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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).  

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12/12 Forum on the Climate Crisis: Background Reading

Join Voices for New Democracy on Sunday, December 12th at 7pm ET / 4pm PT for our next monthly political forum on the climate crisis. Join the conversation at bit.ly/3b1xlp7.

José Z. Calderón will moderate the forum with Bob Eng and Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus to discuss the scale of the climate crisis, its roots in the capitalist mode of production, and the financial and political tools we might use to mitigate climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy. Following their presentation, we will open the floor for questions and conversation.

In advance of the forum, our panelists have assembled a list of background readings and videos to help ground a shared understanding of the climate crisis.

Longer articles discussing the current state of the climate crisis, the climate movement, and political possibilities:

Picking Winners, Alyssa Battistoni, New Left Review

Plan, Mood, Battlefield – Reflections on the Green New Deal, Thea Riofrancos, Viewpoint Magazine

Green Growth vs. Degrowth, Beth Stratford, Open Democracy

Zero-Sum Game, Cédric Duranc, New Left Review

The Extractive Circuit, Ajay Singh Chaudhary, The Baffler

A Coal Mine for Every Wildfire, James Butler, London Review of Books

Ecological Leninism, Adam Tooze, London Review of Books

Short pieces, including refresher videos:

We Don’t Have To Halt Climate Action To Fight Racism

Opinion | Think This Pandemic Is Bad? We Have Another Crisis Coming (Published 2020)

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: Why is the world warming up?

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: What is net-zero?

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: Why is 1.5 degrees such a big deal?

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: Why act now?

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Monetary Imperialism & Apartheid in Africa: The CFA Franc

| Sherri Donovan |

Colonialist Northern nations utilize the IMF, the World Bank, legal frameworks, imposition of fiscal austerity, tax rules and privatization to deprive African cultures and countries of their own resources and to ensure such resources flow to the imperialistic nations and international corporate benefit.

After World War II, France was economically devastated and its currency was weak. France wanted the resources and wealth of African peoples and lands, and to extract it on exploitive terms. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s after the independent movements and struggles of African peoples ( often met with brutal violence by Europe), Charles de Gaulle’s neo- colonization conditioned political independence of new West and Central African nations to maintaining economic ties to France to France’s advantage. As Franz Fanon stated, “Colonialism never gives away something for nothing.” Currency arrangements have in the past and continues under Macron to be a critical tool in transferring wealth and resources from Africa to France.

CFA stands for Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community). The CFA is a colonial currency created December 26, 1945 by General De Gaulle and his finance minister. This was the same day that France ratified the Breton Woods agreement and the new parity of the french franc was presented to the newly born IMF. Fixed exchange rates trace back to the Bretton Woods period when 63% of Southern countries had their currency pegged to that of an imperialist country.

The CFA was originally translated as “Franc of the French Colonies in Africa” The CFA is still used in West and Central Africa by 14 countries and split into two monetary zones. The eight countries of West Africa using the CFA, with an ISO currency code of XOF are Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. They represent the West African Economic and Monetary Union, or WAEMU, founded in 1994 to build on the foundation of the West African Monetary Union, founded in 1973. The six countries of Central Africa using the CFA, ISO currency code of XAF are Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. They comprise the Central African Economic and Monetary Union, or CAEMC.

Although separate, the two CFA franc currencies have always been at parity and are effectively interchangeable. All were former colonies of France except Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea. All maintain French as an official language except Guinea Bisseau. Comoros also has its own central bank tied to France and is considered part of the CFA system.

In 1960, France actually had a larger population — around 40 million people than the 30 million inhabitants of what are now the 15 CFA nations.( including Comoros). In 2021, 67 million people live in France and 183 million in the CFA zone.According to UN projections, by the year 2100, France will have 74 million, and the CFA nations more than 800 million.

Given that France still controls their financial destiny, through the CFA, the situation is increasingly a monetary apartheid. The CFA is issued by three separate central banks, Banque Central des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest ( BCEAO) and the Banque des Etats de l’Afrique Central( BEAC). Comoros has a separate bank, (BCC). It is mandatory that French officials sit on the boards of all of the CFA franc central banks and the French government has the authority to monitor all financial transactions of these 15 nations. The French people were permitted to vote on whether or not to adopt the Euro through a referendum. The African peoples of the CFA nations were denied any such right, and were excluded from the negotiations that would peg their money to a new currency. The French government can veto the decisions of the BCEAO and the BEAC. The monetary policy favoring European priorities is set by the European Central Bank ( ECB), previously set by the Banque de France. France is acting similar to an IMF for these West & Central African nations. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have historically worked in concert with France to enforce the CFA system, and rarely, if ever, criticize its exploitative nature.

French colonialism goes beyond money. It also affects education and culture. For example, Farida, a Togolese activist said, the World Bank gives $130 million per year to support Francophone countries pay for their books for public schools. Farida says 90% of these books are printed in France. The money goes directly from the World Bank to Paris, not to Togo or to any other African nation. The books are brainwashing tools, Farida said. She points out, that “They focus on the glory of French culture, and undermine the achievements of other nations, whether they be American, Asian or African.” French language is promoted heavily by France to ensure the colonial system of keeping the monetary and economic system bound to France. There are more French speaking people in Africa than France. Based on my personal observations of over twelve years of spending time in Senegal, most of the French who visit or reside in Senegal refuse to learn a word of Wolof. They expect all West & Central African people to speak French. The French are shocked or laugh in a condescending manner when they hear me converse without French, in Wolof (albeit simply).

Of course France has a long-standing pattern of subverting democracy and elections to maintain monetary and economic exploitation. An important part of the CFA system is French support for dictatorship. With the exception of Senegal, not a single CFA bloc country has ever had meaningful democratization. As Farida points out, “Every single successful tyrant in Francophone Africa, has had the full backing of the French government” as long as an African colonial elite will favor France. The French Treasury guarantees the convertibility of the CFA into the French Franc, and now the Euro. Independent economic and financial planning is impossible for these West and Central African nations.

The CFA system confers five major benefits to the French government: bonus reserves to use at its discretion; big markets for expensive exports and cheap imports; the ability to purchase strategic minerals in its domestic currency without running down its reserves; favorable loans when CFA nations are in credit; and favorable interest rates when they are in debt.

As Senegalese economist, Ndongo Samba Sally points out,

“By pegging the CFA franc to the Euro, now the African countries and their central banks are more or less submitted to the same restrictive rules in terms of inflation, public debt and public deficit.

The CFA guaranteed France’s chokehold on African economies and ensured wealth drainage to France. When the CFA was created, it served France’s interest by being born and maintained overvalued. It stopped the African nations selling competitively to Asian and Latin American nations and to trade exclusively with France. The overvaluation of the CFA kept France from having to use US dollars as the Breton Woods required which would have been very costly against the weak French franc. Controlling the monetary policies of 14 African nations (15 with Comoros) justified giving France a seat and vote at the UN Security Council.

In addition, the value of the CFA franc has been widely criticized as being too high, which many economists believe favours the urban elite of the African countries, who can buy imported manufactured goods cheaply at the expense of farmers who cannot easily export. The CFA permitted France to obtain raw materials and products from its former colonies by issuing a credit to the CFA nations.”

Ndongo states, “If you take also the level of competitiveness of African countries of the franc zone they fare the worst in the world. In West Africa, except Côte d’Ivoire all of the remaining countries are chronically in a state of trade deficit. Countries like Benin, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, they never recorded one year of trade surplus. They are structurally in a situation where they have to be indebted in foreign currencies. They will never be able to develop because the mechanism of the CFA franc will never allow them to be developed.”

Ndongo explains, “Because you have no monetary sovereignty. So this is the case of the CFA franc zone and that’s why there is no economic dynamism at all. Economic growth in the CFA franc zone is never triggered by internal dynamics, but just by external dynamics. For example, good terms of trade and cheaper interest rates … on international financial markets. So this is the sad story of the CFA franc. Somehow owing to these mechanisms when there are economic crises it’s much more difficult for CFA franc countries than others because the exchange rate cannot be used as a policy variable. As they follow the neoliberal rules, so public deficits are not really encouraged and the central banks generally in those circumstances follow an orthodox monetary policy, and that means that whenever there are economic crises, the main way of adjusting economically is what is called internal devaluation. That means lowering internal prices and limiting public deficits and letting the private sector enterprises go bankrupt. That is the main mechanism of adjustment in the CFA franc.”

As Landry Signe concludes, “The CFA franc zone as a whole has thus resulted in:

  1. Limited intra-regional trade, especially in Central Africa.
  2. High dependence on producing and exporting a limited number of primary commodities.
  3. A narrow industrial base.
  4. A high vulnerability to external shocks.


For example, In 1994, France devalued the CFA franc, raising the parity rate from 50 CFA francs per French franc to 100 CFA francs per French franc. CFA member countries’ governments imposed wage freezes and layoffs in the wake of the CFA devaluation, leading to widespread unrest over inaccessible goods for consumers and unmanageable price controls for suppliers.” African families lost of half their monetary savings.

Many African economists, including Senegalese economist, Demba Moussa Dembele and Togolese economist Kako Nubukpo explain that dependency on European monetary policies is a restriction to growth due to a hyper-fixation on inflation.

Protests against the secrecy, repression and use of the CFA and for its abolition has historically existed and is growing since 2015/2016. In 2018, seven artists from 10 countries released the rap song “7 minutes against the CFA franc” to drum up popular support for dumping the currency.

As Landry reports, “Large numbers of unemployed youth throughout sub-Saharan Africa—which may reach over 350 million over the next two decades—are often the loudest opponents of the CFA zone. Other pro-democracy movements, like Y’en a Marre in Senegal and Le Balai Citoyen in Burkina Faso, consider the dismantling of the CFA zone as essential to their campaigns to reform their countries’ respective governments. Other protests have included Kemi Seba, the Benin-born French activist who was charged with burning CFA notes in Senegal before being deported.”

In 2020, 66% of the Togolese people polled believed the CFA existed to benefit French interests and should be abolished. The Senegalese slogan “France Dégage” became a West African rallying cry for the French to be transparent and to withdraw, “walk” away from the West and Central African monetary system they enforced. Resentment has also been fueled by the presence of French military troops in the Sahel desert.

Chad’s President Idriss Debby said back in 2015 that the CFA was pulling African economies down and that the “time has come to cut the cordon that prevent Africa to develop.” He called for a restructuring of the currency in order to “enable African countries which are still using it to develop.”

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari has been demanding, since 2017, a divorce plan from the French treasury of the eight West African countries that use the CFA franc. The recent protests are Pan-African and popular.

Abolition of the CFA and new currencies are necessary for financial sovereignty.

It is important to note that for five decades Senegalese & other Africans resisted the use of French currency and previously had mixed currencies including cowries from the Indian Ocean. The French utilized the military to force the use of the French currency only. They also imposed taxes to be paid in French currency which also forced the use of French currency.

Two years after independence, Guinea refused the French currency and produced their own currency. France launched a military operation, and the French secret service sabotaged the economy by flooding the market with counterfeit notes. Guinea still has not economically recovered since then.

Togo in the 60’s had a leader trained at the London School of Economics, Sylvanus Olympio, who was about to launch the country’s own currency and diversify trade partners when he was assassinated.

In 2011, France used the Central West African Bank to place a financial embargo against Ivory Coast and bombed the Presidential palace to install its candidate.There were also attempts to challenge France in the 1970’s and the 1990’s. France has engaged in over forty interventions in the CFA countries since “political independence”.

Solutions for change in currency

On December 22nd, 2019, due to political and grassroots pressure, it was announced jointly by France and the Ivory Coast that the CFA in West Africa , not Central Africa would be replaced by a currency to be called Eco.

The Eco has not been implemented due to legal, technical and political problems. It is tracked for implementation in 2027. The Eco would still be pegged to the Euro, and require European fiscal restraints. It would not require 50% of the reserves be kept with the French Treasury but France would keep its role as guarantor of convertibility of the Eco like the CFA. An indirect form of control by the Banque of France and the French treasury would exist with France requiring information about the management of reserves and if French government debt securities were purchased. MMT economists, like Djongo correctly point put that this “reform” or mutation does not represent significant social change to serve African people. It has been described as “window dressing”.

In 2019, the French Minister of Affairs issued a report that 49% of french companies operating in the CFA zone consider it a favorable place for profits now and in the future; and the same report predicted that even 60 years from now the CFA should not be abandoned but just reformed even under a different name.It should be noted that the announcement of the Eco was made after Italy criticized France for its monetary policies in Africa. Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs at the time, revived the controversy about the role of the CFA franc on Africa’s development with a statement, “France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts.” In response, France expelled the Italian ambassador.

There are two macroeconomic proposals for change. The national exit and the pan-African exit. African nations as Ndongo clarifies, “could exit the CFA franc on a national basis. That means Senegal would say, ‘I want my own national currency’ and so I’m exiting the CFA franc. This is the path followed by Guinea, Mauritania, and Madagascar. And legally speaking, it [would be] very easy. The Senegalese government would just have to notify the West African monetary union of this decision, and in six months they could have their own national currency.”

But it’s difficult because if you go alone, you don’t know what consequences you could face from France. French sanctions, embargos, political isolation, military operations and assassinations have caused great disruptions and poverty to places like Guinea and Mali. Mali rejoined after exiting.

The Pan – African exit means “instead of African countries trying to initially have their own currency, they say, ‘we no longer need France’ France could [then leave] the CFA franc system.”

Ndongo continues, “With regard to the issue of how to get out of the monetary status quo, there are in my opinion, four different points of view. First, there is the perspective I call symbolic reformism, which consists [of] touching only the visible systems of monetary coloniality without touching the fundamentals of the CFA franc system. This includes proposals such as changing the name of the CFA franc, having banknotes and coins manufactured outside of France, and even further reducing the deposit rate of foreign exchange reserves at the French treasury. Emmanuel Macron, for example, made this type of proposal, and he even suggested that he was open to expanding the CFA franc zone to a country like Ghana.”

In other words, France is seeking to expand its empire by adding African countries not currently utilizing the CFA.

The approach most favored by Ndongo is: “sovereign abolitionism that is an exit from the CFA franc that breaks with the neoliberal model of economic integration and that strengthens the sovereignty of individual countries and also the sovereignty of [countries] collectively. If we put aside the political criticism of the CFA franc, the real economic criticism is that the CFA zone must not exist because it has no economic justification. It is not a so called ‘optimal monetary zone.’ Each country must have its own national currency because economic fundamentals, levels of development and productive dynamisms are not the same. But saying that does not mean that we cannot have systems of solidarity between African countries.”

Ndongo perceptively speaks of “solidarity national currencies. Concretely, that means that each country has its own national currency with its national central bank. The exchange rate parity is determined according to the fundamentals of each country, and countries have a common payment system. Their currencies are linked by a fixed but adjustable parity to a common unit of account, and also there is solidarity in the management of foreign currency reserves. Finally, there are common policies to ensure energy and food self-sufficiency, because in the ECOWAS zone energy and food products represent between 25-60% of the value of imports, depending on the country.”

Ndongo explains, “The advantage of this option… is that it makes it possible to reconcile macroeconomic flexibility at the national level, that means the possibility to use the exchange rate as an instrument of adjustment, and at the same time to have solidarity [between] African countries. This option also helps break the Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone divide, [which] is a legacy of colonialism. “

The other two viewpoints criticized by Ndongo include, a “proposal of [basing] the exchange rate of the CFA zone on a basket of currencies, but the problem with this perspective is that it is simply unrealistic because it ignores the functioning of the CFA zone. Exchange rate flexibility is not an option in the CFA system because the convertibility guarantee is offered at a fixed exchange rate and in the currency of the guaranteeing authority. Many people who claim to be experts and moderate [still don’t] understand that the demand for flexibility is incompatible with the maintenance of French guardianship; it is one or the other.”

Neoliberalism abolitionism is an exit from the CFA franc that follows the neoliberal monetary integration model. It is a ‘eurozone model.’ There are countries in West Africa who want to be part of the single currency project of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), a single currency project for West Africa. Sharing the same currency is not justified among ECOWAS countries, owing to a number of factors, like for example Nigeria’s disproportionate weight. Nigeria accounts for at least 70% of West African GDP. [As well], there are differences in economic specialization. Nigeria is an oil producer and exporter, whereas, you will find in West Africa at least nine countries which are net oil importers. There is also the fact that economic cycles are not synchronous in West Africa and the level of inter-ECOWAS trade is very low. All of these elements point to the fact that a single currency is premature and not justified economically in West Africa. We have to also say that there is no planned federal fiscal mechanism, but rather, limitations on public debt and deficits… That means, in case of economic crisis, countries in this currency union would only have the option of so called internal devaluation [via] the lowering of internal prices, which often comes to austerity policies and the growth of unemployment.”

Digital currencies and the role of China are also two factors that may impact the future of the CFA zones. As reported by MERIC:

“China’s presence in countries like Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire is growing rapidly. …Where in 2000 France was the number one exporter to all of its African former colonies, by 2017 it retained this status in only three…Chinese lending to these countries increased 332 percent in 2010 – 2017 compared to 2000 – 2009, and contracts awarded to Chinese firms trebled in value in the same period – with Chinese contractors taking on high-profile projects like the Soubré dam in Côte d’Ivoire…This economic emergence is backed by a concerted Beijing push to deepen China’s footprint in Francophone West Africa, centring on Senegal as ‘the gateway to West Africa’ (西非门户). Xi visited the country in 2018, baptising it a Comprehensive Strategic Partner and the first West African state to join the BRI (all bar Benin have followed suit). Beijing has cultivated Senegal with gifts – including an arena for the national sport and a Museum of Black Civilisations – and selected it as the first Francophone and West African country to host the FOCAC Summit (to be held in Dakar in 2021). Chinese analysts expect this to pave the way for a deeper penetration of Francophone West Africa. Indeed, an important development is the number of Chinese migrants bypassing French altogether to conduct their business in Bambara, Wolof, and other African languages. With the Beijing Foreign Studies University expanding its range of African languages, this trend is not limited to the informal level – and may emerge as a valuable soft power tool…China’s emergence in West Africa directly challenges French economic interests. Chinese companies have moved into sectors long dominated by French players: civil engineering, extractives, telecoms, ports. French national champions – Vinci, Eiffage, Orange, Bouygues, Total, Areva, Alstom – must now go toe-to-toe with Beijing’s giants…”

As researched by doctorate Che, “In 2013, China launched the ‘One Belt One Road’ (also known as the ‘Belt and Road’ or ‘New Silk Road’) Initiative, the most ambitious infrastructure investment project in history, which is designed to facilitate ‘going global’ by connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa. Since the adoption of the ‘go out’ policy, even France’s historical sphere of influence in Africa, particularly the Franc Zone, has experienced a surge in Chinese trade, grants, loans, and investments. As of 2017, according to UN international trade data for goods (see table below), China had overtaken France as the number one source of imports for a number of Franc Zone countries, namely Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, and occupied second spot behind France in Mali and Senegal.”

Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla conclude that, “in all of the countries where the CFA and Comoros francs circulate, the underdevelopment of human potential and productivities is the norm.” As understood by former President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, assassinated former President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, and assasinated first Prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, independent financing and development can not take place without an independent currency.

Sources:

Africa’s Last Colonial Currency, the CFA Franc Story | Ndongo Samba Sylla & Fanny Pigeaud

Monetary imperialism in Francophone Africa – an interview with Ndongo Samba Sylla

Background Information Study Guide to the Fabric of Reform, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Will the ‘ECO’ replace the CFA franc? | Al Jazeera

West Africa renames CFA franc but keeps it pegged to euro | Reuters

West African countries change currency, shed French ties | Cindi Cook

Africa Report: The Perilous Journey to a single West African Currency

West African CFA Franc Reform: What’s Changing in 2020 | Africa Report

How the France-backed African CFA franc works as an enabler and barrier to development | Landry Signe

Fighting Monetary Colonialism With Open Source Code | Alex Gladstein

The African Currency at the Center of a European Dispute | New York Times

China in Francophone West Africa: A challenge to Paris by Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)

China’s Rise in the African Franc Zone and France’s Containment Policy | Afa’anwi Ma’abo Che

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Economic Justice Financial Justice Uncategorized

MMT Forum: Background Reading

In advance of our upcoming forum on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) this Sunday, October 3rd, our panelists have assembled a helpful list of background materials to ground your understanding of MMT before our discussion. While Voices for New Democracy has published a number of pieces relating to MMT (here, here, here, and here), these additional resources offer further insight and breadth.

One week after our MMT forum, we will also host a follow-up discussion on Sunday, October 10th at 7pm ET / 4pm PT. Use this link to join the conversation.

Learning styles are different.  

MMT has resources for any style.

Videos

  1. Stephanie Kelton’s TED Talk – (14 minutes – new as of Sept. ‘21, includes her recommended resources)
  2. The Basics of Modern Money (6:30 minutes)
  3. Demystifying Modern Monetary Theory with Bill Mitchell (22 minutes)
  4. Kelton on NPR’s Marketplace – (2:30 minutes)

Articles

  1. Learn to Love Trillion-Dollar Deficits, Stephanie Kelton, New York Times
  2. MMT Basics, Real Progressives Collection

Podcasts

  1. The MMT Podcast with Patricia Pino and Christian Reilly
  2. Macro N Cheese with Steve Grumbine (Real Progressives)

Websites

  1. Modern Money Network
  2. Public Banking Institute
  3. Wall St. On Parade
  4. Democracy Collaborative

Books

  1. The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton
  2. The Case for a Job Guarantee by Pavlina Tcherneva
  3. Macroeconomics by William Mitchell, Randall Wray, Martin Watt
  4. Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
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At Last. Progressive Power Assets Itself.

| Steve Clark |

Clark’s essay was first published on his GlobalTalk blog.

Perhaps, I should quit being surprised by Biden’s acumen. He has a next-to-nothing Democratic majority in the Senate, and critical pieces of that majority are reluctant allies. Yet, he’s playing it like a violin.

Or, to mix metaphors, he’s playing from a deck stacked by broad, energized, progressive-driven, public opinion.

Either way and both ways, the American people seem to have found a leader who will pursue our demands.

The bi-partisan deal that Biden announced yesterday with 11 Republican Senators (enough to overcome the threat of a filibuster) has two key pieces:

First is $570 billion in new infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, water system, electric grid, broadband, etc.) with no “pay-for” restrictions. This is part of a $1.2 trillion, eight-year infrastructure investment plan. Because 11 Republicans support it, the infrastructure plan will get and win an eventual floor vote in the Senate.

Second is $2-6 trillion in additional federal allocations for childcare, education, healthcare and the green new deal (details to be decided), none of which are supported by any Republican Senators (though a few may eventually go along). Because of the filibuster rule, this family care package cannot get a floor vote in the Senate, but the same 11 Republicans (above) stood quietly, then spoke heartily of bi-partisanship (see, some of us Republicans can get things done), after Biden explained that these family care matters may be included in September’s “reconciliation bill” when the official FY 2022 Budget is approved by a simple majority vote of the Senate (thus, avoiding a filibuster).

With a summer of negotiations ahead over the actual content of these bills, plenty of time remains for political defections. It’s been less than 24 hours, and, already, some of the 11, feeling rolled by the direct linkage of the two bills, are threatening to pull out. But the threat of House progressives (supporting progressive allies in the Senate) to refuse the stand-alone infrastructure bill and, instead, put them both in reconciliation and pass it without any Republican support (and leaving the 11 hanging) may have set the deal in stone.

The decision (when final) of the 11 Republicans to go along with Biden’s deal is a concession to the political reality that the Trump era is over, and the nation will continue its political life in traditional democratic, two-party fashion, finally rebuking Reagan’s long-ago, fool-hearty assertion that government IS the problem. Going forward, they agree that government is part of the solution… and, at least as far as physical infrastructure goes, they’re putting their toes back in the water.

After the deal’s announcement, Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee (that will draft and approve the specifics of the Senate’s reconciliation bill), expressed the gleeful opinion that the Senate would soon pass the “most important piece of legislation for working people in America since the 1930s.”

This deal ensures that money will flow and the economy will pick-up all next year when the midterm elections roll. This should produce a landslide for Democrats and a big haul for progressives.

But this deal is not enough, and many progressives in and out of Congress are saying as much. It is a “down payment” on the trillions that must still be spent…and, after 2022, heading into 2024, progressives will be advancing and passing additional legislation in a host of areas. Indeed, 2022 through 2028 is likely to be the most creative, active period of progressive legislative action in the history of the nation.

This week’s deal sets a basic framework for the coming social contract, but key features are still big blanks: reparations for slavery and indigenous dispossession; financial democracy and public investment; and international financial justice/opportunity for the Global South.

We’ve entered the last, fateful phase of this Fourth Turning. Now, codifying and institutionalizing programs to rectify these remaining injustices — while moving ahead with public investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, climate justice and a federal job guarantee — is this revolution’s practical next steps.

For this, progressives have three jobs: (a) designing constructive problem-solving programs to achieve social justice and avert climate change; (b) educating and mobilizing Americans to pursue the progressive agenda; and (c) electing enlightened progressives to public office to enact our agenda.

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Watch: Forum on the Future of the Labor Movement

On March 14th, Voices for New Democracy hosted its first event of a new forum series with a “Forum on Labor’s Future,” featuring a panel of organizers with extensive and diverse experience in the labor movement.

Through presentations and discussion, the forum covered key questions including the historical trajectory of the labor movement, new challenges and opportunities, the relationship of labor to ongoing social justice movements, the international context, and strategies for union transformation.

Watch the full presentations and learn about the panelists below.

JOE ALVAREZ

Joe is a veteran labor leader, organization development expert, and visionary labor educator. After a 30-year history in social justice activism and labor organizing, he co-founded the Alvarez Porter Group in 2007 to help leaders and organizations work effectively toward creating a just, equitable and sustainable world.  As an organization development practitioner, Joe specializes in developing leadership in others and in helping unions and social change organizations be visionary, adaptive, and effective.

Joe is a fellow of Cornell University’s Worker Institute. He was the Northeast Regional Director of the AFL-CIO before pursuing a graduate degree in leadership and organizational development. Joe designed and co-led the AFL-CIO’s “New Alliance” program, a major state-by-state campaign to revitalize and reorganize state and local AFL-CIO bodies.  In 2000, he helped found the NY State AFL-CIO/Cornell University Union Leadership Institute, where he still teaches. Since its inception in 2013, he has been a co-designer and core faculty of the AFL-CIO’s National Labor Leadership Institute. He has taught courses in union leadership and management at U-Mass Amherst, City University of New York, and at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.  Joe is a consultant for SEIU’s BOLD Center, and a member of the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences.

CAROLYN KAZDIN

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Carolyn Kazdin served as Representative in Brazil for the Solidarity Center, AFL-CIO from 1997 to 2005. She continued to work in Brazil for the United Steelworkers (USW) for the next 5 years, before moving to Pittsburgh, PA, to join the Strategic Campaigns department.

A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Carolyn served in the Peace Corps in Bahia, Brazil Back in the USA, she worked in government, in politics, and in the trade union movement. Carolyn worked on Capitol Hill with Congressman Bernie Sanders, and in the presidential campaigns of Reverend Jesse Jackson. In addition, she served as Legislative Director for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (now UNITE HERE).

Capital is global, and labor needs to be global too. Carolyn’s work in Brazil has helped demonstrate the importance of communication, strategic planning and joint action among international labor organizations that deal with similar issues and employers. The struggle for workers’ rights and dignity for all peoples is truly global.

During her time at the Solidarity Center, Carolyn worked alongside the United Steelworkers (USW) and various Brazilian unions on multiple international campaigns. Once in Pittsburgh, this important work continued directly in the USW. Carolyn is currently retired from the United Steelworkers (USW) in the USA and Canada.

ERIC GILL

Eric Gill started work in 1976 at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel as part of CWP’s strategic organizing program in Hawaii’s unions.  An activist rank and file leader from the start, he has also served his union in various staff and elected positions over the years. Over the past 21 years, he has been elected eight times as the executive officer of UNITE HERE Local 5.  

An officer of the international union as well, Eric has played a central role in promoting combined action by local UNITE HERE affiliates in multiple cities, most notably the coordinated eight-week strike that 8000 union members in seven local unions successfully conducted against the Marriott Corporation in 2018.   

KENT WONG

Kent Wong is the director of the Labor Center at the University of California, Los Angeles where he teaches Ethnic Studies and Labor Studies. The UCLA Labor Center promotes research, teaching, and policy to advance workers’ rights.

Wong previously worked as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles. He was also the first staff attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles. 

Kent Wong was the founding President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance—the first national organization of Asian American union members and workers. He is a Vice President of the California Federation of Teachers, representing 120,000 teachers and educational workers.

Kent Wong has published more than twelve books on the labor movement, immigrant rights, and the Asian American community.  

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“Once In A While There Are Rainbows” – Podcast on Immigrant Justice

| José Calderón |

Thank you to Professor James McKeever for this interview and his podcast that is advancing new and innovative scholarly roads. Please connect with this podcast for an informative discussion on the significance of community-based scholarship and the possibilities for creating new models of racial equity and quality of life that are emerging in the contemporary period and for the future.

Listen to the full podcast here (description below).

I sit down with activist intellectual Dr. Jose Zapata Calderon. We discuss the roots of migration and Biden’s proposed Immigration policies, community engaged scholarship, multiracial coalitions, and in the end some sound solutions for inequality.  

José Zapata Calderón is Emeritus Professor in Sociology and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies at Pitzer College and President of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley. He received an A. A. from Northeastern Jr. College, a B. A. from the University of Colorado and a PhD in Sociology from UCLA.

As the son of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, he has had a long history of connecting his organizing and academic work with community-based teaching, participatory action research, critical pedagogy, and engagement. He was a national founder of the URBAN-Based Research Action Network and the American Sociology Association Latino and Latina Studies Section. From 2013 – 2015, he served a two-year term as a board member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

He was recently honored with the prestigious National Association for Chicano and Chicana Studies Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award and has received numerous awards including: the Ambassador Nathaniel and Elizabeth Davis Civil Rights Legacy Award; the “Dreamkeeper Award” from the California Alliance of African American Educators; the California Campus Compact Richard E. Cone Award for Excellence and Leadership in Cultivating Community Partnerships in Higher Education; the Goddess of Pomona Award from the City of Pomona, the Michi and Walter Weglyn Chair in Multicultural Studies at Cal Poly University, Pomona; and the United Farm Worker’s Union “Si Se Puede” award for his life-long contributions to the farm worker movement. A recent TedX video, Finding Cesar Chavez: A Transformative Moment,” was chosen as an Editor’s Pick nationally.

As a community-based public intellectual, he has published over sixty articles (with the most recent one “The Same Struggle: Immigrant Rights and Educational Justice” in the book Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement) and including the books: Lessons from an Activist Intellectual: Teaching, Research, and Organizing for Social Change, and Race, Poverty, and Social Justice: Multidisciplinary Perspectives Through Service Learning. 

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Event: Racism and Policing in the U.S.A.

Police stand by while white supremacist mobs run amok. Black Lives Matter and other protests by the left are attacked with impunity. Police use deadly force against ordinary citizens, disproportionately people of color. All of this is current, but none of it is new.

The Oakland Greens, Bay Area System Change Not Climate Change, and the Alameda County Peace and Freedom Party will host a forum on racism and policing in the United States on Saturday, February 6th.

Come hear the following speakers, followed by floor discussion: 

Signe Waller Foxworth, social justice activist, an organizer of a 1979   anti-Klan rally that turned into the Greensboro Massacre 

Gerald Smith, Oscar Grant Committee against Police Brutality   and State Repression 

Melissa Nold, civil rights attorney, Vallejo CA. 

Learn more via the flyer below. Sign up at http://bit.ly/SudsSnacksRacismPolicing