Archive for the ‘United States – history’ Category

The piece below appeared as one of the editorials in the latest round of workplace bulletins produced and distributed by The Spark organisation in the United States; we’ve slightly changed the title but left the American-English spelling of the original.

by The Spark

The words are bad enough, but they are symbols of something much worse: the vicious ideas that Trump and others like him try to peddle.

The countries Trump denigrated are all poor. So let’s talk about why they are poor – the truth which demagogues like Trump trample on.

U.S., Spanish and French capitalists stole the wealth produced by labor in Haiti and El Salvador. That’s what impoverishes them.

Let’s talk about the European and American slave traders who stole 20 million human beings and their labor power from Africa. Let’s talk about the colonial system which drained Africa’s mineral wealth to enrich European industry. Let’s talk about (more…)

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Michael Wolff, Fire and fury: inside the Trump White House, Little, Brown 2018, pp336, retailing for $NZ34 at  The Warehouse and just over $2o from the Book Depository (free delivery); reviewed by Paul Demarty

The appearance of Michael Wolff’s extraordinary account of Donald Trump’s presidency has already become the pre-eminent succès de scandale of 21st century letters thus far.

The White House response has been trenchant and hysterical, with the president denouncing it as a complete fiction, and the latest in what the book reminds us is a long line of press secretaries reinforcing the condemnation. Legal action is threatened against Wolff, publisher Henry Holt and – not uninterestingly – Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. It is surely more than mere gratitude that led Wolff to thank in his acknowledgements, pointedly, the libel lawyer he hired to give Fire and fury a once-over. The truth is that Trump has blundered directly into what is now called the ‘Streisand effect’, whereby attempts to suppress some item cause it to spread more rapidly among outraged enemies.1 Even British readers, whose much trumpeted national veneration of liberty reaches no further than the door of the libel courtroom, will benefit from the samizdat PDFs circulating online once Trump’s legal team cast an eye over the Atlantic in pursuit of a cheap victory.

Peculiar

What we find, in whatever format, is a very peculiar book, albeit compulsively readable, droll and frankly horrifying. The sourcing of various anecdotes in here is a particular problem, to which we shall return; certainly, there is a great deal of eyebrow-raising material, which will be confirmed or refuted in the coming months and years. If even a third of it is true, however, Americans are living through some of the most preposterous events in modern political history. Certainly, those looking for evidence that Trump is not what he often appears to be in the presentation of his hated enemies in the media – a narcissistic, vindictive man-child, a demonic cross between King Joffrey of Game of Thrones and (more…)

Being arrested for union organising, Minneapolis 1934

One of the most important battles fought by workers in the United States in the 1930s was waged by the Teamsters Union in Minneapolis.  Through a series of fights, Minneapolis was converted into a union town and the Teamsters were able to spread organising across the Mid-West.  At the heart of the working class struggle in Minneapolis were a group of teamsters who were union militants and Marxists.  One of the most prominent of these was Vincent Raymond Dunne (1889-1970).  Dunne later spent 16 months in jail for opposition to WW2.

Recently, long-time left-wing activist Howard Petrick, a former anti-Vietnam War GI, produced a play on Dunne and his life. 

by Barbara Gregorich

Howard Petrick’s one-man play, Fight for 52 Cents, is set in 1969, with Vincent Ray Dunne speaking to a meeting. With this as the framing device, Dunne tells his younger-generation audience about his life — the lessons he learned in helping lead the working class in its struggle for better living conditions and why he became a communist.

Howard Petrick as V.R. Dunne

As written and performed by Petrick, Fight for 52 Cents is a well-structured play that treats the audience to the story of Dunne’s life: what events were significant to him, and why; how these events helped shape him and allowed him to stand on a strong foundation.

Childhood experiences

The first event Dunne speaks about is that when he was five years old, his father, who was a street-car conductor in Kansas City, fell into a hole and broke both legs. Because of this accident, his father was not able to work. There was no such thing as workman’s compensation in 19th century United States. Dunne experienced this grave injustice first-hand: the five-year-old child saw that his father was injured and as a result the company he worked for dropped him from existence. The Dunne family was forced to (more…)

“A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.” – New York Times

by Don Franks

In the present climate it’s easy to forget the fact, but United States history is extremely rich in democratic and radical traditions. Along with giant landmarks such as the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war movement and Stonewall there’s the legacy of a radical US labour movement. The heroism of the IWW, where countless organisers were hounded and several of them tortured to death and the struggles of farmworkers, rail workers, miners, eruptions like the Great Flint sit down strike of the 1930s.

In terms of selfless devotion to other human beings, many thousands of working class Americans have a record second to none.

Today, our constant image of the United States is of a deranged people mindlessly and viciously at war with each other.

It has been sixteen years since the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the US government has maintained a   (more…)

Below we’re running an article on a strike that took place in Detroit in 1987.  We’re running it because of what workers here in NZ, and readers around the world, can learn from this dispute.  It’s one where the workers said a resounding “No!” to the company’s demands that they sacrifice conditions and benefits and to the union leaders whose starting point was to make concessions to the employers – and get in the way of workers being able to fight!

This strike against health care giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) went against the wider trend in the US workplace at the time, which was to make concessions and not resist, a trend which is very much dominant in the New Zealand workplace thirty years later.  It was also marked by a large degree of rank-and-file control over the struggle and a continuous battle for workers to maintain this control in the face of manoeuvres by the union bureaucracy to take it over – and bring it to an end.

The BCBSM strike also won support from other workers, most particularly auto workers and a number of local officials in the auto workers’ union. 

The Spark is an American Marxist workers’ group which was active in the strike, Detroit historically being one of their main centres of activity. 

by The Spark

Thirty years ago, workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) went on strike. Chants of “No contract, no work!” and “Don’t get sick tonight: Blue Cross is on strike!” filled the air in downtown Detroit and at other statewide locations. The strike of approximately 4,000 workers began in September 1987, immediately preceding Labor Day. The strike was not over until winter moved in, eighty-three days later, in November.

The healthcare giant, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, dominated the Michigan health care industry and controlled around 70 percent of the industry statewide at that time. It was demanding major concessions at the bargaining table, taking advantage of the fact that the new 1987 contract would now cover all four local unions in offices around Michigan in a Master Labor Agreement. The company viewed it as an opportunity to impose the worst from all of the former agreements, and then some. They were a paternalistic employer; the majority of employees were women and, like public employees, were considered lucky to have decent benefits that included time off for taking care of family needs, and health care as well. Of course, the wages were not equivalent to wages earned by manufacturing workforces that were predominately male.

In the concessionary drive, earlier unspoken agreements regarding benefits as a trade-off for wages were forgotten, as the bosses came after all they could get. Benefits were at the front of their list. Always a company that believed in the stick before the carrot, BCBSM looked to impose drastic cuts in workers’ sick time off provisions and to eliminate policies that gave women workers some needed flexibility in work start times and in taking increments of time off to attend to personal and family needs. While wages were an issue in the strike, the elimination of time-off provisions and the flexibility to be able to avoid discipline and firing while still maintaining their second job, the family, was foremost in women workers’ minds.

The largest number of workers were housed in Detroit, with almost 3,000 unionized employees and almost as many more who were salaried workers, called “exempts,” meaning they couldn’t be in the union. While the union was comprised of clerical, office and professional employees, the majority of the professionals were non-union. Many of them were not particularly well paid. But they were (more…)

Incinerating Hiroshima

by Don Franks

US President Donald Trump now threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea’s country of 26 million people.

This from the leader of the only power that ever used nuclear weapons.

Trump isn’t a one-off nutcase. He follows in the tradition of President Truman.

When the Japanese refused a US ultimatum to surrender unconditionally, Truman ordered the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  On August 6, announcing the dropping of the bomb, he again demanded Japan’s surrender, warning it to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Three days later, on August 9 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki.

Within the first two to four months following the bombings, the acute effects had killed (more…)

Confederate statue comes down in Durham, North Carolina during anti-racist/anti-fascist protest. Picture: CNN.

by The Spark

Trump tweeted that “our history and culture” are being “ripped apart” by the removal of Confederate monuments and statues.

Which history? Whose culture?

These monuments to the “Confederacy” were not erected out of respect to the hundreds of thousands of laboring people, North and South, black and white, who died in the Civil War.

Nor do they commemorate the many poor whites and ex-slaves who joined together to run local Reconstruction governments after the Civil War – establishing medical clinics for the poor population, setting up the first ever public schools for the children of the poor.

The “Confederate” monuments came later, a quarter to a half a century after the end of the Civil War. They were paid for by the same plantation aristocracy whose money supported the growth of (more…)