GENTE puede educarse en estrategias de cómo combatir el proceso de deportación. También pueden organizar su propio equipo de respuesta rápida y aprender a usar este tipo de organización para que no les pase lo mismo.

Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Responds to Donald Trump’s Bellicose North Korea Rhetoric

Move On - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:56

Statement from MoveOn Campaign Director Jo Comerford in response to Donald Trump’s comments on North Korea:

“Donald Trump’s reckless and frankly terrifying warmongering is endangering lives. Instead of spewing bellicose rhetoric which has only inflamed this emergent conflict, Trump has a responsibility to de-escalate tensions and to foreground a diplomacy-first approach with North Korea. And instead of living up to that responsibility, Trump is behaving like an unhinged, thin-skinned dictator, putting the lives of all people on Guam– and around the world — in danger. We urge the administration to change course immediately, and we urge Congress to exercise its authority to force the administration to do so.”

Categories: Political Action

EFF To Court: Border Agents Need Warrants to Search Contents of Digital Devices

Deep Links - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 16:57
Whether Conducted Manually or Using Forensic Software, Cell Phone Searches Are Highly Intrusive

New Orleans, Louisiana—Searches of mobile phones, laptops, and other digital devices by federal agents at international airports and U.S. land borders are highly intrusive forays into travelers’ private information that require a warrant, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a court filing yesterday.

EFF urged the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to require law enforcement officers at the border to obtain a warrant before performing manual or forensic searches of digital devices. Warrantless border searches of backpacks, purses, or luggage are allowed under an exception to the Fourth Amendment for routine immigration and customs enforcement. Yet EFF argues that, since digital devices can provide so much highly personal, private information—our contacts, our email conversations, our work documents, our schedules—agents should be required to show they have probable cause to believe that the device contains evidence of a violation of the immigration or customs laws. Only after a judge has signed off on a search warrant should border agents be allowed to rifle through the contents of cell phones, laptops, or tablets.

Digital device searches at the border have more than doubled since the inauguration of President Trump. This increase, along with the increasing number of people who carry these devices while traveling, has highlighted the need for stronger privacy rights while crossing the U.S. border.

“Our cell phones and laptops provide access to an unprecedented amount of detailed, private information, often going back many months or years, from emails to our coworkers to photos of our loved ones and lists of our closest contacts. This is light years beyond the minimal information generally contained in other kinds of personal items we might carry in our suitcases. It’s time for courts and the government to acknowledge that examining the contents of a digital device is highly intrusive, and Fourth Amendment protections should be strong, even at the border,” said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope.

EFF filed its brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in U.S. v. Molina-Isidoro. In that case, Maria Isabel Molina-Isidoro’s cell phone was manually searched at the border, supporting her prosecution for attempting to import methamphetamine into the country.

The Supreme Court has held that cell phones hold “the privacies of life,” and police need a warrant to search the contents of a phone seized during an arrest. The same principle should apply to the digital devices seized at the border, EFF told the appeals court.

“Any search of data stored on a digital device, whether performed using special forensic software or conducted manually after obtaining and entering the owner’s password, provides access to a person’s entire private life,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz.

EFF is urging the court to find that the extraordinary privacy interests that travelers have in their digital devices render warrantless searches of those devices unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Border agents should be required to show they have sufficient cause for this immense invasion of privacy.

For the brief:

For more about digital privacy at the U.S. border:

Contact:  SophiaCopeStaff Attorneysophia@eff.org AdamSchwartzSenior Staff Attorneyadam@eff.org
Categories: Political Action

Their hidden power to cure a sick system

Socialist Worker - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 01:00

Shane Johnson, an ICU registered nurse in Missouri, and Elizabeth Lalasz, a registered nurse at a public hospital in Chicago, make the case that organized nurses have a unique potential to fight for a better health care system--and win.

Striking nurses build solidarity on the picket line (National Nurses United | Facebook)

THE REPUBLICANS may have lost the battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but their war on our access to medical care will certainly continue. Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are determined to dismantle the social safety net, and health care funding is their central focus.

Trump openly states that he wants the ACA to collapse, and there are some key aspects of "Obamacare" that need to be defended, such as the expansion of coverage via Medicaid and children up to age 26 and the ban on denying insurance based on pre-existing medical conditions.

But the reality is that the ACA is a completely inadequate solution to our broken health care system. It mandates severe cuts to Medicare and funding to hospitals for the uninsured, and it shovels money to insurance companies while still leaving 28 million people without health insurance. Now many insurance companies have pulled out of the ACA, making even a "high cost/bad coverage" insurance plan more difficult to get.

In response to the bleak debate between the Democrats' shoddy ACA and the Republicans' proposals for even worse, there has been growing support for a government-run "Medicare for all" system that makes health care a basic right and not a matter of profit.

This is an important development that has received a lot of media attention. But what's received less attention is the growing organization and militancy of the heath care workers--particuarly nurses--whose unions have the power to both win better care for their patients on a local level and be the driving force for a national health care reform movement.

Health care workers are the ones who titrate medication drips, clean bowel movements and comfort families, and who shoulder the emotional, physical and psychological work that makes hospitals run, yet they are left out of the discussion of who gets care, when they get it and how the care will be designed.

Nurses daily coordinate every patient's care with other health care professionals--doctors, social workers and pharmacists--as well as transporters, ward clerks and lab technicians. Because of this key role, nurses' strikes have a disproportionate impact on the running of hospitals which cannot function properly without them.

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AS HEALTH care has become a more central part of the U.S. economy, hospital unionization rates have increased--in stark contrast to the declining numbers of the larger labor movement.

Union membership in hospitals grew from 13.8 percent in 2000 to 14.3 percent in 2010. "Although the growth in density might seem modest," writes labor analyst Kim Moody, "it was nonetheless significant as union density in hospitals was twice that for the private sector workforce as a whole."

Nurses are at the forefront of this trend: In 2014, 17 percent of registered nurses and 11 percent of licensed practical nurses were unionized.

Organized nurses have tremendous potental to use collective action to win improved staffing and safety for themselves and their patients, as well as improved wages and benefits. Hospital corporations are well aware of this, of course, and many have gone on the offensive in recent years against their employees.

Last month, Tufts Medical Center in Boston imposed a four day lockout on its 1200 nurses in the Massachusetts Nurses Association, in retaliation for the nurses' one-day strike over patient safety, staffing levels and cuts to wages. Tufts spent $6 million on replacement nurses but offered no money to meet the nurses' concerns.

The battle at Tufts comes on the heels of two 2016 strikes involving 4800 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association at Allina Hospital, which sought to strip nurses of their health care. Allina spent $104 million to bring in scab nurses during that time.

The strikes at Allina and Tufts have inspired health care workers, but in both cases nurses returned to work with questionable contract gains and financial hits taken by both the union and the members.

The lesson to be taken from these heroic efforts is not that nurses shouldn't strike or that they can't win, but that--like working people everywhere--they're up against cold-hearted corporations and need to be clear about the issues they're fighting for and what it will take to win them.

What gives nurses a potential advantage over many other workers is that health care a highly politicized industry. Strikes by nurses and other hospital workers can shine a light on the miserable conditions being created in hospitals every day by the for-profit health care system-- and rally public support both for the strikers and for larger reform.

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ONE COMMON argument made hospital CEOs during a nurses' strike is that the workers are prioritizing their own needs over their patients and violating the pledge all health care workers take to "do no harm".

The idea that nurses organizing to strike are going to simply abandon their patients mid-shift is preposterous, and it's especially rich coming from health care managers who talk about their patients as "clients".

Hospital bosses present a moralistic and self-serving vision of nurses and other health care workers as servants who are there to provide a good patient experience first, and medical care second.for patients--with no agency over how their workplace is run.

In reality, the constant pressure coming from above to cut costs, drive down wages and benefits and slash staffing reveals the empty morality of management and foces nurses to collectively organize for their patients and themselves. "Safe staffing" has beome a key demand in most contract negotiations and strikes.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association emphasized the centrality of its demand for better staffing by calling its walkout a "Patient Safety Strike." Striking nurses held signs with slogans that read, "Tufts Patients Deserve Safe Care" and "Tufts RNs Protecting Patient Care".

Similarly, during the Allina strike, striking nurse Gail Olson told Labor Notes, "Our number one issue is staffing. Allina is refusing to agree to a staffing proposal that actually adds staff."

It's obvious to nurses that better staffing leads to better patient outcomes, and their feeling is backed up by research. A 2014 study from the British medical journal The Lancet found an increase in a nurse's workload by just one additional patient increased the likelihood of a patient in that hospital dying by 7 percent.

In other words, it is striking nurses who are the ones fighting for patients, and hospital bosses who put their own selfish interests above those of their "clients".

Nothing makes this clearer than hospitals' dangerous use of replacement nurses as scab labor during a strike.

During a strike at St. Vincent Hospital, in Worchester in 2000, "three replacement nurses recruited by the same strike replacement nurse agency Tufts plans to use were fired after separate incidents in which they left a patient alone after surgery ...gave the wrong baby to a nursing mother," according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "Another patient was given a nearly fatal overdose of morphine because a replacement nurse misunderstood a doctor's order."

Similar incidences occurred in the Allina strikes, compelling one replacement nurse to quit and join the strking nurses on their picket line. Explaining her decision to the Star-Tribune, the nurse said,"There are some nurses working out of the scope of their practice that are completely lost."

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WHEN NURSES strike over staffing, it can strengthen the relationship between patients and nurses. It is through this social connection, much like the one between students and teachers, that a common struggle for both better care and better working conditions can be forged.

But nurses and other healthcare workers also have a right to a safe and respectful workplace. The issue of safety in hospitals is centered primarily on patients. While patient safety is obviously critical, workplace safety for nurses often takes a backseat.

Whether it's physical injuries, exposure to communicable diseases or the daily grind of seeing people at their worst moments, nurses are supposed to "suck it up", ignore the pain and take care of patients. There are few other jobs where it is routine to be bitten, punched, kicked and verbally abused on a daily basis with few protections.

According to data from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Bureau of health-care workers experience the most nonfatal workplace violence compared to other professions by a wide margin. A 2014 study in the Journal of Emergency Nursing found almost 80 percent of nurses reported verbal and physical abuse on the job from patients and visitors within the past year.

For many nurses, this violence intersects with the daily sexism they experience on the job. Female health care workers are often the victims of sexual harassment from physicians, administrators, managers and patients. More than fifty percent of female nurses say they have been sexually harassed.

The sexism faced by nurses isn't just interpersonal but institutional. Over the last several decades, nursing has attracted more men because it's a growing field with the prospect for higher hourly wages, benefits and stability. But even as more men enter the profession, 90 percent of nurses still being women.

Yet the gender pay gap between male registered nurses and their female counterparts has not narrowed. In fact, male hospital nurses make almost $4000 more per year than female nurses with similar positions.

The struggle against sexism and for equal pay should be central to improving the conditions that healthcare workers face daily.

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LIKE ALL workers, nurses face an unrelentingly hostile force in the Trump White House.

Public-sector nurses unions face the potential of national "right-to-work" union-busting if the Supreme Court, stacked with conservative judges, rules against unions in Yohn v. California Teachers Association and Janus v. AFSCME.

Trump's new appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may revive the 2006 Kentucky River cases to declare that because nurses delegate work to other licensed and ancillary staff, they are supervisors and therefore inelibigle for unionization.

Within this context, nurses' unions must be defended as they remain the key organizations by which nurses can speak out for themselves and their patients, against the onslaught of profit-driven work flow management schemes.

Organized nurses are the most powerful force for resisting the power of for-profit insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations and the American Hospital Association--and it's bought off backers in both political parties.

A recent Associated Press survey found that 62 percent say it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage. But health care workers and their patients can't depend on
two party system to legislate away a $3 trillion dollar industry.

Nurses and other health care workers have the potential to democratically put forward a different vision of free health care for all, provided in safe, clean and well-staffed hospitals. For this to happen, nurses will need to show that they have the organization and ability to strike for themselves, their patients and their community.

Categories: Political Action

Causes of the union defeat at Nissan

Socialist Worker - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 01:00

Joe Richard analyzes an intense organizing drive that came up short in Mississippi.

On the march in Mississippi in support of the UAW unionization campaign (UAW)

AFTER YEARS of a local presence in Canton, Mississippi, and a ramped-up public organizing campaign since last March, the United Auto Workers (UAW) was soundly defeated in last weekend's union representation election at the giant Nissan assembly plant.

Turnout was high, and over 60 percent of the 3,700 or so eligible workers voted against union representation, dealing the UAW another blow in its drive to unionize "transplant" automakers in the U.S. like Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW and Toyota.

This bitter defeat will add to the urgent debate about what it will take to organize the unorganized in the South--and what unions can do to achieve a different outcome.

By all accounts, the employer's opposition was overwhelming. "Captive audience meetings"--in which managers and foremen took workers aside, either one on one or in a group--took place repeatedly. In them, company representatives plainly insinuated that Nissan would shut down or move if the union won representation rights.

Organizers involved in the campaign described a war-zone-like atmosphere across Madison County (of which Canton is the county seat) where the company created an environment rife with fear and uncertainty about the future if the UAW was victorious. This despite the fact that every one of Nissan's plants around the world is unionized, except the three operated in the U.S. (the other two are located in Tennessee).

Bianca Cunningham, a Communications Workers of America staff organizer and member of the Democratic Socialists of America in New York City, who traveled to Canton this month to work on the UAW campaign, described the intensity of the atmosphere of intimidation.

For the last week before the vote, for example, the song "Road to Destruction" was broadcast on repeat over the factory p.a. system for entire shifts. Like the company's other tactics, the aim, said Cunningham, was to "instill this chaos and fear and uncertainty. It was really playing on people's emotions and insecurities, which I really feel is disgusting, even for a corporate anti-union campaign."

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NISSAN TAPPED its political connections across the state and region to deploy a chorus of politicians calling for the UAW's defeat. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has been outspoken about his opposition to unionization and predicted publicly that a UAW win would destroy manufacturing in Mississippi.

Days before the vote, Bryant uploaded an image of a destroyed factory on his Facebook page and wrote, "I hope the employees at Nissan Canton understand what the UAW will do to your factory and town. Just ask Detroit. Vote no on the union."

Speaking a week before the vote at the Neshoba County Fair, Bryant--who has repeatedly attacked Bernie Sanders for his left-wing politics and endorsement of the UAW campaign--was sure to mix together a noxious dose of red-baiting and anti-Semitism when referencing the campaign: "I don't think we need a union to come in there and tell us how to make a better automobile. They can get back on the Bernie Sanders bus and go back to New York, and I'll pay their way."

There was also an anti-union worker committee, calling itself Nissan Technicians for Truth and Jobs, active within the plant in the months leading up to the election. A well-operated Facebook page posted regular updates with information attacking the UAW, and videos of anti-union workers speaking against the union and giving voice to their fears.

In a particularly cynical move, the committee produced and distributed t-shirts for the children of Nissan workers, emblazoned with the words: "Save My Daddy's Job. Vote No."

The local media were also overwhelmingly opposed to the union drive. The Madison County Journal wrote: "The UAW accuses Nissan of intimidation and harassment but offers up no proof. On the other hand, we have reports of UAW runts running across the county bothering homeowners trying to peddle their lies...The most disgusting piece of misinformation being perpetrated directly and indirectly by the UAW is that what we have here in Madison County is a civil rights issue. Trying to turn this into a race war and conjure up images of Mississippi Burning to fund their existence is nauseating."

Employers associations like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers entered the fray, and so did Americans for Prosperity, the political wing of the Koch Brothers' empire, with its Mississippi chapter sending 25,000 mailers to homes across the area saying "Tell UAW 'No Thanks'," along with radio, billboard and internet ad buys.

It's no surprise that the National Labor Relations Board cited Nissan for multiple unfair labor practices in the week before the vote. But this proved to be too little, too late. Union supporters are doubtless in mourning right now, and will be working to think through their next steps.

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NISSAN CHOSE to locate its plant in rural Mississippi because of the enormous tax breaks offered by the state government, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

But it was also in search of a pool of cheap, exploitable labor, consciously setting itself up as a paternalistic employer and job creator in an economically devastated region. As of the 2010 census, per capita annual income in Canton totaled only $15,192, with more than 31 percent of the population living below the federal poverty line.

The vast majority of workers in the plant are African America, and Nissan represents a chance at the best-paying job available to workers in the area. Technicians hit top pay at over $22 an hour, significantly more than comparable manufacturing work in Mississippi, and also higher than top pay for lower-tier workers at the UAW-represented Big Three automakers: Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler.

Nissan also maintained a policy of offering generous terms to plant workers to lease brand new cars as they rolled off the assembly line, with costs deducted from their paychecks. The company threatened to cancel this policy during the ramped-up union drive.

As Kim Barber, a technician at the plant told the New York Times, "Most of us just have a high school education. I'm almost 50. I can't go anywhere else."

The mile-long Nissan plant in Canton also employs several thousand temp workers, who the UAW did not seek to represent in this election.

The UAW did make much of its historic connections with the civil rights movement in the South, popularizing the slogan that "labor rights are civil rights," highlighting the anti-discrimination clauses in UAW collective bargaining agreements, and circulating leaflets describing the resources the UAW put at the disposal of Dr. Martin Luther King and others.

The union also mobilized significant community support from local and national African American organizations and faith groups, from the NAACP to local churches. Actor Danny Glover brought star power to the campaign, working for years to publicize the cause of the Nissan union drive.

But the company's position as paternalistic job creator and its blatant threats to withdraw from the community and devastate thousands of households undercut the union's appeal among a significant swath of Black workers inside the plant.

Tony Jacobson, a 52-year-old worker active in the anti-union committee, currently making $28 an hour, told Reuters on the day before the election: "Black people are doing much better here since Nissan came. I'm trying to save our livelihoods, I don't want Canton to be like Detroit."

The company deftly promoted the profiles and testimony of Black employees opposed to the union campaign, and the anti-union committee in the plant broadcast its opposition--adding to the anti-union rhetoric of a nearly united political class of Mississippi.

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AT THE same, it must be said that the UAW made some missteps in the Canton campaign, and it still struggles with a troubled legacy at the Big Three automakers.

Only days before the election, news broke of a damning corruption scandal involving the wife of a top UAW official, who allegedly received over $1.2 million of gifts and payouts from a Fiat Chrysler executive. The allegations cover a number of years when the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield and Alphons Iacobelli, the Fiat Chrysler executive, sat on opposite sides of the bargaining table.

Nissan seized the opportunity and launched an online ad campaign through a website called FundTheirLuxury.com (it has since been deactivated). The anti-union committee in the plant broadcast the news, repeatedly publishing details of the scandal and connecting it with the UAW dues scale to stir up suspicion.

The anti-union committee also used the UAW's long-standing language about "partnership" with the Big Three automakers against the union campaign. The committee's Facebook page posted video of an executive from Ford boasting about how much the UAW worked to collaborate with Ford and make them competitive after the 2007-08 economic crisis. The Facebook caption read: "THAT COMPETITION WAS US!"

Autoworkers at the Big Three have struggled for a number of years to finally abolish the two-tier system of wages and benefits that the UAW agreed to in order to save the companies hundreds of millions of dollars. At $14 an hour, new hires in 2009 made only half the wages of veteran workers.

The UAW has struggled to close the gap in the contract, but the number of workers paid lower-tier wages is huge. Reporting on contract negotiation in 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that second-tier wages and benefits were being paid to 45 percent of Fiat Chrysler workers, 25 percent of workers at Ford and 20 percent at GM.

Nissan, on the other hand, set its wages to surpass the highest wages paid to Tier 2 workers in the Big Three, eliminating from the start perhaps the most effective union recruiting tool: the higher wages and better benefits enjoyed by union workers compared to nonunion workers.

The strategy of partnership and the Tier 2 issue has hampered the UAW's ability to organize the "transplant" automakers in recent years, and played a role in the UAW's defeat in the plant-wide elections at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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BUT THE UAW should have expected a solid wall of resistance from the company. Understanding the union defeat requires acknowledging that a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election is a profoundly flawed process for achieving union recognition, even if this remains the most common path to unionization.

Many unions' new organizing strategy revolves around the collection of authorization cards, which, when turned in to the NLRB, are supposed to trigger a process leading to a "secret ballot" election.

With the overwhelming level of surveillance and access given to employers, there's hardly anything secret about how workers will vote in a polarized union campaign environment. Many unions turn in their authorization cards at the exact minimum threshold needed to trigger the election process, while others will wait until as close to a supermajority of the workforce signs cards before turning them in.

The expectation is that once the employer launches an all-out war against the union, support is almost guaranteed to fall.

Often, the emphasis on collecting cards can become the primary focus of the drive, rather than organizing at the workplace that can shift the power dynamics on the shop floor. But this latter strategy was how the UAW was built in its early days--by leveraging workers' power at the point of production in places like Flint, Michigan or South Bend, Indiana.

Today, this could mean the slow but steady growth of a pro-union organizing committee, which begins acting like a union long before cards are prioritized, taking up workplace grievances around safety, unfair discipline or termination, opposing unilateral changes to working conditions at the worksite, and organizing around any other issue which can help workers to overcome their fears of retaliation.

Even paternalistic employers have practices in their workplaces that alienate or disgruntle employees, and Nissan was no exception. The company was cited for OSHA safety violations and has implemented unpopular changes to the workforce's pensions and health insurance.

Over time, through successive workplace actions around these grievances, a union committee could overcome fears and build loyalty and confidence among supporters of the union. When unionists have a solid grasp of the workplace and stand a better chance of success, they can then think about collecting authorization cards and triggering a vote.

The CWA's Cunningham, while applauding the UAW effort in Caton, pointed out a drawback common to many unions--a focus on the crimes of a particular company at the expense of showing how individual corporations are connected to a wider economic and political system responsible for enforcing inequality and injustice.

"If we were able to bring it full circle and fill in those blanks for workers," Cunningham said, "they could see how everything is affected and who the enemy is--not just Nissan, but capitalism. I feel like that would be more transformative for them and deepen their understanding about why a union is important, instead of just trash-talking the company."

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THERE'S NOTHING intrinsically anti-union about Southern workers, though labor certainly has an advantage in regions with a higher union density in the form of community roots and union family connections.

Nor is it the case that Southern workers can't think for themselves or determine their collective self-interest. Unionists should also recognize that it's 2017, not 1927--and that especially after the "Sunbelt Boom," the South is now more integrated into the economic and social life of the country than ever, which has changed the shape of the working class in different areas.

If unions are to survive in the U.S. and grow into a powerful movement once more, they will have to organize the South--which currently acts as a low-wage reservoir for global capital.

Multinational capital will fight back with every tool at its disposal--so labor will have to think and operate differently, especially prioritizing activism at the workplace, and weld together groups of union activists who will need to be tough, trained and ready to fight like hell.

Categories: Political Action

Black Sacramento under attack

Socialist Worker - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 01:00

Alex Moyle writes from Sacramento, where gentrification, encouraged by city officials, has gone hand in hand with the displacement of the poor and racist police violence.

Dashcam video captures Nandi Cain being assaulted by Sacramento police

LIVING CONDITIONS for Sacramento's Black working class are under attack--from increased police brutality to lack of affordable housing--as the city becomes a new target of real-estate development.

Nandi Cain was walking home from a long day at work on April 10 when Sacramento police officer Anthony Figueroa racially profiled him, followed him, slammed him to the ground and punched him in the face 18 times before taking him into custody.

Cain's supposed crime was jaywalking, but when pedestrian advocate group WALKSacramento reviewed the police dash-cam video footage, they said he was doing no such thing.

Cain said that after he was taken into custody, he was placed on psychiatric hold in an isolation cell, where Officer Figueroa and Sacramento County Sheriff jail staff beat him repeatedly, stripped him naked and verbally humiliated him before leaving him alone in the cell for nine hours.

Cain was released after a friend caught his initial beating on camera and the video went viral. The charges of resisting arrest were dropped, and Figueroa was suspended. But the indignities and trauma suffered by Cain can't be undone.

This was no isolated incident, either. Data obtained by the Sacramento Bee following Cain's beating indicates that Black Sacramentans are more than five times as likely to be issued a jaywalking ticket than residents of other races.

The stat mirrors the fact that Black people are arrested at five times the rate of residents of other races in Sacramento. And driving while Black is no safer than walking, with police stops and harassment so relentless that some Black residents have given up driving altogether.

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AFTER CAIN'S vicious beating, Mayor Darrell Steinberg--a liberal advocate of community policing--expressed outrage, but described it as a problem of culture and emphasized the need to rebuild trust between police and young Black men in the Sacramento community.

The trouble, of course, is that asking a young Black man to trust the Sacramento police is asking him to forget history and place himself in lethal danger.

The city is still navigating the political fallout from the Sacramento police killings last year of two Black, homeless, mentally ill men--Dazion Flenaugh and Joseph Mann--and the ensuing cover-ups by police. Mann's murder forced the early retirement of police Chief Sam Somers and the implementation of some toothless reforms of the department.

On June 28, city officials in Sacramento--one of the most diverse cities in the nation with one of the least diverse police forces--announced that they would soon be hiring their first African American chief of police. But any notion that the SPD has made sincere efforts at reform or changing its culture of abuse should be left behind at the ceremony where Dazion Flenaugh's killers were awarded Bronze Medals of Valor.

The Sacramento County Sheriff has its own recent history of escalating racist violence. In May, two Black men died in the custody of the Sheriff's Department in the course of a week.

On May 5, 29-year-old Ryan Ellis died of a head wound sustained while in custody. The Sheriff's Department claims that Ellis, who was arrested for allegedly coming too close to his estranged wife's home, kicked out the rear window of the patrol car and jumped out of the moving vehicle while handcuffed.

Three days later, 32-year-old Mikel McIntyre was shot dead by sheriff's deputies after allegedly throwing rocks at a deputy and a police dog. In both cases, family and friends disputed the official accounts of the Sheriff's Department.

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THE UPSURGE in police harassment and violence in the state capital comes at the same time as a surge in gentrification, with real-estate interests eager to lure tech firms from the Bay Area and landlords capitalizing on the fact that even many people with high incomes can no longer afford the preposterous rents in San Francisco and Oakland.

For the working people of Sacramento--many of whom survive on a $10.50-an-hour minimum wage--this spells rapidly rising and unaffordable rents.

These pressures are worsened by the fact that Sacramento has undergone a decimation of Black wealth more acute than most of the country as a result of the great recession. In large measure due to predatory lending, Black home ownership in Sacramento collapsed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, from nearly 50 percent to the current rate of 27 percent.

And it's a bad time to be a renter in Sacramento. While median renter household income adjusted for inflation has decreased 11 percent since 2000, median rent has gone up 18 percent, with rents rising faster than perhaps any other city over the last year.

Combined with Sacramento having lost 66 percent of its state and federal funding for affordable housing since 2008, conditions are ripe for mass displacement and an escalating housing crisis.

Few neighborhoods are seeing a displacement problem as acute as the historically Black neighborhood of Oak Park. It was ominously declared an "up and coming" neighborhood by Inside the Grid's Cecily Hastings--who finds time between selling ad space for real-estate interests and pitching hip restaurants to write editorials defending the sheriff and lamenting how hard times are for "families in blue."

Now an army of cops from the SPD and the County Sheriff are flooding Oak Park to "saturate the area," in the words of sheriff's spokesperson Sgt. Tony Turnbull.

Oak Park was the hub of the civil rights movement in Sacramento, the site of the Black Panthers' local headquarters, a 1969 rebellion and cultural centers like the Guild Theater. Today, the neighborhood is being transformed from the historical epicenter of Black culture and resistance to the profit-making engine of a handful of investors. As Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison wrote in a poem:

They done took our neighborhood, chopped it up into sections, and are now trying to dilute it, capitalize off of it, exploit it, and white liberalize it.

Everyone is just standing around watching.

Watching while they try to call the police on us for standing in the park that we've been standing in for over 30 years.

While they try to call the police on us for playing the music in our cars that we been playing for over 30 years.

While they try to call the police on us for having barbecues, picnics, and family reunions...

I remember when no one wanted to live here. And now it's "historic."

After Faison wrote this, a Facebook page called "SPD Underground" called her a "racist" and posted "Tanya Faison...supports keeping Oak Park black.....can't get much more racist than that." Since posting the poem, Faison has endured a relentless barrage of online harassment from SPD supporters.

City officials are also trying to raze the majority-Black Seavey Circle public housing projects, which date back to the Second World War and would be torn down to make way for mixed housing, retail and commercial development. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency has acknowledged that they are unsure what percentage of current residents would return.

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THE RESULTS of the real-estate developers' project of reshaping the city reveals the contradictions of capitalist redevelopment. While they build the a new arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball time--with public funds--and add posh lofts, high-end restaurants and luxury hotels, city planners have left blocks of crumbling abandoned buildings in the heart of downtown. At the same time, thousands of people live in homelessness.

According to a recent report, Sacramento County's homeless population has increased 31 percent since 2015, the number of homeless veterans has increased by 50 percent, and the number living in tents, cars or on the street instead of shelters has risen by 85 percent.

While the increase in homelessness throughout Sacramento County extends to the suburbs, it is most visible downtown. City council members, state senators and developers meeting for drinks at the upscale Grange restaurant on the ground floor of the Citizen Hotel have to walk past a growing multitude of homeless people on the sidewalk on their way in.

Across the street at Caesar Chavez Park, "Farm to Fork" events and concert in the park nights must contend with the fact that the venue of the city's hippest outdoor events is also currently the largest open-air homeless encampment in the city.

City Council member Steve Hansen, who represents downtown and midtown, is calling for more police and more aggressive prosecution of misdemeanors to clean up downtown. And Mayor Steinberg, who campaigned promising to address the homeless crisis in a humane manner, agreed that police should be encouraged to be more aggressive when they encounter "disruptive behavior" and pledged his support for officers "enforcing a standard of decorum."

The gentrification of the San Francisco Bay Area and its subsequent effects on Sacramento show, yet again, how development goes hand in hand with displacement of poor and working-class people and racist police violence.

Since its beginnings, capitalism has presided over the coerced, and sometimes violent, movement of people. Modern capitalism in the American city can displace people through disinvestment and decay, through the targeted hyper-investment associated with gentrification or both simultaneously.

They employ the police to carry out everything from everyday harassment to increased arrests, to beatings and even murder. And like virtually all of the ravages of American capitalism, the Black working class feels the blow the most severely.

Meanwhile, Sacramento's liberal mayor and city council see more money for cops as the solution to problems ranging from street crime to homelessness, and even police brutality. The answers will have to come from the bottom up.

Sacramento has a history of Black and working-class resistance--a history that activists today still draw upon. Today's struggles may sometimes be small, but they are the only way to build the numbers and organization we'll need for the bigger struggles to come.

Categories: Political Action

On the left sat the Bolsheviks

Socialist Worker - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 01:00

SocialistWorker.org is continuing its ongoing series 1917: The View from the Streets with a series of excerpts from a firsthand account of the revolution by socialist journalist Albert Rhys Williams and his book Through the Russian Revolution, published in 1921. Writing for the New York Evening Post, Along with the more famous Ten Days That Shook the World by fellow journalist John Reed, Through the Russian Revolution provides a riveting picture of the struggle to create a new society as Russian workers, soldiers, sailors and peasants began seizing control over every aspect of their daily lives.

In the excerpt below from chapter one, selected by Paul D'Amato, Williams talks about his contrasting introduction to the Bolsheviks--the slanders of the bourgeoisie on the one hand given lie by a visit to the home of a revolutionary in Petrograd. The excerpt is preceded by an introduction to Williams and his book written by Eric Blanc. SW's series on 1917 is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

Introduction to Through the Russian Revolution by Eric Blanc

Left: a demonstration in Petrograd; right: cover of the 1921 edition of Williams' book

THROUGH THE Russian Revolution is a firsthand account by American socialist journalist Albert Rhys Williams of the mass upsurge that culminated in the Bolshevik-led seizure of power in Petrograd in late 1917 and the efforts to build a new social order in early 1918. Williams was an American socialist writer who went to Petrograd in the summer of 1917 to report on the Russian Revolution for The New York Evening Post. Though based in the capital, he also traveled extensively across the empire to observe the revolutionary process in the villages, among sailors in the Baltic, and on the military front.

Together with John Reed and Louise Bryant, Williams witnessed firsthand the October Revolution and the seizure of the Winter Palace. Williams became an active supporter of the Communists (though he never joined the party either in the Soviet Union or the U.S.). In 1918, under the coordination of Leon Trotsky, he edited German-language revolutionary publications aimed at German troops. Williams returned to the U.S. later that year in order to lead a major political-educational campaign against U.S. military intervention in Russia. In subsequent years, he wrote multiple pro-Soviet works.

The importance of Williams' account lies in its accessibility, its "bottom-up" approach, and its vivid depictions--few works give a reader a better feel of the revolution, while simultaneously and succinctly explaining the basic political debates of the period.

Williams' contributions made a major impact during the postwar radicalization in the United States–one New York Times editor claimed that "the greatest creation of Bolshevism is not Trotsky's army, but Albert Rhys Williams." But in the ensuing years Through the Russian Revolution has become not only out of print, but virtually forgotten in the U.S., perhaps because it was overshadowed by John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World. Williams' book is less dense and covers a broader period of time than Reed's more famous work, and as such, it is generally more approachable for general readers. Significantly, unlike Reed's document, Through the Russian Revolution also describes the fascinating early efforts to build a new workers' state and put industry under workers' control

Through the Russian Revolution is a lost classic that should find a wide audience among those interested in learning about the Russian Revolution during and following the 2017 centennial commemorations.

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Enter the Bolsheviks

This First Congress of Soviets was dominated by the intelligentsia--doctors, engineers, journalists. They belonged to political parties known as Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary. At the extreme left sat 107 delegates of a decided proletarian cast--plain soldiers and workingmen. They were aggressive, united and spoke with great earnestness. They were often laughed and hooted down--always voted down.

What else to read

Read other leaflets, statements and documents from the Russian Revolution in this series titled "1917: The View from the Streets" edited by John Riddell.

Bolshevik leaflet
To the revolutionary students of Russia

Mezhraionka leaflet
The day of the people's wrath is near

Menshevik leaflet
Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace

Bolshevik leaflet
For a provisional revolutionary government

Mezhraionka leaflet
A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Mezhraionka leaflet
For a general strike against autocracy

Mezhraionka leaflet
Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Polish socialist workers' appeal
The only guarantee of Polish independence

Petrograd Soviet appeal
Joining together to achieve peace

Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
Calling for peace...and renewed offensives

Bolshevik and Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
A Bolshevik appeal finds an echo in the streets

Bolshevik and Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
Responses to the July Days uprising

Bolshevik leaflets
The Bolsheviks retreat in order to advance

Albert Rhys Williams
On the left sat the Bolsheviks

"Those are the Bolsheviks," my bourgeois guide informed me, venomously. "Mostly fools, fanatics and German agents." That was all. And no more than that could one learn in hotel lobbies, salons, or diplomatic circles.

Happily, I went elsewhere for information. I went into the factory districts. In Nijni I met Sartov, a mechanic who invited me to his home. A long rifle stood in the corner of the main room.

"Every workingman has a gun now," Sartov explained. "Once we used it to fight for the Czar--now we fight for ourselves."

In another corner hung an icon of Saint Nicholas, a tiny flame burning before it.

"My wife is still religious," Sartov apologized. "She believes in the Saint--thinks he will fetch me safely through the Revolution. As though a saint would help a Bolshevik!" he laughed. "Yeh! Bogu! There's no harm in it. Saints are queer devils. No telling what one of them may do."

The family slept on the floor, insisting that I take the bed, because I was an American. In this room I found another American. In the soft gleam of the icon light his face looked down at me from the wall, the great, homely, rugged face of Abraham Lincoln. From that pioneer's hut in the woods of Illinois he had made his way to this workingman's hut here upon the Volga. Across half a century, and half a world, the fire in Lincoln's heart had leaped to touch the heart of a Russian workman groping for the light.

As his wife paid her devotion to Saint Nicholas, the Great Wonder Worker, so he paid his devotion to Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. He had given Lincoln's picture the place of honor in his home. And then he had done a startling thing. On the lapel of Lincoln's coat he had fixed a button, a large red button bearing on it the word: B-o-l-s-h-e-v-i-k.

Of Lincoln's life Sartov knew little. He knew only that he strove against injustice, freed the slaves, that he was reviled and persecuted. To Sartov, that was the earnest of his kinship with the Bolsheviks. As an act of highest tribute he had decorated Lincoln with this emblem of red.

I found that factories and boulevards were different worlds. A world of difference, too, in the way they said the word "Bolshevik." Spoken on the boulevards with a sneer and a curse, on the lips of the workers it was becoming a term of praise and honor.

The Bolsheviks did not mind the bourgeoisie. They were busy expounding their program to the workers. This program I got first hand from delegates coming up to the Soviet Congress from the Russian Army in France.

"Our demand is, not to continue the war, but to continue the Revolution," these Bolsheviks blurted out.

"Why are you talking about revolution?" I asked, taking the role of Devil's advocate. "You have had your Revolution, haven't you? The Czar and his crowd are gone. That was what you were aiming at for the last hundred years, wasn't it?"

"Yes," they replied. "The Czar is gone, but the Revolution is just begun. The overthrow of the Czar is only an incident. The workers didn't take the government out of the hands of one ruling class, the monarchists, in order to put it into the hands of another ruling class, the bourgeoisie. No matter what name you give it, slavery is the same."

I said the world at large held that Russia's task now was to create a republic, like France or America; to establish in Russia the institutions of the West.

"But that is precisely what we don't want to do," they responded. "We don't cherish much admiration for your institutions or governments. We know that you have poverty, unemployment and oppression. Slums on one hand, palaces on the other. On the one side, capitalists fighting workmen with lockouts, blacklists, lying press, and thugs. Workmen on the other side, fighting back with strikes, boycotts, bombs. We want to put an end to this war of the classes. We want to put an end to poverty. Only the workers can do this, only a communistic system. That is what we are going to have in Russia."

"In other words," I said, "you want to escape the laws of evolution. By some magic you expect suddenly to transfer Russia from a backward agricultural state into a highly organized cooperative commonwealth. You are going to jump out of the 18th century into the 22nd."

"We are going to have a new social order," they replied, "but we don't depend on jumping or magic. We depend upon the massed power of the workmen and peasants."

"But where are the brains to do this?" I interrupted. "Think of the colossal ignorance of the masses."

"Brains!" they exclaimed hotly. "Do you think we bow down before the brains of our 'betters'? What could be more brainless and stupid and criminal than this war? And who are guilty of it? Not the working classes, but the governing classes in every country. Surely the ignorance and inexperience of workmen and peasants could not make a worse mess than generals and statesmen with all their brains and culture. We believe in the masses. We believe in their creative force. And we must make the Social Revolution anyhow."

"And why?" I asked.

"Because it is the next step in the evolution of the race. Once we had slavery. It gave way to feudalism. That in turn gave way to capitalism. Now capitalism must leave the stage. It has served its purpose. It has made possible large-scale production, worldwide industrialism. But now it must make its exit. It is the breeder of imperialism and war, the strangler of labor, the destroyer of civilization. It must in its turn give place to the next phase--the system of Communism. It is the historic mission of the working-class to usher in this new social order. Though Russia is a primitive backward land it is for us to begin the Social Revolution. It is for the working class of other countries to carry it on."

A daring program--to build the world anew.

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Source: From chapter 1 of Albert Rhys Williams, Through the Russian Revolution. (Boni and Liveright, 1921), pages 14-19.

Categories: Political Action

West Coast Jurisdictions Advance Community Oversight of Police Surveillance

Deep Links - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 18:04

This summer, two of the west coast’s largest metropolitan areas—Seattle and California—took major steps to curtail secret, unilateral surveillance by local police. These victories for transparency and community control lend momentum toward sweeping reforms pending across California, as well as congressional efforts to curtail unchecked surveillance by federal authorities. 

On July 31, the Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance requiring public participation when local police departments acquire surveillance technologies. Days before, a Los Angeles County oversight body rejected a proposed use policy governing the sheriff's department's use of surveillance drones. In LA, deputies have been told they may not use drones at all.

These measures are the frontrunners for others pending before municipal and county bodies across the country, as well as at the state level in California, America's most populous and prosperous state.  S.B. 21—a bill poised to transform police oversight across California—has already passed the California State Senate and two State Assembly committees.

Seattle Adopts a New Transparency Ordinance

Monday’s vote in Seattle reflected a unanimous City Council agreement: the public must be involved in decisions about local police and other municipal surveillance.

The ordinance was long overdue. In 2013, the Seattle Police Department deactivated a federally funded surveillance mesh network after The Stranger reported that the invasive system was approved without meaningful scrutiny. SPD conceded that its process was insufficient, agreeing to suspend the program “until [the] city council approves a draft policy and until there's an opportunity for vigorous public debate."

Seattle’s oversight ordinance requires the Council to hear from the public before a law enforcement (or any other municipal) agency may acquire surveillance equipment. The law is "device neutral," subjecting acquisition of any surveillance equipment to the process. According to Councilmember M. Lorena González, “this new law [will enable the] Council [to] be a check and balance on surveillance technology acquisitions because the public deserves to know how such data will be managed and for what purpose it is being collected.”

Unfortunately, Seattle’s ordinance has crucial gaps that limit its effectiveness. For example, the law's enforcement mechanism relies on private litigants, but unnecessarily limits their access to justice. In addition, broad exemptions carving out police body cameras and various sources of video surveillance exclude some of the most visible forms of surveillance from the ordinance’s protections. That said, the law still covers covert police spying tools like cell-site simulators, and Shotspotter audio listening devices that cities across America are already abandoning due to concerns about their effectiveness.

Despite its gaps, Seattle’s new surveillance transparency law puts important limits on local police surveillance through public process, as opposed to legislatively specifying substantive limits on the use of a particular device. Ultimately, process and substance are interwoven in any reform addressing police procedure, and regulations in either dimension are strongest when coupled.

For instance, the new law does not require that surveillance technology be used narrowly for the “purposes of a criminal investigation supported by reasonable suspicion.” It does, however, require agencies seeking technology to specify their policies for each device platform, including how they will collect, retain, and share data obtained through them.

In particular, the ordinance requires law enforcement seeking any surveillance technology to develop “a clear use and data management policy,” addressing “factors that will be used to determine where, when, and how the technology is deployed…whether [it] will be operated continuously or used only under specific circumstances,” and also specifies “what processes will be required prior to each use…including…what legal standard…must be met before [it] is used….”

By providing transparency and community control at the point of acquisition, the new ordinance enables future policymakers and activists to seek more demanding limits on these parameters, not only through future legislation, but also through the process now required before each proposed technology acquisition.

LA County Commissioners Reject Proposed Drone Policy

In response to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department acquisition of an unmanned aerial vehicle, concerned community members mobilized to challenge the normalization of drone surveillance. Hamid Khan from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition argued that the sheriff’s operation of a surveillance drone “represents…the rapid escalation and militarization of police.”

Others objected that the sheriff had previously hired a private company to conduct manned aerial surveillance of Compton in 2012 without securing permission from local policymakers. Yet others noted predictable “mission creep” and, according to the LA Times, “voiced concerns that the aircraft could someday be armed, as in North Dakota….”

Prompted in part by those concerns, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in January to subject the sheriff’s surveillance drone operations to civilian oversight.  On July 27, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission voted to reject the sheriff’s proposed use policy, with a majority of commissioners preferring for the sheriff not to use the device at all.  According to the LA Times:

The four members voting against the recommendations…said at the meeting and afterward that they oppose the department’s use of drones altogether….A fifth commissioner…was not at the meeting but wrote a report issued Thursday explaining her support for grounding the drone.

Despite the commissioners’ opposition to sheriff’s plans, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition spokesperson noted that their decision “leaves things in limbo” since it lets the Sheriff’s Department continue deploying its drone.

Transforming Police Surveillance Across California: S.B. 21

The measure adopted in Seattle is similar to a statewide bill pending in California that could prevent the spy-first-ask-questions-later situations we saw in Seattle, Baltimore, and also in Los Angeles, by requiring new surveillance technologies to be approved by local policymakers—informed by public comment—before law enforcement agencies gain access to them.

S.B. 21, introduced by California State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), has already been approved by the state Senate, as well as two committees of the state Assembly. It is currently pending before the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, which it must pass in order to receive a vote from the full Assembly.

Should S.B. 21 pass the Assembly and be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would subject hundreds of law enforcement agencies at once to transparency and community control through requirements along the lines of—but even broader than—those adopted in Seattle this week.

Neither transparency nor public participation are partisan ideals. Rather, they are principles of democratic governance long embraced across the American political spectrum.

The alternative to S.B. 21 is continued secrecy and executive fiat, which always contradict our nation's founding values—but never so much as when they infect local policymaking. Today, when the federal executive branch appears to have less concern than ever for the rule of law, state and local checks on executive power grow even more crucial.

Take Action

Tell the California Assembly to pass S.B. 21.

In addition to supporting S.B. 21 by contacting their members of the state Assembly, we also encourage Californians who support digital rights to write social media posts and op-eds explaining in their own words why transparency and community control matter so much.

For those who live elsewhere, bringing together neighbors to learn about these reforms presents the opportunity to champion them in other areas. Grassroots groups active in the Electronic Frontier Alliance have been integral to the policymaking process underlying S.B. 21, and if the Alliance has not yet included a group in your area, the local policing reforms embodied in S.B. 21 present a chance to raise the flag wherever in the U.S. you live.

Transforming Surveillance Policy in Congress: FISA 702 

These opportunities at the local and state level are especially crucial this year, since Congress will consider mass surveillance by federal agencies before the end of the year, forced by the scheduled expiration of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Congress passed FISA 702 in 2009, attempting to legalize the NSA’s unconstitutional Internet surveillance programs (including PRISM and Upstream collection, among others) over vehement objections. EFF was fighting in federal court to stop mass spying even before the passage of 702, and while those cases continue to proceed, the only congressional action on mass Internet surveillance has been to extend a previous deadline for the statute's expiration.

Before considering any further extension of the NSA’s expiring authorities, however, Congress must first do the hard work of uncovering secret facts, as oversight bodies in Seattle, Los Angeles, and the rest of the State of California are finally doing at the local level.

Categories: Political Action

EFF Asks U.S. Court to Bar Enforcement of Canada’s Global Takedown Order

Deep Links - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 17:30

Should a Canadian court be able to prevent U.S.-based Internet users from viewing search results based on an alleged violation of Canadian law, even if those search results are legal in the United States?

We don’t think so.  That’s why on Monday EFF asked a federal trial court in California to consider the First Amendment rights of Internet users and block enforcement of a Canadian court’s global de-listing order in the United States.

Our brief comes as part as the latest development in a Canadian dispute that led to an order requiring Google to remove U.S.-based search results worldwide. Google had fought the attempt to remove search results from users worldwide, but in June 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Google could be forced to remove search results that allegedly violated Canadian law.

Out of options in Canada, Google has taken the fight back to the United States.  The company has asked a federal court to rule that the Canadian order violates Google’s First Amendment and statutory rights, and to block its enforcement in the United States.

Google’s request to the court in California is not surprising. In its opinion granting the global takedown, the Canadian Supreme Court said:

Google’s argument that a global injunction violates international comity because it is possible that the order could not have been obtained in a foreign jurisdiction, or that to comply with it would result in Google violating the laws of that jurisdiction, is theoretical. If Google has evidence that complying with such an injunction would require it to violate the laws of another jurisdiction, including interfering with freedom of expression, it is always free to apply to the British Columbia courts to vary the interlocutory order accordingly.

By filing suit in the United States to block the order, Google appears to be doing just what the Canadian court suggested: gathering evidence that the injunction does not comply with U.S. law. As part of its suit, Google is seeking a preliminary injunction, a request that would allow the federal court to initially block the Canadian order on grounds that it likely violates Google’s rights and U.S. law. 

In our proposed amicus brief supporting Google’s injunction request, we argue that the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision conflicts with Internet users’ First Amendment rights because the Constitution protects their ability to access and receive information online. The brief also argues that the public interest weighs in favor of granting Google’s injunction because the Canadian order undermines Congress’ policy choice in enacting an important federal law, 47 U.S.C. § 230, often referred to as Section 230. The Computer & Communications Industry Association, Center for Democracy & Technology, and Public Knowledge also joined the brief.

Related Cases: Google v. Equustek
Categories: Political Action

EFF Wins Court Ruling Upholding Invalidation of Bad Patent That Threatened Podcasters

Deep Links - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 15:08
Personal Audio Didn’t Invent Anything New, EFF Argued

San Francisco, California—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) won a court ruling today affirming that an infamous podcasting patent used by a patent troll to threaten podcasters big and small was properly held invalid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

A unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will, for now, keep podcasting safe from this patent.

In October 2013, EFF filed a petition at the USPTO challenging the so-called podcasting patent owned by Personal Audio and asking the court to use an expedited process for taking a second look at the patent. More than one thousand people donated to our Save Podcasting campaign to support our efforts.

EFF's petition showed that Personal Audio did not invent anything new and, in fact, other people were podcasting years before Personal Audio first applied for a patent. In preparation for this filing, EFF solicited help from the public to find prior art or earlier examples of podcasting.

In April 2015, the Patent Office invalidated all the challenged claims of the podcasting patent, finding that the patent should not have been issued in light of two earlier public disclosures, one relating to CNN news clips and one relating to CBC online radio broadcasting.

Personal Audio challenged the Patent Office decision, but the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed with us that the patent did not represent an invention, and podcasting was known before Personal Audio’s patent was applied for.

“We’re pleased that the Federal Circuit agreed that the podcasting patent is invalid,” said Daniel Nazer, Staff Attorney at EFF and the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. “We appreciate all the support the podcasting community gave in fighting this bad patent.”

“Although we’re happy that this patent is still invalid, Personal Audio could seek review at the Supreme Court,” said Vera Ranieri, Staff Attorney at EFF. “We’ll be there if they do.”

For the ruling:

For more on this case:

Contact:  DanielNazerStaff Attorney and Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patentsdaniel@eff.org VeraRanieriStaff Attorneyvera@eff.org
Categories: Political Action

ICE is guilty of the murder of Frank Fuentes

Socialist Worker - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 01:00

The death of a man who had lived in the U.S. since he was a toddler--and who perished trying to return--is the direct result of anti-immigrant policies, reports Nicole Colson.

Frank Fuentes

FRANK FUENTES was 2 years old when his parents brought him to the U.S.

And he was just 19 when he died trying to come back home--the victim of the federal government's deepening crackdown on immigrants.

Fuentes was one of some 100 undocumented immigrants discovered in a tractor-trailer truck in the parking lot of a Walmart near San Antonio, Texas, on July 22.

At least eight, including Frank, had died from suffocation and heat exposure by the time they were discovered, and two more died later. Twenty-eight people had to be hospitalized--some reportedly suffered permanent brain damage and other severe ailments as a result of the ordeal.

In Fuentes' case, the fact that the U.S. had been the only home he knew for the majority of his life only highlights the brutality of the expanded war on immigrants being waged by the U.S. government.

Fuentes, who was originally from Guatemala, spent the majority of his life in Northern Virginia after his parents emigrated to the U.S. He graduated from J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, in 2015. The young aspiring rapper, who loved skateboarding, worked in construction while taking classes at Northern Virginia Community College.

Because he was not born in the U.S., however, he was one of the hundreds of thousands of young adults who remain in a kind of legal limbo--at risk of deportation despite knowing no other home but the U.S. since they were small children.

Fuentes had been covered under the Obama administration's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but his status changed, according to the Washington Post, when in March 2016, he pleaded guilty to simple assault and battery by a mob and grand larceny/pickpocketing.

Though the details of the case remain unclear in press accounts, one report suggested that Fuentes was changed with assault after he and three others yelled at someone for waiting for the bus on a particular corner and got into an altercation.

After his death, authorities smeared Fuentes in the media, claiming he was a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13--a gang with roots among Salvadoran immigrants that has become a convenient target for anti-immigrant politicians looking to whip up hysteria. In late July, Trump used a speech in front of law enforcement officers at Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, New York, to talk tough about MS-13, calling members of the gang "animals."

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WHILE TRUMP and other officials exploit fears of crime and gang activity to smear undocumented immigrants, Frank Fuentes and those along with him in the back of that truck were treated as worse than animals.

Fuentes was never charged with, much less convicted of, gang activity. But that hasn't stopped authorities and the media from repeating the claim as if it was a fact.

Former classmate and friend Juan Benitez, however, said the government was wrong, and that Fuentes was not involved with MS-13 or any other gang. "Growing up where we grew up, it was just easier for the government to label him as a statistic and say that he was affiliated with a gang," Benitez told the Post. "Growing up in a rough neighborhood, we stayed away from people like that. It was the only way to be safe."

Another high school friend, Chelsea Luna, agreed, telling WUSA Channel 9 news that Frank was "a great friend... He was never part of any gang. I've seen him every day here. There's not a day I go without seeing him. He's not in a gang."

When Fuentes' permission to stay in the U.S. under DACA expired in June 2016, he filed again--but his claim was turned down by the government "based on a number of public safety concerns," according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Part of DACA eligibility requires that applicants not be convicted of felony or significant or multiple misdemeanors, and not pose a threat to public safety or national security.

In July, Fuentes was arrested by federal agents. He was deported in February 2017--sent back to a country he barely knew.

Kelly Barrios-Mazariegos, a childhood friend of Fuentes' who had spoken to him recently, told the Post that he had been struggling to adjust to life in Guatemala. "He's been [in the U.S.] forever," she said. "He doesn't know what Guatemala was. His home is here, his friends are here, his family is here."

According to reports, Fuentes's parents, themselves undocumented and at risk of deportation, helped pay for a "coyote," or smuggler, to transport him back to the U.S. Fuentes was one of at least six immigrants from Guatemala on a truck that crossed into the U.S. from Mexico in a desert zone near Laredo, Texas. They were expecting to go to Houston before their journey ended in tragedy in a Walmart parking lot.

Such tragedies are more likely as the Trump administration expands its assault on immigrants--forcing more to choose dangerous methods in any desperate attempt to reach the U.S. According to the UN's Missing Migrants Project, deaths already have spiked along the U.S.-Mexico border--with 232 migrant deaths in the first seven months of 2017, an increase of 17 percent compared to the same period last year.

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THE TRUMP administration's escalation of the war on the undocumented has included more aggressive moves to deport those whose cases might previously have made them a low priority for deportation.

In one chilling instance, two brothers living in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who were originally from El Salvador, were deported during what was supposed to be a routine check-in with ICE.

Nineteen-year-old Lizandro Claros Saravia and 22-year-old Diego Saravia came to the U.S. in 2009, according to the Washington Post. Lizandro, the Post reported, "is a standout soccer player who had secured a scholarship to play college soccer in North Carolina," while Diego "took extra classes to graduate from Quince Orchard High School on time and 'has a heart of gold,' a former teacher said."

The brothers have no criminal records. In 2013, the pair was granted a stay of removal--essentially allowing them to remain in the U.S.--but later applications for stays were denied.

When they went for what was supposed to be a routine check-in with ICE on July 28, they were arrested. On August 3, they were on a plane, deported to San Salvador--one day after Lizandro was supposed to have left to begin soccer practices at Louisburg College.

"The ICE agents told me they were deporting the kids because Lizandro got into college, and that showed they intended to stay in the U.S.," Nick Katz, senior manager of legal services at CASA de Maryland, who is representing the pair, told the Post. Katz said this was the fastest deportation process he has seen in his career.

Now, their family fears for their safety--El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the hemisphere. "[M]y brothers did nothing wrong," another brother, Jonathan, said at a press conference outside the CASA headquarters. "They've had their futures taken from them."

Members of the community are organizing a defense campaign. On Monday evening, members of Lizandro's high school soccer team rallied in front of the Department of Homeland Security in protest, and CASA is planning a march to the White House on August 15.

Despite the widespread support, the fact that the brothers have already been deported makes it unlikely they will be granted legal re-entry into the U.S.

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WHILE THE Trump administration's crackdown on immigrants has been especially vicious, it's worth pointing out that the Obama administration also ripped families apart. Frank Fuentes, for example, was ordered to be deported by the Obama administration, not Trump. The Obama administration deported more people than any previous presidential administration in U.S. history.

Or there is the case of David Watson--who was imprisoned beginning in 2008 for three-and-a-half years by ICE, despite repeatedly telling ICE, jail officials and a judge that he was a citizen.

Watson didn't have a lawyer, because immigrants in detention do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney. Eventually, the New Yorker was released--in rural Alabama, with no explanation, even as the government continued deportation proceedings against him for another year.

In another twisted development, a federal appeals court recently ruled that Watson cannot receive the compensation a lower court found he was entitled to, because "the statute of limitations actually expired while he was still in ICE custody without a lawyer," NPR reported.

For the Democrats, who present themselves as champions of immigrant rights even as they push policies that harm immigrants, there's a political calculus involved in appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment, while also trying to not alienate Latino voters.

Thus, when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was asked to comment on the death of Frank Fuentes, he didn't question a system that sent someone who has been in the U.S. since they were a toddler to a foreign country--nor ask whether U.S. border policies are humane when desperate people are increasingly losing their lives in an attempt to enter the U.S.

Instead, McAuliffe underscored the need to keep undocumented people out: "We here in America, we need to number one secure our borders," McAuliffe told Fox News, before adding, "No individual should be deported out of the country and then immediately be able to get back in the country."

As a friend of Fuentes' posted on Facebook following his death, Frank Fuentes and his family deserved better: "Frank learned from his mistakes, but he was robbed at a shot to fulfill his dreams. A broken immigration system within a broken, less-than-fortunate community."

Categories: Political Action

Spectrum strikers send a defiant message

Socialist Worker - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 01:00

Some 1,800 members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 have been on strike at Spectrum/Time Warner Cable communications in New York and New Jersey since March 28, more than four months ago. Since then, only a fraction of the workforce has crossed picket lines, but the company is working hard to keep up normal operations by using scabs and subcontractors to break the strike.

Spectrum is part of Charter Communications, the second largest cable provider in the U.S. and a telecommunications giant, providing services to roughly 25 million customers in 41 states, two and a half million of which reside in New York. The CEO, Tom Rutledge, has met with Donald Trump in the White House earlier this year, and the company is touted by Trump as a job creator investing in its U.S. workforce.

A group of strikers and their family members talked to Joe Richard about their organizing to win the strike. Suhan Lee is a member of Local 3 and was hired just a few months before the strike began. Beata Moon is a member of the United Federation of Teachers, a parent activist, and the spouse of an IBEW striker; Amanda Felix and Lisa Spychalski are also married to Local 3 strikers, and have become active through a new group of strikers and family members. Local 3 members have now been on strike for over four months.

On the picket line in the Spectrum/Time Warner cable (Onwy Uzoigwe)

CAN YOU give us some background on the strike. What were the company's demands, and what's been the relationship of the union to the company in the past?

Suhan: We've been without a contract since 2013. The company resisted bargaining a contract with Local 3 while the negotiations between Charter Spectrum and Time Warner Cable played out. Before that, the union didn't have such a hostile relationship with Time Warner Cable. The new ownership changed that.

Lisa: When Tom Rutledge, the current CEO, was ready to leave Cablevision, he was only making $16 million a year, and that wasn't good enough for him. So he left, and he brought all of his boys with him to Spectrum. All the managers that came in started telling everyone they were going to run the company differently.

SO THE company put forward a whole list of concessions they were demanding from the union?

Suhan: Yes. They wanted to take away payments to our union-controlled health care fund. They also wanted to take away our pensions, stop making contributions to our Education and Cultural Fund, and take over training technicians away from the union and have company control over training, in order to deny people promotions based on increased skills.

Lisa: They're stopping everybody from being able to achieve the higher rates through company control over certifications, and the workers have to use faulty equipment when they go up for certifications.

HOW DID the union handle preparations for the strike?

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Beata: Every striker and their family received strike pay from the union of about $150 per week for the first eight weeks of the strike, until unemployment insurance kicked in.

Amanda: It was called very quickly, and the union even moved up the timeline from April 1 to March 28. April 1 is the beginning of the new accounting year for Spectrum and was when the contract expired. But then word came down to launch the strike on the 28th. Some guys showed up to work, and they didn't even know. Their co-workers told them, "Hey, we're on strike now."

There was also a strike vote in the last round of negotiations back in 2013. They were ready to go on strike but the union didn't call a strike.

WERE THERE concessions in the last contract with Time Warner Cable?

Suhan: Yes. The union gave up specific riders to the contract that made the company pay FICA contributions after a certain date. So all new hires had to pay contributions. It's 7.65 percent of your paycheck.

SO THERE were two tiers of workers at the company before the strike?

Suhan: Yes.

CAN YOU tell us about what strike activity looked like at the beginning of the strike?

Amanda: It was strong at the beginning. The first rally downtown was really big.

Beata: There was a big rally downtown, with elected officials and hundreds of strikers and supporters. And the union chartered buses to take people to Stamford, Conn., to protest at the company headquarters. So there were a lot of people out picketing. Strikers also had to participate in picketing or else they wouldn't receive strike pay.

Amanda: At the Astoria garage in Queens, it was really strong at the beginning.

Suhan: I was at the Paidge Avenue garage in Brooklyn, and our lines were really strong for the first few weeks of the strike. We started picketing the payment centers after the first few weeks of the strike, which was pretty effective because we weren't out in some isolated area in front of a garage. People can pick up and drop off equipment like routers at the payment centers, as well as upgrade or downgrade service and pay their bills.

Amanda: In Astoria, everyone knew what was going on with the strike, because of the noise we were making on the picket lines.

Suhan: You should've seen how it went on the Upper East Side. Those people were so quick to call the police.

Lisa: Those rich people didn't like it, huh? We went to John Quigley's house [another Spectrum executive] out in New Jersey last weekend to picket, and that was the best thing in the world. The cop who was there told us, "As soon as it's 10:30 a.m., you can make as much noise as you want."

A neighbor came out, and she was yelling and screaming because she wanted us away from their house. The cop explained things to her and told her the law. So then she called the cops on the cop, and demanded his supervisor come out and discipline him for not enforcing the law. But there was nothing they could do.

WHAT WERE some of the other tactics that strikers used?

Beata: We got a resolution together and asked Local 3 to get introductions to other unions to start raising money for our strike fund. We went ahead and started contacting the heads of unions and asking them to start making donations to our Emergency Hardship fund.

We're also reaching out to people who support us to help. Other members also started a Twitter campaign and started spreading our story on social media, which has been great.

AT WHAT point did you all realize you had to start organizing on your own to win the strike?

Amanda: When people stopped coming to the picket lines. And there was a week when we saw 10-20 people turn scab and cross the lines. That's when we knew we had to start doing something to keep people from crossing.

Beata: There was also a push for a City Council subcommittee to investigate its franchise agreement with Spectrum, but I found out that subcommittee didn't have much teeth to do anything.

Amanda: We had so much hope after the New York City Council meeting earlier in the summer. We really thought, "Oh, these people are with us! They're going to make something happen!" And then a week went by. And another week. And it seemed like it was just really for show, so we realized, "Okay, we've really got to start doing something."

SO WHAT are you currently working on?

Beata: We've set up our own Emergency Hardship fund that we're using to help people in dire need. As we raise more money, we're using it to keep people from getting evicted from their apartments or losing their homes or keeping their utilities on. We've already helped one family avoid eviction, and we're going to keep actively working.

We're also going to rally at Spectrum headquarters on August 9, and we're continuing to reinforce picket lines across New York and New Jersey.

Amanda: The mass pickets are also really starting to build momentum. So that's helping a lot, too. When other strikers are seeing our pictures we share of hundreds of members out at a picket line, it's helping us recruit people to get more active.

IS THERE anything else you would want people to know about the strike?

Lisa: Yes. We will fight to the end.

Beata: I think that we all want to rely on someone else to solve our problems, but if we want something done, we have to find a way to contribute, and not just wait around for someone else.

Lisa: We're also fighting for the future. It's not just about us. It's about the future of our union.

Amanda: With a strike, you'll see a lot of disappointment. People will always think about "me, me, me," but people need to understand there's a bigger picture here. People need to learn what a union really is and how beneficial they are for us. We can't allow our unions to get busted.

Suhan: This strike is about the bigger fight between corporations and workers. I believe this is part of a war being waged against organized labor, and the corporations' efforts are only increasing. The only way to combat the type and scale of their attack is through awareness, education, and organizing.

Categories: Political Action

These mechanics want to fix past concessions

Socialist Worker - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 01:00

Dennis Kosuth reports from Chicago on a strike that put the brake on greedy dealers.

Mechanics take to the picket line in Chicago (Dennis Kosuth | SW)

SOME 1,700 auto mechanics in Chicago put down their tools and picked up picket signs this past week, effectively shutting down service at around 130 new car dealerships.

Represented by Automobile Mechanics' Local 701, which is part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union voted 1,221 to 169 to reject management's latest offer, and the strike began on August 1.

"We provided the dealer association with a comprehensive and realistic proposal," said Local 701 Directing Business Representative Sam Cicinelli in a statement. "We fix things--that's what we do for a living. We're trying to fix this industry. Apparently, the New Car Dealer Committee feels much differently. Their greed continues to drive our industry in a downward spiral circling the bowl. That's not what our members want. So together they made a decision to stand up and fight."

Of the approximately 420 new car dealerships in the Chicago area, 160 are unionized, with 30 of the locations on a different contact schedule, and therefore not striking. While there have been smaller strikes against individual owners in the past, the last time this many auto repair workers were on strike was 1994. According to one worker who struck last time, the four-day stoppage was not successful.

What you can do

Come down to the picket lines and show your support. To find the closest picket line, look at this map.

The local took concessions in contracts following the 2007-08 economic crisis, when new car sales took a nosedive from 16 million annually in 2006 to less than 10 million by 2009. Not only were many consumers unable to afford a new car in times of economic uncertainty, but the credit sections of automakers were unable to offer loans and leases to customers who did want to buy.

General Motors and Chrysler were bailed out by the federal government to the tune of almost $80 billion, and the creditors that facilitate sales and are owned by the auto giants received $17 billion of that. All but $9.3 billion of the bailout was paid back to the government, with the rest picked up by taxpayers.

There was also a federal program called the Cars Allowance Rebate System, more commonly known as "cash for clunkers." Outside of transferring $3 billion more of federal tax money into the pockets of manufacturers and dealerships, it is dubious that this program significantly stimulated the economy.

The companies that were bailed out have all since become profitable again, hiring thousands of workers. Meanwhile, in the same time period, the union's contracts gave concessions to dealerships around health care and wages, and workers' wages have effectively decreased.

The more than $12 billion transferred to the auto companies and their subsidiaries include federal tax dollars paid from auto repair mechanics, whose wages and living standards suffered as a result of a financial crisis they had no hand in creating. This is another example of the truth of a popular Occupy Wall Street slogan: "The banks got bailed out; we got sold out."

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WORKERS ARE therefore completely justified in their struggle to gain back all they've lost over the years. But their demands are not limited to wages.

One of the issues is fairness around work hours. Alex, a veteran mechanic, said, "people don't understand that we can work for 40 hours, and only get paid for 34. When people hear that, they don't think it's legal, but it is here."

The industry standard is currently incentive-based piecework. There is a number of hours that manufacturers determine a job should take, and this is what the customer is billed.

Regardless of whether a mechanic is able to finish the job slower or faster than the accepted amount of time, they receive a set amount of pay. Management can therefore play favorites or punish troublemakers by unequally distributing jobs that are known to take less or more time than the standards state.

According to Alex:

We don't get paid by the hour. Every job takes a certain time, and it's a race to beat that time. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose, and if you lose big, nobody gives you more. One guy could be putting in an engine, which would take a long time--another could be doing what used to be called tune-ups, which are quick. My dealer is fair about it, but I know other places where a few guys book 60 or 70 hours a week, and the rest only book 35 hours a week.

Under the union contract, workers are currently guaranteed a 34-hour minimum week. One of the demands is a 40-hour guarantee, which would be a step toward equalizing the pay differences.

Another issue is for the fair advancement of workers. Much like the skilled trades, there is an apprenticeship program for workers to advance their abilities. Management also has control over if unskilled or semi-skilled workers can advance, therefore arbitrarily limiting their advancement and therefore their pay and job security.

"You can get hired as a lube tech and stay there for 10 years, semi-skilled, doing the same thing, and they don't have to move you up," according to Juan. "It used to be a four-year apprenticeship program, and now it's eight years to become a journeyman and get full pay."

Regarding health care, there were previous contracts when mechanics paid nothing. Today, they currently put $40 a month towards insurance, and management wants that number to go up further. "More and more healthcare costs are slowly being put upon us," said a veteran mechanic, "and if we don't fight, we will end up paying it all. In the non-union shops some are paying $1,200 a month for health care."

There were plans for bargaining to take place on the third day of the strike, but since it didn't happen, the picket lines will likely remain in place for another week.

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SUPPORT HAS been excellent so far, say strikers. "People are passing by all day long and supporting us--all these people honking are giving us energy," said one.

Workers at one dealership who had yet to negotiate their first contract since recently joining Local 701 have been on the receiving end of the worst treatment. Management's claims that since they don't have a contact, they aren't allowed to strike.

The bosses have sent letters via FedEx to the home of each striker, stating that their health insurance coverage has been canceled, that the dealers advertising for scabs and that strikers are responsible for picking up their own tools, which are stored in huge metal boxes the size of sedans.

Unlike most workers, auto repair mechanics are responsible for buying their own tools, which are amassed over many years and are worth tens of thousands of dollars. The Napleton Cadillac dealership in Libertyville, Illinois moved the strikers' toolboxes out of the garage and into the lot. When it started to rain, management pushed the toolboxes back inside--except for one, owned by a 35-year veteran, that was left to rust, because the toolbox supposedly became stuck in the asphalt.

The strike has won strong solidarity. Picket lines have been honored by UPS drivers, car haulers, union freight drivers and dealership workers represented by other unions. In about 75 dealerships, porters and parts department workers are represented by Teamsters Local 731. While their contract doesn't expire until August of next year, they are permitted to honor the picket lines of their colleagues.

Marcos, a union porter who is honoring the mechanics' picket lines, said:

This strike has brought us together. People who never talked to each other are talking to each other. We've strengthened the bonds with co-workers. I'm a member of Teamsters 731, which is a different union, but we are all in this together. We work in the same building, and when our contract comes up for renegotiation, I would hope they would be standing by us as well.

According to a picket captain at another dealership: "Being out here on the line, we've grown closer with guys I didn't know before. I knew their names before, but now we've become one unit, standing together, coming up with ideas on how to work through scheduling, and so forth and so on. We're now one on one with each other."

Categories: Political Action

An iron glove on a hand of clay

Socialist Worker - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 01:00

Léon Crémieux, an activist in the Solidaires trade union federation and the New Anti-Capitalist Party, looks at the political situation in France after the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the presidential election and the outcome of the parliamentary election that gave his newly formed La République En Marche a clear majority, in an article published in English translation at International Viewpoint.

French President Emmanuel Macron (Jeso Carneiro | flickr)

THE DOMINANT class in France and in Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief at the outcome of the French electoral cycle. The system of political representation in France appeared completely in ruins in early spring 2017. Now the country has ended up with an ultra-neoliberal president equipped with a strong state and an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

The way seems open to restabilizing the political edifice of bourgeois domination. And we are witnessing a real acceleration of the social attacks demanded by the employers' organization, Medef, and some profound challenges to democratic rights. The Assembly is to vote quickly on a law allowing the government to proceed through decrees (bills with the force of law promulgated directly by the government without parliamentary debate and decision) so as to speed up modifications of employment legislation from September. Meanwhile, a new security law will be voted on to make the state of emergency permanent, with exorbitant powers for prefects and the Minister of the Interior, who will no longer need a judicial decision to begin investigation procedures and hearings or to ban demonstrations, place people under house arrest or imprison them.

Behind this façade, several phenomena should be taken into account.

First, the profound discrediting of the political leadership, which has led to a collapse for the Parti Socialiste (PS) and a deep crisis for Les Républicains (LR), has not been erased by the election of Macron. This discrediting has been concretely reflected by a very high level of abstention in the second round of the presidential election and during the parliamentary elections. Twelve million voters abstained in the second round of the presidential election, with 4 million blank ballots, while there was a 51.29 percent abstention rate in the first round of the parliamentary elections, a level never before seen under the Fifth Republic, with a rate of 57.36 percent for the second round.

Thus, in the first round of the presidential election, the number of abstentions and blank ballots was 11.5 million, while Macron won 8.6 million votes or 18.19 percent of those registered, 1.6 million less than Hollande in 2012, nearly 3 million less than Sarkozy in 2007. The candidates of LREM (La République En Marche, the movement launched by Macron) and MODEM (Democratic Movement, founded by François Bayrou) obtained 15.40 percent of the vote in the first round of the parliamentary elections.

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THE CRISIS of representation and legitimacy of the political establishment is still present. The collapse of the PS and the crisis of the LR have made Macron's victory and that of LREM possible, but this should not hide the persistence of this reality.

The mode of scrutiny has accentuated two phenomena:

-- First, the growing lack of interest in the parliamentary elections where the absence of proportional representation and the two round uninominal ballot means that it isn't really possible to vote for the candidates of one's choice;

-- This type of ballot gives an unbelievable bonus to the party with a relative majority: with 13.44 percent of the votes of those registered (28.21 percent of those who actually voted), LREM won 53.37 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. Faced with this, the Front National only took 1.3 percent of the seats in the Assembly, although Marine Le Pen reached the second round of the presidential election and had received 16.14 percent of the votes in the first round.

Thus, immediately after this electoral cycle, the institutional system allows an artificial and temporary resolution of the crisis of political domination, whereas in numerous other European countries, a chaotic situation continues.

Despite an unprecedented media campaign lauding the president and his majority, the facts are stubborn: there is no loyalty among youth and the popular classes to the new presidential coupling of Macron and Édouard Philippe.

This reality is in no way being ignored by the new president. On the contrary, lessons have been drawn from the previous presidency in which Hollande and Valls encountered a strong popular mobilization, an unprecedented level of discontent and an inability to hold together a parliamentary majority on major projects.

Macron wants to quickly implement a series of ultra-neoliberal reforms which obviously runs the risk of coming up against the same obstacles.

Certainly, he can rely on an apparently very strong base in the National Assembly, where the majority is 289 seats. The LREM parliamentary group has 314 deputies and its allies in François Bayrou's MODEM have 47. The crisis following these elections has also caused a split in LR, leading to a new group known as "Les constructifs," bringing together the centrists of the UDI and some of the deputies elected under the LR label, or 35 deputies in all.

But the current picture could change in the coming months. Thus, Macron will use the system of decrees that involves having a blank check from the Assembly to legislate a further dismantling of the employment code.

Also, he wants to introduce institutional reforms that will deepen the presidential character of the regime. In this sense, Macron has stressed a symbolism playing on the monarchical aspect of the presidency and his function as chief of staff--such as going down the Champs-Elysées in a command car the day after his election and receiving Vladimir Putin at Versailles. Also, taking as model the U.S. presidential system, Macron convened the members of the Assembly and Senate in Congress for a speech along the lines of the "State of the Union."

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PLAYING ON these symbols is partly an attempt to restore a strong image of the president, an image which was heavily eroded under Hollande. But behind the image, there is a reality.

Emmanuel Macron wants to accelerate France's passage towards ordoliberalism, a system that combines a deeper challenge to the redistributive functions of the state and an acceleration of the attacks against the whole system of social protection (health insurance, pensions, unemployment benefits) with a stronger executive power and further erosion of democratic rights. Meanwhile, his behavior displays a class contempt which is even more patent than that of Nicolas Sarkozy.

The evidence is that the aggressive nature of his social policy of austerity and of challenging social rights will not generate any more popular support than was the case under Sarkozy or Hollande. Also, Macron's whole goal is to advance rapidly without fear of institutional blockage or too much pressure from social mobilizations.

So we should not underestimate the turning point that these tendencies represent. LREM has not simply replaced the old traditional parties; the goal is also to change a number of rules in terms of institutional functioning. Macron was shaped by the institutions of the Fifth Republic and will accentuate the rules of the strong state.

At the international level, Macron will intensify the ongoing military interventions in Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, after the German general election in September, the French and German leaders can be expected to resume a joint offensive to accelerate a reorganization of the European Union.

Faced with this remodeling, the two traditional parties are in deep crisis. The Parti Socialiste is clinically dead. LREM has taken a good half of its electorate and a similar proportion of the local leaders who make up its base. The PS's parliamentary representation, now called Nouvelle Gauche, is reduced to 31 deputies, one-tenth of what it had in the previous assembly. Nearly all the PS leadership has been eliminated. Two opposed trends are at work: one prefigured by Manuel Valls, which seeks to integrate itself somehow or other with the presidential majority, without for the moment having any distinct political project. The other is led by Benoît Hamon who, by constituting a new "July 1st movement" seeks to reconstitute a "classic" social democratic party on an anti-neoliberal basis to recover the 25percent of the socialist electorate who opted for La France Insoumise and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This project now exists only on paper. The leadership apparatus of the PS is completely paralyzed, Macron and LREM occupying the place previously occupied by the PS of Hollande/Valls.

That does not mean that the page of neoliberal social democracy has been turned in France. LREM is a very fragile political structure, even if its leader wants to project an image of hyper-stability. It is not a party, it has no elected leadership body, the parliamentary group and the local spokesperson are a heterogeneous conglomerate. Several hypotheses can be advanced as to its future, but it is highly possible that some kind of social-liberal current will recompose if Macron encounters obstacles to his current dynamic.

Things are to some degree simpler with relation to LR. Highly shaken by the Fillon episode and the coming to power of a Juppé supporter as prime minister, we can say that the party apparatus is in flux. But it is henceforth divided between its "constructive" wing and its more reactionary sectors. Here again, Macron occupies the terrain of the neoliberal management of the affairs of the bourgeoisie, and the leaders of LR have little political space for the moment.

Finally, the Front National (FN), despite its great success at the presidential election, has arrived at a crossroads. It has been unable to form a parliamentary group and is marginalized in terms of the parliamentary game. However, it can think that time is on its side and that the political crisis will be still greater after five years of Macron's austerity policies. The successful rooting of the FN among the reactionary electorate of the popular layers could also impel the party to seek to profit from the crisis of the traditional right. Marine Le Pen's project of changing the party's name and openness to a policy of alliances like that realised with Dupont-Aignan for the presidential election seeks to seduce the most right wing layers of LR. In all cases, the FN with its kernel of neo-fascist leaders is just as big a danger as ever for the workers' movement.

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THE WHOLE question in the coming months for the radical left will lie in the capacity of reaction and mobilisation against Macron's projects. The points of support to launch this resistance are very broad in the social movement.

There is still a debate among the leadership of the trade union movement on the legitimacy of the president which makes it difficult to challenge these decisions. The false idea is advanced that it is necessary to await the concrete outcome of governmental decisions before opposing them and that the president and the government still enjoy broad support, even among the popular layers and youth. The leadership of Force ouvrière, at least, argue for this position and more generally the union leaderships have kept a low profile during and since the elections.

Despite this, numerous local demonstrations are already afoot. Combative trades unionists organizing around the Front Social thus mobilized immediately after the elections, with some CGT sections and the support of Solidaires. In numerous regions, genuine inter-union connections have been established. The CGT has called for a one-day strike on September 12 against the decrees. Numerous protests have also taken place against the attacks on democratic rights and the attempt to render the provisions of the state of emergency permanent.

But everyone knows that the challenge is on another scale and that what is needed is a mobilization still more powerful than that of the movement against the El Khomri law in spring 2016 to block Macron's attacks and destabilize his government.

The forces to do this exist and the exasperation among the youth and popular layers is not extinguished by the media campaign portraying the country as pacified by the new president. But what is needed is the capacity to rally them in the context of unitary mobilizations on all the questions posed.

At the political level, La France Insoumise (FI) occupies the space of parliamentary opposition, along with the Communist Party (PCF) deputies (the collapse of the PS allowed the PCF to win 11 deputies and form a parliamentary group with the support of deputies from France's overseas territories).

But several questions remain unsettled. La France Insoumise based its success on the collapse of the PS and its future remains uncertain. Jean-Luc Mélenchon scuttled the Front de Gauche and also any electoral alliance with the PCF. He nonetheless attracted at least 25 percent of PS voters. Also, the FI attracted a great number of activists in the social movements during the presidential and parliamentary electoral campaigns. It is nonetheless not a new party, nor even a place of democratic debate between the diverse components which make it up, without mentioning Mélenchon's numerous chauvinist orientations in a series of areas.

The question remains of organizing the anti-capitalists present in the revolutionary organizations and the social movements to constitute a political force which can meet the current challenge. The coming months will necessitate the construction of initiatives for unitary mobilizations on social questions, in defense of civil liberties and against police violence and French and EU policies in relation to migrants. These represent important tasks for revolutionaries, and in the first place for the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA).

Macron's France will undoubtedly not be pacified for very long.

First published at International Viewpoint.

Categories: Political Action