Friday, September 28, 2007

The Slippery Slope to War-Iran


The recent swirl around Iran makes me nervous. Every since Seymour Hersh’s article on White House Iranian war preparations in the April 2006 New Yorker I have been taking sideway glances at developments around that issue. I do not like what I see right now. Let me just summarize the litany here.

• Over the past several weeks Admiral Fallon, the head of U. S. Central Command (that means the Middle East), has been knocking on or kicking downs doors all over the capitals of most Middle Eastern countries giving the word on American intentions toward Iran. Fallon, like all top American military officers, is not known for ‘blowing smoke’ (or, at least, too much)when war is in the air. He is also not known, when the deal goes down, for being slow on the trigger.

• The French Foreign Minister has ‘accidentally’ mentioned that the military option was not off the table in order to resolve the Iranian situation. His boss, Sarkozy immediately reigned him in on and then turned around and basically said the same thing at his speeech in the United Nations. The ‘cat is out of the bag’ now.

• The United States Senate, the same people who couldn’t muster up the energy to pass the placid Webb amendment on ‘troop rest’ has this past week gone out of its way to vote to label the nefarious Iranian Revolutionary Guard that sprung forth from the United States Embassy takeover in 1979 a “terrorist” organization. That means something unlike the non-binding tripartite partition of Iraq resolution. I note that leading Democratic presidential contender Senator Hillary Clinton voted for the designation. Thus bi-partisan support for any future actions against Iran has a running start. This time it would be nice if Senator Clinton and the others at least read the documentation and 'intelligence' reports before they vote for war. Vain hope.

• The periodic talk, recently louder, about the Iranian role, and the need to call them to account for it, in providing powerful IED’s that are claimed to be the number one of death to American troops to both Shiite and Sunni factions in Iraq.

• Reports that Iran is shelling in northern Iraq in an effort to break one of its internal oppositional guerilla groups based in that area.

• The ongoing international pressure to increase various sanctions against Iran in order to halt its nuclear development program. Many of these types of embargos and boycotts are ‘acts of war’ under international law.

• The recent visit of the cunningly bizarre Iranian president to New York where he was cheered and jeered, mainly jeered with a frenzy that matched some of the buildup against Saddam Hussein (remember him) before the occupation of Iraq. Whether the president is anything more than a front man for the mullahs on the Supreme Council or not he is still the ‘face ' of Iran to the international public.

• Finally, the key to the whole situation, one George W. Bush and his coterie. Bush, already in a neck and neck race with Millard Fillmore for the title of least popular president, has nothing to lose. He is probably thinking why shouldn’t he go out in a blaze of glory. And if he is not up to it, his puppet master Karl Rove, oops, fellow draft dodger Vice President Dick Cheney certainly has the appetite for it.

There are some impediments in the way like a depleted American army in Iraq but where there is a will there is a way. In some ways there is a hell of a lot more going on concerning Iran than before the run up to the Iraq war. Yes, I am definitely nervous. A three front war strategy is in the air. We better have a three front anti-war strategy. Better dust off the old slogan-Hands Off Iran!

Lest anyone think that I wish to ‘coddle’ the Iranian leadership I have posted a commentary from around the time of the Hersh’s article from my blog. Hersh’s intelligence report probably needs some updating but the thrust of his article and my comments still retain their validity.


In the wake of Seymour Hersh’s revelations in the New Yorker concerning the Bush administration’s potential military plans, including a possible nuclear option, toward Iran there has been a hue and cry in political circles against some of the rasher aspects of such action. From the traditional opponents of such an action plan -the Left? No! From liberal politicians? No! If anything those types have been more belligerent and to the right on the issue of Iran than the Bush administration. The cry has come from conservative think tank magazines and hawkish political commentators like New York Times writer Thomas Friedman. After the disastrous consequences of their support for the adventure in Iraq as least a few of the more rational conservatives have learned something. Whether they continue to hold out once the onslaught of patriotism and so-called national interest comes into play remains to be seen. However, their self-made dilemma is not what interests me.

As I write these lines the paint has not even dried on my poster in opposition to the continuing Iraq occupation for an anti-war rally. Now that the newest plans of the Wild Boys in the basements of the White House, Pentagon and State Department have been “leaked” I have to add another slogan to that banner- Hands Off Iran! Overreacting one might say. No!! If we have learned anything in the last few years from the Bush Administration it is that the distance from “war games” and “zero sum game theory” to front page newspaper and television screen casualty counts is a very, very short elevator ride away.

That, however, begs the question of whether the current Islamic leadership in Iran is a threat. Damn right it is a threat. This writer opposed the Shah of Iran when he was an agent of American imperialist interests in the Persian Gulf. This writer also opposed the rise and takeover by the Islamic fundamentalists in 1979 when many Western leftists were, overtly or covertly, supporting these elements as ‘anti-imperialist’ agents of change. Unfortunately, many Iranian militants also supported these same fundamentalists. That did not stop the mullahs from rounding up and executing or imprisoning every leftist or militant worker they could get their hands on. The fate of the Western leftist supporters of the ‘anti-imperialist’ mullahs was almost as tragic. They, at great personal sacrifice, mainly went on to careers in the academy, media or parliament.

So let us have no illusions about the women- hating, anti-Enlightenment, anti- post 8th century hating regime in Teheran (Except apparently, nuclear technology. Did anyone else find it surreal when a recent photograph showed several thousand heavily- veiled Iranian women demonstrating in defense of a nuclear facility?). However, do we really want to outsource “regime change” there to the Bush Administration (or any administration in Washington)? No!!! Just as working people cannot outsource “regime change” in Washington to the liberals here this job of ousting the mullahs belongs to the Iranian workers, students, poor slum dwellers and peasants.

Let’s be clear here though. If the United States, or an agent of the United States, moves militarily against Iran all militants, here and worldwide, are duty bound to defend Iran against such imperialist aggression. Even with the current mullah leadership? Yes. We will hold our noses and do our duty. Their ouster is a separate political battle. We will settle accounts with them in due course.

The anarchists and others have it all wrong when they confine their slogan to Class Against Class in a conflict between capitalist states. Yes, in the final analysis it will come down to that. The problem is today we are dealing with the most powerful military power, relatively and absolutely, the world has ever known against a smaller, almost militarily defenseless country. A victory for American imperialism is not in the interest of the international working class and its allies. Thus, we have a side under those circumstances. And we certainly do not take some ‘third camp’ pacifist position of a plague on both your houses. IMMEDIATE UNCONDITIONAL WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ! U.S.HANDS OFF IRAN!! BETTER YET- HANDS OFF THE WORLD!!!

Thursday, September 27, 2007



As I have mentioned ina recent blog I am occasionally placing my commentary on the liberal, pro-Democratic Party, Daily Kos site. Recently one of the featured writer there conducted an online poll concerning reinstitution of the military draft. For a liberal venue the results rather astonished me. Hence this blog (known there as diary entries). Nobody said fighting for the 'soul' of the liberal youth was going to be easy, right?

No Military Draft! No Way!

To paraphrase the blasĂ© Vichy French administrative officer on hearing that gambling was going on in Rick’s American CafĂ© in the classic Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca-“I’m shocked”. Why? A couple of days ago Bill From Portland of the Cheers and Jeers section conducted a poll asking about the reintroduction of the military draft. The response indicated that an astonishing 69% wanted such a draft. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the Daily Kos site not Fox Channel online, right? This site is at least in spirit anti-war, right? Then how the hell can a strong majority of participants who, assumedly are fighting tooth and nail for withdrawal from the Iraq (and Afghanistan) wars, desire to give the state additional powers to provide the 'cannon fodder' necessary for those and future wars.

I am aware that there was a little ‘bomb’ in the poll to take a dig at those neo-cons who had exercised ‘other options’ rather than military service in their generation’s war-Vietnam- but I do not believe that prank accounts for this result. I am beginning to believe that those reports about Daily Kos and other liberal political blogger demographics-mainly white, male, forty something, and comfortable financially might be true. In other words people who have never been subject to or had to sweat out a military draft. I cannot believe that today’s youth would response in such a way. If that were so, dear readers, we are doomed in our efforts to fight the beast. Thus, I am going to conduct my own opinion poll (or rather a series of polls until I get to the bottom of this as I am really trying to get a grip on this result) in order to separate the real from unreal in this. And what better way to do so than to ask the question point blank- a draft with no exemptions, particularly student exemptions. This is no ‘theory of the draft’ type question. That means ‘yours sons and daughters and other loved one go’- come hell or high water.

Should the American government reinstate a universal military draft for all young men and women at age 18 with no student, or other, exemptions?

Here is a November 2006 archival commentary on this subject.


A very good case can be made for calling Sunday the worst political news day of the week. At least that seems to be true in recent weeks when the capitalist politicians start blathering on the Sunday news shows. A case in point that confirms this is an interview on Sunday November 19, 2006 where Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, soon to be the House Ways and Means Chairman, stated that he intended to propose legislation in the next session to reestablish the military draft. Who needs this madness when we anti-war militants are calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Christ, and this is a liberal Democratic politician. Rangel's rationale, if it can be called that, is that reinstitution of the draft will make capitalist politicians think twice about going to war.

Hello, what planet does this man exist on? President Bush did not have to twist the arms of the likes of John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and a whole galaxy of supposedly astute politicians-Democratic and Republican- alike when he pulled down the hammer to rachet up the hysteria to go to war in Iraq. Of course those were sunnier days and everyone was a good fellow (or gal) and true. And then of course everyone assumed the war would be a walkover. Now there are not enough seats on that hell-train out of Iraq. Despite that recent sorry history what the esteemed Congressman proposal really means is that the lives and fortunes of the youth of America rest on the 'pacifist' whims of the Congress. Even Vietnam War draft dodger Vice President Dick Cheney would know not to base his career plans on that eventually. No thanks, Congressman.

Apparently the military chieftains do not think much of Congressman Rangel's idea either. They are very happy having their all-volunteer armed forces that, by their lights, are a much better disciplined and maneuverable force. No way do they want an average cross-section of American youth gumming up their works. They saw their army almost destroyed when uppity citizen-soldiers started questioning the Vietnam War. They are still in shock. As for the position of militant leftists we stand fully opposed to reintroduction of the draft. Hell, this is a 'no-brainer'. As this issue comes to the fore over the coming months militant youth must rise up and shout-NO DRAFT! NO WAY!

*Sacco and Vanzetti- The Case That Will Not Die, Nor Should It

Click on the title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the Sacco and Vanzetti case, provided ere as background. As always with this source and its collective editorial policy, especially with controversial political issues like the Sacco and Vanzetti case, be careful checking the accuracy of the information provided at any given time.


He or she who defends the memory of Sacco and Vanzetti is a kindred spirit whatever our other political differences might be. In the mist of time in my youth a couple of cases came early to my memory. The Rosenbergs and, in whispered tones, the Sacco and Vanzetti case. And in the year of the 80th Anniversary of their execution by the State of Massachusetts it is again worth reflecting on what that case means to a generation confronted with more than its share of abuses of justice and political hysteria. Below is a review of a documentary that came out in 2006 (2007 on DVD) that goes some way to explore and explain just what happened.

I also note that in the summer of 2007 yet another book has come out on the subject, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind by Bruce Watson. I have not read that book yet but I have read several reviews on it. A disturbing element in that book appears to be the author’s agnostic, if not antagonistic, position on Sacco and Vanzetti’s innocence. One of the reasons the case will never die, although not my reason that it should not, is the periodic attempt to ‘prove’ that one or more of the pair either did the murders or, in the alternative, that they received a fair trial. After I have read this book I will write more on this question. It is the duty of those who defend Sacco and Vanzetti to beat back these attempts to chip away at their legacy despite the overwhelming mountain of evidence in their favor. And to expose a new generation to an understanding of the raw legal and social attitudes of that time (and our time, as well). In the meantime- Honor the memory of Sacco and Vanzetti.

I am reposting that earlier review mentioned above.




I have used some of the points mentioned here in previous reviews of books about the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the 19th century, the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930's, the Rosenburgs in the post-World War II Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. In America after World War I when the Attorney General Palmer-driven ‘red scare’ brought the federal government’s vendetta against foreigners, immigrants and militant labor fighters to a white heat that generation's case was probably the most famous of them all, Sacco and Vanzetti. The exposure of the tensions within American society that came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the film under review.

Using documentary footage, reenactment and ‘talking head’ commentary by interested historians, including the well-known author of popular America histories Boston University Professor (emeritus now, I believe)Howard Zinn, the director Peter Miller and his associates bring this case alive for a new generation to examine. In the year 2007 one of the important lessons for leftists to be taken from the case is the question of the most effective way to defend such working class cases. I will address that question further below but here I wish to point out that the one major shortcoming of this film is a lack of discussion on that issue. I might add that this is no mere academic issue as the current case of the death-row prisoner, militant journalist Mumia-Abu-Jamal, graphically illustrates. Notwithstanding that objection this documentary is a very satisfactory visual presentation of the case for those not familiar with it.

A case like that of Sacco and Vanzetti, accused, convicted and then executed in 1927 for a robbery and double murder committed in a holdup of a payroll delivery to a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1920, does not easily conform to any specific notion that the average citizen today has of either the state or federal legal system. Nevertheless, one does not need to buy into the director’s overall thesis that the two foreign-born Italian anarchists in 1920 were railroaded to know that the case against them 'stunk' to high heaven. And that is the rub. Even a cursory look at the evidence presented (taking the state of jurisprudence at that time into consideration) and the facts surrounding the case would force the most mildly liberal political type to know the “frame” was on.

Everyone agrees, or should agree, that in such political criminal cases as Sacco and Vanzetti every legal avenue including appeals, petitions and seeking grants of clemency should be used in order to secure the goal, the freedom of those imprisoned. This film does an adequate job of detailing the various appeals and other legal wrangling that only intensified as the execution neared. Nevertheless it does not adequately address a question that is implicit in its description of the fight to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. How does one organize and who does one appeal to in a radical working class political defense case?

The film spends some time on the liberal local Boston defense organizations and the 'grandees' and other celebrities who became involved in the case, and who were committed almost exclusively to a legal defense strategy. It does not, however, pay much attention to the other more radical elements of the campaign that fought for the pair’s freedom. It gives short shrift to the work of the Communists and their International Red Aid (the American affiliate was named the International Labor Defense and headed by Communist leader James P. Cannon, a man well-known in anarchist circles and a friend of Carlos Tresca, a central figure in the defense case) that organized meetings, conferences and yes, political labor strikes on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, especially in Europe. The tension between those two conceptions of political defense work still confronts us to day as we fight the seemingly never-ending legal battles thrown up since 9/11 for today’s Sacco and Vanzetti’s- immigrants, foreigners and radicals (some things do not change with time). If you want plenty of information on the Sacco and Vanzetti case and an interesting thesis about it’s place in radical history, the legal history of Massachusetts and the social history of the United States this is not a bad place to stop. Hopefully it will draw the viewer to read one or more of the many books on the case. Honor the Memory of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

*On The Question Of Racial Integration In American Society- Law Professor Dworkin's View

Click On Title To Link To "New York Review Of Books" Article Titled "The Supreme Court Phalanx" By Professor Ronald Dworkins About The Current Legal Efforts Around The Question Of Insuring Racial Equality (Or Rather The Lack Of Legal Efforts). This article rather vividly connects with the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the attempts to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas high schools.

Repost from 2007

As background I repost the first paragraph of my commentary today concerning the 50th Anniversary of the attempts to integrate Little Rock.


Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. Keep the eyes on the prize.

History is full of ironies (and well as its share of tragedies, comedies and farces). These days as the fight for racial justice for the Jena Six unfolds down in Louisiana we are also commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the epoch struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the nth time it was then, and today is, brought home to us there is no clear sailing in the struggle for racial equality. And we need not look only at those dramatic and well-publicized cases. In housing patterns, school population patterns, prison population patterns and general cultural and social patterns that promise of equality has either stalled or retrogressed. Further, as legal scholar Ronald Dworkin’s has graphically pointed out in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (September 27, 2007 issue that also cites earlier articles by him on other Supreme Court decisions last term) well-worn legal strategies in order to achieve integration, with the overturning of the Seattle and Louisville school plans, seems to be blocked for the foreseeable future. Undeniably gains have been made, but when all is said and done a very strong argument can be made that that youthful goal of mine to live in a racially integrated society seems as far away as ever.

*Reflections On The 50th Anniversary Of Little Rock

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For The "Little Rock Nine".


Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. Keep the eyes on the prize.

History is full of ironies (and well as its share of tragedies, comedies and farces). These days as the fight for racial justice for the Jena Six unfolds down in Louisiana we are also commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the epoch struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the nth time it was then, and today is, brought home to us there is no clear sailing in the struggle for racial equality. And we need not look only at those dramatic and well-publicized cases. In housing patterns, school population patterns, prison population patterns and general cultural and social patterns that promise of equality has either stalled or retrogressed. Further, as legal scholar Ronald Dworkin’s has graphically pointed out in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (September 27, 2007 issue that also cites earlier articles by him on other Supreme Court decisions last term) well-worn legal strategies in order to achieve integration, with the overturning of the Seattle and Louisville school plans, seems to be blocked for the foreseeable future. Undeniably gains have been made, but when all is said and done a very strong argument can be made that that youthful goal of mine to live in a racially integrated society seems as far away as ever.

Usually I make political comments that many times are somewhat removed from direct personal experience. However, the question of race and racism, spoken or unspoken, is a central driving force in American politics and thus in this entry I want to present some personal information to elicit responses in order find out what the racial temperature is now. One of the most pervasive patterns that drives racial segregation, mainly consciously created as the documented history of ‘redlining’, exclusionary zoning practices and unsavory personal predilections indicate, is the housing question and that is where I want to start today. I spent my early childhood in an all white public housing project. My later childhood was spend in an all white poor working class neighborhood even though black neighborhoods existed as close as a drive over a bridge away. That bridge might as well have been a thousand miles long. My northern high school graduating class was all white. It might as well have been Central High in Little Rock. My urban, publicly funded college graduating class had few minorities. In adulthood I have lived in poor white neighborhoods, mixed student neighborhoods, the black enclaves of Oakland, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and, back in the days, in an integrated commune (for those who do not know that is a bunch of unrelated people living on the same premises by design), and now in a middling working class neighborhood, meaning that it is about 90% white. I have even, when I had a rich girlfriend, lived in the leafy suburbs. In short, I have been all around the race and the housing question.

The reader will have to tell me if my experience is usual or not. But the point here is that in a recent study (if a reader remembers the name of the study I would be grateful to get that information, I have forgotten its name) of racial attitudes on the question of ‘comfortability’ in proximity to other races, by another name -the diversity question- white comfort levels were favorable when the ratio was 90% white, 10% other. Just like my neighborhood! Blacks, asked the same question responded that they favored a 50%, 50% threshold. That is a truer measure of a mixed neighborhood. And that, my friends, is the rub.

In my youth we fought for integration, some of us desperately so. The Little Rock Nine attest to that. Schools, housing, bus depots, hell- even lunch counters and student dances. Everything. Somehow, as any serious look at the numbers today demonstrates, this idea has gotten off track since the demise of busing and the refusal to do anything meaningful about housing patterns. The very word integration has, as they say, lost ‘traction’. Today, in a not so subtle acknowledgement of defeat, the buzzword is ‘diversity’ (or its derivative ‘multiculturalism’). In effect the very hard, hard fight to create a real mix of peoples has been abandoned. The nationalists and racists of various stripes may be happy but down at the base the people have been abandoned to their respective fates. Hurricane Katrina, of now fading public memory, only laid bare that hard truth. Moreover, diversity in common parlance does not signify the mixing, and therefore action, of integration but only ‘respect’ for differences. However, not to be unkind… No, forget that, I want to be unkind on this. Having ten different ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood, going to an August Wilson play, not missing an Alvin Ailey Troupe performance and occasionally playing golf with minority friends or workmates is not integration. Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. More later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

*Once Again, Hard Times in Babylon

Click on title to link to a website that has information about the 1950's. This site is presented here for informational purposes only I will not vouch for its accuracy or political perspective.


I have received a recent comment (not on this site) concerning my take on the labor movement these days. (See my entry, The AFL-CIO bureaucracy and the 2008 elections, dated September 25, 2007). The gist of the comment concerned my argument on the necessity of organizing (or rather, in effect, reorganizing) the coal miners. As part of that comment I noted that one of the problems in such organization is the geographical and physical isolation of the mines. I also note that the miners tend to be a parochial lot and mistrustful of outsiders, as a result. That seems to have set the reader off. In short, that person questioned my ‘credentials’ to speak on the question. He or she, apparently, missed the sentences about my father’s experiences as a young coal miner in Eastern Kentucky. That does not qualify me to be president of the union (which, I believe, at last look required five years in the mines before one could run for that office) but I know the ‘coal’ in an indirect way. Here’s a little bio sketch on that point.


Recently I wrote a personal commentary about a childhood friend from back in the old neighborhood where I grew up in the 1950’s (see "An Uncounted Casualty of War", May 8, 2007 archives). I have also been re-reading the recently deceased investigative journalist David Halberstam’s book "The Fifties" that covers that same period. Halberstam’s take on the trends of the period in contrast to the reality of my own childhood experiences as a child of the working poor that missed most of the benefits of that ‘golden age’ rekindled some memories. It is no exaggeration to say that these were hard times in Babylon. Those events have also made me reflect on why the hard anti-communist politics of the period left people like my parents high and dry. The defeat and destruction of the left-wing movement, principally pro-communist organizations, of that period has continued to leave a mark on today’s political landscape and on this writer.

There are many myths about the 1950’s to be sure. However, one cannot deny that the key public myth was that those who had fought World War II and were afterwards enlisted in the anti-Soviet Cold War fight against communism were entitled to some breaks. The overwhelming desire for personal security and comfort on the part of those who had survived the Great Depression and fought the war was not therefore totally irrational. That it came at the expense of other things like a more just and equitable society is a separate matter. Moreover, despite the public myth not everyone benefited from the ‘rising tide’. The experience of my parents is proof of that. Thus this commentary is really about what happened to those, like my parents, who did not make it and were left to their personal fates without a rudder to get them through the rough spots. Yes, my parents were of the much ballyhooed and misnamed ‘greatest generation’ but they were not part of it.

I will not go through all the details of my parents’ childhoods, courtship and marriage for such biographic details of the Depression and World War II are plentiful and theirs fits the pattern. One detail is, however, important and that is that my father grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Hazard, Harlan County to be exact, coal mining country made famous in song and by Michael Harrington in his 1960s book "The Other America". This was, and is, hardscrabble country by any definition. Among whites these ‘hillbillies’ were the poorest of the poor. There can be little wonder that when World War II began my father left to join the Marines, did his fair share of fighting, settled in the Boston area and never looked back.

By all rights my father should have been able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and enjoyed home and hearth like the denizens of Levittown described in Halberstam’s book and shown on the classic television shows "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It To Beaver". But life did not go that way. Why? He had virtually no formal education. And moreover had three young sons born close together in the immediate post-war period. Furthermore he had no marketable skills usable in the Boston labor market. There is no call for coal miners here. My father was a good man. He was a hard-working man; when he was able find work. He was an upright man. But he never drew a break. Unskilled labor, to which he was reduced, is notoriously unstable, and so his work life was one of barely making ends meet. Thus, well before the age when the two parent working family became the necessary standard to get ahead my mother went to work to supplement the family income. She too was an unskilled laborer. Thus, even with two people working we were always dirt poor.

Our little family started life in the housing projects, at that time not the notorious hell holes of crime and deprivation that they later became but still a mark of being low, very low, on the social ladder at a time when others were heading to the Valhalla of the newly emerging suburbs. By clawing and scratching my parents saved enough money to buy an extremely modest single-family house. The house was in a neighborhood that was, and is, one of those old working class neighborhoods where the houses are small, cramped and seedy, the leavings of those who have moved on to bigger and better things. The neighborhood nevertheless reflected the desire of the working poor in the 1950’s, my parents and others, to own their own homes and not be shunted off to decrepit apartments or dilapidated housing projects, the fate of those just below them on the social ladder. This is social progress?

But enough of all that. Where in this story is there a place for militant political class-consciousness? Not the sense of social inferiority of the poor before the rich (or the merely middle class). Damn, there was plenty of that consciousness in our house. But where was there an avenue in the 1950’s, when it could have made a difference, for a man like my father to have his hurts explained and have something done about them? Nowhere. So instead it went internally into the life of the family and it never got resolved. One of his sons, this writer, has had luxury of being able to fight essentially exemplary propaganda battles in small left-wing socialist circles and felt he has done good work in his life. My father’s hurts needed much more. The ‘red scare’ aimed mainly against the American Communist Party but affecting wider layers of society decimated any possibility that he could get the kind of redress he needed. That, dear reader, in a nutshell is why I proudly bear the name socialist today. And the task for me today. To insure that future young workers, unlike my parents in the 1950’s, will have their day of justice.




As of September 24, 2007, after a break down in negotiations the General Motors autoworkers went out on a nation-wide strike. In the old days, in the 1930 and 1940’s, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was created and solidified by fierce class battles. This action evokes memories of those times although then the fight was centrally around wages and working conditions. Today, in the age of ‘globalization’ (meaning, in reality, most of the same capitalists like GM fighting it out in the world market rather than in nationally isolated markets) the fight is against the corporation- driven race to the bottom. The issues of health care, pensions, outsourcing and job guarantees are what drive today’s struggles. And the prospects are not pretty.

Take the case of heath care provision. General Motors (and ultimately the other auto makers) want to foist that responsibility onto the union with some kind of trust fund arrangement. I think an unidentified UAW local president in Detroit made the most eloquent response to that idea. His response: Why should the union be responsible for cutting off the health benefits to its own membership as health costs continue to spiral or a member reaches the plan maximum. Make no mistake this scheme is not some step in the fight for workers’ control of working conditions. The company is merely trying to bail out from its own mistakes. Ditto on the under- funded pension plans. However, GM is more than happy to try to lock the union into an agreement on outsourcing to their other plants internationally in order to cut costs. This, they know how to do as the decline in membership of the UAW dramatically shows. In the end that means poorer working conditions not only here but also internationally. To mitigate the problem of outsourcing it is not enough to call for job protection. Also necessary is an international organizing drive to unionize all autoworkers.

One of the most compelling pieces of data that I have run across lately on the labor movement is from an article on globalization in which it was stated that today there are as many auto workers as in the past but only about a third of them are organized. Today GM has 73,000 UAW autoworkers. In the past there were several times that number. As we support the current UAW action let us remember this for the future. The same can be said for the other members of the Big 3. And while we are at it since all autoworkers will ultimately be affected by the GM action- extend the picket lines to the other Big 3. Call out the whole UAW to defend this strike. VICTORY TO THE GM AUTO WORKERS!

Monday, September 24, 2007

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-"Silkwood"-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Karen Silkwood

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1984 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Silkwood. Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by
Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. ABC Motion Pictures.
A Twentieth Century-Fox release, 1984.

By Amy Rath

The long-standing controversy over the death of Karen Silkwood is being debated yet again, as the release of the movie Silkwood brings the case into the public eye. Silkwood has long been embraced by feminist and ecology groups as a heroine and martyr to the atomic power industry—the "no-nuke" Norma Rae; many believe she was deliberately poisoned with radioactive material and murdered to shut her up. Now, the movie, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Mike Nichols, has been seized upon by such bourgeois mouthpieces as the New York Times and the Washington Post to propagandize for the nuclear energy industry and smear her name.

"Fact and Legend Clash in "Silkwood'," cired the Times' science writer William J. broad, masquerading as a movie critic in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section. "Chicanery," "meretricious," "a perversion of the reporter's craft," blasts a Times (25 December 1983) editorial. That same day the Washington Post printed a piece by one Nick Thimmesch, a free-lance journalist with ties to Silkwood's employer, the Kerr-McGee corporation, charging "glaring discrepancies between the known record and the film's representations."

These are lies. In fact, Silkwood sticks remarkably close to the documentary record. If anything, it is surprisingly devoid of politics for such an alleged propaganda tract. Frankly, it's a little dull. It includes a lot of material (some of it made up, presumably for dramatic interest) about Karen Silkwood's unremarkable personal life. Like most people, she had problems with her lovers and roommates, didn't get along with her ex-spouse, was often troubled, and drank and took drugs. The bulk of the movie is a retelling of the last few weeks of her life, and raises more questions than it answers. How were Karen Silkwood's body and home contaminated with plutonium? Was Kerr-McGee deliberately covering up faulty fuel rods, which could lead to a disastrous accident at the breeder-reactor in Washington state where the rods were to be shipped? What happened on that Oklahoma highway on 13 November 1974, when Karen Silkwood was killed in a car crash, en route to an interview with a New York Times reporter?

The ending of the movie shows Silkwood blinded by the headlights of a truck on the highway, then her mangled body and car, seeming to imply that she was run off the road, as indeed independent investigators have concluded from an examination of her car and the tire tracks on the road and grass. Then a written message on the screen reports that Oklahoma police ruled her death a one-car accident and found traces of methaqualone (Quaalude) and alcohol in her blood¬stream. The conclusion is left for the viewer to decide We may never know the answers to these questions. As we noted in Workers Vanguard (No. 146,25 February 1977) in an article titled "Conspiracy and Cover-Up in Atomic Industry: FBI Drops Inquiry in Karen Silkwood Death":

"The abrupt cancellation of the second Congressional investigation into FBI handling of the case of Karen Silkwood has added to a widespread belief that the facts surrounding the death of the young trade unionist two years ago are being covered up at the highest levels of industry and government.

"...her documentation of company negligence and falsification of safety records was damning to powerful interests and as long as the bourgeois courts and commissions are running the investigations of her death, the only results will be successive cover-ups of the cover-ups."

In the fall of 1974 Karen Silkwood had been working for two years as a laboratory technician at the Cimarron, Oklahoma plutonium processing facility owned by Kerr-McGee, one of the largest energy conglomerates in the U.S. She became interested in health and safety issues at the plant. She brought her worries to the union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), and was elected as a union safety inspector, the movie makes this appear to be her first interest in the union. In fact, she had been one of the few die-hards in a defeated strike the previous year; she never crossed the picket line and she remained in the union even when its membership went down to 20. Along with fellow unionists, she traveled to union headquarters in Washington, D.C., where officials assigned her to gather documentation of company cover-ups of faulty fuel rods, as well as other safety violations.

Early in November 1974, Silkwood was repeatedly contaminated with plutonium, one of the deadliest materials known to man, in circumstances which have never been fully explained. In the Hollywood movie Meryl Streep ends up with raw pink patches over her face from decontamination scrubdowns. Her panicked expression when she knows she has to face a second one imparts the horror of it. Yet it is only a pale image of the reality. Silkwood's first scrubdown was with Tide and Clorox; the two others which, occurred over the next two days employed a sandpaper-like paste of potassium permanganate and sodium bisulfate. De¬spite this chemical torture (try scrubbing yourself with Ajax sometime), her skin still registered high levels of radiation. Worse yet, three days of nasal smears (to monitor inhaled radioactive contamination) increased to over 40,000 disintegrations per minute (dpm)— normal background radiation from cosmic rays and naturally occurring isotopes is roughly 30 dpm.

Silkwood's house was contaminated as well; it was stripped and her belongings were sealed and buried— one scene poignantly portrayed in the movie. An examination conducted at the medical facility at Los Alamos showed that she had received internal contami¬nation possibly as high as 24 nanocuries of plutonium (about 50,000 dpm). The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, now Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has set a lifetime limit of 16 nanocuries; many specialists consider this hundreds of times too high. The fact is that plutonium is an extremely potent carcinogen, inhalation of which is virtually certain to induce lung cancer at levels where other radioactive nuclides can be tolerat¬ed. And Silkwood was particularly susceptible—she was female, had lung problems (asthma) and was small, under 100 pounds. In short, the plutonium she received chained her to cancer and a painful, slow death.

It is for this contamination, which an Oklahoma jury ruled the responsibility of Kerr-McGee, that $10.5 million in punitive damages was assessed against the company for the Silkwood estate. On January 11 the Supreme Court ruled the court had a legitimate right to assess this penalty; however, the case has been returned to a Jower court where Kerr-McGee may challenge the award on new grounds. Kerr-McGee has held that the contamination was "by her own hand," as a plot to discredit the company, a contention repeated by the New York Times in its editorial, which doesn't even mention that a jury had ruled this imputation not proved.

Since then, theories about Silkwood's contamination have included such slanderous tales as that put forth by alleged FBI informer Jacque Srouji, who claimed that Silkwood was deliberately contaminated by the union, to create a martyr. This is a telling indication of how far the capitalists will go to discredit the only thing that stands between the workers and total disregard for any safety. In the movie the International union representatives are made to appear as a bunch of slick bureaucrats who push Silkwood way out front without anywhere near sufficient backup. Certainly the OCAW is as craven before the capitalists as any other union in the U.S. But it has fought, however partially, for safer conditions for the workers it represents.

In the movie, Silkwood posits that someone purposely contaminated her urine-specimen jar with plutonium while it was in her locker room, a jar she later accidentally broke in her bathroom at home. This explanation is plausible, but we can't know for certain. We do know that Silkwood had been a straight A student in school, the only girl in her high school chemistry class, a member of the National Honor Society. She had studied medical technology. She knew that tampering with plutonium was death. The idea that she would deliberately contaminate herself could originate only in the sick and vicious minds of a profit-mad industry like Kerr-McGee.

Even the New York Times had to admit that Kerr-McGee was "a hellish place to work." Between 1970 and 1974 there were 574 reported exposures to plutonium. Dr. Karl Morgan, formerly a health physicist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, testified at a Congressional investigation that he had never seen a facility so poorly run. The plant was constructed in a tornado alley; the tornado warnings were so frequent that the company never bothered to remove the plutonium to a safe place. Yet the hazards of the plant get barely a nod in the film. Only one other instance of contamination is shown, Silkwood's friend Thelma. But when Silkwood is shown leaving off her urine sample at the lab for analysis, the audience sees many such samples lined up, thus many more contaminations.

Yes, nuclear power is dangerous. An accident such as almost happened at Three Mile Island could kill thousands of people. But the only "solution" to this problem provided by the movie Silkwood—and shared in real life by the OCAW union tops—is, ironically enough, the New York Times! Get the Times to publish the damning evidence, and the AEC will make Kerr-McGee straighten things out. The crusading press will save America by publicly exposing wrong, and the government will step in and perform justice. Sure. This is a liberal pipedream: the AEC serves the interests of power conglomerates like Kerr-McGee, and the New York Times worships money, not justice.

The "no-nukers" hail the name of Silkwood in their campaign to abolish nuclear power. But the problem is that you have to replace it with something, and in this capitalist society there is no such thing as a danger-free source of energy. For generations workers have died miserably in coal mines and suffocated to death with black lung disease. Like any technology, nuclear power can be used and abused. It is not so much a question of a special technology, but the irrationality of the capitalist economy which makes all industry in the U.S., including the nuclear industry, hazardous. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan threatens to blow up the world hundreds of times over to save American profits. Over 90 percent of the nuclear waste in this country is military. And that's nothing compared to the global nuclear holocaust plotted in the Pentagon. That is the real danger of nuclear power.

The no-nuke movement is part of a middle-class ecological concern that the disastrous conditions which workers have faced for generations might spread to the suburbs, perhaps even onto a college campus. Anti-nuke groups actively publicize and collect funds for the Silkwood lawsuit but not a peep is heard in protest against the murder of Gregory Goobic during a two-week strike by OCAW Local 1-326 in Rodeo, California last January. Goobic, a 20-year-old union member, was run down by a scab truck while picketing a Union 76 oil refinery. A company boss, with arms folded, stood in the dead striker's blood as cops kept the other picketers away. The capitalists and their government are not interested in the lives of their employees, particularly when adequate wages, work¬ing conditions and safety precautions stand in the way of profits. Obviously one thing militants in unions such as OCAW must do is fight for safety committees with the power to close down plants. But equally necessarily is the struggle to replace the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy with a leadership that will break with both bourgeois parties and build a workers party. The world will be safe to live in when the ruling class has been expropriated by a workers government that runs society for the benefit of all, not the profits of a few.

Silkwood has been denounced by corporate spokesmen at the New York Times for portraying Karen Silkwood as "a nuclear Joan of Arc" when she was really "a victim of her own infatuation with drugs"; it has been denounced by anti-nuke fan Anna Mayo of the Village Voice for portraying her as a dope-smoking "bad girl" when she was really "beloved daughter, sister, friend, union martyr and heroine of the largest, most viable grass-roots force in the U.S. and Western Europe, the anti-nuclear movement."

Actually, Karen Silkwood was simply a union militant fighting the best she could for a better life for herself and her coworkers against one of the least safe, most powerful, biggest price-gouging capitalist enterprises in the country. And we think the movie did a nice job showing it."