Archive for the ‘United States – history’ Category

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…)

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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…)

As we noted here a few weeks ago, 1968 was “the year of revolutions” – revolutions in the Third World, the Second World and the First World.  Throughout this year, we’re running articles commemorating especially important events during 1968 and re-advertising articles already on the blog that cover 1968 events.

During the Tet Offensive the imperialist forces came under attack across much of South Vietnam, including in the US embassy compound in Saigon; it was the beginning of the end for the US and its allies in the war

by The Spark
March 5, 2018

In the night between January 31st and February 1st, 1968, during the holiday of Tet (Vietnamese New Year), fighters of the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese guerrilla organization of the National Liberation Front (NLF), rose up against the U.S. military occupation. They took control of more than 100 towns and cities, including the capital, Saigon.

Although, from a military point of view, the disproportionate level of forces did not allow the Viet Cong to hold these cities for more than a month, the world nevertheless viewed the Tet Offensive as an NLF victory. The NLF had proved that it had the support of the majority of the population, whom the ferocious war waged by the most powerful imperialism on the planet had failed to crush.

At the beginning of 1968, there were 500,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Vietnam. They possessed an ultra-modern military arsenal with an unprecedented capacity for destruction and massacre. There was no comparison between this force and what could be put forward by a small country ravaged by French and Japanese imperialism that had already been through 13 years of war.

Despite all this, in one night, some tens of thousands of Viet Cong fighters were able to rattle the most powerful army in the world, deep within its own strongholds in the cities. They went so far as to (more…)

Our 1968 coverage continues although, strictly speaking, this is October 1967. . .

Che was executed without trial in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.  The Cuban leadership declared 1968 “The Year of the Heroic Guerrilla” and supported revolutionary movements throughout Latin America in particular.  Che’s reputation, already very high among newly-radicalising young people around the world, grew significantly in 1968.

Below is the speech about Che delivered on October 18, 1967 by Fidel Castro to a rally of several hundred thousand people in Havana.

I first met Che one day in July or August 1955. And in one night — as he recalls in his account — he became one of the future Granma expeditionaries, although at that time the expedition possessed neither ship, nor arms, nor troops. That was how, together with Raúl, Che became one of the first two on the Granma list. 

Twelve years have passed since then; they have been 12 years filled with struggle and historical significance. During this time death has cut down many brave and invaluable lives. But at the same time, throughout those years of our revolution, extraordinary persons have arisen, forged from among the people of the revolution, and between them, bonds of affection and friendship have emerged that surpass all possible description. 

Tonight we are meeting to try to express, in some degree, our feelings toward one who was among the closest, among the most admired, among the most beloved, and, without a doubt, the most extraordinary of our revolutionary comrades. We are here to express our feelings for him and for the heroes who have fought with him and fallen with him, his internationalist army that has been writing a glorious and indelible page of history.

Che was one of those people who was liked immediately, for his simplicity, his character, his naturalness, his comradely attitude, his personality, his originality, even when one had not yet learned of his other characteristics and unique virtues.

In those first days he was our troop doctor, and so the bonds of friendship and warm feelings for him were ever increasing. He was filled with a profound spirit of hatred and contempt for imperialism, not only because his political education was already considerably developed, but also because, shortly before, he had had the opportunity of witnessing the criminal imperialist intervention in Guatemala through the mercenaries who aborted the revolution in that country.

A person like Che did not require elaborate arguments. It was sufficient for him to know Cuba was in a similar situation and that there were people determined to struggle against that situation, arms in hand. It was sufficient for him to know that those people were inspired by genuinely revolutionary and patriotic ideals. That was more than enough.

One day, at the end of November 1956, he set out on the expedition toward  (more…)

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…)

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…)