Saturday, November 19, 2016
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
Now Frank was a quiet guy, quieter than Jack and Zack anyway, but one night he had told his Army story to a small group of volunteers gathered in the main room of the coffeehouse as they were planning to distribute Daniel Ellsberg’s sensational whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various spots around the base (including as it turned out inside the fort itself with one copy landing on the commanding general’s desk for good measure). He wanted to tell this story since he wanted to explain why he would not be able to go with them if they went inside the gates at Fort Devens.
That sign was simply but his life got a lot more complicated after that. In the immediate sense that meant he was pulled down on the ground by two lifer sergeants and brought to the Provost Marshal’s office since they were not sure that some dippy-hippie from near-by New York City might be pulling a stunt. When they found out that he was a soldier they threw him into solitary in the stockade.
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead
Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It Back! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule!
Although Ralph and Sam were not members in good standing of any labor unions, both having after their furtive anti-war street fights and the ebbing of the movement by about the mid-1970s returned to “normalcy.” Ralph having gone back to work in his father's electrical shop in Troy, New York and which he took over when Ralph, Senior retired and Sam had gone back to Carver to expand a print shop that he had started in the late 1960s after serving an apprenticeship with the main printer in town before he went out on his own. Having come from respectable working-class backgrounds in strictly working-class towns though, Carver about thirty miles from Boston and the cranberry bog capital of the world and Ralph in Troy near where General Electric ruled the roost, they had taken to heart the advice of their respective grandfathers about not forgetting those left behind, that an injury to one of their own in this wicked old world was an injury to all as the old Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, Wobblies) motto had it.
Moreover despite their backing away from the street confrontations of their youth when that proved futile after a time, especially after May Day 1971 where they first met in the bastinado at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium after being arrested with their respective collectives and where they got a full dose what the American imperial state could when it pulled the hammer down on dissent, as the Vietnam War finally wound down and yesterday’s big name radicals left for parts unknown they had always kept an inner longing for the “newer world,” the more equitable world where the people who actually made stuff and kept the wheels of society running and their down-pressed allies ruled.
Of more concern at the time since unlike the good-hearted but naïve younger people since they had already known from too many uneven battles (remember that May Day 1971 baptism of fire) about what the government could do when it decided to pull down the hammer was in the aftermath when the movement imploded from its own contradictions, caught up not wanting to step on anybody's toes in the movement no matter how hare-brained the scheme or just plain recycled ideas that had not worked in the 1960s and had even less chance now that the state had even more weapons at its disposal, to let everybody do their own thing with or without some kind of coordinated plan that would make the thing more productive, do their own identity politics, you know gays can only speak of gay oppression straights keep out, women can only speak of women's oppression men, gay or straight keep out, blacks can only speak of black oppression, white males and females, gay or straight keep out and so on, defending their particular turf as furiously as any old-time Tammany Hall political hack, which did much to defang the old movements, refusing out of hand cohering a collective leadership that might give some direction to the damn thing but also earnestly wanting to bring the monster down.
***Jobs For All Now!-“30 For 40”- A historic demand of the labor movement going back to the 1930s Great Depression the last time that unemployment, under-employment, those who have just plain quit looking for work and critically those who are working jobs beneath their skill levels was this high in the American labor force, although it is admittedly down from the Great Recession of 2008-09 highs. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay is a formula to spread the available work around to all who want and need it. This is no mere propaganda point but shows the way forward toward a more equitable distribution of available work.
The basic scheme, as was the case with the early days of the longshoremen’s and maritime unions when the union-run hiring hall ruled supreme in manning the jobs is that the work would be divided up through local representative workers’ councils that would act, in one of its capacities, as a giant hiring hall where the jobs would be parceled out. This would be a simpler task now than when it was first proposed in the 1930s with the vast increase in modern technology that could fairly accurately, via computers, target jobs that need filling, where, and at what skill level, and equitably divide up current work.
Here is the beauty of the scheme, what makes it such a powerful propaganda tool-without the key capitalist necessity of keeping up the rate of profit the social surplus created by that work could be used to redistribute the available work at the same agreed upon rate rather than go into the capitalists’ pockets. The only catch, a big catch one must admit, is that no capitalist, and no capitalist system, is going to do any such thing as to implement “30 for 40” –with the no reduction in pay proviso, although many low –end employers are even now under the “cover” of the flawed Obamacare reducing hours WITH loss of pay-so that to establish this work system as a norm it will, in the end, be necessary to fight for and win a workers government to implement this demand.
Organize the unorganized is a demand that cries out for solution today now that the organized sectors of the labor movement, both public and private, in America are at historic lows, just over ten percent of the workforce and less in the formerly pivotal private industries like auto production. Part of the task is to reorganize some of the old industries like the automobile industry, now mainly unorganized as new plants come on line and others are abandoned, which used to provide a massive amount of decent jobs with decent benefits but which now have fallen to globalization and the “race to the bottom” bad times. (Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, the North American auto industry employed almost a million workers but only a third or less are unionized whereas in the old days the industry was union tight.)
The other sector that desperately need to be organized is to ratchet up the efforts to organize the service industries, hospitals, hotels, hi-tech, restaurants and the like, that have become a dominant aspect of the American service-oriented economy. Everyone should support the recent militant efforts, including the old tactic of civil disobedience, by service unions and groups of fast-food workers to increase the minimum socially acceptable wage in their Fight For $15.
Organize the South-this low wage area, this consciously low-wage area, where many industries land before heading off-shore to even lower wage places cries out for organizing, especially among black and Hispanic workers who form the bulk of this industrial workforce. A corollary to organizing the South is obviously to organize internationally to keep the “race to the bottom” from continually occurring short of being resolved in favor of an international commonwealth of workers’ governments. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy.
Organize Wal-Mart- millions of workers, thousands of company-owned trucks, hundreds of distribution centers. A victory here would be the springboard to a revitalized organized labor movement just as auto and steel lead the industrial union movements of the 1930s. The key here is to organize the truckers and distribution center workers, the place where the whole thing comes together. We have seen mostly unsuccessful organizing of individual retail stores and victimizations of local union organizers. To give an idea of how hard this task might be though someone, probably Bart Webber in his more thoughtful moments, once argued that it would be easier to organize a workers’ revolution that organize this giant mainstay of the run to the bottom capitalist ethos. Well, as to the latter point that’s a thought.
Defend the right of public and private workers to unionize. Simple-No more defeats like in Wisconsin in 2011, no more attacks on collective bargaining the hallmark of a union contract. No reliance on labor boards, arbitration, courts or bourgeois recall elections either. Defeat all “right to work” legislation. Unions must keep their independent from government interference. Period.
*** Defend the independence of the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray, the very stray Republican) candidates. In 2008 and 2012 labor, organized labor, spent over 450 million dollars respectively trying to elect Barack Obama and other Democrats (mainly). The “no show, no go” results speak for themselves as the gap between the rich, make that the very rich but don’t forgot to include them on the fringes of the one percent and poor has risen even more in this period. For those bogus fruitless efforts the labor skates should have been sent packing long ago. The idea presented, an old idea going back to the initial formation of the working class in America, in those elections was that the Democrats (mainly) were “friends of labor” and the Republicans are the 666 beasts but the Obama administration does not take a back seat to the elephants on this one. The past period of cuts-backs, cut-in-the-back give backs should put paid to that notion. Although anyone who is politically savvy at all knows that is not true, not true for the labor skates at the top of the movement. They always have their hands out.
The hard reality is that the labor skates, not used to any form of class struggle or any kind of struggle, know no other way than class-collaboration, arbitration, courts, and every other way to avoid the appearance of strife, strife in defense of the bosses’ profits. One egregious example from the recent past from around the time of the Occupy movement where some of tried to link up the labor movement with the political uprising- the return of the Verizon workers to work after two weeks in the summer of 2011 when they had the company on the run and the subsequent announcement by the company of record profits. That sellout strategy may have worked for the bureaucrats, or rather their “fathers” for a time back in the 1950s “golden age” of labor, but now we are in a very hard and open class war. The rank and file must demand an end to using their precious dues payments for bourgeois candidates all of whom have turned out to be sworn enemies of labor from Obama on down when the deal goes down.
This does not mean not using union dues for political purposes though. On the contrary we need to use them now more than ever in the class battles ahead. Spent the dough on organizing the unorganized, organizing the South, organizing Wal-Mart, and other pro-labor causes. Think, for example, of the dough spent on the successful November, 2011 anti-union recall referendum in Ohio. That type of activity is where labor’s money and other resources should go. And not on recall elections against individual reactionaries, like Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, as substitutes for class struggle when some form of general strike was required to break the anti-union backs (and which was overwhelmingly unsuccessful to boot-while the number of unionized public workers has dwindled to a precious few).
***End the endless wars!- As the so-called draw-down of American and Allied troops in Iraq reached its final stages back in 2011, the draw- down of non-mercenary forces anyway, we argued, Sam more than I did since he had been closer to the initial stage if the opposition that we must recognize that we anti-warriors had failed, and failed rather spectacularly, to affect that withdrawal after a promising start to our opposition in late 2002 and early 2003 (and a little in 2006).As the endless American-led wars (even if behind the scenes, as in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and other proxy wars) continue now with a new stage against ISIS (common moniker for the Islamic State) in Iraq we had better straighten out our anti-war, anti-imperialist front quickly if we are to have any effect on the U.S. troop escalation we know is coming before that fight is over. Not Another War In Iraq! Stop The Bombings In Syria, Iraq, Yemen! Stop The Arms Shipments To The Middle East Especially To Israel and Saudi Arabia! Defend The Palestinian People-End The Blockade of Gaza-Israel Out Of The Occupied Territories. And as always since 2001 Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of Every Single U.S./Allied Troops (And The Mercenaries) From Afghanistan!
U.S. Hands Off Iran! Hands Off Syria!- Despite a certain respite recently during the Iran nuclear arms talks American (and world) imperialists have periodically ratcheted up their propaganda war (right now) and increased economic sanctions that are a prelude to war well before the dust has settled on the now unsettled situation in Iraq and well before they have even sniffed at an Afghan withdrawal of any import. We will hold our noses, as we did with the Saddam leadership in Iraq and on other occasions, and call for the defense of Iran against the American imperial monster. A victory for the Americans (and their junior partner on this issue, Israel) in Iran and Syria is not in the interests of the international working class. Especially here in the “belly of the beast” we are duty-bound to call not just for non-intervention but for defense of Iran. We will, believe us we will, deal with the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran in our own way in our own time.
U.S. Hands Off The World! And Keep Them Off!- With the number of “hot spots” that the American imperialists, or one or another of their junior allies, like Saudi Arabia and France over the recent period have their hands on in this wicked old world this generic slogan would seem to fill the bill.
Down With The War Budget! Not One Penny, Not One Person For The Wars! Honor World War I German Social-Democratic Party MP, Karl Liebknecht, who did just that in 1915 in the heat of war and paid the price unlike other party leaders who were pledged to stop the war budgets by going to prison. The only play for an honest representative of the working class under those conditions. The litmus test for every political candidate must be first opposition to the war budgets (let’s see, right now no new funding in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran preparations, China preparations, etc. you get the drift). Then that big leap. The whole damn imperialist military budget. Again, no one said it would be simple. Revolution may be easier that depriving the imperialists of their military money. Well….okay.
***Fight for a social agenda for working people! Free Quality Healthcare For All! This would be a no-brainer in any rationally based society. The health and welfare of any society’s citizenry is the simple glue that holds that society together. It is no accident that one of the prime concerns of workers states whatever political disagreements we may have with the Cuban leadership like Cuba, and whatever their other internal political problems caused in no small part the fifty plus year U.S. blockade, has been to place health care and education front and center and to provide to the best of their capacity for free, quality healthcare and education for all. Even the hide-bound social-democratic-run capitalist governments of Europe have, until recently anyway, placed the “welfare state” protections central to their programs. Be clear Obamacare is not our program and has already been shown to be totally inadequate and wasteful however we will defend that program against those who wish to dismantle it and leave millions once again uninsured and denied basic health benefits.
Free, quality higher education for all! Nationalize the colleges and universities under student-teacher-campus worker control! One Hundred, Two Hundred, Many Harvards!
This would again be a no-brainer in any rationally based society. The struggle to increase the educational level of a society’s citizenry is another part of the simple glue that holds that society together. Today higher education is being placed out of reach for many working-class and minority families. Hell, it is getting tough for the middle-class as well.
Moreover the whole higher educational system is increasing skewed toward those who have better formal preparation and family lives leaving many deserving students from broken homes and minority homes in the wilderness. Take the resources of the private institutions and spread them around, throw in hundreds of billions from the government (take a big chuck from the bloated military budget and the bank bail-out money, things like that, if you want to find the money quickly to do the job right), get rid of the top heavy and useless college administration apparatuses, mix it up, and let students, teachers, and campus workers run the thing through councils on a democratic basis.
Forgive student debt! The latest reports indicate that college student debt is something like a trillion dollars, give or take a few billion but who is counting. The price of tuition and expenses has gone up dramatically while low-cost aid has not kept pace. What has happened is that the future highly educated workforce that a modern society, and certainly a socialist society, desperately needs is going to be cast into some form of indentured servitude to the banks or other lending agencies for much of their young working lives. Let the banks take a “hit” for a change!
Stop housing foreclosures and aid underwater mortgages now! Although the worst of the crunch has abated there are still plenty of problems and so this demand is still timely if not desperately timely like in the recent past. Hey, everybody, everywhere in the world not just in America should have a safe, clean roof over their heads. Hell, even a single family home that is part of the “American dream,” if that is what they want. We didn’t make the housing crisis in America (or elsewhere, like in Ireland, where the bubble has also burst). The banks did. Their predatory lending practices and slip-shot application processes were out of control. Let them take the “hit” here as well.
***We created the wealth, let’s take it back. Karl Marx was right way back in the 19th century on his labor theory of value, the workers do produce the social surplus appropriated by the capitalists. Capitalism tends to beat down, beat down hard in all kinds of ways the mass of society for the benefit of the few. Most importantly capitalism, a system that at one time was historically progressive in the fight against feudalism and other ancient forms of production, has turned into its opposite and now is a fetter on production. The current multiple crises spawned by this system show there is no way forward, except that unless we push them out, push them out fast, they will muddle through, again.
Take the struggle for our daily bread off the historic agenda. Socialism is the only serious answer to the human crisis we face economically, socially, culturally and politically. This socialist system is the only one calculated to take one of the great tragedies of life, the struggle for daily survival in a world that we did not create, and replace it with more co-operative human endeavors.
Build a workers’ party that fights for a workers government to unite all the oppressed. None of the nice things mentioned above can be accomplished without as serious struggle for political power. We need to struggle for an independent working-class-centered political party that we can call our own and where our leaders act as “tribunes of the people” not hacks. The creation of that workers party, however, will get us nowhere unless it fights for a workers government to begin the transition to the next level of human progress on a world-wide scale.
As Isaac Deutscher said in his speech “On Socialist Man” (1966):
“We do not maintain that socialism is going to solve all predicaments of the human race. We are struggling in the first instance with the predicaments that are of man’s making and that man can resolve. May I remind you that Trotsky, for instance, speaks of three basic tragedies—hunger, sex and death—besetting man. Hunger is the enemy that Marxism and the modern labour movement have taken on.... Yes, socialist man will still be pursued by sex and death; but we are convinced that he will be better equipped than we are to cope even with these.”
Emblazon on our red banner-Labor and the oppressed must rule!