A Win for Labor in “Trump Country”

WV Victory

The successful teachers strike in West Virginia that resulted in a five percent pay increase for all of the state’s public workers is a major victory for the labor movement — the first such victory in a long time. Strikes like this one can give confidence to workers in other states and in other industries.

After years of inactivity and workers feeling demoralized, could we be witnessing the rebirth of the U.S. labor movement?

The strike was a decade in the making. For years teachers in West Virginia public schools have been grappling with overcrowded classrooms and underfunded budgets — largely the result of then-Gov. Joe Manchin’s 2008 corporate tax giveaways, which left little money for education.

The nine-day wildcat strike was the longest strike in West Virginia history. (A “wildcat” strike is one undertaken without the official support or approval of the union leadership. West Virginia is one of 28 “right-to-work” states throughout the country.)

Teachers in West Virginia are among the lowest paid in the country.

One of the most notable aspects of the strike is the teachers’ ironclad discipline. Numerous times throughout the strike, Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-back-to-Republican Gov. Jim Justice offered the teachers minor concessions or halfhearted promises. Yet each time the teachers rejected nothing less than their initial demand of a five percent raise — which benefits all state workers.

“We were not ready to return to the classroom just on a promise,” said Katie Endicott, a high school English teacher in Central Mingo High School, during a recent interview on Democracy Now!

Endicott spoke about the importance of the strike:

We saw democracy in action. We saw the power of unity. People from all across the state were coming together, unified with one goal, with one mindset. And we achieved it against all odds. There were so many people who said that we would never get what we wanted. There were so many people who said they would laugh us out of the Capitol. They did not laugh us out of the Capitol, because we did not leave the Capitol.

The significance of the teacher strike cannot be underestimated. Though West Virginia has long been the site of major labor struggles, as Eric Blanc writes in a story published in both Socialist Worker and Jacobin magazine, there is something different about this most recent strike.

“This strike was statewide, it was illegal, it went wildcat, and it seems to be spreading,” Blanc writes.

West Virginia’s upsurge shares many similarities with the rank-and-file militancy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But there are some critical differences. Whereas labor struggles four decades ago came in the wake of a postwar economic boom and the inspiring successes of the civil rights movement, this labor upheaval erupted in a period of virtually uninterrupted working-class defeats and economic austerity.

Readers would be excused for knowing little about the strike. The corporate media — including “liberal” outlets like the New York Times, NPR, and MSNBC — all but ignored the massive strike. This is, perhaps, further proof that it is not the media’s lies of commission (or “fake news”) that has left working-class citizens ignorant and disempowered. Rather, it is their lies of omission.

Indeed, the victorious teachers strike and the strict discipline with which it was carried out seem quite at odds with the picture the capitalist media frequently paints of “red state” West Virginia. During the 2016 presidential campaign reporters seemed to hold up West Virginia as the poster child for the so-called “white working class”: Ignorant, reactionary, racist, and full of rage at Washington elites like Hillary Clinton that had thrown them under the bus. Donald Trump received more support from West Virginia voters than from any other state.

While that working-class rage is certainly real (and, I would argue, justified), striking teachers like Endicott are about as far from your average Trump supporter as you can get.

Furthermore, the media’s one-sided portrayal of West Virginia (“Coal Country”) as the heart of backward, white working class despair ignores the state’s volatile history as the focal point of decisive — and often violent — labor clashes. Those clashes include the Battle of Blair Mountain in Logan County, in 1921, which was the largest, most violent labor uprising in United States history.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a years-long struggle between the coal companies and miners — most of whom lived in company towns and were paid in company scrip rather than actual U.S. currency. The coal companies had carried out a series of assassinations of union activists, hiring the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and other citizen-led militias to do their dirty work. When 13,000 armed miners seized Blair Mountain, the coal company called in the National Guard to crush the uprising. Over 100 miners were killed, while nearly 1,000 were later indicted for murder and treason.

Like so much of this country’s bloody labor history — easily the most violent in the industrial world — the Battle of Blair Mountain has been conveniently scrubbed from high school history textbooks and popular culture.

Could the teachers’ strike be the beginning of a return to West Virginia’s radical labor roots? Already, teachers are poised to go on strike in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Jersey. And they are no doubt taking cues and gaining confidence from West Virginia.

Yet, just as labor seems on the verge of a long overdue comeback, the state is prepared to deliver what could be the final blow to union organizing. The right-wing Supreme Court is currently debating the constitutionality of mandatory union dues in the case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 13. Should the court declare such dues unconstitutional, unions will be virtually destroyed. The entire United States would effectively become a “right-to-work” country. Such a ruling would constitute the culmination of the capitalist state’s decades-long assault on labor and the working class.

So what lessons can the left draw from West Virginia’s victory? Blanc outlines a few in his article. Chief among them is that “class struggle gets the goods.”

In stark contrast to labor management’s decades of cooperation with employers, which has only led to concession after concession for workers, Blanc writes, “… the bottom-up militancy and strike action of West Virginia’s teachers and school employees has reinvigorated working-class organization…”

From day one, the active participation of rank-and-filers — and their remarkable ability at critical junctures to overcome the inertia or compromises of the top union leadership — has been the central motor driving West Virginia’s strike forward. Through the empowering dynamics of mass struggle, many individuals who only two weeks ago were politically inexperienced and unorganized have become respected leaders among their co-workers.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

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The Perils of Ultra-Leftism

Women's March 2018

Last weekend’s Women’s Marches, while nowhere near the size and magnitude of last year’s historic Women’s March on Washington which drew four million people, were nonetheless inspirational.

Indeed, the various women-themed marches that took place Jan. 20 throughout the country were far larger than many anticipated. To be honest, I expected the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March — the single largest day of protest in U.S. history — to pass mostly without incident given the general fatigue and demoralization among the left after a year of Donald Trump’s train wreck of a presidency.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

The latest women’s marches brought out over 120,000 protesters in New York City. Over 300,000 people demonstrated in Chicago and Los Angeles, according to official accounts. (And LA Mayor Eric Garcetti estimates double that number.) The number of protesters in Washington, D.C., “swelled to the thousands,” according to the New York Times.

And, here in Maine, a rally in Augusta drew about 2,500 people.

Much of this momentum and renewed commitment to feminism is, no doubt, due to the #MeToo movement, which has brought down powerful and seemingly unassailable sexual predators in Hollywood, Congress, and corporate newsrooms. (However, one particularly vile serial sexual abuser continues to occupy the halls of government…)

All of these displays of resistance are extremely encouraging as we head into “Year 2” of the Trump presidency.

Yet there remain many on the left who do not seem to share my enthusiasm for the women’s protests. Quite the reverse in fact, these dismissive “ultra-leftists” would much rather ridicule, disparage, and denounce the Women’s Marches from afar, than participate in them.

The women’s marches, these detractors claim, are “too white,” “too middle-class,” “too liberal,” and “too ‘cisgender,’” a word nobody outside of academia or activist circles actually uses in everyday conversation.

Members of the left made these same criticisms of the original Women’s March a year ago. Some of them, like Black Girl in Maine blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, made them without even attending the march. Her entire assessment of the Women’s March (“too white”) is based on a handful of online videos she watched from the comfort of her home.

These holier-than-thou dismissals are just as juvenile today as they were then. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor called such ultra-leftism of the original Women’s March, “a sign of political immaturity that continues to stunt the growth of the American left.”

“This isn’t leadership, it’s infantile,” Taylor wrote in a Jan. 24, 2017 article for The Guardian. “It’s also a recipe for how to keep a movement tiny and irrelevant. If you want a movement of the politically pure and already committed, then you and your select friends should go right ahead and be the resistance to Trump.”

The fact is most activists start out as liberals. (I know I did.) It is only through class struggle and constant debate that liberal-leaning activists begin to become more radical. Our job as socialists is to show up to these protests (regardless of how politically tepid or even confused they may be) with our own signs, banners, and messages, and engage with others there. We must try to meet liberal activists where they are at, while still patiently and confidently arguing our own politics. And we must do this with the clear understanding that we will not win over everyone at once — or at all.

This is, no doubt, often slow and frustrating work. But sitting on the sidelines and arrogantly condemning protesters for not being as “woke” as you are does absolutely nothing to build a movement.

“Ultra-leftism,” a term coined by Vladimir Lenin in his classic Marxist essay, “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder published in 1920, refers to an elite tendency among certain hardened sections of the left to reject strategies aimed at involving the largest, broadest number of the working class.

Lenin, for instance, criticizes the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD) for its staunch refusal to work with trade unions or run candidates for Parliament, believing those institutions to be insufficiently radical. While Lenin agreed that the rank and file in the German trade unions were mostly liberal-leaning, he argued the way to change that was to work with the unions and run openly communist candidates for Parliament. Only by engaging with these admittedly weak political organs, Lenin argued, could the left spread its politics to a broader mass of the working class.

“It is far more difficult — and far more useful — to be a revolutionary,” Lenin writes, “when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist.” [Emphasis his.]

This is not to suggest the women’s marches (or the nascent #MeToo campaign, for that matter) are perfect. They are far from it. Nor does it mean we cannot offer legitimate, thoughtful criticism of the march organizers’ aims, tactics or overall goals.

Could the marches be more diverse? Absolutely. Are the protesters’ goals radical? Not really (though here it is worth noting that the women’s marches represent a broad swath of liberal, left, and radical groups, organizations, and politics).

And I think we can all agree the silly pink pussy hats need to be retired, ASAP.

The biggest problem with this second round of women’s marches is how they have been co-opted by the Democratic Party. The Democrats are hoping to funnel all of the genuine anger and outrage at Trump’s swamp monster administration into the “proper channels” of the November 2018 midterm elections. Thus, the slogans, “March to the Polls,” and “#Power to the Polls” were ubiquitous during the recent women’s marches.

And this is, historically, the role the Democratic Party — history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party — has always played. Little wonder the Democrats are known as the “graveyard of social movements.”

The Democrats will not save us. Leftists’ illusions of “taking over” or “taking back” the Democratic Party (and the latter phrase suggests it was ever really our party to begin with) are just that. Electing more Democrats to Congress or the White House is simply not a viable route to working class revolution.

But we cannot make these arguments with progressive activists if we take a holier-than-thou position and refuse to participate in these demonstrations.

As Elizabeth Schulte writes in a recent piece for Socialist Worker, titled “In Defense of the Women’s Marches,”

When leftists insist that only protests and action organized around a radical, working-class agenda are worth taking seriously, they risk missing the audience for socialist politics among attendees of a protest that actually happened. They also miss out on the impact that large demonstrations, even ones dominated by liberal politics from the front, can have.

“… Creating a space, during and after the march, to have discussions about what it will take to build the resistance requires that socialists have patience, but also a clear set of arguments to make,” writes Schulte. “Whether we passed those tests this time around is an open question, but those whose cynicism kept them from even engaging with the Women’s Marches definitely didn’t.”

 

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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Notes From a Shithole Country

Airport Uprising
Thousands protest Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban at JFK airport in New York City, on Jan. 27, 2017.

One year into Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency the United States government has shut down. It is, indeed, an ironic — and highly fitting —symbol to mark the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Trump, rather than “draining the swamp,” as he childishly promised on the campaign trail, has merely flooded it with even more raw sewage and swamp monsters. For all his disparaging remarks about “shithole countries” (by which he referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and the “country” of Africa), the U.S. is rapidly devolving into such a shithole. Or perhaps it always was one. Take your pick.

At the heart of this latest government shutdown is the fate of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers a “path to citizenship” for young adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

I put the phrase, “path to citizenship” in quotes because there is no such thing as an “illegal” human being. Additionally, the entire concept of “legal citizenship” is a relatively recent concept. Up until the 19th century, immigration laws were virtually nonexistent. Though many assume their ancestors came to the country “legally” or utilized the “proper channels,” according to the American Immigration Council, “unauthorized immigration has been a reality for generations.”

DACA currently shields some 800,000 immigrants who live and work in the country from deportation. For many of these young immigrants, America is the only home they have ever known. Trump’s elimination of the program would tear families apart and inflict unnecessary suffering upon thousands of working-class people.

“It’s not just affecting one person in the family,” said Patricia Jaramillo, a 23-year-old DACA recipient from Van Nuys, California of Trump’s efforts to phase out the program. “It’s a ripple effect that affects entire communities, entire families…”

Furthermore, local manufacturing businesses like Cozy Harbor Seafood and Barber Foods rely heavily on these immigrants’ labor power — which is cheaper and easier to exploit than that of “native” U.S. citizens. These processing plant jobs — which take place in cold, pungent conditions — are mundane, repulsive, and often involve long hours of standing and repetitive motions.

Workers in these degrading jobs are routinely denied bathroom breaks — to the point where many poultry workers have resorted to wearing diapers to work, according to a 2016 report by Oxfam America. While denying adult employees basic necessities like bathroom breaks may seem patently illegal, the fact is worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced. The near disappearance of unions has only further eroded workplace protections.

And, as if to add insult to injury, workers at these processing plants are often carefully monitored by numerous surveillance cameras while they work. (This is the case at Cozy Harbor Seafood, where I once worked as an office temp.)

Trump railed on immigration and America’s supposedly “weak” boarder control laws to stoke working-class fear and resentment of “the Other.” During his now-infamous campaign announcement speech, the xenophobic Trump singled out immigrants from Mexico. “They are bringing drugs,” Trump said of Mexican immigrants. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Republicans howl that DACA is an illegal program — that we are a “nation of laws,” and we must “respect the rule of law.” Yet where was this reverence for the “rule of law” last summer when Trump pardoned corrupt, racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio? The right was suspiciously silent about the vaunted “rule of law,” then.

Indeed, capitalists engage in illegal behavior every day and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” Perhaps we should deport all of them?

While the Democrats should be applauded (for once) for holding the line on preserving DACA in the latest government shutdown squabble, I fear their stance has more to do with electoral maneuvering than any genuine concern for DACA recipients. It is worth recalling that Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history — including Trump.

As of this writing, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already offered Trump funding for his coveted border wall in exchange for maintaining DACA.

(Just to review, we have money for border walls to keep “illegal” immigrants out of the country, but our elected elites insist single-payer health care is “too expensive.”)

This is further evidence that the left cannot rely on the capitalist Democratic Party to save us. Only mass mobilizations — similar to the Muslim ban protests that shut down major airports last year — can protect immigrant families.

But our efforts cannot stop at merely preserving DACA — though that is an important immediate goal. The left must also put forward a real socialist alternative to the failed immigration policies of both capitalist parties.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without walls and borders. We believe in a world where people are free to live and roam as they please — or, perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famine, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe.

Likewise, many of the Sudanese, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees fleeing to America are victims of our imperialist wars and occupations. To bomb these people’s nations and destabilize them through military force, and then cruelly deny them entry to our shores as they attempt to flee the violence we have inflicted is a particularly sinister form of hypocrisy.

The point is that few immigrants truly have a “choice” in migrating to the U.S. or to any other country. And the ruling class’ concept of a “path to citizenship” for immigrants is, as Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch explains, equally misleading.

As Katch writes in a March 15, 2016 article:

The “path to citizenship” is more like a road to nowhere, a long march that forces undocumented immigrants to go “to the back of the line” of a system in which many have to wait up to 24 years to get green cards. Along the way are many roadblocks, from fines that may be unaffordable, to proving they have been steadily employed — in a country where layoffs and temporary work are becoming the norm for all workers …

The fight to preserve DACA and protect immigrant families is a crucial one. And it is a fight that has the potential to mobilize a new generation of radicals to struggle for a world without walls and borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

The Crisis is Capitalism

capitalism-crash-e1466891639998

Life under the Trump regime is, at times, almost surreal. Every day seems to bring a new Twitter tirade, White House squabble, or scandal. Never in my life can I recall reading in the newspaper that the secretary of state openly referred to the president as a “fucking moron.”

It is almost like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Consider this characteristically irrational exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Many people have remarked that just keeping up with the daily news is both exhausting and depressing. The headline of the lead editorial in the October issue of Socialist Worker seems to sum up Trump’s brand of “shock and awe” politics, best: “Our resistance in the era of political whiplash.”

The SW editors write:

Think about it: In less than a month’s time, we witnessed the far-right carnival of hate in Charlottesville and a murderous attack on anti-racist demonstrators; the unnatural disasters of [hurricanes] Harvey and Irma confirming the destruction that capitalism has caused through climate change and greed; more nuclear saber-rattling by the world’s main super-bully in Washington; and the Trump administration ending DACA protections for undocumented youth now threatened with deportations to places most don’t remember.

This seemingly non-stop “political barrage,” they add, “is a central part of the right’s strategy: to stun opponents into inaction.”

We are, needless to say, living in radical times. And radical times call for radical politics.

Capitalism is currently in deep crisis. The elites no longer have any credibility. Where once the meritocratic Horatio Alger model of improving one’s living standards through hard work and educational achievement at least held some modicum of truth for working-class Americans, this ruling-class principle no longer holds any currency.

For the first time in decades, an entire generation of young adults will be worse off financially than their parents. And this is despite the fact that millennials are the most educated generation in history. (They are also the most debt-burdened from the ever-increasing costs of college education.)

These diminished economic prospects are compounded by a menacing plague of opioid addiction that, in 2016 alone, claimed an estimated 64,000 lives.

As a result, nearly half of millennials believe the so-called “American Dream,” is dead, according to a 2015 Harvard Institute of Politics survey. Where once the bourgeois elite could at least hold out the promise that if you work hard you too can join the middle-class—if not the rich—now the prospects for working-class people have been reduced to merely hoping a climate-change augmented hurricane or forest fire does not destroy your home and all your belongings.

Now, if that ain’t a reason to stand in patriotic reverence for our national anthem during commercialized spectator sports, well, you must just hate The Troops, you son of a bitch!

Wealth inequality is, in fact, far worse than most Americans realize. Of the $30 trillion in wealth the U.S. has gained since the end of the Great Recession of 2008, the 400 richest individuals received an average of $2,500,000,000 each. Those in the bottom 80 percent, meanwhile, got roughly $13,000 each.

And working-class wages remain stagnant. “Income for the working-age bottom 50%,” writes economist, Paul Buchheit, “has not improved since the late 1970s. The share of all income going to the poorest 50% has dropped from 20 to 12 percent. The share going to the richest 1% has risen from 12 to 20 percent.”

While it is not unusual for capitalism to periodically go into crisis (indeed, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels understood that the unplanned, unmanaged nature of capitalism makes it inherently prone to crisis), the scale of this particular economic crisis has not been seen since the Gilded Age of the 1920s.

Marxist economist, Richard Wolff suggests labeling this “new period” of capitalism “post-neoliberal,” “post-globalized,” or “neo-nationalist.” Whichever term one prefers, Wolff describes this era as one in which,

[T]he major corporations, the top 1% they enrich, and the top 10% of managers and professionals they employ will no longer provide the rest of us anywhere near the number of well-paid jobs and generous government policies of the post-1945 period. Given this reality for them, they could hypothetically reduce, more or less equally across the board, the jobs, incomes, and public services available to the bottom 90% of the US population. But at least in the short run, this is politically too dangerous.

Wolff continues:

The only other option they see is to divide the bottom 90% into two groups. For the favored one, jobs, incomes, and standards of living will be only marginally reduced or perhaps, if possible, marginally improved. For the other group, their economic situation will be savaged, reduced to conditions formerly associated with seriously underdeveloped parts of the planet. The time has thus arrived in the US for a major struggle—economically, politically, and ideologically—over just who will be in those two groups. The violence lurking in this struggle has surfaced so far most starkly and provocatively in the murder of [Heather Heyer] at Charlottesville. It reflects the stakes in the proliferating struggles.

And the crisis of capitalism is not relegated to the United States. Britain’s unexpected vote to leave the European Union (EU) last year (“Brexit”), along with the recent uprising in Catalonia for independence from Spain represent, for the power elite, dramatic threats to the neoliberal status quo. That neoliberal order is crumbling—and the bourgeois ruling class is scared to death.

Their fear is compounded here at home with the expectation-shattering election of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was the ruling class’ preferred candidate. Her political experience and proven loyalty to corporate capitalism made her the logical successor to Barack Obama’s Wall Street-friendly policies. For the ruling class, Clinton represented not so much the “lesser evil” as liberals frequently describe the Democratic candidate, but, to use Black Agenda Report executive editor, Glen Ford’s phrase, the “more effective evil.”

But Trump is a wild card.

His erratic and unpredictable behavior makes him difficult for the bourgeois—as well as the elements of the so-called “Deep State” (the FBI, CIA, military-industrial complex, etc.)—to control. And much of Trump’s agenda concerning immigration and nationalism flies in the face of a global capitalist order that, for decades, has relied on cheap, under-paid and easily exploited immigrant labor.

Yet, Trump is merely a symptom of the larger disease of capitalism. While I am all for removing Trump from office (with the understanding that the homophobic, Christian evangelical, Mike Pence would take his place), the fact is life in pre-Trump America was hardly a paradise for working-class people.

Thus, the left’s goal cannot be to merely vote for Democrats in 2018, and Kamala Harris or Cory Booker in 2020–though this is precisely what many liberals advocate. The inconvenient truth is that the corporatist, neoliberal policies of Bill Clinton and Obama paved the way for President Trump. We cannot simply return to business as usual.

Instead, we must build on the renewed interest in socialism, particularly among young people, that Bernie Sanders helped spark. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), which I am a dues-paying member of, has seen record turnout at its weekly public meetings in branches throughout the country. And interest has only increased since the start of the fall 2017 college semester.

People are clearly hungry for a radical politics that both speaks to their lived conditions, and can help them fight back against the proto-fascist far-right. Now is the time to tap into that hunger, and build a viable working-class movement that can agitate for tangible reforms in the here in now, as well as point the way forward to a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable socialist future.

“[H]ere it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law,” Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

… The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Keep DACA, Deport Trump

Portland DACA Rally
A rally to preserve DACA outside City Hall in Portland, Maine, on Sept. 8, drew about 400 people. Photo from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

At one point in James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is set in Ireland, a character aptly if sardonically describes America as the “sweepings of every country including our own.”

It is, indeed, a fitting metaphor for our nation’s “melting-pot” character. And it is one that is entirely lost on the racist, xenophobic, and ignorant Donald Trump. (I sincerely doubt the intellectually-challenged Trump even knows who Joyce is. He, by his own admission, does not read.)

While Trump and the bitterly divided Republican Congress have largely (and mercifully) proved astoundingly incompetent thus far at passing significant legislation, despite their complete domination of all three branches of government, I fear immigration policy will prove to be the exception to this trend. Trump’s own racism and xenophobia and his faux-populist appeals to white Americans’ fear of “The Other,” will give him carte blanche to enact some of the most draconian immigration policies our “melting-pot” country has ever seen.

Unless, that is, a revived working-class movement can stop him.

Last week, Trump threw the legal status of thousands of immigrant families into question with his announcement he will be phasing out former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program. This 2012 executive order shields the adult children of undocumented immigrants who came to the country “illegally” as minors, from deportation and aimed to give them a permanent “path to citizenship” through the proposed legislative bill, the DREAM Act.

Some 800,000 young immigrant-Americans were granted a two-year temporary status under DACA. Now, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions threaten to deport these young people back to countries they have never known. As Obama himself has noted, the “DREAMers” as they are colloquially known as, “are American in every way but one: On paper.”

Republicans howl that DACA is an illegal program—that we are a “nation of laws,” and we must “respect the rule of law.” Yet, where was this reverence for the “rule of law” last month when Trump arbitrarily pardoned corrupt Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio? Republicans were suspiciously silent about the vaunted “rule of law,” then.

Meanwhile, the Democrats seem poised to capitulate on funding Trump’s border wall— in exchange for preserving DACA. Some “opposition party.”

This is further evidence that the left cannot rely on the capitalist Democratic Party to save us. Only mass mobilizations—similar to the Muslim ban protests which shut down major airports earlier this year—can protect immigrant families.

It was, likewise, mass mobilizations that forced Congress to consider the DREAM Act, in the first place. On May 1, 2006, undocumented immigrants and immigrant rights groups staged a massive series of marches, demonstrations, and workplace walk-outs in dozens of states, the scale of which had not been seen since perhaps the 1930s.

The protests were in response to Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s (WI) draconian anti-immigration legislation, which would have effectively classified undocumented immigrants, and anyone who shielded them, as “aggravated felons.”

As the Socialist Worker wrote in its coverage of the immigrant march in Los Angeles:

People of all races and nationalities, but most of all immigrants and their families, traveled from across Southern California and the Southwest to converge on downtown LA. Ariel photos of the area around LA’s City Hall showed huge seas of people stretching in several directions as far as the eye could see. Everywhere the streets were a mass of white—marchers wore white t-shirts to symbolize peace.

The story goes on:

“Bitterness at the hypocrisy of politicians and their victimization of minorities ran high. One protester held up a sign that read, ‘We take care of your kids, mow your lawns, and now we’re felons?’”

These are the sorts of mass demonstrations we need to save DACA and protect immigrant families, today.


BUT we cannot limit our sights to merely preserving DACA—though that is an important immediate goal. We also need to put forward a real socialist alternative to the failed immigration policies of both capitalist parties.

This includes challenging many of the assumptions shared by members of both the right and the left, including what it means to be an “illegal” immigrant. Is there truly such a thing as an “illegal” human being?

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without walls and borders, where people are free to live and roam as they please—or, perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, famine, floods, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, the climate crisis is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe.

Additionally, many of the Sudanese, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees fleeing to America are victims of our imperialist wars and occupations. To bomb these people’s nations to smithereens, or destabilize them through military force, and then cruelly deny them entry to our shores as they attempt to flee the violence we have inflicted, is a particularly sinister form of hypocrisy.

The point is that few immigrants truly have a “choice” in migrating here or to any country for that matter. The mainstream media and some in the Democratic Party frequently highlight this lack of choice in the case of immigrant children who were brought here as minors, and this is certainly the case. But it is a narrow way of understanding immigration, as a whole.

Likewise, we need to take a critical look at the concept of providing immigrants with a “path to citizenship.” As Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch writes of the numerous obstacles in achieving permanent citizenship status, in a March 15, 2016 article:

The “path to citizenship” is more like a road to nowhere, a long march that forces undocumented immigrants to go “to the back of the line” of a system in which many have to wait up to 24 years to get green cards. Along the way are many roadblocks, from fines that may be unaffordable, to proving they have been steadily employed—in a country where layoffs and temporary work are becoming the norm for all workers…

Katch goes on to note that both then-Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supported the so-called “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

In other words, the elites’ long-held promises of a “path to citizenship” are mostly a way of relegating undocumented immigrants to a form of second-class citizen status.

“As Indigo Montoya might say,” Katch writes, referencing the oft-quoted scene from The Princess Bride, “I do not think comprehensive means what they think it means.” (Emphasis his.)

Democrats dangle the prospect of permanent citizenship in front of undocumented immigrants, but have little interest in actually advancing such goals. To wit, Barack Obama deported 2.5 million undocumented immigrants during his two terms in office. That is more deportations than any other U.S. president in history. As such, waving Obama campaign-style signs at pro-DACA rallies is deeply problematic (if not, indeed, entirely hypocritical).

The left’s ultimate goal cannot merely be a return to the status quo. We need an entirely new system–one based on human need rather than profit for the few.

The fight to preserve DACA and protect immigrant families is a crucial one. And it is a fight that has the potential to mobilize a new generation of radicals to struggle for a world without borders–a world where no human being is illegal.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

Love Did Not Trump Hate (So it’s Time to Smash the State)

Boston Protest
Thousands march in Boston to protest a white supremacist “free speech” rally, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. The tiny group of far-right hatemongers received full police protection and dispersed early.

Following the repugnant, white supremacist carnage in Charlottesville, Virginia, author and Princeton professor, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, wrote an article for Jacobin magazine succinctly titled, “No More Charlottesvilles.”

Taylor calls the violence that erupted on Aug. 12, “the predictable outcome of the Republican Party’s racist agenda and Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.”

“More than providing a platform for Trump’s racist hate speech,” she writes, “the Republican Party has boosted his political agenda—an agenda that has imbued the racist right with the confidence that they can succeed in their campaign of terrorizing, marginalizing, and even killing those who stand in their way. This includes black and brown people as well as the white antiracists who challenge them. We are all in their crosshairs.”

Our organizing in the wake of Charlottesville—where 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, was murdered when a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of protesters—should be based on solidarity. It should be rooted in the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

The dismissive, ultra-left identity-politics which have become endemic among the left in recent years, will not defeat the far right. We absolutely must continue to support the most vulnerable people within our ranks—especially those that have historically been the primary targets of white supremacists’ wrath, like African-Americans, Jews, LGBT folks, and people with disabilities.

But let’s be clear: The fascists are coming for all of us.

Nor will abstract sentiments of “love” and “decency” be sufficient to fight the right. The members of the so-called “alt-right” are not the disadvantaged, ignorant poor the media portray them as. Most of them are middle to upper-middle class, college educated, and voted for Trump precisely because of his quasi-white nationalist leanings. They are not the uneducated, easily swayed victims of “bad ideas.” They understand perfectly well the hate and intolerance they represent.

As one young neo-Nazi candidly told the Washington Post in an online video, “I’m here because our republican values are, number one: standing up for local, white identity. Our identity is under threat [sic]. Number two: the free-market. And number three: killing Jews.”

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for love, and I do not doubt the noble intentions of liberals who advocate we “fight hate with love.” But it will take more than just “love” and good intentions to send the white supremacists packing. It will take organization and a clear, unambiguous political orientation.

The fact is, love did not “trump hate.” So now it’s time to smash the state.

Fortunately, activists on the left seem to be getting the message. People have an intense desire to fight back against the rising far right—especially in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. They want to know how they can contribute to the left-wing resistance. And they are hungry for serious politics to help guide them in this fight.

This desire for real politics over empty, if well-intended, sloganeering was evident at a post-Charlottesville rally in Portland, Maine, the Sunday following the vile “Unite the Right” rally.

Though poorly organized, and hastily thrown together at the last minute, the rally nonetheless drew a crowd of over 400 people. The first few speakers echoed the familiar liberal themes of showing “tolerance” and “understanding” for those we “disagree with”—as if the threat posed by the alt-right is little more than a mere “disagreement.”

Three speakers in, Caitrin Smith, a Portland resident and member of the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) offered a rousing, politically charged speech that not only received raucous applause from the audience, but also served to shift the tone of the remainder of the rally.

“What happened [Aug. 12] is deplorable!” said Smith. “And we are here today to say to these Nazis, ‘Not today!’, ‘Not tomorrow!’, ‘Not ever!'”

She continued:

… The rulers of this country have always relied on oppression and exploitation to drive working people into submission, to maintain their power. Yesterday’s events cannot be examined without an excavation of this history. … We must dismantle the organization of the right with the organization of the left.

Afterwards, a number of people stopped by our ISO “merch booth,” and signed up for our mailing list or bought copies of our monthly newspaper, the Socialist Worker. Our weekly meeting the following Wednesday had about double the typical number of attendees.

A week later, between 15,000-30,000 anti-fascist protesters marched in Boston in opposition to a “free speech” rally held by a tiny group of white supremacists. The Boston march included contingents of ISO branches from Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Boston, as well as members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and Socialist Alternative.

There are two competing, highly disparate theories on the left when it comes to confronting these white supremacists.

Liberals and establishment figures in the Democratic Party argue we do nothing at all—just ignore the racist and hope they go away. Protesting, liberals argue, merely grants the far right the attention it seeks. Thus, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spent the days leading up to the Aug. 19, Boston protest attempting to dissuade activists from taking part in the march.

But ignoring these hate groups does not cause them to go away. Quite the reverse, the lack of a visible opposition to their racist, xenophobic views tends to leave the right further emboldened, allowing their malicious cancer to grow.

On the other hand, far left groups like the Black Bloc and Antifa (short for “anti-fascist”) seek to confront the right in physical confrontations. These confrontations inevitably end in defeat—and arrest—for the leftists. The police have historically acted as the default bodyguards for the KKK and white supremacist groups. This makes for a decidedly unfair fight. Additionally, engaging the right in fist-fights only feeds in to the media narrative that they are “persecuted” by the violent, free-speech-hating liberals.

Neither of these approaches is an effective strategy for fighting the right.

Instead, we should confront them by peacefully, yet forcefully mobilizing in far greater numbers (as we did in Boston) and drowning out their disgusting message with one of our own. Our message must hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s immigrant and minority scapegoating a convenient narrative for why their own standards of living have declined.

“Now is the time to overcome the fear that the fascists want us to feel,” wrote the editors of Socialist Worker, in an Aug. 15 op-ed following the Charlottesville attack, “and organize demonstrations with overwhelming numbers–to stop this cancer now, before it can grow into something far more threatening. That means organizing broad protests open to everyone affected by this threat–which is just about everyone–to prove the far right is a tiny minority.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Against Transphobia AND Militarism

Chelsea Manning
Former United States Army intelligence officer, whistleblower, and trans activist, Chelsea Manning.

Or, Walking and Chewing Gum While Marxist

Donald Trump’s recent ban (via Twitter) on transgender people serving in the military has put leftists in something of a double-bind. Condemn the abrupt rule change as bigoted and discriminatory (which it absolutely is), and you run the risk of tacitly supporting the military and U.S. imperialism.

If you argue, on the other hand, that nobody—transgender or otherwise—should want to join the military in the first place, you overlook the fact that the military has, for decades, relied on a so-called “economic draft” to fill its ranks with a steady supply of working-class enlistees. Then you risk coming off as a “class-reductionist,” arguing the oppression of LGBT people is a “secondary” concern to the “more important” matters of militarism and capitalism.

So, what’s an LGBT-supporting, anti-war socialist to do…?

Thankfully, we need not pick one cause or the other in this scenario. It is, in fact, quite possible to oppose Trump’s bigoted ban and U.S. militarism at the same time. Or, as the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) Sherry Wolf put it in a recent tweet, “Walking and chewing gum while Marxist.”

First off, the ban itself is little more than a decree (from a would-be king  who sits atop a golden toilet, at that). Tweets are neither laws nor legal policy. If Trump is serious about the rule change, he will need to issue an executive order.

Second, the U.S. military has no immediate plans to comply with the ban, according to Gen. Joseph Dunford, America’s top military officer. In response to the president’s tweet, Dunford released a memo to all military personnel saying “there will be no modifications” to the military’s policy regarding transgender service members, for now. Trans service members can continue to serve openly, Dunford indicated, until Trump formally informs Secretary of Defense James Mattis, of the rule change.

Finally, Trump’s baseless claim that the Pentagon “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs” associated with transgender-related health care is downright laughable. Contrary to what the Sunday morning talking-heads claim, the Pentagon is not broke.

The annual military-spending budget is nearly $600 billion, representing 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending. (“Discretionary” means it is money the state is not obligated to spend. It is optional.)

The Pentagon spends $91.1 million on one (1) F-35 fighter jet, alone. In February, the military signed a deal to purchase 90 F-35s from WMD-manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin. So I am pretty confident the Pentagon can cough up a few extra dollars to cover its transgender service members’ medical costs.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a renewed right-wing assault on LGBT rights.

Just hours after issuing his trans-ban, Trump’s Justice Department informed a federal appeals court the worker-protection law, Title VII, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, does not apply to gay workers. It seems Trump is desperately trying to change the topic from “Russiagate,” the increased tensions among his cabinet, or the fact that the Republican Party is apparently only capable of passing symbolic, non-binding votes repealing Obamacare—not the real thing.

This latest escalation of attacks on LGBT people is meant to whip up support from Trump’s Evangelical base.

“Trump’s ban is an attack on equality,” Fainan Lakha writes in Socialist Worker, “that serves to legitimate violence and discrimination against trans people inside and outside the military.”

There are approximately 15,500 transgender men and women currently serving on active duty in the armed forces, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. Another 134,000 trans people are military veterans. These Americans risk losing their incomes, pensions, and health care if they are to suddenly be discharged.

Indeed, much as I cringe every time a politician from either capitalist party justifies obscene military spending on the basis that it will “create jobs,” the fact is that for many transgender and working-class people the U.S. Army is often one of the few job opportunities available to them.

This is particularly true here in Maine (especially the northern, more rural half of the state), where the job opportunities in some towns are virtually nonexistent. (So much for Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s claim that Maine is “Open for business”…)

In fact, 18-24 year-olds from Maine, Florida, and Georgia are “twice as likely to join the armed forces,” than those from other states, according a 2014 story from Business Insider.

Additionally, only 20 states currently have laws protecting trans people from discrimination at the workplace.

Should Trump’s ban become an official policy, it would have devastating effects on thousands of trans Americans in the here-and-now.

That said, we need to acknowledge that not every working-class trans person who joins the military is an unwilling participant. The fact is many trans Americans proudly enlist. They genuinely believe they are fighting to “defend the country,” or to spread “freedom” and “democracy” throughout the globe.

And the lack of a visible, cohesive anti-war movement means these bourgeois ideas about the supposed “nobility” of military service go unchallenged.

Indeed, in the last decade the left has all but abandoned anti-war activism. Barack Obama expanded the ill-conceived “war on terror,” ramped-up the never-ending war in Afghanistan, pioneered the use of unmanned predator drones in the place of conventional warfare, and claimed for himself the unilateral right to assassinate anybody deemed a “terrorist”—including U.S. citizens.

Yet the anti-war left was AWOL throughout Obama’s eight years in office.

Even Bernie Sanders’ otherwise inspiring presidential campaign was notably silent on issues of foreign policy. (This is, I suspect, largely because Sanders’ supporters are to the left of him on foreign policy issues—especially on the Israel-Palestine conflict, where Sanders’ Zionist views do little to distinguish him from any other U.S. senator.)

This is unfortunate, because Sanders missed a prime opportunity to make the connection between the robust, New Deal-style domestic programs he championed, and the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget. Whenever a reporter pushed Sanders on how he would fund all this “free stuff,” rather than logically pointing to the proverbial elephant-in-the-room—the Pentagon budget—he instead hemmed and hawed about some sort of Wall Street transaction tax … or something…

Only a mass, organized left can revive the anti-war movement, and fight for decent-paying jobs beyond military service. And we must not succumb to the narrow limits of the politics of representation. In opposing Trump’s bigotry, we must not fall into the trap of celebrating U.S. imperialism–or implying that transgender liberation is only possible through military service.

As trans scholar and activist, Dean Spade wrote on Facebook:

The liberation we are working toward requires [that] we fight for vets and everyone else who gets exploited and abandoned for U.S. military imperialism, but not that we participate in rhetoric that celebrates the U.S. military as an employer or ties trans well-being to military service.

Rather, we must understand that full equality for LGBT people is intimately tied to working class liberation for all. So, let’s protest Trump’s transphobia right now, but also continue to organize and struggle for a more just, peaceful world where war is not the only form of employment for working-class people.

Recently freed U.S. Army whistleblower, Chelsea Manning took to the New York Times Op-Ed pages last week, to voice her opposition to Trump’s ban. Manning, who is a trans-woman, called the ban “a devastating blow to our livelihoods, our basic humanity, our survival.”

“It is also a devastating blow,” Manning adds, “to the entire credibility of the United States military for years go come.”

… But we will move forward. We will make sure that all trans people in the military, and all people outside the military after serving, receive the medical care they need. We will not back down. Our progress will continue. Our organizing and activism will grow stronger.

We are neither disruptive nor expensive. We are human beings, and we will not be erased or ignored.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!