Category Archives: Labor

Forging Unity within the Working Class

In its desperate race to survive its series of crises, capitalism keeps clinging onto its old tool of dividing the working class. But, since commencing its political fight, the working class has uplifted a different call: Workers of the world unite! More than one hundred years ago, the proletariat in Russia trampled over all the divisions among the working class created by capital and achieved a historic victory — the Great October Revolution. But, today, more than a century after the October Revolution, the working class remains divided. In this context, Michael D. Yates, author of Can the Working Class Change the World? (Monthly Review Press, 2018) among other works, longtime union activist, labor educator, and editorial director of Monthly Review Press and former associate editor of Monthly Review magazine, focuses on the question of working-class unity in the following August 2020 interview.

Farooque Chowdhury: Nowadays, far-reaching rage and protests are unfolding in many countries. Hundreds of thousands of people are marching, demanding justice, dignity, equity, safety, and security. These protests are questioning and challenging state machines, ultimately turning into political struggle with political slogans. However, in certain contexts, these struggles occur along color or caste lines instead of class lines despite the ruling class and its state machine being united as a single force to control every sphere of working-class life. From jobs, infrastructure, and incarceration to recreation, land, and home life, the ordinary people are unceasingly under attack. In this context, how do you understand today’s struggles in a number of countries operating along color or caste lines instead of class lines?

Michael Yates: This is a complicated question. Historically the capitalists have used all manner of differences within the working class — differences of skill, gender, religion, ethnicity, skin color, for example — to divide the working class, to make one group hostile to another so that workers will not see themselves as a class and act in unity against the capitalists. There are many examples of this. Today, in India, most Hindus and Muslims belong to the working class. Yet, the government, in league with capital, has fomented religious hatred against Muslims, resulting in mass violent repression, supported in part by many ordinary citizens who in terms of creed belong to the Hindu community. In the United States, Donald Trump has overtly encouraged violence against immigrants, Chinese Americans, and Black people. All three groups are made up overwhelmingly of workers. Yet, more than a few White workers support this and some have followed through with acts of racist violence. What is more, after months of Trump’s murderous handling of the pandemic, 50 percent of the White persons surveyed support him. Many of these have to be workers.

In the United States, employers have always tried to divide workers. International Harvester had a policy of allocating jobs according to ethnicity, putting working groups together who spoke different languages and often had historic animosities. The idea was that this would make solidarity of all the workers very difficult to achieve.

Black workers were typically consigned to the worst, most dangerous jobs and were always paid much less than White workers. Given the history of slavery in the United States and the endless propaganda proclaiming the innate inferiority of Black people, this workplace discrimination fed right into White racial prejudices. If Black workers performed work no one else wanted to do, and for lower wages, then this was surely a sign that this is all they deserved to have.

It is a fact that capitalism tends to bring forth the workers it needs, both in terms of the labor itself but also in terms of the personalities of the workers. What is more, it brings forth the organizations it needs. Hence, historically, many unions prohibited Black workers from becoming members. Or, if they could become members, it was only in special all-Black local unions. There were even national unions that were organized specifically by and for Black workers, such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Black people who labored in the sleeping cars on trains).

Ironically, even in those unions that readily admitted Black members in multiracial locals, Black workers were often subject to discrimination. In the United Steel Workers Union, for example, seniority (length of service) was not based on how long a worker had been working in a particular plant or been a union member, but rather on the specific department they were in. Black workers had historically been confined to the dirtiest, most dangerous, and lowest-paid jobs in foundries and coke plants. The contracts the union agreed to with the steel companies kept this arrangement intact. So, suppose a coke plant Black employee had worked in that department for twenty-five years. He then manages to fill an opening in another department, say, the machine shop. Further, suppose that no one in the new department has twenty-five years seniority in the plant; in fact, assume that no one has more than ten years of plant seniority. Next, imagine that there is a layoff in the machine shop. Who will lose the job? It will be the Black worker, the man who has worked at least fifteen more years in the plant than any of his machine shop coworkers. It took the threat of a civil rights lawsuit against both the companies and the union to force a change in this discriminatory system. Most White workers loved the old system because it benefited them, and they often resented the change that made Black workers their equals. Similar lawsuits were common in all-White construction unions. In the United Auto Workers Union, one that had a very liberal reputation and supported the civil rights laws enacted by the federal government in the 1960s, Black workers became so angry that in the 1970s they formed all-Black labor organizations, in what they termed the Revolutionary Union Movement. They picketed union headquarters demanding an end to racial discrimination, which they said was sanctioned by the union. They chanted in reference to the union’s acronym (UAW) that it meant U Ain’t White! I might add that, overwhelmingly, union officers in the United States are still, in 2020, White, even as the percentage of Black union members continues to rise.

Similar conditions have applied to women. Coal miners actually believed that it was bad luck for a woman to work in a mine. And in many workplaces, women have faced resentment, harassment, and violence, including rape, from White male workers. If we look today, few women are top union officials, and if they are, it is very likely that most members of that union are women, as is the case, for example, in the teachers’ unions. Most elementary and secondary teachers (pre-college) in the United States are women. The same is true for nurses and childcare workers. When women demand employment in what have been traditionally male occupations, they have been met by considerable resistance from men, irrespective of whether or not any particular workplace is unionized.

We can extend our examples by returning again to the world outside of the United States. During the early days of modern industries in India under British colonial rule, the mill owners played with religious sentiment among the workers belonging to the Hindu and the Muslim communities. In post-1947 India, working people have been victimized, driven out in different regions at different times in the name of regional chauvinism. They have experienced threats, arson, destruction of their homes, and other types of assaults.

In Africa, the exploiting classes had the same tactics. The Nazis pursued similar policies, championing the “Aryan Race” and persecuting those considered racially inferior, such as Jews and Roma people. In pre-October Revolution Russia, the czarist rulers did the same. In Bolivia today, the present ruling clique is now arousing sentiment along religious and ethnic lines, demonizing Indigenous people and using the Bible to justify what they are doing.

At different times and places, those who rule use skin color, creed, caste, gender, or nationality. But the goal is always the same: divide the working class.

Before responding to the next questions, let me make two points. I am only concerned with racial, gender, religious, and any other differences within the working class and how these can be overcome so that the working class becomes unified. I am not concerned with arguments and movements aimed, for example, at ensuring that there are more women and people of color in top executive or political positions. A boss is a boss whether that boss is a woman, a gay person, a Hindu or Muslim, a Black person, a Latinx person, etc. The same is true of senior political operatives. Indira Gandhi was no more a champion of the working class than was Winston Churchill. There are also unions and other kinds of working-class organizations that have made serious efforts to overcome the differences within the working class, those that have surely impeded the class struggle.

FC: In the United States, there is a history of Black unions and unions of other people of color. It is in fact a quite recent history. Do you see that as a tactic of capital in order to further segregate working people? Has that phase — of separate unions along color lines — passed?

MY: The formation of unions by Black workers followed two patterns, as I mentioned. In most cases, they were forced to be in all-Black locals of national labor unions. This was because of the racist practices of the White-led unions themselves. Such separate unions are no longer legal, and to my knowledge, none now exists. Of course, employers were happy that unions were split. Yet, White workers seldom agitated for an end to this practice. And they gained some from it, in the form of higher wages, better jobs, and feelings of superiority that should not be ignored in terms of their importance.

Where specifically Black unions or Black worker organizations were formed, they were established because existing unions either had no interest in organizing majority-Black workforces or because the unions had failed to address specifically Black grievances. This is why A. Philip Randolph helped form the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in the 1920s. It did receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor, but it was a Black union with Black leaders. These leaders were important members of Black communities, which were rigidly segregated throughout the country. And these men helped spearhead the U.S. civil rights movement. Another union that was comprised overwhelmingly of a particular group of non-White workers was the United Farm Workers. In the U.S. West, where it began, nearly all farm workers were either Chicano (of Mexican descent but born in the United States) or Mexican immigrants. However, even in this union, there were some sharp differences. The unionization of farm workers in California, the leading agricultural state, had been spearheaded by immigrants from the Philippines. Considerable animosity took place between the Chicano-led union of César Chávez and Filipino leaders. There were even differences between Chicanos and Mexicans. The latter were typically more radical and militant, and Chávez tried to make sure that they did not obtain leadership positions in the union that could challenge his power. At one point, the union engaged in violent struggle against workers from Mexico who entered the country without documents, behaving on some occasions in ways every bit as ruthless as Trump.

Much the same can be said of Black (as well as Latinx and women’s) organizations that tried to pressure unions to adhere to their principles of equality.

Today, there are caucus groups (subgroups within a union) that represent specifically the interests of oppressed groups, such as women, Black workers, people of color, and gay workers. These have been made necessary by the failure of many unions to make sure members are treated fairly and equally, and that their special concerns are met. For example, women want good maternity leave contract provisions, and they also want union meetings to provide childcare. So, these caucuses are not divisive but necessary to forge true unity in the working class.

FC: The capitalist system, in its entirety, is the obstacle to emancipation from all inhumanity, indignity, wretchedness, barbarity, and exploitation. The Nazis tactfully appealed to a majority of people while spewing hatred against the rest of Germany. Sometimes, especially in the electoral arena, one section of the exploiting class lends support to protesters demanding justice and dignity in order to settle a factional fight, while another section of the capitalist class pulls in another part of the population into its fold, cementing divisive politics from the top. In the face of this, does organizing along color or caste lines lead down an emancipatory path or does it, rather, ultimately play into the hands of the exploiting class? Do struggles along oppression-specific lines help build up struggle against the entire capitalist system that continues to pit people against each other?

MY: As I said in response to the first question, the ruling class always tries to divide the working class. What we must do is make certain that the working class (and peasant class where this is important in terms of numbers and struggles) is not divided internally. We know that there have been working-class organizations (labor unions, political organizations, and direct action groups) that have actively worked to generate a cohesive and class-conscious membership. Let me provide some examples. When the Chinese Communist Party, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and others, was waging war against both the Japanese invaders (during the Second World War) and the reactionary forces of Chiang Kai-shek, it paid special attention to differences among the peasants and workers that formed its base. First, it recognized that there were differences among the peasants themselves in terms of land tenure. While the landlords and rich peasants were dealt with harshly, the middle and poorer peasants were not. The main concern of the Communists was for the poorest peasants, who were given land to till and made an integral part of both the radical restructuring of their lives and the Red Army. However, the middle peasants were treated fairly as well, because they could then be educated to ally with the poorest peasants. Both groups could also be made to see the need to defeat the Japanese and the Kuomintang. Similarly, women in China had faced especially oppressive treatment, more so than men. Therefore, the Communists singled women out for special changes, such as changes in marriage and divorce, an end to the binding of feet, and the integration of women into the Red Army and every political organization formed by the Communists in rural areas. Finally, there were areas of China where Islam was the dominant religion, and there were also areas dominated by Indigenous peoples. The Communists dealt with these groups in a sympathetic way, taking into consideration their differences with the Han Chinese. Overall, the idea was to build unity and break down pre-existing prejudices within the peasant and working classes.

In the United States, the Communist Party before the 1950s (when it suffered persecution and eventually became a shell of its former self and no longer much of a radical force in the country) paid special attention to Black workers. It tried its best, sometimes successfully, even in the deep South where White racism was especially virulent, to forge Black-White worker unity. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, labor unions led by the Party or greatly influenced by it made considerable strides in organizing Black workers and making them integral parts of racially integrated unions. A good example is the United Packinghouse Workers Union, the union of those who worked in the meatpacking industry. Black workers had the worst jobs, but their jobs were critical work in terms of the disassembly lines on which animals were killed and then cut up into component parts for packing and sale. If these workers were not unionized, the union effort would fail. However, the union was not just doing what it had to do to get the workers organized, it was also building Black-White unity to confront the bosses. Black workers had to be considered equal to White workers, with the same wages and chances to bid on any particular jobs that opened. What is more, Black and White union leaders then went into the neighborhoods where workers lived, and forced — through demonstrations and boycotts — businesses such as restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail shops to integrate and cease discriminating against Black people. By the mid–1950s, the union had compelled companies to pay workers among the highest industrial wages in the country, even more than steel workers. Black and White workers alike received these high wages. Union leadership was not all-White, as in many unions — there were Black officers too.

A more contemporary example comes from Australia in the 1970s, the Building Laborers Federation. Led by Jack Mundey and a group of radicals, a union of poor largely immigrant workers, dominated by gangsters and corrupt officials, was transformed from the bottom up into a militant, class-conscious union concerned with more than workplace issues. During the 1970s, the union employed mass flying pickets to shut down building sites, crippling the boom in urban high-rise construction. These strikes allowed the workers to make enormous gains in pay, benefits, training, and dignity. At the same time, the Building Laborers Federation “experimented with the ideas of workers’ control, occupying construction sites, electing their own foremen, staging sit-ins and ‘working in’ in response to lockouts, poor safety conditions and sackings.” These tactics were used to bring women and Aboriginal people into the union and onto the jobs. The union used bilingual organizers and had its literature and meeting proceedings translated into the languages of its European immigrant members. It brought to the membership the idea of “green bans” on ugly and environmentally destructive building projects, winning approval for refusal to work on such sites. Mass meetings and democratic assent were required for all union actions.

We see from all of these examples that, first, splits inside the working class are real and, second, they must be dealt with internally if worker unity is to be the outcome.

FC: After any theoretical formulation comes the question of strategy — how do we bring about working-class unity? We know that capitalism divides people through oppression, exploitation, and politics of hatred. In other words, capital sabotages the struggle of the entire exploited class against the entire exploiting class. While organizing the struggle for emancipation, how do we fight against the divisive politics that the ruling class foments in society?

MY: Some of the answer to this question is in what I said in the response to the previous question. Concrete examples from the past help show the way for the future. However, a few points are worth making here. First, to win the masses to a radical program of social transformation, every working-class organization must have a set of radical principles, principles that will never be compromised. It might have shifting tactics and sometimes overall strategy, but these must not run afoul of the basic principles. The Chinese Communists said, as a rallying cry, Land to the Tillers — that is, those who worked the land should possess it. When it made a tactical alliance with the Kuomintang in the war to defeat the Japanese, it limited land distributions to peasants. But it did not abandon the principle, and soon enough resumed the distributions. Labor unions and radical political parties must have as a principle the abolition of the wage system and in its place the establishment of worker control of workplaces, production for use (for the people), and substantive equality in all aspects of social life. Such organizations must be steadfastly anti-imperialist. And these days, they must definitely and vigorously champion the eco-socialist use of the earth, so that humans can begin once again to live in harmony with nature. And as we have discussed, key principles will have to be those that demand equality between genders, between Black and White and all people of color, between queer and straight people, etc.

Second, working-class organizations must engage in and support direct actions. A good example is the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil. Its motto is “Occupy, Resist, Produce.” As I put it in a forthcoming article: “Occupy un-utilized land, typically stolen from peasants and the poor in the first place. Then resist with force, if necessary, attempts by the powerful to take the land back. Then, begin to produce on the land, distributing the product among the direct laborers and the community in an egalitarian manner.” The radical Black Panther Party, active in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s, initiated a great many programs to benefit poor Black people: daycare, free breakfast programs, health clinics, and numerous others. Urban farming, cooperatives, and the like can give workers experience in managing their own lives and at the same time provide goods and services for the community. As people of diverse identities work together, they inevitably come to see each other as workers and full human beings deserving to take control of their lives and society at large.

Third, education is of great importance. How else will workers learn to overcome the differences that capitalists and their supporters in government use to split the working class? All working-class organizations must have ongoing educational programs. If workers join the organization, education must be mandatory. Political economy, history, the history of the organization, working-class struggles of all kinds, culture, food production, ecology, all must be taught. And the teaching has to be done by example, in a democratic setting, in which teachers and students are equals learning from one another.

Finally, workers are not just workers but full human beings, with communities, interests of all kinds, and concerns that go beyond work. All parts of life must be part of working-class organizational struggles. Housing, the environment, health care, family life, schooling, leisure, transportation, you name it. Workers will be much more attracted to such organizations than just to those that focus entirely on work.

Let me sum up this way. There are those on the left, certainly in the United States, who believe that the best way to unify the working class is to push hard for programs that they claim will benefit all workers, irrespective of their identity. Some of these programs, as articulated by the Democratic Socialists of America, would be guaranteed employment at a decent wage (with the state providing a large number of jobs so that full employment can become a reality), Medicare for All (health care paid for by the state), and a Green New Deal (to alleviate global warming and provide millions of well-paid jobs). Since women, Black people, and all other persons of color are over-represented among the poorly paid, are least likely to have good health care, and are most likely to live in environmentally compromised places, such programs would benefit them relatively more than White men or rich people in general. Hence, such reforms would automatically generate greater equality among all groups of people.

What this political strategy misses is that racism, patriarchy, and homophobia are more than matters of economics. They are deeply embedded in the psyches of almost all White straight men. And they are embedded in nearly every aspect of life, not just employment and earnings. A simple but rather stunning example will make this clear. The medical instrument known as a pulse oximeter is a relatively simple and inexpensive device to measure how oxygenated a person’s blood is. This measurement has been critical in determining treatment for persons with COVID-19. Well, lo and behold, there is a racial bias built into these instruments, and even though this has been known for some time and even though it can be remedied, nothing has been done about it. The oximeter was only ever tested originally on White persons, and because their skin color allows light to pass through their skin more easily, readings for Whites are more accurate than they are for Black people. A doctor who took a reading for Whites that would dictate a radical treatment would get a different reading (a higher and what would appear to the doctor a better one) for a similarly situated Black person. Hence, the latter would be denied a treatment they should have had, all because their skin was darker and light could not as easily penetrate it. What good would universal social democratic measures do to correct this racial bias?

Examples like this could be multiplied a thousand fold. In the United States, it would be great if everyone received publicly financed medical care. However, as many studies show, Black persons right now receive inferior medical care, no matter the financing. So, unless special efforts are made to rectify this, including the education of health care providers, who are often enough themselves, even if unintentionally, perpetrators of racial prejudice, then how will health care equality be achieved in a universal health care program?

Racism and patriarchy, to take the two most common examples, are embedded in the institutions of capitalist society, and the result of this is that they are also embedded in people’s brains. It would seem essential that in every working-class organization, they must be rooted out, confronted directly and ended, so that a unified working class can face capital, prepared for the divisive tactics that will be thrown at the working class by its enemies. Once in a class I was teaching to unionized automobile workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a White man made a disparaging comment about people who received public assistance from the government. A Black woman took issue with this and challenged her union brother. A heated discussion took place, and in the end, the White man saw that what he had said was wrong. Why not have these discussions as often as needed, wherever needed, so that we can see one another as real, suffering human beings, each with pretty much the same desire for happiness as the other?

Working-class organizations, unions, peasant organizations, and organizations focused on the exploited people in India and other countries can also carry on analyses along the lines discussed above, with the goal of uniting all the exploited, not only the super-exploited Dalits but other oppressed groups as well, and this will widen the working-class camp by winning over the rest of the exploited people who are also exploited by the same capital. It should be noted with great concern that the exploiting classes in many countries are organizing right-wing unions, using ultra-nationalist, chauvinist, anti-immigrant slogans and archaic ideas opposed to the interest of the working class. These are unions without a class point of view, unions supportive of color or caste discrimination, unions without any program against exploitation, and presenting no analysis of the way the working class is exploited. These ruling-class deceptions aim to win the support of the exploited classes by confusing the workers in them.

FC: Thank you for discussing some of today’s burning issues.

  • The interview was first posted on MR Online on August 25, 2020.
  • The post Forging Unity within the Working Class first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Class Warfare 101

    Starting around 1848, socialists flooded the world with pamphlets and manifestos explaining the basics of “wage-labor” vs. “capital.” Yet here we are in the 21st century, having to go back to basics–even though one would think that the dire economic situation for most people today “speaks for itself.” However, given the recent misguided detour into side-issues–notably, police-style racism vs. “anti-fascism” (whatever happened to “anti-globalization”?)–a basic reminder about the primacy of “class” seems to be in order.

    With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, beginning over 30 years ago, socialism was peremptorily consigned to the proverbial “dustbin of history.” Marxism, we were told by innumerable think-tank “intellectuals,” was a failed experiment. Maybe a handful of the intellectually curious still go back and look at socialist-Marxist literature–a body of writings once pored over by countless millions committed to “world revolution.”

    With the exception of students of Russian history, few will remember how, as the Czar abdicated in March of 1917, a democratic, multi-party Constituent Assembly was established. By November, the Bolshevik power-seizure, engineered by Lenin and Trotsky with the substantial assistance of the German high command, dismantled the Assembly, banned the other (mostly socialst-democratic) parties, and jailed without trial many dedicated socialists whose positions displeased the dictator Lenin. Freedom-of-the-press was immediately drastically curtailed–the one notable exception being Novy Mir, the popular paper edited by famed novelist and humanistic socialist Maxim Gorky. Before his paper was eventually banned, Gorky wrote innumerable articles blasting the anti-democratic, thuggish totalitarianism imposed by Lenin. Yet in Russia, the Warsaw Bloc, and many African dictatorships, this Bolshevik-style of elite-bureaucratic, single-party and totalitarian “socialism” was imposed–only to eventually fail. The bogus valorization of “the people,” an abstraction, contrasted with the subjugation (and sometimes murder) of very real, if intractable, individuals. Nineteenth-century Marxists, responding to the vestiges of serfdom (and its transformation into a proletariat), were generally less concerned about civil liberties per se.

    In this brief article, I merely want to remind readers of a few precepts of Marxism which remain as relevant as ever. (Lenin also admittedly offered useful ideas about “monopoly capitalism”–ideas later developed by Baran and Sweezy (1960s) and the editors of the Monthly Review.) In reality, as economic conditions for at least 80% of the world’s population have worsened in recent decades, Marxist explanations seem especially compelling once again.

    To begin at the beginning–the raison-d-etre of capitalist enterprises. How do the big shareholders of major corporations maximize profits? By the 20th century, relentless marketing of their “products”–with its penultimate perfection in the all-pervasive conditioning of everyone with multi-media exposure. As the passive, beleaguered individual increasingly feels insignificant, she correspondingly idolizes prestigious consumer-goods (Marx’s “commodity-fetishism”). But in every industry, rival corporations are forced to engage relentlessly in “discounts”) and price-cutting–in the never-ending effort to grab more customers. The age-old solution (escalated in the Clinton administration): mergers, acquisitions–and eventual “oligopoly.” A major corporation, by eliminating and/or swallowing almost all its primary competitors, can then of course raise prices back up. The result?: more customers, better profit-margin, reduced advertising costs, and so on.

    The next step: break unions. Claim that minority workers, whether immigrants or not, are stealing jobs from the dominant ethnic group. Nip in the bud any emerging sense of shared “class solidarity.” Invest heavily, along with other industries, in a relentless campaign of anti-union propaganda; confused employees, even overtly threatened with reprisals, will then typically reject union organizing. But with such low, stagnant wages, offer employees various schemes for “low-interest, easy credit”–allowing them the illusion of such things as home “ownership.” ( Such illusions are often quickly shattered.) Of course, by the late 20th century, corporations “racing-to-the bottom,” scouring the globe in the search of the cheapest possible labor-force (i.e., poor, economically desperate people).

    Back in the U.S. and EU, superannuated workers suddenly realized that they actually “owned” very little. With higher unemployment, tens-of-millions of the desperate were of course forced to accept whatever low-wage job appeared on the horizon. Part-time, contingent labor verged on becoming the norm, as corporations temporarily “used-then-discarded” employees in order to maximize even more the omnipotent “bottom-line.” By the early 21th century, even workers in the Tech sector–the one dramatically expanding, relatively new industry–were reeling from one such setback after another.

    These days, Silicon chieftains are finding this COVID crisis of 2020-21 to be yet another “golden opportunity” to reduce the labor-force of actual human beings. Even before the “Luddite” rebellion by weavers (ca. 1811), every step in automation has deskilled legions of workers, depriving them of the income needed for survival. In our time, with frequent saturation-points of consumer “demand,” big corporations have focused even more on “reducing labor costs” as a major, if not the major, source of increased profits. Today’s Tech giants, as arrogant as the steel-and-oil barons of yore, are in the business of promoting all kinds of “labor-saving” products, from online “education” (goodbye teachers) to robotics (goodbye everyone?). Marx of course described all these trends in detail, noting the inevitability of downward mobility into poverty for such deskilled and displaced millions of persons. But one doubts whether even Marx could ever have envisaged a world “owned” by 1000-or-so billionaires?

    A Labor and Immigration Policy that Empowers all Workers

    Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII.

    Workers are the bedrock of every nation on earth. Even autocratic and fascist societies and those that repress workers depend upon them nevertheless. The nature of work may change with technology, and the dichotomy between worker and management may blur, especially in societies where the workers hold greater power, but the fundamental fact is that workers are the ones that make every society function.

    In fact, societies where workers have powerful unions and are an important political force tend to be the ones rated as the most desirable places to live. These are societies where the benefit of labor and natural resources is shared equitably by all. Marxist-Leninist systems like China and Cuba are ostensibly worker-run, but worker power is arguably greater in the Nordic countries, which have socialist parties and practices but no official socialist system.

    It does not matter whether we call a system socialist or not. What matters is that power is not concentrated among a minority of the population, and is instead distributed widely. That is the basis of this Manifesto, which is concerned with practical means of achieving a society that is run by the people and for the people. Labor unions and other workers organizations and political parties have shown that they have a very important role to play in the transition from a society controlled by the few to one controlled by the many.

    But in order to do this, workers must be empowered in ways that are lacking at present in the U.S. Labor unions have in fact been losing ground for decades, and many undocumented workers are still not included, despite the efforts of Cesar Chavez and others. In addition, many workers are in newer, non-unionized forms of work. Exploitation of workers is currently becoming more widespread rather than less so, and this is due to both a reduction in union membership and a weakening of the power of unions. Obviously, marginalized members of society, including many Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics and women are among the most heavily exploited.

    Some of the previous installments of this Manifesto included provisions that may help. When, for example, all persons have a Universal Basic Income, there is less pressure on workers to find work just to pay the bills. In addition, Medicare for All eliminates the need to become part of an employer-bssed medical plan. Nevertheless, workers need well-known additional safeguards and resources, including the following:

    1. A minimum wage must be established, with cost-of-living increases, that equates to a monthly full-time income that is at or above the poverty level, not including overtime. As I stated in the initial installment of the Manifesto, this may become superfluous with a Universal Basic Income, since a UBI will obviate wage exploitation and require employers to offer a wage that raises their income significantly above the minimum. Nevertheless, such a minimum assures that workers are not exploited, and must be applied to visiting foreign workers, as well, so that they are not at a disadvantage and that they are on a level playing field with U.S. citizen workers.
    2. Unions must be permitted and encouraged to organize groups of workers not currently organized, including many considered “independent contractors” that are competing with other unionized workers. Also included are some that perform work on their computer or telephone at a location of their choosing, but who are part of a larger class of workers who perform the same or similar function.
    3. OSHA must be given greater resources to inspect and levy meaningful and effective fines and penalties against violators, and its inspectors must be vetted by both industry and labor oversight bodies.
    4. We must ban or place import tariffs on products produced with heavy pollution or unsafe workplace practices or worker exploitation so that U.S. workers are not subject to unfair competition and that unfair practices are not simply exported. Similarly, we must legislate and enable oversight by an independent agency or a labor union to verify that foreign workers’ rights are protected and therefore eligible for importation to the US, or reduced tariffs. In addition, U.S. investment must be limited to countries that mandate and protect labor’s right to organize, create unions and negotiate with management, and U.S. corporations that operate in other countries must to adhere to the core labor standards established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Declaration of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

    The laws governing immigration have been too long used to exploit workers who wish to come from other countries to work in the US. The dirty secret is that making it illegal for them to enter is used to exploit and take advantage of them. Many would prefer not to live in the US long term, but fear that if they go to their home countries they might not easily return to the U.S. As with Blacks, Native Americans and other groups, they are often the ones doing work that the rest of the population is unwilling to do. We should welcome these workers and treat them properly.

    1. Immigration policy must be reformed so as to allow entry of non-U.S. citizens for temporary and multiple-entry work visas for those who do not wish to immigrate, as well as a path to citizenship for those who do. The work conditions, wages and protections for all must be the same as for U.S. citizens. These protections should be made available not only to newcomers but as another option for those who are undocumented but currently in the US. Let’s eliminate the need for “coyotes”.
    2. We must stop forcing undocumented young people who have spent most of their lives in the US (“DREAMERS”) to be deported to countries they don’t know and possibly where they don’t even speak the language. Give them citizenship.
    3. Stop forced separation of families. Let them stay in the US as residents or citizens.
    4. Stop incarcerating undocumented persons under cruel and inhuman conditions, waiting for deportation, and above all do not separate families at such facilities, which must be comfortable and humane if needed at all.

    If you have read the other installments of this manifesto, it has probably occurred to you that all of the proposals interact and reinforce each other, and that some provisions become less needed as others are implemented. I have mentioned previously that the last of the proposals will deal with policing, and by the time we get to it, a lot of the techniques of policing that currently seem essential, such as the use of pain holds and weapons, may seem almost superfluous in an equitable society. Hopefully this is also a society where class divisions and racism can be more easily and successfully addressed and dissolved.

    Environmental Disaster and Health Crisis in Cerrejon

    At Cerrejon (Colombia), the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America owned equally by BHP (Australia), Anglo American PLC (United Kingdom) and Glencore (Switzerland), the situation of the indigenous people is progressively worsening. Cerrejon Limited has informed the workers that “all the existing shifts will be unified into a single 7-day work, for three days off.” With the enforcement of the new shifts, “workers would go from working 15 to 21 days and the mine would go from 4 to 3 shifts, leaving at least 25% of the current workforce unemployed.” The new shift pattern is likely to aggravate the health of workers as long working hours increase the number of work-related pathologies. Current work shift arrangements have already led to more than “700 pathologies associated with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular and ear diseases, among others.” As the level of work becomes more stressful, these occupational diseases will start multiplying.

    The present-day actions at the Cerrejon mine are one among the myriad manifestations of transnational capital’s cruelty. Cerrejon mine is located in the dry department of La Guajira which is home to more than 900,000 people. 45% of the population is indigenous, with most of the people belonging to Wayuu and the remaining coming from smaller groups such as Arhuacos, Koguis and Wiwas. 8% of the population is Afro-Colombian, thus making La Guajira the department with the highest presence of indigenous people in Colombia. When mining companies arrived in 1983 in La Guajira, they encountered these indigenous people as an obstruction in the path of development. Consequently, the appropriate solution to this problem was the initiation of “development-induced displacement.”

    In 1981, the brutal behemoths of mining began shredding the social fabric of indigenous existence and left deep scars of development on the collective psyche of indigenous people. In order to make way for the Puerto Bolivar Port, mining multinationals chose to systematically exterminate the Wayuu village of Media Luna. Paradoxically, negotiations began after the displacement in which “Some 750 residents who lived in Media Luna entered into negotiations with the company for their collective relocation, but were targeted with anonymous threats of violence, which appeared to be linked to the negotiations and later led to the collapse of talks…. Subsequently, the company ordered the village to relocate for a second time and, when seven families refused, a metal fence was erected around their homes and armed guards stationed to watch over – a strategy interpreted to intimidate them into leaving.” This was a particularly counter-intuitive way of conducting negotiations wherein irregular violence, strategically organized arm-twisting and silent terrorization forced the Wayuu into accepting development.

    The largest displacement came later in August 2001 when the Afro-Colombian community of the Tabaco village was violently dragooned into fleeing from the region. Eviction happened through the carefully coordinated action of the military, police and armed forces, interspersed with the presence of marauding bulldozers. Ines Perez, one of the victims of the calibrated evisceration of Tabaco, said that “The community was evicted from the land by force, with anti-riot police, in cold blood. We were thrown off our land. They destroyed our homes with machines. They punched us. They hit me and my papa. We were left nearly in a coma, with the houses torn down, in ruins. We’ve been struggling for 13 years and we’re still fighting for our health, for our food, for everything. We are demanding to be relocated and to receive compensation. We just want our lives back.”

    Cerrejon mining companies have, till date, no qualms for plundering, gutting and decimating an entire village through an expeditious eruption of violence. Comprehensive reparations, relocation and apportionment of productive lands have not occurred. Even where such processes have commenced, the efforts are insubstantial and inadequate. Samuel Arregoces, a former inhabitant of Tabaco, expresses the plight of those who have been devastatingly relocated and impoverished by the dehumanizing operations of money-grubbing mines: “They destroyed the entire village. They took all our land away. We lost all our livestock, everything. They relocated us to other districts, where we now live in poverty since we cannot grow anything. Where we used to live, where the Tabaco river flows, we grew cassava, maize and bananas. For many years, our cattle grazed the land and we also had fruit trees, but today we have to buy everything. We have become destitute, since we no longer have a village.”

    Another catastrophic byproduct of Cerrejon mining operations has been the unprecedented and utter ransacking of regional ecosystems. Open-pit mining is environmentally destabilizing because it “flattens mountains and devastates ecosystems. In this process, forests are clear-cut to expose the tops of mountains, which are then blown off with explosives. Coal is extracted using large machinery and the unused soil and rock are dumped into adjacent valleys, filling them up and creating a flat landscape.” After this, “New, gigantic, flat-topped walls of debris called overburden are dumped between tiny communities and along the periphery of open pit mines. They swallow farmers’ fields, impede the movement of grazing animals, disrupt rivers and streams, and leach poisons into the earth and water.”

    The cultural loss associated with this disruptive process is profound as territories are spiritually significant for indigenous collectivities such as the Wayuu. In Wayuu community, communication with ancestors is a part of the primordial ethics of indigeneity and this happens primarily through the interpretation of dreams. The dream world, therefore, is the main modality for dialoguing with spirits and ancestors. But Wayuu people can only dream when they live on their own sacred territories. Correspondingly, when sacred territories are destroyed by open-pit mining, Wayuu lose their ability to dream and get culturally stripped of their distinctive identity.

    Apart from cultural loss, Cerrejon mining extractivism has ecologically-materially impacted the department of La Guajira through two phenomena: water scarcity and high levels of pollution. In La Guajira, “people are dependent on tributary streams and their corresponding aquifers as a water source for agriculture, household use, and animal ranching”because the department “is a drought-prone region with two rainy seasons that are unpredictable and inconsistent.” Rivers are, therefore, extremely important for the existence of indigenous communities. Cerrejon Limited has apparently failed to comprehend the importance of rivers and has been trying consistently to completely colonize the rivers.

    In 2012, Cerrejon companies had tried to divert 26km of the Rancheria River (the primary source of water) to access the 500 million metric tons of coal contained underneath the river bed. But this planned diversion was met with organized resistance and Wayúu spokesperson Jazmin Romero Epiayu has appropriately described the social unity with which the diversion was met: “In 2012, the proposal of this multinational was to divert the Ranchería River, the principal river we have in our department, and the principal river that feeds the whole department of La Guajira… Since before colonialism this [river] has represented the veins of Mother Earth, Wounmainkat, which is to say, it’s the blood of the earth. And one of the proposals in 2012 was to divert this river we have because below it there were 500 million tons of coal. But what did we say? Us, Wayúu communities, Afro-descendant communities, campesino communities, the union, the magistrates… all these sectors united in protest to stop the diversion of this river.”

    Despite the united efforts of the La Guajira community, the Rancheria River has been contaminated by the mining companies. According to a study by Fulbright researchers, the Rancheria River contains high levels of mercury, making it potentially dangerous for consumption. Furthermore, the Cerrejon mine consumes more than 24 million litres of water per day (which is equivalent to the consumption of more than 70,000 people) while the Wayuu people don’t even “have access to the basic requirement of 2 l of water per person per day for cleaning and for preparing food.” Due to the aggravated effects of water scarcity, approximately 5000 children of the Wayuu tribe died in the 2007-17 period.

    Not contented with contaminating water, cumulatively increasing the hardships of the Wayuu tribe and killing children, Cerrejon mining companies have embarked on a neo-colonial voyage to divert the Arroyo Bruno stream to the La Puente pit. Bruno stream has 40 million tons of coal reserves under its river bed, a valuable treasure for avaricious mining corporations. On July 8, 2020, the affected communities of La Guajira visited the artificial channel and natural channel of the Arroyo Bruno stream and observed that “the company plugged the natural channel to divert the waters in 3.6 kilometers to the new artificial channel. The alarming thing is that there is no water in either of the two channels. This situation worries the experts…who warn that the Bruno stream is at high risk of disappearing.”

    In order to completely colonize the river, the company has tried three times to displace El Rocio, the community living on the bank of Arroyo Bruno. In spite of Cerrejon Limited’s aggressive efforts at strong-arming indigenous people, the general mood is militant in the department and the following statement from the Guajira Dignity Group reflects the anti-imperialist fervor of the masses: “The government cannot continue granting mining titles here, and Cerrejón cannot come every two years and say – we are planning the deviation of this stream – and tomorrow another, and so on. We have to limit this expansion because this is a deserted region and has a limited water supply. Cerrejón cannot continue diverting streams to increase profits.”

    Pollution levels in La Guajira are high due to the spontaneous ignition of mined coal, daily coal blasts and coal dispersal happening due to the movement of open-top coal wagons every day. This has led to a staggering number of people afflicted with respiratory diseases, indicated by the fact the 48% of the patients arriving at the local hospital Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar) suffer from acute respiratory problems. Air pollution has made the indigenous communities of La Guajira more vulnerable to Coronavirus as it has been found that air pollution is directly correlated to an increased Covid-19 death risk.

    In La Guajira, children are more likely to get negatively affected by the presence of toxic materials and pollutants in air, soil and water. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, “Children are more vulnerable to the localized environmental impacts of mining activity than adults – particularly water, air and soil pollution – due to their progressive and incomplete physical development; the fact that they spend more time playing than adults and hand to-mouth behaviour that makes children more likely to ingest pollutants; and their varying stages of mental development, for example, inability to read hazard and warning signs.”

    As the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on La Guajira, it is becoming clear that transnational coal interests have existentially damaged the indigenous communities. Through years of imperialist pillage, multinational mining companies have converted La Guajira into one of the poorest departments of Colombia with 65% of the population living in poverty. Decades of coal mining by corporate giants to quench the coal thirst of Europe and USA has methodically undermined local agricultural arrangements and disallowed indigenous communities from achieving food sovereignty. Eder Arregoces Pinto, president of Chancleta’s community action council, pithily encapsulates the adverse effects of large-scale mono-industrialization: “It [Cerrejón Coal] may be one of the largest coal mines in Latin America but most families here can eat only one meal a day.”

    Pollution and water scarcity have drastically weakened the collective health of indigenous communities and now, these immiserated people are left unprotected from the virus. Luz Ángela Uriana, an indigenous woman from Province Reserve in the south of La Guajir, painfully expresses the historical injustice which has been done with them: “What we are demanding of Cerrejón is our children’s health. We are fighting for our rights to live in a healthy territory, in a reserve without pollution, just as it was before Cerrejón came in. Here, we are exposed to mining pollution 24 hours a day. I have children, and if I have to fight against the whole world for them, I will do it. I will go wherever I have to, for my family and to honour the memory of all of the children that have died or fallen sick because of the pollution. How is it possible that we, as Cerrejón’s neighbours, don’t have access to healthcare? We don’t have potable water. We don’t have decent housing. We live in absolute poverty.” The present-day imperative is to help these people fight against the predatory and remorselessly exploitative practices of Cerrejon mining companies.

    You Have the Right to Keep Silent If You Want to Remain Employed

    One of the most effective weapons in the corporate employer’s fuck you arsenal is the employment at will clause. It’s the trump card that stacks the deck against you regardless of the winning hand you think you’re holding, relegating you instead to the chump pile of players who stayed in the game one bet too long.

    Your legal rights? Good fucking luck. Under the doctrine of employment at will, your boss can fire your ass for any reason he sees fit or for essentially no reason at all. From the moment your work day begins your rights not only become secondary to your employer, but are mostly tossed onto the you should feel lucky just to have a job in the first place so shut up and do as you’re told dung heap. Though there’s a virtual parade of ambulance-chasing lawyers who are more than willing to take your money just to end up telling you that you are basically screwed anyway, the actual list of illegal sins your boss can be successfully slapped with is smaller than an ant’s taint on a cold day. Besides, many employers now require potential candidates to sign a waiver stating that the employee won’t sue them on the off chance they do actually have a legitimate case, but will instead settle the case through an independent arbitrator – hand-picked by the company, of course.

    If you have a problem with any of this, take it up with the U.S. Constitution. Though the First Amendment guarantees free speech to all citizens, that freedom is restricted solely to criticisms of the government or its officials. You can call the president a greasy-balled colonboy to your heart’s content without having to worry about mysteriously disappearing in the middle of the night, but the minute you refer to your boss as an asshole because, well, he is, you can find yourself making new friends in the unemployment line and there isn’t a goddamned thing you can do about it. That’s because the Constitution does not apply to corporations or private businesses. Your boss can, quite literally and figuratively, tell you to take your free speech and find a new home for it up your rectum.

    Try posting anything factually negative online about your place of employment and see how long before one of your “friends” forwards your observation to the powers that be. Then wait and see how long it takes you to show up for your last shift. If the government wants to tap your phone or read your emails, it usually requires a court order or evidence that you are engaging in illegal activity. Not so for your boss. Your employer can videotape your every move, monitor your emails, listen to your telephone calls and peruse your social media websites and decide whether to retain you based on what activities of yours he does or doesn’t approve of. No warrant required.

    But the privacy invasion doesn’t end there. Your rights are stripped from you at the very outset of the job interview process. Pre-employment screenings are now usually the normal prerequisite before any employment offer is made, and many of these investigations can and do occur without the applicants’ knowledge or permission. If you’ve ever been arrested you probably won’t get the job, whether you were convicted of any crime or not. If your credit history has any significant dings it will most likely be held against you, regardless of whether the job you’re applying for involves handling money. Your driving record is up for grabs, as is your Twitter account. And this doesn’t even include drug screening, which recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control have proven are inaccurate 37 percent of the time or bullshit psychological tests which are so transparent that even the most theft-oriented psychotic can pass. Prospective employers aren’t under any legal obligation to inform you why your application was rejected, and most will lie anyway if asked. Without even knowing it, many of you have undoubtedly been victims of being denied employment based on information unearthed in a background check you never authorized.

    Many companies are now also demanding around-the-clock servitude even when their employees aren’t punched in. It’s no longer uncommon for employers in the service sector to remind their hires that they are ambassadors for the company even when they’re out and about on their own time. So if prudish Mrs. Jones happens to see you on your day off getting your drink on in a neighboring watering hole to her dissatisfaction and complains about it to your employer, you stand the chance of getting canned for essentially no more than living your life the way you see fit. Other companies have placed similar lifestyle bans on the people they hire, reserving the right to terminate people for things such as smoking, being overweight, maintaining certain political affiliations or engaging in hobbies deemed too risky such as motorcycling or skiing. So much for that freedom thing.

    Like any other abusive relationship, businesses trample the human rights of their employees because they can get away with it. Though the temptation is perpetually there for most of us to tell our bosses to take long walks off short piers, the fear of long-term unemployment keeps most of us relegated to playing the role of enablers so we can continue putting food on our tables. How is it that in a country where hundreds of thousands of people have died to protect our liberty and freedoms from foreign intrusion that we then turn around and willfully surrender those very things every time we go to work? There’s a fine line between working for a living and living just to work, and it’s unfortunately getting blurrier every time I clock in anymore.

    Different Name for the Same Old Crap

    Somewhere along the way I became an associate. Before that I was a waiter who became a server. Hell, I’ve even been periodically transformed from a barkeep into a mixologist.

    The dishwashers are now sanitation engineers. The door person has become the valet. The people who used to be housekeepers are now room attendants. By the way, those individuals we refer to as guests used to be customers. It just sort of happened. One day the bosses started calling all of us associates; not just our managers, either – who are now job facilitators – but the hotel general manager, who doesn’t usually talk to the hourlies, started telling us what good jobs we’ve been doing and how well we represent the company and keep up the good work and blah, blah, blah.

    The thing is, though, nothing really changed other than what they started calling us. I may have become an associate, but the jerk at table 42 still wouldn’t get off his cell phone so I could take his order, the couple in the back booth still think its cute to let their loin fruit run between everyone else’s tables while they’re trying to eat and the businessperson who just downed his eighth gin and tonic is still pissed because I cut him off after he wouldn’t quit hitting on the two married women who come in after they get off work every Tuesday to sit there and drink three martinis each while complaining about their husbands.

    Oh yeah, I’m still making a little over two bucks an hour, plus tips. The company attaches memos to my paychecks extolling the virtues of their 401(k) plan, but if I put anything into it I run short at the end of the month on rent. I have medical insurance, but the co-pays have gone up and the amount the insurance company covers has gone down. And I still sometimes get sent home early if there are too many of us scheduled for the amount of customers – er, guests – coming through the door.

    But it isn’t just me. Everyone else is pretty much still doing the same jobs for the same money as they were before, only now with new and improved job titles and a pat on the back and a few added responsibilities here and there.

    Here’s why I think that is. Somewhere along the way the bosses got together and figured out that if they tricked the hourlies into thinking that we’re more important than we actually are then we’d be less likely to complain about stuff like not getting raises and having to do more work for the same amount of pay. The best way to do that is to give us titles that make our relatively dull jobs sound glamorous enough so that we’ll “take ownership” of stuff and develop a renewed sense of pride in being barely able to scrape out anything other than a subsistence-level lifestyle.

    And you know what – for the most part it works. Like the other day. They had Diego – one of the sanitation engineers – on his hands and knees (when he wasn’t scraping crap off of dirty plates and loading and reloading the dish machine) scrubbing the kitchen floor without gloves or any other protective wear, using some kind of blue chemical that said poison on the bottle. The thing is, they used to bring in a crew between midnight and three in the morning to do that stuff, guys who brought their own HAZMAT suits with them and seemed to have a pretty healthy fear of the stuff they sprayed the kitchen with. But someone high up decided they could save some money by not paying those guys anymore, so instead they gave ownership of scrubbing the kitchen gunk to the former dishwashers.

    Another way the job title trick thing works is when they add another title on top of the one you already have. They do this by making certain people “trainers” in their departments. This is how it works. If they see an hourlie regularly taking extra initiative on the job, then they give him or her the title of trainer and have them start being responsible for teaching the new hires how the company wants them to perform. The company even holds meetings to teach the trainers what’s expected of them and these meetings usually have corny business seminar names like “train the trainer” and stuff like that. Upon completion of the train the trainer seminar the newly minted trainers are usually rewarded with some sort of useless token to acknowledge their status, like a cheesy pin to stick on their uniforms or a desktop-published diploma to proudly display on their walls. (“Hey, you wanna come over and check out the cool new computer-generated diploma I got at work?”) I even worked at a place once where the trainers got to wear different uniforms than everyone else, but no one other than the trainers seemed very impressed with that whole thing.

    Another trick is to give the hourlies prestigious recognition that really isn’t. This is usually done with things like employee of the month awards and reserved parking spaces with signs that say stuff like “star of the month” or some crap like that. The thing about the employee of the month award, though, is that everyone eventually ends up winning it if they stick around long enough or don’t get fired first. So the award essentially is little more than a pat on the back for not getting shit-canned. Yet. Hell, I’ve worked alongside people who were special enough to be named employee of the month one week only to get their sorry asses fired the next. But for a while anyway, they got to park in front of a really cool sign.

    That’s another thing. They don’t call it getting fired anymore. I’ve seen places “mutually terminate their relationship” with employees as well as “facilitate their transition to a more appropriate career path.” I’ve witnessed former coworkers “reintroduced into the labor pool,” “promoted to customer” and “downsized.” I’ve stood by as they decided to “pursue more compatible career options” and were allowed the freedom to “explore more compatible opportunities.” I think the bosses figured out that if they softened the process of firing people then the rest of the hourlies would be more inclined to think of the company as a place where they could share values with like-minded individuals rather than as the big, impersonal profit-generating machine it actually is.

    But what all this is really about is companies maximizing their profit margins by tricking their lowest paid employees into doing more work for the same amount of money. And you know what – if I allow them to successfully convince me that it’s in my best interest to trade what used to be an annual cost of living adjustment (raise) for the prestige of being employee of the month, then I suppose I deserve the repercussions which accompany that decision. Last time I checked, the phone company doesn’t give a crap where I park my car and my landlord couldn’t care less about my job title as long as the rent gets paid on time.

    Most employers not only encourage but reward stupidity. It’s good for the bottom line if you check your brain at the door when showing up for work, thank you very much. Should you decide to get out of line and point out that the company CEO doesn’t seem to be struggling to meet the mortgage on his third house, then perhaps you should consider “rearranging your career path.”

    Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing abnormal or wrong with acknowledging employees for exceptional performance. In fact, it actually feels pretty good when the general manager periodically tosses you a “job well done” bone. But I’m guessing the general manager is ultimately in the gig for the same reason as you – to get paid. Somewhere along the way, “getting paid” came to mean trading financial reimbursement for a bunch of crap that not only doesn’t pay the bills, but is ultimately borderline insulting. And every time they refer to us as associates, the powers-that-be are eagerly reminding us of our proper places in the order of things as status-challenged underlings who should quit whining and be grateful for the tidbits we’re graciously allowed to receive.

    Or maybe not. Maybe the salaries consider the hourlies to be inherently inferior and reinforce their superiority by coming up with a title they can bestow on us – associate – that will keep us in our place without our even thinking about it. Maybe that’s what’s really going on and we’re just too damned numb and/or mesmerized to recognize it. Or maybe we just don’t fucking care. So the sanitation engineer still makes the same as when he was a dishwasher and the door-person-turned-valet is still working for tips.

    Different name for the same old crap.

    But I have an idea. Rather than allowing ourselves to be seduced into taking on extra responsibilities so the stockholders can see an enhanced bottom line, we should instead be “taking ownership” of our lifestyles and personal standards of living. The company will continue to operate primarily in its best interest as long as its employees give it permission to do so, so why shouldn’t our agenda include demanding that our employer ante-up something other than a barely-makin’-it lifestyle for the people who are its true backbone? And if it continues to view that as a non-viable option, should it morally be in business in the first place?

    But enough about all that – it’s time for me to get ready for work. After all, there are guests waiting to be served.

    Academic Freedom: Redress for Denis Rancourt

    Denis Rancourt

    Denis Rancourt is a person who is unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom. For example, he is skeptical about the scientific consensus around climate change, and recently, he looked at the meta-analyses of using masks and questions their effectiveness against viral respiratory infections. Whether Rancourt is right or not in his conclusions is consequential, but more important is that he raises arguments and interpretations of the data that should set in process debate to help steer toward a clearer understanding of phenomena. Rancourt doesn’t challenge for the mere sake of irking the purveyors of the status quo. He challenges narratives he finds contrary to the facts and evidence. He is a scientist, and that is what a trained scientist should do. It is what any person, scientist or not, who wants to engage in reasoned debate should do.

    One place reasoned debates should be welcome is at a university. Universities are supposed to be bastions of academic freedom, where thoughts, dreams, conclusions, theories, ideas, politics, and even sometimes nonsense are all open for discussion and debate. Unfortunately, that is just not the case, and even fully tenured university professors have to be aware of how the Establishment might view and react to emerging findings, viewpoints, and facts that threaten to expose — or worse lead to the overturn of — a system that is favored by elitist society.

    Rancourt was a distinguished tenured physics professor at the University of Ottawa. Nonetheless, one day he found that he had been dismissed and locked out of his university office. He was persona non grata on campus. Why? The university said it was because Rancourt had assigned high grades to all 23 students in one advanced physics course.

    There are plenty of studies that indicate assigning grades as being harmful to learning and destructive of curiosity. Critical pedagogue Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes explodes the practice of and need for assigning grades as well as critiquing other forms of behavioral coercion.

    In an interview with Jesse Freeston, Rancourt explained his rationale on grading:

    JF: Why is it important to you to not grade your students?

    DR: With grades students learn to guess the professor’s mind and to obey. It is a very sophisticated machinery, whereby the natural desire to learn, the intrinsic motivation to want to learn something because you are interested in the thing itself, is destroyed. Grades are the carrot and stick that shape obedient employees and that prepare students for the higher level indoctrinations of graduate and professional schools. The only way to develop independent thinking in the classroom is to give freedom, to break the power relationship by removing the instrument of power.

    JF: In the classes where students were not graded, how would you describe the work that they accomplished?

    DR: The variety of projects, the breadth of topics that were explored by the students is an order of magnitude or more (a lot) greater than what you would normally see in a standard class, because they were the ones that came up with it, they were intrigued by it, they were following their own curiosities, their own self-directed research. Because they were able to find their own intrinsic motivation within the subject itself, I believe their learning was deeper.

    Even in fourth year physics, I was able to demonstrate to the class the extent to which they hadn’t really understood many things. We sat there sometimes and reviewed things from first year physics, and I was able to find things that are very fundamental to Newton’s laws that the majority of the class had not understood.

    It was to some extent humiliating for students to realize that they had bought into a system which doesn’t work. In which they can be convinced that they’ve learned something even though they haven’t understood it. It was a bit of a shock to them, but that shock is essential. You have to be willing to accept that you don’t really understand something if you’re going to be a researcher who makes great discoveries of how nature functions and so on.

    So deep, however, was the U of O’s rancor toward Rancourt that it spent over $1 million, as related by the professor, sponsoring a defamation lawsuit against him.

    Rancourt asked, “Just how far can a Western university, in a so-called free and democratic society, go in violating the freedom of expression and the professional independence of a tenured professor?”

    During his tenure at U of O, Rancourt wielded his academic freedom, well, freely; he taught activism, and he poked the administrative eye with his “U of O Watch” blog.

    The university administration’s actions against Rancourt affected not only him; they also negatively impacted U of O students and researchers. Graduate students were also locked out of the laboratory and, said Rancourt, “the university destroyed my large collections of valuable scientific samples, and immediately made the laboratory inoperable.”

    Imagine putting in the years of study to get a PhD, working 22 years for an institution, and then being fired and having one’s work destroyed. Rancourt had amassed an important collection of scientific samples that the university, in apparent vindictiveness, destroyed. Worse, the career of the tenured, full professor with a bevy of publications in peer review journals was seemingly at an end.

    However, in the end, there has been some solace for Rancourt, now a researcher for the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, who said,

    I’m happy to report that all the matters in dispute between the University of Ottawa and me have been amicably resolved, through voluntary mediation that occurred on January 16, 2019, with the help of expert mediator William Kaplan.

    The general public won’t know exactly what the settlement is as the terms of the agreement are confidential. Nonetheless, Rancourt said he is happy about the settlement.

    He thanked his union, the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO), the many students, friends and others who offered their support to him over the years.

    Academic freedom is important. In the 17th century, Italian polymath Galileo Galilei was forced by a Roman Catholic Inquisition to renounce heliocentrism and support the Ptolemaic conception of the Earth as being at the center of the universe. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the Vatican came clean and admitted Galileo was correct.

    Unfortunately, censorship is not confined to the past. Case in point was an article by Rancourt that was published at ResearchGate. Later it was removed (The article is available here). ResearchGate called the article, to this writer’s puzzlement, “non-scientific” and complained about the “controversial subject matter.” In essence, it seems that the managing directors of ResearchGate are indeed acting as research gatekeepers.

    So, I can’t help but wonder why a more concerted agitation had not manifested itself early on against the U of O. If the faculty and students truly cherished academic freedom, why had they not demonstrated an activist solidarity with Rancourt?

    Solidarity has power, but only if it is used.

    In recent weeks, the massive outcry against the hellacious police murder of George Floyd has caused the state apparatchiks and their bosses to fret. What will the outcome of demonstrations be? Only time will tell.

    Alone, we — the working class — are all rather easy targets within the system. In togetherness we have strength; we have the strength to protect each other. More importantly, we have the strength to bring about changes in the system, and when the solidarity is sustained a revolution can cause a system to topple and raise a new, people-centered system in its place.

    Listening to What Isn’t Being Said


    The chasm between what is often uttered on a corporate level and what is actually meant is as cavernous as the stale air which has moved in and taken up permanent residence between the ears of most District Managers. The words you actually hear pursing your employer’s chapped lips are little more than the white noise acting as a Klingon cloaking device camouflaging the between-the-lines code you’re assumed to be too daft to crack. But not unlike most mediocrity masquerading as authenticity, what isn’t said is usually louder than most of the syllabic muck through which you’re required to wade during any given eight hour shift.

    Here are a few of my favorites.

    We Want To Know What You Think

    Translation: We want you to tell us what we want to hear. If you want to be classified as a troublemaker and instantaneously rise to the top of the corporate shitlist, tell your bosses your actual opinion of your workplace environment when asked. Though the average employer will try to convince you that your opinion carries as much weight as Kim Kardashian’s panties, your boss wants to know what you really think about as much as you want to walk in on your parents having wild, greased-up animal sex. Being asked your opinion by your employer is mostly little more than an obligatory yardstick used by many mediocre middle managers to measure the degree to which you’re buying into the company crapline. The workplace minefield is littered with the corpses of unsuspecting minimum wage warriors who self-destructed on their own honesty, mistaking we value your opinion with we value your opinion. So if eating and paying your bills have any sort of priority in your life, the next time you’re asked what you think of your job tell your boss that the mere thought of going to work makes you fire orgasms out of your eye sockets. Then quietly go back to imagining yourself introducing a taser to his shriveled gonads. Or her wrinkled labia.

    Our Employees Are Our Greatest Asset

    Translation: We appreciate your letting us use you to make ourselves wealthier. Though you often treat me otherwise, I’m not another one of your commodities, you lice-encrusted odorburglar. We both know that your most valuable asset in the store is the overpriced drivel gathering dust on the shelves and that my value to you is contingent on how good I am at conning the suckers you refer to as customers into buying it. Without the merchandise to define us, I seriously doubt that you’d one day wake up with a sudden case of philanthropic fervor and decide the one thing missing in your life is paying me to stand around and jack myself off in the middle of an empty shopping mall cubicle. And if I’m such an invaluable piece in your lifestyle puzzle, why am I barely able to afford a steady diet of cardboard and paste on the pittance you call a wage? Shit, your dog eats better than I do, and probably more often. And you better hope this treasured asset of yours doesn’t get seriously sick any time soon, because that porous bandaid you call health insurance covers about as much as the missing g-strings on Larry Flynt’s latest centerfold skank parade.

    Service Is Our Number One Priority

    Translation: We’re paying you to sell shit. Period. Service is a necessary evil in the retail world, because the greedy fucks haven’t yet figured out a way to persuade customers to automatically choose the stuff with the best built-in profit margins on their own. Without the not-so-gentle nudging of their mostly underpaid army of coercion specialists, most retailers would wither and die on the vine of I wasn’t able to screw you enough to stay in business. Your boss has the same kind of relationship with you that the unlucky slob who contracted crabs has with his pharmacist…They both need to pay someone they’d rather not for fucking someone they probably shouldn’t have. The corporate tit is seemingly swollen with just enough excess profit to allow you the luxury of a suck every couple of weeks to keep you nourished, but the taste it leaves in your mouth is pretty damn close to the unexpected olfactory greeting you get when walking into an unflushed public crapper. It may taste like you’re eating shit, but for some reason you keep reaching for the ketchup to convince yourself it ain’t so bad after all.

    You Have Unlimited Opportunity For Advancement

    Translation: Your success will be proportionate to your willingness and ability to kiss ass. The service industry in general is one big asskissapalooza, with a lot of unlucky ticket holders competing for the chance to smooch the mosh pit of corporate butt for the dubious opportunity to climb another rung on the way to the front row of subservience. There is never a shortage of ass that is craving the purse of career-climbing lips in the retail world. Customers want it. Bosses need it. Coworkers are appreciative of it. There’s always a line for a surgically-enhanced derriere collagen pucker, and you perpetually seem to be at the tail end of it. So reach for the stars. Be all you can be. Don’t settle for less. Climb the highest mountain. On your winning drive to the end zone, though, don’t forget to periodically high-five the poverty-wage warriors whose shoulders you’re riding on as you circle the corporate arena on your I’m just doing what I have to do to survive and don’t hold it against me victory lap.

    Our Letting You Go Is Just Business, It Isn’t Personal

    Translation: We’re transitioning you from a full-time employee to a full-time customer. Several years ago, I actually had some semi-significant snot-bloated cockface use this line on me as he was kicking me to the curb. What used to be his conscience had been replaced by a vibrating strap-on he used to fuck everyone else and eventually himself with after his rechargeable batteries wore out their overused welcome. But what he unintentionally taught me on my – and his – way out the door is this…If you ever think that you matter to your corporate employer as being more than a statistic to maintain profit margins, then you probably deserve the fucking you may not see coming. Your worth to your employer is relative to your ability to generate revenue. Your kid has a learning disability? Fuck you. Your wife has some kind of unidentifiable tumor? Blow me. You have the audacity to request two days off in a row to be with your family? Tickle my taint. Look here, boss – Your “letting me go” is nothing but personal, you genetically-challenged jizz machine. I happen to be in possession of this silly thing called a life, and it actually requires my attention outside of your periodic kindergarten-laden tantrums. So every now and then I may need a day off other than the one you required me to request six weeks in advance, and I apologize for any workplace inconvenience the unscheduled part of my existence may contribute. After all, my kid may get unexpectedly sick every now and then. My wife may get a breast tumor we hadn’t scheduled. And my grandmother may die. For the third time this year.

    When Racist Old White Guys with too Much Money are Allowed to Employ People

    Say what you will about corporate human-resources departments, but the one thing they effectively do is keep low-grade morons with a propensity for power trips in line. Though managers and owners with inherent tendencies to be upright prick machines will always invent ways to be walking fingernails against a chalkboard, at least the specter of employees reporting them to the HR Manager looms over them like the ultimate check and balance, preventing their asshole propensities from going fully hemorrhoidal at any given time.

    I’ve seen and participated in more fucked up shit in restaurants and retail stores than I can possibly remember or even care to. My current mom and pop scenario, however, has elevated certain aspects of fucked-upness to heights I’ve yet to have scaled until now. And without the HR stopgap, the shitstorm is randomly raining turd drops on whoever’s head happens to get caught under the crap cloud at any given time.

    I answered a Craigslist ad placed by a couple of self-proclaimed “two old dudes that don’t surf” for an upcoming Hawaiian-themed burger joint looking for an experienced general manager to help them get their vision off the ground. Turns out they had amassed enough money from their respective careers in banking and real estate – with the help of a few investor friends – to realize their lifelong dream of opening a restaurant. After a few interviews I was brought on board and promptly began the hiring process.

    So I’m sitting in a booth interviewing someone who appears to be a qualified candidate for a server position. Her resume includes several prior jobs at some well-known corporate chain restaurants who I know have great training programs and high standards, which is always something I look for. These are the individuals who usually bring to the table a high degree of maturity and experience regarding what the job entails and requires, meaning less potential drama out of the gate for me.

    Oh yeah, she was also African-American. Like that or if she were blue or green or yellow should even fucking matter.

    So as we’re sitting there interviewing, in walks Captain Curmudgeon, one of the owners. After giving us the once-over, he gives me the silent head nod toward the other end of the restaurant which is the universal non-verbal “get your ass over here” in owner/general manager speak. I excuse myself from the interview, and when I meet him in the kitchen the first words out of his mouth are, “You don’t plan to hire her, do you?”

    “Uh…yeah, probably. She seems pretty qualified.”

    “No. Absolutely not. You’re not hiring her.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because once you let those people in the door, you can’t get rid of them.”

    And out the door he walked, smiling at my interviewee and wishing her a nice day as he left while leaving the sort of slimy trail that would make any snail jealous.

    Cut to: the following day. A dude came in applying for a line cook position. Again, his last couple of jobs had included stints at what I considered to be reputable multi-unit restaurants that are known for high volume business levels. As a manager, you’re always on the lookout for workers, especially in the kitchen, who are used to orders rapid-firing at them and can kick the food out without getting all freaky-deaky in the heat of battle. Those are really valuable people to have in the trenches with you when the shit is hitting the fan on a Saturday night and the prick on table two is screaming because the chicken he ordered three minutes ago isn’t sitting in front of him yet, and you know you can run to the kitchen and ask the guy behind the line to kick it out quickly and he’s able to do it unfazed while keeping the rest of the 50 orders he’s working on moving out like clockwork as well. I was getting the vibe from him that he was that guy, and I was getting ready to make him a job offer.

    When in walks Colonel Crustacean. I get the nod, and the next thing you know we’re huddled in the kitchen again.

    “That’s an interesting one. You aren’t seriously thinking about hiring him, are you?”

    “Uh…yeah. He’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

    “No way. Absolutely not.”

    “Why not?”

    “You can’t tell? He looks like a Deadhead! The next thing you know, this place will be crawling with drugs.”

    He shook the Deadhead’s hand on his way out, leaving me there to finish with the obligatory “we’ll give you a call if we’re interested.”

    After that, I began scheduling interviews when I knew Sergeant Shitbag wouldn’t be showing up and was effectively able to bypass his inflammatory contributions and staff the restaurant with qualified individuals in spite of his efforts to otherwise prevent it. Once staff training began, however, he made his presence known and readily gave me his feedback regarding my hiring judgments.

    “What am I running here, a Third World Country?”

    “I sure hope that Chink doesn’t think we’re gonna be doin’ eggrolls.”

    “Keep an eye on that Limey you hired…he might not be right in the head. They’re always a little on edge anyway.”

    “I like that one waiter. You know, The Gay. He’s good regardless.”

    “I can tell you right now that fat chick isn’t gonna work out. I don’t know what you were thinking with that one – damn, she’s frugly.”

    “Keep an eye on that Sand Nigger. Make sure he doesn’t take anything. You know how they are.”

    “Make sure the patio furniture is chained together every night, because if you don’t the Armenians will steal it. That’s what they do around here.”

    “I expected more of you. From now on, I want to approve anyone you’re thinking about bringing on.”

    And so it went. By the time he was through disapproving of and refusing to pay anyone who didn’t resemble his Anglo-prurient sensibilities, our turnover ratio during the first couple of months ran right at 70 percent. Like most racist fucks, his propensity to selectively target and pick on those he sensed were the least likely to fight back has thus far kept him from being sued or prohibited from employing anyone at all – as he should be.

    Having a front seat as a witness to workplace discrimination and being able to prove it are two entirely different things, as navigating the law has often made discrimination the norm rather than the exception. Unfortunately, any pale-balled sploogewaffle with a sizable enough bank account can open a business and effectively abuse the people they employ as long as a lack of empiricism exists to put these fucktards out of business where they belong. There are situations that can happen in the workplace that are unfair, unjustified, demeaning and unpleasant. This however, does not make it unlawful discrimination. Discrimination in the workplace can be in your face and it can be hidden in the shadows. That’s what makes it so subtle, destructive and insidious.

    Oh, fuck…I have an opening for a busboy and a qualified Buddaheaded-Chingchonged-Cameljockey just handed me his application. You’d think these people would learn…