Workers Vanguard No. 1013
23 November 2012
Saturday, December 08, 2012
Democrats Target Public Schools, City Unions-Chicago Teachers: Solid Strike, But Key Issues Unresolved
Democrats Target Public Schools, City Unions-Chicago Teachers: Solid Strike, But Key Issues Unresolved
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) hit the picket lines on September 10, shutting down Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for nine days. Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel set the stage for the strike, the first in 25 years. Shortly after assuming office a year and a half ago, he canceled a scheduled, union-negotiated 4 percent pay hike and followed up by laying off 930 teachers, disproportionately black, kicking off an incessant campaign for union givebacks packaged as education “reform.” The mayor demanded a longer workday and school year and set out to replace seniority rights with merit raises and evaluations, giving the school board and principals total power in hiring and firing teachers. To this barrage Emanuel added constant calls on the Democratic-controlled state legislature to fix the teachers’ pension system (in the same manner one fixes one’s pet).
Enraged by this assault, union members were more than eager to strike by the start of the school year in August. The union tops managed to delay the strike’s onset so as not to embarrass the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. But when that was over, tens of thousands of teachers donned red union shirts and poured into the streets, setting up picket lines throughout Chicago. The strike drew widespread support, notably from parents of the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic student population, many of whom joined the pickets. From Boston to Los Angeles, Hawaii and abroad, financial donations and letters of support flowed into CTU headquarters, particularly from other teachers unions.
Unionized teachers throughout the country saw the strike as crucial. The contract approved by the teachers on September 18 was, however, anything but bountiful. It contained a piddling 7 percent raise over its three-year life. The union beat back Emanuel’s demand for merit pay raises and blunted the attacks on seniority by winning limited recall rights for laid-off teachers, although benefits for those laid off were slashed. The demand to restore the stolen 4 percent raise was not included as a strike demand and the union leadership agreed to abandon any attempt to reclaim it, a concession never raised with the CTU ranks. Teachers are now faced with a longer school day and school year.
Backed by their Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), CTU president Karen Lewis and vice president Jesse Sharkey publicly proclaimed one week into the strike that they were happy with the “framework” of a deal that had been worked out at the bargaining table—before any discussion with the membership had been had. But sentiments against the contract ran high at the September 16 delegates’ meeting called to endorse the settlement. When Lewis proclaimed that “this is the deal we got,” delegates responded by shouting “Get it right!” and “Hell no, we won’t go!” The delegates voted to continue the strike, sending union bureaucrats scurrying to mobilize support for the deal. In the end, 21 percent of the teachers voted against the contract.
What animated the CTU members and teachers throughout the country were not the terms of a contract that could, at best, be characterized as a holding action against the mayor’s attack. It was the fact that Chicago teachers had, in determined strike action, taken on the latest of a series of attacks on public employees and, at least, held the line. This stands in stark contrast to the top labor officialdom’s refusal to mobilize strike action against anti-labor campaigns across the country, conspicuously so in the conflict with Republican Wisconsin governor and Tea Party favorite Scott Walker as he carried out an assault on public workers last year.
The Obama administration’s “school reform,” championed in Chicago by the president’s old right-hand man, Rahm Emanuel, is simply a Democratic Party version of these aggressions. It is nothing less than a ransacking of public education carried out with brass knuckles, specifically directed against teachers unions. Nationwide, state governments use federal funding rules to shutter supposedly failing public classrooms in ghettos and barrios while giving a green light to the proliferation of privately run charter schools. Funding to the states for compliance with these rules is weighted toward those that eliminate seniority and tenure. This paves the way for massive layoffs/firings of teachers in schools where students score lower in standardized testing, particularly threatening those in the poorest school districts.
No less than the Republican Party, the other capitalist party, the Democratic Party, is committed to making working and poor people pay for the devastation caused by the ongoing economic crisis. The Republicans, as currently composed, would prefer to smash the unions and public education outright. The Democrats want to further bind the unions to the state, while visiting such savageries as they deem necessary on the already tattered fabric of what passes for public education in this country.
The tops of the trade-union bureaucracy are, for the most part, an integral part of that party. Their loyalty to the class enemy was showcased by the appearance of American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten at the Democratic National Convention to endorse Barack Obama’s re-election on the eve of her union members’ strike against his reforms in Chicago. Just before the CTU strike, she announced, “Now I know the struggle can be settled and I know we can move forward, but we need to find common ground and as Democrats we have to deal with each other.”
Given the pent-up rage of Chicago teachers, CTU leaders could do little else but echo their members’ call for strike action. But from the beginning, Lewis, Sharkey and CORE had accepted Emanuel’s insistence that the critical issues of school closings, layoffs and charter schools were non-negotiable and off limits. Not a word was said about the threats to pensions. Lewis had already hamstrung the union in 2011 by signing off on Illinois Senate Bill 7, which dictated the longer school day and year—without additional compensation—pushed by Emanuel. That legislation also required a 75 percent “yes” vote by the membership to authorize a strike, with ballots not cast counted as “no” votes, a measure designed to cripple the union.
After some initial criticism of Lewis for endorsing the bill, the CTU executive board backed her, and CORE signed off on the measure. Despite this betrayal by the CORE leadership, Chicago teachers blew the 75 percent mandate out of the water, with more than 90 percent voting in favor of striking. Hoping to avoid a contract fight over increased work time, CTU bureaucrats two months before the strike made a separate deal with Emanuel agreeing to lengthen the school day, supposedly by hiring laid-off teachers to work the extra hours. One hundred or more schools are likely to be closed next year, and many of those will probably be opened as non-union charter schools. Teacher layoffs are already beginning.
Since the strike, there has been a push to unionize the charter schools. A drive to organize all Chicago teachers while the strike was on certainly would have fueled enthusiasm for unionization. Lewis and Sharkey have generally taken a hands-off approach to the question of organizing charter school teachers, interpreting current law as enjoining the CTU from undertaking such organizing.
CTU leaders made no attempt to mobilize genuine union solidarity during the strike. There was no effort to seek joint action with the city’s firefighters and transit workers, who are still locked in contract negotiations. Nor was any effort made to bargain jointly with other unions within CPS, like the SEIU, which organizes the janitors who manned schools that functioned as day-care centers during the strike. Quite the contrary, CORE alibied in advance the crossing of picket lines by these unionists.
At the end of the strike, Emanuel launched a TV ad campaign extolling the “virtues” of the contract—no wonder, as it takes the ax to some key union gains. Simultaneously, he demanded that the state legislature provide him with the power he needs to suspend cost-of-living increases for retired teachers while phasing in higher pension contributions and raising the retirement age for CTU members. An Illinois Constitutional Amendment (HJRCA 49) that in effect aims to freeze pension increases for teachers and other public workers was introduced by House Speaker Mike Madigan, who along with his fellow Democrats has for years had total control over all bills issuing from the state legislature. The amendment polled a 56 percent “yes” vote in the recent general election but failed for lack of a three-fifths majority.
This measure makes clear the acceleration of efforts to contain the unions in a web of legal and contract restrictions designed to prevent strike action. Equally clear is that the recent strike is just one battle in Obama/Emanuel’s continuing “reform” war on teachers and their unions. A victory in this war requires a return to the class-struggle methods that built the unions, which won legal recognition of the right to strike, among other gains, by striking. Such militancy is predicated on the knowledge that the interests of the working class and the ruling class are diametrically opposed. It necessitates a program of class independence, breaking all illusions in the capitalist rulers and their agents. The answer is that working people need their own party, a multiracial revolutionary workers party to fight for their class interests.
Union vice president Sharkey is a supporter of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Throughout the period leading up to the strike he uttered not a word of criticism of the course taken by Lewis and defended her action in signing off on Senate Bill 7. Similarly, Socialist Worker, newspaper of the ISO, alibied this cave-in and is now extolling the strike outcome as an out-and-out victory. While acknowledging a concession or two to Emanuel, the ISO presents contract terms as “not only big wins for the CTU, but for teachers everywhere who are opposed to their unions’ retreats on critical questions” (Socialist Worker, 26 September). The ISO’s assessment is completely congruent with that offered by the Democratic Party-loyal union tops. These labor misleaders stand in the way of the struggles that need to be waged. Chicago teachers, who today are working longer hours, who today see their pensions imperiled and who today face the prospect of layoffs, know that the war remains to be fought.
Workers Vanguard No. 1013
23 November 2012
Golden Dawn Fascists Feed on Economic Crisis-Capitalists Bleed Greek Working Class
Down With the European Union! For a Workers Europe!
The following article is from a leaflet by our comrades in the Trotskyist Group of Greece. It was written as an introduction to “Greek Elections: Workers Face More Austerity” (see WV No. 1005, 6 July). The leaflet was distributed at events marking the anniversary of the 17 November 1973 suppression of the Polytechnic student uprising by the military dictatorship, which fell the following year.
Coming off last June’s election, the government alliance of New Democracy, PASOK [the bourgeois Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement] and the Democratic Left have worked to deliver a further €13.5 billion [$17.25 billion] in barbarous austerity cuts to the Greek capitalists and the imperialist overlords of the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). The latter demand the most savage deprivation of the workers and oppressed as the price for so-called “financial aid,” that is, money to keep the bloodsucking international bankers afloat and rescue the Greek bourgeoisie from a default. Not content with slashing even more billions from health care, education, pensions and salaries, the imperialist rulers demand that Greece carry out “labor reform.” This reform is so vicious that even a toady to the capitalists like Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said it would “demolish what is left of workers’ rights.”
Official unemployment has soared to 25 percent for the population as a whole, and to over 50 percent for young people. Almost 60 percent of the unemployed are women. Another 25,000 jobs are slated to be slashed from the public sector within the next year. Meanwhile, the Greek bourgeoisie has driven down labor costs in Greece nearly 12 percent in the last year alone while inflation continues to rise. The Troika [the EU, European Central Bank and IMF] demands that the national labor agreement apply only to unionized workers so that the bourgeoisie can starve the most vulnerable workers and further divide and weaken the labor movement.
In addition to the desperate conditions facing the working class, a section of Greece’s large petty bourgeoisie faces ruin, especially small store owners and family businesses. One in four stores around the country have closed in the last year and in Athens 42 percent have gone out of business. The all-round social crisis is also reflected in a public healthcare system nearing collapse, with regular shortages of medicine and basic supplies. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed people have been left with no health care whatsoever. As an Athens cancer doctor quoted in the New York Times (24 October) put it: “In Greece right now, to be unemployed means death.”
In response to the ever worsening conditions of life for workers and their families, there have been many protest strikes in different sectors so far this autumn, along with several one and two-day general strikes called by the GSEE and ADEDY union federations. Large protests during German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens last month made a mockery of the government’s attempt to ban demonstrations. Despite these displays of working-class anger and militancy, the imperialists and their domestic lackeys in the Greek bourgeoisie are determined to use the financial crisis to turn back the clock and destroy the few remaining gains workers have won from their struggles against unbridled exploitation.
Nazi Worshippers Feed on Capitalist Reaction
In opposition to a restive working class, the capitalists are willing to enlist not only the repressive forces of the capitalist state—the cops and the courts—but also the shock troops of national chauvinist reaction, such as Golden Dawn. With anger at the governing parties growing every day, the latest polls show increased support for both the [leftist] Syriza coalition and the fascist Golden Dawn, who are ominously coming third. The disintegration of Greek society is fueling a deep political polarization. The atmosphere of heightened state repression against immigrants, leftists and workers combined with the lack of a revolutionary leadership to lead the working class out of this impasse is the context for the growth of fascist reaction.
The rapid rise of the Nazi-loving Golden Dawn is not an aberration—the capitalists hold the fascists in reserve because they are a useful weapon against the workers in times of instability. Indeed, the Greek bourgeoisie has a long history of great savagery against the working class, resorting to right-wing terror, bonapartist dictatorships and military rule to smash the workers movement. Golden Dawn is the latest incarnation of this Greek tradition. In a country where hundreds of thousands perished under Nazi occupation during World War II, Golden Dawn occasionally denies its Nazi inspiration and makes a show of handing out food parcels to impoverished Greeks and “protecting” elderly residents from crimes supposedly committed by immigrants. But their Hitler salutes and Nazi-inspired insignia and slogans are unmistakable. Their electoral success in June and growing popularity since have emboldened these racist terrorists, who regularly carry out bloody rampages against immigrants and their defenders.
Contrary to the hypocritical pronouncements by the government against Golden Dawn, these fascist marauders are taking their cue directly from the Greek capitalist state, which has rounded up over 16,000 immigrants just since August. The government is completing a fence along the Turkish border to keep out immigrants, many of them desperate refugees from the hells created by the imperialists in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. Golden Dawn goes one further by proposing to plant land mines along the border. The capitalists and their Golden Dawn minions try to deflect the blame onto immigrants for the crisis that the capitalists themselves have brought upon the masses. In opposition to this, the workers movement must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations!
It is no surprise that an estimated 50 to 60 percent of police sympathize politically with Golden Dawn given that repressing leftists and terrorizing immigrants are an essential part of police work. A vivid example of this was the police torture of 40 anti-fascist activists arrested on September 30 and October 1, as publicized by the London Guardian. The first 15 of these activists were arrested after courageously defending immigrants against Golden Dawn scum in the streets of Athens, while the other 25 were arrested for protesting in their comrades’ defense. One of the activists interviewed by the Guardian explained: “They spat on me and said we would die like our grandfathers in the civil war.” We, the Trotskyist Group of Greece, demand that all charges against the anti-fascist activists be dropped immediately! The Minister of Public Order threatened to sue the Guardian, and two television reporters, Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi, were summarily suspended because they had the courage to hint that the minister could not pursue his threat because the reports of police torture were credible.
Among the defenders of immigrant rights in the sights of Golden Dawn is lawyer Yianna Kourtovik, whom Golden Dawn attacked with eggs and beat up on September 25 outside the Agios Panteleimon police station as the police, not surprisingly, looked on. Well known for her defense of leftists and immigrants, Kourtovik has been taunted on the street by policemen chanting “Blood! Honor! Golden Dawn!” It is hardly a secret that the cops and the courts collude with the fascists—the press reports that residents complaining to the police about immigrants in their neighborhood are directed to Golden Dawn to take care of matters.
KKE: Touching Faith in the Capitalist State
The TGG stands against the deadly illusion, spread by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other groups on the left, in the capitalist state and its police forces. In a September 7 article in Rizospastis, the KKE reports as positive its participation in a demonstration by the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Police Employees, quoting the statement of KKE leading cadre Spiros Halvatzis to the cops:
“We believe that the working people of the security forces should not allow themselves to be used as the long arm of the bourgeois state to smash the working-class, trade-union movement. What is needed is unity, rallying, common action with the rest of the workers.”
This grotesque appeal for unity with the police is the polar opposite of a Marxist understanding of the state. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin explained in his key work, The State and Revolution, the capitalist state is “the ‘special coercive force’ for the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie.” Lenin explained that this state power “consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command.” In other words, the security forces of the state exist for the very purpose of smashing the working class and the unions when they pose a threat to the capitalist class. Appealing to the cops to stop being the guard dogs of capital is nothing more nor less than pleading for the peaceful and democratic reform of the dictatorship of capital. In doing so, the KKE tops foster the lie that the capitalist state can be made to serve the interests of the working class.
At the same demonstration, a KKE trade unionist, Ilias Stamelos, said: “PAME [KKE trade-union formation], with its presence, wishes to express its solidarity with the just demands of those in uniform, the majority of whom live on poverty wages.” Far from shedding any tears over the “poverty” of those whose job it is to attack workers and the oppressed, the TGG calls for: All cops, prison and security guards out of the unions! As Leon Trotsky wrote: “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker” (What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, 27 January 1932). While the KKE leadership has no problem standing in solidarity with the fascist-infested Greek police in their demands for better pay, it outrageously smears anarchist protesters as allies of the fascists: “Let’s not forget that these kinds of fascist forces acted jointly with para-state, hooded anarcho-autonomes” (Rizospastis, 16 October).
Deadly Threat to Immigrants, Gays, Workers
Golden Dawn has lately joined forces with reactionaries of the Greek Orthodox church, a central pillar of the capitalist order in Greece which fuels all-sided social reaction and national chauvinism, in particular against Turkey and Muslims, in order to tie the exploited to the Greek bourgeoisie. In Athens on October 11, Golden Dawn members and a religious rabble wielding icons and crucifixes terrorized patrons and performers of a play depicting Jesus and the apostles as gay men. A journalist was brutally assaulted by Golden Dawn members shouting anti-gay and racist epithets in full view of the police. Lately, there have been a number of attacks on gay men. It is in the interests of the working class to defend gay people against this poisonous reaction, as we wrote in “The Founding of the Trotskyist Group of Greece” (November 2004):
“A Trotskyist group must be a Leninist ‘tribune of the people.’ And for Greece, where the ultra-reactionary Orthodox church has enormous influence, the oppression of women is extreme. The Greek ‘holy trinity’ of ‘homeland-religion-family’ which the capitalist state promotes is strongly connected with the national and the woman questions. A central issue for Trotskyists must be the fight for the liberation of women through socialist revolution and opposition to women’s oppression. We fight for full democratic rights for homosexuals, in opposition to the male-chauvinist, homophobic Greek society and the Greek left. We are for the separation of church and state.”
Our call for the separation of church and state is underscored by the recent arrest of a man from the island of Evia on charges of blasphemy. Due to a protest in parliament by a Golden Dawn MP, this man faces charges that can result in up to two years in prison for the “crime” of satirizing a famous monk as Elder Pastitsios [a pun on a popular pasta dish] on Facebook!
For Workers United-Front Mobilizations Against the Fascists!
While Golden Dawn currently aim their attacks primarily against immigrants, gays and leftists, their ultimate purpose is to crush the organizations of the working class in order to save the capitalists, as Mussolini’s forces did in Italy in the 1920s and Hitler’s in Germany in the 1930s. Having led the October Revolution alongside Lenin in 1917, Leon Trotsky sought to bring the lessons of that struggle to the German proletariat in the early 1930s as they faced the rise of the Nazis. In What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, Trotsky explained the social roots of fascism:
“Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie, and bands of the declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat; all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy....
“The gist of fascism and its task consist in a complete suppression of all workers’ organizations and the prevention of their revival. In a developed capitalist society this goal cannot be achieved by police methods alone. There is only one method for it, and that is directly opposing the pressure of the proletariat—the moment it weakens—by the pressure of the desperate masses of the petty bourgeoisie.”
Trotsky consistently warned that the reformist misleaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and of the Stalinist Communist Party (KPD) downplayed the danger represented by the fascist menace and urged the KPD to initiate mass united-front actions jointly with SPD workers to defend the workers and the oppressed against the Nazi stormtroopers and to destroy them while they were still small.
Central to the fight against fascism then and today is an understanding of the centrality of the working class. As Trotsky pointed out in 1931:
“The main army of fascism still consists of the petty bourgeoisie and the new middle class.... On the scales of election statistics, a thousand fascist votes weigh as much as a thousand Communist votes. But on the scales of the revolutionary struggle, a thousand workers in one big factory represent a force a hundred times greater than a thousand petty officials, clerks, their wives, and their mothers-in-law.”
— “Germany, the Key to the International Situation”
The recent brutal abuse of anti-fascist protesters by the Athens police underscores that the strategy of small groups of leftists mobilizing to defend immigrants against fascists, while courageous, is not an effective means of destroying the Golden Dawn menace.
The violent racist attacks on immigrants and others by mobs of Golden Dawn fascists pose the urgent need to mobilize contingents of workers, based on the trade unions, to defend immigrants and sweep the fascist vermin off the streets. What is necessary is to fight to remove the political obstacles to mobilizing the power of the trade unions against Golden Dawn. The KKE has the social weight in the trade unions to take the lead in doing this, but its promotion of illusions in bourgeois democracy and its nationalist populism are barriers. The reformist organizations that compose groups such as Antarsya also reinforce the political obstacles, in particular by tailing the pro-EU Syriza coalition, which promises to provide immigrants more “humane” conditions of imprisonment and to put more cops on the streets to fight “crime.” While groups in Antarsya may claim to be against the EU (or for Greece to get out of the EU), their preference for a “left” capitalist government headed by Syriza and aspirations to pressure such a government show how hollow their anti-EU posture is. In an interview with International Viewpoint (June 2012), Dimitris Hilaris of the OKDE-Spartakos (part of the Antarsya coalition) stated: “Syriza has been able to provide a credible solution to the situation, through the slogan of a left government” (“Toward a Government that Will Break with the Troika?”). Given that the EU is responsible for driving down the conditions of life in Greece and fueling the growth of the fascists, you can’t lead a struggle against fascism without trenchant opposition to the capitalist EU.
The leadership of the KKE has lately argued that a front against fascism is not needed and that Golden Dawn merely needs to be “exposed.” In a speech to the European Communist Meeting in Brussels on October 1-2, KKE general secretary Aleka Papariga acknowledged that Golden Dawn is developing along the lines of the “hit squads of the Hitler period” and that cells of the security forces of the capitalist state work with them. However:
“It cannot be dealt with on the basis of an anti-fascist front or a front against violence in general whatever its source, because such a stance will lead to an attack on the movement itself. Golden Dawn must be dealt with by the organized movement itself, in the workplaces, the sectors, in the popular organizations, by exposing its role as a supporter of the system, and dealing with the criminal offences they commit with their murderous attacks which they name as taking the law into their own hands.”
What the KKE means by “dealing with the criminal offences they commit with their murderous attacks” is to rely on the capitalist state to prosecute them. An example was the demand by PAME leaders on the Minister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias: “We call on you to take measures for stricter control for the safety and protection of all citizens, Greek and immigrant” (Rizospastis, 18 July). In fact, the biggest danger of “an attack on the movement itself” comes from believing in the democratic pretensions of the capitalist state, which is exactly what the KKE misleaders do when they beg the minister to send forces of repression to “defend” immigrants. Mass proletarian united-front mobilizations against the fascists are the only way to ensure that the fascists cannot continue to grow and attack the organized workers movement.
Because it is capitalism that gives birth to the scourge of fascism, the struggle against forces like Golden Dawn must be linked to the fight for the overthrow of capitalist rule in Greece and internationally. Indeed, the working class can only win the ruined petty bourgeoisie to its side and away from the fascists by fighting for a socialist solution to the capitalist crisis. It must fight to combat mass unemployment by demanding the sharing of available work, with no loss of pay, and a massive program of public works. To stop the decline in living conditions, workers must demand that wages be indexed to inflation. To unmask the exploitation, robbery and fraud of the industrialists and bankers, workers should demand that the capitalists open their (real) books. The proletariat must fight for the expropriation of the productive property of the capitalist class as a whole and the establishment of a planned economy under workers rule, where production would be based on social need, not profit. This struggle must extend from the countries most severely ravaged by the crisis in Europe so far like Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain and from the superexploited proletarian masses of neocolonial countries like South Africa and India, to the imperialist powers like the U.S., Germany and Japan, where workers are also under the gun.
The capitalist European Union serves to pit workers of different countries against each other. In opposition to the national chauvinism whipped up by this capitalist crisis, we understand that the fight for international socialist revolution and a Socialist United States of Europe is key to leading the Greek working class out of its desperate situation. As Trotsky noted in 1930, “the slogan of the proletarian unification of Europe is...a very important weapon in the struggle against the abomination of fascist chauvinism” (The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany, 26 September 1930).
Workers Vanguard No. 1013
23 November 2012
Outrage Over Death of Woman Denied Abortion-For Free Abortion on Demand!
Across Ireland, thousands of people, representing a broad cross section of society, came out on November 17 to protest the cruel death of Savita Halappanavar. Seventeen weeks pregnant, she was admitted to University Hospital in Galway on October 21 with severe back pains and was told she was having a miscarriage. Despite her repeated requests for a medical termination, doctors refused to do the procedure on the grounds that the fetal heartbeat was still detectable. After days of agony, she died of septicemia, a victim of the anti-woman, clericalist policies of the Irish capitalist state.
The demonstrations are the largest rallies challenging Ireland’s draconian ban on abortion since the “X case” in 1992, when a court ruling barred a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country to obtain an abortion. The mass protests at that time forced the Supreme Court to lift the injunction in this one case, and the teenager was allowed to travel to England for an abortion. The court said that a woman could obtain an abortion if there was a “real and substantial risk” to her life, but in general women could still be legally barred from leaving the country to get the procedure. Abortion remains criminalized under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, buttressed by the anti-abortion Eighth Amendment to the constitution, and runs directly counter to the entrenched Catholic “ethos” of the hospitals, many of which are still controlled by the church.
We reprint below a November 16 Spartacist League/Britain leaflet distributed by International Communist League comrades at protests in Dublin and outside the Irish Embassy in London.
* * *
The agonising death of Savita Halappanavar on 28 October, after being repeatedly denied an abortion, is the latest atrocity against women by the Irish clericalist state. It shows that, 20 years after Ireland was swept by mass protests over the “X case,” nothing fundamental has changed: a woman can not get an abortion to save her life. The barbaric treatment of the young Indian woman in hospital has caused widespread outrage and there is massive support for an end to Ireland’s virtual ban on abortion. Halappanavar’s mother bitterly condemned Ireland’s abortion laws, saying: “In an attempt to save a 4-month-old foetus they killed my 30-year-old daughter” (The Hindu, 15 November).
The question starkly posed today is how come, in the 21st century, a woman who was suffering a miscarriage was denied an abortion that could have prevented her death? Ireland is “a Catholic country,” the dying woman was told. Make no mistake: any effective fight for abortion rights necessarily means a hard-fought struggle against the full force of clerical reaction and against the capitalist state.
The mass protests in 1992 forced the Supreme Court to rule that the young woman known as “X” could go abroad for an abortion. At the time, the liberals and leftists who led the campaign lulled the mass movement into thinking that legislation for abortion rights would follow automatically. Such illusions in the Irish capitalist state were used to demobilise the struggle. We warned that:
“The women of Ireland and all those who favour abortion rights still face a bitter struggle for what is needed: free abortion and contraception on demand. It can rarely have been clearer that it will take working-class revolution to break the power of the church in society, and that the reformist parties of the Irish working class are utterly tied to the capitalist system of austerity, oppression and bigotry.”
— Workers Hammer No. 129, May/June 1992
The struggle for abortion rights, for the separation of church and state, as well as for decent healthcare and education provision, means a fight against the whole reactionary edifice of capitalism. It is in the direct interest of the working class—men and women—to take up the fight for free abortion on demand, as part of the struggle to free itself from capitalist austerity, exploitation and oppression. Irish society is no longer in thrall to the clergy, as it was for many decades. But the church maintains much control of education and healthcare—many hospitals abide by Catholic ethical codes. The right to an abortion should not be subject to the moral views of doctors or hospital management. For free abortion on demand! For free public healthcare for all! For separation of church and state!
Under capitalism, democratic rights are the product of social struggle and must constantly be defended against attack. In the 20 years since the “X case,” anti-abortion forces have relentlessly tried to reverse any opening for abortion rights that has been won, such as the right to information on abortion services and to travel abroad for an abortion. It is delusional to think that the capitalist parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, or for that matter Labour, a bourgeois workers party, will mount a fundamental challenge to reactionary Catholic forces over abortion rights. Yet these are the parties that reformists are capitulating to, restricting their demands to calling for legislation conforming to the Supreme Court ruling in the “X case.” This boils down to calling for abortion to be legalised only in cases where the woman’s life is in danger. The call for “free abortion,” which the Socialist Workers Party [Irish followers of the late Tony Cliff] tacked on to the end of a leaflet issued on 14 November, is merely a fig leaf covering their prostration before the Irish state.
Labour Tánaiste [Deputy Prime Minister] Eamon Gilmore has promised that the government will introduce guidelines stating when abortion is permitted. Of course Marxists defend any legal right to abortion, however limited, that might be achieved. Any legalisation of abortion would cause a rift within the government, with several Fine Gael TDs [members of parliament] insisting that no legislation be produced. A dividing line also runs through Sinn Féin, as [its president] Gerry Adams admitted, saying: “I realise there are strongly held opposing views, including within Sinn Féin and throughout society, on the issue of medical termination.” Adams concludes with the standard call for the government to provide legislation, no doubt assuming that such legislation will pander to the anti-abortion bigots, including those within his own party.
Clare Daly (formerly of the Socialist Party) and other TDs elected on the United Left Alliance ticket, put a motion in the Dáil [Irish parliament] earlier this year, solely designed “to provide for termination of pregnancy where a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother exists” (Irish Times, 22 February). In the Dáil debate following the death of Savita Halappanavar, seven “left” TDs—Patrick Nulty, Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Richard Boyd Barrett, Joe Higgins and Catherine Murphy—all pleaded with the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government to legislate “for abortion under the terms permitted by the Supreme Court ruling in the X case” (thejournal.ie, 15 November).
Labour Party senator Ivana Bacik likewise demands legislation, to “save the lives of pregnant women” (Irish Times, 16 November). Bacik cites the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify the legal position on abortion. The government set up an “expert group” to produce recommendations on how to comply with the European Court ruling, but would prefer to postpone a decision as long as possible. Many today still look to the European Union to liberalise Ireland’s laws on abortion, and to permit gay marriage, etc. Such hopes are likely to be in vain. We oppose the European Union, an imperialist club that is dictating savage attacks on working people in Ireland, as well as in Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Limiting the demands for abortion rights to cases where the woman’s life is in danger is a betrayal of the basic needs of Irish women, thousands of whom are forced to travel to Britain every year for an abortion. To get an idea of what government legislation might look like, women in the South need only look across the border to Northern Ireland, where abortion is only available in cases where there is “a risk to the life of the woman or a risk of real and serious adverse effect to her physical and mental health on either a long-term or permanent basis.” Abortion in the North is regulated by criminal law, and is “punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment” (Irish Times, 12 October).
The newly opened Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast, offering non-surgical abortions up to nine weeks, met with howls of protest from both Catholic and Protestant reactionaries. An article in the Irish Times (22 October) noted: “Last year only some 43 legal abortions were performed in the North while the Family Planning Association referred 40 women a week from there to British clinics for a private abortion. Like their Southern counterparts, the boat to Britain has been the only real option.” For the overwhelming majority of working-class and poor women, the “right” to have an abortion without the means to pay still leaves them without much “choice.” Women in Ireland, North and South, depend on the availability of abortion services in Britain, where abortion was legalised in 1967. However today the right to abortion in Britain has faced repeated threats, including an attempt to reduce the time limit of 24 weeks. Birth control and abortion remain restricted throughout the capitalist world by the state, by the institution of the family, and by organised religion, which all serve to enforce women’s oppression.
The fight for abortion rights must be linked to the struggle for women’s liberation through socialist revolution. As we noted in 1992, in opposition to liberals and reformists who trimmed their demands to what they thought was least likely to provoke reactionary forces: “This Gordian knot of bourgeois ‘constitutional’ legal wrangling can only be cut in a progressive sense by a tough, principled, iron-hard fight: not for this reform or that wording but for what is needed by women and the working class” (“For a Working Class-Centred Fight for Free Abortion on Demand!” Workers Hammer No. 129, May/June 1992). Socialist revolution will tear down the clericalist capitalist system in the South and that of the Loyalist masters in the North. The construction of a planned economy alone can provide quality healthcare and make abortion and contraception free and safe, on demand. Such a society would provide jobs for everyone, laying the material basis for the genuine liberation of women. We seek to build proletarian internationalist parties dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism on both sides of the Irish border and both sides of the Irish Sea.
Workers Vanguard No. 1013
23 November 2012
Economic Crisis and the Politics of Fear-Obama’s Re-Election: The Shell Game of Lesser-Evilism
For a Workers Party That Fights for a Workers Government!
On all sides the 2012 U.S. presidential election can be captured in one word: fear. Amid a persistent economic crisis, which has left working people in ruin across the globe, the Republicans thought they could ride back into the White House on the votes of the Tea Party yahoos, Christian fundamentalists and other such reactionaries who believe that Obama and the “takers” are driving America down the road to a socialist Sodom and Gomorrah. Against the backdrop of millions of unemployed and a growing army of homeless, hungry and destitute, Mitt Romney reviled the “47 percent” of this society who “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” As Romney called on the nearly 12 million “illegal” immigrants in the U.S. to “self deport,” other Republican candidates raved about “legitimate rape” and reveled in biblical scripture against gays and other “deviants.”
When measured against their Republican opponents, it wasn’t difficult for the Democrats to come off as the “lesser evil.” They didn’t even have to promise much of anything to the working class and the oppressed. A couple of sops were thrown as Obama allowed that his personal views had “evolved” toward tepidly endorsing gay marriage and granted some undocumented immigrant youth a temporary reprieve from deportation. Labor got nothing, not even a repeat of the empty promises from last time around to push through the Employee Free Choice Act card checkoff for union organizing—an effort that the union officialdom has simply dropped. This year nothing was necessary to piece off the union misleaders, who once again rallied the troops and spent massive amounts of union funds to get out the vote for the Democrats. As for the increasingly indigent black masses, the most they’ve gotten from the Obama White House is a lecture to pull themselves up by their nonexistent bootstraps.
While the hope and enthusiasm aroused by the election of America’s first black president may have waned, there remains a deep sense of racial pride and solidarity with Obama among the black population. This was reinforced by the backlash from Republican Party “birthers,” who question Obama’s U.S. citizenship. In these types, black people correctly perceive the forces of racist reaction that want to roll back the remaining gains of the civil rights movement, seen not least in various unsuccessful schemes to suppress black voter turnout. The reactionaries also want to take a hatchet to the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to former black slaves after the Civil War and extended this right to anyone else born in the U.S., namely the children of immigrants. What black people feared was seen at the campus of “Ole Miss” on election night, when white students rioted after learning the results, screaming racial epithets and burning an Obama-Biden election sign.
By the count of the Electoral College, Obama won handily, and he beat Romney in the popular vote by roughly three percentage points. Romney captured the lion’s share of the white vote, particularly men and particularly in the vast majority of the states of the former Confederacy as well as the rural areas of the “heartland.” Obama was backed by well over 90 percent of the black electorate and more than 70 percent of Latinos and Asian Americans, also getting the support of single women, young people, gays and families with annual incomes under $50,000.
Although Obama’s 2008 election was celebrated as the beginning of the “end of racism,” black people overall are far worse off today than they were four years ago. Black unemployment has spiked, wages have flatlined and median wealth has crashed. The wave of foreclosures has black families staying in homeless shelters at seven times the rate of whites. This is not to mention the White House-led assault on public education that has written off ghetto schools. The stark reality is that black oppression, which is structurally embedded in American capitalism, is not going to be overcome short of socialist revolution, whereby the working class rips the economy out of the hands of the racist capitalist rulers and reorganizes it on an egalitarian socialist basis.
The Devil Didn’t Make Him Do It
On the heels of the president’s re-election, liberals, the trade-union bureaucracy and black Democratic Party politicians are peddling the myth that “now Obama will fight for us.” By their lights, Obama was prevented from doing so in his first term by the economic and other “messes,” such as the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, left behind by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
As we wrote at the time of Obama’s 2008 election:
“From the standpoint of the international working class and oppressed there is nothing to celebrate in Obama’s victory and much to fear. Enthusiasm among large sections of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, is justified. After nearly eight years of one of the most incompetent and widely despised regimes in recent U.S. history, they now have in Obama a more rational face for their brutal, irrational system. Obama has also inspired illusions in the trappings of bourgeois democracy, the means by which the capitalists disguise their rule with the appearance of a popular mandate. Abroad, Obama provides an invaluable facelift for U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of the world’s working people.”
— “Obama: Commander-in-Chief of Racist U.S. Imperialism,” WV No. 925, 21 November 2008
Since then, Obama has cut the losses for U.S. imperialism by drawing down the number of troops in Iraq, leaving behind a residual military force to help police the region, and is preparing an eventual pullout from Afghanistan. At the same time, his administration has ratcheted up the global “war on terror,” with the numbers of those killed by U.S. drones soon to top 3,000 under a president who keeps his own “terrorist” kill list. While liberals hail White House plans to trim some Pentagon spending—a bit of economic correction by the ruling class—this will not in the least cut into the military predominance of U.S. imperialism, which spends more on its war machine than the next 14 largest spenders combined. On the home front, with its electronic and other monitoring of the purported “enemy within,” the Obama administration has outstripped the Bush-Cheney government in assaulting the constitutional rights of the population.
As for the notion that it was Bush administration plans that forced Obama’s hand in bailing out the Wall Street bankers whose financial swindles had triggered a global economic meltdown, let’s hear it from the man himself. Not long after Obama came into office, he had his first meeting with these high-rolling perps. In his book Confidence Men (2011), Ron Suskind cites a top banking executive: “The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over.” Instead, Obama assured the assembled titans of U.S. finance capital: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.... I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you.”
Here is a pure expression of the role of the Democratic Party as one of the dual parties of capital. Its occasional posture as the “friend” of labor, minorities and the poor is aimed at heading off class and social struggle against the capitalist rulers. The lunacy of the Republican Party is simply an extreme expression of a decaying system whose masters see in the present economic crisis an opportunity to further starve the poor, bust the unions, drive down wages and slash such social programs as remain. The Democrats do the same thing because they serve the same interests; they just try to put a “kinder, gentler” face on it. In his 27 September column on the presidential contest, titled “From Hope to Fear,” America’s foremost class-war prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, summed it up: “Truth is, both are essentially advocates of austerity. One wants to slap people with it; the other slaps you as well. He just says he hated to do it.”
That the presidential election was among the most polarized on racial, social and, in many ways, class lines in recent U.S. history speaks to the anger and discontent at the base of this society. But such discontent is massively distorted by the electoral circus, a keystone of the whole fraud of bourgeois democracy. In The State and Revolution (1917), Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin succinctly described bourgeois elections as providing voters with the chance to “decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people.”
As revolutionary Marxists, it is our purpose to fight to translate discontent among the toiling masses into a conscious understanding that the working class needs its own party—not a parliamentary vehicle vying to be the administrators of the capitalist state but a party championing the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the fight for workers rule. A central obstacle to this fight is the labor bureaucracy, which has long subordinated the struggles and interests of the proletariat to the class enemy, particularly through the agency of the Democratic Party.
The Labor Lieutenants of U.S. Imperialism
The AFL-CIO tops are patting themselves on the back for their role in Obama’s re-election, particularly in such battleground states as Ohio and Wisconsin. These two have also been battleground states for labor, with Ohio auto workers and Wisconsin public workers getting pummeled thanks to their misleaders’ prostration before the Democrats. In 2009, the United Auto Workers tops worked hand in glove with Obama on the GM and Chrysler bailouts, which wrested massive concessions from a union that was once the powerhouse of the labor movement. In 2011, the anger of tens of thousands of workers and their allies who rallied against Wisconsin Republican governor Scott Walker’s union-busting assault on public workers was channeled into a campaign to recall Walker and replace him with an anti-union Democrat. Even that crime didn’t pay, as the recall went down to defeat.
Such has not curbed the enthusiasm of self-proclaimed socialists like the Workers World Party, whose editorial “Obama Wins, Struggle Begins” proclaims: “While unions have been declared dead many times by bourgeois pundits, they showed their muscle, going door to door in places like Wisconsin” (Workers World, 7 November). What a shameless statement of the bankruptcy of the reformist left, whose politics mirror those of the labor bureaucracy whom they serve as water boys.
Far from “showing muscle,” the labor officialdom is so averse to employing the strike weapon to defend what exists of organized labor—much less to replenish its ranks through organizing the millions of unorganized workers—that in Michigan they put up a referendum to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. To make absolutely clear where they stand, the bureaucrats explicitly allowed that lawmakers could ban public employee strikes! Even with such reassurances, this measure sparked an all-out propaganda counteroffensive and was handily defeated. No wonder: the union misleaders were appealing to a voting public that includes the big bosses, small businessmen, preachers and others for whom the unions are a scourge.
The rights of workers to organize, strike, picket and shut down production have never been codified in the Constitution. The reason is simple: they collide with the only actual guaranteed rights in this society, the property rights of the capitalist owners that are the foundation for the profits they extract through the exploitation of labor. Everything of value that workers have won has been gained through hard-fought, often bloody, class battles against the employers and their state.
With Obama now turning his attention to the government’s supposed fiscal crisis, the name of the game for the labor tops is mobilizing the ranks to back him. Two days after the elections, the union bureaucracy organized rallies in more than 100 cities to demand higher taxes on the rich and no cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry explained: “We expect to have the president’s back on the agenda that the voters just declared support for,” adding that “the president has always said he needs a movement behind his mandate” (New York Times, 13 November).
The very idea that the U.S. economy is about to take a nose dive off a “fiscal cliff” is an invention. As even the New York Times (15 November) admitted, manufactured budget crises have been a convenient means, going back to the Reagan administration, of enforcing “unpopular tax and spending actions.” Playing the race card by decrying mythical black “welfare queens” living off the tax dollars of “hard-working” Americans, the Republican Reagan manufactured a debt crisis to shred the “war on poverty” programs that were enacted to buy social peace following the mass ghetto upheavals of the 1960s. But it took Democratic president Bill Clinton to finally eliminate “welfare as we know it.” As he did during the 2011 “debt ceiling” crisis, Obama has now made it perfectly clear that he is willing to strike a “grand bargain” with the Republicans that would cut billions from programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as long as they throw him a bone on the Bush tax cuts.
In a 7 November editorial, Socialist Worker online, publication of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), declares: “We Don’t Want ‘Four More-of-the-Same Years’.” The key for them, as always, is to make the Democrats fight. In the words of Chicago Teachers Union vice president and ISO supporter Jesse Sharkey: “Democrats respond when they are pushed.... If the wind’s blowing hard enough they’ll move” (London Guardian, 9 November). No doubt in the offing is the ritual huffing and puffing by the reformist left to demand that Obama “tax the rich” to provide money for jobs, education, welfare and other programs.
The banks and corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the ill-gotten gains of a system based on the exploitation of the many for the profits of the few. The problem is that you’re not going to get your hands on it by appealing to the capitalist rulers to reorder their priorities to serve human needs. Contrary to the bourgeois-democratic myth of government by and for the people, the policies of U.S. imperialism are determined not by the electorate or by “pressure from below” but by the interests of the capitalist ruling class, as overseen by Democrats and Republicans alike. To win what’s necessary, the working class has to smash the rule of the bourgeoisie! What’s needed is a workers government that expropriates the capitalists’ productive wealth and establishes a rationally planned socialist economy.
It Is Desperately Necessary to Fight!
On election night, dejected FOX-TV commentator Bill O’Reilly blamed demographics for the results, lamenting: “It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff.... The white establishment is now the minority.” It is worth noting that white Christian fundamentalists, first introduced into the political mainstream not by the Republicans but under Democratic Party president Jimmy Carter, have lost political sway. But it is not as if they ever represented the views of the majority of the population. Rather, they were a convenient ideological battering ram wielded by the capitalist rulers to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement, regiment and “morally rearm” the population to ward off social upheaval and advance the Cold War against “godless Communism” abroad.
With millions unemployed or scrambling to get by through miserably paid part-time work, with many thrown out of their homes, with pension and health care benefits looted and lengthening lines for whatever public assistance is available, people do indeed “want stuff,” like a decent job, a place to live, food, education for their children, health care. The Republicans overplayed their “kill ’em all, god will know his own” glorification of robber baron capitalism. At the same time, the decades of betrayals by the fakers sitting atop the unions have encouraged the U.S. rulers in the arrogant belief that they can get away with further impoverishing the working class, starving the ghetto and barrio poor and killing the sick and aged. But it is not possible to eliminate the class struggle, which is born of the irreconcilable conflict between labor and its exploiters.
Much pressure has been building at the base of this society, and at some point it can and will explode. Harnessing and directing this anger toward the eradication of a system based on exploitation and rooted in racial oppression is, at bottom, a question of leadership. The key to unlocking the social power that lies in the hands of the multiracial working class is to break the political chains forged by the trade-union misleaders that have shackled labor to its exploiters. To end the ravages produced by the anarchic system of production for profit requires forging a revolutionary workers party. Defending the interests of workers, blacks, immigrants and others against the exploiters, such a party would provide the necessary leadership for sweeping away the entire system of capitalist wage slavery through proletarian socialist revolution.
Jake LeFleur (nee Jeanbon, but no one called him that, except old country mere and grandmere called him that, not if you didn’t want as much corner boy trouble as you could handle, maybe more. Jake, like many French-Canadian (F-C) next generation guys wanted none of that old country patios-church bow down-poor boy from hunger stuff but to be a pure vanilla American be-bop daddy and bon this and bon that was not part of the program, not against the Downeast Yankee and Irish toughs) had it bad, had it bad as a man (young man, okay, twenty-three) could have it for a girl (oops, young woman, twenty-two) and still be able to breath, breath normally.
And she, Marnie Capet she, the object of one Jake LeFleur’s palsied breath, knew that hard fact, and depended on it for a time to keep Jake in that state.But before you say “dames what can you do with them, or without them” like all of Jake’s corner boys whom he hung around with in front of Jimmy Jake’s Diner I (run by Jacques Jean LeBlanc who had enough sense to anglo-up the names of his establishments, that one on Atlantic Avenue, number II, for the touristas and blue-haired lady luncheon specials and the one on Main Street, number I, that catered to the younger set, and that had a be-bop bop jukebox with every possible tune for the music hungry young to deposit their three for a quarter selections in) said every time they heard the latest installment of the Marnie leading Jake by the nose saga hear her side. Then, perhaps, you will not worry so much about the how and whys of Jake’s breathing.
Marnie, for all the world to know, for all the important world to know in 1958 in Olde Saco, Maine, and that meant her friends, her friends known since high school, if not before, now mainly working alongside of her in the front offices of the MacAdams Textile Mills which drove the town’s economy, her girls, whom she hung around on Friday and Saturday nights in front of, guess, Jimmy Jake’s Diner (the one on Main Street, naturally) , had been minding her own business when one Jake LeFleur came swooping down on her a few months before. And she would swear on a stack of seven, hell, seventy sealed bibles (as all her “corner girls” would attest to after they had heard the latest installment of the Jake leading Marnie by the nose saga) that she had no intention of finding herself riding in Jake’s ’55 two-toned souped-up Chevy after a few minutes of Jake smooth talk. But she did, although she would also swear, at least for public consumption, that she had a problem breathing when she found herself in that position (or later in more intimate positions, as she would slyly allude to when describing her latest tryst date with Jake.)But at some point Jake, or maybe Marnie, it was never clear, discovered two things, one, that Jake was crazier about Marnie that she was about him, and, two, more importantly , Marnie was taking more than a few peeks at a new boy in town, Bernie Albert, who if one could believe this, had neither a car, hot or otherwise, nor had the least inclination to hang around Jimmy Jake’s Diner (I or II) because he was crazy for the sea, and crazy for writing stuff about the sea once he found the best spots over at Olde Saco Beach (naturally later including the exclusive lovers’lane hot spot at the Seal Rock end).
Bernie came in like a breath of fresh air and before long one did not see Marnie Capet riding, front seat riding, in any funny old ’55 Chevy. She was breathing the sea air down at the beach after walking there with Bernie. She had decided that she had one chance at getting out from under that secretarial job at the mill, getting out from under Jake-or-name-the-car-crazy-guy cruising Main Street, getting out from under hanging in front of Jimmy Jake’s (number and then, inevitably blue-haired number II like her mother and her weekly friends luncheon) with her girls discussing what to play next on that damn jukebox, getting out under from under about six kids and money enough to support only about two, and getting out, well, just getting out from under.Now the tale turns back to Jake though, Jake of the thousand ‘chicken run’ victories(for the clueless that is two guys, two corner boys guys usually, and usually from different corners, going one on one in their respective automobiles at two in the morning, or thereabouts , down at that previously mentioned Seal Rock end of Olde Saco Beach to decide who was the max daddy of the boss car night, simple), Jake of the hard boy corner boy society in front of Jimmie Jake’s Diner I (who once chain- whipped a guy, a guy from the corner in front of Mama’s Pizza Parlor, just for being, no, breathing on his corner without permission), spurned Jake.
And before you wonder what chain-whip, slice and dice, run over with his car hell our boy Jake was going to rain down on one Bernie Albert for “stealing “his Marnie (a serious matter in po’ boy Olde Saco where your property girl meant something, especially twenty-something which meant marriage and those six kids Marnie was fretting over was your fate) you should know this. Not only did you not see Marnie riding in that Chevy, that boss Chevy as anyone in town, anyone that counted would have told you, meaning the habitués of Jimmy Jake’s I but you did not see Jake riding around either. If you can believe this, Jake was still carrying a big torch for Marnie and had taken to his room to write her a letter begging her to come back. And since he was not a scholar like Bernie, and since he wanted to note her upcoming birthday he played the Tune Weavers’Happy, Happy Birthday Baby to help him through task, and settle his uneasy breathing.P.S. Marnie made good career choice, well eventually she did, in the short term she fell back to the Olde Saco F-C ethos and ten generations of same old, same old and let Jake’s birthday letter sway her. So for a few weeks you again saw Marnie Capet tight-ass against Jake in his Chevy. And Bernie walking solo down at Olde Saco Beach. Then mad Jake go the smart idea that Bernie, like that other unfortunate mentioned previously, needed a chain-whipping to restore order the universe. Bernie took his beating like a man everyone agreed, and Jake took his nickel’s worth up at Shawshank. Bernie and Marnie were married in 1960 after Bernie finished graduate school at Bowdoin.
“Hey, Peter Paul, help me out tonight will you? Jenny’s cousin Joslyn is in town. Lynette promised her she could come with us to the Oleo Coffeehouse tonight for the start of the summer local talent concert series and she needs a date. She is supposed to be nice, she is from New York City, a senior at New York University, and she knows all about the folk scene there and about all the latest folk singers and poems and stuff,”Jeff Murphy quick- talked (the only way that he knew how to talk ever since that day one of Freshman year three years ago where they had met in the bookstore line and it turned out they were both going to be in same Western Civilization survey class whether it was trying to hard press Peter Paul into writing a term paper for him or, as now, a simple Lynette-inspired favor) over the phone to his friend Peter Paul Markin. Peter Paul was intrigued by this prospect both because she was an older woman , a senior, (as it turned out just a few months older given the vagaries of time and place when one started elementary school) and because he had over the previous several months gotten caught up in the emerging folk wave then splashing through young America in the year 1962 so he said sure.Peter Paul, as was his way in those days around girls (and around his more intellectual friends) dug into his pile of folk music, folk records and folk newsletters in order to be able to carry on a civil conversation, or what he considered a civil conversation, with Joslyn that night. He was especially worried that he know every arcane fact in the folk world to impress a New York City girl who had actually been to Mecca, the Village, been to the clubs like the Gaslight, walked the nervous neon streets like McDougall, and had imbibed his idea of folk chic. Funny, he thought to himself, as he poured through a copy of Arise and Sing to make sure he knew the words to Tom Doulas (no, not that faux folk Tom Dooley that the vanilla Kingston Trio sang on televised hootenannies for the great unwashed , the real version out of the back roads of Tennessee about that murderous night, and his fate) a year or so before he used to laugh at what he called “beats,” guys with beards, bad hair, bad breathe, baggy pants and brown flannel shirts when he took his midnight swings through Harvard Square who had their guitars out singing serious protest songs, goof car car car songs, and some mountain hollows stuff , traditional they called it, long black guitar case in front in case anybody accidently drop some change in. And “beat” girls too, long hair, very long hair that looked like they had ironed it (they had) , colorful dresses (short) showing dimpled bare legs, some very well-turned , sandals, and , oh, angelic voices like in some stardust memory, although he never laughed at them, the girls, or thought of laughing at them, on the off chance that one might smile his way.
He had been strictly a rock and roll man, digging that be-bopping sound like a lot of 1950s growing up kids, guys especially, after being forced fed on mother and father Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page and Perry Como vanilla stuff. Raw rockabilly Sun Record magic by hard luck blue suede shoes shod Carl Perkins, flaming piano man Jerry Lee Lewis flailing away on High School Confidential on the back of some off-hand truck and driving every girl within fifteen miles wild, and with wild thoughts too, bopping, bopping away the night before kissing his cousin, Roy the Boy going down the road running scare, scared as hell, and why shouldn’t he when some girlfriend’s ex came back to carry her away, Buddy Holly looking for Peggy Sue, Mary Lou, Betty Sue, or someone to while away the night with, Chuck Berry carrying on with every sweet little sixteen in sight, and getting away with it until he started messing with Mister’s women in that 1950s segregated night, and, of course, Elvis, the king, the king before he became the king and was hungry, girl hungry, money hungry, respect hungry just like every Peter Paul Markin who spent hours working on that snarl, that hip movement, that max daddy hiccup in his voice.
Or maybe, a little, be-bop blues as they filtered out of Mister Lee’s Blues Hour from Chicago caught on the radio on late Sunday nights when the wind was right and the station was amped up. Rolling right over Big Joe,yah, Big Joe Turner talking, talking kind of salaciously (but what knew he of salacious then, he just dug the beat, the big man’s negro streets beat) about some shaking smooth brown woman, and maybe having a little luck with that fresh talk, who knows, Muddy Waters, man-child, man-child in the promise land, the nineteen year old honey promise land, playing Hootchie Gootchie Man, for real, the howl, Howlin’ Wolf , sweating like a pig, a big old pig, harmonica half way up his throat asking how many more years, asking about some damn little red rooster getting all the hens wild, Elmore James, max daddy guitarist , crying to high heaven about the sky crying, and about his fantastic cover of old boy Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom, and bad boy, tina-less Ike Turner jamming those keys on Rocket 88 as close to rock as you could get and not be white to make a young kid’s head whirl (and they did).
One Sunday Peter Paul was trying to get that Chicago station (always a fickle proposition on his transistor radio especially when sea winds were up) when he heard this gravelly-voiced guy singing something out of some old mountain hollows or something like that, a song called Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies. The guy singing it, who he later found out was Dave Von Ronk from Brooklyn, sounded like some latter day Jehovah calling his flock home (sheep or people, or both). Peter Paul was hooked and listened to the rest of the show. He didn’t remember all the names of the songs or performers, maybe a little Tom Rush doing a cover of Bukka White ‘s Panama Limited, Eric Von Schmidt doing Joshua’s Gone Barbados, an Alice Stuart cover of the Carter Family’s Gold Watch And Chain, Josh White’s One Meatball , stuff like that, but the next day he went to Charlie’s Records over in Kenmore Square and picked up what that shop considered folk, some Leadbelly, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie stuff and he was double-hooked.That date night he went with Jeff, Lynette and Joslyn over to the Oleo and had a good time, as they drank bitter (bitter to his plebeian taste) expresso coffee and some light pastries while listening to some local guy, a guy with a beard, bad hair, bad breathe, baggy pants and brown flannel shirt who had his guitars out(and mandolin) singing serious protest songs, goof car car car songs, and some mountain hollows stuff , traditional he called it, his long black guitar case in front of him, opened, in case anybody accidently drop some change in (in the coffeehouses the rule usually was you paid the cover, and for the eats and drinks, anything for the performer was discretionary, the guy that night was worth two bucks, and Joslyn threw in a buck of her own).
Although Joslyn was indeed as nice as advertised (long hair, very long hair that looked like she had ironed it (she had, as he later found out), peasant blouse with scarf around her neck, colorful dress (short) showing bare legs, very well-turned , de riguer sandals, and , oh, an angelic voice as she sang along with the performer (hence the sing-along folk tradition encouraged ) like in some Peter Paul stardust memory, she had a problem, a Peter Paul eyes problem. Or maybe better put Peter Paul had the problem. She was way too knowledgeable about the folk scene for Peter Paul. At one point he was sitting there in silence as she went on and on about the Village. Mostly what she said was that a new wave was coming, we, meaning them, the kids then, were ready to bust out and make a newer world and folk music would be the cement that united everything. Powerful stuff.She said that a young guy, a young guy hanging around the bars and coffeehouses, places like Geddes Folk City, was writing up a storm, a storm to make a storm. She asked Peter Paul if he had heard Bob Dylan’s latest Blowin’ In The Windthat was becoming a national anthem for the youth who wanted to change the world and change it now. Peter Paul blushed, blushed crimson red or redder maybe. He had never heard of Bob Dylan. That night after the show asking off–handedly how long she was in town (the whole summer as it turned out since she was going to be working as a research assistant in some Harvard library system program) he decided against asking her out again (partially because he was sure that she would turn him down, after not knowing every arcane fact about folk music, and the faux pas on the Dylan thing) and let it go at that as the foursome parted company in front of the Oleo and he headed to catch the Red Line to Park Street. Next day though he was at Charlie’s Record Store. End of story, end of Joslyn story.
Well, not quite. As it turned out Joslyn didn’t understand why Peter Paul had been so quiet after the Dylan remarks and kind of cool when they had split up (not knowing then what a mad man know every fact in front of him, the arcaner the better, when he was “on” something and had been that way since junior high school over in North Adamsville when he hung around with Frankie Larkin who made that kind of knowledge trick into an art form, and had a girl hanging off every arm so it stuck). And she mentioned that mere fact to her cousin Jenny who mentioned it to Lynnette who you know damn well mentioned it to one Jeffrey Murphy, who to keep the peace, the Lynette peace, mentioned it to Peter Paul. Peter Paul just shrugged it off though informing Jeff (who knew of Peter Paul madnesses and had successfully used that knowledge to cadge more than one free written term paper when he had been hard pressed to submit one) that he didn’t think he and Joslyn were a fit. Jeff conveyed that information back down the pipeline.A few days later Joslyn called Peter Paul on the telephone, and asked him pretty please (his version) if he could help her with a project that she was stymied on. She had heard (from Lynette via Jeff as he found out later) that he knew something about blues music, and about the rhythm and blues, and she wondered if Big Joe Turner’s version of Shake, Rattle and Roll was really the start of rock and roll or what. That started a two hour phone conversation about rock, about the blues, and about how Mr. Bob Dylan used the latter to work his talking blues magic. Of course it was a no-brainer that Mr. Big Joe Turner ‘s version was the max daddy foundation stone of rock and roll. And along the way during that conversation as the arcane facts piled up on each other Joslyn would keep saying “really, I didn’t know that.” Oh, and not so subtly kept asking if he had any time to help her further on her project. Yah, he said, yah, he had all summer. And he did, and they did .
P.S. Peter Paul and Joslyn would, after their summer tryst, meet again a number of times over the next several years, dated sometimes, lived together a couple of times, and each time she got the chance Joslyn would “remind” Peter Paul of that first Oleo coffeehouse date and his lack of knowledge of Bob Dylan then. And he would mention that “trick” telephone call she pulled (she, in fact, knew almost as much about the blues when she called as he did, as he found out later). Their meetings would many times coincide with one or the other’s being in New York or Boston together trying to fight that desperate fight for the “newer world,” that “the times they are a-changin’,”that “blowin’ in the wind” world that both had been touched by in those simpler 1962 folk and love times that were in serious danger of being burned up into bitter ashes, and bitter dreams.Later in the decade when things got dicey with LBJ’s mad escalation of the war in Vietnam, murder in the streets, riots in the streets, assassinations, the spewing forth of every sort of degradation , and Peter Paul’s reluctant drafting in the American Army he lost contact with Joslyn after she went underground with the Weathermen in the late 1960s to try one last chance to create her version of that newer world she had talked about that first date night. That was the last he heard of her.
Friday, December 07, 2012
Short Film Clips
Sweet Smell Of Success, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, 1957
Apparently 1950s Hollywood screenwriters when characterizing Broadway theater critics refused to touch them with anything less than a cattle prod, if that close (perhaps in the inevitable “real” theater –“bubblegum” movies cultural clash this is where they got their revenge, so be it). At least that has been my recent film review experience after watching – All About Eve and it’s totally cynical critic Addison as he adds fuel to the fire of Anne Bancroft ‘s Eve take-no-prisoners- rise against watch out Bette Davis played superbly by George Saunders and the film under review .In Sweet Smell Of Success we are confronted with the weasely Broadway critic and man- about- town J. J., played by Burt Lancaster, ably assisted by press flak Sydney Falco played to a groveling tee by Tony Curtis. Now on Broadway and in Hollywood , and we can add Washington politics and cable television mass media into the mix, information is power. And J.J. has the information to be used like some god for good or evil, and mainly for evil. Although some wit, some long lost wit, once aired the thought that the only bad publicity was no publicity for those reaching for the stars that ain’t necessarily so. As some minor characters, an errant younger sister ‘s boyfriend, and as Brother Falco find out. J.J. is the past master of the blind shot, the groin chop, the innuendo, the false fact that have today become common staple of reporting life.
The story line here though is a little thin, mainly concerning J.J.’s overweening concern that his very much younger sister does not wind up with some ne’er- do- well. The tricks, manipulations, and downright skullduggery seem all too real to a modern audience who know that fame is fleeting and one better grab it by the neck, fast. The tricks(the old dope, boy, stashed in the pocket routine, for example ) played in this film set in 1950s Broadway, however, seem almost like kid’s stuff compared to the vicious action today. That, my friends, was something of a ‘golden age’ of gentile skullduggery by comparison.A note on Tony Curtis who on the face of it seems in cinematic history to have been written of something of a ‘pretty’ boy, just another lure for the girl moviegoers. But then you think about the fine performance here against type and in Spartacus and in Some Like It Hot and one, including this reviewer, is compelled to start changing one’s opinion of the depth of Mr. Curtis’s talent.