Archive for the ‘United States – history’ Category

by The Spark

September 20 marked one year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. President Trump referred back to that storm, and the death count on the island, when he was warning people in North and South Carolina to flee Hurricane Florence.

He said that the death count in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria – reported in recent studies to be over 3,000 people – was fake.

Trump defiantly excluded any number larger than the handful originally reported, including all the people who died after the storm as a result of the failure of the US government, backed by Wall Street, to provide the massive federal emergency aid required to stop the death toll from rising.

Puerto Rico is an island about the size of Connecticut with a population of about 3 million people. It is a territory of the US, acquired through US military occupation. While citizens of the US, Puerto Ricans have no representatives in Congress. Since the US invasion, the island has been used by U.S. corporations as a source of cheap labor.

Working class people have a far lower standard of living there than in any state in the US. The poverty imposed on the Puerto Rican population by US imperialism means that (more…)

Advertisements

The last week of August marked the 50th anniversary of the (in)famous 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago.  Thousands of people turned up outside the convention to protest the war being waged by the United States, via a Democratic Party administration, on the people of Vietnam.  The Democratic Party mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, turned his cops on the protesters, hundreds of whom were injured in police assaults.  The Illinois National Guard was also turned out, to supplement the armed cops.  This party convention was yet more proof, if any was needed, that the Democratic Party is no vehicle for progressive change in the United States, any more than the Labour Party is in New Zealand (or Britain or Australia).

by The Spark

In 1968, the Democratic Party met in Convention in Chicago to nominate its presidential candidate. This is the Convention that has gone down in history – in the words of Hodding Carter, one of its participants – as the work of “a party that had lost its mind.”

For most people who still remember, the 1968 Convention is associated with the 14-minute live telecast from the streets of Chicago, showing police clubbing and viciously kicking unarmed demonstrators, people who had come to protest the U.S. war on Viet Nam and the Democrats who were carrying it out. Some of those people, bloody on the ground, were shown yelling, “the whole world is watching.”

Or people remember from inside the Convention, Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, yelling “fuck you” to Senator Abraham Ribicoff from Connecticut, who had criticized “Boss Daley’s” cops.

In fact, the 1968 Democratic convention should go down in history as the symbol of the inability of the Democratic Party to respond to the deep problems of this country – even at the very moment when social forces were urgently pushing those problems forward.

A Country on Fire

Opposition inside this country to the U.S. war on Viet Nam had become so strong that (more…)

Kim Moody, On New Terrain: how capital reshaped the battleground of class war, Chicago, Haymarket Press, 2017, US$18; reviewed by Guy Miller

On November 8, 1954, US (Republican Party) President Dwight Eisenhower wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. . . their numbers are negligible, and they are stupid.”

On August 3, 2018, the headline on the New York Times front page blared: “The Downside of Apple’s $1 Trillion Valuation: Income Inequality May Grow as Mega-Firms Dominate Economy.”

How we got from November, 1954 to August, 2018 is the story Kim Moody’s book, On New Terrain, tells well, and in great detail.

The Old Terrain

After being discharged from the U.S. Army, I entered the blue-collar work force in late 1967.  My fellow workers and I started with the basic assumption that decent-paying jobs were our birthright.  We also believed that our standard of living would always be on an unending upward trajectory.

Jobs were plentiful. Quit your job during the lunch hour and there was a chance you would have a new one that afternoon. We were a mixed demographic of Vietnam era veterans, young black nationalists,  counter culture youth, and older workers with the victories of the rise of the CIO still  imprinted in our memory banks.

Fifteen-minute coffee breaks routinely stretched to 25 minutes, a half-hour lunch meant 45 minutes away from work.  Assembly line moving too fast?  Simple solution: stop it by any means necessary.  Two-day weekends often ballooned into three days, thanks to the “bridge”, that is, calling off work on Fridays or Mondays.  With or without a union, we called the shots, or at least many of them.  It was almost too good to last, and it didn’t.

Shifting Terrain

As the war in Vietnam began to wind down, the American capitalist class saw itself besieged on several fronts: (more…)

Aretha in 1973; pic by AP.

by The Spark

Tributes are pouring in for the late legendary singer Aretha Franklin. Many certainly came from those in official positions and celebrities, but most came from people she grew up with and from all of the neighborhoods around the country. The strength of people’s feelings stems from the fact Aretha expressed, not only through her music but also through what she stood for politically, their feelings at a time of engagement and determination to fight for social change in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Aretha’s first hit single, her remake of Otis Redding’s song, “Respect,” hit the charts almost simultaneously with the eruption of the urban rebellion that occurred in Detroit in 1967. Like several of her records, “Respect”became an anthem, for black people and for women. Aretha transformed the point of view of Redding’s lyrics about a man expecting respect from his wife to that of a woman demanding respect from her man. Aretha’s spelling out of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and insistent phrases like “Give me my propers!” reflected women’s growing militancy and, beyond it, the attitudes of the larger community demanding change.

Similarly, her hit “Think!,” was direct and to the point “You’d better think, about what you’re trying to do to me,” ending in a chorus of  (more…)

Dunedin: Otago Socialist Society presents
Marx’s theory of capitalist crisis

Why is capitalism plagued by regular economic crises? Can capitalism avoid these crises or are they inherent in the system? What did Marx see as the fundamental cause of these crises, regardless of whether they appear first in the ‘real’ economy or the financial sector? In particular, what is ‘the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’? What political conclusions follow from Marx’s crisis theory?

Speaker: Philip Ferguson
6pm, Monday, July 30
McNab Room,
3rd floor, central city library,
Moray Place, Dunedin

 

Christchurch: Canterbury Socialist Society presents
Harlan County USA

This award-winning film – it even won an academy award! – documents a major struggle between coal miners in Harlan County (Kentucky) and coal bosses in the 1970s.  These workers provide an inspiring example of how to fight.

7.30pm, Tuesday, August 7
The Space Academy,
371 St Asaph Street, Christchurch

Thousands of high school workers protest in Phoenix, Arizona for pay rises and increased school funding. Photograph: Ross D. Franklin/AP

by The Spark

State-wide teacher strikes are rolling across the United States. What started in West Virginia has spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and now Arizona and Colorado. In every one of these states, all or most of the school districts in the state have been closed for periods of up to nine days. Tens of thousands of teachers, support personnel, and other school workers have descended on the state capitals in massive demonstrations of determination and solidarity.

In every one of these states, the teachers have made it clear that they are not just demanding pay raises or pensions for themselves. The fight has included demands for pay raises and protections for all school employees and even other public sector workers.

Broader demands

And in every state, the fight has included demands for increased school funding to improve the quality of education for the students. Striking teachers and other school employees have reached out to the students, the parents and the communities, making it clear that this is a fight of ALL working people for a better education and a better life.

These revolts follow two decades of (more…)

by Guy Miller

“The beating heart of the labor movement.” That’s how the moderator of the Friday evening April 6th plenary session of the 2018 Labor Notes (LN) Conference introduced six West Virginia school teachers. The teachers were fresh from a historic victory in their unauthorized – and unexpected – strike. The same could be said about the conference itself: it represented the beating heart of American labor. The record 3,200 activists who attended the three-day Chicago conference were living, fighting proof of that

History of Labor Notes

Labor Notes was founded in 1979, just as the attack on the American working class was about to shift into high gear. The three founders – Jane Slaughter, Kim Moody and Jim West – were members of the International Socialists(1), one of several American groups tracing their roots back to Trotskyist origins. Slaughter, Moody and West realized that just creating a “front group” for the IS would result in a dead-end for their project, so they sought from the beginning  to create an organization that would support and encourage rank-and-file activity in the trade union movement.

1979 was the year that Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, set the Fed’s interest rate to a record high, bringing on what is often called the Volcker Recession. The double dip recession that ensued saw the loss of over a half a million manufacturing jobs, at the same time bringing the number of strikes to a screeching halt. This was under the presidency of (Democrat) Jimmy Carter; things only got worse under the following (Republican) Reagan administration. In 1981 Reagan broke the national Air Traffic Controllers’ strike and smashed their union as well. Meanwhile, the leadership of the AFL-CIO – equivalent of the CTU in New Zealand – essentially sat and twiddled their collective thumbs. The long, slow Thermidor of American labor had begun.

The height of organized labor in the U.S. had been reached in 1954 when 35% of the workforce belonged to a union. The absolute number of union members, however, continued to grow, reaching 21 million in 1979. However, by 2017 the percentage of unionized workers fell to an (more…)