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Immigration police grab two more activists

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 01:00

Owen La Farge and Steve Ramey report from Vermont on more detentions of immigrant farmworker activists who have been courageously standing up for their rights.

Esau Peche-Ventura (left) and Yesenia Hernández-Ramos on a farmworkers' march for justice in Vermont (Migrant Justice)

THE FEDERAL government is continuing its war on Vermont's immigrant dairy workers who are fighting for their rights.

Two more workers organizing with the immigrant rights organization Migrant Justice were arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection just hours after they had participated in the group's 13-mile-long March for Milk with Dignity.

On June 17, more than 200 farm workers and supporters marched 13 miles from the Vermont State House to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury, Vermont to demand that the company sign a contract to improve working conditions on dairy farms in the state. Later that day, Yesenia Hernández-Ramos and Esau Peche-Ventura, two immigrant workers who participated in the historic march, were arrested at a traffic stop.

Two actions were called for the following day at the facilities where the two were being held, each drawing more than 30 people. Chants outside the facilities included, "¡Yesenia, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!" and "¡Esau, Yesenia! ¡El pueblo se levanta!".

Migrant Justice campaigner Brendan O'Neil spoke at the action outside the facility where Yesenia was being held about the courage of migrant workers to protest even when they know they could face political targeting by ICE. As O'Neil said:

Those workers were sacrificing, willingly and knowingly, something that could happen along these lines...ICE is serving the function of driving workers across this country--this is not just a Vermont issue--into enduring and sucking up terrible, deplorable workplace conditions because of the fear this creates.

Most of the workers and their supporters marched the full 13 miles on June 17 in order to send a powerful message about the campaign's strength. Enrique Balcazar, a leader in Migrant Justice who was himself abducted and targeted for deportation by ICE in March, urged the crowd at the final rally:

We are fathers, we are mothers, we are youths with dreams of a better life, and right now we find ourselves under attack from new policies of immigration coming down from the federal government. And in this environment of attack, the only thing that we can do is redouble our efforts to fight for and secure every one of our human rights.

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MIGRANT JUSTICE has been calling for Ben & Jerry's to sign and implement the Milk with Dignity program that the famous ice cream company agreed to in 2015, but has taken no action to implement since.

Vermont's immigrant dairy farm workers often face wage theft, 70- to 80-hour workweeks without overtime pay, going days at a time without eight consecutive hours off, substandard housing conditions housing on farms that lack drinking water, and many other intolerable conditions.

As dairy workers have organized to resist these injustices, their bosses have been aided by the government, which, instead of detecting and punishing violations of labor law, is carrying out raids against workers who are protesting the violations.

Last year, ICE targeted Migrant Justice activist Victor Diaz. This year, immigration agents detained Migrant Justice activists Balcazar and Zully Palacios, and deported Alex Carrillo away from his wife and daughter, who are American citizens.

And as of the writing of this article, Migrant Justice's Facebook page has been reported and taken down.

We face the harsh reality that the government and the business class that run this society want to remove any glimmer of hope from the immigrant community. They want immigrant workers--and others besides--to be voiceless and too terrified to do anything other than accept appalling conditions and miserable wages.

In many cases, Migrant Justice activists have been the best hope the immigrant community has had for a better life--which is why these activists are under attack. Their courage in face of the most powerful government in the world targeting them has been an inspiration--and is a clear lesson to the rest of the labor movement: If we fight, we may lose, but if we don't fight, we will have already lost.

Categories: Political Action

Mourning and marching after the Grenfell fire

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Close to 100 people are dead and possibly more after the fire in Grenfell Tower, a public housing tower block in West London. This tragedy exposes everything wrong with a society ruled by a Conservative Party government that puts the profits and power of a few ahead of the livelihood--and the lives--of the many.

The fire came less than a week after a general election in which the Labour Party, led by left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, outdid all expectations, and the Tory government of Prime Minister Theresa May lost its majority in parliament. May is attempting to stay in power through a deal with a right-wing party, but her position was weakened further after the nightmare of the Grenfell fire showed the human cost of years of neglect and austerity.

Millions of people who celebrated Corbyn's showing in early June were horrified by the fire and outraged by the needless toll in human lives. Rob Owen of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century and a co-editor of its website talked to Alan Maass about the surge of anger and protest following the fire, how it was connected to political organizing around housing issues before, and what it might mean for the future.

Protesters take to the streets in London after the Grenfell Tower fire (Wasi Daniju | flickr)

THE GRENFELL Tower fire has aroused so much anger, not only toward Theresa May and her government, but the whole system that breeds austerity and inequality. Can you talk about some of the reasons why that is?

ONE OF the things that makes the sight of the tower so powerful is that it's this skeletal image standing in the midst of an area of extraordinary wealth.

For readers who might not be aware, Kensington and Chelsea, where the Grenfell Tower was situated, is one of the richest areas of London. So on Friday, when a march went from the local town hall to the tower--a march called by residents who had occupied the town hall earlier in the day--you walked past houses that wouldn't have looked out of place in Beverly Hills, costing millions and millions of pounds.

Then you turn a corner, and you hit the housing estate where Grenfell Tower stood.

There are about 4,500 tower blocks in a similar condition around the country, according to the figures cited in the media. What most local councils have done is gradually let them get run down, in the hope that tenants move out. So Grenfell Tower was neglected for long periods of time.

Then, some 8.7 million pounds was spent on refurbishing the tower in construction that ended a year ago. But large amounts of that went for cosmetic changes. One of the main causes of the fire--or at least one of the main reasons it spread so quickly--is that the outer cladding put on during the refurbishment was made of a material that was flammable.

The statistic that has gone all over the Internet and is being talked about constantly in workplaces is that for the cost of an additional 2 pounds per square meter, they could have put fire-resistant cladding on the building.

One factor that the media haven't picked up on as much--but which campaigners and community activists have, and which has a strong resonance--is how the questions of racism and migration tie into the tower fire.

Large numbers of the people living in Grenfell Tower would have been first- or second-generation migrants--people who had sought refuge in this country. One of the first known victims of the fire was a young boy who had come over from Syria as a refugee. So the racial dimensions of housing, particularly social housing, and austerity have come to the fore in a very sharp way.

And all this is coming shortly after the election, where Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party did unexpectedly well. So there was already an environment where people were talking in more class-based terms than usual. The Grenfell Tower fire coming at the moment it did has crystallized that mood.

After the protest on Friday, hearing the slogans that people raised, it's hard to imagine how a moderate response that doesn't deal with those issues is going to contain the political anger that's being expressed.

You can even see it reflected in the establishment media. There was an interview between Theresa May and a BBC journalist shortly after she went to the site of the fire for the first time and refused to meet residents--and you could see the BBC presenter shaking with fury as May refused to answer her questions.

One of the things that's hit popular consciousness is the number of statements made by leading Tory politicians that damn them completely. For example, David Cameron, the former prime minister, made a speech about making a "bonfire of regulations." This was only a few years after a Tory minister, Eric Pickles, refused to make sprinkler systems compulsory in council housing.

People are beginning to understand the situation that local councils have been faced with during this whole era: On the one hand, the government says it wants councils to add sprinkler systems in housing or use fire-resistant cladding, but doesn't make this compulsory. Then, on the other hand, it massively reduces the funding available to local councils, so they can't carry out anything more than the most marginal of repairs.

CAN YOU talk about the protest marches last week and what might come next?

THERE WERE two marches on that Friday. One was the planned march that a lot of people had started the day with the intention of attending. It started outside the ministry responsible for housing, with plans to march to Downing Street and the BBC.

That demonstration was called by a traditional alliance of trade union groups and established left and housing campaigns. On Facebook, the numbers of people saying they would attend exploded through the course of the day.

Many rs21 members went to a second demonstration in response to a call that went out that afternoon when a number of the Grenfell Tower residents occupied the Kensington Town Hall.

By the time people finished work and got to the town hall, there was already a protest of several hundred people, including tenants who had occupied to demand answers, and then voted to leave and have a rally on the steps to further their demands.

As the evening progressed, I think large numbers of people who were planning to attend the first demonstration in central London started to flow across into west London to the protest at the town hall. By the time the organizers called for the demonstration to march, there was well over a thousand people--predominantly local residents and working class, with relatively few people from the organized left.

I think what made this demonstration so powerful was the combination of slogans that you might traditionally hear radical students chanting--about bringing down the government, about austerity, about neoliberalism, about who was to blame--coming from middle-aged men and women, most of them Black or minority, in a community where the left had probably not spoken to people in a significant way in a very long time.

One of the things that I thought was most powerful about the demonstration was that it was both incredibly angry, but at the same time incredibly somber.

Around the tower and the surrounding area, there are a large number of posters that people have put up with pictures of those still missing. Obviously, if those people who are missing were in the tower, it's overwhelmingly likely that they died.

So on the march, people would switch between chanting for the government to go, for May to fall, saying that she had blood on her hands--and then suddenly crying as they remembered their relatives and talking to each other about the situation.

The demonstration was punctuated by street meetings. Two or three people brought microphones and speaker systems with them, so periodically, the demonstration would stop, and residents or friends of residents or family of residents would get on the microphone and talk about the politics of the situation, how they felt, who was to blame.

They would talk about the difference in how working class people, and Black working class people in particular, are treated--but also who should be held accountable.

It was an incredibly poignant moment when the demonstration reached the bottom of the tower. As I was saying, the march went from the town hall through some of the richest parts of London, past these incredibly large houses and wide streets.

And there was a massively varied response. Bus drivers and working-class people would cheer on the march and join the demonstration. But there were nervous looks from the wealthier residents, who were unsure what to make of it and clearly not entirely comfortable with the part of the community that's generally kept out of sight marching through the town center.

The demonstration put the blame very clearly on the government--on the decisions that leading Tory politicians have made over the last five or six years, which created a situation where something like Grenfell Tower could easily have happened in many, many places in the UK.

It's still very early and difficult to tell exactly what form the movement will take around Grenfell Tower. A demonstration that was going to take place on Saturday was postponed as housing activists and Grenfell residents talked about what the next round of protest should look like.

There's going to be a demonstration in two weeks' time on July 1, called by a coalition of the left, including people around Jeremy Corbin, to demand the fall of the government. This was called immediately after the election, but the Grenfell Tower fire will clearly take center stage.

ONE OF the horrible ironies of the fire is that there were residents in Grenfell Tower organizing against conditions and warning of the threat of a deadly tower fire. What has the movement around public housing looked like before this?

PARTICULARLY IN London, the housing crisis has been a major area of tension for quite a number of years. Social housing has been run down, and rents paid on privately owned accommodations now make up an astronomical amount of people's income.

The housing campaigns have run on two separate tracks. On the one hand, there are the traditional campaigns defending council housing, often run by established figures of the wider left of the Labour left, which have fought going back decades to stop the selloff of council housing to private landlords.

But alongside that, there are resident committees and tenant association fighting quite bitter and radicalizing campaigns to defend the housing blocks that they're in. There are a number of high-profile campaigns like this around London--including the Grenfell Action Group, made up of the tenants who had been campaigning for investment in the building for a number of years, all the while warning of a possible catastrophe.

The Grenfell Action Group has its own blog and website and ran a really persistent campaign, particularly targeting what's called an "arms-length management organization."

These exist in councils across London, where responsibility for social housing that is notionally in the hands of the councils is passed off to a kind of quasi-independent body that's wholly owned by the council. That body becomes a kind of buffer between the council and local residents over questions of failures to do repairs or health and safety concerns.

The Grenfell Action Group had been fighting a long and bitter battle against the management organization, trying to hold particular councilors and particular officials to account.

One of things the media is now reporting--as they go back through what isn't an atypical story of a group of residents fighting their council--is the difficulty the Grenfell Action Group had in pinning anyone down to a sense of accountability.

This is typical of what's happened with local government--accountability and responsibility have become so diffuse that it's very difficult for residents to work out how they could have some sort of democratic control over what's supposed to be social housing.

In the last few years, alongside the more traditional campaigns, a more radical housing campaign has emerged in London called the Radical Housing Network, which grouped together resident associations that want to fight with wider political groups that have campaigned over the question of housing and the right to a decent place to live in London.

Up until now, many demonstrations have targeted private property developers, because the cutting edge of the housing campaign was trying to stop councils from shutting down or demolishing former social housing so the land could be sold off to property developers to build new developments with a very limited social housing component.

But in the aftermath of the fire, the close relationship between the tenant group, which is very well rooted among the Grenfell residents, and a layer of the radical left organizing around housing issues has been important.

These activists have been able to articulate the demands of the residents when it's been difficult for the residents themselves to do so--when they've been more concerned with how to house people who lost their homes or how to demand accountability about the numbers of people who have died.

That relationship has been quite a key point in getting a radical interpretation to reach the media--in a way that it's been very hard for anyone to contest.

COULD YOU step back and talk about this radicalizing tragedy in the context of the general election a week before, where Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party did so much better than anyone expected a few months before?

I THINK it's only fair to start by saying that few people were expecting the result we got in the general election. There was a handful of rs21 members, probably those most embedded in the campaign, who were urging people to recognize that something like this could take place, and for members to get more involved in making it happen.

The fact that shocked everyone, as I imagine has been reported in the U.S., is the unprecedented turnout of young voters for Labour.

I was campaigning in the Croydon Central constituency, which is a seat Labour took from the Tories--Gavin Barwell, the MP who lost his seat, is now a senior adviser to Theresa May at Number 10, responsible for dealing with things like the Grenfell disaster.

But the results we were getting from canvasing gave us no sense of the degree of the shift that would take place.

I think it's only possible to understand what happened if you credit Corbin's ability to get his message out to the general public--despite being undermined by Labour Party MPs, despite the media silence about what he was saying.

In the weeks running up to the election, his message spread rapidly around social media. The strategy of the Corbyn team of holding mass rallies in areas where Labour had their safest seats--a strategy that was pilloried as pointless at the time by the right wing of the Labour party--created a buzz and a momentum akin to what you would try to do in building a social movement.

I think one of the reasons Corbyn's message resonated so strongly with a younger audience is the lived experience of austerity. All the warnings from the establishment and the Tory smears against Corbyn didn't connect with a generation that has lived under kind of many, many years of Tory rule and continuing austerity.

Being presented with an alternative to all that is something that really struck people.

After the election, that mood has caught on with wider sections of the population, People talk much more explicitly in class terms. The idea that Corbyn's proposals could become reality--that increased taxation could actually bring large amounts of money into education and health care--has transformed the political landscape. People are thinking not just about the process of stopping the cuts, but actually making things better.

Meanwhile, the Tory Party is in a state of total crisis. Theresa May looks like a defeated figure, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond came out twice in two days to publicly put a knife her in her front, not her back--first about her suitability to be prime minister, and then over the question of the Brexit plan she's trying to deliver.

It seems like the establishment has become distrustful of its own weapon--distrustful of the Tory Party that it traditionally used to force through its policies. And there doesn't seem to be anyone coming to the fore who is capable of resolving the crisis.

That's the context for May coming to Grenfell Tower the first time after the fire, when the residents booed her and chanted for her to go. Then, Corbyn arrived later to walk around the site and talk to ordinary people, and he was mobbed like a hero.

If it wasn't for the election that preceded it, I'm not sure the political response to the Grenfell Tower fire would have been the same. The immediate call for massive government investment in sprinkler systems across the country seems like it was possible because people had come to the conclusion, as a result of the election, that real change was a realistic option.

Jeremy Corbyn has positioned himself as waiting in the wings to become prime minister after the next election--whether it comes in a couple months' time if the May government collapses or two years' time, which is the program that the government seems to have set itself to try to get through the initial talks on "Brexit" from the European Union.

What Grenfell Tower has done in this context is to show the human cost of austerity in such a powerful way--in a way, tragically, that I'm not sure much else would have. And it's clear that the right doesn't have any kind of response.

There's been such a change in mood that even the media has to respond to events in a different way, and it seems impossible for the government, no matter what the situation, to put a foot right.

In those circumstances, you get a sense that the actions of even small sections of the extra-parliamentary left can be quite significant in taking the momentum of the election campaign into social campaigns that now have a realistic prospect of bringing down the government.

For many, many years, the left has had slogans and an analysis about how the Tory government is nasty and weak. The fact that it's weak now is beyond question for millions and millions of people.

And there's a sentiment not only that one big push could get rid of a rotten government and replace it with something similar. Now there's an expectation that getting rid of May will result in a government with a reform program quite unlike anything I've ever experienced in my political lifetime.

That will pose its own kind of problems and strategic questions, both for the Labour Party itself and for those of us on the revolutionary left. But for certain we can say that the entire political world around us has changed completely in the last four months.

Categories: Political Action

A political prisoner is freed from ICE's grasp

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Danny Katch reports on the successful effort to win the release of Claudia Rueda, an immigrant organizer who was kidnapped by vindictive immigration authorities.

Teachers and activists rally to demand the release of Claudia Rueda from ICE detention

CLAUDIA RUEDA, a Cal State Los Angeles (CSULA) student and immigrants rights activist, was released from the Otay Mesa Detention Center on June 9--but still faces the threat of deportation from a vindictive and dishonest immigration bureaucracy.

"I just want to say thank you to everyone across the state that has been helping me," Rueda said to supporters after her three-week imprisonment had ended, "and to not forget about other people who are detained, who are in my shoes, and that we need to keep fighting for everyone who's being detained in this unjust immigration system."

Rueda is correct that there are many more immigrants wronged by Donald Trump's ramped-up deportation machinery, but her particular story encapsulates much of the immorality and impunity that is taking place around the country under the guise of enforcing immigration law.

Claudia, who has lived in the U.S. for 15 of her 22 years, was targeted by the Border Patrol after she helped lead a successful campaign to free her mother who had been wrongfully detained in April in a Border Patrol drug raid.

What you can do

Sign a petition to demand that ICE take Claudia Rueda out of removal proceedings and allow her to apply for DACA.

Immigration agents got their revenge, as described in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece written by two professors at CSULA:

On the morning of May 18, Cal State Los Angeles student Claudia Rueda disappeared in East L.A. The 22-year-old immigrant rights activist stepped outside her aunt's home to move her mother's car for street cleaning, but never returned. Hours later her family learned that she had been surrounded by three unmarked cars carrying an estimated nine plainclothes Customs and Border Protection officers who whisked her off to a detention center 130 miles away.

As the agents looked for Claudia in her Boyle Heights neighborhood, they accosted neighbors on their way to work and detained six other people--four of whom were immediately deported to Tijuana without a court appearance.

As they did with Claudia's mother, the Border Patrol falsely claimed that the seven detentions were part of operation against "a cross-border narcotics smuggling operation." But all seven people were arrested on immigration violations rather than drug charges.

Once Rueda was in custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--which hadn't been involved in her initial arrest--decided a to keep her in detention without bond, a decision the judge in her case called "unduly severe."

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CLAUDIA'S CASE illustrates many of the most troubling trends that have emerged in the four months since Trump has taken the controls of Barack Obama's deportation machine.

The first has been a willingness--more like an enthusiasm--for going after all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their criminal record or levels of community support.

"Most of the criminal aliens we find in the interior of the United States, they entered as a non-criminal," said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan to the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee. "If we wait for them to violate yet another law against a citizen of this country, then it's too late. We shouldn't wait for them to become a criminal."

"If you're in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable," he ominously added. "You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried."

But ICE and the Border Patrol have continually used deception and outright lies to create the impression that the people they are detaining and deporting are dangerous criminals when often their only crimes are immigration violations or traffic offenses.

Trump recently that he would continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary legal status to many who migrated to the U.S. as children--but his actions have told a different story.

Claudia Rueda is one of many DACA-eligible youth who have been targeted for deportation (she couldn't afford DACA's $465 application fee), and the numbers who have been stripped of their DACA status has increased 25 percent from this time last year.

Rueda's case also fits a pattern of activists being targeted for deportation, from Daniela Vargas in Mississippi--who was arrested shortly after speaking at an immigrants right rally, to the series of arrests of Vermont dairy farmer activists--most recently Esau Peche-Ventura and Yesenia Hernández-Ramos just hours after they participated in day of action against Ben & Jerry's.

If the face of this campaign of fear, Claudia Rueda's fellow organizers in the Immigrant Youth Coalition, as well as the National Day Laborer's Organizing Network and other groups, kept up the pressure to win her release.

Also stepping forward was United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), whose chapter at Roosevelt High School (RHS)--Claudia's alma mater--organized a Free Claudia Rueda press conference on June 15. Featured speakers included a number of Rueda's former teachers at RHS and the current president of the RHS MEChA club Edna Galaviz, as well as Luz Borjón Montalvo, coordinator of the Dreamers Resource Center at CSULA.

UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye spoke about her family's story of internment during World War II, and connected that to the urgent need to stand up for immigrants like Claudia today.

The support of unions like the UTLA is important and needs to increase if we are going to build a movement strong enough to defend Claudia Rueda and millions more of our immigrant friends, neighbors and loved ones.

Categories: Political Action

Shot while her kids listened

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Amad Ross reports on a deadly visit by the Seattle Police Department that left Charleena Lyles' four kids without a mother--and the protests that followed.

Activists demonstrate against the police murder of Charleena Lyles in Seattle

TWO SEATTLE police officers shot and killed a pregnant 30-year-old mother of four, Charleena Lyles, on June 18, in the front room of her apartment, while three of her children waited in an adjacent room.

According to police, the officers arrived after a call from Lyles reporting a burglary. Seattle Detective Mark Jamieson told the Seattle Times that the officers received a warning that Lyles was an officer hazard when they responded to the call, suggesting that Lyles had a previous unfavorable encounter with police.

This hazard warning is the reason why two officers were dispatched, rather than one.

In a dash-cam audio recording released by the police, the two officers can be heard discussing an encounter with Lyles prior to the shooting. On June 5, two weeks before her murder, Lyles called police for similar reasons.

"She let them in," says one of the officers, describing the incident while sitting in the parking lot of Lyles' apartment complex, "and then she started talking all crazy...she had a pair of scissors." Eventually, the officers were able to convince Lyles to drop the scissors, leading to a peaceful resolution.

But not on June 18. After the officers discussed the June 5 incident, they entered Lyles' apartment, where she told them about an Xbox that had been stolen. At some point, an altercation ensued, as heard in a disclosed audio recording of the incident. Twenty-five seconds later, following the cry of Lyles' daughter and one officer yelling "Get back!" both officers began shooting.

Charleena Lyles was killed in her own home while three of her children, aged 1, 4 and 11, listened from the other room.

Jamieson says that Lyles was armed with a knife. If this is true, the officers had every opportunity to deal with Lyles peacefully. They knew all about the similar June 5 incident, in which officers said Lyles threatened them in her apartment with scissors, but was talked down without any violence. According to a statement by police, both officers were equipped with "less than lethal force."

Even if the officers didn't have a plan to deal with aggression before entering the apartment, it's hard to imagine how Lyles represented a threat to the officers. Her sister described Charleena as "tiny," and her cousin estimated she was "78 pounds wet."

"What is the reason to use such lethal force?" Lyles' cousin Erneshia Jack told the Guardian. "There are many ways to subdue someone without shooting them. She's not big. She's not intimidating...She called you, and you went to her house and killed her."

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DEADLY INCIDENTS like these aren't rare for the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The SPD has been under a Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree since 2012, following a federal investigation that uncovered a pattern of police abuse and racism.

According to the DOJ website, the investigation found that the SPD has "engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law."

Since the decree, the SPD has altered its image significantly. It has implemented racial sensitivity and de-escalation training and now operates a program for officer-worn body cameras, earning Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole national attention.

But how much has substantively changed remains in question.

Sunday's slaying recalls the murder of Che Taylor, a man shot and killed by Seattle police officers in February 2016. The 46-year-old Black man was approached in his car by two white plainclothes officers. Dash-cam footage showed the officers brandishing an assault rifle and a shotgun, and telling Taylor to exit his vehicle.

Taylor exited the car and got down on the ground, as the police order him to do. Fewer than five seconds later, police opened fire and Che was shot seven times.

Seattle activist and Che's brother Andrè Taylor has been in contact with the Lyles family since the day of the shooting, attempting to help them through a difficult time that he understands well. Barely a year has passed since the police shot and killed Che, yet Taylor must already mourn another casualty of the SPD.

Che Taylor and Charleena Lyles are only two names of many, but two names which we will not soon forget.

On the night of her killing, protesters gathered outside Lyles' apartment, chanting, "We want justice!" and holding candles and signs. Michael Taylor, Lyles's uncle, spoke to them: "This is my family and we're going to be as one. We're not going to stop until we get to the bottom of this."

None of us will.

A rally was called for June 20, and Social Equality Educators, a progressive caucus within the Seattle Education Association, called on its teachers to wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school that day. On June 23, Seattle will march for justice in the name of Charleena Lyles and all other Black women victimized by racist policing.

The SPD has proven to be a bad apple tree, and its roots are rotten. The job falls on us to demand justice for Charleena Lyles and stop the killing at the hands of the police.

Categories: Political Action

Québec Solidaire sets a course for the left

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Benoit Renaud, a member of the Québec solidaire National Coordinating Committee, describes the shifting political terrain in Quebec and considers where social struggles and left politics are headed, in an article first published in Presse-toi à gauche and translated for publication here by Michele Hehn. Renaud's article "New opportunities for Quebec's left" appears in the current issue of the International Socialist Review.

Supporters of Québec Solidaire on the march in Montreal

THE 12th congress of the radical left party Québec solidaire (QS), held in Montreal from May 19-22, 2017, made some major decisions--in particular, to not enter into an electoral pact with the Parti québécois (PQ), Quebec's traditional independence party, before the next elections to the Quebec National Assembly, slated in a year and a half.

To better understand the significance of the conference and these decisions, the following is a brief historical overview, with a brief analysis of recent developments afterward.

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Federalists Versus Sovereigntists

For a long time, the political landscape of Québec was very simple. On the one hand, there was the federalist wing [defenders of Canadian unity], represented by the Parti libéral du Québec (Quebec Liberal Party, or PLQ); on the other, Quebec sovereigntists in the Parti québécois (Quebec Party, or PQ).

This model began to fall apart after the 1995 independence referendum, in which the sovereigntist camp--the OUI ("Yes")--lost the referendum by about 1 percent of the vote, with a total participation of over 95 percent of voters.

First, the rejection of two constitutional agreements by the rest of English-speaking Canada discredited the autonomist perspective for a federalist Quebec with heightened provincial powers. A section of the PLQ broke away to form l'Action démocratique du Québec (Democratic Action of Quebec, or ADQ), a party that remained marginal because of the utopian nature of its main idea: the demand for autonomy. The majority of the PLQ soon became the party of passive acceptance of the constitution imposed on Quebec by the rest of Canada in 1982.

Next, the Parti québécois completely adopted neoliberal economic dogmas, the turning point being the acceptance of a "zero-deficit" policy in 1996. Two forces have undermined the hold of the PQ on its base: Resistance to neoliberalism led by social movements and the persistence of aspirations for independence. The political space represented by these forces was first organized by the Union des forces progressistes (2002-2006), and then by Québec solidaire.

For these parties, the national question and the social question are inseparable: Their vision of a more just Quebec requires powers that come with national independence. At the same time, a strategy for independence must involve mobilizing the majority of the population for greater democracy and social justice.

Québec solidaire's response to the fragile unity (of sovereigntists or of progressives) proposed by the PQ is a project for specifically left unity, making the national question part of a global political project. It therefore provides a space for left militants who, while not necessarily defining themselves as pro-independence ("indépendentistes"), may still wish to join the overall project.

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2006-2011: A Model in Crisis

During the 10 years of its existence, the ADQ was content to be what looked like the eternal third party. Meanwhile, the independentist left remained marginalized despite attempts to unify it.

The model established since the 1970s seemed to hold until Mario Dumont, leader of the ADQ, invented the so-called "crisis of reasonable accommodation"--that is, how to provide accommodations for those who hold minority religious beliefs through court judgments and other informal arrangements. (Dumont had claimed that any further increase in rates of immigration to Quebec would create ghettos, because immigrants were no longer integrating into the fabric of Quebec society.)

This was the first time since the rush of modernization of the 1960s that a Québecois political leader resorted to a pejorative caricature of a specific community in order to gain political capital.

At first, no one wanted to follow Dumont out on this terrain. But the harm was done, and the ADQ was able to use what is now known as "identity politics" to hoist itself into second place in the 2007 elections.

This bruising defeat for the PQ, now relegated to third place behind the Liberals and the ADQ, brought about the coronation of a new PQ leader, Pauline Marois, who oriented on two issues: the rejection of "referendism"--that is, the refusal to hold a third referendum for independence (which would have threatened the fragile unity sought by sovereigntists); and the open adoption of "identity politics," firstly on the language question, and then with an increasingly authoritarian and Islamophobic vision of secularization.[1]

The election in December 2008 of Amir Khadir, the first deputy of Québec solidaire, pushed the left up from the margins. But Québec solidaire was only able to get 4 percent of the provincial vote overall. This election resulted in a majority Liberal government, with the PQ as official opposition.

The collapse of the ADQ's electoral strategy opened the door to a takeover bid led by former PQ leader François Legault, who wished to create a new right-wing party.

Legault first oriented the new party, Coalition avenir Québec (Quebec Future Coalition, or CAQ) towards classical right-wing economics and provincial autonomy. But over time, he began increasingly to play the "identity" card, which had proved so successful for the ADQ in 2007, and which put the CAQ into competition with the PQ for the votes of the xenophobic section of the electorate.

At the same time, the orientation on the strategy of "sovereigntist governance" resulted in eroding the trust of those pro-independence forces within the PQ that were determined to have more. This difference erupted with the departure of four deputies in 2011 and the founding of a new independence party: Option nationale (National Option, or ON).

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2012-2014: The Crisis of the Model Intensifies

The relative success of Québec solidaire and the creation of ON pose a real conundrum for those partial to the old political model of sovereigntist unity. Since this unity can no longer be realized through the PQ itself, several organizations have been created to attempt to forge unity through various coalitions external to the PQ.

These movements sought to remake the concept of unity by including not only the PQ and the ON, but also Québec solidaire. This is can be termed "meta-PQ-ism".

But this big, potential coalition could not be realized because of three dividing issues: 1) the PQ's wait-and-see approach to the goal of independence; 2) the center-right economic policies of the PQ when in power; and 3) the PQ's turn towards "identity politics."

If the PQ managed in 2012, despite all this, to regain power by the skin of its teeth, it is solely by virtue of the social crisis provoked by the student strike and the widespread sentiment that defeating the Liberal government of Charest was a political priority.

The PQ then formed a minority government. However, the new government's policies went completely counter to the convergence efforts towards QS. The refusal to support fiscal justice measures and legal reforms for the mining industry; the rallying to the Canadian petroleum extraction model; and, finally, the infamous "Charter of Values," with its xenophobic overtones, repelled some and hastened the reconfiguration of the political landscape.

In addition to the divisions over the national question and the issues of political economy, there were ecological questions (with some advocating that "our oil is the good oil" against those who were against further fossil fuel extraction) and the cleavage between the "identitarians" and the "inclusives."

This is how the Liberals were able, during the elections of the spring of 2014, to reassert their legitimacy and present themselves as the defenders of individual and minority rights against the PQ with its polarizing charter. By focusing on the PQ's ambiguous position towards a new referendum, the Liberals were able to regain lost ground and win a majority in the 2014 elections.

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A New Configuration Emerges

In 2016, the campaign to find a successor to the short-lived leadership of Pierre-Karl Péladeau opened up deep divisions within the PQ. By promising to take steps toward independence in her first term, Martine Ouellet clearly aimed to create a united independence front in action. Her victory would almost certainly have created major headaches for both the ON and QS.

The winner, Jean-François Lisée, on the other hand, went even farther than his predecessors by putting the goal of independence on hold and proposing instead a united front against the Liberal government and some of its austerity measures. By imposing a bitter defeat on the supporters of Ouellet, he pushed a section of the base of the PQ towards Option nationale. The victory of Lisée showed that "meta-PQ-ism" had lost support even within the PQ itself and was therefore at its end.

For its part, the ON has gradually evolved towards left positions and clearly rejects PQ's identity politics as a source of division that alienates entire communities from the project of independence.

Left independence forces are now able to see a way to create their own pole of attraction, by way of countering Lisée's appeals for a timely alliance to "defeat the Liberals." This is what is in the process of happening since Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the main spokespersons of the student strike movement of 2012, came to QS.

Around 6,000 people have joined Québec solidaire over the past few months, raising the number of members to 16,000. Nadeau-Dubois was elected as a co-spokesperson of the party, along with the deputy Manon Massé. One of his campaign themes was to support a merger with the Option nationale.

One proposal adopted by the recent QS congress is to begin negotiations with Option Nationale with the goal of merging with it. By including hundreds of militants for independence, particularly young people, this merger will create a stronger left-wing pole of attraction that could appeal to those members of the PQ who are disappointed at seeing their cause endlessly postponed.

This new pole of attraction can bring around a critical mass, allowing it to go beyond the so-called "orange" zone (after the color of the QS flag) in Montreal's center, where the three ridings, or constituencies, won by QS since 2008 are located.

Overall, the Québécois political landscape seems about to divide into three camps on the national and identity questions.

The first bloc is the Liberal Party, dedicated to Canadian federation and a multiculturalism, in which the Québecois people are just another ethnic minority among others. The second is that of the inclusive indépendentistes (anti-racists with a civic conception of nationhood) led by Québec solidaire. Between the two, the PQ and the CAQ divide up the autonomist and identitarian camp, with varying degrees of xenophobia and ethnic nationalism.

In this context, the decision by QS to refuse the so-called "hand across the aisle" offer from the PQ really clarifies existing political differences. The recent QS congress has effectively announced that QS is not part of the same "sovereigntist" family as the PQ; that our project is not the same; and that it is by regrouping around our camp that a left independence political alternative will be able to emerge.

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1. See among others : Baubérot, J. (2012), La laïcité falsifiée. Paris, La Découverte; and Tevanian, P. (2013), La haine de la religion : comment l'athéisme est devenu l'opium du peuple de gauche, Paris, La Découverte.

Categories: Political Action

A Bolshevik appeal finds an echo in the streets

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

One hundred years ago today, on June 22 (June 9, according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), the Bolshevik Party circulated the first proclamation below, drafted by Joseph Stalin, with the aim of reaching workers in Petrograd. Nine days later, the Bolsheviks' slogans promoted in this appeal won mass support at a giant demonstration called by the Petrograd soviet.

In mid-May, the Bolshevik Military Organization (BMO) had proposed to the party's Central Committee (CC) a demonstration opposing the Provisional Government's planned military offensive. Fearing that such an action was premature, the CC was not receptive. BMO organizers became more insistent over the coming weeks, as soldiers worried about attempts to restore military discipline and to transfer them to the front.

BMO leaders hoped to time a demonstration to coincide with the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which met in Petrograd from June 16 through July 7 (June 3-24). The CC remained undecided--Lenin supported a demonstration, as did most Petrograd committee members, while Kamenev was against.

Worker unrest over the Provisional Government's attempt to expel anarchist-communists from its headquarters created more friction. An expanded meeting of Bolshevik Party organizations on June 21 (8) revealed majority support for a demonstration by workers and soldiers on June 23 (10). The Bolshevik leaflet helped prepare for the demonstration.

The second document is the response by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets to the Bolsheviks' appeal. The demonstration proposed by the Bolsheviks encountered opposition in the Congress, which appealed to military units and factory workers not to march. In the early morning hours of June 23 (10), a small meeting of Bolshevik CC members called off the demonstration.

In an attempt to bolster support for its policies, the soviet arranged a demonstration on July 1 (June 18), which attracted almost 500,000 participants. However, due to the efforts of Bolsheviks, Left SRs and anarchists, this demonstration was dominated not by the moderate politics that still predominated in the soviets, but by radical slogans for ending the war, opposing the coalition government and its military offensive, and transferring all power to the soviets--precisely what the Bolsheviks had argued for.

These documents were selected and translated, and the above annotation written, by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. They are part of an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

A socialist contingent in Petrograd with banners calling for peace, land and soviet power

The Bolshevik Proclamation Calling for a Demonstration

To all laborers, workers, and soldiers of Piter [Petrograd]: Comrades!

Russia is experiencing difficult trials. The war, which has carried off millions of victims, continues. Millionaire bankers are intentionally prolonging it, because they're making a fortune off the war.

The war has devastated industry, leading to factory stoppages and unemployment. The greedy capitalists, who lock out workers while making fantastic profits, exacerbate this trend.

Shortages of bread and other food supplies are becoming more acute. The increase in the cost of living is throttling the population. Prices keep increasing, per the whims of robber-speculators.

The sinister specter of hunger and ruin looms over us. At the same time, the black clouds of counterrevolution are approaching.

Imposed by the Tsar to strangle the people, the [illegitimate] June 3rd Duma* now demands an immediate offensive at the front. But for what purpose? To drown in blood the freedom that we have obtained.

The State Council, which supplied the Tsar with hangmen ministers, is quietly braiding a traitor's noose, while shielding itself behind the law. What is this for? It is so that at a convenient time they may come out into the open and hang the noose around the neck of the people.

The Provisional Government, positioned between the tsarist Duma and the Soviet and containing 10 bourgeois members, obviously has fallen under the influence of gentry landowners and capitalists. Instead of securing soldiers' rights, Kerensky's 'declaration' violates their rights in several very important points.

Instead of securing the liberties that soldiers gained during the revolution, new "commands" threaten them with penal servitude.

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

Instead of securing the freedom that Russia's citizens achieved, there are arrests without trial or investigation, and new suggestions about Article 129, which make threats about penal servitude.

Instead of struggling against counterrevolution, they put up with the debauchery and bacchanalia of counterrevolutionaries.

Meanwhile, economic devastation keeps getting worse and no measures are taken against it.

The war keeps going on, and no actual measures are taken to end it.

Famine is still imminent, and no actual measures are taken to prevent it.

Is it really any surprise that counterrevolutionaries are becoming more insolent and inciting the government to repress soldiers, sailors, workers and peasants?

Comrades! It's impossible to endure such things in silence any more. It is a crime to keep silent after all this! Protest is already beginning in the depths of the working class. We are free citizens. We have the right to protest and we should avail ourselves of this right before it is too late.

We still have the right to demonstrate peacefully. We will go to a peaceful demonstration and will make our needs and wishes known!

Raise the flags of victory today to make the enemies of freedom and socialism afraid!

Let our call, the cry of the sons of the revolution, fly round all Russia today to the joy of all those who are oppressed and enslaved!

Workers! Join together with soldiers and support their just demands. Indeed, don't you remember how they supported you during the revolution? Everyone onto the streets, comrades!

Soldiers! Hold out your hands to workers and support their just demands. The strength of the revolution is in the union of soldiers and workers. Not one regiment or company should sit in the barracks today!

Everyone into the streets, comrades! March on the streets of the capital in orderly ranks. State your wishes calmly and confidently, as befits the strong:

Down with the Tsarist Duma!
Down with the State Council!
Down with the ten capitalist ministers!
All power to the All-Russian Soviet of Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants' Deputies!
Revise the "declaration of the rights of soldiers"!
Repeal the "commands" against soldiers and sailors!
Down with anarchy in industry! Down with capitalists who engage in lockouts!
Long live workers' supervision and organization of industry!
It's time to end the war! Let the Soviet of deputies announce just conditions of peace!
Neither a separate peace with Wilhelm, nor secret treaties with French and English capitalists!
Bread! Peace! Freedom!

* Editor's note: Socialists regarded the State Duma as illegitimate because it was elected under undemocratic voting rules enacted by Tsarism in 1907 that gave landowners and capitalists a predominant voice. The Tsarist regime enacted these rules after having arbitrarily dissolved the previous Duma on June 3 that year.

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Tthe All-Russian Congress of Soviets Proclamation Opposing a Demonstration

Soldier and worker comrades!

The Bolshevik Party is calling you out onto the street.

Their appeal was prepared without the knowledge of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the All-Russian Congress, the Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, or any other socialist parties. It rang out right at the critical moment when the All-Russian Congress called upon worker comrades of Vyborg District to remember that any demonstrations during these days can harm the cause of the revolution. Comrades, on behalf of millions of workers, peasants, and soldiers in the rear and at the front we say to you:

Don't do what they are calling upon you to do.

At this critical moment, they are calling upon you to go onto the street to demand the overthrow of the Provisional Government, which the All-Russian [Soviet] Congress only just recognized as necessary to support.

Those who call you out cannot help but know that bloody riots may arise from your peaceful demonstration. Knowing your dedication to the revolutionary cause, we say to you:

They are calling upon you to demonstrate in favor of the revolution, but we know that hidden counterrevolutionaries want to make use of your demonstration.

We know that counterrevolutionaries eagerly await the moment when internecine war in the ranks of revolutionary democratic forces will make it possible for them to crush the revolution.


In the name of all Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, armies in action, and socialist parties, we say to you:

Not one company, regiment, or group of workers should be on the street.

There should not be even one demonstration today.

A great struggle still confronts us.

When counterrevolutionary danger actually threatens Russian freedom, we will call upon you.

Disorderly demonstrations are the downfall of the revolution.

Conserve your forces.

Act in concert with all revolutionary Russia.

All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviet of Peasant Deputies
Organizational Committee of the RSDRP [Menshevik]
Central Committee of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries
Central Committee of the Bund
Central Committee of the Laborite Group [Trudoviks]
Ukrainian fraction of the All-Russian Congress
Fraction of United Internationalists of SD Bolsheviks and Mensheviks of the All-Russian Congress
Military Section under the Organizational Committee and Committee of the Petrograd Organization of the RSDRP

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Source: Both documents reprinted in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 4, 1931, p. 404-406. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising (Indiana University Press, 1968, reprinted in 1991), pp. 54-79.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 179-180.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Categories: Political Action

Nabra Hassanen had more than one murderer

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

If Virginia authorities have their way, the anti-Muslim hate that set the stage for the murder of a young women will go unchallenged, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Nabra Hassanen

SEVENTEEN-YEAR-old Nabra Hassanen was returning with a group of friends for all-night prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society center in Sterling, Virginia, in the early-morning hours of June 18 when she crossed paths with Darwin Martinez Torres.

The 22-year-old Martinez Torres reportedly drove up on the group of teens, chased them, attacked Nabra, who was wearing an abaya, with a metal baseball bat, and put her in his car afterward. Nabra's body was found in a pond later that evening, beaten to death.

Taking all these details into consideration, Fairfax County police concluded that the reason for Torres' attack was...road rage.

Nabra's family and friends, however, see her abduction and murder in a clearer light. "This is a hate crime," her father, Mahmoud Hassanen, told reporters the day after the murder. "It's racism. Getting killed because she's Muslim."

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling for an investigation. "We'd like to hear from the witnesses to the initial attack as to whether they heard any biased statements," said Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR. "Even if not, why is this individual targeting a group of people dressed in Muslim attire? Would they have been targeted if they hadn't been of a certain faith or ethnicity?"

Hundreds who joined a protest in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to show their solidarity with Nabra echoed this sentiment.

"The police are saying the murder was because of road rage. Why as a Muslim do I find that hard to believe?" said Dr. Maha Hilal. "Since 9/11, Muslims have systematically targeted and discriminated against by the U.S. government. While that has been more obvious under the Trump administration, it is nothing new."

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NABRA'S FAMILY has good reason to suspect she was targeted because she was Muslim. According to a 2017 CAIR Civil Rights report, from 2014 to 2016, anti-Muslim bias incidents jumped 65 percent--and in the same period, hate crimes targeting Muslims went up 584 percent.

These incidents have only increased since Donald Trump took the White House, where he has reinforced every bigoted anti-Muslim idea in society--not only with rhetoric, but with action, like attempting to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

But while skyrocketing anti-Muslim attacks are staring law enforcement officials in the face, they won't take them seriously, preferring instead to focus on what they consider to be the "real" threat--Muslims themselves.

The media is an eager accomplice in this, too, according to a study from Georgia State University.

"When the perpetrator is Muslim, you can expect that attack to receive about four and a half times more media coverage than if the perpetrator was not Muslim," researcher Eric Kearns told NPR. In other words, "a perpetrator who is not Muslim would have to kill on average about seven more people to receive the same amount of coverage as a perpetrator who's Muslim."

This media bias contributes to the toxic climate of Islamophobia--but by whipping up fear and hysteria, it helps create an atmosphere where more attacks are possible.

NPR cited another study from the University of Michigan in which people were shown video clips with different portrayals of Muslims. Those who watched news stories portraying Muslims as terrorists were more likely to support unconstitutional policies against Muslim Americans.

Hate crimes committed against Muslims expose the ugly double standard about what is taken seriously as terrorism and what is not.

In London, just after midnight on Monday morning, a white man driving a van plowed into a crowd of Muslim worshippers as they stood talking outside a mosque in the Finsbury Park area. One man was killed and at least 10 more injured in the attack by a man whose neighbors acknowledged that he was racist toward Muslims.

In this case, British officials called the atrocity what it was--terrorism--which is a rare occurrence. But that didn't prevent the victims of terrorism, as even the right-wing media acknowledged from becoming the target of suspicion.

"For a long time, Finsbury Park was synonymous with two things: Arsenal Football Club and the radical, hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri," wrote Newsweek, referring to a man who is serving life without parole in a U.S. jail on terrorism charges and hasn't been affiliated with the mosque for about 13 years.

Newsweek and the rest of the media were less quick to point out these more recent facts: Last summer, the mosque was one of several that was sent envelopes containing white powder, including one that had "p*** filth" written on it. And in 2015, an arsonist threw a petrol bomb over its gates.

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IF GOVERNMENT officials took a fraction of the resources they use spying on Muslims and looking for "terrorists," and instead committed it to protecting Muslims now under increased attack, we might not be mourning these victims in Virginia and London.

Some 20,000 people in Britain are on a "terror watch list" almost exclusively made up of people who are young and traveled to Syria, according to a report by the BBC.

It's at least a small recognition of reality that this week's terrible attack in Finsbury Park is being called "terrorism." But just naming this kind of violence properly won't stop the wave of attacks directed at Muslims.

To find the accomplices responsible for these terrorist attacks, Donald Trump and Theresa May need look no further than their mirrors.

The hate and fear they use to scapegoat and demonize Islam--all to divert attention from their own crimes and bolster their war on terror around the globe--puts a target on the backs of Muslims, at home and around the world.

And it is political leaders like Trump and May who have provided a breeding ground for the far right to grow and become more emboldened. This week, while members of a London mosque gathered donations for victims of the Grenfell Towers fire, a few members of the far-right Britain First organization protested outside to spread their filth, saying, "They're all Muslim terrorists."

What we really need is a war on Islamophobia. But that isn't going to come from political leaders. It will need to be built by people standing up to hate and discrimination wherever it rears its head--in the airports under Trump's racist ban, in demands for justice for victims of hate crimes, and in counterprotests against the right.

As a young Muslim woman at the protest for Nabra Hassanen said:

We will not be silent in the face of terror. We will not be silent in the face of hate. We will not accept the lie they peddle that this somehow happened in a vacuum--that this is somehow not impacted by a climate of dehumanization and hatred.

Categories: Political Action

Victims of UPS's deadly drive for profit

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

A UPS worker reflects on the sources of violence at a hub that left four workers dead.

UPS workers in San Francisco evacuate following a deadly shooting

ON JUNE 14, a 38-year-old United Parcel Service driver, Jimmy Lam, shot and killed three co-workers, wounded two others and then killed himself at the UPS hub in San Francisco in the Potrero Hill neighborhood.

This tragedy is obviously upsetting for those of us who work at UPS, along with our family and friends. But it doesn't come as a real surprise given the undue stress of the job.

The mass shooting took place as drivers were waiting to start delivering packages in the morning. Benson Louie, Wayne Chan and Mike Lefiti were killed, along with Lam. Xiao Chen and Edgar Perez were treated for gunshot wounds at San Francisco General Hospital and released.

Members of the Teamsters union who work at UPS are reminded daily of management's antagonistic relationship with us. Yet the mainstream media made an issue that Lam had a "grievance with the company"--as if this is unusual.

Lam had filed a grievance--a procedure used to address a violation of the Teamsters-UPS contract--over excessive overtime. In fact, many grievances are filed by workers every day at UPS. The problem is that many are blocked by management and take months, if not years, to resolve, if they ever are.

This stalling by the company is specifically designed to discourage workers from filing grievances or otherwise challenging poor conditions or contract violations. Management also uses harassment to try to intimidate workers from filing.

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TO COUNTER bad publicity after the shooting, UPS issued a press statement in the name of CEO and Chairman of the Board David Abney, UPS Chairman and CEO: "The UPS family is deeply saddened by the tragic shooting in San Francisco on Wednesday, when four employees lost their lives. On behalf of all UPSers, I extend sincere condolences to the families of the deceased, and we pray for the speedy recovery of the injured employees."

What is this "UPS family" and does it really exist? Does it include the part-time workers making only $10 an hour working in warehouses and loading trailers, where temperatures in the summer can reach 130 degrees? Management, on the other hand, gets air-conditioned offices.

Does it include package car drivers like Jimmy Lam, who work 12-hour days or longer, with more stops per mile added on to increase work "efficiency"? The result of management piling on work is that some members of the "family" have to work late into the night, only to get up early the next morning and start the process all over again.

Mandatory overtime has become the rule at UPS, and many workers are at the breaking point.

Meanwhile, the company is automating more of its facilities, not to make workers' lives easier, but to increase the pace of the work. Workers load and unload thousands of packages a day. The body starts to break down from all of that lifting.

Workers who have been on the job for years--or even for a short time--often suffer pain from repetitive motion, sickness from breathing in dirty and dusty air, and stress inflicted by management that operates acts in a crisis mode to get the work done so their numbers are acceptable to their superiors.

This toxic work environment hurts not only union workers, but is visible on the faces of the low-level supervisors and managers who fear for their own jobs if they can't meet the targets devised by their bosses. That means they are constantly harassing workers and trying to force them to work faster than before.

Part-time new hires usually quit because the working conditions are so bad and the pay is too low. Meanwhile, supervisors rush around downing energy drinks to do union work in violation of the contract in order to meet their down time--the time when work should be finished.

The work pace is so fast and brutal that some workers learn to "suck it up" and get upset at other workers who don't do the same. Others slow down, realizing the faster they work, the more management will abuse them to work even faster.

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ON THE other hand, the world looks sunny for the top executives and major stockholders of UPS. The company is expanding its operations and buying up other corporations around the world.

Meanwhile, UPS's President of U.S. Operations Myron Gray, speaking at the UPS Investor Conference last February, explained how change would drive the logistics network of the future.

Phase One of the new program was ORION, computer software that cut 210 million miles out of the routes driven by UPS drivers in a year, while increasing the average stops per mile by 6 to 9 percent. ORION generated more than $400 million in annual cost savings by extracting more work out of drivers.

But what comes with that is more stress and longer hours on the street for drivers, since they are making more stops per mile. This leads to a lack of any social life outside of UPS, since you can be at work for longer than you are at home, not even excluding sleep.

UPS has also started to retrofit its largest ground facilities and claims automation will contribute to labor savings. Other older facilities will be expanded, but to really increase productivity savings, new facilities, with a higher degree of automation, are being planned--about 70 new package and hub projects around the world.

Gray and the other UPS executives have many reasons to be happy, especially when counted in terms of the dollars in their bank accounts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, top executives got a second pay raise and special stock awards in 2016. At $11.7 million in 2016, CEO David Abney's total compensation was 21 percent higher than the year before.

As the Journal reported, "UPS says the higher salary and one-time grants were designed to keep the company's pay competitive with peers, and to tie more of the compensation to future performance." UPS spokesperson Steve Gaut underlined this last point: "The only way the pay is delivered is if the company performs to the target expectations."

But for UPS workers, this will mean even more speedups, longer hours and cost-cutting on workers' needs, like building cleanliness and well-maintained vehicles and equipment--all so that top management can hit their numbers and get those million-dollar bonuses. We will pay with more work, more stress, less sleep, more injuries and even premature deaths.

Drivers will bear the same pressure that Jimmy Lam did, because of the decisions made at corporate headquarters in Atlanta. That is the bigger tragedy behind this month's horrific shooting in San Francisco, and it will only lead to other workers breaking down, mentally and physically, with all the repercussions that entails.

Categories: Political Action

Why has this professor been targeted?

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

Brandon Daniels reports from Syracuse, New York, on a smear campaign against university professor that has included frightening calls for violence.

Professor Dana Cloud (Abigail.gilbert | Wikimedia Commons)

SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY Professor Dana Cloud has become the target of a right-wing campaign of abuse and harassment after her participation in a counterprotest against a right-wing Islamophobic rally.

Cloud was bombarded with hate-mail, including threats to her physical safety, after she tweeted a call for larger numbers to join the June 10 counterprotest in Syracuse, New York, against the "Anti-Sharia law" rally organized by the anti-Muslim group ACT for America.

The Syracuse rally was attended by members of the Oath Keepers militia group, among others. In several cities, other demonstrations that same day attracted open white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as well as figures on the "alt-right."

Days after the protest and the tweet, right-wingers used their social media followers to direct people to attack Cloud. She has since been inundated with abuse, including threats that make specific reference to her home, family and pet.

This is a clear attempt at political intimidation. In response, we must stand in unity and solidarity with Cloud and all others who are harassed by right-wing pressure groups for speaking out against oppression.

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IN RESPONSE to ACT for America's call for "anti-Sharia" rallies--in reality, thinly veiled anti-Muslim demonstrations steeped in bigotry, local residents in upstate New York organized a counterdemonstration to stand in solidarity with their Arab and Muslim neighbors.

What you can do

Add your name to the petition in support of Professor Dana Cloud.

The rally and counterprotest occurred without any sort physical confrontation, but the crowd at the ACT for America was heavily outnumbered by those standing against Islamophobia.

Throughout the counterprotest, Cloud used social media to encourage other members of the Syracuse community to join in. When it became clear that ACT for America supporters were beginning to leave, Cloud tweeted, "We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off."

That message--to join a peaceful counterprotest that outnumbered the far right--has been used by some to mobilize an attack against Cloud with the absurd claim that she was calling for a physical assault. On June 14, the right-wing website published an article citing Cloud's tweet and describing it as a "veiled call for violence."

Since the article was published, various websites and right-wing figures have publicized Cloud's twitter and personal information, including right-wing media pundit Ann Coulter.

Gavin McInnes, founder of the so–called "Proud Boys"--a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a "fight club ready for street violence"--published his own article arbitrarily linking Cloud's out-of-context tweet to the recent attack on Republican U.S. Representative Steve Scalise.

Others on the right have cynically exploited the June 14 attack on Scalise--which was immediately and unconditionally denounced by figures on the left, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders--to call accuse the left of using "extremist rhetoric" and promoting violence.

The deliberate campaign of intimidation is meant to silence academic freedom and smear left-wing professors. One article from Campus Reform, for example, cited tweets from five different professors from various institutions, deriding them for being critical of Scalise's support of the NRA and gun rights.

The fact that Cloud is a longtime left-wing activist and openly gay has made her a further target.

As a petition in her defense circulated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) notes: "It is no accident that Dr. Cloud, as an outspoken lesbian socialist and peaceful social justice activist for decades, is being targeted. The emboldened right wing targets the oppressed with disgusting insults and threats directed at their identities."

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THOUGH ATTACKS by the right on left-wing professors and academic freedom aren't new, they have escalated since Trump's election.

Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher was the subject of a similar campaign in December after he tweeted a joke about "white genocide." Meanwhile, earlier this month, Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was forced to cancel speaking engagements after Fox News ran a smear story about a commencement address she gave at Hampshire College, leading to racist and homophobic slurs and death threats.

The threats against Cloud fall into this same pattern of attack. As the petition for Cloud notes:

The hate mail and threats directed against Dr. Cloud are not isolated phenomena, but part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against those standing in solidarity with Muslims and other oppressed groups...

These attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists around the country. We call on others to stand in unity and solidarity with all those, like Dr. Cloud, who are being harassed and threatened by right-wing pressure groups for speaking out against Islamophobia and bigotry.

While those critical of Cloud say they are opposing her so-called "aggressive" rhetoric, these campaigns of terror rely on a connection between digital threats and the very real history of right-wing political violence in the U.S.

The dramatic escalation in hate crimes since Trump's election has only magnified the effect of these threats. Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, for example, were murdered for standing up to threats of racist violence last month in Portland, Oregon.

After the recent attack in London on Muslim congregants near a mosque, as well as the murder of Nabra Hassanen--a Muslim teen who was beaten to death with a baseball bat this week in Virginia--no one should take the threat of right-wing political violence lightly.

The threats Cloud received--including messages reading "You need to be executed" and "We on the right will find you and we will be coming after you"--only highlight the severity of the situation.

Such attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists. We hope others will stand in unity and solidarity with all those, like Dr. Cloud, who are being harassed by the right for speaking out against Islamophobia and bigotry.

Organized groups of the right have identified university faculty and student activists as their targets. By waging campaigns that threaten their personal safety, the institutions they work for, and their employment, such forces hope to further restrict the dwindling levels of independence professors have at corporate-dominated institutions.

Anyone who cares about free speech, academic freedom and fighting bigotry should respond to the attack on Cloud and others with solidarity.

As the petition in her defense states, "We demand that Syracuse University and the broader academic community defend and protect her and all faculty in the exercise of their academic freedom, their right to extramural speech, and the exercise of their conscience in civic life."

Categories: Political Action

Scott's anti-teacher agenda in Vermont

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

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

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott's motivation is essentially twofold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Political Action

Oakland struggles after the spectacle fades

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

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

A homeless encampment underneath an interstate overpass in Oakland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Political Action

Which path to take from the People's Summit?

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Political Action

A system that let working-class people burn

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

Sakuma workers win their first contract

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Political Action

These workers shouldn't go to jail for protesting

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you can do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published at the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt website.

Categories: Political Action

Views in brief

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

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

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

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

Capitalism and colonialism in Tibet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The transit system we deserve

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

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

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

Has anything changed at UPS?

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

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

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

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

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

Mahwah residents are fighting, too

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Political Action

A symbol of sanctuary for others to follow

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 01:00

Joel Sronce reports from North Carolina on a grassroots effort to save one woman from being ripped away from her home that shows the potential for ongoing organizing.

Juana Luz Tobar Ortega speaks to supporters after taking sanctuary in a Greensboro church (Leoneda Inge | WUNC)

MORE THAN 100 people packed St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, for a May 31 press conference welcoming Juana Luz Tobar Ortega into sanctuary within the church's walls.

Juana was supposed to meet that morning with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and board a plane bound for her home country of Guatemala. Instead, she was received by Rev. Randall Keeney and his congregation, who voted unanimously to provide Juana refuge in their church.

At the press conference, her family joined faith leaders, community activists and supporters to collectively state their commitment to do whatever it takes to ensure that Juana not be torn away from her home in North Carolina.

Following the reception at St. Barnabas, dozens of people gathered outside of the office of North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis in High Point, North Carolina, to call on the senator to show support for Juana by submitting a stay of removal. A week later, dozens of supporters gathered to discuss how to further build momentum during a community meeting at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro.

The different actions surrounding Juana's case have demonstrated how communities can come together and organize to protect people, uniting the religious-based sanctuary movement with a broad-based struggle for solidarity.

For Juana, her family and her supporters, sanctuary is not just a last resort. It's the start of a campaign.

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JUANA HAS called the U.S. her home for almost 25 years. She's a mother of four--two children are U.S. citizens, and two are protected under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program--and grandmother of two.

After escaping violence in Guatemala in 1992, Juana immediately applied for asylum in the U.S. but was denied. She appealed the denial and received a work permit while her case was being processed.

In 1999, her oldest daughter, who was living with her grandmother in Guatemala, became very ill. Juana returned home to care for her. After her daughter's health improved and Juana came back to the U.S., her hopes for asylum were destroyed when she was picked up by immigration authorities during a raid at her workplace.

After spending time in detention centers in North Carolina and Georgia, she was eventually released on the condition that she report to ICE officers for regular check-ins. Juana did so for more than a decade, but when she returned earlier this year, she was denied an extension and instructed to leave the country by the end of May.

The orders were a direct result of the priority deportation policy changes under the current administration. Since mid-April, Juana has been forced to wear an ankle monitor. She was ordered to purchase her airline ticket to Guatemala, which her family paid for to buy her time.

When her attorney's appeal for a stay was denied, Juana was forced to make a choice: Get on a plane back to Guatemala, leaving her family and returning to the risk of violence--or find a place of sanctuary.

The sanctuary movement that has resurfaced since Trump took office has its roots in the 1980s, when interfaith organizations began to shelter refugees fleeing U.S.-backed campaigns of state violence against radical insurgencies in Central America. Those religious communities actively engaged in civil disobedience, a U.S. tradition that has roots in the Underground Railroad and beyond.

The sanctuary movement of the 1980s was one component of a broad-based movement. This can inform today's struggle: Wider collaboration between groups is essential for the mass movement needed so that Juana and others may remain at home.

We also need to remember something else: The Democrats have contributed as much as Republicans to the anti-immigrant climate. When deportations and raids increased under George W. Bush, immigrants and activists put their hopes in Barack Obama--only to have them dashed by Obama's record of more deportations than any preceding president.

Though Trump has set in motion the unprecedented onslaught against all immigrants, he has inherited a system built up by conservatives and liberals alike.

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THOSE AT the community meeting for Juana on June 7 included her family and friends, community organizers, and members of St. Barnabas and other religious congregations around Greensboro. Several members of other churches attended the meeting to begin exploring how they might offer sanctuary in their own places of worship.

Though organizers began the meeting with a discussion of the history of sanctuary and modern immigration policies, the primary goal of the meeting centered around Juana's current needs while at St. Barnabas as well as measures to take beyond sanctuary. Juana is the first person to live in sanctuary in North Carolina in many years, and she's one of nine people currently in sanctuary across the country.

Due to the growing danger under the current administration, many others may seek sanctuary in the weeks and months to come. With legal options sharply diminished, organizers are seeking out new strategies based on developing public support through mass campaigns.

Juana's advocates at the Congregational UCC split into groups to discuss ways in which they could use creative action to apply pressure to those in power and to foreground Juana's story in the media and the hearts and minds of those in Greensboro and beyond.

Ideas poured out, including: Create a website to share information and strategies among churches providing or interested in providing sanctuary; and organize a Las Posadas in July, in which supporters invoke a religious tradition to march and carry pictures of those needing sanctuary. There were many more suggestions for developing support through documentaries, concerts, art pieces, house parties, and options of sponsorships from restaurants, breweries and cafes.

Among those in attendance was Lesvi Molina, Juana's oldest daughter, who fell sick in Guatemala many years ago. For Lesvi, the support at St. Barnabas, at Sen. Tillis' office and at the Congregational UCC has been incredible. "It's a blessing to have the community, people who don't even know you, come together to help my mother be free again," Lesvi said.

But it's not only the support of those in the community that has created the momentum around her mother's case--it's Juana herself, representing an open door for others who have been afraid to come forward.

"[Going into sanctuary] privately was never a thought," Lesvi explained. "She has sought asylum for so long, checking with immigration, doing the right things, not even thinking about hiding. We want it solved. We're not going to get it solved by hiding."

Mulling over the decades her mother has struggled to remain in the U.S., Lesvi's frustrations were clear: "Why would they want to deport her now?" Lesvi asked, citing Juana's children, grandchildren and contributions to her church, her kids' schools and her community. "It's cruel, and it doesn't make any sense."

But when she thinks of her mother risking everything to return to Guatemala to care for her, Lesvi becomes filled with such courage. "Thanks to her bravery and decision-making, I am here today," Lesvi proclaimed. "As her eldest, I'm going to fight this to the end."

Juana's campaign is the result of a broad collaboration of groups anchored by American Friends Service Committee, Indivisible groups, ACLU People Power, local nonprofits, congregations, and other groups and individuals politicized by the 2016 election result.

Thanks to the courage of Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, Greensboro is seeing collaboration between religious organizations such as St. Barnabas offering sanctuary refuge and the broad struggle for solidarity by activists on the political left. Their work together represents an effort to develop the political movement needed to move toward liberation for all.

Categories: Political Action

What's at stake in the crisis over Qatar?

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 01:00

A brewing conflict among the rulers of the Persian Gulf region reached a crisis stage in early June when Saudi Arabia led other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in cutting ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have halted all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, ended diplomatic ties and ordered to Qatari citizens to leave. With 40 percent of Qatar's food supply coming over the border from Saudi Arabia, there are fears of shortages of food and water.

Qatar is a small but very wealthy nation on a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. It shares a single land border with Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and lies across the Gulf from Iran to the east and the small island nation of Bahrain to the north and west.

Qatar stands accused of supporting Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies hold responsible for fomenting terrorism and instability. In reality, the Saudi autocracy has led the way in crushing pro-democracy movements and pursuing a sectarian conflict with its chief regional rival, Iran, that is at the root of war and suffering in the Middle East. Qatar has supported some movements that Saudi Arabia opposes and leans toward Iran in aspects of the regional conflict, though Qatar also has close ties to the U.S., as the site of some of the Pentagon's most important overseas bases.

Gilbert Achcar is a socialist who grew up in Lebanon and author of numerous books, including Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising. He wrote this analysis untangling the sources of the conflict for the Qatari-owned newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi. It appeared in English at The Arabist website. The translation is credited to Industry Arabic and was revised by the author at SW's request.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley | flickr)

TO UNDERSTAND the violent campaign launched by the Saudi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahraini and Egyptian governments against Qatar, we must look beyond the trivialities of the Qatari ransom money allegedly paid in Iraq and the charges leveled against Qatar of supporting terrorism. Such charges lose all credibility when they come from actors that have, for decades, engaged in just that. We must return to the scene before the Arab Spring and how it was affected by the Great Uprising.

During the reign of Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emirate of Qatar took an approach to regional affairs not unlike Kuwait's after it declared independence from Britain in 1961. The announcement outraged the Republic of Iraq, which demanded the Emirate be restored as part of its territory. But Kuwait benefited from the tension that existed between Iraq, under the leadership of Abd el-Karim Qasim and Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt in order to secure Arab acceptance of Kuwait's independence, in addition to British-provided protection. To deter its Iraqi neighbor from annexation ambitions, Kuwait pursued since then a policy of Arab neutrality, maintaining good relations with the two poles of what was called "the Arab Cold War": Egypt and the Saudi kingdom.

The similarity is that Qatar, as is well known, has a historically strained relationship with its Saudi neighbor, particularly since declaring independence from Britain in 1971. After seizing power in 1995, Emir Hamad pursued a policy that sought to make up for the emirate's small size by reinforcing ties with the two main axes of regional conflict as they emerged after the extensive deployment of U.S. troops in the Gulf: the United States and the Republic of Iran. Qatar thus managed to simultaneously host (and fund) the United States' most important regional air base and cultivate cozy relations with Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. The policy of good relations with opposing forces also manifested itself in Qatar establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, while also supporting Hamas.

Qatar's role during the reign of Emir Hamad was not limited however to cultivating good relations with different parties in the Kuwaiti way, which is neutral and passive, but it also used its considerable wealth to play an active role in regional politics by sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi kingdom had rescinded its support to the Brotherhood, after sponsoring it since its inception in 1928, due to the latter's opposition to American intervention in the Kuwait-Iraq crisis in 1990. The weight of Qatar's political role greatly increased with the establishment of the Al Jazeera TV network, which resonated with Arab audiences by welcoming Arab voices of opposition, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.

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SO WHEN the volcano of the Great Arab Uprising erupted in 2011, Qatar was able to play a major role through its patronage of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Jazeera. As a result, the two poles of the conflict that dominated the Arab world since then--the old regime and the Islamic fundamentalist opposition led by the Muslim Brotherhood--found support in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). While Saudi Arabia supported the old regime throughout the region--with the exception of Libya where it remained neutral and Syria where the sectarian factor produced an alliance between the Assad regime and Iran--Qatar supported the uprisings, especially where the Brotherhood was involved, except for fellow GCC member Bahrain, for obvious reasons. The conflict between the Emirate and the Kingdom became obvious since the onset of the "Arab Spring" with Qatar's support for the Tunisian uprising contrasting with Saudi political asylum to deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The Obama administration saw Qatar as a means to ward off the danger of a radicalization of the Arab uprising that would threaten U.S. interests. So it played both sides, at times supporting the old regime with the Saudis (as in Bahrain), and at others, trying to contain the uprisings with Qatar through the Muslim Brotherhood and its associates (like in Tunisia and Egypt). But Qatar's role in urging Washington to adopt a policy of flirting with the uprisings was a cause of Saudi indignation, and outraged the United Arab Emirates, which had designated the Muslim Brotherhood as its public enemy number one. The pressure that the two Gulf countries exerted on Qatar escalated after the great defeat of Qatari bets on the Muslim Brotherhood that became clear when the Egyptian army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi and violently suppressed the Brotherhood. That came at the same moment as Emir Hamad's decision to step down in place of his son, the current emir, Tamim, only to see Gulf pressure reach its first peak in 2014 to force the new emir to change course.

After that peak, it seemed that the Gulf conflict had come to an end. Through the accord of the three Gulf states in supporting the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime, which strained relations between Qatar (and with it, the Muslim Brotherhood) and Iran--and, later, Qatar's participation in the military campaign against the alliance between Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis in Yemen, all against the backdrop of a new king ascending to the Saudi throne--it seemed as if concord between GCC members was possible. This trend was reinforced by the Saudi kingdom's pursuit for a while of a Sunni consensus against Iran that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, and coincided with tension between Riyadh and Cairo. This trend also aligned perfectly with the politics of the Obama administration.

However, Donald Trump's election as president of the United States changed the equation. The new president is a supporter of a confrontational policy of opposition to change and revolution in the Arab region. He is also extremely hostile to Iran and a close friend of Israel. Some of his key advisers want to classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, concurring in this with the UAE, as evidenced by recently uncovered correspondence of its ambassador to Washington. This fundamental change in the equation led the Saudi kingdom to reconcile with al-Sisi's Egypt. Together, accompanied by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, they launched the current frenzied attack on Qatar to impose a radical change in its policy.

Thus, the latest episode of the Great Arab Uprising's relapse and the counterattack launched by the ancien régime across the region, supported in most arenas by the Gulf axis and by Iran in Syria and Yemen, is almost complete. But a new wave of revolution will inevitably surge sooner or later (indeed, its harbingers are already visible in Morocco and Tunisia). When it will break out, there won't be anyone able to contain it, and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may well regret eliminating Qatar's role in this regard.

First published in English at The Arabist, which states that the translation was made possible by Industry Arabic--use them for your Arabic needs. The translation was revised by the author at SW's request.

Categories: Political Action

The question of caste

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 01:00

The debates about caste and class in India go back many decades, but they remain relevant today, writes Steve Leigh in a review of a new book by Arundhati Roy.

Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar (left) and Mahatma Gandhi

IN THE Doctor and the Saint, writer and political activist Arundhati Roy invites readers to take a new look at the "saint" M.K. Gandhi alongside a less-talked-about fighter for Indian independence and justice, Untouchable leader and intellectual Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

This book is based on an introduction that Roy wrote in 2014 for The Annihilation of Caste--a pamphlet of a 1936 speech by Ambedkar that he was never allowed to deliver. "When I first read it, I felt as though somebody had walked into a dim room and opened the windows," writes.

After Ambedkar's speech was canceled by the Hindu reformist organization that had invited him, it was printed as a pamphlet, and though the publishing houses were modest, it sold in the millions, becoming the source of great public debate over the question of caste in India--and social discrimination on the basis of caste. Gandhi was included among the opponents to Ambedkar's views.

In The Doctor and the Saint, Roy uses this historic debate to underscore the centrality of caste in the past and present--and to take a deeper look at the myths about Gandhi.

Roy points out that the institution of caste continues today, as she outlines the brutal oppression suffered by the "scheduled castes" continues, not only in India but also in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and beyond.

Review: Books

Arundhati Roy, The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race and the Annihilation of Caste, The Debate Between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi. Haymarket Books, 2017, 184 pages, $15.95.

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CASTE OPERATES throughout the population, but is, of course, especially onerous for the scheduled castes at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Estimates put this group at 17 percent of the population.

Besides Untouchables, there are Unseeables and Unapproachables--these are the scheduled or avarna castes, known as Ati-Shudras or subhumans. Other castes are grouped into four "varnas": Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (soldiers),Vaishyas (traders) and Shudras (servants).

Roy explains:

Untouchables were not allowed to use the public roads that privileged castes used, they were not allowed to drink from common wells...not allowed into Hindu temples...not allowed into privileged caste schools, not permitted to cover their upper bodies, only allowed to wear certain kinds of clothes and certain kinds of jewelry.

Some castes like the Mahars...had to tie brooms to their waists to sweep away their polluted footprints, others had to hang spittoons around their necks to collect their polluted saliva. Men of the privileged castes had undisputed rights over the bodies of Untouchable women. Love is polluting. Rape is pure. In many parts of India, much of this continues to this day.

Roy gives examples of horrendous attacks and murders still carried out today, based on and reinforcing caste.

There have been some attempts at "positive discrimination," or affirmative action, so that some of the scheduled castes have made it up the social and economic hierarchy. But these efforts are extremely limited, Roy says, and have been resisted by right-wing movements that want to reinforce caste hierarchy, often leading to violence.

In spite of efforts at positive discrimination, the class structure lines up very well with the caste structure. Roy illustrates this with a list of the CEOs and billionaires who come from the upper castes. She goes on to explain the heavy overlap between lower castes and the poorest sections of the population.

Many lower caste people try to escape caste discrimination by converting to Christianity or Islam. But Hindu society treats the converts as if they are still in their hereditary caste. There are even cases of other religions in the subcontinent enforcing caste. "Though their scriptures do not sanction it," writes Roy, "elite Indian Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all practice caste discrimination. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal all have their own communities of Untouchable sweepers."

Thus, caste has a basis in religion, but the system of discrimination and privilege is embedded in society at a deeper level. In fact, Hinduism was at first the name given to caste society by outsiders. The promotion of Hinduism, and later Hindutva, was a political project.

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OF PARTICULAR interest to those on the left will be the section of the book looking at the Communist Party (CP) leadership's disappointing view on the politics of caste. Under the guise of focusing on class divisions, they dismiss the importance of caste discrimination.

For example, CP leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the former chief minister of the state of Kerala, denounced Untouchable leader Ambedkar for focusing on caste, calling it "a great blow to the freedom movement. For this led to the diversion of peoples' attention from the objective of full independence to the mundane cause of the uplift of the Harijans [Untouchables]." Harijan, or "Children of God," was the condescending name that Gandhi gave the Untouchables.

Other political formations grew out of the fight against oppression, including Ambedkar's Independent Labor Party and the Dalit Panthers in the 1970s. The Dalit Panthers descended in part from Ambedkar's politics, but also from Marxism. They used the Marithi word "Dalit," meaning oppressed or broken, to embrace all the oppressed of India. Unfortunately, the Panthers disintegrated, with some actually going over to the Hindu right.

According to Roy, the official Communist Parties became "bourgeois parties," and their rejection of the importance of caste fit in well with their pro-capitalist politics. Even the more radical Maoist parties, the Naxalites, haven't put caste at the center of their politics and haven't won significant support from the scheduled castes.

Roy helps the reader conclude that without confronting caste, there can be no working-class unity and therefore no successful struggle against capitalism. Caste division hobbles a united working-class struggle.

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THE BULK of Roy's book is an analysis of Gandhi's politics in contrast to Ambedkar's.

Gandhi has become revered around the world because of his part in the campaign for India's independence and because of his commitment to nonviolence. But his first campaign in South Africa was in defense of upper-caste Indians, who were treated like Africans. Gandhi's appeal was that apartheid should treat Indians better than Africans, especially businessmen from India.

Gandhi held a racist position against the "kaffirs"--a racial slur against native Africans used in South Africa by whites, Afrikaners and some Indians like Gandhi. One of his demands was that Indians not be put in the same jail cell with Africans. Through Gandhi's life, he held a low opinion of the lower classes, castes and races--he felt they should get charity, but weren't fit to actually take part in democracy.

Gandhi also wanted to reform the British Empire and work with it, rather than get rid of it. He signed Indians up to fight on the side of the British during the Boer War in Africa and supported Britain in First and Second World Wars. "Gandhi was not trying to overwhelm or destroy a ruling structure; he simply wanted to be friends with it," writes Roy.

Funded by textile capitalist G.D. Birla, Gandhi preached collaboration between the classes. Roy quotes Gandhi, who argued:

It would be suicidal if the laborers rely on their numbers...In doing so, they would do harm to industries in the country. If, on the other hand, they take their stand on pure justice and suffer in their person to secure it, not only will they always succeed, but they will reform their masters...and both masters and men will be members of one and the same family."

Gandhi's attitude toward the scheduled castes was one of the main bones of contention with Ambedkar. Ambedkar proposed that the scheduled castes have a separate electorate so they could elect their own representatives and also be part of the general electorate.

Gandhi opposed this as "divisive." Gandhi was for incorporating Untouchables into the Hindu body politic by allowing them to worship at Hindu temples, but otherwise leaving the caste system intact. Other changes in the treatment of Untouchables would be left to the good will of the privileged castes.

Gandhi only came around to the idea that it was acceptable for people from different castes to share meals toward the end of his life. For Gandhi, the caste system was necessary and an integral part of Hinduism. For Ambedkar, it needed to be abolished.

Ambedkar tried to support Gandhi, but broke with him on the issue of caste. His politics had a radical core--self-determination for the scheduled castes and abolition of the caste system, as well as for true equality generally.

But he often sought these aims through reformist methods. For example, he was part of the commission to design the Indian constitution, but quit when it became clear that it wasn't going to achieve his goals. He organized independent political parties in support of the Dalits.

Ambedkar's analysis of the struggle for independence was right on point. Referring to the Indian National Congress, the main representative of the nationalist movement, he wrote: "The question of whether the Congress is fighting for freedom has very little importance as compared to the question of for whose freedom is the Congress fighting."

Replying to Gandhi, who questioned his sharp criticism of the Congress, Ambedkar argued in 1931, "No Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land."

In contrasting Gandhi and Ambedkar, Roy doesn't lionize Ambedkar. But she points out the weaknesses and betrayals in the politics of the "saint"--and points out that that even in Gandhi's time, there was a political alternative.

The Doctor and the Saint provides important lessons about the need to fully incorporate the fight against oppression into the fight to abolish capitalism.

Categories: Political Action

A living connection to past struggle

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 01:00

Mario Kessler pays tribute to Theodor Bergmann, a veteran of the struggles of the 1930s in Germany as a member of the anti-Stalinist communist opposition and an inspiring thinker and teacher to the end of his days at the age of 101. This article first appeared in German in Neues Deutschland and was translated by Axel Fair-Schulz.

Theodor Bergmann

IT SEEMED that the older he grew the less likely it was that he could actually die. Even after Theodor Bergmann celebrated his 100th birthday, this indefatigable professor of agricultural sciences and, later on, historian of the labor movement, continued his busy schedule of delivering public lectures and authoring books.

He ever sparkled with vitality and new ideas. Just a few months ago, the VSA-Verlag published Der chinesische Weg. Versuch, eine ferne Entwicklung zu verstehen (The Chinese Way. An Attempt to Understand a Development in a Far-Away Place).

It turned out to be his last book. On June 12, Theodor Bergmann passed away--well into his 102 year--in his chosen home of Stuttgart, Germany. With his death, the last living connection to the labor movement of the Weimar Republic has been severed: He was the final surviving participant and eyewitness.

Born on March 7, 1916, in Berlin, to a large Rabbinical family, young Theo joined the Communist movement in 1929, but he did not join the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Instead, he opted for the anti-Stalinist opposition to the KPD, the KPO, which had coalesced around Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer.

Bergmann remained committed to their example, of a critical Marxism, for the rest of his long life. He searched for a world where freedom and social justice would be intrinsically connected. To him, only a truly emancipatory socialism had the potential to bring such a world into existence. Yet Bergmann also knew, only too well, what Bertolt Brecht had alluded to when he characterized socialism as "the simple thing that is so difficult to do."

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BERGMANN WAS only 17 years old in 1933, when the Nazi rise to power forced him into exile—with Palestine, Czechoslovakia and Sweden as stops along the way. His life was hard and often dangerous, and twice, the Nazis came very close to capturing him.

In 1946, he returned to West Germany, as Stalinist East Germany was no alternative to him. He found political belonging in the group "Arbeiterpolitik" (Worker's Politics) and also a personal home with comrade Gretel Steinhilber, who, like Theo, was active within the KPO.

In his memoirs, which he updated and republished on the occasion of his 100th birthday, he described succinctly how arduous his journey had been, from having been an agricultural laborer, living in exile, to finally becoming a professor on international comparative agricultural policies at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim.

Not surprisingly, more than a few "colleagues" with a Nazi past tried to undermine and sabotage Bergmann's academic career.

Ultimately, Bergmann prevailed, thanks to his legendary energy, immense discipline and an unyielding optimism that defined him until his last day. The range of his productivity and creativity is underscored by the over 60 books he either wrote or edited, as well as his several hundred published scholarly papers and another several-hundred journalistic articles that have appeared on five different continents.

He generously shared his immense knowledge and insights without being pretentious or condescending and was a genuine socialist Weltbürger--a citizen of the world.

Bergmann was fluent in five languages, both as a writer and as a speaker. On top of that, he had a reading knowledge of another half-dozen languages as well. He traveled to China on his own dime no fewer than 17 times, and to Israel even more frequently. There were many trips to India and Pakistan, among many other countries, in order to better "understand developments" there.

Never an armchair academic, while living in exile Bergmann worked as a Hebrew teacher, a mineworker and an agricultural laborer. Agriculture became his chosen field, when he could finally consider a more academic career. In 1947, he was finally able to finish his college degree in agricultural science in Bonn. He had begun his studies in exile but was prevented by circumstances from finishing until after the Second World War.

Yet even with his degree in hand, any thought of an academic career seemed unrealistic for a long time to come. As an unskilled worker in the metal-processing industry; later on as an employee of the Chamber of Agricultural Affairs in Hannover; and finally as a project leader in Turkey; Bergmann worked to complete his doctoral degree, as well as his second doctoral degree (the so-called "habilitation"--the prerequisite for university teaching). This was in addition to his regular professional duties and without much support.

It was not until 1973 that he became a professor at Stuttgart-Hohenheim. There, he helped students who were targeted by the anti-leftist witch hunts of the era, including the extensive blacklistings and other forms of harassment. He offered his help regardless of whether he agreed with the specific ideological perspective of the targeted students or not.

Bergmann's field of specialization, in his teaching as well as in his research, focused on the comparative study of the developmental agricultural models and cooperatives in different countries, especially China, India and Israel. Even today, his former students and Ph.D. candidates speak fondly about his helpfulness, his impressive expertise and his exceedingly well-rounded humanistic learning. While being unassuming and approachable, Bergmann nevertheless demanded a great deal from his students, while always arguably demanding the most from himself.

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THE HISTORY and politics of the labor movement became increasingly central to Bergmann's intellectual activities, especially after his official retirement, which led him to be busier than ever.

His history of the anti-Stalinist KPO, entitled Gegen den Strom (Against the Current), appeared first in 1987 and has come out in several new and expanded editions since. It is now a well-established classic in the field. In addition, he wrote well-documented works on the Comintern, the Spanish Civil War, the Israeli-Arab conflict, to mention just a few.

Bergmann also initiated, together with his colleague and friend Gert Schäfer, a range of international conferences on the history and current problems of the labor and union movements. This started with conferences on Karl Marx and August Thalheimer in 1983 and 1984, in the Stuttgart area, and ended with a conference of the Rosa Luxemburg Society in Guangzhou/Canton. In between were conferences on Trotsky, Bukharin, Lenin, the Russian Revolution and Friedrich Engels--among others. In word and deed, and via his extensive networking skills, he supported the work of the Rosa Luxemburg Society.

Theodor Bergmann saw himself as a critical Marxist. Hence it was no surprise that his work was banned in East Germany during the Stalinist era. Yet it was only natural for him to come to the aid of East Germany's disenfranchised scholars after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, despite the fact that they were supposed to denounce Bergmann as a "revisionist" and "renegade" under the old Stalinist Regime.

Bergmann joined the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS, the new organization that emerged from the ashes of the old ruling party) and led its state division in Baden-Württemberg for some time, remaining active in the political-education efforts of the party until the end of his life.

Bergmann especially enjoyed speaking in front of high school students, and he was frequently invited to do so. He placed great importance on sharing his personal experiences, as his long life of great peril and important insights fascinated the politically curious from younger generations.

I myself recall rather fondly how my college students in Potsdam/Germany stood open-mouthed as Theo Bergmann concluded a freely delivered talk, followed by a spirited discussion and question-and-answer session, and then finished with the remark: "I hope that I have not exhausted you too much." At that point, Bergmann was already over 100 years old.

Theodor Bergmann was consequent and consistent in his thinking and conduct. Yet he could also empathize with the human shortcomings in others, as not everybody could always fight. Those who falter don't need our constant criticism, but they always need our solidarity.

Theo embodied Bertolt Brecht's sentiment that "[t]he weak do not fight. The stronger ones fight for maybe an hour. Those who are even stronger might fight for many years. But the strongest fight during the entire lives. They are indispensable."

Theodor Bergmann never thought of himself as indispensable. But he was.

First published in German in Neues Deutschland. Translation by Axel Fair-Schulz.

Categories: Political Action