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Democracy, Strategy, Modes of Struggle: The High-Stakes Strife in DSA

| Max Elbaum |

This piece was originally published in Convergence Magazine. We encourage dialogue and debate around these questions; if you would like to publish a response, please email voicesfornewdemocracy@gmail.com.

The campaign in Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to expel U.S. Congressmember Jamaal Bowman is not at the root of the sharp conflict taking place within the organization. But it was the trigger for its escalation into a problem that threatens the future of the organization and has major implications for the entire Left. So before getting to the political differences underlying the bitter disputes underway, let’s start there.

Bowman, a member of the Squad, was first elected in 2020 in a contest where he received DSA’s endorsement. In November 2021, he went on a J-Street sponsored trip to Palestine and met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet. Then he voted in favor of U.S. funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” military program.

DSA as an organization is committed to Palestine solidarity in general and to BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) in particular. Bowman did not claim to be representing DSA when taking these actions, and DSA’s membership policies do not forbid members from publicly disagreeing with, or acting in ways inconsistent with, organizational positions. But he is a high-profile figure, and it was both warranted and inevitable that his actions would attract substantial criticism from other members.

A significant number of members raised the demand that DSA should go beyond airing criticism of Bowman’s actions and expel him from the organization. Others disagreed that this was the appropriate response. A major debate within the organization ensued.

From the perspective of building power toward ending U.S. support for Israeli apartheid —the main task of the Palestine solidarity movement in this country—actions other than expelling Bowman would have seemed more in order. For instance, what about DSA committing to a grassroots campaign in Bowman’s district to educate his constituents about Israeli apartheid and U.S. backing for it? Allotting organizational resources, deploying organizers who live in the district and members from other areas, identifying allies, and aiming to build a robust, mass-based voting bloc in that district for Palestinian rights? For that matter, why not launch such campaigns in other districts where there are progressive congressmembers (and local and state electeds) who are on the progressive end of the political spectrum but, because of both their own shortcomings and the weakness of support for Palestine in their districts, do not stand firm on this crucial component of an anti-racist and internationalist agenda?

This kind of effort could help build the clout of the Palestine solidarity movement. By showing that DSA was serious about putting its political muscle where its principles are, it could attract potential allies, including electeds and people considering running for office. It would show that DSA, a disproportionately white organization, is committed to building a strong relationship with progressive Black leaders, Bowman being the most radical Black male in the U.S. Congress. DSA members who participated in such an outward-looking campaign would gain rich experience and be better organizers coming out. And it could educate the entire organization on some home truths about doing politics: you cannot win “at the top” what you haven’t won at the base; elected officials are not the source of radical power; they reflect how much power we do (or don’t) have.

The expel-Bowman effort, in contrast, is inward-looking, focusing more on purifying DSA’s ranks than affecting U.S. policy. And by enlisting non-DSA members’ participation in the campaign to expel Bowman it has added new obstacles to winning broad mass organizations—unions, religious groups, etc.—to adopt BDS; those groups now have to add to their considerations the possibility that their own internal organizational policies will be challenged if, say, a prominent member who does not support BDS indicates that in public. Rather than show that DSA is into building the kind of base that will make it possible for electeds to take positions that are not easy to take in U.S. politics today, it is—consciously or not—a sign that DSA wants electeds to provide a short-cut route to gaining political power.

After a sharp debate in the various bodies and media platforms that DSA members utilize to consider political issues, the matter went to the National Political Committee (NPC) for a decision. The body voted to reject the demand to expel Bowman.

Things didn’t stop there

In a healthy big-tent organization, this vote would have resolved this disagreement.  Democracy means, among other things, respect for majority rule. The national convention is the highest decision-making body of DSA, and that convention elects (or appoints via its elected leaders) bodies that are authorized to make various decisions in between conventions. When a decision is made that some substantial number of members disagree with, they of course can retain their opinions and try to change policy or personnel at the next convention. But until then, decisions of authorized bodies have to stand. Otherwise, an organization descends into a debating society.

That didn’t happen. The campaign to expel Bowman simply continued, with a pressure effort on the NPC to change its vote. Members who disagreed did not simply register that fact, which would be perfectly appropriate. Rather, they utilized official bodies of the organization that are accountable to the leadership (including the organization’s BDS Working Group) to wage an effort to reverse the decision.

The way many of this campaign’s most aggressive advocates conducted it indicated, as noted above, that the issue of Bowman’s mistaken actions in relation to Palestine was not its main driving force. Had that been the case, the central arguments raised would have concerned how elected officials (and socialists’ relationship to them) fit into an effective strategy to build power to change U.S. policy on Israel/Palestine. There is both a rich history and extensive current practice to look at in this regard.

The gains made by the anti-Zionist Palestine Solidarity Committee in the 1980s via work in the Rainbow Coalition, Jesse Jackson’s campaigns, and Harold Washington’s campaigns and administration in Chicago hold important lessons. So do the current efforts to build support for Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to protect the rights of Palestinian children, which falls well short of BDS but is the key legislative project of groups that are willing to throw down for Palestinian rights, ranging from the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights to M4BL. (A measure of the balance of forces around Palestine in Congress, the bill now has 32 co-sponsors, all Democrats, including Jamaal Bowman.) But no discussion of strategy looking at these experiences was present, much less at the center, of the continuing expel-Bowman effort.

Rather, the political focus of debate shifted to DSA’s relationship to the Democratic Party. The most aggressive proponents of expelling Bowman have expanded their argument and now anchor it in a critique of the Squad, Bernie and other progressives and socialists who believe fighting for multi-racial, gender-inclusive political power at this stage of history requires engaging the fight within the Democratic Party over its direction. The argument is now that those who oppose expelling Bowman don’t take that position because they think it’s better for building Palestine solidarity; rather, they are accused of siding with Democrats against Palestinians and the Palestine solidarity movement.

And, besides the shift in political emphasis, the expel-Bowman forces have shifted their immediate demands and arguments to focus on various organizational decisions made by the NPC.

Let’s sort out both these levels.

The political agenda: break with the Democrats

The combination of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s exciting 2016 Presidential campaign and the victory of Donald Trump triggered a period of explosive growth and political transformation for DSA. Even though Bernie was not a member of DSA, his popularization of “democratic socialism” was a huge boost for the organization sharing that self-definition. The successful campaigns of the four women of color who formed the Squad in 2018, and then in 2020 Bernie’s second effort and the Squad’s expansion to six, carried that momentum forward. DSA works on many battlefronts besides elections, and its members’ involvement in today’s upsurge of militancy and unionization at workplaces is of great importance. But it is mainly DSA’s identification with Bernie and the new wave of progressive congressmembers, and to a lesser extent some important state and local officials, that has driven its growth. And the organization’s capacity to deploy volunteer canvassers has been the main source of its clout.

Despite this trajectory, from 2016 on a portion of the new members who flooded into the organization did not agree with the political strategy of the candidates themselves. Bernie and the Squad operate from the view that defeating a Republican Party now controlled by racist and misogynist authoritarians at every level is a prime task; that this requires building a broad electoral front of all those opposed to the Trumpists and voting for non-progressive Democrats to beat MAGA supporters; and that these tasks need to be done alongside building independent progressive clout. In short, they share an “inside-outside” strategy which involves both unity and struggle with the mainstream forces in the Democratic Party.

A portion of the DSA membership disagrees strongly with this strategy. And within this cohort are several groupings or caucuses with a well-developed alternative. In their view, treating the Democratic Party as a terrain of battle is a fundamental error which inevitably leads to abandoning the socialist project. For them the key task of this period is to establish an untainted revolutionary pole in the mainstream of U.S. political life. To do that it is necessary not only to differentiate this pole’s politics from liberalism and all other left-of-center currents, but also to be completely separate organizationally. Forming a purely working-class revolutionary party is therefore the overriding task, to which all other tasks must be subordinated.

Even with the MAGA bloc aiming to take the country back to some hybrid system combining Jim Crow, Christian supremacy, and McCarthyism, the amount of attention paid to defeating that bloc at the ballot box or anywhere else is seen as a purely tactical matter. So is what kind of relationship should be built with non-socialist progressives or socialists who advocate work that entangles anyone with the Democrats or in any other cross-class alignment. These are to be considered only by the criteria of how they might or might not advance the task of building a revolutionary party, allegedly ensuring the “class independence” necessary for any forward motion in the direction of socialism.

Bernie changes the game

Before Bernie’s campaign, those who held this view opposed voting for anyone on the Democratic Party ballot line without exception. But Bernie’s 2016 campaign, where running as a Democrat he made socialism more popular in the U.S. than it had been in decades, punched a huge hole in that position. It was a factor (though not the only or even the main factor) in the largest group holding that view—ISO—disbanding; in splits within Socialist Alternative; and in many members of Solidarity and partisans of this view with no other organizational affiliation backing Bernie and/or joining DSA.

These activists now acknowledged, as did people with different histories and many newly radicalized individuals, that it was acceptable for socialists to run on the Democratic ballot line. But for many (not all) of these, no engagement beyond that was to be permitted. And DSA should only endorse socialists who promised to prioritize accountability to DSA itself over accountability to the broader progressive coalition that had to be forged for any campaign to be successful. The goal was still to build a self-contained revolutionary party, but the road to a complete break with the Democrats—including a separate ballot line, which was supposed to happen as soon as possible—now lay through the temporary tactical necessity of capturing the Democratic ballot line where possible.

Post-2016 DSA electoral work, often appearing to reflect a unified organizational effort, was in reality a complicated mix. Some members conducted that work as a steppingstone toward a break with the Democratic Party. Others pursued the kind of “inside-outside” strategy practiced by Bernie and the candidates who became the Squad. Tensions existed beneath the surface. But in practice, in campaigns to win a Democratic primary and to win the general election after a nomination was won, alliances with a wide range of other progressive groups were both necessary and possible. And many non-socialist progressives ran for office on programs that were all but indistinguishable from those advanced by socialist DSA members.

So, despite attempts by some in DSA to build a high wall between hoped-for members of a soon-to-be-established pure revolutionary party, serious political alliances and relationships developed between most DSA electoral activists and much wider circles. And in these wider circles, the strategy of Bernie and the Squad, including the high priority placed on electoral defeat of the Trumpified GOP, was—and is—overwhelmingly dominant.

In 2019, when the Left had high hopes for Bernie’s success in 2020 and the mainstream Democrats failed to offer a compelling agenda, the “stay away from the Dems” view in DSA had wide appeal. The result was passage of the “Bernie or Bust” resolution at that year’s DSA convention. But in Spring 2020 Bernie conceded the nomination to Biden, endorsed him and campaigned hard for his one-time opponent.

The vast bulk of progressives and radicals outside DSA, especially those rooted in labor and communities of color, worked hard for Trump’s defeat. And following the election, the extreme danger posed by the Trumpist camp was underscored by the GOP closing ranks after January 6. Simultaneously the Democratic Party mainstream shifted away from their previous neoliberalism. DSA members moved toward a more realistic assessment of the actual balance of forces in U.S. politics than had been the case in 2019. A resolution reasserting the “Bernie or Bust” perspective in different form (demanding that all DSA-endorsed candidates incorporate public advocacy of a break with the Democratic Party into their campaigns) failed at the 2021 DSA Convention.

But a section of those who disagreed with the Convention vote did not reconcile themselves to waiting until the next Convention to re-raise their view. Then came Bowman’s serious misstep regarding Israel-Palestine. Here was an issue that—if Bowman were expelled—could lead to a break not just with him but with the entire Squad, Bernie, and others who identify as radical or socialist but see the Democratic Party as a terrain of struggle.

No doubt those whose main priority is building a pure revolutionary formation believe expelling an elected who is not firm on Palestine is the right thing to do in itself. But their underlying strategy is more rooted in the demand to break with the Democrats. In that context, the Bowman controversy is a convenient “wedge issue” to accomplish that break without a frontal assault on the position adopted at DSA’s 2021 convention.

Internal democracy?

Those are the politics that account for the campaign to expel Bowman continuing and even intensifying after the NPC vote. The effort, at least for a time, crowded other matters off chapter agendas and became a preoccupation in internal DSA media. Rhetoric and accusations escalated, reportedly up to and including death threats. Tensions mounted among people on different sides and within leadership bodies. People with various views on the issues at hand tried to simultaneously lower the conflict temperature and raise the political level of debate. But overall, an all-too familiar pattern characterizing internal battles in socialist groups took hold: issues of internal democracy and alleged “top-down” leadership became prominent, obscuring the political issues underlying the internal conflict.

With respect for majority rule having broken down (it was thin in DSA in the first place) all kinds of uncomradely behavior became common. The leadership—and others—tried to enforce organizational rules. But sorting through the rights and wrongs of each specific situation was time-consuming, wearying, and thankless. With vital external work tasks not getting the attention they required, the NPC succumbed to the temptation to try to move forward by using organizational means. In this case, that took the form of moving to de-charter the BDS Working Group.

Proponents of the de-charter argued that the Work Group was not staying within its mandate as a body subordinate to the NPC, was using organizational channels to oppose majority rule and violating democratic norms; and that several members were making abusive allegations against some NPC members. They made a strong case. But a membership overwhelmingly committed to Palestine solidarity would clearly react differently to the suspension of a BDS-focused committee than to the decision not to expel Jamaal Bowman.

A broader and deeper discussion in the organization about the Working Group’s violation of democratic norms, with more specifics about how it would move forward with Palestine solidarity efforts, would be needed to avoid another round of bitter conflict. Instead, the de-charter, and the rush by some DSAers to galvanize support for the NPC decision before the organization as a whole could obtain and absorb all the necessary facts, caused more problems than it solved. And the decision was later rescinded.

Utilizing organizational means is a perilous course, especially when important political issues underlie internal conflict. Identifying and debating those issues in full view of the membership—putting politics front and center—is a far better course. Failure to do this, and failure to use all available channels to give the membership information and an opportunity to air their views, almost always backfires. It allows those violating democratic norms to assume the posture of victims being persecuted by an allegedly dictatorial leadership.

Especially in a young organization where leadership bodies have not yet earned significant political authority—and given the lack of leadership accountability in so many past socialist groups—this stance generally garners sympathy. By their nature, crackdowns on abusive behavior or rule violations have a large proportion of messy, “they said, they said” charges and sometimes facts and allegations are at least partly confidential. These problems are exacerbated in DSA because the NPC, rather than some independent, non-leadership body, is designated as the arbiter of grievances and other kinds of disputes.

All that played out in DSA in arguments about the de-chartering and applying discipline to certain individuals. Mistakes were made on all sides. These need to be identified and the lessons used to improve organizational practice, and perhaps do some restructuring, going forward. But whatever mistakes were made on this front, they are not the reason tensions in DSA have reached the point they have.

The fundamental reason the political differences shaping this struggle have led to tension and crisis rather than greater political understanding is this: A minority in the organization refused, and still refuses, to accept the will of the majority, as expressed in the last Convention and in the NPC vote rejecting the demand to expel Jamaal Bowman.

Tear members down or lift members up?

An additional factor makes the current fight in DSA so toxic. “Call-out culture”—harsh criticism of individuals that attributes political views a person disagrees with to character flaws or lack of commitment on the part of the target—is widespread in DSA, as it is in all too much of the broad Left. The result is that political debates, especially on the internet, deteriorate rapidly into personal attacks.

My generation is no stranger nasty and destructive internal Left debate. The sectarian wars we conducted during the 1970s and ’80s were counter-productive to say the least. But it was political sectarianism: we lost any sense of proportion, exaggerated small differences, and gave our opponents’ views every negative label in the book. But for the most part, we considered our opponents carriers of bad—even counter-revolutionary—lines, not bad people. We aimed to “win them over” to our supposedly enlightened perspective—”cure the disease to save the patient.”

There are lessons to be drawn on this from my generation’s mistakes. Yes, each of us carries baggage from growing up in an individualistic society founded on racism, sexism and other forms of dehumanization. But people enter the radical movement and join an organization like DSA to contribute to changing that society. They are to be valued and given the tools to grow as they engage in political activity. Except for police agents (when we can identify them with certainty) and the occasional person too damaged to work in any collective setting, our default assumption must be that everyone acts in good faith. Attacking people’s character or treating others in ways you would not want to be treated—not to mention threatening someone’s personal safety—should be out of bounds.

That does not mean that there aren’t political views and practices that are destructive. There are. But they need to be taken on as political views one thinks are badly misguided, not as indications that their proponents are bad people or less committed to social justice than “our side.”

Some kinds of politics are destructive

Keeping that polemical standard in mind, it is still true that there is a political perspective held by some currents in DSA that is not just erroneous but destructive. Whatever the good intentions of its advocates, it translates into the kind of “rule or ruin” practice that has weakened or destroyed numerous broad Left organizations in the U.S. and around the world. This perspective holds that building a purified revolutionary party is such an important priority that it justifies doing whatever it takes within DSA to gain influence and recruits for that perspective. If DSA is badly weakened or even destroyed in the process, that is not just acceptable. It is a good thing.

This general perspective has a long history in the socialist movement. Its clearest expression is not in the words of its critics, but in those of its own proponents. For example, dedicated revolutionary and main founder of U.S. Trotskyism James Cannon voiced it as he offered his summation of the results of his group entering the Socialist Party USA in the 1930s, and then exiting to form the Socialist Workers Party:

“The [SWP Founding] convention adopted the entire program of the Fourth International without any opposition. This showed that our educational work had been thoroughgoing. All these accomplishments can be chalked up as evidence of the political wisdom of our entry into the Socialist Party. And another of them-and not the least of them-was that when the Socialist Party expelled us and when we retaliated by forming an independent party of our own, the Socialist Party had dealt itself a death blow. Since then the SP has progressively disintegrated until it has virtually lost any semblance of in-fluence in any party of the labor movement. Our work in the Socialist Party contributed to that. Comrade Trotsky remarked about that later, when we were talking with him about the total result of our entry into the Socialist Party and the pitiful state of its organization afterward. He said that alone would have justified the entry into the organization even if we hadn’t gained a single new member. Partly as a result of our experience in the Socialist Party and our fight in there, the Socialist Party was put on the side lines. This was a great achievement, because it was an obstacle in the path of building a revolutionary party. The problem is not merely one of building a revolutionary Party, but of clearing obstacles from its path. Every other party is a rival. Every other party is an obstacle.”

James P. Cannon, “The History of American Trotskyism,” Pathfinder Press, New York, 1972, pp 252-253

Let me be crystal clear about this. I think the labels from the pre-1989 Left—Maoist, Trotskyist, Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Social Democrat, etc—are mostly useless in understanding today’s Left. Not all those who identify with Trotskyism share Cannon’s views or engage in anything like the kind of practice he praises. And all too many who identify with other ideological currents in the pre-1989 Left do engage in “rule or ruin” adventures. So broad-brush generalizations about any ideological tendency must be resisted. (To reinforce this point: what use are pre-1989 categories when leading voices in the allegedly “Stalinist/Tankie” Communist Party USA vehemently condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while three groups from the Trotskyist movement (Socialist ActionWorkers World Party, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation) refuse to criticize the Putin regime’s aggression and blame the entire situation on US/NATO imperialism?)

That said, it would be the height of naiveté not to see that there are groupings within DSA that are operating in a manner that subordinates the integrity of DSA to their conception of a higher good. Some entered DSA as a group with their own discipline; others evolved within DSA since its 2016 explosive growth and transformation.

Political strategy is the bottom line

This is not an issue DSA can resolve by organizational means. It is a matter of identifying the core political issues and the different views advocated by the contending currents in the organization. Peel away all the back-and-forth about who mistreated whom, all the noise and call-out attacks on social media, and all the “gotcha” questioning of people’s character and commitment. Then you get to the bottom-line political choice DSA must make.

DSA can focus outward and continue on the path most connected to its recent growth: establishing itself as a socialist force within the progressive trend in U.S. politics whose most prominent figures are Bernie and the Squad. Taking that course would mean focusing, like the vast bulk of that trend, on both defeating the authoritarian right and building the independent strength of social justice and socialist forces in the process. It would point to synergizing electoral work with efforts to revitalize the labor movement; strengthen the urgent movements for racial justice, gender justice, and environmental protection; and root the organization the multiracial, gender-inclusive working class. And it would involve work to rebuild the tattered and beleaguered peace and solidarity movements, including serious efforts to build a voting bloc committed to Palestinian rights in as many congressional districts as possible.

Alternatively, DSA can prioritize a purification effort and set a course toward building a new revolutionary socialist party outside of and in opposition to that trend. Expel Jamaal Bowman and move to break ties with others in the Squad and Bernie because, according to one of the prominent expel-Bowman advocates:

“DSA’s “electeds” and allies, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and of course Bernie Sanders, all ceased any semblance of being an opposition and instead branded themselves as the staunchest liberal Democrats who would try to work harder in service of the Democratic Party.”

This choice is at the core of DSA’s current internal conflicts. The debate about it can be conducted in a way that brings more light than heat. It is a multi-faceted debate that in this case pivots on electoral strategy but reflects different assessments of the current balance of forces in U.S, politics, different views on the relationship of the fight for democracy and the fight for socialism, and—of special importance—the inter-relationship of white supremacy with U.S. capitalism and what that means about the nature and danger of today’s Trumpist bloc. (Besides what is in this essay, my opinions on these issues are presented in the 20-plus columns I have written for Convergence—formerly Organizing Upgrade—over the last two years, available here. And for a specific critique of overly narrow views of the alliances needed to effectively challenge U.S. racial capitalism, see the Convergence symposium “The White Republic and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” especially the concluding essay here.)

Once DSA makes this choice, it can and should be tested out for a period of time. Those who disagree certainly have the right to remain in the organization and re-raise their alternative perspective at the appropriate time, likely a national convention. But no socialist organization can function effectively if it is embroiled in constant internal strife over a fundamental question such as where it positions itself within the politics of the country in which it functions.

DSA is the largest socialist organization the U.S. has seen in at least 70 years. Its explosive growth since 2016 has heartened everyone on the progressive side of the spectrum at a time of humanity-threatening crises and a dire threat from right-wing authoritarianism. The entire Left has a stake in the direction DSA chooses to take.

Categories
Analysis Global Peace & Collaboration

Military Buildup Ain’t The Way

| Sherri Donovan |

Military buildup is not the way to peace, climate change, or a safer, sustainable and productive earth that serves the majority of people.

Military buildups and financial wars conducted by the U.S. and their “allies” are a part of the late stages of stagnant, monopolistic, finance capitalism and is being desperately utilized to prop up the U.S. dollar regime and the U.S. hegemonic empire. It is extremely dangerous in a nuclear world that is also facing ecological disasters. War and the concept of declaring enemies should be avoided.

Recent and historic examples are frightening, disconcerting, unjust and have caused immense suffering to millions of people globally. For example: Biden’s recent passage of billions of dollars to the Pentagon, an historic increase in military spending. As reported by Peace Action, President Biden submitted his request for the 2023 Pentagon budget – a staggering $813 billion. In December, 2021 Biden signed into law a military budget of over $777 billion.

As stated by Peace Action, this “2023 Pentagon request is being marketed as keeping pace with China, though China’s military budget is $252 billion, 69% smaller than the U.S. In fact, the U.S. now spends more on its military than the next 11 highest-spending countries combined.”

The truth is that half of this spending will make its way to arms manufacturers. The U.S. is the largest arms dealer in the world, responsible for 39% of arms exports globally, according to the Stockholm International Peace Institute. Arms manufacturers spent over 2.5 billion dollars lobbying Congress in the last 20 years with 177 million dollars of this sum in 2021 (see Truthout, “Ukraine and Yemen Wars Highlight US’s Role as Biggest Arms Dealer in the World,” April 15, 2021, by Mike Ludwig).

The situation in Ukraine is being exploited by defense firms to justify even more spending. In the build up to war in Ukraine, U.S. military contractors perversely characterized the Russian invasion as a business opportunity, with Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes going so far as to proclaim “I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.” As stated by Dennis Torrigoe, “The U.S. and NATO are fanning the flames of this war to weaken Russia as well as to create more demand and thus profits for its military-industrial-financial-media-academic complexes. One goal they are pursuing is to get the Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary and the Baltic States to standardize their weaponry along the U.S./NATO parameters, thus creating more demand for weapon sales for their war industries.”

In the New York Times article, March 18, 2022, “Visualizing the $13.6
Billion in U.S. Spending on Ukraine
” reporters Bianca Pallaro and Alicia Parlapiano pointed out that, “The money includes weapons, military supplies and one of the largest infusions of U.S. foreign aid in the last decade. But it also covers the deployment of U.S. troops to Europe and money for domestic agencies to enforce sanctions.” According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, the U.S. government is also paying millions for a significant portion of Starlink terminal equipment and transportation to Ukraine to Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. As reported in Jacobin by Branko Marcetic (“What the Left’s Critics Ignore About Military Solutions to Ukraine“):

“Western weapons have already found their way into the hands of far-right extremists, who are integrated into Ukraine’s national guard, its police hierarchy, and its military. These weapons will doubtless find their way to many more extremists, since arms have, quite understandably, been handed out indiscriminately… These far-right groups are explicitly ethnonationalist and even white supremacist. They believe in taking and wielding power by force and dictatorship, support the reacquiring of nuclear arms… The potential blowback isn’t limited to Ukraine. As West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has repeatedly pointed out, Ukraine has for years been the epicenter for international far-right organizing. That includes white supremacist extremists from nearby Germany as well as US extremists, with even the FBI stating that the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion “is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States–based white supremacy organizations,” including ones that took part in the infamous Charlottesville rally… Washington has consistently dismissed diplomacy ever since this crisis began late last year… Even Zelensky has urged them to be more involved, something recently unwittingly acknowledged by the UK defense minister. This demand echoes the calls of analysts like Ishchenko as well as Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko, who argues that both US and Chinese leadership should join Moscow and Kiev at the negotiating table to ensure a lasting and balanced settlement. We are endlessly told to listen to Zelensky and other Ukrainians’ requests, but this particular request goes curiously unheard.”

Noam Chomsky has surmised in his March 30, 2022 interview with C.J. Polychroniou of Truthout that, “there are no signs from Washington that the Biden administration is interested in engaging in constructive diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine. In fact, President Joe Biden is adding fuel to the fire by using highly inflammatory language against the Russian president. U.S. General Milley on April 5, 2022 declared that this war will be a protracted war for years. Robin Wright, reported in the New Yorker in April 2022 that, according to a report release by the Soufan Center, a nonprofit, global-security research group, “The battlefield in Ukraine is incredibly complex, with a range of violent non-state actors—private military contractors, foreign fighters, volunteers, mercenaries, extremists, and ‘terrorist’ groups’ all in the mix.” As reported by Chelsea Ong in CNBC, “Russian President Vladimir Putin might resort to weapons of mass destruction, like chemical and tactical nuclear weapons, if he fails to achieve a ‘conventional forces victory’ in eastern Ukraine, says Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.”

Biden declaring that the CIA will focus its resources and set up a mission center against China, appearing to indicate that China is the enemy of the American people. (New York Times, October 7, 2021 C.I.A. “Reorganization to Place New Focus on China” by Julian Barnes). As reported by Al Jazeera, October 7, 2021, “CIA Director William Burns said the new mission centre ‘will further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government.'” Biden’s National Defense Authorization Act, quoting Michael Klare, calls for “an unbroken chain of U.S.-armed sentinel states — stretching from Japan and South Korea in the northern Pacific to Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore in the south and India on China’s eastern flank” — meant to encircle China, including Taiwan.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific command is now reported to be planning to enhance the encirclement, doubling its spending in fiscal year 2022, in part to develop “a network of precision-strike missiles along the so-called first island chain.”

Meanwhile, sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE continues, with multiple Saudi Arabia bombings with U.S. weapons in Yemen condemned by Amnesty International. A child in Yemen dies every ten minutes due to these attacks causing widespread starvation according to the UN World Food Programme. Saudi bombing with U.S. weapons has killed more than 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians, according to 2022 data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. An official death toll as a result of the war as of 2021 is 370,000, according to Noam Chomsky. The war in Yemen also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia is intensifying the blockade of the only port which can bring food supplies.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, about 66% of Yemen’s 30 million people rely on humanitarian assistance for their daily survival, including over 4.2 million displaced people and 102,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, told The Associated Press that around 13 million people were heading toward starvation in Yemen due to the protracted conflict and lack of funding.

The U.N. humanitarian office has reported that its 2021 humanitarian plan for Yemen received $2.27 billion out of its $3.85 billion requirement, the lowest funding level since 2015. The general warnings are echoed by U.S. specialists, notably Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, formerly the top CIA analyst on the Middle East for four presidents. He charges that the Saudi “offensive action” should be investigated as a war crime.”

The Saudi and Emirati air forces cannot function without U.S. planes, training, intelligence. Yet we do not see these images of war and its victims like 27 children killed in their school bus, on the American news like we did not see images of the children and women killed by U.S. weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Review Madre and Human Rights Watch publications. U.S. moral outage is selective. Code Pink has pointed out, the U.S. has also violated the principle of sovereignty, and (in many of the below listed interventions) killed civilians in the invasions of Somalia, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Korea. The U.S.-backed invasion into Lebanon in 1982 killed 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese people and destroyed much of the country with no credible pretext. U.S. drone strikes have occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Somalia in which 7.27 – 15.47% of those killed were civilians (Wikipedia “Civilian Casualties From Drone Strikesciting New America and Bureau of Investigative Journalism). The largest recipient of US military aid in the Middle East is Israel, which Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has declared an apartheid state. 46,319 civilians were killed in Afghanistan by U.S. forces (Brown University Costs of War Project) and 185,831 – 208,964 civilians in the Iraq war. The Total Human Cost by direct war violence of the U.S. post-9/11 war, as reported by Brown University, The Watson Institute, September 2021, is 897,000 – 929,000 people, which includes civilians, journalists, US contractors, humanitarian workers, U.S. military and opposition fighters in Afghanistan & Pakistan (Oct. 2001 – Aug. 2021); Iraq (March 2003 – Aug. 2021); Syria (Sept. 2014 – May 2021); Yemen (Oct. 2002-Aug. 2021) and other post 9/11 war zones. These figures do not include death from the secondary impact of loss of food, water, infrastructure, war-related disease and displacement.

German, Japanese, European & Australian recently increased their military budgets and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Germany increased its military budget by 100 billion. Australia has added nuclear submarines to its arsenal. As reported by Kosuke Takahashi in The Diplomat, “On December 24, the cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio approved 5.4 trillion yen ($47.2 billion) defense spending in fiscal year 2022. The 2022 defense budget includes 216.7 billion yen for the U.S. troops based in the country.” Japan and the U.S. on December 21, 2021 agreed to increase Tokyo’s cost for hosting U.S. forces in the country for five years starting from the next fiscal year to begin covering spending for joint exercises. Specifically, under the new five-year agreement between the two countries, Japan will pay a total of 1.55 trillion yen from fiscal 2022. The annual average will increase by about 10 billion yen to 211 billion yen from the current fiscal year.

The expansion of NATO to 14 East European countries since the Berlin Wall came down and pushes to add Georgia and Ukraine have only provoked conflict. (View Professor John Mearsheimer’s video, “The Russia-Ukraine War and Who is Responsible;” also author of, The Causes and Consequences of the Ukraine Conflict”) As Noam Chonsky has pointed out, “Bill Clinton’s 1998 violation of George H.W. Bush’s firm pledge not to expand NATO to the East, a decision that elicited strong warnings from high-level diplomats from George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Jack Matlock, (current CIA Director) William Burns, and many others, and led Defense Secretary William Perry to come close to resigning in protest…” Have we poked the bear in the eye? Could it have been avoided? There is a NATO base 100 miles from the border of Russia as reported by Chris Hedges in his article, “Chronicles of a War Foretold”. Weapons were flooded into Ukraine by the USA and the UK before the war despite protests from Moscow. In 2021, NATO held over 40 military exercises on the ground, by air and by sea near the Russian border. (Tass.com, December 2021. )

Brown University Professor Stephen Kinzer has pointed out direct and indirect involvements by the CIA and U.S. government to overturn elected leaders and governments around the world in his numerous books and publications. For example, 2014 in Ukraine, Allende in Chile, Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossedegh in Iran, as well as installing and defending right wing dictators in Honduras and El Savador, the CIA killing of Che Guevera, capturing of Nelson Mandela and numerous attempted assassinations of Castro, and intervention in Libya.

This also does not include financial wars and sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, China & Russia. Freezing of funds of the Afghani people to the tune of seven billion dollars and embargoes against Nicaragua have also been utilized.

As stated by Dennis Torigoe, author of “The U.S. Dollar Regime” and “The Dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency”,

The other war is the financial war over the future of the US dollar regime.  The heavy-handed and wide-ranging use of economic sanctions are leading countries… like India and other developing economies to doubt the reliability of the US dollar regime in protecting their interests. The US has not only cut off Russia from strategic materials like semiconductors, but has, in an unprecedented move, seized approximately 300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves kept in US banks. The US has also barred major Russian banks and industries from using the SWIFT system, which settles the vast majority of trade payments around the world.  This heightened financial weaponization by the US government has shaken the confidence in the US dollar as the reserve currency of governments around the world.

“The Ukraine-Russia crisis is driving countries to explore new ways of pricing oil, Qatar says” as reported by Katrina Bishop, CNBC, March 26. “It comes after a Wall Street Journal report that Saudi Arabia is in accelerated talks with China to accept yuan instead of dollars for oil that Beijing buys.” The peaking of U.S. imperialism from 40% of the global GDP to 20% currently, may also mean the peaking of the U.S. dollar regime. The use of debt and interest rates, the IMF and World Bank has the effect of impoverishing people globally and maintaining a neo-colonial dependency concerning currency and economies to serve imperialist corporations, central banks and governments of the U.S. and Western Europe.

We must also recognize racially discriminatory refugee and immigration policies as well as historic indigenous genocides, enslavement, internments, imprisonment, deportations, suppression of workers’ and human rights movements. There are non-white people from countries including Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Somalia who have been waiting at the border to apply for asylum for more than two years. People all over the world are languishing in refugee camps for years waiting to be resettled. Title 42 permitted the summary deportation of unaccompanied children and there were 1.5 million deportations (albeit some multiple of same individuals) pursuant to Title 42. Human Rights First reported in March, 2022, “Marking Two Years of Illegal, Inhumane Title 42 Expulsions: Nearly 10,000 Violent Attacks on Asylum Seekers and Migrants” occurred, including rape and kidnapping. Biden should have repealed it 15 months earlier.

The use of media, propaganda and censorship to influence the American public to support and consolidate the military-industrialist positions must not be overlooked. The U.S. prosecution of courageous Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks and Ed Snowdon demonstrate U.S. censorship. Reporter Chris Hedges has seen all of his years of reporting removed from Youtube. Across the U.S., books and curriculums that deal with the history of slavery, segregation and discrimination or even mathematics and literature are banned and removed from our schools and libraries. Laws like Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Georgia’s recent voting rights suppression law and the anti-choice prohibitions intentionally impact our most vulnerable and non-wealthy communities. There is constant creation of the “other” to stop global unity for people’s empowerment.

Warning: All of the above actions by the U.S. are elements of modern day fascism. It should be noted that neo-liberal positions that the U.S. can economically support a strong military and provide domestic programs and even an American job guarantee by printing more money or financial maneuvers are harmful to real social change and causes suffering to the majority of people globally as outlined above.

We need to imagine, organize for and implement a more just and safe world with demilitarization and deescalation, diplomacy, neutralization, productive green economic production with long -term planning, racial, and sexual equality, indigenous reparations, independent multiple currencies, multiple monetary reserves, lateral trade, workers’ councils (as set forth by Professor Paul Mattick, Jr.) and debt relief that can empower disadvantaged peoples and southern nations.

Categories
Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Immigration Organizing Social Justice

Watch: May Day Forum with Gerry Hudson

On May Day 2022, Voices for New Democracy hosted SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Gerry Hudson for a discussion on the state of the American labor movement. Throughout the conversation, Gerry discussed his history at 1199SEIU, outlining how the union’s participation in struggles for racial justice and immigrant justice mobilized membership and helped secure important victories; how 1199’s emphasis on rank-and-file organizing and leadership was key to their strength; and what lessons these experiences hold for today’s wave of union organizing across gig workers, Amazon workers, delivery drivers, Starbucks workers, and more. Gerry also reflected on SEIU’s political mobilization around the 2020 elections — playing an important role in Biden’s victory — and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in 2022 and 2024.

Watch the full forum below.

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice

Collective Bargaining and the Future of U.S. Labor

| Kent Wong |

This was a paper presented by Kent Wong to an international conference hosted by Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam in April, 2022. Ton Duc Thang is the Trade Union University of Vietnam and is affiliated with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

As the director of the UCLA Labor Center, I have taught labor studies, labor law and collective bargaining for many years.  Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of U.S. labor relations, and yet it has been under attack in recent decades.  This is harmful not only to U.S. unions and workers, but represents an increasing threat to U.S. democracy.  

Collective Bargaining in the U.S.  

For more than 50 years, unionization and collective bargaining have been in decline in the United States.  The right to collective bargaining was won in the 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression and as a result of unprecedented organizing campaigns throughout the country including a General Strike in 1934.  The 1930’s saw the birth of contemporary U.S. labor laws, and the establishment of collective bargaining as the foundation of U.S. labor relations.

Throughout In the 1950’s, fully one third of workers in the U.S. were members of unions and covered by collective bargaining agreements.  This massive union expansion resulted in historic improvements in the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.  U.S. workers were able to improve job quality, raise wages to support their families, and the growing strength of unions resulted in significant government policy victories including social security, employer provided health care coverage, occupational safety and health standards, paid sick time, paid vacation time, and pensions.   

However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the U.S. witnessed a decline in unionization that has continued to this day.  The causes of union decline have included globalization, a dramatic change from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and policies of deindustrialization that resulted in capital flight and plant shutdowns throughout the country.  Union decline was also accelerated by anti-union corporate policies and their support of anti-union labor laws that undermined collective bargaining rights.  Today, only 10% of U.S. workers are union members, and only 6% of private sector workers are in unions.

The decline in unionization and collective bargaining has led to stagnation and decline in the wages and working conditions for U.S. workers.  Previously high wage union jobs have been replaced by low wage non-union jobs.  The two largest corporations in the U.S., WalMart and Amazon, are both fiercely anti-union, and have invested millions of dollars to oppose their workers from forming and joining unions.

The decline in collective bargaining has also weakened worker political power.  Government policies that were established decades ago to support workers have steadily been eroded.  Also, weakened unions have also allowed corporations and the right-wing to exert greater political influence to support reactionary, anti-union politicians and laws. 

The Attacks on Collective Bargaining and the Election of Donald Trump

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for President, and received almost three million more votes than Donald Trump.  However, due to the undemocratic U.S. Electoral College system, Donald Trump was elected President instead.  

Three critical states that had supported Barack Obama in 2012, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016.  In each of these three states, Republican Governors and members of the State Legislatures had attacked collective bargaining rights and unions. 

In Michigan, the state where the United Autoworkers of America was founded, the state legislature passed anti-union “Right to Work” laws in 2013, dramatically undermining worker rights.  In Pennsylvania, conservative anti-union forces in the State Legislature have fought to restrict collective bargaining rights, especially for public sector workers.  And in Wisconsin, fifty years of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers was eliminated by a right-wing governor in 2011.  

The attack on unions in these three states had a direct impact on the 2016 election.  Trump defeated Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a margin of only 70,000 votes, which allowed him to prevail in the national electoral college vote and become president.  In 2020, after unions intensified organizing in these same three states, all three flipped back to support the democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.   

Joe Biden’s presidential victory was commanding, both in the popular vote and in the electoral vote.  In the midst of the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election was held and Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris were elected President and Vice President.  Joseph Biden had previously served as Vice President under President Barack Obama, and Kamala Harris is the first woman and first person of color (both African American and Asian American) to hold the position of Vice President in U.S. history.  

However, to this day, Donald Trump has promoted the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate and that he won the election.  On January 6, 2020, Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to engage in an armed insurrection of the U.S. Capitol to overturn the election results.  The Trump lead white supremacist and right-wing movement presents a major threat to U.S. democracy, and Republican leaders in Congress continue to spread lies and misinformation that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. 

Growing Economic Inequality

During the past two years of the global pandemic, the contradictions and crisis of U.S. capitalism have been exposed.  More than 900,000 people in the U.S. have died as a result of Covid-19.  Former President Donald Trump lied to the American people and deliberately down-played the seriousness of Covid-19.  He attacked public health leaders and safety guidelines, and refused to wear masks and abide by social distancing.  Many Republican leaders continue to spread lives about Covid-19, and have contributed to the public health crisis and increased death toll. 

Although the U.S. has the most expansive and expensive health care system in the world, millions of people do not have access to health care.  Covid-19 has disproportionately claimed the lives of the poor, people of color, and immigrants.  The wealthy have access to the best health care system in the world, while many workers and the poor are dying because they lack of health care access.  

The U.S. is a deeply polarized country, both politically and economically.  The U.S. stock market has been setting new records, and wealthy corporations and billionaires continue to make massive profits during the pandemic.  Housing prices and home rental costs are rising steadily, which also contributes to economic inequality.  The number of homeless people has also grown sharply as housing insecurity impacts more workers. 

A Growing Workers Movement 

The pandemic has also witnessed the rise of a new workers movement.  Public opinion polls reflect that sentiment supporting unions is at a 50-year high in the U.S.  More people realize that unions are necessary to improve the quality of life for workers.

There has been a new wave of strikes throughout the country, including in the manufacturing sector, and more workers have been engaged in union organizing campaigns in recent years than in recent decades.  Amazon workers, Starbucks workers, Fast Food workers, and “Ride Share” workers have been engaged in organizing campaigns in work places and industries that have never before been unionized.

Pro-union sentiment has been especially high among young workers and workers of color, who have been leading many of these organizing campaigns.  These campaigns bode well for the future of the labor movement, and also present opportunities to expand collective bargaining rights in the U.S.  

The Importance of Collective Bargaining Education

As the Director of the UCLA Labor Center, I teach Labor Studies to our students at the university.  Each year, we introduce collective bargaining education into the classroom, to provide our students with an appreciation of the role of unions, an understanding of the dynamics of collective bargaining, and the importance of a union contract in providing good wages, benefits, and working conditions, and a collective voice for workers.

One of the most popular learning activities within our curriculum is a collective bargaining simulation, where each student is assigned to participate on either a union or management bargaining team.  The students are given informational hand-outs based on real collective bargaining case studies, and then engage in a mock collective bargaining session.  They have the option of either signing a union contract, or engaging in a strike or lockout.  Inevitably, most of the student bargaining sessions result in a signed union contract, although in a few instances there are strikes or lock-outs.   This outcome mirrors what happens in the real world, where the vast majority of collective bargaining sessions result in a mutually agreeable settlement.  

The UCLA Labor Center in recent years has established a Labor Studies Major, the first in the history of our university and the first within the nine campus University of California system.  We are also in the process of establishing a Master’s Degree in Labor Studies.  

The Labor Studies program provides a foundation for students to learn about unions, collective bargaining, labor history, labor law, and contemporary issues that impact workers and the work place.  Our program also provides opportunities for students to engage in research on labor issues, and to take part in internship programs that directly place them with unions and worker organizations.  Through these placements, students learn about the world of work first hand, and many find jobs and careers through developing their skills and relationships.

The UCLA Labor Center has also established innovative programs to conduct research on young workers, and to encourage young workers to learn about their rights on the job, and to form and join unions.  Labor education plays an important role in preparing the workers of tomorrow to join the labor movement and advocate for the interests of the working class.  

The UCLA Labor Center is committed to continue our partnership with Ton Duc Thang University.  We applaud the efforts of Ton Duc Thang to promote worker rights and global labor solidarity, and we share our mutual commitment to advance peace and prosperity for workers in Vietnam, the United States, and throughout the world. 

Categories
Analysis Global Peace & Collaboration

Watch: Forum on Ukraine, The New Cold War, and The Changing International Situation

Last Sunday, March 19th, Voices for New Democracy hosted our latest monthly political forum covering the crisis in Ukraine and its implications for global geopolitics. Spring Wang, Steve Clark, and Floyd Huen joined the panel to discuss each of their analyses around the current international situation, sparking spirited debate over the nature of the war in Ukraine, its beneficiaries, and the long-simmering tensions and contradictions that preceded it. The debate raised key questions and implications that the Left should consider in our analysis of global politics and our strategy for building progressive change.

Watch the full forum below, and email voicesfornewdemocracy@gmail.com to submit your own reflections on these issues.

Categories
Analysis Global Peace & Collaboration

March 20 Monthly Political Forum: Ukraine, The New Cold War & The Changing International Situation

Join Voices for New Democracy on Sunday March 20th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT for our next monthly political forum discussing the war on Ukraine, the new Cold War, and the changing international situation. Spring Wang, Steve Clark, and Floyd Huen will share their reflections on the ongoing conflict and its implications for international geopolitics. The majority of the time will be spent in conversation, so we encourage you to come with your ideas and analysis.  

Click here on Sunday, March 20th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT to join the forum.

Categories
Commentary

A Tribute to Marty Nathan

This piece originally appeared at PopularResistance.org. We are reposting it on Voices for New Democracy to honor Marty Nathan, who was a comrade to many of us.

The Ku Klux Klan Murdered Five Of Her Comrades And The Father Of Her Six-Month-Old Child.

She remained undeterred in her activism for the rest of her life.

On November 3, 1979, Marty Nathan, Mike Nathan, and other members and supporters of the Communist Workers’ Party were stationed along the route of a “Death to the Klan” march in Greensboro, North Carolina. This multiracial working-class movement’s success organizing textile and hospital workers had attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan; “not surprisingly,” Marty explained, “the Klan began to rise in 1979 … [in places] where hard-hitting union organizing and strikes were occurring.” Not only were workers and organizers faced with resistance and threats from employers – they were also confronted with the Klan’s virulent racism, violence, and its efforts to spread fear and confusion as the Klan ran their own recruiting drives in the textile mills to split up the unions and grow its base.

The march, in Marty’s words, “was a response to a threat against unionization by the Klan, which would historically split up workers, black and white, threaten the leaders and essentially act on behalf of the corporate owners.” One of the key organizers of the march, Reverend Nelson Johnson, added that “it was absolutely necessary to have some expression of opposition to racism as manifest by the Klan in order to continue with the work of labor organizing in the textile industry and in order to continue with the work of uniting people from different racial backgrounds.” So, on November 3, 1979, the CWP organized a conference about the Klan and labor organizing, kicked off by the Death to the Klan march.

Marty and her comrades would later find out that the Klan had worked with the Greensboro police, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent, and an FBI informant beforehand, which provided the Klan with the route of the march and encouraged them to carry arms while the police mandated that the protestors be unarmed. Before long, the Klan descended upon the march, at that point embedded in the predominantly black neighborhood Morningside, with no police in sight – in fact, a rank and file officer responding to an unrelated call in the neighborhood had been told to clear the area hours before the attack.

As protestors stood on the street, a caravan of nine cars decorated with confederate flags and other paraphernalia approached. The klansmen attacked the protestors, first with sticks and then opening fire, killing five of them and injuring ten others. Marty and her husband Mike Nathan were both doctors stationed at the march to provide medical assistance if needed; she was posted at a later point along the march route running the first aid car when the attack took place and survived the massacre, but Mike, stationed in Morningside, did not. She would rely on her comrades to find out what happened to her husband that day.

In Marty’s words, the premeditated attack killed people who “were organizing unions. They were revolutionaries. They were socialists. And they knew that in order to change society, you have to have an organized working class.” Not only did this movement unite white and black workers with a clear vision, but it understood the importance of internationalism; after the massacre, the survivors linked this “North American death squad” to the death squads in Central America, North America, and South Africa, up to the genocidal violence perpetrated under Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil taking place today (later in life, Marty would at times wear a ring from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement that had been gifted to her “on my middle finger, which I give to Trump,” she told me).

“After you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future. For victims of racist violence, white supremacist violence, that’s the goal,” Marty told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. “In a time of climate change, threat of nuclear war, and increasing economic disparity, we all have to be in the streets, and we do not want to get shot,” she said. Marty continued to fight against racism and imperialism and for justice even in her last days before passing away on November 29, 2021 from lung cancer and heart disease; she was profoundly shaped by her work with the CWP and by the massacre, and those experiences continued to shape the people around her throughout her life.

Anyone who knew Marty would not be surprised to know that she was undeterred by the attack of the KKK that murdered five of her comrades and took away the father of their then six-month-old child. She fought tirelessly alongside the other survivors and their comrades to expose the direct connection between the KKK, the police, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which also had an informant embedded in the Klan and was aware of the attack before it happened but failed to take any steps to prevent it.

Not only had the police given the protestors’ march route to the klansmen; they were present at the massacre in the tenth car following the caravan in an unmarked police vehicle but did nothing to stop the massacre. Marty and the other survivors successfully proved this and other acts demonstrating the complicity of the police, city, and FBI in the massacre, finally winning a $351,000 civil lawsuit in 1985 after having lost two criminal trials in which the prosecution was more focused on prosecuting the communist victims and survivors of the massacre than the Klan. Only in 2020 would they receive a long overdue apology from the City of Greensboro. Though Marty and her daughter were the only ones awarded money in the settlement, Marty gave her settlement to the other survivors and co-founded the Greensboro Justice Fund in 1980 and, in 2009, the Markham Nathan Fund (MNF) in Mike’s memory to fund grassroots organizations to carry the work forward.

By the time Marty passed away in November 2021, she had fundamentally shaped the organizing landscape in her home of Western Massachusetts, where she moved in 1995. Even when people couldn’t stand each other, everyone seemed to love Marty. She believed in uniting people from a wide range of perspectives, but she never compromised her politics in moments of disagreement. She canvassed for the re-election of Congressman Jim McGovern along with other local officials, and when it came time to hold people to account, she did so unapologetically.

Even as her health faltered in the months and years before she passed away, Marty joined other anti-imperialist activists to call on Congressman McGovern to shift his position on Palestine and to work to lift the sanctions against Venezuela or, in her words, “to inhabit his own skin … – an understanding and compassionate one – … and tell him that he has to follow through because this is not a theoretical issue. This is an issue of people in Venezuela dying everyday… because of the sanctions.” It is in large part thanks to Marty’s work that Congressman McGovern did just that in a letter dated the day of that rally, cited as “the best letter that we’ve ever seen out of Congress on sanctions period” by Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a leading source of research and data on the sanctions.

Not only was Marty a fierce and dogged leader and mentor: she was also the people’s doctor. During her days in the CWP, she ran clinics at Duke Hospital to treat textile workers with brown lung disease caused by the cotton particles they inhaled on the job. In the weeks before her death, she stood with migrant workers at a press conference not only as a speaker but as a doctor, rushing over to a ditch to mend someone’s twisted ankle during the event. After moving to Massachusetts, she co-founded La Cliniquita, where she worked as a doctor primarily for immigrants and undocumented patients for 18 years, building an infrastructure to provide quality care that did not exist until she moved to the area for communities that had been systematically deprived of health care. At her memorial service, her former patients spoke about what she meant to them not only as a doctor but as a friend to whom she opened her home over the years. In 2012, she co-founded Climate Action Now as well as the climate justice group 2degrees and went on to help win the decades-long fight against a proposed biomass plant in Springfield, MA in 2021, always keeping climate justice at the heart of her work and revolutionary organizing at the heart of her life.

Marty’s list of accolades is unending, but those who knew her know that her ability to bring people together and lift up and mentor those around her, her refusal to give up no matter the obstacles or danger that she faced, and her unrelenting determination to fight for justice are irreplaceable. As Marty said, “after you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future.”

Categories
Uncategorized

Worker to Worker, Union to Union: Building U.S.-China Solidarity

| Kent Wong |

This article will be published in the upcoming volume of the New Labor Forum.

A Toast to Solidarity 

After touring the massive port of Shanghai in 2007, a delegation of Los Angeles labor leaders had lunch at the onsite restaurant hosted by the dock workers union of Shanghai.  In the private dining room with Chinese and U.S. labor leaders seated together around a large, round table, the president of the Shanghai dockworkers union stood up to propose a toast to David Arian, former President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU). This gathering of two dockworker union presidents was remarkable, considering the fraught history of US and Chinese unions.  

The Shanghai union leader thanked the ILWU and the U.S. labor movement for the birth of May Day, International Workers’ Day.  “Every year, workers throughout China have a holiday on May Day thanks to the U.S. working class and the spirit of international worker solidarity,” he said in Chinese as he was accompanied by an interpreter.  

David Arian in turn rose to speak in English.  He thanked the hosts for the lunch and tour of the Shanghai Port, as the interpreter quickly translated his remarks in Chinese.  “While I am happy that the Chinese working class celebrates May Day, back in the U.S. we have to work on the first of May.  However, I want to thank the Chinese working class for celebrating lunar new year each year because during the two weeks that the Chinese dock workers are on vacation, we don’t have to work either because we have nothing to unload on the Los Angeles docks.”

This humorous exchange between two labor leaders from Shanghai and Los Angeles reflects the deep connection between workers in the world’s two largest economies.  The dockworkers provide a special strategic link, as workers who control the largest ports in our respective countries and the logistics flow between the U.S. and China. The U.S. and Chinese economies are deeply interconnected, mutually reliant, and together have a greater impact on global trade and global labor standards than any other countries on earth.  

The history of AFL-CIO’s Racialized Anti-Communism

The AFL-CIO has had a troubled history with China and Asian American workers.  The link between AFL-CIO foreign and domestic policy has historic roots.  Samuel Gompers, the founding president of the American Federation of Labor, was a lifelong opponent of Chinese migration to the United States, and refused to allow Chinese and Asian American workers to join U.S. unions.  Gompers was a staunch advocate of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  He wrote: “Racial differences between American whites and Asiatics will never be overcome. The superior whites have to exclude the inferior Asiatics, by law, or if necessary by force of arms.”

During the McCarthy Era, the AFL-CIO purged union leaders with socialist or communist affiliations, and enacted anti-communist clauses.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the AFL-CIO joined the U.S. government in the global fight against communism.  The federation’s commitment to anti-communism included support for the U.S. War in Vietnam, the U.S. blockade of Cuba, and U.S. backed military dictatorships in Central America. 

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the AFL-CIO was at the forefront of anti-China campaigns, among them a boycott of Chinese goods, the petitioning of the George W. Bush Administration to impose sanctions on China, efforts to oppose China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and calling for penalties against China for currency manipulation, a charge raised again by Donald Trump as president. The AFL-CIO leadership also opposed the attendance of U.S. labor women at the international women’s conference in Beijing in 1995.  In the 1990’s, the Teamsters Union invited right wing politician Pat Buchanan to address their members during an anti-China rally organized by the union, while the International Association of Machinists published a special anti-China magazine using racially offensive language and quoting right wing Republican Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the military threat posed by China. 

The AFL-CIO anti-China campaigns were a continuation of decades of Cold War ideology, and advanced the erroneous analysis that China was to blame for deindustrialization, capital flight, and worker dislocation caused by U.S.-based multi-national corporations.  Not only were they wrong politically, they failed miserably.  The anti-China campaigns did not result in a single policy victory.  Instead, these campaigns promoted racism among white union members that ultimately provided fertile ground for Trump to make inroads among the white working class with his anti-China, “America First”, protectionist, and nativist rhetoric.    

Breakthrough Exchanges 

In sharp contrast to the official policy of the AFL-CIO, in 2001, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) invited leaders of the Chinese labor movement to attend the APALA national convention held in Honolulu, Hawaii.  This was the first time an AFL-CIO organization had invited the Chinese unions to speak before their conference.  The APALA leadership met with the Chinese labor delegation at the convention, and discussed a mutual interest in strengthening relations between our two labor movements.  In response, the Chinese union leaders invited APALA to bring a delegation of U.S. labor leaders to visit China. APALA leaders have continued to engage in solidarity delegation exchanges between China and the U.S. over the past twenty years.  

In 2002, APALA arranged for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern and other key labor leaders to visit with labor leaders of China, breaking with the AFL-CIO policy of no engagement. The Change to Win Federation, in which SEIU is a founding member, established formal relations with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) in 2005, and explored collaborative projects together.  

One outcome was a joint meeting between ACFTU and U.S. labor leaders to discuss the fierce anti-union policies of Walmart in the U.S.  In subsequent years, the ACFTU successfully unionized 107,000 workers at 411 Walmart stores.  While this represented a major organizing victory for the ACFTU, some U.S. union leaders dismissed this victory and asserted that the ACFTU functioned as a “company union.” 

Although there was an agreement to develop a health care worker exchange program to share front line experiences in combatting the spread of AIDS, the Change to Win leadership withdrew from the initiative before it was launched. The Change to Win Federation’s internal implosion caused them to abandon many of their global and domestic ambitions, including pursuing relations with Chinese unions. 

In 2007, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor established the very first formal partnership between unions in the U.S. and unions in China.  California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, who was then the leader of the Los Angeles labor movement, led a delegation of Los Angeles labor leaders to meet with leaders of the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council (SMTUC).  Maria Elena Durazo and her counterpart, Chen Hao, the leader of the SMTUC, signed a memorandum of understanding between the two labor councils to meet regularly, to promote friendship, and to advance labor solidarity.  During the inaugural trip, the Chinese dock worker union and the ILWU toast was one of many meetings to discuss common interests.  This partnership still continues fifteen years later.

In follow up labor delegation visits, Maria Elena Durazo and Rusty Hicks, another former leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, toured the BYD corporation in Shenzhen which manufactures electric buses and cars.  On a separate trip, Hicks and Los Angeles labor leaders also toured the China Railroad Corporation (CRRC) in Changchun.  During the delegation visits, the Los Angeles labor leaders met with the union leaders representing workers at CRRC and BYD.  

Subsequently, in 2013 BYD and in 2014 CRRC opened up manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles County.  In part through these labor exchanges with BYD and CRRC, both Chinese-based corporations agreed to “project labor agreements” in the construction of the factories in Los Angeles, and both agreed to union neutrality.  Workers of both the CRRC and BYD facilities in Los Angeles are currently represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Sheetmetal Workers Union.  In a separate delegation visit, the presidents of the IBEW and the Sheetmetal Workers Union also toured the CRRC facility in Changchun.  

These exchanges represent concrete mutual advantages of engaging in communication and dialogue between unions and workers in the U.S. and China.  CRRC and BYD are two examples that benefited from U.S. labor engagement where Chinese corporations agreed to project labor agreements as well as union contracts that now are providing high wage, union manufacturing jobs to U.S. workers.

Although the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council partnership represents a breakthrough in relationships between unions and workers of our two countries, at the national level, there is still no formal relationship between the AFL-CIO and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, nor has the AFL-CIO yet articulated a cohesive position regarding relations with the Chinese labor federation.  

A major change in policy came at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles in 2013.  For the first time, leaders of the Chinese labor movement were invited to attend the convention, and a special workshop was held to address union-to-union relationships between the AFL-CIO and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), representing 302 million workers in ten national industrial unions.  Later that year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka visited China and met with leaders of the Chinese labor movement.  He was greeted by Chen Hao, the former leader of the Shanghai Trade Union Municipal Council who had since been promoted to the national headquarters of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions in Beijing. 

This was a historic breakthrough, representing the first time the President of the AFL-CIO traveled to China to meet with ACFTU union leaders.  Richard Trumka visited national and local union bodies, work places including the Port of Shanghai, and a university for mine workers.  Unfortunately, this was the first and only trip by an AFL-CIO President, and plans for future exchanges at the national level never materialized. The factors that have led to this set back included the AFL-CIO’s support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong, the heightened geo-political conflict between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Relations with the ACFTU, the only legally sanctioned union in China, is not without its challenges.  Greg Mantsios wrote an article in New Labor Forum about the complexities of engagement the ACFTU, which I largely agree with.  The ACFTU does not play the same role as unions in the U.S.  There is no right to strike in China, and the ACFTU assumes many of the responsibilities that would be overseen by government agencies in the U.S. However, Mantsios argued that worker-to-worker and union-to-union exchanges remain the only way to strengthen communication and understanding.    

With the election of Liz Shuler as the new President of the AFL-CIO in 2021, once again an opportunity exists to re-establish relationships between the two largest labor movements in the world, to explore mutual interests. Improving union to union relationships would provide a sharp contrast to the counter-productive anti-China rhetoric that has become so ubiquitous in the U.S. 

Anti-China Rhetoric and Asian American and Pacific Islanders Hate Crimes

U.S. – China relations took a turn for the worse under the Donald Trump Administration.  Not only did the “America First” rhetoric and China-bashing harm U.S.-China relations, but it also functions as a distraction from the central problem confronting workers in both countries: the excessive power of multinational corporations to exploit workers and drain resources from working-class communities.  The anti-China rhetoric advanced by unions confuses American working-class voters and union members, and has provided fertile ground for white workers in particular to embrace the Trump agenda. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. labor movement has a long history of supporting Asia-bashing and the rise in anti-Asian violence, thus obscuring the class interests of U.S. workers.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, U.S. manufacturing unions blamed Japan for the demise of the U.S. auto industry.  The UAW held public events to encourage their members to vent their anger by smashing Japanese imported cars.  In 1982, two white unemployed auto workers murdered Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit who they mistakenly believed was Japanese. The killers were sentenced to probation for their crime, which ignited a national protest from the Asian American community.

In March 2020, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and a coalition of 188 organizations co-signed a letter to the Trump White House, the Department of Justice and the FBI urging them to publicly recognize and denounce the escalating racist attacks and discrimination against the Asian American community in the wake of rising concerns over COVID-19.  Not surprisingly, the appeal fell on deaf ears by the Trump administration.

The unfortunate reality is that anti-Asian violence has been a facet of life for the Asian American community for more than 150 years.  It has been exacerbated and encouraged by racist rhetoric, including the dehumanization of Asian people and attacks on China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and other Asian countries over the years.  

Even elected officials are not immune from anti-China rhetoric.  Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who is Chinese American, recently enacted public health safeguards due to the pandemic.  She was flooded by racist attacks that called her “Mayor Wuhan.”

The Asian American community has stood up and organized against anti-Asian hate nationally.  The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is currently engaged in a national campaign to stop Anti-Asian Hate in partnership with key unions with a large Asian membership base, and to draw the link between the rise in Anti-Asian violence and other forms of racism and anti-immigrant policies, and to forge multi-racial unity.  APALA has stood with Black Lives Matter in actions throughout the country to link the attacks on Black people with attacks on other people of color.  

Opportunities to Build Cross-Border Solidarity

Noam Chomsky addressed the heightened tensions between the U.S. and China in a talk on February 4, 2022 entitled “Work Together or Perish Together.”  He criticized the Biden administration’s provocative actions towards China, and Biden’s continuation of the Trump policy in the region.  Chomsky also challenged the Pentagon framing of the “threat” posed by China as a pretext for U.S. military expansion, and called for diplomacy and negotiations to improve U.S. China relations.  

If relations between the U.S. and China continue to deteriorate, leading to more trade wars and potential military conflict, it is workers in China and the U.S. who will suffer.  It is in this context that union-to-union and worker to worker engagement are critically important.

A new opportunity currently exists with the new leadership of the AFL-CIO to advance a forward-looking approach to develop communication and partnerships between unions and workers of China and the U.S. around mutual interests.  The global pandemic has clearly shown the necessity of global cooperation to address our collective needs to distribute vaccinations and to advance public health practices at the workplace and in the community.  Health care and public health workers of China and the U.S. would benefit by learning from one another during this critical time.

A strategic focus of China-U.S. labor solidarity should be joint efforts to rein in multi-national corporations that have huge joint investments in both the U.S. and China.  Many U.S. based multi-nationals have taken advantage of the massive and growing consumer markets in China.  There are more U.S. automobiles manufactured and sold in China than the entire U.S. domestic market.  Many Chinese-based multi-national corporations are also investing heavily in industries throughout the U.S., and the CRRC and BYD are only two examples.  Exchanges between Chinese and U.S. unions representing workers in the very same multi-national corporations could strengthen collective bargaining and a stronger pro-worker agenda in both countries.

Worker solidarity between the U.S. and China should also train its sights on advancing labor policies that protect worker rights, promote sustainable wages and benefits, and demand that multi-national corporations that are operating in both U.S. and China respect worker rights, provide good union jobs and benefits, and address climate change.  

As the two largest polluters in the world, the U.S. and China have a shared mutual benefit and responsibility to implement aggressive policies to counter climate change. We should demand that the labor unions in both countries embrace changes to green our economy and prepare for workplace policies that actively reduce global warming.  Concretely, there are huge green energy initiatives in China that the U.S. labor movement would benefit from learning about.

Even in this challenging political environment where relations between the U.S. and China are strained and conflictual, the AFL-CIO should expand dialogue, communication, and partnerships to advance the interests of workers in both the U.S. and China.  Asian Americans and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, who have historically been excluded by the AFL-CIO in the formulation of their China policies, need to be included in this process.  

1 The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, 2015, James Bradley

2 “Tea for Two:  Chinese and U.S. Labor” by Gregory Mantsios, New Labor Forum (2002).  

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Watch: Forum on Progressive Electoral Organizing with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

This past Sunday, Voices for New Democracy joined our comrades at Convergence Magazine for a conversation with Linda Burnham and Max Elbaum around their new book, Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power. Burnham and Elbaum discussed their work with Convergence, pulled out key highlights from the book and examples of progressive organizing in action — including its pivotal role in ousting Trump — and emphasized the need for progressives to unify and work together to defend democracy while building grassroots power.

Watch the full conversation below.

Power Concedes Nothing: February 27 Monthly Political Forum with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

Join Voices for New Democracy and our comrades at Convergence Magazine on Sunday February 27th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT for our next monthly political forum hosting Linda Burnham& Max Elbaum, co-editors of the new book Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections.

Burnham and Elbaum will discuss the new book, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power, including ousting Trump in 2020. Now, with 2022 posing the greater threats to democracy, all progressives need to unify and work together to preserve it while at the same time building grassroots power. Join us.

Click here on Sunday, February 27th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT to join the forum.