Archive | recession

I.W.W. Advice to Occupy Oakland

It’s quite an exercise in arrogance when the Little Union that Can’t (Industrial Workers of the World) wants to dole out advice to the most popular and dynamic social movement we’ve seen in decades. This article, written by John Reimann of the San Francisco Bay area general membership branch of the I.W.W. illustrates just how out of touch the Wobblies are. This is, after all, a union that after over a century of organizing has approximately 2,000 dues paying members. Reimann specifically complains about the lack of worker participation in the port shutdowns on the West Coast and the need to “make a drive into the work places,” something the Wobblies have been doing unsuccessfully for over a century. As questionable as all that is, what really got me was the list of demands:

  • A guaranteed job for everybody who wants one and a $15 per hour minimum wage.
  • A mass union organizing campaign to win union rights for all workers.
  • No concessions, no concessionary contracts; the unions must fight for their members with mass pickets, work place occupations, etc.
  • Socialized medical care.
  • No support, including union support, for any wing of the Democratic (or Republican) Party
  • Mass funding for clean, safe, renewable energy sources.
  • Stop all evictions and foreclosures through mass action.
  • A mass, publicly financed and run home building program – affordable housing for all.
  • Put the banks and finance capital under public ownership.
  • Link up the Occupy movement nationally and internationally.
  • For a society whose production is based on social need, not corporate profits.

From the union which claims to want to abolish the wage system we have the rather strange idea of a “guaranteed job” at a wage of $15 per hour. I suppose slaves had guaranteed jobs. But this entire laundry list of demands seems to illustrate just how out of touch the Wobblies are. Take the demand to finance and run a home building program, for instance. Why on earth would we do that in a country with nearly 18.5 million vacant homes and only about 3.5 million homeless? We don’t need to build more homes. We need to get people into the homes that have already been built and find uses for the rest of the millions of empty structures. The notion that we need to link up the Occupy movements is nonsense. The Occupy movements are linked up and working together all the time. In fact, the Port Shutdown was a great example of this where we had Occupies up and down the West Coast participating and lots of solidarity actions across the country including here in New York where we staged demonstrations against Goldman Sachs. No concessions sounds good, but you have to be able to exert real power in order for that to happen; and at this point our unions just don’t have that kind of strength. A mass union organizing campaign sounds great, but what would it matter in a nation where labor laws–and laws in general– are routinely ignored as a cost of doing business?

Lastly, Reimann really surprised by actually questioning the leaderless nature of this movement:

One other issue should be considered: Officially, Occupy Oakland has no leadership. We all know this is not really true….Either a leadership will be elected by Occupy Oakland and its role and policies defined, or it will be self-appointed and will tend to do what it wants.

We all know this is true? I certainly don’t know this; and I think thousands of folks who have participated in this movement can vouch for that; it’ is, in fact, the leaderless, horizontal structure that is so appealing to people. This from the little union that prides itself on having no leaders and striving toward a world with no bosses. And yet this really does illustrate just how broken the I.W.W. really is, because while they officially talk about abolishing the wage system and have a horizontal, leaderless union, the reality is much different with routine calls for various wage reform ideas spouted by leaders within the union. This article illustrates not only how out of touch the Wobblies are with the Occupy Movement as a whole, but how far they have strayed from the basic tenets of their own union.

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“Radicalism is the Conservativism of Tomorrow…”

Ambrose Bierce wrote in his Devil’s Dictionarythat “Radicalism is the Conservativism of tomorrow, injected into the affairs of today.”

One of the joys of aging is to have been a radical in one’s youth, to continue to be a radical, and to be proven right (or in my case, be proven left?) about past ideas that have been proven correct by time and the evolution of popular opinion.  Today’s Los Angeles Times (December 22, 2011) demonstrated I’ve been correct long before popular opinion and the entrenched views of bureaucracy got up to speed.

The simpler of the two issues was editorialized today:


Years ago, I got resolutions of support for changing the 80 year old definition of rape that is used by the FBI for Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistical purposes along the lines suggested by the Women’s Law Project passed unanimously by the Board of Directors of the California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI, the world’s largest private detectives’ organization) and by the San Fernando Valley/Northeast Los Angeles Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

In June of this year, I also succeeded in having the Board of California NOW unanimously pass a resolution in support of changing the UCR Rape definition:

As Monty Python would say, “and now for something completely different.”

The lead article in today’s Los Angeles Times business section discusses the landmark settlement of Countrywide Mortgage (now owned by Bank of America) with the federal government of claims that the company discriminated against African American and Latino borrowers on their home mortgages.  The claims were settled for a class of about 200,000 families for $335,000,000.00.

Turn the clock back to 1994 when I ran for California State Treasurer against Phil Angelides (Democrat) and Matt Fong (Republican) on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket.  I had been investigating corruption, discrimination and sexual harassment by Countrywide Mortgage.  In my campaign statement in the California Ballot Pamphlet, I called for a boycott of Countrywide Mortgage that was sent by the state to millions of registered voters.   Here’s a campaign statement from 1998 on the issues involving Countrywide:  After the Ballot Pamphlet was mailed out  I received a telephone call from an attorney I was working with in lawsuits against Countrywide.  He in turn had just gotten a call from two attorneys representing Countrywide Mortgage along with certain top company officials.

The gist of the call was begging him to call me off of Countrywide because a certain top company official was in the middle of telephoning a hit man to have me taken out because he was so furious about my public call for a boycott.  The Countrywide attorneys said that they’d talked him out of the hit while he was in the process of dialing.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I didn’t call off my activities against Countrywide, prompting then Countrywide President Angelo Mozilo to become a campaign contributor to Phil Angelides who was defeated in 1994 ($5,000 to Angelides from Countrywide in 1994) but came back to win the State Treasurer’s post (I ran again in that race) in 1998 ($10,000 from Countrywide to Angelides in 1998).

Fast forward to today.  Phil Angelides was picked by President Obama to head the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.  I wonder why Mozilo contributed to Angelides’ campaign for State Treasurer in 1998?  Was he just pissed off at me or was he hedging his bets?  Notice that nobody has been charged criminally from the old Countrywide Mortgage company leadership.

Phil Angelides wasn’t the only politician who accepted campaign contributions from Mozilo by any means and borrowers weren’t the only people swindled or suckered by the company.  When I was a delegate to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO sent us down a program which promoted Countrywide Mortgage as purportedly being a labor friendly lender!

Phil Angelides

By the way, if anybody doubts my contention that I received that telephone call, I’ll take a polygraph administered by any American Polygraph Association certified examiner.

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(Un)employment report

The Bureau of Labor report for November:

Job creation remained weak in the U.S. during November, with just 120,000 new positions created, though the unemployment rate slid to 8.6 percent, a government report showed Friday.

The rate fell from the previous month’s 9.0 percent, a move which in part reflected a drop in those looking for jobs. The participation rate dropped to 64 percent, from 64.2 percent in October, representing 315,000 fewer job-seekers.

How does the unemployment rate  drop when the number of new jobs added isn’t enough to decrease the unemployment rate? Fuzzy numbers:

There are about 150 million people with jobs in the U.S., so it’s impossible to measure every hiring and firing perfectly. The government relies on two imperfect surveys. To get the jobs-added figure, we count hirings and firings on payrolls. To get the unemployment rate and the employment/population rate, we conduct a survey of U.S. households.

The household survey says we added 300,000 jobs last month. The other survey says the private sector added only 140,000 jobs in November. Half of those jobs came from retail (it’s shopping season) and health care (which is always growing). Meanwhile, the government lost 20,000 jobs. The result was a 120,000 net gain.


[Yesterday] Senate Republicans chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hard-working Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.

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Wisconsin unions have a choice: militancy or death

Wisconsin unions can now either give it all they’ve got, or they’re done for.

Right now, after Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Senate Republicans have pushed through this step in the decades-long corporate assault on labor, the unions really have their backs against a wall.  Membership has declined, manufacturing has gone oversees, the national Democratic Party has abandoned them, and the cancer of the corporation has metastasized over not just government, but society.  If the unions don’t rediscover their past, if they don’t turn around their more recent history of capitulation and infighting, they’ll die soon enough anyway.  It’s their choice:  militancy or death.

At solidarity rallies and on blogs and in Madison itself, people are fond of saying that because of the unions we have weekends and eight hour workdays, and we don’t have child labor, and so on.  And they’re 100 percent right.  Most of the greatest gains of labor came in the early 20th century, when they knew that it wasn’t the Democrats who they must support, but themselves, and when militants like the Wobblies would come out by the hundreds of thousands, and solidarity meant putting your body in the way of the bosses, not just signing an online petition.

Now, I’m no labor historian, and I’m not even a union member, and ultimately the people of Wisconsin must be the ones to decide what to do.  This is a suggestion, friendly and urgent.  But I do believe in that great maxim of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a fight.”  And man, has it been great to see labor get back some of its fighting spirit in the past few weeks!  But, to quote another great dissident, Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Many people in leadership positions in the labor movement – and this has been seen in the environmental movement, civil libertarian groups, and generally in politics, this is not an attack – since its heyday have been too quick to place their own well-being over the well-being of the movement.  That either has to end or these leaders must realize that, in the long term, those two goals are one and the same.

Scott Walker’s attack on labor has, for the moment, been successful.  It is just one more nail in the coffin of the movement.  It is one more step to complete domination for the corporate bosses.  And so, given that situation, the unions can either choose to give half-hearted resistance or to go all-out.

What would militant resistance look like?  Perhaps a general strike.  Many people in Wisconsin, including labor leaders, have been talking about it and some have officially endorsed the idea.  Whatever form it comes in, it is sorely needed.  Not just for Wisconsin, but for anyone who is not in the top of the economic pyramid.

The unions could fight and lose.  But if they don’t fight, if they don’t give it their all, they will surely lose.

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Minority of the Opulent

When one is attempting to explain our very anti-democratic electoral college to someone from outside the US, there is usually a strong desire to explain it away, to claim it is a safeguard on Democracy. We are told it is to protect minorities. As DJ said in an earlier comment thread:

“The very premise of democracy is respect for minority opinions, especially when those opinions are concentrated in geographic regions.”

Anyone serious about democracy would agree that protection for minorities is crucial. But when thinking of this we must consider what minority is protected. Our nation, according to James Madison,  at the Constitutional convention,  should “be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” When you consider American history it is this minority that has been protected. It is for this minority that we attack and invade other nations to open up new markets to their capital. It is for this minority that we maintain military bases across the planet in nearly every single nation for the sole purpose of protecting this minorities interests. When workers strike or take other actions to protect their interests, the police step in on the side of the owning class to protect them. The constitution was not set up to protect an abstract minority. It was set up to protect the minority of the opulent. That basic thrust has not changed much over the past 235 years.

In the Federalist Paper #10 James Madison makes his argument for protecting against democracy. He tells us all the innumerable ways that we fall into factions: religious differences, different leaders, race, just about anything really. Our propensity toward falling into different factions is an innate part of our human nature, he claims. Madison goes on to explain:

So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society (emphasis added).

We’re all so frivolous, he tells us. We’ll fight over just about anything. But he admits that the most common source of faction is the “uneven and unequal distribution of property.” The minority of the opulent who own everything and leave us the scraps. All the nonsense about frivolity aside, Madison understood the real cause of trouble was that a few owned it all while the rest did without. He warned against the  leveling impulse of the masses and the need to protect the minority of the opulent.

Just look around. How are minorities doing in this country? Blacks continue to face hostile repression from homicidal police in their neighborhoods to the institutional racism of the Prison Industrial Complex that incarcerates blacks disproportionately. Native Americans have a life expectancy comparable to people in a Third World Country. Most of the work women do in our society is not valued at all. When we do value their work we pay them less than their male counterparts. Japanese Americans during World War II could have used some protection.

This nation protects one minority. The minority of the opulent. Democracy is the only cure for such a minority.

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