Saturday, February 24, 2018

USA USA: US Wealth Inequality Tops Them All.

This article was originally on The Conversation. We reprint it here from the BBC (Capital Story) Website.
How Rich are the Rich? If You Only Knew.
By Gil B. Manzon Junior 24 February 2018
This article originally appeared on The Conversation, and is republished under a Creative Commons licence. The author, Gil B. Manzon Junior is an associate professor of accounting at Boston College.

“If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.”

Actor and comedian Chris Rock made this astute statement during a 2014 interview with New York magazine, referring to the yawning gap between rich and poor. In so doing, he stumbled upon a key challenge in the study of inequality.

What’s the best way to measure it?

Most inequality studies have focused on income – measures of which are widely available. However, being rich is not about a single year of earnings but rather about the accumulation of wealth over time. In the past, quantifying that has been tricky.
Is Chris Rock right that Americans just aren’t aware of the levels of disparity in their society?
The wealthy would probably prefer we stay in the dark about how rich they are, presumably to avoid the aforementioned riots. People like me, who study the topic, however, are always looking for more data and better and more accurate ways to measure the rich-poor gap. And while I’m not one to promote violence in the streets, I do believe it’s important for citizens to be fully aware of the levels of disparity in their society.

The most revealing way to do this, in my view, is by looking at wealth inequality.

(Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Inequality continues to be a problem worldwide, as the rich seemingly get richer and the poor get poorer (Credit: Getty Images)

How big is the gap?

There are several ways to measure inequality. One of the most popular is by income. That’s largely because there’s more data, and it’s a lot easier to measure. But this measure is a snapshot.

Wealth, on the other hand, is an aggregation, affected not only by current income but earnings accumulated in previous years and by previous generations. Only by studying wealth inequality do scholars, policymakers and others get the deepest and broadest measure of the gap between the rich and everyone else.

How much wealth someone has is also a better measure of their quality of life and opportunities. It determines the ability to invest in education, financial assets and the comfort and security of one’s retirement. Wealth also mitigates worries about paycheck variability or unexpected expenses. If you have wealth, the sudden cost of replacing a broken water heater or paying a medical bill doesn’t cause nearly as much stress as if you’re poor.

A widening chasm

When we do look at the data on wealth inequality in the US, it’s stark and dwarfs that of the rest of the developed world.

The conservative Hudson Institute in 2017 reported that the wealthiest 5% of American households held 62.5% of all assets in the US in 2013, up from 54.1% 30 years earlier. As a consequence, the wealth of the other 95 percent declined from 45.9% to 37.5%.
(Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Inequality is even worse in the US than it is in many other developed countries (Credit: Getty Images)
As a result, the median wealth of upper-income families (earning US$639,400 on average) was nearly seven times that of middle-income households ($96,500) in 2013, the widest gap in at least 30 years.
More notably, inequality scholars Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that the top 0.01% controlled 22% of all wealth in 2012, up from just 7% in 1979.

If you only looked at data on income inequality, however, you’d see a different picture. In 2013, for example, the top 5 percent of households earned just 30% of all US income (compared with possessing nearly 63% of all wealth).

While the U.S. is not the only developed country that has seen wealth inequality rise over the past three decades, it is an outlier. The wealthiest 5% households in the US have almost 91 times more wealth than the median American household, the widest gap among 18 of the world’s most developed countries. The next highest is the Netherlands, which has a ratio less than half that.

The recently passed US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will make this problem a whole lot worse.
The main features of the law include doubling the standard deduction for individual taxpayers, a temporary reduction in the top marginal tax rate from 39.6% to 37 %, a significant reduction of the number of families subject to the estate tax and slashing the top corporate rate from 35% to 21%.
When we do look at the data on wealth inequality in the US, it’s stark and dwarfs that of the rest of the developed world
The main impact, however, is skewed to the wealthy. For example, the bottom 20 percent of households will see a lower tax bill of about $40 on average, compared with $5,420 for those in the top quintile. The richest 0.1%, meanwhile, will save $61,920. By 2025, the richest will see their benefit grow to $152,200, while everyone else won’t see much of a change. All the individual cuts are set to expire in 2026.

Wealthier taxpayers will also gain from the other main features of the new law. For example, research shows most benefits of lowering business taxes go to the rich, and fewer estates subject to the inheritance tax means more wealth accumulation across generations.

The tax law’s proponents claim that it won’t increase levels of inequality because the money that the rich will save will “trickle down” to other American households and lift their boats too.

Empirical evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Specifically, channelling more money to the rich, via tax cuts, does not improve economic growthworsens educational opportunities for poorer Americans and even reduces life expectancy, which declined for a second year in a row in 2017.
(Credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Income inequality remains a problem across the globe - China also sees a high degree of inequality (Credit: Getty Images)

Raising awareness

So is Chris Rock right that Americans just aren’t aware of the levels of disparity in their society?
Surveys suggest he is. Respondents to a 2011 national survey, for example, “dramatically underestimated” levels of wealth inequality in the US.

The survey, and other research, also partially affirmed the other half of his quote by showing that by and large Americans do care about wealth inequality and would prefer it to be lower.

Whether existing wealth inequality in the US is socially or morally sustainable – or might lead to the riots envisioned by Chris Rock – is an open question.

Whatever happens, first things first, we need to know and understand just how bad wealth inequality in the US has become. What we then choose to do about it is up to all of us.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Gary Indiana Airport: Accelerated Removal Hub Deports Thousands, Wrecks Familiess

Richard Mellor and Sarah Bortt in Gary Indiana

Myself and another activist from Chicago attended a protest rally at Gary International Airport this morning (2-23-17) where a coalition of groups from North West Indiana and Chicago has held regular protests against deportations.  Gary airport is a desolate place particularly this time of year and it is here that some 200 immigrants a month get their last look at the United States. In all, well over 12,000 people have been "removed" from their homes and families and flown out of the airport since the deportations began in the summer of 2013.

It was a bitterly cold day but the rally was well attended, perhaps two to three hundred people and there were numerous speakers. I arrived a little late and could not stay for the entire event or to see the buses arrive that bring the deportees. For those of us that have never experienced it we can only imagine the horrible consequences of ripping people from their communities and families.

The protestors have been limited to a small section of the the airport's parking lot and made sure they stay there through the presence of heavily armed SWAT teams and local police.  There was a representative of an SEIU local there and some rank and file USWA (Steelworkers) members. I have to apologize to the reader (viewer) as the cold sort of got to me and I regrettably deleted the rest of my video clips and they had women speaking in them. So I only have this one and the one below both men.

In relation to the unions, the young guy in the video below who I believe was from the Black Lives Matter movement talks of the need to shut the place down and to physically stop the buses bringing the victims to be deported. This is what we have to do if we want to stop it and he's right. Mass protests, strikes, occupations and violation of the laws, what amount to anti-social laws, is what has to happen. It is good someone from SEIU is there and workers from the USWA and probably others.

But union members have to wage a struggle inside our unions to force the union leadership to mobilize the power of the millions of members and our communities. We have to raise this issue and others, and challenge the present passive and pro-boss policies as such a struggle will help educate the average member on what must be done.  In the process of this battle for the consciousness of the working  class a new leadership can be built. SEIU has 1.6 million members. The Chicago Federation of Labor has 500,000 workers affiliated top it, all of them under assault.  There are 266,000 union members in Indiana. This is a potential pool of activists.

Some will say that only 14% of US workers are in unions. But when the French General Strike began in 1968 when 10 million workers went out and millions occupied the factories and workplaces and threw their managers out, only ten percent of French workers were organized. The present union leadership is aware of this, they are aware of the anger that exists in society and among their own members and are terrified of it. They will shudder at the thought of attempting to mobilize it in defense of immigrants or anything else because when workers move in to struggle we tend to seek class allies, the divide and rule obstacles that the bosses' use to divide us tend to break down some and we get a sense of our own power, the power that works and is needed as the young man describes below. The present union leadership has the same world view as the bosses. They worship the market and capitalism and such a movement threatens this so they avoid it like the plague, for them, mobilizing the power of their own membership and the working class as a whole can only lead to chaos.

It is this worldview, their own consciousness, what the English historian Christoper Hill called the "Stop in the Mind" that is the primary source of the class collaboration, and betrayals on the part of the trade union hierarchy, corruption and graft where it exists is a secondary feature.

Once again, I apologize for only two clips both men. If folks would like to investigate further check out NorthWest Indiana Resistance  on Facebook and also Refuse Fascism a group also involved in these protests took extensive video with more speakers. You can see it here.

British Labor Party: Where is Momentum going?

We share this editorial for the interest of our readers. It is reprinted from the UK publication Left Horizons. 

Editorial: Where is Momentum going?
The Labour Party has seen enormous change in the last two years. An important part of this, alongside the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader (twice) and the associated surge in membership, has been the establishment of Momentum as the largest left grouping in the Labour Party.

Momentum did not arise as the brainchild of one person. It rose out of a need, perceived by thousands of his supporters, for Jeremy Corbyn to have a strong, organised base of support in the Party membership, as a counter-weight to the right wing. It was clear as early as 2015, after the first leadership contest, that the ‘old guard’ right wing still dominated the Parliamentary Labour Party, the full-time bureaucracy of the Party and many local Constituency Labour Parties. That became evident in the attempted coup against Corbyn in the summer of 2016, but is still true today.

Had Momentum not been founded when it was, then another similar organisation, with a different name, would have evolved on much the same lines. Indeed, before Momentum existed there were already local and regional ‘networks’ of Corbyn supporters being set up for exactly the same purpose and these were later absorbed into Momentum. The only reason that Momentum took the particular form it did was because the massive database of supporters which was built up in the first leadership campaign needed to have a ‘home’ where it could be put to good use. It was only through the legal incorporation of this database that Momentum effectively became the property of a single person.

Since its establishment, Momentum has built up a huge membership, with each one paying between £1 and £5 a month. It currently claims to have 150 local groups, 23,000 members and 200,000 supporters and its Twitter account has 93,000 followers. It has to be said that many of the listed local groups are now moribund and, at 23,000, the membership is around 8000 fewer than claimed a year ago. Nevertheless, its membership and income give its national organisers the wherewithal to run a large apparatus and big campaigns, far bigger than any of its left predecessors, like Tribune, in the past. One would have to go back to the Independent Labour Party in the 1920s to find a left Labour grouping on anything like the same scale.

Momentum claims to have made a significant impact on the election result in 2017, particularly in mobilising young Labour Party members and supporters to work in marginal constituencies and in getting out the youth vote in areas with a high student population. Momentum supporters managed batteries of phone banks right across the country – using the experience gained in the leadership election campaigns – and produced a wide variety of excellent videos and posters that were distributed widely on social media. Momentum claim that their Facebook page had 1.3 million hits in May 2017 and a total ‘reach’ of 17 million in the last week of the election campaign.

Since the general election, Momentum has continued to mobilise campaigners. Their #unseat campaign in Tory marginals is threatening the seats of leading Tory ministers. At two successive Party conferences, Momentum has organised Labour’s largest-ever fringe events, described almost as ‘alternative conferences’ in their own right. The World Transformed, “a four-day event of music, art, politics and culture” is now an established feature of conference. At the conference of 2017, as many as 12-13,000 Labour Party members and delegates participated or visited the event.

As well as campaigning externally, Momentum has also actively campaigned internally, providing the main impetus for the election of an all-left slate in the CLP section of Labour’s National Executive Committee last year, and ensuring that the three additional CLP places elected later were also won by the left. Locally, Momentum members and supporters have won many positions and up and down the country. Constituency Labour Parties have seen left-wingers elected into leading positions as the Labour Party moves solidly to the left. Much to the horror of the Tory press, the success of Momentum locally has also led to the selection of left candidates for the forthcoming local authority elections, often displacing incumbents who had fallen out of favour of their local Party membership.

So far so good. What is of concern to many socialists, however, is the vice-like grip that one individual holds over Momentum and its complete lack of transparency and accountability at the top. It is obviously no bad thing to have a clean sweep of left-wingers elected to the Labour NEC. But it is a pity that only a tiny minority of the tens of thousands of Labour Party members who took part in the vote would have any idea where the list of left candidates came from, or who decided they would be the left slate in the first place. Ominously we already have a situation where one of the newly-elected ‘left’ NEC members has voted to expel a Labour member on spurious grounds.

When it first began, Momentum claimed to be a ‘grassroots’ organisation offering a ‘new’ type of politics. Its initial structure allowed for an elected National Committee, with a majority of regional delegates, from whom a Steering Committee was elected. Unfortunately, just when the leadership could no longer put off having a national delegate conference – which would probably have questioned the direction, structures and ‘ownership’ of Momentum – the Steering Committee imposed a new constitution, without any consultation with its members or the National Committee. Indeed, the Steering Committee did not dissolve itself, but dissolved the National Committee, the body from which it drew its authority. The National Committee was replaced by a National Coordinating Group (NCG), which is a consultative body, without any power or control over the leadership. Members were notified of this move – correctly described as a coup – by e-mail and invited to resign from Momentum if they didn’t agree with it. A link on the e-mail offered precisely that option. It was a case of like it or lump it.

For all its very positive work, therefore, Momentum is an organisation governed by a self-perpetuating clique and is effectively the ‘property’ of one person
. The promise of mass participation through ‘electronic democracy’ has not materialised. Those in Momentum who warned against this ‘e-democracy’ have been vindicated. The on-line elections that have been held only attract a limited participation of members. In the most recent election to the NCG massive artificial ‘regions’ were cobbled together with, for example, Wales being in the same ‘region’ as Essex. Even those members who did participate knew nothing about candidates living three hundred miles away. As is the case with all on-line elections controlled from the top, it meant the ‘apparatus’ organising the election generally gets the result it wants.

Meanwhile, local branches of Momentum have been constitutionally cut off from the national organisation, without any role or purpose. Although many local branches are still thriving, there are also many that are now moribund or not meeting at all. That is partly because the Momentum members have gained a significant influence in the Labour Party and they see little point in keeping Momentum going any longer – why have Momentum meetings when the Labour Party now does what Momentum used to do? But it is also partly because of the absence of any constitutional or democratic framework in which branches can operate. Local groups have no role in the new constitution.

More seriously, since the constitutional coup of January 2017, and notwithstanding the campaigning election work of Momentum, it has shown signs that it is edging to the right. From the very beginning, the national leadership avoided taking a clear-cut political position on any issue. In the days when it had a democratically elected National Committee, its leading figure (and still the leading figure today) managed to prevent any discussion on Labour’s Compliance Unit and the issue of anti-Semitism, two related issues about which there was a lot of anger on the National Committee.

Even in those early days, the national leadership also disgracefully bowed to pressure from the media to suspend its then vice-chair, Jacqui Walker, from her position, on the completely spurious charge of anti-Semitism and the leaders enthusiastically welcomed the suspension of Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party, again on spurious grounds. In so far as Momentum has any political policy at all, it is that disseminated by the clique at the top and no-one else. The national office has even taken down posts on ‘regional’ Facebook accounts where local Momentum members posted comments not to the liking of national office, for example, (again), conflating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

On its website, Momentum describes its aim as “To transform Labour into a modern, grassroots, member-led party with a transformative, socialist programme”, but in practice it has been edging further away from its original goals. Apart from the constitutional coup we have outlined, it has recently changed some of the ‘aims’ on its website. A previously declared aim to “create a mass movement for real transformative change” was changed last November to “bring together individuals and groups in our workplaces and communities to campaign and organise on the issues that matter to us”. For Momentum to explicitly ditch the idea of a “mass movement” says something about the evolution of the thinking of its leadership.

More significantly, Momentum has very explicitly disavowed the principle of mandatory re-selection of MPs. Its chairman told the Independent recently that “Momentum nationally is not going to campaign to deselect any MP and we will stick by that…We have made it clear that we are not going to campaign to deselect anyone, at all, anywhere”. The irony is, of course, that the majority of Momentum members probably do support the idea of mandatory re-selection. That there ought to be a full selection process before every election and that there are no candidates-for-life are very popular ideas among the new Labour Party members. That is a view we share, but it is clearly not Momentum’s view.

For the foreseeable future, Momentum will probably continue on twin tracks, with local groups of activists separated politically and organisationally from national Momentum. Leaning on the support of the national leadership, Momentum has to some degree already become a home for some who were previously on the right wing of the party. Momentum is in danger of becoming comfortable incubator for a new breed of careerists whose only qualification for Momentum support is to describe themselves as ‘left’.

This means that there is no longer a guarantee that candidates backed by Momentum are even genuinely on the left. At the recent parliamentary selection meeting in Calder Valley CLP, for example, local Momentum members were dismayed to find that the national Momentum organisation was backing a candidate who had previously supported Owen Smith against Jeremy Corbyn. Their own preferred (local) candidate was overlooked. This sort of fracture between local activists and national Momentum will happen increasingly as the national leadership drifts to the right.

However, this ‘twin-track’ arrangement is not sustainable in the long run. When (not if) Labour is elected into government, it will be faced with a tsunami of opposition from the banks, big business, the press and the establishment in general, not excluding the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Labour full-time bureaucracy. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the whole Labour leadership will be put under enormous pressure to dilute or completely abandon the reforms and radical measures it will include in its manifesto.

In the crisis that follows Labour’s election, therefore, a new period of turmoil will open up inside the Labour Party. There will be more debate, discussion, dissent and disagreement in the Party than there has been for decades, even including the recent past. Readers and supporters of the ideas of Left Horizons will play a part in that ferment, always arguing the case, in a patient and fraternal manner, for socialist measures.

It is likely in such a period that Labour will again experience a renewal of its membership, as happened in the two leadership campaigns and the general election. Momentum too, may experience a resurgence of activity in its membership and especially in the activity of its local groups. In that period of fluidity, debate and discussion, the ‘owners’ of Momentum will not be able to maintain the iron grip they have on the organisation now. Momentum will face a choice of either opening itself up to genuine debate and democratic accountability, or it will become effectively a part of the Labour bureaucracy, even to the point of supporting the expulsion and suspension of its critics on the left. If it is the latter, it will be overwhelmingly rejected by leftward-moving Labour Party members.

As any scientist will confirm, the concept of ‘momentum’ in Physics is a vector quantity, that is one that always has both a magnitude and a direction. Political Momentum certainly has magnitude – it boasts 23,000 members – but unfortunately, from where we stand now, it looks like its direction of motion is from left to right and that does not augur well for the future.
February 20, 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Real Black Panther

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

“You can kill a revolutionary but you can never kill the revolution.” Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and was also the deputy chairman of the national party. Hampton and another member of the party, Mark Clark were murdered during a raid by a joint force of the FBI, the Chicago Police Department and a tactical unit of the Cook County IL State Attorney’s Office. Hampton was 21 years old.

I am in Cook County at the moment and having also spent most of my American life in Oakland where the Black Panthers began I got to thinking a bit more about Fred Hampton and why they assassinated him.

If you listen to him it is self evident that he is a working class man. We can tell this by his speech. In the US it is often pointed to when an educated black person speaks that she is “talking white”.  But they are not talking white like the white working class that I’ve worked alongside in my entire life here. They aren’t talking like rural white workers in the South and other parts of the country. They are talking a particular type of American English, the acceptable English of the white capitalist ruling class. They are adopting a class language.

I know blacks that will listen to how Hampton speaks English and feel embarrassed, ashamed, some will look down on him for it. A white worker (in terms of speaking “proper” dialect) will be looked at in the same way in society as far as that goes. So the white worker and the black worker are both scorned by the white racist US ruling class and middle class layers. Yet this layer of the black population, the middle and upper middle classes, those in academia, the black politicians and even the few black bourgeois, owe their advancement to the black working class and youth that took on an Apartheid regime in a huge part of the country and working class revolutionaries like Fred Hampton. Hampton was targeted because of his class origins and what he stood for. He not only refuses to mimic the ruling class in language, he is diametrically opposed to their ideology.

In the video Hampton is talking about education, he is hammering it home. His audience is a bit perplexed as Hampton stresses that the opening or building of a community bank or credit union cannot begin to get off the ground without education.  But he is not talking about bourgeois or capitalist education, learning how to fit in to the system and in this case become black capitalists or the mouthpieces of capitalism black white or otherwise. He is talking about revolutionary education, specifically revolutionary socialism, and is clear that a community resource that allocates money cannot be formed “right” without a revolutionary socialist education. He’s not talking about accounting skills though they are important also.

How many 21-year old workers today know of the individuals Hampton talks of in this video? They certainly have no concept of the lessons learned from these examples like Kenyatta in Kenya or Papa Doc in Haiti and how without education Papa Doc led a revolution but without revolutionary theory and a knowledge (education) of revolutionary history, the struggles from below, they ended up becoming oppressors.

“We don’t hate the motherfuckin’ white people. We hate the oppressor whether he be white, black, brown, or yellow..” Hampton says. The white capitalist class would much rather he direct his anger toward all whites.

The US capitalist state waged a massive war against the Black Panthers and all of the revolutionary elements that arose in the 50’s and 60’s. It assassinated those blacks that wanted to change the system, opposed capitalism and coopted those that would work with them and they found themselves mayors of cities and so on.

What prominent black leaders say this today:
“We're going to fight racism not with racism, but we're going to fight with solidarity. We say we're not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we're going to fight it with socialism.”  Fred Hampton

They would not get too far in academia, the established political parties or anywhere else in acceptable society talking like that. The overwhelmingly white US ruling class prefer to keep class out of it as does every other opportunist and social climber wishing to elevate themselves a rung or two in capitalist society.

There are some exceptions and Facts For Working People urges readers to check out the political writings of Bruce Dixon a Managing Editor at the Black Agenda Report (also see the link to the right on this blog).  Many of his articles are here . And he has recently written a series of articles on class relations the first one is here.

This paragraph describes exactly why Hampton was so feared by the bosses. Hampton was a threat because he believed all workers were oppressed. He was on the verge of uniting Latino’s whites, blacks and politicizing gangs.The sixties was a revolutionary decade as many sections of society were beginning to stir and rise up in opposition to oppression. Music, sport all began to change in this decade. The direct rule of the colonial powers was ending. The Mau Mau rebellion that Hampton mentions in the video and that drove British imperialism from Kenya was one of the last colonial wars the British fought.

“Fred Hampton was quickly moving up the ranks in the Black Panther Party, and his talent as a political organizer was described as remarkable.[6][7] In 1968, he was on the verge of creating a merger between the BPP and a southside street gang with thousands of members, which would have doubled the size of the national BPP.[6][7] Moreover, it meant an alliance extending the Black Panther Party reach and influence united with white and Latino organizers, a step which Hoover viewed as an untenable ultimate threat and ordered an intensified FBI crackdown to the level of "any means necessary" to destroy the BPP.” Source:

The massive propaganda against black workers and people of color in general is because the ruling class fears working class unity, all workers must recognize this and learn from it. Hampton knew it and he never learned it at Harvard. Fred Hampton would be supporting the teachers that shut down the education system in Virginia today. He would be supporting the people in the cities whose water has been poisoned by corporations and their politicians to save a buck. He would be supporting strikes, and the veterans and workers throughout the world who are victims of capitalist aggression. He would be marching with the survivors of the mass shootings even if he differed with their demands. He would be savaging the prison industrial complex and would defend our unions more aggressively than those who lead them today.

Fred Hampton is a giant of US working class history and should be recognized as such. Not just by black people, but all workers.

I would like to point out, in terms of class language and class differences. Like Fred Hampton we at this blog believe the united working class is the only force that can change society, that can drag society back from the abyss and the destruction of life as we know it. In this struggle we will have allies, educated people, people who do speak “proper” as that is the language of official education in any society. People who have special skills they learned in capitalist institutions, will use them to advance the interests of the working as they join us in struggle. It is not language that is oppressive, it is who is speaking and what they’re saying.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Never Underestimate the Power of Ideas that Correspond to Reality.

The author talks of the "hundreds if not scores of warring sects" today. This is not the fault of the ideas Marx shared with the world. These organizations isolated from the working class and overwhelmingly petit bourgeois in their culture, have been incapable here in the US of building a healthy left current, not to mention a revolutionary one, in the workers movement.  Of this approach Marx commented, “what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist”. In saying this he was defending reforms that moved the working class forward against ultra left revolutionary phrase mongering. Facts For Working People agrees with Marx here, we also agree with Marx that revolution is necessary and as Marx sought to build an international movement of millions in order to overthrow capitalism, FFWP also believes this must be the goal of all socialists. It is the ideas expressed in a pamphlet that makes it powerful and the ideas expressed in the Communist Manifesto corresponded with objective reality.

That some socialists use the term "communism" is a modern day example of this. It is a feeble attempt to give themselves revolutionary credentials. But this term has been sullied by Stalinism, it is not useful to use this term. Marxism is a way of understanding the world and acting in way that can change it. Marxism is not a dogma but a living process and that means developing our understanding through an understanding of events that are taking place around us and doing that through interacting with the working class, having a dialogue with the working class and learning from this process. It involves struggling with the working class on the day to day issues that matter, not simply lecturing or aiming to "teach" the working class. Marx knew this. It is worth recalling his warning when he wrote that, Every step of a real movement is more important than a dozen programs
The piece below was originally published at: Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout

Never Underestimate the Power of a Pamphlet—Communist Manifesto
Marxists love this kind heroic imaginary.  You can pretty much define the sect by who gets added to these founders in a Mt. Rushmore-like row.

The pamphlet as a literary form and polemical tool owes its existence to the invention of moveable type, resultant relative mass literacy, and the need to cheaply reach and sway wide audiences.  They first came to the forefront during the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther, who had much sharper elbows than his plump monk’s body might suggest, was the first master of the form.  The slow-moving behemoth of the Catholic Church at first floundered trying to respond with turgid Latin tomes.  But it got better, or at least some of its wittier apologists did for the next two hundred years ago a pamphlet war stoked bloody atrocities on all sides across Europe.
The Enlightenment and the dawn of modernity gave rise to the secular political and social pamphlets.  In England Jonathan Swift and others raised the form to dazzling rhetorical heights.  But in the New World Thomas Paine’s Common Sense helped bring one Empire to its knees and give birth to another.  Not long after a series of pamphlets collectively known as the Federalist Papers penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay rallied support for what became the most enduring Constitution in the world.
Common Sense by Thomas Paine was a pamphlet that changed the world.
In the 19th Century writers and philosophers of all stripes turned their attention the industrial revolution, the social injustice and inequality it fostered, and the growing rage of the displaced and oppressed.  Many notable figures—nationalists, democrats, socialist, anarchists, and utopians—entered the fray.  But one pamphlet overshadows all the rest in the sweep and enduring nature of its influence.

Meet the single most important pamphlet of all time.  Love it or loath it, it cannot be denied.
It couldn’t have been more timely.  The uprisings that would sweep from France across the German states and into much of the rest of Europe were gathering steam on February 21, 1848 when a tiny faction of radical socialists from across the continent met in London and published Manifest der kommunistischen Partei, literally the Manifesto of the Communist Party.
Now known more simply as the Communist Manifesto the 18,000 word paper bound pamphlet was authored by German Jewish journalist and intellectual Karl Marx and his close collaborator Friedrich Engels, a pioneering German-born sociologist who had made his mark with the publication three years earlier of The Condition of the Working Class in England, one of the first systematic studies of working class life.
The publication was almost instantly notorious.  Editions appeared in French and English by 1850 and were followed by translations in most European languages.  By 1857 an American edition was published by the utopian and individualist anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews.
The original German edition of the pamphlet that shook the world.
Exactly how much each of the two credited authors contributed to the final product is hotly debated with those who want to raise Marx to the level of an infallible prophet and messianic figure pumping their hero up while reducing Engels to almost a mere clerk.  What is indisputable is that in the final draft it is Marx’s vigorous and muscular rhetoric that characterized the document beginning with its famous preamble:
A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact:
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.
But we know that it was Engels who was commissioned by the Communist League, the first international party to adopt that name, in July of 1847 to draw up a catechism for the new movement.  His first effort became the Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith containing almost two dozen questions that helped express his own ideas and those of his comrade Marx at the time.  That was followed in October with a second draft renamed the less religious Principles of Communism.  Still, it was in the question and answer format of a catechism.  Engels was dissatisfied with that and suggested a new approach. 
He brought Marx into the project as the primary writer of the final draft, traveling to Brussels, Belgium where the exiled writer was publishing a radical newspaper.   Marx incorporated much of Engels’s work but heavily rephrased it and added his own insights. 
The controversy over who contributed what swirled over the life times of both men.  After Marx’s death Engels wrote of what had become known as Marxism:
I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years’ collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, but the greater part of its leading basic principles belongs to Marx....Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name.
Whoever was the primary author, the effects of the pamphlet were not long in being felt.  It began to “hit the streets” in Germany by spring.  It surely did not cause the wave of 1848 uprisings, those had been festering and boiling under the surface since the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the spread of the Industrial Revolution into previously agrarian and stable urban centers organized along traditional craft production.  The leaders of the rebellions, as far as they could be identified, came from various ideological shades, including different varieties of socialists, along with democratic rebels casting themselves in the anti-royalist traditions of the French Revolution.  Many were young idealists, including students and sympathetic intellectuals.  Others emerged from the ranks of the evolving working class itself.  Communists represented only a tiny sliver of active leadership—their organization was too new, too week to do much more than be swept up in an irresistible tide of history.  
A Berlin street battle in the Revolution of 1848.  Guess how many insurrectionists read the Manifesto.
Did the appearance of the Manifesto inspire the rebels?  To some extent.  But most were too engaged in making a revolution to spend much time reading about one.
But Marx’s somewhat bombastic claims in the introduction to the pamphlet led authorities to believe that there was indeed a “Spectre of Communism haunting Europe.”  The rebellions peaked and then faltered for lack of clear programs and ability to build sustained organizations while the forces of reaction rallied and counter attacked with overwhelming military power.  By mid-1849 most of the uprisings were crushed and a continent-wide repression was under way.  The Manifesto was generally suppressed, although surreptitious copies continued to be circulated, often at great risk.  Identifiable Communists were arrested and sometimes executed—but so were leaders and activists of all ideological stripes.  Thousands were forced into exile.
Marx and his wife were among them.  They had to flee Brussels to join Engels in London, where he resumed work as a journalist, dedicated himself to study of the revolutionary movements and why they failed, and to assuming more formal leadership in the Communist movement.  
Karl and Anna Marx had to flee exile in Brussels for exile in London with comrade Engles.  Note Anna is wearing a cross.  Curious.
In 1850 the Prussian master spy Wilhelm Stieber broke into Marx’s London home and made off with the Communist League’s membership records setting off a wave of arrests across Germany and France.  After the Cologne Communist Trial of 1852 the League was forced to dissolve.  There after Communism existed as a current in socialism and Marx worked to get national socialist and labor parties, as well as trade unions, to adopt his analysis. 
The Manifesto was now a document for an organization that had evaporated.  The very stuff of ephemera, at best of interest to historians, antiquarians, and haunters of dusty archives.  But instead, it not only remained in print, it spread and continued to be issued in new languages.  It was passed hand-to-hand, often clandestinely, among the scattered survivors of the ’48 upheaval. 
Marx and Engels issued editions with new introductions every few years in which they both explained themselves and sometimes modified views expressed in the original text.  Some local Communist grouping were established, but a generation of radicals influenced by it became militants in the trade union movement, emerging Social Democratic Parties, and labor parties.  They were among the Communards who rose up in Paris after the Franco-Prussian War and were eventually crushed by the French National Guard.
The document shaped the thinking of many socialist and some anarchists who were not explicitly Communist.
Members of all these organizations—except for avowed anarchists and anarcho-syndicalist unions—met in Paris in 1889 to form the Socialist International, better known as the Second International at which Marx and Marxism were dominant.  Of course, by this time Marx had moderated some of the insurrectionist views of the Manifesto and advocated parliamentary and electoral activity through the Social Democratic parties modeled on that of Germany.  Still, despite the modified doctrine, the Manifesto remained a revered document.
In the 20th Century Lenin would resurrect the Manifesto as a primary document to differentiate his Bolsheviks from reformist Russian Social Democrats and as a rallying point for his insurrectionist 1917 October Revolution.
Today Lenin’s once monolithic international Communist movement has shattered into scores if not hundreds of often warring sects, all claiming to be the legitimate heirs to Marx and Engel’s vision.  Where Communists are entrenched in state power, in practice a kind of tightly state controlled capitalism as in China and Vietnam belie the original egalitarian and mass democratic vision.
Pamphlets on lit tables.  Still trying to be the next Marx....
Ideologues of all stripes still issue manifestos and publish pamphlets hoping to catch lighting in a bottle and spark the next world-shaking movement.  But for the most part the pamphlets lay unread on literature table and are rejected by those on the street to whom they are eagerly offered.
Today the new generation of prophets and propagandists peddle their wares on the Internet increasingly in social media.  Which makes their work even more ephemeral than Marx’s flimsy paper pamphlet.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Unions Can Organize and Win Strikes. But Not With the Present Leadership

"This is William.  I apologize, I’m so sorry for what this contract gave us.  I didn’t vote for it.  I didn’t like it.  I’ve said my piece.  But, uh, I guess a lot of people were broken down or whatever.I feel that the company won.  I feel that the union didn’t fight hard enough.  But I definitely voiced my opinion at the meeting.  So I guess I got to go with the flow.

But I apologize for anybody else who is going to have their contract coming up.  Thank you for the coffee. Thank you for the encouragement.  And thank you for being on my side.

Take care, Rich. "

This above is what a striker wrote to me after five months on the picket line in the 2004 grocery strike and after the vote to go back to work. I was on those picket lines every day during my lunchtime and after work. This strike was defeated due to the leadership of the UFCW and AFL-CIO that chose the employer over the worker. The comment below in bold the UFCW spokesperson Ron Lind made to the mass media in the midst of the strike when members were out of work losing money and sometimes their homes. Activists that ignore this role and don't challenge this collaboration and fight openly in our movement for the consciousness of the members and the working class and a different approach as a whole are derelict of duty. RM

“We want to make changes with a scalpel, not a chain saw.” *

by Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired

I have to bring this subject up again because it is such a glaring omission on the one hand and because the consequences of it disarm and in fact can demoralize, those rank and file union members who want to fight to change the present concessionary and pro-business policies of the AFL-CIO leadership. I am referring to this In These Times article on the subject of union organizing.  In These Times is a liberal/left newspaper directed mainly at academia and the liberal middle classes in or around the labor movement and often employed as staffers and advisors to the officialdom.

This article by Seth Kershner is about the retail industry.

Mr. kershner provides some useful information about the retail industry. He points out that retail has seen a 50% increase in employment to about $15 million workers since 1980 while real wages for these workers has fallen 11% over the same period. Mirroring the decline in union density over the past decades Retail had a union density rate of 15% in the 1970’s while grocery stores hit a peak of 31% in 1983. The source of Mr. Kirshner’s information is Peter Ikeler, a sociologist who has written books on the subject.

The professor blames de-unionization on the “hollowing out” of the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) system through legal challenges by the employers and correctly stresses that it is “employer hostility” that is the most “important factor” in the decline of union membership in retail and by implication, organized labor as a whole. “The climate for labor organizing in retail is pretty explicitly negative” Ikeler argues. It wasn’t exactly positive in the 1880’s or 1920’s and 30’s either.

In what I assume is support of professor Ikeler’s book Hard Sell: Work and Resistance in Retail Chains, Mr. Kershner gives some examples of the hostility aimed at workers and unions. Kershner quotes examples of propaganda and lies that are part of workplace meetings along with what I describe as workplace terrorism; putting the fear of god in to workers if they even think or talk about unions. Another strategy is terminating workers found guilty of doing so to set an example.

In These Times and other similar journals are fond of quoting various “labor experts” about the conditions workers face on the job, the threats, intimidation, violations of safety and other rules. The heads of organized labor who reside in Washington DC also turn to academia and the experts to legitimize their roles as heads of the organizations and their claims that things are bad.  Workers are sources of information but not of power in this approach.

Both Professor Ikler and Mr. Kirshner it seems claim that “unions also share part of the blame”.  Now here is where I have to point out a glaring omission, certainly in Mr. Kershner’s article and possibly Professor Ikler’s book, and that is the absence of a union leadership. Ikler, Kirshner writes, “thinks that unions have done a lousy job of keeping workers engaged” and he goes on to give some examples which show that many workers are not aware that they’re in a union. As a retired utility worker and union activist for 30 odd years I can attest to that, many union members cannot name their union and certainly not the AFL-CIO.

Both Ikler and kershner avoid, or cover for the role of the union leadership by using the all-inclusive term, “the union” It appears that organized labor has members who pay the dues and work in the workplaces of the US and that’s it. Ikler according to Mr. Kershner and in agreement with him apparently, believes that “unions need to step up their organizing and get back to what union were in their early New Deal, Days”

In other words, that members don’t know they are in a union or that they belong to the AFL-CIO or anything much else about the movement, and what has been happening to us is simply a product of “the union”  (all of us) doing a “lousy job”. It’s purely an organizational issue.

Many union members never see their officials outside of election time or when there’s a Democrat running for office that the union hierarchy is supporting. I have been on picket lines through three or more retail industry strikes and, like all workers, they have suffered defeat after defeat. In the case of the 2004 grocery strike here in California the UFCW leadership were asking shoppers not to cross informational picket lines up North while UFCW members were stocking the shelves. The UFCW leadership and the entire labor movement refused to mobilize the power of the membership and violate anti-union laws, no strike clauses and win. Yes, members have a responsibility, but leadership is crucial.

In some cases union leadership takes workers out on strike simply to encourage the employer to talk to them nicer. In the Wisconsin events of a few years ago with a hundred thousand or more workers in the streets and occupying the State Capital Rotunda the only two demands that the union leadership made an issue of were dues check off which is where the employer collects the unions revenue through payroll, and collective bargaining rights which affect the leadership’s role as official bargaining representatives and a seat at the table. I am opposed to dues check off as it gives the bosses’ control of our funds and isolates more the rank and file member from the union as an organization.

Bargaining rights is important obviously but without this role the hierarchy has no job and overwhelmingly they have used their position to assist the employers and force concessions on their own members. In the case of Wisconsin, concessions were fine. The officialdom had the members out to defend their own jobs only.

In researching his book Ikler talked to workers at Target (Target used to be GEMCO and was unionized) who basically said they were afraid of losing their jobs if they supported unions. This is something every worker is well aware of. The question is where is the power to protect them when they do?  Target management claims that they solve issues with the help of “their team” meaning the workers, and that they “create an environment of mutual trust between Target and our team members.”

Talk to any worker that trusts you and they know damn well that they’re not on the same team. Yes, some conservative less class conscious workers might, but not many if they’re honest, because work teaches us otherwise.

Source Doug Henwood
These graphs on the left reveal the decline in strikes and workplace stoppages. This is the product of decades of cooperation with the employer's by the heads of the AFL-CIO and organized labor in general. It also reflects the fear that workers have after participating in or witnessing strikes that are not really aimed at stopping production but are merely 24 hour protests that end in defeat or being sent back to work after weeks on picket lines with no significant improvements.

In a previous piece on Labor and the SEIU I pointed to the massive propaganda campaign the AFL-CIO and SEIU waged to get employees of Kaiser Permanente, the huge HMO to get on board with the Team Concept. The AFL-CIO used its own version of fear and coercion to get those workers to vote against their gut instincts and place their faith not in our own power and mobilization of workers in and outside unions, but to allow their leadership to jump in bed with the health care executives. Its Industrial Union Department produced an expensive glossy fold out urging the rank and file of Kaiser’s unions to vote yes for a new “labor management partnership” There were implications of catastrophe if the workers didn’t do so.
In 2009, the Western State Council of the UFCW presented its Person of the Year Award to the Chairman of Save-Mart Bob Piccini. Not a steward, not a militant rank and file fighter. A worker doesn’t need a sociology degree or advice from a labor history expert degree to know what this is.

It is not an accident that some workers don’t know whether they’re in a union or not, the present heads of organized labor from the top down prefer it that way. It is a conscious strategy on their part. They use member power very cautiously just to blow off some steam, call people out here and there, have rally after rally, make a lot of noise. But stopping production, real strikes, mobilizing the power of workers on the job and in our communities in an offensive of our own against austerity, this is a terrifying thought for them. Will they be able to control the anger that might arise when a collective sense of our own power frees it?

They support the Team Concept because they see no alternative to the market, they worship the market and capitalism. So in the face of an employers offensive they scramble to help them out which means attacking their own members’ interests. To mobilize the potential power of their members can only lead to chaos from their world viewpoint.

This ignoring of labor’s leadership is a conscious thing. Many liberal academics work for or are connected to the labor officialdom in some way and are aware that it is not only non union employers like Target that push this labor management team nonsense, the unionized ones do too. The Team Concept, the philosophy that workers and bosses have the same interests is the dominant thinking among the labor hierarchy and the root cause of their class collaboration and betrayals.  To point to their role, which has meant cooperation and collaboration with employers and capital, would bring them in to a conflict with the hierarchy so they avoid it. But this more or less leads to blaming the members instead. 

I am not saying there aren’t academics or people that have been trained in certain fields that can provide huge benefits and assistance to the working class in our struggle against capital. Many have and many have made great sacrifices. But as Marx once said, the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself. No force can do it for us.

Professor Ikler looks to the creation of worker centers where we can “ about work conditions and plan campaigns.”, and begin to build, "A strong occupational identity -- where workers are very committed to a craft, to an occupation -- this has often been a source of collective identity and resistance,"  I find this a bit of a confusing statement. Is he suggesting we return to the craft mentality?  He seems to think we don’t discuss work, we don’t discuss our type of work, we have no sense of working class unity. I realize it’s harder for someone at a university as these are capitalist institutions where their ideology is very strong; they are capitalist Think Tanks. But we talk a lot about work.

Workers talk about conditions all the time, after work, at the pub, at dinner and visiting friends. When talking of leadership they often blame criminal activity, corruption and obscene salaries as the reason for their leadership’s refusal to fight but these are secondary factors, the Team Concept philosophy is primary. Many an honest fighter has ended up on the other side; the road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say.

And it’s fine to plan a campaign but, again, Ikler runs away from the inevitable, any efforts at changing the present policies of concessions will bring these workers in to a conflict with the hierarchy and it can be fatal to ignore this. Many of the socialist left in the unions avoid openly challenging the present leadership also using building the “Vanguard Party” as an excuse or claiming the union leadership will never do anything no matter what. The present leadership has built a relationship with the bosses’ based on labor peace and they will not sit idly by when it appears a movement is arising that threatens that view. Even the organizing successes of unions like SEIU, is based on labor/management cooperation and making workers part of the team. It’s like a business, a road to increasing revenue.

For those of us developing strategies we must help prepare the rank and file for the reality of a struggle and help in it.

Ikler talks about unions getting back to the “…early New Deal Days.” but doesn’t really elaborate except calling them “worker based”. I have no idea what he means by that but getting back to what won in the thirties is exactly what we have to do. Millions of workers joined unions in this period. Workers occupied factories, youth occupied schools, roving pickets traveled from workplace to workplace, the great 44-day Flint occupation should be labor’s 4th of July. We had three general strikes in 1934 and the last general strike in Oakland in 1946, a huge year for strike days lost. There were unemployed movements like A.J Muste’s group that joined in the 1934 Toledo General Strike, and housing and renters movements based on direct action tactics.

We saw an attempt in the 1980’s to push back against the capitalist offensive after the defeat of Patco in 1980 when Reagan fired 11,000 strikers and banned them from working in their industry for life. The union leadership did nothing but voice a few platitudes and raised some money. Numerous major strikes followed; Two Greyhound strikes, Eastern Airlines, AT&T Hormel Meat Packing in Austen Mn. Detroit Teamsters. We had strikes at Stalely, that took on the name the “War Zone” and in the mines and International Paper. Public sector worker struck in Philadelphia and elsewhere. These strikes were defeated not because workers were unwilling to sacrifice but because the trade union leadership from the AFl-CIO down refused to bring the power of organized labor and our communities to the table and confront capital rather than defending it.

The rank and file of labor does have a responsibility and that is to build opposition caucuses in the workplaces, union halls where they can, and campaign openly against the policies of the present leadership. As a movement form below gains traction splits will occur in the present leadership and others will be replaced. Police brutality, environmental catastrophe, poison water, education and health care and the despair that leads people to right wing hate groups and the horrific school shooting are are witnessing are all union issues. If the left doesn’t fill the vacuum the right will. The silence of the present heads of organized labor on these issues is deafening.

We must return to what built the union in the first place. Rely on our own strength, challenge and build to a movement that can violate anti-union laws and demand what we need, not what the present officials and their friends in the Democratic Party tell us is realistic.

This is not a picnic------it never was.

* Ron Lind, UFCW spokesperson during the 2004 strike assuring the grocery bosses, through the mass media, that their profits would be safe.