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The planet can't wait

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 01:00

The People's Climate March this weekend will bring together a critical resistance to a president who could be "one of the most destructive forces in humanity's history."

Fighting back against climate change at the March for Science (Takver | flickr)

TOMORROW WILL mark Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, an artificial milestone that the media and Trump himself denounce as meaningless--but that they can't help themselves from spending endless time analyzing.

Meanwhile, a different clock is ticking on an infinitely more important deadline, and it's getting a small fraction of the media coverage: The point at which the global temperature increase reaches the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point that most scientists agree will trigger an irreversible cycle pushing the world toward even more disastrous climate change.

As Marxist ecologist John Bellamy Foster explained in a recent article for Monthly Review, if temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise at their current rate, they will set off a chain of events beyond human control: polar ice that currently reflects the sun's rays will turn into "dark ocean" that absorbs it, and the thawing tundra will release immense amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

In case you didn't think that November 8, 2016--the day of Trump's election--was bad enough, it was also the same day that the World Meteorological Association released a report declaring that the previous five years were the hottest ever recorded.

Even more ominously, the report stated that "2015 was also the first year in which global temperatures were more than 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era." It turns out that in the same year that the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement declared 1.5 degrees Celsius to be the upper limit of how far global warming could go, we were already more than halfway there.

As Naomi Klein makes clear in the subtitle of her best-selling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, we are experiencing a head-on collision between our present economic system and our future as a species.

"What our economy needs to function in a capitalist system is continuous growth and continuous depletion of resources, including finite resources," Klein said in an interview with the Indypendent. "What our planet needs in order to avoid catastrophic warming and other dangerous tipping points is for humans to contract our use of material resources."

That interview was from three years ago, when the problem we faced was that Barack Obama's environmental reforms weren't nearly enough to halt the advance of climate change. Now the problem has grown even worse: we have a climate change denialist president who's out to reverse even those insufficient reforms, at a time when the planet can't afford to go backward.

As environmental activist and author Ashley Dawson wrote in the days after the election, "It is no exaggeration to say that Donald Trump is set to become the most destructive force in humanity's history."

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THE SCALE of the problem of climate change can seem overwhelming, but it's important to remember that there have been important victories for our side, most notably the blocking the completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines (DAPL).

Trump has reversed both of these rulings (although it remains unclear if the Keystone XL will ever be completed), but these struggles have given momentum and exposure to fights against pipeline construction across the country, from Texas to New Jersey.

They've also shown new ways of building solidarity and connecting the fight for the planet with the struggle for Native sovereignty. The "Cowboy-Indian alliance" that united Native communities, ranchers and farmers was a key part of the fight against Keystone XL, and the historic connections forged between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the thousands of military veterans who came to help defend the water protectors inspired millions.

The fights against these pipelines and the rest of Trump's agenda of increased fossil fuel extraction is too urgent to wait until the next presidential election--even if you believe that whatever opponent the Democrats put up against him could be counted on to reverse climate change, which we shouldn't. Every year of not making progress--or going backward--takes us closer to the 2 degree Celsius countdown.

The Marches for Science last weekend and the People's Climate March on April 29 are important steps in building the fight.

The urgency is not only to stop the construction of more pipelines and the extraction of more oil, coal and gas, but to win millions of people to the idea that we need a system change in order to end the threat of climate change.

Many people are open to that argument, but don't see how we can get there. That's an understandable question, but here's one way to look at it: April 29 is the Climate March. Two days later on May 1, hundreds of thousands of will protest on May Day for the rights of workers and immigrants.

The demands of these two struggles and movements are intimately connected, and the prospects for success in each are enormously improved if we can build solidarity and unity around a struggle for system change with the power to shut down capitalism. We should look for every opportunity to take a step in that direction, starting this weekend.

Categories: Political Action

A history of cruelty in a nation of immigrants

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 01:00

Bridget Broderick surveys 200 years of shifting policy toward immigrants--and finds that Republicans and Democrats have contributed to the war on the undocumented.

Above: Border Patrol agent arrests migrants in the 1930s; below: ICE detains another victim

THE PLAQUE at the base of the Statue of Liberty reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." But for millions of immigrants who have arrived on American shores, the promise of freedom remains illusory.

Most immigrants toil long hours for low wages doing the work most native-born workers won't touch. There are daily reminders that immigrants should be grateful to live in the "greatest country on earth," but also that they don't fully belong.

The U.S. government has always had a contradictory relationship to immigrants because the country's employers needed laborers, but also needed to control them. As a colonial project and a new country, the U.S. needed toilers--Black slave laborers, indentured servants and wage laborers.

Immigrants provided a constantly renewable source of cheap labor, which could be drawn in during boom times and expelled during lean times. The industries that relied on immigrant populations thrived on their labor, but preferred to ignore the "distasteful" needs that workers often bring with them--needs such as adequate wages and sufficient living standards to maintain health, safety and sanity.

In the words of playwright Max Frisch, known for his use of irony: "We asked for workers. We got people instead."

A cruel part of that contradictory relationship is the country's longstanding use of racist, class-based and political immigration restrictions. The U.S. government has used the tactic of individual deportations as well as the periodic use of mass deportations, but it has always sought to control the flow of immigrant labor, and with it to control the economic and political aspirations of all workers.

Like all countries, the U.S. has its own particular history of labor relations and systems of political and ideological control.

The nation was established through conquest over Native Americans, which required racist dehumanization to justify violent displacement. And the fortunes of early American colonists also depended on slave labor, which similarly required a set of racist ideas to explain away the seeming contradiction: If it's self-evident that "all men are created equal," why are some men owned by others? The answer: because "they" aren't really men, they're subhuman.

Politicians, employers and opinion makers racialized all groups, including immigrant groups, whenever it was expedient.

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IN THE new American nation, the process of determining who can become a citizen was based not on the revolutionary ideals of religious and civil liberties and the fight against tyranny, but on political and economic needs. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited naturalization to immigrants who were "free white persons of good moral character."

It was in the 1800s, though, that the U.S. really begins to wrestle with the issue of immigration on a mass scale--a scale unseen in world history up to that time.

Thirty million immigrants came to the U.S. in the 100 years between 1815 and the First World War in 1914--a period in which population grew from roughly 8 million to 80 million. Prior to 1819, no records of immigrants were taken by state or federal governments. The first federal laws restricting immigrants' access to the U.S. targeted the poor and those with "impairments of physical and mental health." Official restrictions on nationality and race would come later.

Anti-immigrant sentiment and vigilante activism first cohered in nativist groups like the Know-Nothing Party in the 1840s and 1850s. Its slogan was "America for the Americans." In fact, most of the Know-Nothing program sounds very similar to the platform of white supremacist organizations in the 2000s such as the Minutemen or to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his true believers today.

The Know-Nothings' targets were Irish immigrants, who were generally poor and Catholic and who formed the first sizeable unskilled urban proletariat. The Know-Nothings were able to unite politically to elect governors and representatives, but the party was torn apart by divergent views on the question of the Civil War in the U.S.

After the Civil War, which uprooted the institution of slavery but did not resolve the problem of racism and labor relations, immigration policies became a matter of public debate, and by 1891, the Federal Bureau of Immigration had been set up within the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Before this time, immigration policy had been set by individual states. Later, control of deportation moved to the Department of Labor and then to the Department of Justice, where the agency was called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resides within the Department of Homeland Security.

This constant change of departments overseeing immigration policy reflects the U.S.'s conflicted relationship with immigrants.

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IN THE wake of industrial mass strikes in railroads, mines and manufacturing in the 1870s as well as pressure from white labor organizations, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. The law extended and codified the existing scapegoating of Chinese workers. It prohibited immigration from China for 10 years and barred the naturalization of Chinese immigrants already in the country.

The Act did permit Chinese teachers, students, merchants and travellers for pleasure to enter the U.S., but they could not become citizens. The main thrust of the law was to prohibit the further influx of Chinese laborers, who for decades had been heavily recruited to build thousands of miles of railroads alongside other immigrant and native workers.

General immigration restrictions began at this time as well. Congress called for the exclusion of convicts, "lunatics, idiots or any person unable to care for himself without becoming a public charge." A head tax of 50 cents for each immigrant who traveled by sea was enacted as well.

In the early 20th century, bigotry, racism and economic and political needs aligned to forge the most restrictive immigration laws yet. This was in part due to massive immigration. The first 14 years of the 20th century were the peak years of emigration to the U.S.

At the same time, the total population of the U.S. was growing steadily. Many immigrants returned to their home country without finding success. Therefore, the percentage of foreign-born in the U.S. did not significantly change. According to U.S. Census statistics, the percentage of foreign-born in 1890 was 14.7 percent. In 1910, it was also 14.7 percent. And in 1920, the figure dropped to 13.2 percent.

So the anti-immigrant legislation of this period was not necessarily a response to the country being "overrun" by immigrants. As various historians have noted, these attitudes actually reflected the changing economic and political conditions within the U.S.--and how the question of immigration was shaped by these changes.

In 1917, the Immigration Act was established. Literacy tests in English were given to all European immigrants. All Asian immigrants except Filipinos were barred.

Later, the National Origins Act of 1929 defined strict quotas for immigrants of each nationality to limit "less desirables." This was maintained during the Second World War as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt rejected shiploads of German and East European Jewish immigrants fleeing the death camps.

At the same time, the Western Hemisphere and the Philippines were exempt from quotas due to concern for labor shortages in the western U.S. Mexican laborers were recruited to replace Chinese workers on the railroad and to work in agriculture alongside Filipino workers.

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IT'S WORTH examining the role of political parties to provide some background to the current political moment in terms of the deportation and criminalization of immigrants under Trump.

Two periods during the 20th century in which mass deportations took place under the Republican and Democratic Parties stand out.

Between 1920 and 1930, Mexicans were exempt from the "quota system." More than a million Mexican workers crossed the border because they were recruited to work on the railroads and in agriculture. They were welcomed as cheap reliable labor.

When the Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, however, unemployment shot up, and so did racist hysteria about "Mexicans taking jobs." From 1929 to 1936, the U.S. government, led by the state of California, deported or "repatriated" (meaning threatened with prison, foreclosure, job loss and violence to compel "voluntary" return) Mexicans and Mexican Americans who had never lived in Mexico.

Estimates are that between 500,000 and 2 million people, many U.S. citizens, were forced to leave. These mass deportations were initiated under the administration of President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, but they were continued by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt until 1936.

In 1942, to deal with farm labor shortages during the Second World War, Roosevelt approved the Bracero program, a joint program under the State Department, the Department of Labor, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) within the Department of Justice.

It was a guest worker program that supposedly guaranteed labor and human rights, but the program was rife with abuses. The "New Deal" did next to nothing for immigrant laborers.

Roosevelt's successor, Democratic President Harry S. Truman, continued the guest worker program in 1951, despite well-known and widespread abuses of guest workers from Mexico. But Truman also called for a crackdown on "illegal" immigration--in other words, workers without guest worker contracts.

More than 127,000 were formally deported and more than 3.2 million left voluntarily rather than face deportation--a total of nearly 3.4 million during Truman's administration.

It was this Democratic administration that paved the way politically and ideologically for Republican President Eisenhower to enact the pejoratively termed Operation Wetback in 1954 that increased the Border Patrol's forces and gave it military equipment.

In the first year alone, more than 1 million mostly Mexican workers--undocumented, documented and citizens--were deported or repatriated in the first year alone. The operation was another government-sanctioned policy of mass deportations based on racial profiling of immigrant workers.

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THERE WERE two other laws enacted in the late 20th century that were especially crucial in establishing the level of criminalization and repression of migrants that we see today: the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

Both pieces of legislation were integral to developing and sustaining neoliberal economic and political policies in the U.S. While U.S. economic policy was pushing for open markets worldwide, such as NAFTA, the federal government aimed to control the movement of migrants often forced to leave their homes to find jobs that the "free market" had taken away from them.

While Democratic President Carter (1977-81) expanded the budget and personnel for patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, it was under Republican President Reagan that the ideological attack against migrants advanced significantly.

Reagan portrayed the U.S.-Mexico border as the "gateway" to the three largest "threats" to the U.S.: poor migrants, Central American subversives, and narco-traffickers. In this atmosphere, it's a miracle that the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 was ever signed and implemented.

A coalition of labor unions, social-justice and religious groups involved in the 1980s sanctuary movement advocated for migrant amnesty, leading to 2.8 million immigrants getting legal status and citizenship under IRCA. The amnesty bill was a boon to millions of migrant workers to get their long-deserved legal rights, and newly legalized migrant workers joined in labor organizing drives and campaigns for workers' rights.

The miracle involved compromises, however--sanctions against employers who hired undocumented workers, leading to the new business enterprise of providing false Social Security numbers and the increased ability to fire and deport migrant workers at opportune moments; a dramatic escalation of the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border; and a further increase in the number of Border Patrol personnel.

Democratic President Bill Clinton cemented the growth of anti-immigrant sentiment and the legal repression and violence directed against migrant workers with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994. Clinton doubled the Border Patrol budget and number of agents, and nearly tripled the amount of border fencing and sensors to "restore integrity and safety to the nation's busiest border."

This program, implemented the same year that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, led to much more brutal conditions for the many refugees fleeing economic devastation caused by the new trade terms.

The border zone came to be characterized by desperate refugees preyed on by unscrupulous traffickers and corrupt border patrol officials alike. Rape, violence, harassment and migrant detention centers became business as usual along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Operation Gatekeeper was directly responsible for more than 4,000 migrant workers' deaths from 1994 to 2005.

In 1996, Clinton again mobilized anti-immigrant sentiment to advance his re-election efforts. He enacted a number of anti-immigrant laws, among them the Illegal Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

Ostensibly meant to "strengthen and streamline U.S. immigration laws," the law greatly expanded the type of crimes for which immigrants could be deported (such as shoplifting and driving while intoxicated), increased mandatory detention for deportees, increased (again) the number of Border Patrol agents, and introduced measures such as E-verify for employers to confirm workers' legal status, as well as the notorious 287(g) program that authorizes local and state police forces to carry out immigration enforcement.

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SO MUCH of what we have seen in terms of the worsening legal situation facing immigrants under George W. Bush and Barack Obama--Secure Communities, E-verify, and the proliferation of imprisonment and detention centers--has been facilitated by Clinton's 1996 bill.

Combined with his Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which codified and extended the New Jim Crow, and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which ended "welfare as we know it," the three major laws enacted under Clinton's reign make it clear the Democrats were willing to go to great lengths to use racism and repression to control an increasingly overworked and impoverished population under siege.

Given the Democrats' history of immigrant scapegoating and deportations, it should be no surprise that President Obama was no friend to immigrants. After all, he inherited a well-funded enforcement regime from Clinton and Bush.

The Obama administration made a priority of removing "criminal aliens," which proved to be an efficient strategy that earned Obama his nickname "Deporter-in-Chief" for deporting 2.5 million immigrants between 2009 and 2015. This was a particular reading of the 1996 law that took advantage of the criminal justice pipeline.

Rebranding immigrants as "criminals" for committing minor offenses (or for felonies for which they already served time) proved much more popular than removing undocumented workers in workplace raids. Due to racism and the dehumanization of prisoners generally, immigrants with "criminal" histories had far fewer political defenders than other groups of immigrants such as undocumented college students.

"Crime-based" removals resulted in a disproportionate number of Latinx immigrants being deported because of racial profiling that lands more Latinx and Black Americans in prison. Under Obama, more than 95 percent of removals from the U.S. were Latinx noncitizens.

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DONALD TRUMP initiated his presidential campaign by claiming that Mexico was sending its criminals to the United States, and he promised to deport Mexican immigrants en masse. As president, Trump issued two executive orders in January that expanded the Obama administration's focus on removing "criminal aliens."

He increased the geographic area from within 100 miles of the U.S. border to the entire U.S. for "expedited removal," a process by which an individual immigration official can arbitrarily expel an immigrant without hearing or further legal review.

This will most likely have a disproportionate impact on noncitizens from Mexico and Central America who "fit the profile" of undocumented immigrant developed over the past centuries.

With his other executive order, Trump vowed to eliminate federal funding for any city or state that created sanctuary status--though a judge recently blocked this order while the courts consider its legality. Sanctuary cities were established by local governments to protect immigrants from collaboration between city and state officials and federal ICE officials, sometimes referred to as the "polimigra."

Trump's executive orders will continue to have a devastating impact on immigrant communities--by generating fear and desperation among the undocumented, documented DACA recipients, and mixed-status families that there is now no reprieve from federal immigration enforcement.

Trump based his political success on fomenting fear among voters by scapegoating immigrants and by using racist rhetoric that his followers have been emboldened to put into action.

It is urgent to organize in support of all immigrants during the Trump presidency and link this struggle to others facing his attacks. But it is important as well to remember the history of how we arrived at this moment. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for stoking anti-immigrant sentiment and implementing harsher and harsher legal mechanisms for the treatment of immigrants.

Organizing against Trump's policies does not need to mean organizing for the Democrats as an alternative. Independently, we can and must build a better world without borders.

Categories: Political Action

When Buffalo sent Operation Rescue packing

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 01:00

Brian Erway tells how abortion rights activists organized against Operation Rescue 25 years ago in upstate New York--and what we can learn from this struggle today.

Abortion rights activists clash with anti-choice Operation Rescue members outside the Buffalo clinic

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, in April 1992, pro-choice activists in Buffalo, Rochester, throughout Western New York and, indeed, across the nation, were on a state of high alert.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue (OR) planned to descend on Buffalo, promising to deploy thousands of their zealous Christian followers for two weeks of physical blockades against the city's abortion clinics.

Their "Spring of Life" would begin after Easter Sunday, and they aimed to repeat their success from the previous summer in Wichita, Kansas, where their tactics of mass occupation temporarily closed that city's abortion clinics.

Several weeks before this, bright pink posters began to go up, as pro-choice forces organized for a clinic defense. The posters declared, "Operation Rescue, You're Not in Kansas Anymore!"--and summed up our collective goal: "Boot 'em out of Buffalo!"

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IT'S IMPORTANT to describe what the political climate was like 25 years ago. President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 on a program that may sound familiar to people today: scapegoating immigrants and the poor, riding roughshod over workers and unions, and kicking off an arms race and confrontations with Russia (then the USSR).

The Republican Party explicitly courted a newly identified voting bloc: conservative-leaning, fundamentalist Christians. This cohort included followers of many televangelist preachers, mega-church pastors with cable TV and radio shows, and leaders of fundamentalist religious colleges.

These people spoke for a growing demographic, and they mobilized their base to pressure politicians to write "traditional"--and bigoted--religious stances into public policy, in what became dubbed the "culture wars." The Republican Party has counted on the organized political power of Christian fundamentalists ever since.

The Christian side of the culture wars stoked a fierce backlash against feminism and women's rights. Some branched out as well. A wing organized around singer and Christian Right figurehead Anita Bryant focused on mobilizing homophobic sentiment to obstruct any moves directed toward acceptance and equality for gays and lesbians, along with any relaxing of anti-sodomy laws and measures that criminalized the existence of LGBTQ people.

The prominence of this brand of right-wing Christian fundamentalism among our opponents was, of course, the basis of one of the most lasting pro-choice chants on the picket line, "Racist, sexist, anti-gay, born-again bigots, go away!"

A woman's right to abortion had only been won nationally in 1973, with the Roe v, Wade Supreme Court ruling, following a long series of struggles and mobilizations. As early as 1977, abortion rights opponents had pushed through a significant restriction, the Hyde Amendment, which barred federal funding of abortions as medical services in programs like Medicaid.

The anti-abortion cause drew strength not just from mobilized Protestant fundamentalists, but also from the substantial activist base of the Catholic Church of the time. For a while, they swelled the ranks of local anti-abortion protests, and we had chants tailored to address them, too, like: "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!"

In city after city, there were battles--protests and counterprotests--between pro-choice defenders of abortion rights and anti-abortionists on the attack.

In Rochester in the late 1980s--where I lived and still do today--pro-choice activists faced off against the anti-abortionists on opposite sides of Alexander Street in front of the Genesee Hospital. Although over time, we gathered and trained a core of dedicated pro-choice activists and clinic defenders, we were never able to greatly out-mobilize the other side.

Month by month and eventually year after year, we held our own, but in truth, the battle had become a siege.

Anti-abortion protesters were a chronic feature outside clinics, harassing patients, staff and anyone else who happened to be nearby. Pro-choice activists responded by working with clinics to establish escort services for clients to get through anti-abortion picketers. In some cases, injunctions kept anti-abortionists a minimum distance from clinic entrances.

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OPERATION RESCUE (OR) emerged as an up-and-coming contender in the heated cloud of politicized evangelical Christians fighting in the trenches of the "culture wars" and seeing themselves as the cutting edge of rolling back the gains that women, LGBT people and others had made in demanding equality.

Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was a charismatic 30-year-old leader, with roots in the Rochester area, but who made Binghamton, New York, his home base. Terry started off on a small scale, individually harassing patients at clinics--so-called "sidewalk counseling"--and he built a following.

In January 1986, he led a group of seven inside a clinic, where they locked themselves up and destroyed telephones, furniture and anything else they could lay their hands on until police pulled them out and arrested them. Terry's new tactic of blockading clinics in order to "rescue" fetuses was born.

As Terry described it in his book Operation Rescue, this had a polarizing effect on the existing movement:

Our first rescue mission jolted the Christian community. Until then, we had been held in high regard and honor because of our efforts and sacrifice on behalf of the unborn. They felt we had "broken the law." Our actions left a lot of pastors and congregations in a state of shock and confusion. Others were downright angry.

Despite the loss of support from some moderates, the "rescue" tactics grabbed headlines, and a harder-core minority responded enthusiastically.

As Terry and Operation Rescue took their campaign to various cities across the country, their prominence in the anti-abortion movement grew. OR's tactical breakthrough was to stage large-scale mobilizations with civil disobedience to shut down the clinics and tie up law enforcement in a particular locale.

These included actions in Atlanta during the 1988 Democratic Party convention (134 arrests and national attention); Los Angeles in spring 1989 "Holy Week of Rescue" (700 arrests); and, notoriously, Wichita, Kansas, in the summer of 1991, where 2,600 anti-choice bigots were arrested over the course of six weeks, but succeeded closing down clinics.

Pro-choice forces tried various tactics in response, often seeking court injunctions against OR. In practice, however, the injunctions didn't impede the anti-abortionists because OR activists were already planning on getting arrested. OR instructed its members to refuse to provide the cops with names, thus complicating processing after arrest.

The moderate wing of the pro-choice movement didn't want a confrontation with the anti-abortionists and counseled relying on the police to do their job. This was what the pro-choice leadership in Wichita decided to do in summer of 1991, and the result was OR scoring a significant publicity victory.

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IN OCTOBER 1991, Randall Terry announced that he was scouting locations for OR's next campaign and was considering Buffalo. The next week, Buffalo's "pro-life" Mayor James Griffin welcomed Terry and OR "with open arms," saying, "I want to see them in this city. If they can shut down one abortion mill, they've done their job."

Pro-choice activists throughout the region immediately mobilized, protesting Mayor Griffin at City Hall and at a clinic where it was rumored Terry would appear. There was strong feeling in the wake of Wichita that we had to mount a physical defense of the clinics and prevent OR from getting close enough to blockade them.

In truth, however, the movement could not decide what to do that easily.

In particular, there was a division between those who said we should physically prevent Operation Rescue from blockading the clinics, and those who thought that stance was too militant. In fact, some pro-choice activists objected to any kind of demonstration at all in front of the clinics.

A lively debate within the movement followed, addressing themes we still hear today: Are we not hurting patients and clients if we mass in front of the clinics, and don't we need permission from the clinics?

Soon after Terry made it official in January 1992 that Buffalo was the target, the activists who wanted to organize the physical defense of the clinics went ahead and formed Buffalo United for Choice (BUC). The groups who didn't agree withdrew from the movement, although as individuals, many found their way back to the clinic defense.

Pro-choice forces were already on the ground in both Buffalo and Rochester, but now everyone knew we had to kick it up a notch.

Throughout the region, activists held interest meetings and then training sessions for direct action in defending the clinics from OR. On campuses and in community centers, we gathered in scores and practiced linking arms to defend clinic entrances, while our pretend anti-abortion fanatics flung themselves at our lines.

BUC drew up practical plans for organizing the mass defense of the clinics. There were three in downtown Buffalo within walking distance of each other, an advantage to defenders who could shift forces quickly as needed. A fourth clinic was in suburban Amherst, and not as easily defended.

By now, the struggle was attracting national attention, and BUC had secured funding for walkie-talkies and headsets, and setting up a command post, as well as buttons, placards, flyers and more. They got support from local grassroots efforts and benefit concerts, as well as national NGOs like the Feminist Majority Foundation.

In Washington, D.C., a national March for Women's Lives took place on April 5, and this helped focus attention on the looming struggle in Buffalo, convincing some to travel there and participate.

In Rochester, those of us in the International Socialist Organization organized at the University of Rochester, where we had helped initiate a Pro-Choice Action Committee (PCAC) previous year. PCAC sent buses to the Washington march and organized clinic defense training sessions on campus.

There were pro-choice activists scattered throughout dozens of campuses across Western New York, and among them, there was considerable interest in confronting OR.

The PCAC proposed a "Student Coalition Against Operation Rescue" to help coordinate at colleges and sent out invitation letters (this was that dark period of world history before the Internet). But this inter-campus group never came together, and student activists found their own way the clinic defense lines. The response throughout the region nonetheless was massive and totally successful.

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AN EARLY sign of this came in Rochester, where Randall Terry scheduled a rally the Thursday before Easter. The event would take place at a downtown church, and our local movement couldn't decide what to do. About half of us wanted to picket the church right from the beginning and confront the OR supporters as they arrived. They would have to get through our lines to reach their meeting.

The other half of our group balked at the idea of confrontation. They wanted to assemble at a separate, non-hostile site and then march to the church where Terry was speaking. We were split down the middle and unable to reach a decision, and in the end, each side's adherents did what they wanted. We were going into action, but we weren't united.

The night was cold and rainy, and those of us who started off picketing at the church were getting pushed around by a big contingent of police, even though there were 200 or more of us. The cops pressured our crowd to stand across the street and not to chant "in front of a church." Those of us who argued that we should defy the cops and make lots of noise found that we couldn't win our crowd.

It was a miserable moment. But then, from down the street through the rain, we could hear an approaching commotion. The other half of our demonstration was arriving, chanting, waiving signs and now doubling our size.

With up to 500 protesters and a newfound surge of purpose, we stood directly in front of the church and spilled into the street, shouting loud enough to raise the rafters and be clearly heard inside.

"Not the church, not the state, Women must decide their fate!" filled the air. And there was nothing the cops could do about it now, except direct traffic around our crowd in the street.

It was an incredible feeling, and for me an object lesson in how a shift in the balance of forces can transform everything in a situation. Not until seven or eight years later, during the global justice movement, would we have a chant that summed it up: "Whose streets? Our streets!"

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OR SAID its blockades in Buffalo would begin after Easter, but we started clinic defense two days early, because we couldn't discount the possibility of an early sneak attack. But despite high levels of adrenalin in expectation, no anti-abortionists showed up, and we finished the day early.

Each morning before dawn, several hundred pro-choice activists gathered outside the clinics, introduced themselves to each other, organized defense lines and anxiously waited to see if OR would show up. When escorts brought a patient to the entrance, we opened up the lines of locked arms to allow them in and then sealed the lines up after them.

BUC maintained communication between clinic sites and sent out scout teams to tail the OR buses and report on their movements.

On Tuesday, the blockade efforts began in earnest as busloads and carloads of OR activists disgorged people near the High Street clinic--but found the only place they could take up positions was on the sidewalk across the street from the entrance and its 100 defenders. The chant rang out: "Right to life, your name's a lie! You don't care if women die!"

They could pray on that side but do little else, as the cops would warn and then arrest anyone who went out into the street.

At one point, a few OR volunteers managed to rush across the street and tried to push up to the clinic entrance. The defenders' lines bent but held solid, and the attack was repelled. Later ,local OR leader Rev. Robert Schenck was arrested when police objected to him parading around for the press with what he claimed was an aborted fetus in a jar.

As word of the arrest spread, clinic defenders at a nearby Main Street site taunted OR by chanting, "Schenck's gone to jail! Schenck's gone to jail!"

Sometime after noon, the word came down that all scheduled patients had been seen, with no interruption or delay in services, and a cheer went up along the defenders' lines.

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FINDING THE clinic defenses downtown too difficult to penetrate, OR turned up the next day at the suburban Amherst clinic. Here, 150 of them were arrested, but they never got close to the clinic defenders at the entrance. Instead, they crawled part of the way to the building, then sat down in a parking lot, and were processed by police from there.

Plenty of arrests but no "rescues." We let them know our response: "Pray, you'll need it. Your cause has been defeated!"

The next morning, OR returned to the clinics downtown, and 71 of them were arrested as they blockaded an unused back doorway at GYN Womenservices. Meanwhile, patients continued to come and go through the front entrance, defended by 150 pro-choice activists, who chanted "Face it, you're losers! It's time to go home!" Another 75 arrests the next day again had no effect on interrupting services.

By the end of the first week, it was clear to all that Operation Rescue was being routed, outnumbered every day at the clinics and unable to shut down any operations at all. A local newspaper declared, "OR strategy backfires," pointing out that OR's ballyhooed descent on Buffalo had set in motion an even more potent response. Now the superior tactics and mobilization of BUC were winning the day.

That weekend, OR and its friends in the Religious Right put out a call appealing for more volunteers to come flooding into Buffalo. On Monday, 75 anti-abortionists were arrested, but the wave of new activists had not materialized, and OR called an indefinite break in the protest for its followers to pray and fast. They were back two days later, and continued staging arrests, but with less enthusiasm each day, until they fizzled out, two weeks after they began.

Terry declared to the press that the "Spring of Life" was still a victory and shuffled out of Buffalo. There had been 615 arrests, 597 of them anti-abortionists and 18 on the pro-choice side.

BUC's success in defending the clinics proved that OR's tactics were beatable, and broke the momentum for large-scale "rescues" that OR had pioneered. The lesson we learned then is just as important for us today: If we fight back, we can win, but we must choose to fight back, rather than allow the police and the courts to "do their work."

This must be our starting point now, 25 years later, as we set ourselves the task of defending a woman's right to abortion for yet another generation.

Categories: Political Action

Anger erupts over Turkey's rigged referendum

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 01:00

Tom Gagné and Alan Maass report on the vote that Turkey's president hoped would let him tighten his grip--and the protests that threaten to spoil his power grab.

Crowds of people have come out in Turkey's cities to protest vote fraud in the constitutional referendum

TURKEY'S RECEP Tayyip Erdoğan is claiming a narrow victory in a referendum to amend the constitution to give the president sweeping new powers. But evidence of brazen fraud led to nightly protests following the April 16 vote, spoiling Erdoğan's hopes to celebrate a popular mandate for his increasingly authoritarian rule.

The official result was 51.4 percent voting "yes" on the constitutional changes versus 48.6 percent voting "no"--a much closer outcome than Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had hoped for.

But even this narrow victory is in question. Turkey's Supreme Electoral Commission reversed itself after voting had begun and said it would count ballots not stamped as valid by officials unless they could be proven to be fraudulent. That reportedly applied to as many as 1.5 million ballots, more than the 1.38 million difference between "yes" and "no."

Videos circulating on the Internet show outright ballot stuffing, and the government had the gall to announce that cities with large Kurdish populations in southeastern Turkey--where Erdoğan has intensified savage repression against a persecuted minority--had voted "yes" overwhelmingly.

Demonstrations against the rigged referendum started the night of the vote in Turkey's major cities and continued each evening afterward. One favorite chant was reportedly "Başkanım değil!," or "Not my president"--a conscious reference to the protests against Donald Trump in the U.S. following his election in November.

The protests continued despite a state of emergency--extended again just before the vote--that gives police broad powers to detain people for dissent. According to the New York Times, at least 38 people, mainly known activists from left-wing organizations, were arrested or charged after early-morning raids on April 19.

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THE REFERENDUM was an attempt to amend key sections of Turkey's constitution to shift to an executive-style government, rather than a parliamentary one. The official justification is to avoid future unstable governing coalitions that exacerbated political crises in Turkey's past, though not since the AKP came to power in early 2003.

The real reason is to consolidate power in the hands of the ruling party and its president. Early in his political career, Erdoğan famously quipped: "Democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination." Clearly he hoped last Sunday's vote would be the exit door.

Under the amended constitution, Turkey's president gains the ability to issue executive orders, control the budget, and appoint vice presidents, ministers and other high-level officials. Erdoğan himself would be able to stay in power until 2029 if he wins two more votes. He's been prime minister or president since 2003, so the referendum could push his reign into Hosni Mubarak-like territory.

It's a power grab that Donald Trump would admire--which is probably why he was the only Western leader to call Erdoğan and congratulate him on his referendum "victory."

When the date was set for the referendum, Erdoğan clearly expected an overwhelming "yes" vote to legitimize his rule over a weakened opposition.

After surviving a botched coup attempt last July--apparently engineered by sections of the military loyal to the Gülenists, an Islamist social movement that had been an ally to the AKP when it first came to power--Erdoğan and his government carried out a massive purge.

The Gülenists, who had become political rivals, were the chief target, but the arrests, jailings and mass firings went much further. The left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP), based among the oppressed Kurds with support from left-wing organizations, also felt the brunt of the repression.

Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn reported that some 145,000 people have been detained or arrested and another 134,000 fired for supposedly being connected to the failed coup. Almost 150 media outlets have been closed. As Cockburn wrote:

All of this will be familiar to anybody familiar with the toxic politics of one-party or monarchical states anywhere in the world. Syrian elections to this day and Iraqi elections up to 2003 invariably returned overwhelming majorities in favor of their regimes, and some found it a mystery why their rulers bothered to hold a vote at all. The answer was that the vanity of autocrats is bottomless, and they want to see reports in their state-controlled media that they and their policies are the people's choice.

Weeks after the coup attempt, Erdoğan was able to preside at a massive pro-government rally of well over a million people in Istanbul.

The Republican People's Party (CHP)--the largest opposition party and, before 2003, the dominant force in Turkish politics between periods of direct military rule--mobilized in support of the government. The other main secular nationalist party, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with its openly fascist "Grey Wolves" youth organization, was also represented.

Yet less than a year later, Erdoğan seems to have needed massive fraud to muster a majority in the constitutional referendum.

The CHP joined in a call with the HDP for the vote to be annulled. The Supreme Electoral Commission rejected all appeals by a 10-to-1 vote, and AKP Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a not-so-veiled warning to CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu to "act more responsibly."

On the other hand, the bond between the AKP and the MHP--which at one time celebrated the persecution of the Islamist predecessors of the AKP--has continued, with the ultra-right nationalists mobilizing supporters for a "yes" vote, though at the cost of an inter-party battle that could split the MHP.

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SO TURNING to repression and nationalism hasn't allowed Erdoğan and the AKP to overcome Turkey's crisis.

For the past three years, the many dimensions of the war in Syria have spilled across the border into Turkey. Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria have successfully defended themselves against ISIS--with increasingly open support from the U.S. government--serving as a rallying point for the Kurdish movement.

The Erdoğan government tried to turn a blind eye to ISIS's movements between Iraq, Syria and Turkey precisely out of fear of the Kurdish question, but it has been under pressure from the U.S.--and now, ISIS terror attacks that take place on nearly a monthly basis are claiming more and more victims in metropolitan areas. Then there is the strain of the refugee crisis as desperate Syrians seek refuge outside their country's borders.

Meanwhile, Turkey's economic problems persist. For the past year, the country's currency has been in a free fall, contradicting the AKP's claims that Turkey was becoming a regional economic powerhouse.

The deep-seated bitterness with the grim reality behind Turkey's neoliberal success story has erupted before, culminating in the 2013 Gezi Park protests that were called the Turkish Spring.

The movement began as a modest occupation to defend one of Istanbul's last green spaces against the AKP's relentless economic development schemes, but when the government used harsh repression against occupiers, solidarity demonstrations spread across the city and around the country.

The mass protests receded after a time, but the political awakening didn't, contributing to the unprecedented success of the left-wing HDP in June 2015 elections. With support from a revitalized left and other ethnic minorities, the HDP became the first party based among the Kurds to win enough votes to gain representation in Turkey's parliament.

The HDP's success caused the AKP to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2003. His long-held plans for constitutional changes in danger, Erdoğan had a second election called and intensified an already growing war on Kurdish armed rebels, with the aim of regaining political leverage.

The AKP won back a majority in parliament, and it seemed to have momentum with it in the aftermath of the failed coup last summer. But the referendum outcome reveals that Turkish society is starkly polarized.

As three writers from the Turkish left, Guney Işıkara, Alp Kayserilioğlu and Max Zirngast, wrote this month at Jacobin:

The AKP is weaker than it's been in a long time...[H]alf the populace openly opposed it in the referendum, despite repressive, dictatorial methods and widespread fraud...That 49 percent opposed Erdoğan in such a critical poll--and this according to the fraudulent tally--means that the country literally is split in two; those who said "no" are in absolute, determined opposition to the government...

The longer the demonstrations and contestation of the election results continue, the greater the chance they will become a storm, swirling toward the AKP. The longer we put up the fight, the more morale and fighting power we will win for the struggles to come, and the wider the space for future mobilizations will be.

Categories: Political Action

What can stop the Tories in Britain's election?

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 01:00

In an article for Australia's Red Flag, Mick Armstrong explains the background to an election campaign in Britain that starts with the Labour Party far behind the Tories.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a rally in Cardiff (Liberty Russell)

BRITAIN'S CONSERVATIVE Party Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap election for June 8 to capitalize on the Tories' decisive lead in the opinion polls and a severely divided and demoralized Labour opposition.

May hopes that an overwhelming victory will strengthen her hand to push through the harsh austerity measures associated with her plans for a hard "Brexit" from the European Union. She wants further attacks on the National Health Service, racist immigration restrictions and more attacks on workers' rights.

Recent opinion polls have Labour winning just 25 percent of the vote, trailing the Tories by 20 percentage points. Yet the polls also show growing opposition to austerity and rising support for increased welfare spending. The National Health Service remains exceedingly popular. How can this contradiction be explained?

The long years of "New Labour" governments, from 1997 to 2010 under former Prime Minister Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown, alienated Labour's working-class voting base with unrelenting neoliberal policies, warmongering, arrogance, lies and deceit.

After the defeat of the Blairites in the 2010 general election won by the Tories, Labour installed a vaguely more left-wing leader, Ed Miliband, in an attempt to repair its brand image among its traditional working-class supporters. But Miliband remained beholden to the party's right wing and wasn't prepared to relentlessly campaign against the Tories' austerity measures.

His calls for a "responsible capitalism" did nothing to inspire workers suffering wage cuts and threats to their jobs, or young people looking for alternative to status quo neoliberal politics. The result was that Labour lost even more seats in the 2015 elections.

In the aftermath of Labour's electoral debacle, Jeremy Corbyn seemingly came from nowhere to win the party's official leadership position. Corbyn, a long-time left-wing backbench member of parliament (MP), was aided by rule changes that opened up the leadership vote to Labour Party members and registered supporters.

The Blairites had pushed through the rule changes because they believed that they would entrench right-wing domination and undermine the influence of the unions in the party. But rank-and-file party members were becoming increasingly fed up with Blairite neoliberalism; Corbyn's more left-wing vision inspired tens of thousands to sign up to vote for him.

A number of key union leaders, even though they were not as left wing as Corbyn, also backed him, in part because of his principled pro-union stand, but primarily because they realized that the Blairites offered no road forward for Labour. Something new had to be tried.

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CORBYN HAD hardly any supporters among the Labour MPs, who were miles to the right of him. He faced bitter opposition not just from Blairite MPs, but from the great bulk of the supposed moderates and soft-left MPs, and from the central party apparatus.

The Labour establishment, which is thoroughly committed to managing British capitalism in the interests of the rich, was never going to allow some upstart self-proclaimed socialist to take over "their party" just because he was voted in by rank-and-file Labour members and supporters.

So they set out on a never-ending campaign of sabotage, leaks, destabilization and red-baiting to destroy Corbyn. This wrecking operation had the full-throated support of the British establishment.

The tabloid press went into overdrive with hysterical headlines denouncing Corbyn as a commie traitor and terrorist sympathizer who was undermining the very fabric of the British way of life. And it wasn't just the tabloids. The supposedly liberal media, such as the Guardian, joined the wolf pack to get Corbyn.

The attacks, however, inspired more rank-and-file support for Corbyn. If the whole of the establishment was against him, then he was clearly doing something right.

The attempt by Labour MPs to overthrow Corbyn in a second leadership ballot decisively failed. Despite the expulsion of a number of Corbyn supporters and bureaucratic rule changes to deny the vote to thousands of others, he was re-elected with an increased majority.

But unfortunately, Corbyn failed to use this renewed democratic mandate from the mass of the rank and file to push ahead with hard-hitting left-wing policies to improve working class living standards and clear out right-wing saboteurs from the party.

He combined calls for party unity with attempts to placate his right-wing critics by watering down some of his more radical left-wing policies, such as opposition to NATO and support for the renationalization of vital former government services.

But his entrenched party opponents were never going to rally behind pleas for unity. Nor were they appeased by his more moderate stance. The conciliatory approach just made Corbyn seem weak and directionless ,and did nothing to inspire his supporter base. Labour's standing in the polls gradually ebbed away from more than 30 percent to around 25 percent.

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MAY'S CALLING of a snap election has sharply shifted the ground of the political fight. Corbyn responded well, with a fighting opening speech that railed against the establishment, denounced the rich and powerful and championed the interests of working-class people. Declaring the election battle "the establishment versus the people," Corbyn decried "rules that have allowed a cozy cartel to rig the system in favor of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations."

"We don't accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the city and the tax dodgers, and we don't accept that the British people just have to take what they're given, that they don't deserve better."

"I don't play by their rules," Corbyn went on. "And if a Labour government is elected on June 8, then we won't play by their rules either."

If Labour is to have any hope of galvanizing its supporters into action and reaching out to the mass of workers totally disillusioned with the whole political process, this fighting opening stance needs to set the tone for the whole of Labour's campaign.

Corbyn had already announced that a Labour government would raise the minimum wage to at least 10 pounds an hour and would introduce free school meals for all primary school children. These positive announcements need to backed up by a further raft of concrete left-wing policies that benefit workers and the poor by taxing the rich and powerful.

It is far from guaranteed that such a fighting left-wing stance will be sufficient to win the election for Labour given the weight of establishment opinion and resources stacked against Corbyn and the sabotaging efforts of right-wing Labour MPs. But it is much better to go down fighting than to lamely succumb to politics as usual and adhering to the rules of their game.

Even more importantly, a clear left-wing campaign could help change the whole shape of the political debate in society. It could combat the idea that there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism, with its endless demands for more privatizations, more wage cuts, more cuts to health, education and welfare, and the total subordination of everything in society to the profit motive. It could begin popularize the idea of socialism.

Such a fighting stance could help rebuild the confidence of workers and students to stand up for their rights at work, on the campuses and on the streets. That is vital, whoever wins the election.

Without a fighting movement behind him, a Corbyn government would be powerless to introduce fundamental changes. And if the Tories get back in, such a fighting movement will be vital for the ongoing defense of working-class living standards.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

¿A quién sirven las fronteras?

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 01:00

Paul D'Amato explica lo que los socialistas dicen acerca de las fronteras.

Nos oponemos a todos los controles de inmigración.
-- Fragmento de "Nuestra Posición" de la ISO

"LOS TRABAJADORES no tienen país... Obreros del mundo, uníos", escribieron Carlos Marx y Federico Engels en dos reconocidas frases del Manifiesto Comunista. Éstas constituyen el punto de partida de nuestro enfoque a la cuestión de la inmigración.

Los socialistas apoyamos el derecho de toda persona a desplazarse fuera de sus fronteras nacionales sin temor a la discriminación, y nos oponemos a todos los intentos por parte de los gobiernos para limitar y controlar ese movimiento, o al trato de los inmigrantes como ciudadanos de segunda o tercera clase (o no ciudadanos). Cualquier otra posición hace una burla de nuestro llamado a la solidaridad internacional de la clase obrera.

El intercambio capitalista ha creado un mercado mundial, y con ello ha roto toda barrera a la circulación del dinero y la inversión, dando al capital una relativa libertad para moverse por todo el mundo en busca de mayor rentabilidad. Pero, al mismo tiempo, el trabajador no tiene la misma libertad para desplazarse a través de las fronteras.

La historia de la migración humana bajo el capitalismo es una en donde la gente, huyendo de las dificultades y la pobreza en una región o país, se ve obligada a trasladarse a otro, donde es tratada como parias sociales, a pesar de que su trabajo es ávidamente explotado por los capitalistas de la nación que los ha recibido.

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ESTADOS UNIDOS ha siempre promovido el mito de un país que acoge a los pobres y oprimidos del mundo, en busca de una vida mejor. La realidad es muy diferente. Esta nación fue construida sobre el genocidio y el desplazamiento de los pueblos originarios, la esclavitud de los africanos y la explotación despiadada de los trabajadores inmigrantes.

Para la clase dominante estadounidense, la inmigración nunca ha sido una cuestión humanitaria, sino una cuestión de suministrar a su economía una mano de obra barata y abundante. La esclavitud proveyó la mano de obra de las plantaciones del sur; la servidumbre y, luego, la inmigración de "trabajadores libres" la proveyeron para el norte.

El "trabajo libre" proporcionado por los inmigrantes siempre ha sido restringido y controlado por diversos medios legales, con el fin de garantizar su desvalorización y flexibilidad. Los trabajadores inmigrantes pueden ser utilizados como mano de obra barata porque las leyes de inmigración imponen sobre ellos una condición de segunda clase.

Políticos y empleadores utilizan leyes anti-inmigrantes no para impedir la entrada de trabajadores inmigrantes, sino para controlar su trabajo. La amenaza de cárcel y deportación es efectiva para desalentar la organización de los trabajadores para luchar por mejores salarios y condiciones.

La lista de inmigrantes víctimas de discriminación en la historia de este país es larga: católicos, irlandeses, alemanes y suecos, judíos, italianos, europeos orientales, asiáticos, mexicanos y centroamericanos, musulmanes, y así sucesivamente hasta el día de hoy.

Los patrones de inmigración y exclusión a menudo siguen las necesidades de la industria; los trabajadores son bienvenidos en tiempos de auge, luego son usados como chivos expiatorios y deportados en tiempos de recesión.

Obreros chinos trabajaron por bajos salarios y sufrieron terribles condiciones en la construcción de los ferrocarriles del Oeste estadounidense, sólo para ser víctimas de persecución racista y de la Ley de Exclusión China de 1882, la que se mantuvo vigente por 60 años.

Así como el capitalismo yanqui se expandía a finales de los años 1900, Estados Unidos acogió a millones de inmigrantes de Europa meridional y oriental, hasta 1917, cuando la Ley de Exclusión Inmigratoria fue aprobada.

Durante la década de 1920, siendo alentados a venir y tomar trabajos ferroviarios y agrícolas, un millón de mexicanos que vinieron a este país luego fueron víctimas de deportaciones masivas una vez que la Gran Depresión de los años 1930 se asentó.

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EL SISTEMA capitalista obliga a los trabajadores a unirse para defender sus intereses, pero también los obliga a competir por puestos de trabajo. Esta competencia es la base sobre la cual la clase dominante crea animosidad entre los trabajadores de diferentes razas, regiones y naciones, y trata de amarrar a los trabajadores de "su" nación a la idea de que tienen un vínculo común con los explotadores.

Siempre que los empleadores puedan imponer salarios más bajos y un mayor número de horas y negar prestaciones básicas, lo harán. Una manera de conseguir esto es disponiendo al (relativamente hablando) mejor pagado trabajador nativo contra el mal pagado trabajador inmigrante. Como escribe el historiador Philip Foner, "con demasiada frecuencia, nuevos inmigrantes de todas las nacionalidades hicieron su primera entrada en la industria norteamericana como rompehuelgas".

Escribiendo a finales de 1880, Federico Engels observó que la clase dominante gringa era maestra en poner a los obreros inmigrantes unos contra otros, y los nativos contra ellos. Como escribió en una carta a un colega estadounidense: "Vuestra burguesía sabe cómo poner una nacionalidad en contra de la otra: Judíos, italianos, bohemios, etc, en contra de alemanes e irlandeses, y cada uno contra el otro, de modo que la diferencia entre los estándares de vida de los trabajadores existe, creo, en Nueva York en una medida sin precedentes en otro lugar".

Agregado a esto está la total indiferencia de una sociedad que ha crecido sobre una base puramente capitalista, sin ningún tipo de antecedentes feudales, hacia seres humanos que sucumben en la competencia: "Habrá mucho más, y más de lo que queremos, de estos condenados holandeses, irlandeses, italianos, húngaros y judíos", y para colmo, con Juan Chino en el trasfondo, que supera con creces a todos en su capacidad de vivir de casi nada".

También hay un componente político a la histeria anti-inmigrante. A comienzo del siglo 20, el racismo anti-inmigrante fue el azote contra la izquierda en el movimiento laboral; miles de inmigrantes radicales fueron arrestados y deportados durante las infames Redadas Palmer de 1919-1921. Durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, los inmigrantes alemanes y japoneses fueron hostigados y discriminados. Más recientemente, inmigrantes árabes y musulmanes han enfrentado acoso y deportación como resultado de la xenofobia desatada después del 11 de septiembre del 2001.

Estas políticas, aunque dirigida a sectores de la clase obrera, abre la posibilidad para los opresores de utilizarlas más ampliamente. La función de tal discriminación es neutralizar a la izquierda, quienes promueven la solidaridad y la lucha contra la opresión, mediante la creación de un clima de odio, desconfianza y miedo.

Hoy, millones de inmigrantes indocumentados, que han puesto los engranajes de la industria y el comercio a rodar, enfrentan una de las más despiadadas y draconianas persecuciones en la historia de EE.UU. a manos de ICE y de la derecha.

El número de deportaciones por año nunca fue más alto que con Obama, y Trump se jacta de querer superarlo. Las familias están siendo destrozadas, decenas de miles encarcelados y muchos más deportados, todo por el "delito" de trabajar duro por salarios inferiores. Mientras tanto, los empleadores enfrentan poco más que una multa ocasional.

La única forma de superar las divisiones que el capital deliberadamente fomenta entre los trabajadores es avivando la solidaridad de todos los obreros y obreras, no importa su nacionalidad, raza o idioma. El lema "Nadie es ilegal" no es sólo un imperativo moral, sino que está basado en la idea de que mientras los trabajadores se dejen manosear y dividir, seguirán siendo débiles, víctimas de la explotación del capitalismo.

Algún trabajador nativo podrá pensar que la exclusión y la discriminación contra el trabajador inmigrante le beneficia. Pero la realidad es que cuando la patronal puede dañar una parte de la clase obrera, es más fácil hacer daño a la otra. Leyes anti-inmigrantes ayudan a los empleadores imponer sueldos bajos para todos los trabajadores.

El viejo lema de la IWW "una lesión contra uno es una lesión contra todos" también implica que la única forma que el movimiento obrero tiene para mejorar las condiciones de todos es mediante el mejoramiento de las condiciones de los más oprimidos y explotados.

Como el socialista Eugene Debs escribiera: "En esta actitud, no hay nada de sentimentalismo, sino simplemente una rígida adhesión a los principios fundamentales del movimiento proletario internacional. Si el socialismo internacional, el socialismo revolucionario, no se pone firme, valiente y consistentemente con toda la clase obrera, y con las masas explotadas y oprimidas en todas partes, entonces apoya a ninguna. Su pretensión es falsa y su profesión, un engaño y una trampa".

Traducido por Orlando Sepúlveda

Categories: Political Action

Does the U.S. want regime change in Syria?

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

The U.S. missile strike on a Syrian military air base in early April seemed to signal an about-face by the new Trump administration. Days before, U.S. officials had signaled more clearly than before that the U.S. was prepared to accept the continued rule of dictator Bashar al-Assad, after years of rhetorical, though not material, support for the opposition that developed out of the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprising of 2011.

Then came the Tomahawk Cruise missile strike against the Shayrat Syrian Arab Air Force base--the first time that the Pentagon attacked a Syrian government target. The same administration officials were now talking "regime change"--and issuing stern warnings against Assad's main international sponsor, Russia, despite previously friendly relations. Since then, though, the administration's exact wording of its policy has varied from time to time and official to official, and nearly three weeks lster, there has been no second U.S. strike. Damage from the attack on the Shayrat air base didn't prevent the Assad regime from resuming its punishing air attacks on opposition forces.

So what does the Trump administration want to achieve? We asked Anand Gopal, a journalist who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East war zones for The Atlantic, Harper's, The Nation and other publications, and the author of the award-winning No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and War Through Afghan Eyes. Gopal talked to Ashley Smith about the situation on the ground in Syria since the missile strike and the consequences for the future.

THE U.S. has been at war against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria for nearly three years. Why did Trump suddenly reverse his policy of de facto collaboration with Assad in this effort to attack his airbase in Syria?

WE SHOULD not be misled by Trump's crocodile tears following the chemical weapons attack that killed many men, women, and children in northern Syria. You cannot credibly claim to be moved by the plight of Syrian civilians when you attempt to categorically ban them from entering this country as refugees.

Moreover, Trump's attack was not the start of a new U.S. intervention in Syria. The U.S. has been heavily involved for five years and has been bombing the country for three. It has conducted nearly 8,000 air strikes against a variety of targets, from ISIS to al-Qaeda to members of the anti-Assad opposition, and many civilians have died as a result.

What's new is that this is the first time the U.S. has targeted the regime, after years of assiduously avoiding doing so and even indirectly helping the regime.

To understand this expansion, we should look at the context of U.S. involvement in the country. Since the beginning, the U.S. has sought to control the Syrian revolution and civil war to ensure that there would be no outcome directly opposed to American interests.

The core American interests in Syria are: one, defeating ISIS and similar groups; and two, preserving the network of dictatorships and client regimes in the region, especially Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. Popular revolutionary movements directly threaten this project, especially when they pose the possibility of overthrowing client regimes and replacing them with independent states.

A successful revolution in Syria--especially one outside of American control--would have profound effects across the region, including in American client states. So although the U.S. doesn't like Assad and would like to see him step down, it prefers the continuation of Assad's regime to any potential revolutionary alternative from below. It would like, in other words, a Yemen-type solution to the Syrian crisis.

This is why Obama both refused to strike Assad and refused to give the Syrian opposition the adequate means to defend itself from the regime. Instead, the U.S. manipulated the flow of arms, selectively cutting off aid to groups that focused on fighting Assad and not only ISIS. The U.S. and the regional states provided just enough to keep the opposition on life support, hoping to eventually force a Yemeni-type negotiated settlement that preserved "stability" in the region.

As Trump came to office, the situation on the ground in Syria happened to change dramatically. The Assad regime is now clearly winning the war, making the stakes of a pinprick strike against him lower than ever. It was in this context that Trump felt comfortable enforcing "red lines" where Obama wasn't.

For the regime to deploy weapons that the U.S. has determined are outside the bounds of acceptable warfare is an affront to U.S. credibility as a hegemonic power. The U.S.'s attack was meant to send a clear signal that this power will not be challenged by any actor in the region, whether it be the opposition in Syria or the Assad regime.

Of course, there are also ancillary domestic benefits that Trump accrues from such an attack, such as signaling his independence of Russian policy at a time when his Moscow ties are under intense scrutiny.

In general, though, despite confused and contradictory statements from the administration, there is as yet no evidence that the U.S. has shifted towards a regime-change policy in Syria.

Such a policy would have to entail a massive aerial campaign, such as Afghanistan in 2001, or massive support to the opposition, such as Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the U.S. supported armed groups against the then-USSR occupation. Neither of these appear very likely.

Instead, after years of only policing the opposition, we are likely to see the U.S. occasionally police Assad as well, all toward the aim of preserving the core American interests in the region that I mentioned.

HOW WILL Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers respond? What impact will these developments have in the region?

ONE IMMEDIATE benefit that Assad gained from the U.S. attack was that it appeared to reaffirm Russia's commitment to the regime at a time when Moscow had a rapprochement of sorts with Turkey, which has been backing some Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups against the regime--and it was deepening cooperation with one of the Kurdish militias in Syria, known as the YPG.

Given this--and because the strike was so limited that it didn't significantly impact the regime's ability to bomb--it's possible we will see Assad continue to occasionally test Washington's willingness to enforce this red line. That could mean another chemical attack in the future.

This, however, remains to be seen. Trump's policy so far has been unpredictable, making potential responses from the U.S. difficult to forecast. Either way, the regime is going from victory to victory. After crushing the resistance in Aleppo, it succeeded in repelling rebel offensives in Homs and Damascus.

IT SEEMS like Assad and his backers are succeeding in routing the last remnants of the Syrian Revolution, leaving only the jihadist opposition in control of the last redoubt of Idlib. What are conditions like in Syria now after the fall of Aleppo?

THE SYRIAN battlefield is extraordinarily complex, but as a simplification, you can say that the non-regime side of the equation consists of six forces.

Starting with the strongest, politically and militarily, they are: one, the YPG, a left-wing Kurdish group that is closely allied with the U.S.; two, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the descendant of al-Qaeda in Syria; three, the northern Free Syrian Army and allied groups, which are backed by--and in some cases effectively proxies of--Turkey; four, the Southern Front, consisting primarily of revolutionary-nationalist Free Syrian Army groups south of Damascus; five, ISIS; and six, civilian revolutionary activists.

The weakness of the FSA and of what was once the mainstream democratic opposition is due to a number of factors.

First and foremost, of course, is the sheer brutality of the Assad regime, which crushed any sign of democracy, freedom or dignity wherever it appeared. But the problems go much deeper than that.

To start with, both the U.S. and the regional powers sought to manipulate these elements to serve their interests, not the interests of Syrians. For example, when the regime was besieging Daraya--one of the iconic centers of the revolution, where ordinary people built a local council in the attempt to rule themselves democratically--FSA groups in the Southern Front wanted to save their comrades, but were blocked by Jordan, which did everything from stanching the weapons flow to closing the border to block ambulances.

The reason was because both Jordan and the U.S. were worried that a successful rebel push in Daraya might threaten the nearby capital of Damascus. Today, fighters in the Southern Front are so frustrated with Jordan's stranglehold that there's talk of defecting to ISIS, which is actually fighting the regime.

Similarly, in northern Syria, a longstanding FSA group lost its foreign funding when it insisted on focusing on fighting Assad, leading it to eventually join Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham for access to better resources and protection.

This is an example of how the popular narrative on the left about Syria has it backwards: The U.S. has not been supporting "extremist" or "al Qaeda-linked" groups in Syria at all. Instead, many groups have joined al-Qaeda because they lacked serious outside support.

There are also internal reasons for the weakness of the FSA and the mainstream democratic opposition.

The revolutionary councils that popped up around the country in 2012-13 sought to include all segments of Syrian society. While this may have seemed laudable at the outset, it was, in fact, effectively a popular front strategy--the councils often included, or were dominated by, the big landowning families and the prominent traders of the community.

But if the councils were to be the seed of a new alternative state, they should have taken the question of revenue seriously. This would have meant directly confronting the class divisions in Syria, which in many ways were at the root of the uprising to begin with. This might have included confiscating the property of the wealthy and redistributing it to meet the revenue needs of the councils.

Instead, the councils and their armed protection--the FSA--sought outside funding from NGOs and foreign intelligence agencies, which inevitably introduced corruption and fragmentation, creating the space for Islamic fundamentalists to challenge their authority.

It's no coincidence that the three strongest state-building movements in Syria--ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the left wing YPG--relied very little on foreign funding. ISIS's main source of revenue, for example, was confiscation, followed by taxation and oil.

Of course, it's easy to make this critique in the abstract, but we should also recognize the extremely difficult conditions that the rebel movement was operating under.

To begin with, the sort of organized left that might have made class demands was very weak in Syria, in large part because of the legacy of Baathist rule, which co-opted or crushed any type of progressive alternative.

Meanwhile, ISIS and Nusra could draw on the legacy of fundamentalist political organizing, and the YPG could draw on the longstanding organizational and ideological perspectives of its parent group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey.

THE TRUMP administration seems to have escalated the war against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Does this represent a departure or a continuation of Obama's policy?

IT MAY seem like Trump has escalated Obama's wars--which is what he promised to do, saying that he wants to "bomb the shit out of ISIS."

But until now, this has actually not been the case. The increase in civilian casualties in recent months has happened for three reasons, all of which are related to the current phase of the battle or are rooted in Obama's policies.

First, the Mosul offensive against ISIS's last major stronghold in Iraq has shifted from the eastern half of the city to the western half. The two sides of Mosul are very different. Many eastern neighborhoods tend to have larger houses that are more spread apart, whereas western Mosul contains tightly packed neighborhoods and a higher population density.

It's very difficult to hit a house in air strike and not damage many others simultaneously. The timing of the Mosul battle is such that the offensive was finished in the eastern half just as Trump was assuming office.

Second, Obama has steadily relaxed the rules of engagement in the war on ISIS, most recently in late December, making it easier for frontline soldiers to call in coalition air strikes.

Third, the offensive to retake Raqqa, which is ISIS's stronghold in Syria, is now beginning. This offensive was planned by Obama, and Trump is carrying out Obama's policy to the letter.

Of course, it's possible that Trump may indeed escalate the war in the near future. One area where this seems most likely is Yemen, where there is talk of bulking up the U.S.-backed Saudi onslaught there.

On one level, this is because Yemen represents a low-hanging fruit for the anti-Iran hawks in the administration--some of the forces that Saudi Arabia is targeting with its air war have ties to Iran.

In Iraq, the U.S. has been forced to rely partially on Iran, the main backer of certain militias that are now fighting ISIS in Iraq. And the U.S. has effectively ceded Syria to Iran and Russia. So Yemen is the one place where the U.S. and its allies can hit Iran hard.

Moreover, the U.S. has significant economic interests in the region, beginning with the Houthi-controlled port of Hudeida, through which many commercial vessels pass. There has been talk of a U.S.-backed Saudi and Emirati coalition to seize this port, which might spark a major humanitarian crisis if the fighting forces its closure, leaving many Yemenis without food or other basic imports.

IT SEEMS likely that the U.S. and its highly contradictory alliance will defeat ISIS in the coming months. What will defeat look like? Will a military victory lead to any lasting political settlement in Iraq or Syria?

THE DEFEAT of ISIS will look very different in Iraq and in Syria.

In Iraq, the offensives will succeed in toppling ISIS, but will keep in place many of the same predatory phenomena that helped fuel ISIS's rise in the first place. This includes a variety of militias that have committed grave human rights violations; security forces responsible for torture and disappearance of individuals accused of "terrorism"; and a wildly kleptocratic Iraqi state.

This may not necessarily mean that we will see an ISIS 2.0, but it does indicate that the country is likely to be unstable and prone to insurgency for a long time to come. The disaster that the U.S. set in motion with its invasion in 2003 won't end any time soon.

In Syria, on the other hand, the main phenomenon that fueled the rise of ISIS was the brutality of the Assad regime. The YPG is the key anti-ISIS force, and in areas where it has ejected ISIS, locals generally much prefer them to the regime--even in Arab-majority cities like Manbij.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which contains the YPG as its key component, will likely capture Raqqa by the end of this year.

The YPG system of local councils, while far from perfect, is a vastly superior alternative to ISIS or the rule of Assad. The Kurdish regions in northeastern Syria, known as Rojava, along with Arab-majority areas like Manbij and Raqqa, will probably make up a de facto independent region within the Syrian state.

However, it's unlikely in the long run that the U.S. will continue to back the YPG after the fight against ISIS is over, because the U.S. is hostile to some of the group's left-wing ideals, and because of the U.S.'s alliance with Turkey and the Barzani government of Iraqi Kurdistan, both of whom are mortal enemies of the YPG, will come first.

The U.S. is merely using the YPG for its own ends, and once it abandons them, there's a possibility of a showdown between the regime and the YPG.

In the end, a combination of brutality from the regime and cynical manipulation by outside powers means that the revolution is at its weakest point since it began with the Arab Spring in 2011. The revolution may be edging closer to total defeat, but among many Syrians inside the country and among the refugee diaspora--who tasted freedom and dignity for the first time in their lives--it will never be forgotten.

Categories: Political Action

Why is "unity" at the expense of choice?

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

Bernie Sanders' decision to support an anti-choice Democrat reveals a deeper problem with a party that routinely gives ground on abortion rights, writes Leela Yellesetty.

Bernie Sanders speaks on the Democratic Party's "Come Together, Fight Back" tour (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

BERNIE SANDERS drew fire from abortion rights supporters last week when, as part of the Democratic National Committee's "Unity Tour," the Vermont senator made a stop to campaign for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello.

Mello made a name for himself as an opponent of abortion rights in the Nebraska state legislature, co-sponsoring a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and another that would force doctors to offer patients an ultrasound before having an abortion. He also voted for a bill prohibiting insurance companies from covering abortions.

After the ultrasound bill passed the legislature, Mello told the Associated Press it was a "positive first step to reducing the number of abortions in Nebraska." For his efforts he received the endorsement of anti-choice group Nebraska Right to Life in 2010.

In a response blasting Sanders' decision to campaign for this anti-choice politician, Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America wrote:

The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women--one of the most critical constituencies for the party--of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid. Today's action make this so-called "fight back tour" look more like a throwback tour for women and our rights.

If Democrats think the path forward following the 2016 election is to support candidates who substitute their own judgment and ideology for that of their female constituents, they have learned all the wrong lessons and are bound to lose. It's not possible to have an authentic conversation about economic security for women that does not include our ability to decide when and how we have children.

Yet Sanders is standing by his decision, arguing that Mello has pledged not to attack women's right to choose as mayor--a claim which warrants skepticism, given his record--but more to the point, that progressives should be willing to embrace anti-choice Democrats in the name of building political power.

"If we are going to protect a woman's right to choose, at the end of the day we're going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation," Sanders told NPR. "And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can't exclude people who disagree with us on one issue."

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SETTING ASIDE the weird logic of electing anti-choice politicians as a strategy for protecting choice, apparently for Sanders, it really is this "one issue" that is worth overlooking. He had no problem refusing to stump for Georgia congressional candidate Jon Ossoff for being insufficiently progressive on economic issues.

Picking up on this contradiction, the New York Times describes the terms of the debate as follows:

But the ferocity of the dispute this time reveals a much deeper debate on the left: Should a commitment to economic justice be the party's central and dominant appeal, or do candidates also have to display fealty to the Democrats' cultural catechism?

This has been a familiar refrain since the 2016 primaries, where economic populism, in the form of Bernie Sanders, was counterposed to championing the rights of women and minorities, as was purportedly Hillary Clinton's platform. Yet this is a fundamentally flawed starting point for understanding this debate, as it rests on a number of false assumptions.

First and foremost, of course, is the idea that abortion is not an economic issue. As Cosmopolitan magazine--of all places--argued compellingly:

Tolerating Democratic hedging on abortion to justify appeals to the working class is also nonsensical. For women who are pregnant, abortion isn't a "social issue"; it's very much an economic one. Most women who have abortions say they chose that route either because of their economic realities or in planning for their economic futures: They can't afford a child (or, more often than not, they're already mothers who can't afford another child), or they see that their future plans would be irreparably derailed by having a baby just then. "You know what saved me from hereditary poverty?" wrote abortion rights activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns on Twitter, "Abortion. Abortion did. Real sorry if I'm caring about economic justice wrong."

This past weekend, activists around the country participated in fundraisers across the country for the National Network of Abortion Funds, which provides grants to low-income women seeking abortion. The average cost of a first-trimester abortion ranges from $300 to $1,500.

Thanks to the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal Medicaid funds from being used to pay for abortions, and numerous state laws and insurance restrictions, more than half of patients pay out of pocket for the procedure each year, according to the Guttamacher Institute.

Considering that the majority of Americans cannot afford an unexpected expense of $500, much less the expense of an unplanned pregnancy, not to mention raising a child, abortion access is a vital economic concern--to millions of women, but also in many cases their male partners and children.

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ANOTHER CENTRAL fallacy of Sanders' contention is that abortion is a divisive "wedge" issue that is costing Democrats votes. In fact, as a new campaign makes clear, abortion access is "More Popular than Trump," with 70 percent of Americans agreeing that women should have access to safe, legal abortion, while only 33 percent approve of Trump.

While the anti-choice movement has eroded support for unrestricted abortion rights over the past decades, these polls show that it is hardly the political third rail it is made out to be--perhaps due to the fact that, despite growing restrictions, one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.

Attacking women who have abortions was an effective way for Trump to rally his right-wing base. He, too, paired this with a supposedly "economic populist" campaign that turned out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.

In fact, the attacks on abortion rights have long been part and parcel of a ruling-class campaign to roll back not only women's rights, but working class living standards. Indeed, the Christian Right's claims about the "sanctity" of life doesn't stop it from demonizing women who give birth out of wedlock, which helped provide the rationale for Clinton's dismantling of welfare.

The right has long used scapegoating of oppressed groups--immigrants, African Americans, women, LGBT communities and others--to divert attention from and justify policies that are disastrous for the vast majority of working people. This is precisely why the left must actively combat these attacks if we have any chance of building real unity in the fight for economic justice.

Despite popular caricatures, the working class in this country doesn't consist of only white men, but has always been--and is increasingly--multiracial and majority female. There is a reason that a majority of young women voters were enthusiastic about Sanders' demands for economic justice over Clinton's candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, though I would guess they are somewhat less enthused by his latest maneuvers.

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DUE TO the backlash, some DNC members are now distancing themselves from Sanders' position--in particular, aiming their fire at his refusal to back Ossoff while ducking altogether the question of whether or not Ossoff is, in fact, "progressive" and worthy of support in the first place.

But for Democratic Party leaders, this is a very difficult critique to make without drawing attention to their own hypocrisy on the question. Far from an "economic populist" invention of Sanders, the idea of sidelining women's rights in the name of political expediency has been the longstanding practice of the Democratic Party.

Hillary Clinton, after all, once stated that she thought abortion was "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," and popularized the idea that abortions should be "safe, legal and rare" as a means of campaigning for Bill Clinton and courting the anti-choice vote in her run for Senate. Recently, top Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dick Durbin spoke out in support of Sanders' embrace of anti-choice Democrats in the name of party unity.

Rebecca Traister spelled out why the Democrats have clung to this approach for so long in an article for New York Magazine:

Women have heard this argument again and again, and we have remained the reliable base of a party that has elected and elevated to positions of greater power anti-choice Democrats including Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine and Bob Casey.

In fact, it's hard not to feel that it's because of the dedication of women, and particularly women of color, to the Democratic Party--where else are they going to go?--that party leaders feel freer to take them for granted and trade their fundamental rights in obsessive pursuit of the great white male. This is how Dems always imagine that they can make inroads in red states. It's third-way centrist bullshit.

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THIS TIME around, however, the Democrats may not find this approach so easy. Trump's inauguration was greeted by the single largest day of protest in U.S. history under the banner of a "Women's March."

A new generation of activists is making the connections between economic and reproductive justice, in the process coming to reject the "lean-in" feminism of the likes of Hillary Clinton, which focuses on more gender representation at the top of an economic system in which working-class women (and especially women of color) suffer disproportionately.

In addition, more and more abortion rights activists are challenging the failed strategy of focusing efforts on electing nominally pro-choice politicians into office while refusing to confront the anti-choice forces that have successfully chipped away at abortion access for decades and continue to harass women outside of clinics every day.

Recent months have seen the growth of clinic defense actions across the country aimed at both demoralizing the bigots and reframing the abortion debate away from the lives of fetuses to those of women.

It's a welcome sign that groups like NARAL have taken politicians like Sanders to task, but Hogue's statement still expresses a commitment to working within the Democratic Party.

In reality, it has been the activism outside traditional political channels that has made the biggest difference. As long as most mainstream pro-choice organizations pursued a narrow strategy of uncritically backing Democratic candidates, the party was free to take their support for granted, while steadily giving up ground to the right.

If we are to be successful in turning back the anti-choice tide, we need to build a movement that is independent of a party which has proven time and again that it is not on our side--and instead put our faith in our own collective action to shift the terms of the debate and hold politicians of both parties accountable. As an activist quoted in Traister's article put it:

It is incredibly important that people within the progressive movement and Democratic Party realize that women are sick of this" stuff, said Erin Matson, a Virginia-based abortion rights activist, "and we're not going to take it anymore." (She used a more pungent word than "stuff.") "What Bernie doesn't seem to realize," she added, "is that the abortion rights movement has really bucked up and gotten some tough ovaries in the last couple of years."

Categories: Political Action

Tom Cat workers fight for dignity

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

Christopher Baum reports on a protest by bakery workers in New York City on the morning they were scheduled to be fired based on their immigration status.

Workers and family members rally at the Tom Cat Bakery in New York City (Brandworkers | Facebook)

A CROWD of around 100 people, including a small but exuberant brass band, came together in the early morning hours of Friday, April 21, outside the Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, Queens.

They were demonstrating their solidarity with 15 of the bakery's long-serving workers, who were facing termination for not providing immigration papers to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)--and who walked off the job on their last day to strike.

A month earlier on March 15, the workers at Tom Cat received letters from their employer informing them that they had 10 days to show proof of legal status to work in the U.S., or else they would be fired. Tom Cat stated in the letter that this move was prompted by a DHS audit.

The situation has widely been viewed as reflecting the intensification of anti-immigrant policy under the Trump administration, although Tom Cat says the audit was actually initiated under the Obama administration.

According to the New York Daily News, of the 26 workers who initially received these letters, four immediately produced the correct papers, two quit and found work elsewhere, and five accepted a severance package negotiated by Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union International (BCTGM) Local 53, which represents Tom Cat's employees.

The other 15 decided to fight.

With the help of Brandworkers, a local advocacy group for retail and food employees, the Tom Cat workers organized a demonstration in Long Island City on March 22. Thanks in part to the attention generated by this event, the workers were given an extension until April 21, to produce the required documentation.

The workers held another rally on April 8, this time at Trump Tower in Manhattan. As at the event in March, several local government officials appeared and spoke in support of the workers. But Tom Cat continued to claim that they had no choice but to comply with the DHS audit.

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AND SO on the morning of their scheduled April 21 termination, they organized with Brandworkers to have a demonstration and call for a Day Without Bread, asking New Yorkers to refrain from buying bread as a show of solidarity.

As the New York Times reported, this call was taken up by restaurants and other businesses:

Eli and Max Sussman, brothers who run the Brooklyn restaurant Samesa, posted signs drawing attention to the protest, and to the rights of immigrant workers. On Friday, they donated 50 cents from the sale of every item that includes pita bread to a fund set up for workers. And at the register, they collected additional money.

Yemeni bodega owners in Bay Ridge and other parts of southern Brooklyn put up posters in solidarity and in some cases refused to sell any bread on Friday. Many of the bodega owners who shut their stores in February, to protest President Trump's travel ban, feel that the most vulnerable and weakest are being targeted, said Rabyaah Althaibani, a Yemeni-American activist.

A couple of hours before the demonstration on Friday, four activists (none of them Tom Cat employees) handcuffed themselves to the undercarriage of a Tom Cat bakery truck in an effort to prevent the day's orders going out.

The protest itself began with brief opening remarks by Brandworkers organizers and a representative of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. But then the floor was given over entirely to the Tom Cat workers. Each worker stated his name and how long he had worked at Tom Cat; many also gave their countries of origin, which included Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador.

Two common themes ran consistently through their remarks: heartfelt and moving expressions of gratitude to all who had come out to support them, and emphatic reminders that this was not merely a struggle in this one workplace, but rather a fight for justice for all workers and for all immigrants.

Oscar, who has worked in Tom Cat's production area for 12 years, said (through a translator):

We're not just protesting Tom Cat's unjust treatment towards us, we're also resisting Donald Trump and his administration, and we invite you all to join us in the streets on May 1. We're marching because of the many injustices of Donald Trump. We will not be afraid, we will fight for all people to be respected as equals, and we will continue until we achieve victory.

Henry Rivera, an 11-year packing worker, echoed this sentiment: "We're going to stay united. We're standing here today with all of you, united, fighting not just for our rights but for the rights of all workers. And we're going to continue fighting until they listen to us."

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AFTER THE speeches, a picket line was formed in front of the bakery, and people took up a number of chants to the rhythm of the band, including: "¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!" (The people united will never be defeated), "¿Qué queremos? ¡Justicia! ¿Cuándo? ¡Ahora!" (What do we want? Justice! When? Now!), "No borders, no walls! Immigrants, they feed us all!" and "¡Trump, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha! (Trump, listen: we are in the fight!).

Brandworkers organizer Gabriel Morales closed the rally by thanking the Tom Cat workers for their bravery and making an impassioned call for all to participate in May Day demonstrations.

"We want people to know that this fight is not just about this factory," Morales said. "This fight is about a broken immigration system all across this country. We want to invite you all to come support these workers again on May 1... We're going to inspire the nation!"

With cheers and applause, the crowd took up the chant "¡Unión! ¡Fuerza! ¡Solidaridad!" (Union! Strength! Solidarity!) for several boisterous minutes, before gradually dispersing.

The 15 workers are continuing to fight, with Brandworkers' help, to get a better severance package than Tom Cat's current offer of 90 days of health care plus one week's pay for every year of service, in addition to banked sick and vacation days.

During the picket, one worker told that this offer, which Tom Cat has given the workers a few extra days to consider, is "a slap in the face after all the time we've been working here."

But as many of the workers made clear in their speeches, this fight isn't about just one workplace, but about justice and equality for all workers, regardless of immigration status. That's why a hundred people got up at the crack of dawn to stand outside a bakery in Queens, and it's why we need to march on Monday, May 1.

Categories: Political Action

Election fraud sparks protest in Serbia

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

An eruption of discontent is threatening the status quo in Serbia, unleashing long-held anger with free market "reforms," writes Marko Supic, in an article written for Red Flag.

Protests have continued in Belgrade each night since the first round voting in the presidential election

ELECTIONS THAT were meant to consolidate the rule of Serbian president-elect Aleksandar Vučić have backfired, producing the biggest mass demonstrations since the revolution that overthrew dictator Slobodan Milošević in October 2000.

The spark was voting irregularities: opposition candidate Saša Janković accused Vučić of stealing 319,000 votes in the April 2 first round poll--almost 10 percent of the total vote, and enough to secure the former prime minister outright victory in the first round of voting.

The trajectory of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska Napredna Stranka, SNS) is now widely seen to be veering toward authoritarianism, after parliament was suspended a month before the election and the Electoral Commission was stacked with pro-Vučić operatives.

The demonstrations have continued daily since the election, peaking at 50,000 in Belgrade on April 8. They meet at 6 p.m., march, give speeches and then agree to do the same the next day. Protests of thousands went ahead in Novi Sad, in the north of the country on the banks of the Danube River, even after the street lights were turned off.

Far-right groups have attempted to influence and lead the protests to no avail. They have been chased away by students. According to the revolutionary socialist group Marks21 in Serbia, the majority of placards at the demonstrations do not fit with the ideology of the existing political parties and are even further away from far-right sects.

The majority of people are concerned with the defense of working conditions and wages; they want free education and they are against Vučić's flirtatious attitude to Western imperialism.

However, the police and army unions have been major players in the protests. They have been protesting for months against a new budget that would cut their pay while increasing arms expenditure. On the day of the largest protest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs directed all employees to report for duty--not because the repressive arm of the state was needed to beat up protesters, but because the government is frightened at the prospect of rebellion in its own police force.

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FOR DECADES, people have been fed the same message about the need to attract foreign investment with low wages. Politicians such as Vučić consider themselves "more IMF than the IMF." But the "benefits" have not accrued to workers. Zeljko Veselinovic, president of the Sloga trade union, told one newspaper of the conditions at the South Korean-owned Jura factory in Leskovac, in the country's south: "Our battle with Jura lasts already five years. They have been hitting [workers] with metal sticks, harassed women, although there were no rape cases. They forbade them [female workers] to go to toilet and suggested them to wear diapers for adults."

Vučić has a long record. He was elected general secretary of the far-right Serbian Radical Party in 1995 and was responsible for the persecution of journalists and the spread of wartime propaganda as the minister of information in the last years of the Milošević regime.

When Vučić split with others to form the SNS in 2008, he ditched his anti-EU rhetoric while never truly supporting independence for Kosova. This has been the de facto position of the ruling coalition; it has risen to prominence while straddling pro-Russia, Greater Serbia chauvinism and liberal pro-EU integration politics.

The liberal opposition has been pathetic, refusing to challenge the core of SNS's project: a Serbia run in order to provide bosses with a skilled but cheap workforce. The "We've had enough" coalition, formed by Vučić's former minister of the economy, spends its time trying to convince people that government jobs are a waste of resources because they're given to lazy workers who are employed only because they will vote for Vučić. Its presidential nominee, Saša Radulović, failed to receive 2 percent of the vote.

Jankovic, the former ombudsman, ran on an anti-corruption platform. Everything the SNS does is terrible, according to him, because it is illegal. He upholds the constitution, but he does not oppose privatization--he just questions the way in which it is done and who the proceeds go to. He received less than 17 percent of the vote, running second.

The far right Serbian Radical Party and Dveri/Democratic Party of Serbia coalition have done even worse than the liberal opposition, receiving 4 percent and 2 percent respectively.

The most interesting of the opposition presidential candidates is indicative of the public mood. Luka Maksimović, a comedian, heads the "You haven't tried the stuffed cabbage" party. His success (running third with almost 10 percent of the vote) points to the significant levels of cynicism in the electorate.

To turn that around, the movement against Vučić will need to continue and deepen.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

Ready for May Day in San Francisco

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

Elena Stamatakos reports on a panel discussion that highlighted upcoming May Day protests and connected the fights for immigrant rights, labor rights and socialism.

A full house at the Women's Building in San Francisco for a forum on preparing for May Day (ISO-Northern California)

AS MAY Day--International Workers Day--draws near, activists are preparing for demonstrations in cities across the country to stand up in defense of immigrant and workers' rights against the attacks of the Trump administration.

On April 19, socialists gathered in San Francisco for a panel discussion focusing on the radical history of May Day--and arguing why socialists, trade unionists and immigrant workers and their supporters should participate in this working-class tradition. Approximately 60 people attended the forum, which was sponsored jointly by Bay Area chapters of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Socialist Alternative (SA). Some members of the Tech Workers Coalition--a progressive group of tech industry workers and labor and community organizers--joined others in attending.

Highlighting the importance of May Day and the increasing popularity of socialist ideas, panelists invited everyone in the audience to build a socialist contingent planned for the May 1 "Day Without Immigrants" march in San Francisco.

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ISO MEMBER and contributor Alex Schmaus spoke about the history of May Day as a tradition with its roots in the one of the first nationwide struggles of the U.S. working class at the end of the 19th century.

International Workers Day on May 1 commemorates the 1886 mass strike for the eight-hour day as well as the Haymarket Martyrs--a group of anarchist labor organizers in Chicago who were tried, convicted and several executed on trumped-up charges of being responsible for a bombing in Chicago's Haymarket Square.

The struggle for the for the eight-hour day was at the center of a radicalization and mobilization of the working class--a historical example that Schmaus described as illustrating how "one of the best ways to build the organizational capacity of the left is to strike."

Erin Brightwell of SA connected the history of May Day to present conditions. She argued that the left can't cooperate with the Trump administration in any way; that we need to build movements in the streets; and that our actions should be developing the confidence of these movements, and not isolating the left from other forces. "This summer, we must organize against Trump and the billionaire class," Brightwell concluded.

Speaking about the radical history of the left in San Francisco, Ryan Moore of DSA said: "When people stand up for each other and themselves, regardless of whether they are victorious, the process of struggle and solidarity can be transformative." Moore also said that that we should put the "social back in socialism" and hold more events like the panel discussion to strengthen relationships on the left.

All of the speakers pointed to the importance of the immigrant rights movement and how the traditions of May Day were brought back to the U.S. by the mass "Day Without Immigrants" marches in 2006, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets against reactionary legislation to criminalize the undocumented. With immigrants under attack by the Trump administration, the fight for immigrant and refugee rights are particularly important at this year's May Day events.

One audience member echoed this sentiment, pointing out that refugees and immigrants are being targeted not only by Trump, but by the right in general--but that there is strong solidarity as well, as evidenced by one of the most popular chants at the Women's March in San Francisco on January 21: "No borders, no nations. Stop deportations!"

Next up for socialists in San Francisco is a picnic gathering on April 30, followed by flyering for the socialist contingent in the march the next day--and then May Day itself. The socialist contingent initiated by ISO, DSA and SA will gather at Justin Herman Plaza and march together.

Categories: Political Action

What's driving Trump's immigrant-bashing?

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

Lee Sustar untangles the contradictions of the administration's immigration policy.

NET IMMIGRATION from Mexico is negative, and unemployment is at the lowest point in a decade. Yet Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions justify the biggest crackdown on immigrants in decades in the name of "hiring American"--in an effort to win white working class support on a racist basis.

It's the latest example of the chronic criminalization and mass deportation of immigrants in the U.S.--and it poses an acute challenge for organized labor at a point when unions are at their weakest in nearly a century.

Basically, Trump is offering a deal to both labor and capital.

For employers, the deal is this: Tolerate my immigrant-bashing to meet my political requirements, and I'll deliver higher profits by slashing regulations, cutting taxes and quietly supporting efforts to weaken unions by right-wing judges. Trump has further linked the crackdown on immigration to the reassertion of U.S. imperial power by seeking to impose a ban on travel from six majority Muslim nations.

As the Council on Foreign Relations noted, U.S. business as a whole is reliant on immigration.

Some 17 percent of the workforce is comprised of immigrants, and many sectors have come to depend on a regular flow of labor from abroad, with or without documents. This has been the case in agriculture (33 percent), manufacturing (36 percent) and accommodation (45 percent).

At the other end of the labor market, the labor shortage in information technology means that tech jobs are heavily dependent on immigrants from India, China and other Asian countries. At Facebook and microchip maker Qualcomm, for example, some 15 percent of workers are on H-1B visas that provide temporary legal status for skilled workers.

This is why Corporate America prefers a version of immigration reform that would stabilize the situation. Many businesses favor a guest worker program that would keep foreign-born labor available and wages low--workers without full citizenship rights are less likely to organize unions.

Silicon Valley bosses favor the same approach to tech talent: an expansion of the H1B visa program that allows them to recruit skilled workers. If this puts downward pressure on tech salaries, so much the better.

But the problem for employers is that the leading party of U.S. business, the Republicans, has increasingly played to the racist right on the question of immigration.

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IN 1986, President Ronald Reagan championed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which included qualified amnesty for undocumented workers already living in the U.S. It also included sanctions on employers who hired undocumented workers, a get-tough policy at the border and a guest-worker program for agricultural workers, which is why the left and community-oriented immigrant rights groups opposed IRCA.

But a few decades later, Republicans--and not a small number of Democrats--would consider Reagan's legislation pro-immigrant radicalism.

Twenty years after IRCA, Republicans in Congress supported an ultra-reactionary bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. The Sensenbrenner bill would have criminalized not only the 11 million or so undocumented workers in the U.S. at the time, but also anyone who assisted them--teachers, social workers and others.

The proposal highlighted the contradictions of immigration for the Republican Party as it tilted away from the needs of business and toward a right-wing electorate.

It was the Sensenbrenner bill that sparked the "mega-marches" of 2006 in which masses of people took to the streets and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of immigrant workers went on strike or stayed away from work on May Day that year.

Even with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, the mass immigrant rights movement stopped the Sensenbrenner bill in its tracks.

In the decade since, Congress wrestled with immigration "reform" proposals that could deliver the goods for business with guest worker programs while throwing in sops to the right, including heavier enforcement on the border.

As activist and journalist David Bacon explained, the immigrant rights movement has for years been divided between grassroots activists on the left and Washington insiders who push "comprehensive immigration reform," or CIR:

The structure of the bills has been basically the same from the beginning--the same three-part structure of IRCA--guest workers, enforcement, and some degree of legalization. Under the CIR proposals promoted by Washington advocacy groups for several years, people working without papers would continue to be fired and even imprisoned, while raids would increase. Vulnerability makes it harder for people to defend their rights, organize unions, and raise wages. That keeps the price of immigrant labor low.

Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago tried to reach a CIR deal with the Republican Tea Party factions in Congress before then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and his allies killed it. But Obama appeased the anti-immigrant forces anyway.

As Marisa Franco and Carlos Garcia point out in the Nation, years before Trump called for a "deportation team" to target "bad hombres," the Obama administration had built "the most sophisticated and well-funded human-expulsion machine in the history of the country." When Trump and Sessions took office, they could hit the ground running.

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TO BE sure, the Trump administration agenda is qualitatively different than Obama's. Rather than simply restrict immigration, Sessions is trying reverse demographic trends in the U.S.

Consciously, or not, the Trump policy parallels that of the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply limited immigration from Europe and virtually banned migrants from Asian countries.

Passed under the right-wing Republican administration of Warren Harding--who foreshadowed Trump with a business-dominated cabinet mired in brazen corruption--the law was a reaction to the wave of industrial struggle during the First World War and the success of the Russian Revolution. As the State Department's website puts it, "In all of its parts, the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity."

Trump, along with adviser Steve Bannon and Sessions, is after something similar today. "For Bannon, Sessions and [Sessions' aide Stephen] Miller, immigration was a galvanizing issue, lying at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins," wrote Emily Bazelon in the New York Times.

Thus, as a U.S. senator from Alabama, Sessions supported that state's HB 56, the "Juan Crow" law that forced schools to record the immigration status of students, allowed police to demand immigration documents and made it a crime for individuals or employers to hire, harbor, rent property to or even give a ride to an undocumented immigrant.

Alabama employers protested--especially those in agriculture, food processing and construction. Now, employers across the U.S are wary of similar measures at the national level.

But they may not be able to stop Sessions, whose anti-immigrant program is driven primarily by his ideology and the demands of his political base. And now Trump has taken that model national.

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THE TRUMP-Sessions program puts employers in a contradictory position. As a corporate boss, Trump himself routinely uses immigrant labor even as he calls for restrictions, making the usual claim that his companies can't find U.S. citizens who will do the low-wage work.

Meanwhile, Trump has told the "Dreamers"--undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children--that they can "rest easy" and remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by Obama.

Some immigrant rights activists believe DACA could become a template for a guest worker program in which undocumented people are allowed to stay in the U.S. for renewable time limits without any possibility of permanent residency or citizenship.

So the result is a twofold policy. On the one hand, Trump is throwing red meat to the anti-immigrant right by empowering ICE to carry out high-profile raids and order instant deportations and by further militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border. The real aim is "self-deportation," as 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney put it, as an alternative to cost and chaos of mass expulsions.

At the same time, Trump immigration policy would allow business to continue to profit from immigrant workers, even if under less predictable circumstances.

That was the message of Trump's April 18 appearance at Snap-On Tools in Wisconsin, where he announced a "hire American, buy American" campaign and signed an order for a review of the H-1B visa program--even as he attacked Canadian dairy famers dumping cheap imports on the U.S. market.

The H1-B visas, Trump declared in Wisconsin, were a "theft of American prosperity."

Employers are lobbying Trump for an immigration plan that would preserve H1-B workers for tech jobs while creating a "path to legalization" for lower-wage workers--a euphemism for a guest worker program in which immigrants literally become second-class citizens. But unless and until such a program materializes, business will continue to take advantage of the pressure on immigrant workers caused by ICE's intensified operations.

That pressure is growing by the day. Immigrant neighborhoods in cities across the U.S.--mainly Mexican but not exclusively so--are under siege, with many people refusing to answer their doors or leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

And for good reason: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly said on national television that "a single DUI" could result in deportation.

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THE TRUMP attack on immigrants has put the Democratic Party on the spot. While the Democrats want to craft a pro-employer immigration policy, they must also try relate to their electoral base, which includes millions of immigrant workers.

That's the logic of declaring "sanctuary cities" in big urban centers around the U.S., where Democratic mayors and city councils typically direct local police not to cooperate with ICE. Sessions' Justice Department has pushed hard against this, threatening to withhold federal funds from local governments that don't cooperate with immigration enforcement. So far, the Democrats have not buckled, and the clash is likely to end up in court.

But ICE, of course, doesn't need local cops' permission to carry out arrests and deportations. So the question is how to defend immigrants from this onslaught.

Organized labor, with its unparalleled capacity for collective action, is in a position to do so. In 1999, the AFL-CIO's convention went on record in favor of amnesty for undocumented workers, rejecting the sanctions and guest-worker programs in IRCA and its would-be legislative successors preaching "comprehensive immigration reform."

Since Trump took office, the AFL-CIO has been on record declaring its support for immigrant workers. In February, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced Trump's deportations:

The labor movement will stand proudly and firmly with all local leaders who support workers' rights and prevent exploitation. We know these communities are defending our right to organize to lift standards and cracking down on abusive employers who retaliate against working people. These are core values of the labor movement.

Central labor councils in Los Angeles and Chicago are pouring resources into May Day protests and job actions that will highlight the struggle for immigrant rights.

However, most unions have long since gone quiet on the question of amnesty. In 2009, the AFL-CIO retreated into support for mainstream CIR, folding in behind the Obama administration.

Even more worrisome is that some big unions have tried to cozy up to Trump to benefit from proposed infrastructure jobs and "Buy American" programs. Laborers union General President Terry O'Sullivan told reporters that Trump brought "a new day for the working class," adding that Trump "has shown that he respects laborers who build our great nation, and that they will be abandoned no more."

With that statement, O'Sullivan abandoned the immigrant members of his union--workers he claimed to support when he spoke at the May Day rally in Chicago in 2013.

It's impossible for unions to choose to support Trump on jobs spending while opposing him on immigration. That's why Trump chose to make his announcement on H-1B visas and federal government "Buy American" proposals at the Snap-On Tools plant. It's a single package of economic nationalism in which immigrants are kicked out and jobs go to "native" Americans, preferably those with a European heritage.

The fight for immigrant rights will continue to intensify. Liberals and most union leaders will argue that the only realistic course of action is horse-trading over a boss-friendly guest worker program, with limited workers rights in exchange for accepting greater repression.

It will be up to activists and the left to continue to stand in defense of immigrants and build the solidarity of all working people--no matter what their status.

Categories: Political Action

Scientists turn up the heat on Trump

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

Leonard Klein and Elizabeth Schulte report on an outpouring of opposition to Trump's attack on science and the environment in marches around the globe on April 22.

Marching for science in Washington, D.C. (Susan Melkisethian | flickr)

MOLECULAR BIOLOGISTS, botanists, researchers, doctors, computer scientists, public school teachers and scientists of all kinds along with hundreds of thousands more turned out for protests on April 22 to show their opposition to a president who thinks climate change is a hoax and is sharpening his budget ax for deep cuts to government funding for environmental protection and public health.

April 22 is Earth Day, which was first held in 1970, when it turned out millions of people and ushered in a new movement in defense of the environment.

With more than 600 marches on seven continents, and with hundreds of scientific professional organizations, environmental groups, labor unions and non-profits endorsing this year's April 22 March for Science, organizers hope this will be part of its own new resistance.

As one sign read, "The oceans are rising, and so are we."

Scientists, a group not known for organizing protests, turned out en masse for the call for a national day of action in support of science, in response to the Trump budget that slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes for Health.

Beka Economopoulos of the Natural History Museum told Democracy Now!:

This is unprecedented. Scientists and science institutions don't really do advocacy. There have been robust debates for decades about whether science is political or not. And it is really refreshing to see this coming-out party for a new movement of scientists who are engaged in the public sphere, who are advocating on behalf of science and communities who are going to be hit the hardest by these attacks on science.

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AS MANY as 100,000 people turned out for the march in Washington, D.C., some dressed as Albert Einstein or the excitable Muppet lab assistant Beaker, and others wearing lab coats and safety goggles. Many held handmade signs reading "There is no Planet B," "This Spring won't be Silent," "Science NOT Silence" and "I am with Her [Mother Earth]" as they lined up to get into the protest area as early as 8 a.m.

Speakers included a cross-section of scientific disciplines and concerns, including Indigenous, immigrant, and racially, ethnically and gender diverse speakers.

Mustafi Ali, who resigned from the EPA's Environmental Justice Program--a program he founded--in March, emphasized the importance of linking together struggles:

Today we stand up for Standing Rock, to protect and support cultures that honor Mother Earth and the lives of our people. Today we stand up for Flint. Today we stand up for Baltimore. Today we stand up for East Chicago, where the devastating effects of lead will have long-term health and economic impacts.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who discovered that Flint's water was poisoning the city's children with lead, was there, accompanied by Mari Copeny, or "Little Miss Flint," who helped tell the Flint story. Hanna-Attisha said:

About a year ago, my research proved that our contaminated water in Flint was leaching lead into the bodies of our children. And I took a risk. I walked out of my clinic to speak up publically for my kids. I was attacked. But when you are fighting for children, you fight back. And I was loud and I was stubborn, and science spoke truth to power.

Science is not an alternative fact. It is time for all of us to fight back against those who deny science and those degrade science.

Nine-year-old Copeny added, "When our government doesn't believe in science, kids get hurt."

"It's time for all of us to step out of our clinics, our classrooms and our labs," Hanna-Attisha said. "We need to make ourselves known in the halls of government."

While the March for Science mission statement described the organizers and sponsors as "nonpartisan," Trump was decidedly the target of many angry remarks from the stage, and the barbed wit of the many signs.

Marchers brought homemade placards with slogans such as "It's the Environment, Stupid," "Make America Think Again" and "Stop Global Warming; Save Mar-a-Lago." This last sign was a reference to the fact that Trump's often-visited golf resort in Palm Beach, Florida, will experience flooding if sea levels rise two to six feet between now and 2100, as modeled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Debates among participants about whether the march was actually "nonpartisan" or "non-political" were reflected in various speakers' comments. Early in the program, Dr. Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, said, "Some people are going to say we are politicizing science, but we are not: we are defending it."

Later on, however, program co-emcee Derek Muller said, "Some people say science shouldn't be politicized. But let me tell you something: science is inherently political." This statement left many in the audience a little stunned, except for a few cheers here and there.

But Muller went on, saying, "Because when science uncovers toxins in drinking water, policy must be made to fix it." As Muller went through a few more example of needed policy fixes, the crowd warmed to the theme and began to cheer more loudly.

It also has to be acknowledged that the threat to the environment began well before Trump. The Obama administration not only failed to deliver on his promise of a "Green New Deal," but instead increased fossil fuel extraction and the construction of pipelines.

Many speakers called for greater citizen participation in politics and movements. Public health researcher Kellan Baker challenged the audience and fellow scientists:

The poet Dante wrote that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis. We cannot pretend we are above the fray. Science is objective, but it is not neutral. As scientists, as human beings, our mandate is clear: it's for each of us to stand up for what we know to be true. And to stand together when working to shape a future in which we can all thrive.

Washington, D.C., has seen a great number of protests since November, and a growing number of people are finding ways to oppose Trump and form the networks we'll need to build a strong, sustained resistance. Many of the science marchers were wearing their pink hats from the Women's March, but for others, the March for Science was their first step into activism.

Given the breadth of Trump's attacks and the energetic response from these many new activists, whether around science or at airports, the front line is truly everywhere. The April 29 People's Climate Marches and May Day actions for immigrant rights are the next opportunities to show our solidarity in the streets, and join up with other people who are looking to build resistance to Trump's attacks.

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THE SPIRIT of Washington's March for Science was replicated in cities across the country on April 22, in protests large and small.

-- In Chicago, more than 40,000 people came out for the March for Science, a much larger turnout than anyone had anticipated, with waves of people coming off the train and streaming onto Columbus Drive.

It was likely a first or second protest for many people. The signs ranged from the amusing--"No Science = No Beer"--to the defiant--"More equations, less invasions." Many marchers also carried signs in support of "controversial" scientific research, such as "Stem cells saved my life."

Some made direct connections with Trump's immigration policies, listing the names and pictures of immigrant scientists such as Einstein and Nikola Tesla. One young protester carried a sign that read, "All my favorite scientists are socialists."

After rallying, people marched for an hour down the street in an atmosphere of celebration of science and protest against the destructive policies of the Trump administration. The march arrived at the city's "museum campus" southeast of downtown, where activists, nonprofit groups, university science departments and organizations that promote public involvement in science set up tables to discuss ideas and conduct demonstrations.

-- In New York City, thousands of people took the streets to march for science, their procession stretching for 10 blocks along Central Park West.

Medical students joined doctors, scientists and others who work in the science field to protest. Whole families turned out, including many people who had never been to a protest before.

"We want to get across the message that Americans really care about science, and we care about this world, and that we really need science to help us thrive," scientist Dawn Cohen told CBS New York.

Some protesters chanted, "Money for science and education, not for bombs and deportations," "Hey Trump, we know you, you can't pass a peer review," and "Hey, Trump, have you heard? You can't silence every nerd."

-- More than 20,000 people marched in Seattle through downtown from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center to defend science. People of all ages, including many families with children, came out.

Besides the general focus in defense of science, many marchers were there to protest all of Trump's policies, with thousands of homemade signs such as "Resist Trump: Green Jobs," " Got Smallpox? Me Neither," "I was born with a broken heart. Science saved me" and "Dump Trump."

-- In San Diego, some 15,000 people marched from the Civic Center to City Hall. Speakers included climatologist Ralph Keeling, who called the rising global temperatures a national security issue. Some protesters emphasized the Trump administration's attack on all of us, chanting "Stop the ban, stop the hate, immigrants make science great."

The celebration of science, education and the environment had local as well as global relevance. The San Diego Unified School District just announced a new round of layoffs, which will include dozens of library technicians and mental health clinicians. Meanwhile, aging facilities and defective water fountains have led to multiple schools throughout the county testing positive for lead contamination in the last year.

-- In Austin, Texas, residents of the state capital and surrounding communities came out in full force at the Capitol building to voice overwhelming support for science, with police estimating close to 10,000.

A teach-in at various stations started the day at 9 a.m., followed by a rally at 11. The crowd's support for science led to some of the most creative signs ever: "There is no Planet B,""I Came for the π" and "All Lives Are Matter." At Noon, the crowd marched the long route to Huston-Tillotson University to join the festivities of the annual Earth Day celebration.

-- In Rochester, New York, more than 1,500 people marched for science, not only opposing Trump but celebrating Earth Day and their love of science and diversity. Signs included slogans like "Make Earth Cool Again" and "Science Is Not Alternative Facts."

"Science is something everybody should have access to," said a biochemistry student at Rochester Institute of Technology.

One participant saw the connection between Trump's threats to science and his broader attacks on immigrants. "When you block out other cultures, you ignore science," she said. "We need the big picture."

A middle school science teacher expressed worry for her students and science education in general. Trump's denial of climate change science is "making it harder for students to access science-backed knowledge," she commented.

The rally ended with a march to the Rochester Science Expo, which organizers put together as a post-rally event to highlight scientific research and inquiry. Speakers from local universities and research facilities gave talks on their work, and booths geared toward the younger crowd exhibited science fun facts and interactive demonstrations.

-- In Olympia, Washington, some 5,000 people rallied for science at the Capitol and then marched to Heritage Park, led by a loose band of musicians known as the "Olympia Arkestry" who were dressed in white lab coats for the occasion.

Sharon Versteeg said she participated in several demonstrations against the Vietnam War during the 1960s and was inspired to start protesting again after November's election. "Everything that's happening right now is diminishing what we've worked on for years and years," said Versteeg, "and I would like to right now keep the energy going so that in these next four years we don't loose too much."

Jhana Chinamasta spoke of hope for the future. "I do have a lot of hope that other citizens who are helpless and hopeless can stop feeling that way," she said. "We have nothing to lose. You might as well be positive and get out there and do something because it ignites, it's contagious. Hope creates hope."

-- In Columbus, Ohio, some 4,000 people gathered at the statehouse for a rally and march on April 22. Large sections of university departments at Ohio State University and neighboring colleges and universities organized to attend.

The substantial turnout for the event--one of the largest in Columbus since the protests against Gov. John Kasich's anti-union legislation in 2011--continues a trend since Trump's election, in which increasingly large numbers of people who are not yet activists are mobilizing to join the resistance to the administration's agenda.

The attendees of the march embraced a broad range of political ideas, including some speakers who said they wanted to avoid politics as well as protesters that lead chants of "Climate change is a war. Of the rich upon the poor!" and "O-H-I-O! Scott Pruitt has got to go!"

-- About 1,000 people turned out for the March for Science at the University of California-Berkeley, gathering at Sproul Hall. Mario Savio's 1964 speech, "Bodies upon the gears," was played through a loudspeaker.

Protesters then walked through campus to Civic Center Park, which just a week ago had been occupied by white nationalists with a "Pro-USA, Proud, Strong & Unafraid in Berkeley" sign.

Speakers tied this fight to others, including graduate students campaigning to unionize. Popular chants included "Fund science not war!" Signs included "Critical thinking is critical," "Fund science not walls" and "Support science and refugees."

-- In Amherst, Massachusetts, about 1,000 people marched in the morning to the Amherst Town Commons, where an Earth Day-themed fair had been organized. The fair turned out some 4,000 people throughout the day and included a teach-in called "The Capitalist Ecological Crisis and How to Fight It."

Categories: Political Action

The far right goes on a rampage in Berkeley

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

Alex Schmaus reports on a mobilization of racist goons, given new confidence by Trump's election, who turned downtown Berkeley, California, into a battleground.

Members of far-right organizations came ready for a fight in Berkeley

THE LIBERAL San Francisco Bay Area city of Berkeley has become the prime target for violent far-right individuals and organizations emboldened by the reign of Donald Trump.

Their latest provocation on April 15 shows the physical threat that the far right represents as it gains confidence--and underlines the urgent need for all those who oppose bigotry and reaction to mobilize in large numbers to show that the racists will be opposed whenever they try to claim the streets.

While thousands joined Tax Day marches in cities across the U.S. to oppose the billionaire president and demand he release his tax returns, several factions of the "alt right" and "patriots movement" mobilized up and down the West Coast to bring 150 or more goons to the so-called Patriots Day rally organized by the local Berkeley Liberty Revival Alliance.

Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza and the area around it, adjacent to the municipal administration building, police headquarters and Berkeley High School, was transformed into a bloody battlefield as the racists clashed with a smaller number of anti-racist demonstrators, mainly those who call themselves "antifas."

The far right's rally was ostensibly called to protest supposed violations of the free speech rights of conservative speakers in Berkeley, famously the site of the mid-1960s Free Speech Movement struggles at the University of California at Berkeley.

The UC Berkeley administration did cancel two speaking events organized by the College Republicans to feature notorious right-wing provocateurs Milo Yiannopoulos and David Horowitz, and there is controversy now over whether Ann Coulter will be allowed to speak in late April.

But in the best-known of these conflicts, Yiannopoulos' speech was called off on February 1 by UC officials after a 2,000-strong demonstration ringed the site of the speech to show that Berkeley students and the community oppose his reactionary rants.

Right-wingers have been looking ever since to take revenge in Berkeley, not so much against the UC administration as the larger number of people who had the courage to show their revulsion for the right's one-time hero Yiannopoulos. As David Neiwert of the Southern Poverty Law Center pointed out, organizers of the April 15 rally referred to it on social media as "the Next Battle of Berkeley."

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ON APRIL 15 itself, the true intentions of the far right--to target liberals, the left and oppressed people for violence and intimidation--were exposed by their words and their deeds.

"I don't mind hitting," Stewart Rhodes told the Los Angeles Times when asked about his attitude toward left-wing counterdemonstrators. "In fact, I would kind of enjoy it."

Rhodes is the founder of the Oath Keepers militia, reportedly composed of former law enforcement and military personnel. Rhodes claimed to have brought about 50 militia members with him from Montana to the Berkeley rally.

Members of the Proud Boys, a bizarre masculinist and Western chauvinist fraternity founded by Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes, were also looking for a fight.

Days before the Berkeley rampage, McInnes introduced a new initiation ritual for the Proud Boys that involves getting in "a major fight for the cause." "You get beat up," McInnes reportedly said, or "kick the crap out of an antifa."

Unlike the mass protest against Yiannopoulos in February, the majority of the counterdemonstrators against the far-right goons were individuals who consider themselves part of the "antifa" current, which sees physical confrontations with the right a goal of its mobilizations.

There are several problems with their strategy, but one of most obvious became evident on April 15 when the antifas were apparently outnumbered by a much larger-than-expected turnout by the racists. The antifas used some of their usual tactics in engaging the right-wingers, but were generally overwhelmed and pushed back.

The media treated the entire event as a street brawl with victims on both sides, but videos of the confrontations and accounts of people who were there show that the right was on the offensive, while police intervened with pepper spray and violence of their own directed at both right-wingers and counterdemonstrators.

Nathan Damigo, founder of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, was caught on video punching a counterprotester in the face.

A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was also punched while acting as a street medic. "Some random person ran up out of nowhere and clocked me in the face," Albert (not his real name) said in an interview. "I chipped my tooth and had a black eye."

"I'd say we had half as many folks as them, maybe a bit more than half," Albert said. "We were definitely outnumbered, they were definitely more organized and much more militant."

Another DSA member joined the counterdemonstration with some friends to show that there was an opposition, but they didn't come to fight. "Once the brawl got into the street, [the right wing] had weapons," said Lucy (not her real name). "People hit each other with poles and sticks and bike locks. One old boy had a gun in his pocket."

Lucy recalled how "we just kept getting pushed farther and farther back" for several city blocks. "I was scared sometimes when the streets were filled with smoke bombs and tear gas, and everyone was running. You couldn't tell who was who, and you just kind of ran."

"I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said he provided legal justice aid for incarcerated people get pummeled by a zillion guys," Lucy said. "It was a lot of head punching."

The police reportedly arrested 21 people, but a Mother Jones writer reported that most of the right-wing fighters "walked away scot-free and full of pride about this supposed victory." Eleven people were injured, with six hospitalized.

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THERE WAS an earlier street battle in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on March 4 when local right-wing activists organized a smaller demonstration on a day Trump supporters were encouraged to rally and show support for the president. The right wingers were outnumbered that day.

But this was nothing like the mass protest on February 1 against then-Breitbart News contributor Yiannopoulos, who planned to give a speech on campus sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans.

It was rumored that Yiannopoulos would be launching a campaign to target undocumented students and their supporters on sanctuary campuses like Berkeley. But he and the College Republicans were unable to carry out this plan after they were confronted by some 2,000 or more students and community members chanting, "No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!"

The February 1 protest was inaccurately portrayed in the media as violent because a contingent of 100 or so masked Black Bloc activists carried out their own unannounced action--starting more than an hour after the much larger picket had begun--setting off fireworks and smoke bombs, pulling down police barricades, breaking windows and starting fires.

Reports of small numbers of far-right Yiannopoulos supporters trying attempting to intimidate protesters were ignored in almost every mainstream media account. Eventually, university administrators canceled the event, citing safety concerns.

As Berkeley law student Mukund Rathi, an organizer of the larger protest, wrote at, "[T]he tactics of the Black Bloc minority...purposefully sideline the majority of the protesters and foreground their actions, giving everyone from the university administration to the corporate media to the right-wingers themselves an excuse to ignore the issues raised by the wider crowd, and shift their attention to the 'violence'."

Now the far right has gotten its revenge, and it won't abandon Berkeley where it has had an attention-getting success. But our side is weaker--in part because the Black Bloc tactics that attract so much attention of their own don’t function as an effective deterrent against the right.

The far right has shown what it is capable of in mobilizing for a riot in Berkeley on April 15. There is an urgent need to confront them before they gain any further confidence.

The left needs to rebuild the mass popular opposition that turned out several thousand people back in February. We can show, using our strength in numbers, that the far right won't go unopposed.

Categories: Political Action

Organizando voces de lucha

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

Organizaciones por los derechos civiles, laborales e inmigratorios, entre otras, se preparan para protestar la agenda de Trump este Primero de Mayo, el Día Internacional de los Trabajadores. Una de las organizaciones más activas, Voces de la Frontera, basada en Milwaukee, está coordinando movilizaciones a través de Wisconsin incluyendo una marcha entre Milwaukee y Madison, capital del estado.

Voces de la Frontera fue fundada en 1995 en Austin, Texas, como un periódico en solidaridad con los trabajadores de las maquiladoras. Se mudó a Wisconsin en 1998, y en el año 2000, lanzó una campaña por la legalización de los trabajadores indocumentados. En 2001, abrió un centro de trabajadores en Milwaukee.

Desde entonces, Voces se ha vuelto una organización de membresía, con ocho delegaciones en distintas partes del estado, y ha sido un componente central de varias importantes luchas por los derechos de los inmigrantes en Wisconsin, incluyendo las masivas marchas del 2006 contra la Ley Sensenbrenner, un proyecto de ley aprobado por la Cámara de Representantes de los EEUU intentando criminalizar a los inmigrantes, patrocinado por un congresista republicano del estado.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, co-fundadora y directora ejecutiva de Voces, habló con Lance Selfa sobre el trabajo de la organización y sus planes para el Primero de Mayo.

¿QUÉ CAMBIOS has visto para los inmigrantes en Wisconsin desde que Donald Trump accedió al poder? Desde el 2011, también han vivido el reinado del gobernador derechista Scott Walker

LA ELECCIÓN de Trump representa definitivamente un momento decisivo, mucho más que lo es el período de Walker. Pienso que como es un cambio mucho más grande, realmente resonó con ondas de choque en toda la comunidad inmigrante, no sólo en Wisconsin, sino en todo el país.

Pero me siento muy bien sobre la manera como rápidamente confrontamos la situación, y comenzamos de inmediato a organizar agresivamente. La razón por la que pudimos hacer esto es porque somos parte de una red nacional, y planificamos de antemano para un escenario en el que Trump fuese electo. Aunque pensábamos era improbable, igual hicimos planes. Y eso nos permitió de verdad seguir el paso de la situación.

Organizamos foros comunitarios en muchas partes de Wisconsin, donde están nuestras delegaciones, y presentamos una propuesta sobre cómo organizarnos bajo Trump. La propuesta fue sometida a voto en todas las delegaciones, y es la que hemos estado implementando desde entonces.

Nuestra estrategia general se centra en organizarse localmente con un enfoque en políticas de santuario, sea en escuelas o en los gobiernos locales, y en trabajo anti-deportación de respuesta rápida. Hemos estado haciendo un montón de entrenamiento sobre lo que la gente tiene que tener a la mano cuando ocurre una deportación, pero no sólo para esas situaciones. Derechos de custodia temporales para menores de edad, planillas financieras, poderes de representación, son todos parte de conocer tus derechos, y no perderlos.

Estamos montando una línea de asistencia activa 24/7, y le hemos estado pidiendo a gente formar parte de redes locales de respuesta rápida, para que si recibimos una llamada, podamos mandar voluntarios a verificar si es real, y conectarse con las familias, para poder levantar esos casos y resistir agresivamente al tipo de programas de deportación masiva que Trump está intentando montar.

Otra parte de nuestra organización ha conversado con instituciones religiosas para que provean santuario físico. Eso es algo que hemos estado coordinando con iglesias, ya de hace muchos años.

El movimiento de santuario comenzó bajo la administración Reagan en los 80s, cuando iglesias de todas las denominaciones, con mucho coraje, procuraron santuario físico a gente escapando la guerra en Centroamérica, sin ser reconocidas como refugiados políticos por el gobierno estadounidense.

La segunda ola fue el nuevo movimiento de santuario bajo la administración Obama, inspirado por Elvira Arellano, que se rehusó a ser deportada y tomó santuario en una iglesia en Chicago.

Ahora bajo la administración Trump, estamos en una tercera ola del movimiento de santuario, fuerte y muy determinada, mucho más que la segunda, a mandar un mensaje a los inmigrantes y al gobierno sobre su compromiso a defender a los trabajadores inmigrantes y sus familias.

Hemos tenido una respuesta enorme. Tenemos en Wisconsin un gran número de iglesias, y redes religiosas enteras, como los luteranos y los metodistas, que están a punto de, o ya han apoyado a cualquier iglesia que provea santuario físico.

Hemos conformado grupos de trabajo enfocados en organizar alrededor de planteles educativos, sitios de trabajo e iglesias. Un ejemplo de esto fue el "Día sin Latinos, Inmigrantes y Refugiados", el 13 de febrero, en el que usamos nuestro poder económico para mandar un claro mensaje.

También estamos formando alianzas más amplias. Creamos la Coalición por un Wisconsin Inclusivo para trabajar con otros grupos también acosados por el gobierno. Hemos trabajado de cerca con la comunidad musulmana en particular. Hay ahora alianzas cercanas entre la comunidad por los derechos de los inmigrantes y la comunidad musulmana, porque también ellos están en la mira de Trump y sus órdenes ejecutivas.

MENCIONASTE LA acción del 13 de febrero. ¿Cuál fue su trasfondo?

EL TRECE de febrero fue un paro general, a nivel comunitario. Hicimos un llamado por una respuesta a nivel estadal para demostrar nuestra profunda oposición al anuncio del Sheriff del Condado de Milwaukee, David Clarke de querer traer a su jurisdicción el programa 287(g).

La Fuerza de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés) tiene el controversial programa 287(g) que dice que cualquier oficial de los organismos policiales puede volverse un agente de migración. Reciben un mes de entrenamiento, y ya.

Este ha sido un programa altamente controversial. El antiguo Sheriff del condado de Maricopa, Arizona, Joe Arpaio, lo hizo infame violando los derechos constitucionales de la gente, sus derechos civiles, con pesados abusos de poder. Ese ha sido el patrón en todas partes donde ha sido aplicado.

Trump quiere hacer que las fuerzas policiales locales adopten 287(g) en al menos 70 sitios. Y ICE ha contactado a cárceles municipales para sub-contratarlas. Así que esto significa que la infraestructura de los gobiernos locales se está volviendo parte del plan de Trump para las deportaciones masivas.

Otra parte importante de estas políticas es la legalización del perfilamiento racial. Haciendo de tu manera de vestir, tu acento, el color de tu piel, causas suficientes para que la policía te detenga. Esto retrocede el progreso social alcanzado, y los sacrificios hechos, por el movimiento por los derechos civiles. Creo que es algo que a veces no se investiga lo suficiente.

Para Voces de la Frontera, el 13 de febrero fue la quinta vez que hemos utilizado el arma de un paro general comunitario, incluyendo llamados a no trabajar, no ir a la escuela, no hacer compras, cerrar negocios y protestas masivas. Hemos usado ese paro general, que llamamos "Un Día sin Latinos e Inmigrantes" en el pasado, pero esta vez, añadimos "Refugiados" al nombre. Tuvimos un torrente masivo de decenas de miles de personas en todo el estado que salieron a la calle, en Milwaukee, sólo diez días después del llamado a la acción. Fue una manifestación de fuerza increíble.

En términos del movimiento social, definitivamente tuvo un impacto, porque inspiró apoyo nacional e internacional, así como renombre, en una manera que no había pasado antes. Eso tiene que ver directamente con que estamos bajo el gobierno de Trump, y que el Sheriff Clarke quiere presentarse como el nuevo Arapio. Así que el viento agitó nuestras banderas, y empujó a muchos otros a hacer como nosotros.

Esta vez, de verdad, atrajo mucha atención, y a través de las redes sociales, ese llamado general a "detener 287(g) y rescindir las órdenes ejecutivas" agarró vuelo. En múltiples ciudades del país otros trabajadores y dueños de negocios pequeños tomaron en sus manos el realizar acciones similares el 16 de febrero. Ahora tenemos un reconocimiento del poder el paro general.

Ello ha sido adoptado ahora como parte de la movilización del Primero de Mayo en todo el país, que tiene un muy fuerte apoyo. [Una de las campañas de Voces será un llamado nacional, como parte de la movilización del Primero de Mayo, para presionar al gobernador Walker a despedir al Sheriff Clarke.--ed.] Así que es una protesta masiva, pero que también abraza la estrategia de la huelga general.

No hay duda de que ha tenido un poder inmenso, y sé que Voces cree que, en el clima político actual, debemos apoyarnos más en esfuerzos estratégicos más refinados que utilicen nuestro poder económico colectivo como trabajadores y dueños de negocios pequeños para en serio mandar ese mensaje.

Acabamos de convenirnos en Wisconsin los primeros dos días de abril, reuniendo a varias de las organizaciones, tanto de trabajadores como de inmigrantes, que están haciendo un muy buen trabajo en relación a la organización laboral o de paros, y de verdad enfocándose en cómo podemos abrir la conversación, para en el proceso formar un espacio de desarrollo de liderazgo donde podamos compartir nuestras experiencias y estrategias y fortalecer a esta parte del movimiento.

Estoy muy emocionada sobre este desarrollo. Es de necesidad absoluta.

EL AÑO pasado, una movilización de trabajadores inmigrantes fue el factor clave en derrotar un esfuerzo de la cámara legislativa de Wisconsin para criminalizar inmigrantes y a los trabajadores estatales que les den servicios. Cuéntame sobre eso.

POR MÁS de una década hemos estado en distintos niveles empujando contra la criminalización de los inmigrantes, de quienes los apoyan y de organizaciones enteras. En el 2006, Milwaukee fue la tercera ciudad en número de personas que salieron en protestas masivas y exitosamente derrotaron la Ley Sensenbrenner. Esto trajo de vuelta a la mesa la necesidad de reformar nuestras leyes inmigratorias y proveer un camino a la ciudadanía. Así que en términos del nacimiento del movimiento moderno por derechos de los inmigrantes, para mí comenzó en el 2006 con esa protesta masiva, que fue una masiva huelga general.

De las cinco veces que hemos hecho el paro general, en dos ocasiones hemos verdaderamente demostrado su poder. La primera vez fue en el 2006, y la siguiente en el 2016, cuando logramos una victoria contra John Spiros, miembro de la Asamblea del Estado, que había introducido, entre varias otras, una ley que hubiera prohibido ciudades santuario.

Decidimos que teníamos que hacer algo audaz para derrotar esto. Así que pusimos el llamado, lo sometimos a voto con nuestros miembros, y en once días, teníamos un paro general en todo el estado convergiendo en la capital.

Nuestra prueba de fuerza cortó a través de todo tipo de industrias, pero creo que lo que al final hizo palanca en nuestra victoria sobre esta ley anti-santuario fue que la acción alcanzó a la industria láctea, que depende fuerte y considerablemente de trabajadores inmigrantes. Y fueron trabajadores inmigrantes, en defensa de sus familias y las vidas que han construido, los que salieron a la calle.

Por esto, realmente agarró la atención de los empresarios lecheros, en gran parte republicanos, sobre esta cuestión. Se volvieron parte de la lucha por derrotar la ley. Y sí prevalecimos, y el proyecto no se volvió ley. Pero fue reintroducido este año, y es parte de la razón por la que estamos haciendo un llamado similar a la acción para el Primero de Mayo. Es por la lucha local, estatal y nacional, y lo que es distinto este año, es que también es nacional.

¿QUÉ RELACIÓN tuvo el movimiento inmigrante del estado con la Rebelión de Wisconsin en el 2011, contra el Acta 10, un ataque contra los derechos de negociación colectiva de los trabajadores del sector público?

SALIMOS FUERTEMENTE en defensa de los empleados públicos y su derecho a la negociación colectiva. Todo fue muy orgánico. El brazo juvenil de Voces de la Frontera comenzó en las escuelas muchos años antes, en el 2003, así que hemos tenido relaciones fuertes con los maestros que asesoran a nuestras delegaciones de estudiantes.

En el pasado, fueron los maestros y los consejeros escolares los que salieron en apoyo de la juventud inmigrante y sus padres, apoyando asuntos de derechos educativos como el Acta DREAM, o por equidad en costos de matrícula. En esta instancia, vimos la otra cara de la moneda y los ataques se enfocaron en los maestros. Fueron hechos chivos expiatorios por supuestamente tener demasiados beneficios y obtener salarios demasiado altos, para justificar la ofensiva contra sus derechos, su fuente de empleo y su calidad de vida.

Así que salimos en apoyo de los maestros y consejeros, quienes en el pasado habían apoyado a la juventud inmigrante y sus padres, no sólo alrededor de cuestiones de educación sino de todo tipo: reforma inmigratoria y lograr que el estado otorgue licencias de conducir a inmigrantes. Creo que alrededor de ocho autobuses salían cada día en las primeras dos semanas de las protestas masivas contra el Acta 10.

El movimiento por los derechos de los inmigrantes tuvo una presencia muy fuerte en la lucha entera. Lo que es muy importante sobre esto es que por la relación que habíamos cultivado a lo largo de los años con distintos líderes sindicales, tuvimos la plataforma en esas protestas masivas para levantar no sólo un mensaje de solidaridad, sino también las cuestiones por las que habíamos estado luchando.

El presupuesto del gobernador limitó la equidad en el costo de la matrícula para la juventud inmigrante. Esta se había ganado dos años antes, y nos había tomado 10 años ganarla. Estas cuestiones fueron realmente levantadas, y nos trajo mucho más cerca a otros sindicatos con los que no habíamos trabajado antes. Tuvimos maestros que se nos acercaron y se ofrecieron para ser consejeros escolares para nuestras delegaciones, así que vimos un crecimiento organizacional y alianzas más fuertes, por lo que creo que en términos del movimiento, a pesar de nuestras derrotas, nos fortalecimos.

¿SE CONSIDERAN, tú y Voces de la Frontera, como parte de un ala más activista o de izquierda del movimiento por los derechos de los inmigrantes?

VOCES ESTÁ definitivamente marcada por principios muy progresistas alrededor de derechos económicos y sociales, así que diría que sí, definitivamente hemos puesto como prioridades ser parte de mesas, en todo el estado, que reúnen a distintos grupos luchando tanto por los derechos económicos como por cuestiones de los derechos civiles.

Hemos sido parte de asegurar que la comunidad latina e inmigrante esté informada sobre asuntos actuales y que pueda tener una voz en estas luchas más amplias. Por ejemplo, la gente siempre habla sobre el asunto de la inter-seccionalidad. Creo que una de las fortalezas de Voces, que es parte de nuestro ADN, es que siempre hemos estado al ritmo de ello. No es algo nuevo para nosotros.

Los asuntos de justicia económica son extremadamente importantes para latinos e inmigrantes, así que obviamente siempre hemos formado conexiones a su alrededor. Pero hay otras cuestiones también. Por ejemplo, recientemente ganamos en Milwaukee una tarjeta de identidad municipal que no sólo beneficiará a los inmigrantes indocumentados, a quienes el estado no otorga identificación, pero que también es el mejor ID en el país en términos de los derechos de las personas transgénero.

Parte de esa lucha fue una coalición más amplia, y nos permitió la oportunidad de levantar las voces de nuestros propios miembros en Voces que son transgénero. Así que es, en verdad, acerca de levantar conciencia en solidaridad con otros frentes por los derechos civiles, de los cuales nuestras propias comunidades y familias son parte.

¿QUÉ PIENSAS acerca de la reforma inmigratoria integral que ha sido el enfoque principal desde el 2006 para las organizaciones por los derechos migratorios?

PIENSO QUE parte de la razón por la que no tenemos una reforma inmigratoria es que ha habido demasiada batalla sobre el tipo de reforma que queremos. Una de mis preocupaciones es que ahorita, bajo el gobierno de Trump, van a estar usando distintas tácticas intimidatorias, como redadas masivas y teatrales en sitios de trabajo en distintas ciudades, para luego hacernos tragar un programa de trabajadores huéspedes, dándole a los empleadores aún mayor control. Estos programas son tan abusivos, que en algunos casos han sido comparados al tráfico humano.

Pienso que este es el tipo de cosas sobre las que tenemos que informar a los trabajadores y sus familias. Tenemos que mantener un estándar alto acerca del tipo de reforma que queremos para no terminar en un escenario peor. Pero diría que hasta ahora no hemos logrado reunir suficiente poder como para asegurar una reforma inmigratoria.

Creo que una gran decepción para mucha gente que estuvo involucrada en apoyar esfuerzos electorales fue ver que entre el 2006 y el 2010 no nos pudimos mover ni siquiera más allá del Acta DREAM. Así que mucha de la pelea bajo el presidente Obama fue contra la ejecución de las deportaciones, que estuvo a un nivel más alto que bajo cualquier otro presidente estadounidense.

Por el otro lado, siento como si hubiéramos estado en entrenamiento, por la agresiva ejecución de deportaciones bajo Obama, para enfrentar los tiempos que ahora vivimos. Así que por un lado, siento que estamos en el momento indicado por nuestras experiencias y que estamos en una posición más fuerte para ayudar a liderar el movimiento. Pero por el otro, pienso que hay una nueva oportunidad que sencillamente no existía en el pasado.

En el pasado, los poderes existentes se contentaban con aislar a un grupo del otro, tomando medidas sobre cuánto quitarle a cada uno. Pero ahora, todos estamos bajo ataque al mismo tiempo. Creo que hay una necesidad absoluta de audacia y de mantenernos a la delantera de cualquier situación. Pero al mismo tiempo, no hay duda que en términos del tipo de cuestión por la que deberíamos estar luchando, tenemos un horizonte mucho más amplio.

No hay duda, el derecho a migrar debería ser visto como un derecho fundamental. Y eso no es por decir que no nos vamos a meter en los detalles sobre el tipo de políticas o sistemas que también deben cambiar, sino que en términos de los valores, estándares y principios, a lo largo y ancho también se han abierto esos horizontes. La gente ahora está diciendo que el derecho a la educación pública para todos debería ser un derecho fundamental. Siento que estamos en un momento distinto, que tenemos una mayor oportunidad alrededor del tipo de principios y visión que queremos, y que definitivamente debemos estar levantando.

Traducido por Alejandro Q.

Categories: Political Action

How activists are confronting ICE's terror

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 01:00

Christopher Baum reports on initiatives by immigrant rights and social justice organizations to stand up to the Trump administration and its deportation machinery.

Protesters take to the streets to protest deportations in Minneapolis (Fibonacci Blue | flickr)

FEAR IS flooding through communities around the country as the Trump administration escalates its war on immigrants. But so is anger--at politicians who are willing to tear families apart and immigrant authorities who victimize some of the most vulnerable people in society.

From the opening days of his presidency, Trump served notice that he would intensify the policies that have scapegoated and terrorized the undocumented under Republican and Democratic presidents alike.

There's been no let-up since. April brought news of the first deportation of a youth protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by Barack Obama. Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old who has lived in the U.S. since age 9, was abducted in Calexico, California, and transported to Mexico, even though he has DACA status.

Trump's persecutor-in-chief, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, took the opportunity of a reporter's question to claim that young people protected by DACA aren't being targeted by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--but then issued a bald threat against all the undocumented: "Everybody in the country illegally is subject to being deported."

Days later, Sessions' Justice Department issued a letter to Chicago threatening to revoke a $2.3 million federal grant if the city didn't abandon its promise to protect the undocumented as a "sanctuary" city. The statement included the sickening lie that undocumented immigrants are responsible for Chicago's "skyrocketing" murder rate.

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BUT IN Chicago and other cities around the country, immigrant rights organizations and all those committed to social justice are working to develop ways to confront the Trump attack and defend people who come in its crosshairs.

There is profound fear as ICE goes to war--but also a determination to establish community defense networks, educate people about their rights, pressure local officials to stand by their sanctuary promises, and mobilize large numbers in support, solidarity, and protest.

In an interview with, Voces de la Frontera co-founder and Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz outlined her organization's efforts in this direction in Wisconsin, giving an overview of the kinds of actions many communities are taking:

The general strategy centers on locally based organizing with a focus on sanctuary policies, whether in schools or in local government, and rapid-response, anti-deportation work.

We're doing a lot of training about what people need to have in place when a deportation happens, but not just for a situation like that. Temporary custody rights for minor children, the financial forms and power of attorney are all part of know-your-rights materials so that people don't sign away their rights.

We're setting up a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline, and we've been asking folks to volunteer to be part of a local rapid response [network], so that if we get a call about something, we can send people out to verify that it's real and connect up with the families--so that we can lift up those cases and aggressively resist the kind of mass deportation program that Trump is trying to set up.

Another part of our organizing has been getting religious institutions to agree to provide physical sanctuary. That's something we've been engaging with churches on for many years.

The anti-Trump resistance needs to learn about the experiences of Voces and other organizations to better confront the ICE war on immigrants.

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THE INTENSIFICATION of the war on immigrants is truly frightening.

According to the Washington Post, between January 20 and March 13 of this year, "Immigration arrests rose 32.6 percent in the first weeks of the Trump administration [compared to the same period in 2016], with newly empowered federal agents intensifying their pursuit of not just undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but also thousands of illegal immigrants who have been otherwise law-abiding."

The targeting of "otherwise law-abiding" undocumented immigrants is by no means a new development under Trump. But according to the Post, the number of immigrants arrested without any criminal record has "more than doubled" compared to 2016, so clearly Trump has made a bad situation much worse.

The increase in immigration detainers--nonbinding requests from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to local law enforcement, asking them to keep arrested immigrants in custody beyond their normal release date in order to give ICE agents a chance to get hold of them--is also striking.

The Post found "a 75 percent jump from the year before," although noting that many of these detainers "were issued in areas that do not necessarily comply with ICE requests." Nonetheless, the drastic increase in detainers shows that ICE is eager to take full advantage of Trump unleashing federal authorities.

While the number of immigration arrests has gone up sharply compared to 2016, the number of deportations is actually slightly lower--so far. There are various reasons why this might be so, but in any case, the Post reported that "the number of non-criminals deported is higher this year."

The numbers only tell part of the story, of course. ICE has never been renowned for its humaneness, but under the Trump administration, the agency seems determined to set ever-higher standards for cruelty.

Take, for instance, the story of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an Arizona mother of two who had been convicted in 2008 of using a fake Social Security number to obtain employment, but had been allowed to remain in the country since, provided she checked in annually with ICE to have her case re-evaluated.

At her annual check-in in February, Garcia de Rayos was arrested and deported--for no other reason than that she had this one nonviolent felony on her record.

Or there's the case of the unnamed woman who was arrested by ICE agents at a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, where she had gone to seek a protective order against her abusive partner. has reported extensively on these and other incidents and on the role they play in the Trump administration's overall immigration strategy.

It should be clear that the administration is eager not merely to expand the scope of ICE's activity, but to do so in a way that maximizes fear and uncertainty among immigrants in every community. The objective is to create the impression that no undocumented immigrant is ever safe.

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IT HAS been suggested--for instance, in a Guardian article published on April 3--that immigrant rights activists may be inadvertently helping Trump to achieve this goal by stoking fear and uncertainty.

While it is true that a poorly thought-out plan of action could raise false alarms and sow confusion, no one should lose sight of the fact that we are facing a genuine emergency. Pretending otherwise in the name of avoiding panic is no solution at all.

Instead, immigrants and their supporters need to respond to the heightened and very real threats from ICE and the federal government with concrete initiatives and community defense networks.

In many cities, such responses are already underway, but everywhere, we need to organize to extend their reach and effectiveness.

Know Your Rights
One of the first steps being taken in many communities is to help vulnerable members to know their rights if confronted by police or ICE; know how and where to seek legal assistance; and make family preparedness plans if different members are detained or deported.

Several advocacy organizations have prepared materials that can be used in community campaigns. Look online for the Immigration Defense Project, which offers a variety of documents, including know-your-rights posters and flyers in more than a dozen languages; and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), which also has know-your-rights materials and very useful guides for schools and for family preparedness plans in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

The ILRC makes an important point that all activists should recognize in its "Guidance for Schools":

Undocumented immigrants may be hesitant or fearful to come to a public event intended only for immigrants without legal status. Therefore, make sure the event is welcoming to all families who are interested in immigration updates. U.S. citizen families may attend to educate themselves and pass on information to their immigrant friends and neighbors.

Accompaniment Programs
One tactic increasingly favored by ICE under the Trump administration--as we know from the case of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos--is to apprehend the undocumented when they show up at ICE facilities for mandated check-ins.

A tool to combat this tactic is to organize community members to accompany immigrants to their check-ins. In addition to showing solidarity, such efforts may reduce the likelihood of detention. If nothing else, they can ensure that individuals who are apprehended don't simply disappear without a trace.

One recent success story--and a reminder of the powerful effect that a strong and vocal public presence can have on ICE's behavior--involves New York City activist and undocumented Trinidadian immigrant Ravi Ragbir.

Since 2011, when an order for his deportation was stayed, Ragbir has been required to check in annually with ICE to learn whether the stay will be extended. Before his check-in in March, concerns grew Ragbir might be detained and deported--not least because of his role as an organizer for the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC.

Hundreds of people, including several city council members and at least one state senator, came together to accompany Ragbir to his appointment at the Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan and hold a rally nearby.

Despite initial indications--such as the unprecedented barring of his wife and ministers from the hearing--that this would be a more hostile proceeding, Ragbir emerged with a new check-in date. Initially, the reprieve seemed brief, but Ragbir was later informed that his next check-in date won't be until 2018.

It isn't difficult to imagine a very different outcome if Ragbir's supporters hadn't turned out in force to send a message to ICE that they are watching.

Solidarity Demonstrations
Accompaniment actions often provide opportunities for larger demonstrations as well.

These mobilizations are important not only in showing solidary with immigrants and demanding the release of detainees, but in pressuring local authorities to declare sanctuaries for the undocumented and adopt other pro-immigrant policies, and to protest the collusion between ICE and local law enforcement.

The effectiveness of protest in the struggle against Trump's immigration policies was made clear in the first weeks of his presidency when the unprecedented mobilizations to airports to challenge Trump's Muslim travel ban put pressure on the courts to block it.

There have been effective local actions since. In Portland, Oregon, in March, for instance, on March 26, ICE agents, acting without a warrant, apprehended DACA participant Francisco Rodriguez Dominguez from his own home and threw him in a detention center.

By the following afternoon, thanks largely to an e-mail campaign, local organizers had gathered several hundred people for a rally to protest the detention. Rodriguez was released on bond later that evening.

Sanctuary Spaces
The concept of sanctuary is traditionally associated with churches, and groups such as the New Sanctuary Movement are working to reinforce and build on this history to create safe spaces for vulnerable community members.

But sanctuary doesn't need to be limited to houses of worship. In some communities, efforts are under way to encourage people to make their private homes available as sanctuary spaces.

For instance, soon after Trump's inauguration, an organization in San Diego called Mi Casa es Su Casa reportedly attempted to establish such a program. It isn't clear yet how successful the effort has been, but this suggests another possible avenue for community defense.

There is also a growing movement at universities across the country to establish sanctuary campuses.

One of the leading examples of such an effort is Rutgers University in New Jersey, where students, faculty and staff have long defended the rights of undocumented students. In 2013, for instance, activists led by then-Rutgers undergraduate and DACA participant Giancarlo Tello successfully lobbied for the passage of a bill making undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition.

In the wake of Trump's election in November 2016, a coalition of Rutgers students, faculty and community members, along with labor and immigration advocates such as New Labor and Movimiento Cosecha, petitioned the university's administration to declare Rutgers a "sanctuary campus," protect the identities of undocumented students and bar ICE agents from campus.

Rutgers President Rob Barchi has so far refused to use the word "sanctuary," instead referring to the university as a "safe haven for immigrants." Nonetheless, his administration has responded to the pressure by articulating, in much clearer detail than it had before, concrete policies on protecting the rights of vulnerable students.

Activists continue to urge Barchi to do more and explicitly declare Rutgers a sanctuary campus, but the gains already achieved are a testament to the effectiveness of mobilization in support of immigrants on college campuses.

To help guide students wishing to organize or strengthen sanctuary movements on their campuses, the student-led Immigration Response Initiative at Harvard Law School, along with Movimiento Cosecha and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical program, has created a useful Sanctuary Campus Toolkit.

Community Responders
One of the more ambitious but effective initiatives is a community-wide "rapid response network" to be called into action when ICE carries out a raid or other action. One such network has been established in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network.

The aim is to gather a large enough pool of community members that responders are available at short notice at any time, day or night.

Tasks for a city- or region-wide network include: verifying reports of raids; summoning legal aid; observing and recording ICE activities to ensure that agents know their actions are being documented; showing solidarity with ICE targets and defending them if possible; and trying to ensure that the civil rights of targets and detainees aren't violated.

In cases where community members are apprehended, responders can follow to see where the detainees are taken, so their families can be notified and legal aid can find them more quickly. Other networks have set themselves the task of trying to ensure that family members left behind are properly cared for and taken to a sanctuary space.

A lot of organizing needs to go into the rapid response networks, but activists say demonstrations and political forums are a place to enlist support.

Bridget Broderick, a member of the International Socialist Organization in Chicago and part of the city's May Day Organizing Coalition, points out that May Day offers an important opportunity to initiate community response networks.

"One thing that the May Day Coalition formation in Chicago has been discussing and beginning to organize is a rapid response network for May 2, in defense of workers and students and any community members who may face reprisals for going out on strike, taking the day off work or not going to school," Broderick said, explaining that the coalition considered the possibility of "flying pickets" that can be deployed as needed within the community.

"It's not just the work on May Day that's important," she added. "It's really what that can generate in terms of people becoming active."

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THE ORGANIZING work that will be needed to build and maintain these initiatives is ongoing, and there are other ideas for efforts, including 24-hour hotlines to report ICE actions or provide legal advice and text message and/or e-mail alerts warning of police or ICE actions.

Communities in some cities and regions have been able to build on existing organizations, such as Voces de la Frontera, Movimiento Cosecha or Make the Road New York. But there are also groups coming together for the first time to take steps to build community defense. The urgent need is giving rise to action.

As Broderick says, "People should sign up, organize in their neighborhood, do what they can. That's what it's going to take to take on Trump."

Categories: Political Action

A crumbling political order in France's election

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 01:00

Alan Maass analyzes the outcome in the first round of voting in France's presidential election--and the consequences for the struggles to come.

Emmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen

FRANCE'S STORMY 2017 presidential election will continue for two more weeks after the first round of voting on Sunday made history: For the first time, neither of the mainstream center-right and center-left parties that have held power since the Second World War got their candidates into the top two spots to qualify for the May 7 runoff to decide the presidency.

The top finishers were Emmanuel Macron, a banker and head of a newly formed party, who recently served in the incumbent Socialist Party government, but who represents traditional center-right politics; and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front (FN, by its initials in French).

Mainstream commentators in France and internationally were congratulating themselves that Macron prevented Le Pen from claiming another victory for xenophobic right-wing populists to follow on Donald Trump's triumph in the U.S. But their celebrating is both premature and short-sighted.

For one, Le Pen wasn't so far from winning the first round. And her zealously nationalist and anti-immigrant politics set the terms of the debate for the whole campaign. This will continue through the second round, given that Macron's biggest political asset is his young and slick image, which camouflages a commitment to completely conventional status quo politics.

Polls show Macron winning a comfortable victory on May 7, but a long-shot upset can't be ruled out--not after the shocks and surprises of a campaign that consigned the mainstream right-wing party to a virtual tie for third place and the candidate of the incumbent center-left Socialist Party to a woeful fifth, with just 6.2 percent of the vote.

After sweeping into power in elections five years ago, the Socialist Party (PS) is despised for having presided over essentially the same program of austerity as the center-right government before it, while ordinary people continued to suffer stagnating or declining living standards.

Le Pen has exploited these conditions by promising a revitalized economy after breaking with the European Union--and by scapegoating immigrants, especially Muslims.

But discontent with the status quo also fueled the rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who ran a left-wing independent campaign that was the real surprise of the election. Mélenchon, a former Socialist Party member and co-founder of the Left Party in 2008 after leaving the PS, nearly doubled his vote total from five years ago, climbing to a virtual tie for third with just under 20 percent.

He was the generally acknowledged winner of the televised presidential debates, where he managed to put both the mainstream parties and Le Pen on the hot seat over corruption scandals. Mélenchon put forward a left-wing economic program, with a particular emphasis on environmental justice, that was a stark contrast to the PS's commitment to neoliberalism.

Though Mélenchon fell shy of his making the second round, his strong showing is cause to hope that the choice in future French elections won't be limited to right and further right.

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LE PEN's 21.5 percent of the vote in the first round was a decline for the FN from its showing in the 2014 elections for European Parliament and national voting in 2015 for local and regional offices.

Still, the party can boast about making the presidential run-off for a second time--the first was in 2002 with the campaign of Marine's father Jean-Marie Le Pen--and to judge from the mainstream media coverage in the U.S., Marine Le Pen is now considered a mainstream candidate, rather than a far-right extremist.

This is the culmination of her efforts to change the image of the FN from the party of her father that embraced openly fascist themes. Marine Le Pen engineered her father's expulsion in 2015 after he repeated one of his most notorious comments of earlier years--that the Holocaust was a "detail of history."

In particular, the FN of Marine Le Pen has banished open anti-Semitism and has even appealed for Jewish votes. Since a dominant theme of the FN now is Islamophobia, it isn't such a stretch courting votes from staunch supporters of Israel. In fact, as Mathieu Desan wrote at Jacobin, the younger Le Pen now poses as a defender of republican values in terms that wouldn't be out of place among the mainstream parties.

But the "new FN" isn't so very different from the old one. For instance, while Marine Le Pen got her father expelled from the party he co-founded, her presidential campaign was bankrolled by a 6 million euro loan from Jean-Marie.

And the new republican image is definitely for the TV cameras, not for the party's base supporters. As Jim Wolfreys wrote at Jacobin:

More than eight out of ten FN sympathizers describe themselves as racist, three-quarters have a negative view of Muslims, over half express "very strong" anti-Semitic views, and a third neither consider Jews to be fully French nor object to the phrase "dirty Jew." Indeed, anti-Semitism among this hard core of the FN electorate has increased under Marine Le Pen's leadership.

The reason for Marine Le Pen's success in the 2017 election isn't better public relations, but mass discontent with the French political system. As in the U.S., masses of people yearn for an alternative to the economic and political status quo, and the FN is filling the vacuum with its nationalism and racist scapegoating.

The stage was set for this by the disastrous reign of the Socialist Party since François Hollande's victory in the last presidential election five years ago.

Rather than take action on their vague promises to confront inequality, Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls continued and even intensified neoliberal austerity. And the PS has been at the helm of a drastic increase in state repression, especially following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015.

In this authoritarian political climate--the Hollande government has extended a state of emergency for more than a year and a half now--it was easy for Le Pen to set the terms of the election debate.

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MACRON'S CAMPAIGN for the presidency emphasized that he was an outsider to the political system--he has never held elected office and served in the PS government only briefly --but politically, he stands squarely with the establishment parties.

In fact, Macron was most associated previously with various business-friendly reforms, including changes to French labor laws, which have been the source of several recent eruptions of mass protest.

After the presidential runoff come elections for the National Assembly in June. Traditionally, the winning president can count on a victory for his party in these elections, ensuring a legislative majority.

But in this case, Macron will be competing for National Assembly seats with a newly formed political movement called En Marche! It will probably do well, considering the disgust with the mainstream parties, but a majority of seats is highly unlikely. That means the next government will rely on a coalition that could bring the PS back into government alongside the mainstream center-right party.

PS leaders are certainly banking on that. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who ran for the party's presidential nomination and lost, abandoned the PS candidate Benoît Hamon and supported Macron during the election campaign.

After the vote on Sunday, Hamon and the rest of the PS called on supporters to vote for Macron, and the candidate of the center-right Republicans, François Fillon, did the same. All seem to be envisioning themselves with a role in the next government.

This is why the media's premature celebration of Le Pen's expected defeat is short-sighted, too.

If Macron does become president, he will try to carry out policies that are identical to those of the discredited mainstream parties. And if his En Marche! doesn't enjoy an unprecedented landslide, the Macron government will likely be filled with a combination of PS and Republican hacks who earned the hatred of voters during their reign in the last two governments.

Macron's "outsider" status will evaporate--and his "victory" can lay the groundwork for Le Pen to have an even wider hearing for the coming elections.

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BUT LE Pen and the FN aren't the only outlet for discontent with the status quo in France. Mélenchon's strong showing in the first round shows there is potential for a left-wing alternative.

Last spring, amid the continuing state of emergency and depressing climate of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim scapegoating, there was an eruption of mass protest against the government's determination to drive through a revision to France's Labor Code--exactly the kind of labor law "reform" that Macron has championed.

The upsurge gave rise to the Occupy-like "Nuit Debout" (Up All Night"), nightly demonstrations in the Place de la République in Paris--followed by workplace action and a general strike at the end of May.

The outpouring of class resistance--which at its high point united union workers with younger low-wage workers, students and the unemployed--showed in concrete terms the alternative to the FN's politics of despair and hate.

Mélenchon relied on this very different spirit of dissent in the election. His ambitious proposal for reform of the political system to reduce the powers of the presidency provided a stark contrast with the increasing authoritarianism championed by every party on the spectrum from the PS to Le Pen.

Some of Mélenchon's political weaknesses showed through during the campaign. For this election, he chose to start a brand new political formation, called France Unbowed, rather than be the candidate of the Left Front coalition he headed in 2012. The result is that he isn't answerable to other forces on the left.

Mélenchon is particularly weak on one of the most important political issues in France: Islamophobia. At the very moment when anti-Muslim propaganda is being used to drive through draconian restrictions on democracy, Mélenchon has supported a ban on wearing "conspicuous religious symbols"--none-too-subtle code for the Muslim women's head coverings--in schools.

This was one of the few issues where Le Pen was able to score points against Mélenchon in the presidential debates. When Mélenchon tried to criticize her for supporting a ban on the hijab worn anywhere in public, Le Pen was able to point out that left republicans like Mélenchon supported the ban in schools.

What Mélenchon was able to do during the election was articulate a clear left alternative to the neoliberalism of the Socialist Party government.

The enthusiasm for the campaign can be touchstone for Nuit Debouts. But at the same time, the left and social movements must rise to the challenge of fighting for the rights and demands of those scapegoated and oppressed by the far right and the political mainstream alike.

A left that can turn the tide in France must be an alternative in every way to the fear, hate and despair of Marine Le Pen and the FN.

Categories: Political Action

Tufts nurses are ready to fight

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 01:00

Chris Morrill reports from Boston on the impressive solidarity on display for nurses at Tufts Medical Center during a one-day strike in response to stalled contract talks.

Nurses at the Tufts Medical Center picket to demand a fair contract

SOME 700 registered nurses and their allies picketed Tufts Medical Center in Boston on April 12 to protest stalled contract negotiations with management.

The sound of chants like "We care, we heal, we want a better deal!" and "What do we want? Safe staffing!" rang off the concrete awning of Floating Hospital and boomed down Washington Street. The roar of the picket line could be heard all the way down to the Tufts T station, competing with the clanging and chiming of train cars.

"I've been working here 30 years. I've never seen solidarity like this," said Rosemary, a nurse in Tufts' ambulatory department.

The 1,200 registered nurses (RNs) represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) have worked on an expired contract since July 30, 2016. Nurses say that after two dozen bargaining sessions with management demanding cuts and refusing all compromises, along with ongoing understaffing and low pay, they have had it.

An escalating campaign by Tufts nurses and their union over months reached a fever pitch March 30 when the nurses voted by 95 percent to authorize a one-day strike. They set up the picket line on April 12 to educate the public and flex their collective muscle in front of management.

Workers and officers from unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Verizon strikers' IBEW 2222, and hotel and foodservice union UNITE HERE joined the protest. Cheers rang out every time a fire truck screamed its siren or an MBTA bus honked its horn in support of the nurses.

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SOLIDARITY AND resolve were palpable on the line.

Eileen, a case manager, leaned on a crutch as she limped along the snaking procession. She just had knee surgery on both knees less than six months ago. The picket strained her; it was the most amount of walking she had done since the operation. But there was no way she was going to miss it.

She works on a complex case floor and handles many of the growing number of heroin abuse cases brought to Tufts. She cares for every patient to the best of her ability, but there is always pressure from management on the nurses. "We're constantly being asked to discharge, discharge, discharge," she said.

That management pressure is symptomatic of staffing levels that nurses say are driving many to action. "This hospital is so understaffed. That's the real issue here," said Deb Sullivan, the MNA's lead negotiator and staff organizer for Tufts RNs. "These nurses work, and they don't know when they can go home."

"They're kept beyond their shifts. There are cases where they can't eat, they can't drink, they can't go to the bathroom for up to 10 hours at a time," she said. "The people we're asking to take care of are so uncared for themselves. No one's taking care of them."

Danielle, a young nurse who works in an intensive care unit (ICU), has experienced Tufts management's understaffing first hand. "It makes for an extremely stressful day for starters, she said. "And then not only are you stressed out, but now you're thinking 'I'm letting this patient down that's counting on me.'

She added, "They're not following ICU staffing laws. I've seen them underrate patients' acuity when it should be one [patient] to one [assigned nurse]." As Massachusetts state law requires, an ICU must have one nurse for every two patients or one nurse for every patient if that patient's condition, known as acuity, demands added care.

When hospital management violates safe staffing policies and laws, many nurses fill out an "Unsafe/Unsatisfactory" grievance form that the union receives. "It's no distortion to say that there are literally hundreds of these forms" from over the past few years, Sullivan said.

Research studies have found an increased risk of patient mortality when nurses are assigned to more than four patients at once, the limit nurses are asking for in medical surgical units. At Tufts today, nurses report these units often have as many as six patients assigned to a single nurse.

"The hospital is refusing to give these nurses the tools, meaning the staff, the people, to adequately care for the patients, and they've been doing it for probably the last six years, easy," Sullivan said.

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OTHER ISSUES are further stirring nurses' indignation and resolve.

According to the union, Tufts nurses are the lowest-paid among all the city's teaching hospitals. They say this makes the staffing issue worse, as many new nurses only stay at Tufts long enough to receive the needed skills and experience.

"I've been here 20 years," said Narissa, an ICU float nurse. "I've seen people waiting and waiting for a raise that never came. We shouldn't have to wait any longer. The young shouldn't haven't to go through the same."

The nurses and the MNA are also fighting to protect the pension for senior nurses and end a two-tier retirement system between new and senior nurses put in place from the 2005 contract.

The solidarity on the line made steps to cross that age gap nurses say management has used to divide the workplace. Most nurses on the picket line were over the age of 40. But younger nurses have also joined the fight.

"We're fighting as new nurses for safe staffing and for our future," said Danielle, surrounded by a cohort of fellow young nurses who had joined Tufts right out of nursing school. "We're fighting for our fellow nurses today. And senior nurses are fighting for us, to make sure we have a pension like they had."

According to a statement released after the picket, Tufts management says it remains committed to coming to a negotiated solution with the nurses through "thoughtful and constructive dialogue" and to reach "consensus on contract terms that support our nurses and ensure the long-term financial viability of our Medical Center."

Management and the union have agreed to a contract extension until May 22. Six negotiation sessions with a federal mediator remain. However, as the May 22 deadline approaches, consensus is reportedly far off. As Deb Sullivan says, a strike is regrettable, but appears likely.

"Anything substantive, anything that really matters, they are not giving to us, not having in-depth discussion about, and they are seeking concessions on every front," Sullivan said. "I think that the hospital needs to hear. They need to really listen to what those nurses out there were saying, and what the fact those nurses out there means."

As the picket concluded in a rally, the voices of hundreds of Tufts nurses pulsed with a single chant. It was their message to Tufts management, their proposed cuts and their continued unsafe staffing: "Not this time. Not this time."

A version of this article originally appeared in Spare Change News.

Categories: Political Action

How is Leninism relevant today?

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 01:00

Paul Le Blanc is the author of numerous books, including Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and, most recently, Left Americana: The Radical Heart of U.S. History. In this speech presented in London in February at a conference about the Russian Revolution sponsored by the UK organization Counterfire, he considers the relevance of Lenin and the experience of Russia's Bolsheviks for revolutionary socialists today.

Lenin (center) addresses an audience of soldiers in Moscow in 1919 (Wikimedia Commons)

OVER THE past decade, we have seen the academic-intellectual phenomenon of a striking increase in significant Lenin studies and related studies. Important contributions have come from Lars Lih, John Riddell, August Nimtz, Alan Shandro, Tamas Krausz, Antonio Negri and others.

Why is this happening? Such things would not be written or published if they did not speak to the deepening concerns of an expanding layer of potential readers. They would not be appearing if they were not--to borrow a capitalist term--marketable.

Such works are appearing in a period of ongoing economic, social and political crisis, with a decline in the quality of life generating the rise of protest and insurgency in many parts of the world. While it is hardly the case that a majority among the rising tide of rebels and activists embrace--or even have much knowledge of--Lenin, there are two essential connections.

The most elemental connection is this: At the very heart of the Bolshevik and Leninist tradition is the struggle against oppression. The proliferation of such struggles generates an atmosphere in which there is likely to be a growing interest in the revolutionary ideas and traditions associated with Lenin.

That relates to the other connection: Lenin and his comrades spoke to the most urgent concerns of those who hope to overcome oppression. Following Marx, they developed a profound understanding of the interconnection between the nature of oppression and the dynamics of capitalism, the dimensions of class struggle and the way it can develop into effective struggles for reform and revolution, and how socialists can organize themselves in a way to make this so.

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AMONG LEFT-wing activists in recent years, on the other hand, even the term Leninism has been seen as problematical. For the most part, socialist organizations that consciously strive to follow a Leninist model are quite small and have little influence. But striving to follow this model and actually doing so are not the same thing.

I believe would-be Leninist organizations are unable to follow this model in part because of the very different objective reality in which we are enmeshed and in part because there are fundamental misunderstandings of what Leninism means--if we are referring to the "Leninism" of Lenin, his basic orientation and political practice.

One aspect of the present capitalist reality that we must understand--as Marxists, as Leninists, as Trotskyists--is that our world is quite different from what it was in the time of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Some things that they emphasized had to do with a very different situation than the one we face. That affects the way I have viewed the Occupy movement, in which I was quite active, the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the amazing anti-Trump upsurge.

Lenin lived in a time when there was a massive international workers' movement animated by a very high degree of class consciousness, with a highly organized and very large socialist (later Communist) component, nourished by a very rich and substantial labor-radical subculture.

That disintegrated under the impact of fascism, the Second World War and postwar developments. Proclaiming the truths of revolutionary Marxist theory in the latter years of the 20th century--as many of us were inclined to do--in the absence of a class-conscious labor movement will have a different impact than what was true in the time of Lenin.

(In a way, the reality of our labor movement, certainly in the U.S., seems to correspond more to that of Marx's time in the early 1860s--very undeveloped and fragmented.)

Today's working-class movement (like the modern-day working class) has been in a process of recomposition.

The Occupy movement involved large, very broad sectors of what were, for all practical purposes, working-class youth. Their protests against the tyranny of the 1 Percent over the 99 Percent resonated powerfully among a majority of the people of the United States--who are, in fact, working class but largely self-identify as "middle class."

The inability of Occupy to cohere around a socialist program was inevitable. Those distressed by this had unrealistic expectations. Within this mass upsurge, however, socialists could be supportive, could participate, could help with practical and logistical matters and could share socialist ideas that some participants would consider further, particularly in the wake of Occupy's inevitable collapse.

Such mass phenomena as the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-Trump protests are part of a recomposition process of working-class protest, struggle and consciousness-building.

These are among the preconditions for the rebuilding of a working-class movement that can challenge the power of capital and, eventually, bring a socialist future. Instead of being impatient with these developments we should embrace them as part of the process which will allow for greater numbers to consider and draw strength from the insights of Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and other revolutionary comrades.

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WE DO not have a revolutionary party in the United States, although we badly need one, and some of us want to do what we can to bring that into being.

There are groups aspiring to become a revolutionary party--and that often generates problematical dynamics which create serious obstacles to being able to help bring a revolutionary party into being. In contrast to this, there are other groups seeking to contribute to the creation of a revolutionary party, but understanding that they, by themselves, cannot become such a party.

Groups in this category realize that: one, a revolutionary party can actually come into being only when a class-consciousness layer of the working class is prepared to move in that direction; two, there must be ongoing preliminary processes that will contribute to the crystallization of such a working-class layer; and three, the group must join with revolutionaries in other groups, with radicalizing activists who are not and will not be in the existing groups, and with people who at the moment are neither radicals nor activists, and that together--in the future--we will all be helping to forge the revolutionary party we need.

For many, the question of "democratic centralism" gets at the heart of the problem of Leninism. We can define democratic centralism as freedom of discussion, unity in action. But those words can be understood and implemented in very different ways.

For a group viewing itself as the repository of Revolutionary Truth and aspiring to become the revolutionary party, democratic centralism tends to be defined in a restrictive manner. In order to preserve the group's ability to become the unadulterated revolutionary party, a certain orthodoxy is established to which all must adhere, limiting discussion and generating a climate in which disciplinary actions and splits become all too common.

A healthy conception of democratic centralism involves a critical-mindedness, an openness, a political courage that characterized the way in which Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and other such comrades functioned.

Shades of difference and outright disagreements are normal and necessary--especially given the complexity of the realities we face. That understood, it remains a fact that revolutionary socialists need to work together, as a democratic collective, to be effective in advancing the interests of the workers and the oppressed, creating the possibility of revolutionary party, and building a mass socialist movement that can bring revolutionary change.

Understood in this way, I think democratic centralism is a necessity, but it will be very different from what passes for "democratic centralism" in groups having a stilted understanding of themselves.

In 1924, Trotsky wrote: "Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer. That is the principal lesson of the last decade [since the 1917 Russian Revolution]."

Trotsky was contrasting the failures of socialist uprisings in Germany, Finland and Hungary to the success of the revolution in Russia. But in the 90 years since these words were written, it can be asked: "Hasn't the sheer quantity of time changed the quality of this argument? Doesn't a century of revolutionary history discount the tradition of Bolshevism?"

The answer to this is yes and no. It is true that things clearly cannot be just the same as they were 90 or 100 years ago. But certain aspects of the Bolshevik tradition transcend the amazing changes that have taken place over nine decades.

Jean-Paul Sartre once said the continued existence of capitalism means Marxism "remains the philosophy of our time," since we have not gone beyond the circumstances that brought Marx's analyses into being. I think similar points can be made about the Bolshevik tradition.

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IN OUR discussions and debates about "Leninism," we must never forget that the term has multiple and contradictory meanings.

Most people, of course, are not familiar with the term Leninism. Of those who have heard of it, many cannot give a definition.

Of those who could give a definition, there are some who would indicate that it is consistent with the practices and mindset of the bureaucratic-authoritarian and murderous tyranny that arose in Russia, particularly with the rule of Joseph Stalin. There are others who would associate it with the practices and perspectives of various left-wing sects proclaiming themselves to be "Leninist."

A very small number, compared to the others just mentioned, see the "Leninism" of Lenin and his co-thinkers--in contrast to Stalinism and small-group sectarianism parading under the Leninist banner--as representing something important and necessary for the workers and the oppressed.

When some sincere people on the left announce that "Leninism is finished," the "we" who constitute this small number feel compelled to say: "No, Leninism is not finished. It is unfinished." Since it is our conviction that most people do not comprehend what Leninism actually is, we have a responsibility to explain--including why its history and meaning have been partly obliterated and partly distorted.

As with anything like this, there may be information and insights that some of some of us do not have, and differences among us on how best to understand what actually happened in history. There is a collective retrieval process of this historical Leninism that is far from complete, so in this sense Leninism is "unfinished."

There is yet another way in which it is unfinished, and this relates to Lenin's methodology.

Reality is dynamic and ceaselessly changing. There are always new things to understand, new analyses to be elaborated, revolutionary strategies that must be adapted to new situations, new tactics to be learned, and new ways to apply tried-and-true tactics. Our situation is not a duplicate of that faced by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and our efforts to do what they did can only be successful if we are critical-minded and creative in our application of their approach.

This is a point Lenin often made in discussions with comrades in the various parties that belonged to the Communist International. It is truer now than ever before. In this sense, too, Leninism is--and must be--unfinished.

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I WANT to conclude with the words of our comrade Rosa Luxemburg. In her important critique of the Russian Revolution, she emphasized a point that resonates today and has powerful implications for tomorrow's struggles.

"In the present period," Luxemburg wrote, "when we face decisive final struggles in all the world, the most important problem of socialism was and is the burning question of our time," involving "the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such."

In her opinion, "the party of Lenin...grasped the mandate and duty of a truly revolutionary party the slogan "All power in the hands of the proletariat and peasantry" insured the continued development of the revolution. Whatever a party could offer of courage, revolutionary far-sightedness and consistency in an historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and all the other comrades have given in good measure."

The tragic failure of later years in no way wipes out their inspiring triumph of 1917. It remains for activists of today and tomorrow to revive and complete the work that Luxemburg describes. We must push forward to actually place political power in the hands of the laboring majority, and to actually replace capitalist tyranny with socialist democracy.

The contributions of Lenin and his comrades, critically utilized and developed, will be helpful to those engaging in that task.

Categories: Political Action

Separating fact from fake news

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 01:00

Danny Katch, author of Socialism...Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, considers how the left can analyze the world in the Trumpian era of "alternative facts."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, as the independent journalist I.F. Stone once said. But not all governments lie as proudly as those led by Donald Trump.

This guy started his presidency issuing an easily disprovable falsehood about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, a typically Trumpish blend of silly and creepy, like a dictator declaring that from this day forward the sky is officially orange (or climate change is a hoax). He lies so often that a whole category of his lies are denials of previous lies.

Corporate-owned media outlets generally obey the unwritten rule that the spokespeople for government sources should be treated as credible--regardless of how many times they've been caught lying--but the new president's obvious disdain for the truth pushed many of them to adopt a more Stone-like stance of skepticism.

But Trump only needed to lob some missiles and bombs in enemy lands to restore the press back to its natural state of blind trust in authority. The Pentagon announced that it dropped the "Mother of All Bombs" in eastern Afghanistan, and there was little mainstream questioning of the government's claim that this monstrosity with a mile-wide blast radius managed to only kill bad guys.

Clearly the left has to take a different approach, and treat the word of the U.S. government as we would that of any individual with a similarly long history of murder and mendacity.

But if we don't trust the government--and, by extension, many of the mainstream news reports that simply repeat government talking points--then how do we get our information?

The left doesn't have the resources to replicate all of the bureaus and investigative reporting of media corporations. Progressive media like Democracy Now! and Truthout (or even your humble correspondents at can sometimes deliver important scoops, but radicals have no choice but to rely on larger outlets for much of our information.

The defining difference between the left and the corporate media is not that we have different facts--because we often don't--but that we have different frameworks for interpreting and drawing conclusions from those facts. That's important to keep in mind at a time when "alternative facts" are becoming a growing problem on the left as well as the right.

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OUR STARTING point at is that, as mentioned, we don't trust "our" government.

But we should be consistent like I.F. Stone and be suspicious of all governments--especially those like the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which has tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of people and lied about its crimes with a boldness that would make Sean Spicer bow down in admiration.

This is unfortunately not a universal method across the left. Like the closed circuit of right-wing websites passing the same fabrications back and forth about disease-spreading immigrants and "black-on-black crime," there are a growing number of websites recycling dubious speculations about "false flag" operations in Syria designed to discredit the Assad government.

These conspiracy theories not only suck a few people down the "truther" rabbit hole, but they also create a deliberately muddled atmosphere on the left that can make new activists think they need to read detailed studies of the property of sarin gas just to have an opinion on something that couldn't be more clear: the Assad government is monstrous. has drawn that conclusion not because the U.S. government says so, but because millions of Syrians have said so--including those who have been killed, jailed and exiled in the process.

That gets to the next element of our framework for evaluating facts and understanding the world. We may not trust governments, but we listen closely to ordinary people, particularly when they are organized in large-scale protest movements.

Protesters can lie, of course, and protest movements are subject to manipulation, whether by foreign agents or homegrown opportunists. But our starting assumption when hundreds of thousands or millions of people take to the streets is that they are not mere puppets of a foreign power.

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HERE'S THE thing about government lies: They're usually not very effective--and in reality, they don't need to be.

When the cops kill another unarmed African American and claim he was charging at all five of them with a pair of scissors, they don't get away with it because we all believe them--certainly not those of us who live in the neighborhood. They get away with it because cops are allowed to murder unarmed Black people. The lie is just a formality.

Or take the lies that the Bush administration told about Iraq having "weapons of mass destruction," which some now cite as "precedent" for the U.S. lying about Assad using chemical weapons.

There are two false assumptions that have developed in recent years about the big WMD lie.

The first is that most people were tricked by the lie into supporting the war. In fact, the U.S. population was pretty much split down the middle, and the protests against the Iraq invasion before it happened were some of the largest in U.S. history. Like killer cops, the Bush administration went to war with Iraq not because they were able to fool us, but because they had the power to disregard popular will.

The second myth is that the WMD lie was essential for the war. In fact, it wasn't necessarily the belief in WMDs that led people to support the invasion, but the other way around. Just as people who want to drill for more oil find a way to not believe in climate change, people who wanted the invasion to happen convinced themselves that Saddam Hussein had his finger on the button of an arsenal of WMDs.

As for our side, while we certainly didn't believe the Bush's lies--especially when they were contradicted by the person charged with inspecting Iraq for WMDs--many of us wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Iraq did indeed hide chemical or biological weapons. After all, the U.S. had considered Saddam Hussein an ally until he became an enemy.

Our opposition to the war wasn't based on believing that Iraq didn't have WMDs, but on the anti-imperialist understanding that the United States isn't a force that would protect the world from those weapons.

Similarly today, opposing the U.S. waging war on the Syrian government doesn't require us to believe the Assad regime didn't carry out the recent poison gas attack (which it almost certainly did)--any more than protesting the Ferguson police murder of Mike Brown required us to know that Brown hadn't first robbed cigarillos from a convenience store (which he almost certainly didn't.)

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THE LEFT that needs to grow into a force that can challenge Donald Trump has to be one that doesn't create its own alternative facts to fit into our alternative politics. On the contrary, we have to do our best to gather and interpret new information from all available sources in order to keep up our understanding of a constantly changing world.

This dynamism is another element of our political framework, and it's admittedly more complicated than simply trusting what the leaders of protest movements say more than governments. Assessing the changes in inter-imperial rivalries and the competing political tendencies inside opposition movements is not an exact science, and it requires a willingness to debate and change one's mind.

But there's a basic outline for understanding the U.S. role in the Middle East that's clear. For years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. goal was regime change to install puppet governments across the region. Those plans were laid to waste, first by the failed occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and then by the 2011 Arab Spring rebellions, which turned "regime change" into a revolutionary demand that the U.S. government instinctively opposed.

That's why the Obama administration was very cautious about backing rebels in Syria even as Assad turned the country into a killing field that sprouted both ISIS and a mass exodus of refugees to the surrounding region and some to Europe. And it's why Trump came into office talking even more openly about working with and not against the Syrian regime.

Yes, the U.S. government has lied to go to war, and it will undoubtedly do so in the future. But we can assume that it isn't lying about Assad's sarin attack, not because Trump of all people is a trustworthy president, but because he didn't want to go to war against Syria.

(Of course, reports like this New York Times article make it unclear if the Trump administration is even competent enough to know whether or not it's lying.)

Fifteen years ago, the 9/11 conspiracy cult did damage, not good, to the antiwar cause, and more than a few decent leftists were sucked into the abyss of all-night Internet sleuthing and "you must be in on it, too" paranoia.

Their problem wasn't that they were wrong that the U.S. government was probably hiding details about 9/11--like the involvement of Saudi Arabia. The problem was the illusion that if only they could uncover the "truth" and bring the conspiracy to light, we could get back to the normal decency of American capitalism and empire.

Today, it's critical that the left exposes Trump's lies, rather than counter them with our own. Otherwise, instead of winning millions of new people to our side, we'll just add to the general cynicism that you can't trust anything you read anywhere.

Categories: Political Action