Category Archives: Labor

What Is the Left in Canada?

A claim to righteousness in international affairs is fundamental to Canadian exceptionalism, the idea that this country is morally superior to other nations.

— Yves Engler1

In early August of this year, the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted for Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists. This greatly angered the Sauds who issued a series of sanctions that included selling off Saudi assets in Canada, ceasing purchases of Canadian wheat and barley, expelling Canada’s ambassador, suspending all Saudi Arabian Airlines flights to and from Toronto, and ordering Saudi students to leave Canadian schools.

So far Canadian government officials have not responded other than to state Canada will continue to speak out on human rights abuses. That Canada speaks about human rights abuses comes across as rank hypocrisy to some Canadians. Given that Canada exists through a genocide against its Original Peoples; given that Canada is a partner in US imperialist wars; given that Canadian corporations, especially mining corporations, have been exploiting the third world whereby do Canadian officials living in their government greenhouse deign to cast rocks at other houses?

Canada touts itself as a multicultural land that embraces diversity. Canada tends to align itself more so with the Scandinavian welfare-state model rather than the rugged individualism of its neighboring United States. And Canada has a politically represented Left, or what purports to be a Left, in the New Democratic Party (NDP) — even a Communist Party and Marxist-Leninist Party, although neither are electorally successful.

Yves Engler has written Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada (Black Rose Books, 2018) which examines the Left in Canada. I tend to use the term progressivism because it refers to a grouping “that encompasses a wide spectrum of social movements that include environmentalism, labor, agrarianism, anti-poverty, peace, anti-racism, civil rights, women’s rights, animal rights, social justice and political ideologies such as anarchism, communism, socialism, social democracy, and liberalism.” The term the Left points to a bipolar split rather than a spectrum. Nonetheless, progressivism and the Left are referring toward a similar orientation.

In Left, Right Engler examines the NDP (and its earlier incarceration as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation or CCF), the labor movement, leftist institutions, and leftist personalities (and other actors) for just how leftist or left-leaning they actually are. If one self-identifies as Left, then its seems perfectly reasonable that one should adhere to leftist principles. Actions will define a social/political orientation with greater clarity than words (which are also important). To belong to a party deemed leftist which then pursues right-wing policies presents a contradiction — and in the worst case, exposes one to criticism for hypocrisy.

Engler critiques the CCF/NDP for its militarist support, lack of compassion for foreign workers, and moral corruption of its leaders. For instance, NDP stalwart “Stephen Lewis was stridently anti-Palestinian,” writes Engler. (p 31) Ex-federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair was a front-and-center Zionist. Engler notes that another ex-federal NDP leader Jack Layton was passionate about the role of Canada’s military in Afghanistan. (p 35)

Engler asks,

Has the desire of some in the NDP to replace the Liberals as the slightly leftist alternative to the Conservatives caused the party to move so far to the right that it agrees with Canada being a partner in enforcing imperialism? If so, what sort of home does it offer to those who oppose US Empire and all forms of imperialism? (p 48)

This reviewer does not consider any major Canadian party to be Left. The Conservatives are staunchly neoliberal. Ditto for the Liberals (just a bite less to the Right than the Conservatives). The NDP also are a Right of Center party. Their lack of internationalism, support for militarism, racism among leaders, etc locate them at a great distance from leftist principles. At best the NDP are faux-Left.

The labor movement has also seen jingoism, militarism, racism among labor leaders, anti-communism, and a lack of solidarity (a sine qua non for the dignity of labor).

Engler writes that the Right has caught the ear of many labor leaders. (p 86-94)

Even “left-wing” think tanks bend to the Right, as do “leftist” critics. Engler notes that the Rideau Institute’s support for “peace-keeping” plays into mythologizing Canada as a peaceful kingdom while aligning with military objectives. (p 99)

As far as I can tell, major Canadian peacekeeping missions have always received support from Washington. Ignoring the power politics often driving peacekeeping missions has resulted in (unwitting) support for western imperialism. (p 100)

The author dispels the obfuscation of corporate/state media and its purveyors to cut through disinformation that has captured some of the “leftist” imagination. Engler shreds the role of a good Canada historically and more contemporaneously, among others, in supporting Zionism, the US-France-Canada orchestrated coup in Haiti, as well as the lauded (nauseatingly by corporate/state media) Canadian general Roméo Dallaire who twisted the genocide in Rwanda. Dallaire is a strong proponent of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, a cover for western imperialism. (p 176)

Even among Original Peoples — traditionally considered, in at least a societal sense as leftist2 — have seen their “leaders” support militarism, colonialism, imperialism, corporate plunder, and environmental degradation. Engler says an online search will reveal the Assembly of First Nations insouciance about how Canadian policy impacts on rest of the world. (p 179) The Assembly of First Nations is, however, problematic insofar being viewed as a legitimate representative of Original Peoples. (p 192)3

The Left treads a slippery slope when it agrees with or takes up right-wing causes such as militarism, acquiescing when environmental destruction is at stake, and failure to support solidarity networks outside Canada. Engler broaches the antidote which is genius in its simplicity and obviousness: the Do No Harm principle backed by the Golden Rule.

Yet contrariwise Engler opines, “Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.” (p 52) No explanation is proffered by the author for this opinion. One wonders how the Do No Harm principle was satisfied by Canadians fighting overseas? Also Engler’s contention of a morally justifiable4 war is challengeable, and it is challenged by history professor Jacques Pauwels in his book The Myth of the Good War.5

Engler writes in a very readable style, and his work is solidly backed by sourcing. Most saliently, his work has a moral core. Left, Right is important and valuable in that it does not only illustrate and lament the corruption of leftist principles, but it also provides solutions about how leftist principles can be upheld; pushing the Left leftwards.

Read Left, Right and find out about how the NDP can be made relevant on the Left, about how to increase public awareness, and about how to grow the leftist movement.

  1. Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada (Black Rose Books, 2018): 151.
  2. This was anathema for colonialism and its capitalist ideology. “The communal–they [colonialists who decided that “the Indians were to be individualized and completely Americanized” (p 3)] called them ‘communistic’–patterns of the Indians were an affront to their sensibilities. Unless the Indian could be trained to be selfish, they felt there was little hope of civilizing and assimilating them.” In Francis Paul Prucha (ed), Americanizing the American Indians (Harvard University Press, 1973): 8.
  3. Something pointed out by Indigenous warrior Splitting the Sky: “The Assembly of First Nations is a neo-colonial elected system and their Chiefs are dependent on federal funds, therefore they are considered as collaborators of a foreign power.” In Splitting the Sky with She Keeps the Door, From Attica to Gustafsen Lake (Chase, BC: John Boncore Hill, 2001): 84. Review.
  4. The language is slippery here because Engler does not state that WWII was morally justified, just indicating that moral justifications could be made. But is that not true for almost any war? And do not the war-initiating nations invariably purport some sort of moral rationale to justify aggression?
  5. E.g., US motivations during WWII were based on corporate interests: “… the US power elite is motivated first and foremost by economic interests, by business interests… (p 240; see also p 29-41); not on fighting fascism as GIs “first became acquainted with fascist (or at least quasi-fascist) practices, in the form of petty mistreatments and humiliations…. The American soldiers had not wanted this war, and they did not fight for the beautiful ideas of freedom, justice, and democracy; they fought to survive, to win the war in order to end it, in order to be able to leave the army, in order to be able to go home.” (p 22) In Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War (Toronto: Lorimer, 2015).

A Shameful Legacy: “Race” and the Railroad Industry in the United States

“Race” has always, historically speaking, been the Achilles Heel of the labor movement in the United States, the number one tool of the bosses and big capital to divide, contain, and crush working-class struggles.

In the history of the worker’s movement in the US there are few things as shameful as the legacy – decade-after-decade – of blatant in-your-face segregationist practices, codified discrimination, and race-hatred against African-American  railroaders. The latter story— the oppression and the resistance —is told in Eric Arnesen’s Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality. Among African American rail workers who have experienced and studied this rich history, Arnesen’s book is considered the authoritative reference, the Bible really, of an important, if often overlooked, history in the overall struggle for Black and worker’s rights in the US. (In addition to Brotherhoods of Color, I would recommend Philip Foner’s classic history Organized Labor and the Black Worker 1619-1973 an extraordinarily rich and comprehensive general history that takes up these issues and much more.)

The Railway Labor Act

The passage of the Federal Railway Labor Act of 1924 (RLA) registered important advances for railroad workers in that it was the first federal legal recognition of trade unions by craft. The RLA set up collective bargaining mechanisms that facilitated legally binding contract settlements and the adjudication of grievances, in exchange for rail labor organizations submitting to drawn-out federally “supervised” procedures that in practice gave up the right to strike.

Nevertheless, these concessions to rail labor reined in somewhat the unbridled prerogatives of the rail bosses over decades of on-again, off-again class war on the US rails from the great labor uprisings of 1877 through the struggles of the American Railway Union under the leadership of the legendary Eugene V. Debs.

The American Railway Union fought for the unification of all railroad workers – regardless of craft, race or ethnicity – into one big union. It won a big victory in the 1894 Great Northern strike but fell apart after the massive defeat in the Pullman strike later that year.

Those decades saw regular combat been rail capital and rail labor over worker’s rights, decent wages and living standards, working conditions and safety, the length of the working day, health and vacation benefits, and so on. The RLA, as it became institutionalized, also reined in the violence the rail bosses and their thugs and goons, backed by state and federal cops, National Guard, and armed forces, that was periodically unleashed against rail labor.

By setting up a significant government bureaucracy to oversee the adjudication of contract settlements and grievances, Washington and the rail carriers accomplished a major political goal of buying “labor peace” in the vast national rail industry at a time the United States was rising as a world power following World War I.

Another concession in the interests of rail labor was that the RLA also established the first federally protected pension system for any category of US workers, eleven years before the passage of the Social Security Act. The Railroad Retirement Board still exists to this day parallel to the Social Security Administration (and from which I personally draw my pension as a retired locomotive engineer).

The Institutionalization of Segregation

Perhaps the most pernicious consequences of the RLA was that it froze into place existing, narrow craft categories of workers, and, within that, a system of racist discrimination and the exclusion of non-“white” workers from the legally recognized craft unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods.”

It took decades of struggle in the yards, in the streets, in state and Federal legislatures, and continually in the courts, before the system began to weaken in the 1940s, under the impact of World War II labor shortages and the entry of masses of African American workers into the labor force and the massively expanding war industries. Further pressure mounted in the 1950s, as the Civil Rights Movement began to mobilize and fight, until the whole rotten structure collapsed in ignominy after the passage of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act. Over the next few years, Blacks finally began to get jobs, and union membership, as locomotive engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen and switchmen, electricians and machinists, office personnel, and other crafts beyond “their” craft as sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining car attendants. Women began to enter the operating crafts and other skilled rail jobs in relatively larger numbers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Massive Union Growth in the US

The great labor battles of the 1930s in the United States are downplayed in history textbooks and public education. In fact, this period was marked by a huge working-class and trade union upsurge across the US. The nadir of US labor organization was in the depths of the 1931-32 Great Depression. Union membership had been reduced to 1-2% of the employed workforce. Most of that pitiful number was within the semi-moribund, very conservative AFL craft unions. By 1937-38 the number of organized workers has risen to a full 35% of the US workforce, following a few years of explosive strikes and organizing campaigns under the banner of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) movement with successful drives to organize the steel, auto, trucking, and countless other industries. Nowhere has there been recorded such a massive growth in trade-union membership in such a short period as in the United States at that time.

Unfortunately, this mass organization of the US working class in the 1930s bypassed almost completely the railroad industry and the “whites only” craft-union structure of the “Brotherhoods” that had been codified under the RLA a decade earlier. The craft structure was reinforced, with its segregationist core intact.

The CIO

The CIO did not exclude African-American workers and actively recruited them. In the course of the decade’s great labor battles, such as the Flint Sit-Down strikes of 1936-1937, the battle to organize US Steel and the entire steel industry, and much more, Black and Caucasian workers often organized, mobilized, and fought together and even politically radicalized, to an extent, together. Caucasian workers had to adjust their perspectives and outlooks and confront their prejudices to a degree as they faced the reality that African-American workers had already become a mass presence in US industry. Their numbers and concentration, as well as their evident and obvious capacity for industrial work and a fierce determination to struggle for decent-paying union jobs in the face of race prejudice and segregationist practice was becoming politically unstoppable. Race-baiting was an ever-present political tool of the bosses who fought tooth and nail against trade union advances. Many workers became conscious of these divide-and-conquer tactics and began to rethink their world outlooks.

The Women’s Emergency Brigade organized during the Flint Sit Down Strike of 1937.

Roots of the Civil Rights Movement

Brotherhoods of Color shows that the source and ultimate responsibility for the racist practices and policies that confronted Black workers throughout the 20th Century lay with the private rail carriers and the federal and state governments that catered to their needs and profits. Nevertheless, it must also be said that often these industry and state authorities used the racist and mean-spirited attitudes of the rail unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods” as a cover for inaction or hostile action against Black workers, who were fighting a permanent defensive war to preserve the relatively skilled jobs they had managed to secure.

These AFL-affiliated craft unions, legally recognized under the RLA, contained bylaws and “covenants” that openly excluded Black workers, making them essentially “white job trusts.” The “Brotherhoods” were, at times, even more racist and reactionary than the formal policies of the carriers and government bodies and agencies who regularly came under enough political and legal pressure from Black workers and their allies among labor radicals and civil rights and worker’s rights lawyers, to occasionally give lip service (and usually little else) to fair labor practices.

Brotherhoods of Color meticulously documents the legal battles doggedly fought by civil rights and worker’s rights attorneys in the generally hostile territory of the criminal justice system that predominated at that time. That system, as a whole, acted to uphold and defend – decade after decade – the prevailing system of de jure or de facto segregation and keep Black workers and their attorneys in an endless legal labyrinth. Nevertheless, working through the rigged “legal system,” trying to wring any concessions possible was the main approach of the more conservative Black and liberal organizations like the NAACP.

They took advantage of every contradiction between the fine words of US law and its sordid reality and snail’s pace when it came to race and sex discrimination. Even favorable court rulings here and there were rarely, if ever, implemented in practice. Slick government, carrier, or “Brotherhood” lawyers always managed to drag things out.

This legalistic road was nowhere a sufficient basis for change. It was rather more of a marker and registration for the ebb and flow of the grass-roots struggle against job discrimination and segregation which became unstoppable by the 1960s. Arnesen writes:

Just as proponents of educational desegregation learned in the 1950s, court-imposed solutions were costly, time-consuming, and imperfect. Employment discrimination cases slowly wound their way through the judicial system in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, addressing local variations as well as other obstacles that the ‘white’ craft unions threw in the way of African-American railroaders. Without a doubt, these cases established important principles that undermined the legitimacy of racist practices. In effect, though, they eroded only at a glacial pace both existing and new practices designed to thwart the job rights of black fireman and brakemen.

The struggles documented in Brotherhoods of Color became one of the mightiest rivers flowing into the ocean of the mass Civil Rights Movement emerging in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s. The political culmination was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which gave the legal death knell to the segregationist practices that were institutionalized at the time of the Railway Labor Act. After the 1964 legislation the resistance of the craft unions collapsed virtually overnight and a period, sometimes fraught with tension but with steady gains, saw the beginnings of genuine job opportunities, union membership, and advances for African American workers in the freight and passenger rail industry.

Even in the period when Black workers were largely confined to crafts of sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining attendants, Black-led unions representing these workers on the job were organized. The strongest was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) which became, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, a powerful, prestigious organization in Black communities across the United States. The BSCP received a charter from the AFL in 1925 and, for years, unsuccessfully petitioned for the desegregation of the racist “Brotherhoods.” The BSCP was in the forefront of Black rights struggles across the US.

For example, it is not well known that the central organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was E.D. Nixon, President of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the BSCP and the NAACP who convinced a courageous 26-year-old Martin Luther King (older prominent local preachers were reluctant to step forward) to take public leadership of what became the turning-point action that became the major spark of the mass movement across the South that soon materialized. The legendary Rosa Parks, whose conscious, well-organized decision to refuse to sit at the back of the bus set off the boycott, was a secretary at the NAACP office employed by BSCP worker and organizer E.D. Nixon.

Randolph had the courage to threaten a mass March on Washington in early 1941 demanding an end to segregation in the armed forces as well as that the massively expanding war industries hire and promote without discrimination Black workers. President Franklin Roosevelt was not happy but issued Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination in war industries under federal contracts. This succeeded in get the March on Washington called off. Randolph later became the honorary chairperson for the famous 1963 March on Washington.

But the real heroes in Brotherhoods of Color are the rank-and-file workers, themselves, fighting to preserve their jobs against the carriers, the state governments, and the racist “Brotherhoods.” Arnesen gives them their voice and records their efforts, their many defeats and some victories which, when all is said and done, contributed mightily to the historic breakthroughs of the 1960s.

The overall history documented comprehensively by Arnesen does reveal clearly that all advances, small and larger, won were a byproduct of independent mass action or the threat of it from below.

Crucially, it should be emphasized that the space to do this was increased materially in the first half of the 20th Century in the World War I era, and, even more in the buildup to US entry into World War II. The centrality of the rail industry, the conversion to massive war production on the eve of World War II translated to a hunger for labor power on the railroads in particular and US industry in general. Black workers, already a massive layer of the working class in the worst, and worst-paying, jobs, and their representatives and advocates, saw the opening to fight for decent jobs, paying union-scale, in the rapidly expanding war industries. For example, during World War I thousands of Blacks were hired as construction and maintenance laborers on northern rail lines. In fact, Black GIs returning from World War II and the Korean War, and the African American nationality as a whole in these post-war periods, were in no mood for settling into the old segregationist and humiliating status quo.

Stop the Whitewashing of Our History

In my 30-year railroad career, working as a brakeman-switchman, hostler, and locomotive engineer in Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York, for first the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and then for Amtrak, I saw a transformation in the number of African-American and then women in the operating crafts. I remember being in the cab of the locomotive in the middle of some godforsaken stretch of Illinois countryside, or pulling a 150-car coal train from Chicago’s giant Proviso Yard to the gates of a northern Indiana power plant, listening to the stories of some of the first Black engineers that the carriers were forced to hire – and the craft unions gave up trying to exclude. These brothers related to me the bullshit they had to put up with initially, even as things began to get better and prejudices began to break down.

It would be very educational and useful if our unions today would confront this blot on our history and dignity as organizations of labor. This is long overdue. And not only for moral reasons.

I maintain that we need to know the history of our unions if we are going to transform them into instruments of struggle for the coming battles facing the working class in the United States today, in this new gilded age of obscene social inequality and squalid oligarchy in the United States.

This whitewashing of history really slapped me across the face when I received in the mail in 2013 a booklet celebrating the 150th Anniversary of my union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which is now a division of the Teamsters Union, and its predecessors the Brotherhood of the Footboard (founded in 1863) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. There was not a single word in that small book about the segregationist, “whites only” bylaws and “covenants” that prevailed for 100 years!

I had once personally confronted BLET President Dennis Pierce about this, in a friendly way, when he attended a retirement party thrown by our Division 11 in New York City. Brother Pierce told me he was “appalled” at what he saw in the archives, including “whites only” covenants, but when I asked him why the history booklet sent to each member, glorifying the history of our union, there was not a single word on the decades-long blatant racism he fell back on the lame and cowardly rationalization that to include it in the 150th anniversary booklet and literature would be “divisive”! As if the real “division” were not the racist practices themselves.

Old Lessons, Current Realities

While the legacy of racist discrimination in the railroad industry – and in US social relations in general – have been dealt heavy blows in the past several decades, race hatred and demagogy remain a reference point for ultra-rightist forces and their allies (who are invariably anti-union) and a cutting-edge component in the current social and political polarization in US politics. These voices are trying to get a hearing for their reactionary viewpoints in the working class and our greatly weakened trade-union movement.

Since the financial crisis and so-called Great Recession of 2007-08 there were subsequent devastating attacks on the value of labor, employment, wages, and living standards under both Democratic and Republican White Houses and Congresses. The relative and slight uptick in GDP numbers today (famously manipulated and manipulatable), the balloon of the stock market, and slight increases in industrial production and manufacturing have been typically hyped by President Donald Trump – “this is the greatest economy in the history of America.” The actual economic figures (which are always “readjusted”) are significant and interesting mainly around the question of their sustainability. One key question: What will be the unintended consequences of the unfolding clashes over trade and tariffs between the United States, China, and the European Union? What will be the spillover effects, economically and politically, in Asia, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa?

Another curious fact that stands out for now is that wages for working people continue to stagnate and trend downward, with minor exceptions, despite the official low unemployment figures. Labor shortages in fast-food and other large-scale wholesale and retail operations such as Amazon, Walmart, and so on, along with militant drives by unorganized workers to fight for $15 an hour, have forced these outfits to grant some wage concessions.

Similarly, rank-and-file teachers, almost independent of their weak unions, forced state house to grant some wage relief (that is raises) with no strings attached in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Brotherhoods of Color is well-written and comprehensive. I recommend it not only for its rich evocation of the past but because it contains many lessons for rail and other US workers of whatever “race” or skin tone, for the present and future. Workers, who are being drawn into today’s struggles and will by the millions be drawn into the giant, inevitable class battles that lay ahead in the USA.

On “Bullshit Jobs”

Referring to cultural Marxism, especially the Frankfurt School, Noam Chomsky once said, “I don’t find that kind of work very illuminating… The ideas that seem useful also seem pretty simple, and I don’t understand what all the verbiage is for.” While I think there’s much of value in the so-called Western Marxist tradition—for instance, I’m partial to Georg Lukács (more so than to Adorno and others in the Frankfurt School)—I have to admit I strongly sympathize with Chomsky. But his criticism generalizes, and is even truer in other areas: since well before the mid-twentieth century, a large amount of work in the humanities has been prone to unnecessary and sometimes incomprehensible verbiage. Later this tendency came to be associated with postmodernism, for it was most pronounced in the writings of such luminaries as Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, Deleuze, and Foucault, as well as their hordes of epigones. By the end of the twentieth century, a vast field of “Theory” had reached maturity, encompassing much of philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and literary, film, and cultural studies.

As an anthropologist, David Graeber works in this broadly conceived “interpretive” tradition (I call it that because it consists essentially of endless cultural and social “interpretations” or “theories,” often playful and highly verbose conceptual exercises). He has an advantage over many of his peers in that, while not a particularly great writer, he can at least write clearly and informally enough to be widely read. Presumably this lucidity helps account for his fame—as do, more importantly, his heterodox ideas, his ability to capture a cultural mood even in the titles of his books (Debt, The Utopia of Rules, Bullshit Jobs), and his impressive productivity. Perhaps he’s too productive: while reading his latest book, I couldn’t help thinking it would have packed a greater punch if he had shortened it by a third. It meanders and meanders, repeats and repeats, and, well, I didn’t understand what all the verbiage was for.

But that’s the intellectual game, after all. Unless they’re unusually disciplined and conscious of avoiding self-indulgence, intellectuals are prone to spewing “bullshit” without end, showing off their verbosity because that’s how the game is played. Graeber is at least more disciplined and serious than most of them, especially (most of) his fellow “theorists” in the humanities.

The full title of his book is Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. I wasn’t able to find the “theory,” unless it be that bullshit jobs do in fact exist. And Graeber marshals abundant evidence to test and confirm that theory. The most entertaining, and probably the most valuable, parts of the book are the many testimonies he presents from poor souls who spend their lives in a bullshit job, which is to say a job they think shouldn’t exist because it contributes nothing to the world. The numbers of people who believe this are incredibly high. One poll in the United Kingdom found that only 50 percent of people with full-time jobs were sure their job made a meaningful contribution to the world, while 37 percent were sure theirs didn’t. A poll in Holland put the latter number at 40 percent. Even jobs that aren’t bullshit, like nurses and professors, are being increasingly bullshitized, as paperwork, meetings, and other administrative duties crowd out more meaningful tasks like taking care of patients and teaching. (Nurses reported to Graeber that as much as 80 percent of their time is now taken up with meetings, filling out forms, and the like.) Considering these facts, as well as the existence of many second-order bullshit jobs (jobs done in support of those directly engaged in bullshit), Graeber estimates that well over half of all work being done in society could be eliminated without making any real difference.

What sorts of jobs are we talking about? Not most lower-tier jobs: not street cleaners, bus drivers, repairmen, restaurant workers, store clerks, gardeners, construction workers, etc. These people make a contribution to the world. Graeber suggests a rough five-fold classification of bullshit jobs. First are flunkies: jobs that exist “only or primarily to make someone else look or feel important.” This includes doormen, many receptionists (those who have hardly anything to do and find the job oppressively dull), some HR assistants, and the like. Second are “goons,” jobs that have an aggressive element but “exist only because other people employ them.” For instance, most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers, corporate lawyers (“I contribute nothing to the world and am utterly miserable all of the time,” one said), and national armed forces, which exist only because other countries have armies. “If no one had an army, armies would not be needed.” As for PR specialists, one of them probably spoke for many when he opined that every person who works in or for the entire advertising industry simply “manufactur[es] demand and then exaggerat[es] the usefulness of the products sold to fix it.” He concluded, “If we’re at the point where in order to sell products, you have to first of all trick people into thinking they need them, then I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that these jobs aren’t bullshit.”

Third is the category of “duct tapers,” people whose jobs exist only because of a glitch in the organization, “who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist.” Often this includes underlings who have to fix mistakes made by incompetent superiors. Or do nothing but deal with customers irate because something went wrong. Fourth are “box tickers,” who allow an organization to be able to claim it’s doing something it actually isn’t doing. One testimony is from a guy who was Senior Quality and Performance Officer in a local council in the United Kingdom; most of what he did involved ticking boxes, “pretending things are great to senior managers, and generally ‘feeding the beast’ with meaningless numbers that give the illusion of control. None of which helps the citizens of that council in the slightest.”

The fifth category is taskmasters, people who do nothing but assign work to others, create bullshit tasks for others to do, or supervise bullshit. Middle management frequently falls under this category, as when managers oversee workers who could perform just as well, or sometimes better, without oversight. “I just got promoted to this job,” one manager says, “and I spend a lot of my time looking around and wondering what I’m supposed to be doing.” That’s a common complaint: being forced to supervise people who don’t need supervision. (Readers of Harry Braverman’s classic Labor and Monopoly Capital won’t find this complaint surprising at all.) Frequently positions with the word ‘strategic’ in their names—Strategic Dean, Vice President of Strategic Development, Strategic Officer—are bullshit. “All I could do,” one such person said, “was come up with a new strategy that was in effect a re-spin of already agreed-upon strategies.” But these people are given their own staff, which they have to try to find work for.

Graeber’s classification system is somewhat interesting, though, as he acknowledges, it leaves out a lot. One huge area of bullshit it leaves out he doesn’t mention at all: bullshit academic research. Surely the large majority of academic research makes essentially no contribution to the world, except to pad CVs and advance careers. Endless conferences, “calls for papers” sent out for yet another conference, thousands upon thousands of scholarly articles published every year most of which are read by hardly anyone (more often simply glanced over). Much of the writing isn’t only irrelevant and uninteresting, superficial and unchallenging, but even perverse: again, one thinks of postmodernist obscurantism, relativism, and idealism. In the case of postmodernism and, more generally, the idealism (and centrism) of bourgeois scholarship and journalism, the bullshit serves an obvious purpose for the establishment: it distracts from structures of class and power, obscures understanding of how society works, and does nothing to advance left-wing dissent. (I discuss these matters in depth here, and also on my website.)

Graeber devotes a couple of chapters to what it’s like to work in a bullshit job and why people so often report themselves miserable. According to bourgeois psychological theories, after all, it might seem that some of these jobs are great. You hardly have to work, you have barely any real responsibilities, you can spend hours playing computer games or surfing the web. You can (in many cases) be almost as lazy as, supposedly, you want to be just by virtue of being human. But of course humans are not, in fact, lazy by nature, creatures who have to be driven to work, as bourgeois ideologies proclaim. They want to work, but on creative and enjoyable tasks. Their fundamental desire is not to slack off but to have a meaningful life, full of purpose, creativity, exploration, and love, a life of contributions to the world. To work in an utterly pointless job, therefore, day in and day out, month after month, can be maddening, soul-killing torture. It seems that the respect and prestige these people might be accorded can make it even worse, heightening their sense of being frauds or parasites.

Many of the testimonies Graeber has compiled are both sad and hilarious. Most are too long to quote here, but I’ll quote one, from a security guard:

I worked as a museum guard for a major global security company in a museum where one exhibition room was left unused more or less permanently. My job was to guard that empty room, ensuring no museum guests touched the…well, nothing in the room, and ensure nobody set any fires. To keep my mind sharp and attention undivided, I was forbidden any form of mental stimulation, like books, phones, etc.

Since nobody was ever there, in practice I sat still and twiddled my thumbs for seven and a half hours, waiting for the fire alarm to sound. If it did, I was to calmly stand up and walk out. That was it.

One might think of this guard’s job as a literal realization of the metaphorical meaning of thousands of positions filled by tens of millions of people. The colossal waste of human potential is beyond comprehension.

The natural question, aside from how to change this terrible collective situation, is how all these worthless jobs started proliferating in the first place. Why aren’t we all working fifteen-hour weeks? If we got rid of the pointless jobs and the pointless aspects of the real jobs, the resulting work could easily be taken care of by our working fifteen- or twenty-hour weeks. In fact, back in 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted that in a hundred years the problem of scarcity would have been solved, and the major problem of the age would be to find ways to prevent ourselves from going insane with boredom. So what happened?

This is a complicated historical question that gets to the heart of how capitalism has evolved over the last century, so it isn’t to Graeber’s discredit that he doesn’t fully answer it. He first dispatches two answers conservatives give: that the world has become so complicated we need all these jobs, and they aren’t really as pointless as they seem; and that even if there are bullshit jobs, it’s only because government regulations have led to a growing number of useless bureaucrats. These answers are on the intellectual level of most conservatism, and Graeber refutes them with ease. With one piece of evidence. He points out that between 1985 and 2005 the proportion of administrators and their staff in American universities shot up even though the number of teachers per students remained largely constant. Teaching and writing certainly haven’t become so complicated they suddenly need far more administrators and staffers—so why the bullshitization of universities? It isn’t because of the big bad government either, since the number of administrators at private institutions has increased at more than twice the rate it did at public ones. So there goes the “libertarian” notion of government wastefulness. “In fact,” Graeber comments, “the only reasonable interpretation of these numbers is precisely the opposite: public universities are ultimately answerable to the public, and hence, under constant political pressure to cut costs and not engage in wasteful expenditures.”

Graeber’s own answer is that capitalism has changed its character since the days when it somewhat approximated conditions of perfect competition. When capitalism was mainly about producing things competitively, the argument that free-market enthusiasts give against the notion that corporations would ever hire unnecessary workers to do bullshit jobs made sense: maximizing profits meant paying the least number of workers the least amount possible. To hire a large number of redundant workers would be absurd. But, as Graeber argues, the logic of the economy has changed in the last forty years, with the rise of financial capitalism and the FIRE sector (including insurance and real estate). The main object now is not to produce goods competitively but to distribute large sums of money, to distribute the proceeds from enormous amounts of debt, to create money (by giving loans) and then move it around in very complex ways while extracting fees with every transaction. “The results often leave bank employees feeling that the entire enterprise is…pointless.”

So, “when a profit-seeking enterprise is in the business of distributing a very large sum of money, the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible.” It can then find pretexts to take more cuts, even acting against the interests of its clients, and using its profits to hire more people and grow bigger. There seems, indeed, to be a tendency inherent in large bureaucracies, whether corporate or political, to expand, to suck up more resources as an end in itself. Graeber gives a name to the “new” dynamic that has emerged in capitalism: managerial feudalism. It’s supposed to be analogous to the creation of hierarchies of nobles and officials in medieval Europe through a process of devolution called “sub-infeudation,” in which a king would grant land to a duke, who would use the resources from that land to support a huge retinue of courtiers and vassals, many of whom would be granted their own plots of land that could support their own retinues, and so on down to local knights and lords of the manor.

“The rise of managerial feudalism has produced a similar infatuation with hierarchy for its own sake.” Managers manage other managers, each with their own staff; various levels of managers market things to one another, especially in “creative industries” like publishing, the visual arts, and film and television. It’s particularly bad in the latter industry, where there are untold numbers of producers, sub-producers, executive producers, consultants, etc., “all in constant search for something, anything, to actually do.” But even in more traditional manufacturing industries, white-collar workers are hired seemingly for the sake of having more white-collar workers. Graeber uses the example of the Elephant Tea factory outside Marseilles, France. Years ago it was bought up by Unilever, which pretty much left its old organizational structure intact. Meanwhile the workers, on their own initiative, managed to speed up production by more than 50 percent, markedly increasing profits. So what did Unilever do? Rather than hiring more workers or buying new machinery to expand operations, it hired a bunch of white-collar bureaucrats to wander around trying to think of something to do. “They’d be walking up and down the catwalks every day,” an older worker said, “staring at us, scribbling notes while we worked. Then they’d have meetings and discuss it and write reports. But they still couldn’t figure out any real excuse for their existence.” Finally they just suggested that the company shut down the whole plant and move operations to Poland—whereupon the workers took over the factory and kicked their employers out.

Even when corporate executives are presented with ways to automate tasks that white-collar employees are doing by hand, they often resist. One testimony was from a guy who was hired by a large bank to do risk management, which meant he was able to have a panoramic view of the bank’s internal processes and suggest fixes for incoherencies, vulnerabilities, and redundancies. He concluded that, conservatively, 80 percent of the bank’s 60,000 employees were unnecessary, because their jobs either could be performed by a program or were in support of “some bullshit process” to begin with. But when he presented executives with programs that would solve inefficiencies, he always faced severe hostility. Not a single one of his recommendations was ever adopted. “Because in every case,” he said, “fixing these problems would have resulted in people losing their jobs, as those jobs served no purpose other than giving the executive they reported to a sense of power.” In case after case that Graeber reports, it was clear that the higher-ups prided themselves on their bloated staffs.

The notion of managerial feudalism is evocative, and Graeber is clearly onto something with his suggestion that “there seems to be an intrinsic connection between the financialization of the economy, the blossoming of information industries, and the proliferation of bullshit jobs.” What exactly that connection is, though, is hard to tease out. The precise mechanisms are hard to tease out. His “iron law of liberalism,” formulated in Utopia of Rules, is also apropos: “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” Such reforms have been abundant in the neoliberal era, and they have certainly contributed to the explosion of bureaucracy, in both the private and public sectors.

But Graeber neglects to mention the more deep-rooted forces that have made bullshitization a steadily growing phenomenon since at least the time of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Ever since management began to take control of production away from workers, to centralize knowledge in its own ranks and reduce the worker to mere appendage of the machine—but an appendage that has to be closely monitored and supervised—whole layers of unnecessary bureaucracy have existed. Much of the bureaucracy has existed only to control and monitor the direct producers, to strip power from them and keep it in the hands of capitalists or their agents. In other words, its purpose has been largely political, not directly economic or “efficiency”-related.

At the same time, it became ever more necessary to control markets and the public mind, through political and advertising propaganda. Hence the rise of the public relations industry from around the time of World War I. And hence whole new layers of massive bureaucracy, which have continued to expand for a hundred years. Meanwhile, government bureaucracies expanded exponentially in order to improve society’s “legibility” to the state and administer it for the benefit of capital. Corporate capital and the state constantly strengthened their ties, effectively intertwining, collecting practically infinite amounts of data on the population for the usual purposes of surveillance, control, and profit-making; and the processing of such data inevitably was used to justify further growth of bureaucracies, even beyond what was strictly necessary. All this was happening long before the neoliberal era, though it attained new heights of wastefulness under the impact of “deregulation,” privatization, financialization, globalization, and the information economy.

It’s significant, too, that the proliferation of bullshit jobs is itself a form of population control, of keeping people subordinate in hierarchical structures, socialized into submission, atomized and alienated from one another. African-American men are kept under control by being locked up in prisons, while whites are funneled into pointless jobs where they can be supervised and indoctrinated. The system hasn’t been consciously designed for this purpose, but the reason it’s able to expand is that it serves the interests of power-structures.

So is there any way out of our bullshit society? Can it be reformed so that half the work being done is no longer pointless? Graeber doesn’t focus on this question, since his book is supposed to be about diagnosing the problem rather than proposing solutions, but he does suggest that Universal Basic Income would help. Unlike many reforms that social movements are proposing, UBI would likely reduce the size and intrusiveness of government, not increase it. If everyone automatically received, say, $25,000 or more a year, huge and intrusive sections of government could simply be shut down (even if social welfare programs continued or expanded). Millions of bureaucrats would lose their jobs, but they would also receive an annual income allowing them to pursue other projects that interested them.

“A full Basic Income would eliminate the compulsion to work, by offering a reasonable standard of living to all, and then either leaving it up to each individual to decide whether they wished to pursue further wealth, by doing a paying job or selling something, or whether they wished to do something else with their time.” Bosses might start treating their employees better, since it would be a less frightening prospect for them to quit, and conditions in crappy low-paying jobs would have to improve in order to attract workers. Many pointless jobs would cease to exist, since few people would want them. The social changes would be so radical and far-reaching it’s impossible to fully anticipate them.

Graeber doesn’t delve into the technicalities of UBI, but he’s right it’s a proposal worth seriously thinking about. It could be a step on the road to even more radical changes.

All in all, Bullshit Jobs is a good book that’s worth reading, despite its irritating prolixity and meandering structure. It usefully highlights and names a major social malady that afflicts tens of millions but that few people talk about, except in informal conversations among their fellow sufferers. We should all be talking about the meaningless-jobs crisis and proposing solutions that will end the rampant spiritual misery it has caused. UBI, if designed well, could be a huge step in the right direction. But ultimately, I don’t see any thoroughgoing cure except an end to capitalism itself, which is to say a (necessarily protracted) revolution that finally establishes the old socialist ideal of economic democracy. Democracy is the only real cure for all of humanity’s current ailments.

Charter Schools: “Backpack Full of Cash”

Backpack Full of Cash is a 90-minute documentary about the negative consequences of the growing privatization of public schools in America. Produced several years ago, the film focuses mainly on the harmful impact of charter schools on public schools and America’s most vulnerable children. The film has been viewed by thousands of people in many different venues, and many continue to organize film screenings in their communities.

Among other things, the film makers have produced a useful 28-page discussion guide which includes questions and answers surrounding privatization and charter schools.

This three-part series tackles a few of these questions in greater detail.

QUESTION: We live in a capitalist country. Why not look to the free market for solutions?

RESPONSE: Labor is the only source of value. Profit equals unpaid labor. Capitalism is a transient economic system designed to maximize profit as fast as possible for major owners of capital. Production under capitalism takes place for the purpose of profitable exchange, not for meeting social needs. If something is not profitable, it will not be produced. And what is not produced, cannot be distributed. This is a very narrow aim for society and the reason why, even though society has an overabundance of wealth and resources, millions go without many basic needs being met. For example, there are thousands of homeless people in the U.S. even though there are thousands of vacant houses.

Far from ensuring that goods and services are produced and distributed in the most “efficient” manner, the capitalist “free market” ensures chaos, anarchy, volatility, and uncertainty. Risk, insecurity, and instability are inherent, not accidental, features of the “free market.” Economic slumps, recessions, booms, busts, depressions, and crises are the fellow-travelers of capitalism. This is how the so-called “invisible hand” operates. The “free market” produces carnage in business and society every day. A dog-eat-dog ethos prevails. Fortunes are made and lost overnight. “Winners” and “losers” abound. Greed, jealousy, rivalry, narcissism, individualism, and “getting ahead of others” are treated as normal, permanent, unavoidable, and healthy. These traits are supposedly part of “human nature,” rather than the direct expression of an impermanent economic system plagued by violent internal contradictions.

Why should collective human responsibilities like education rest on uncertainty, insecurity, instability, and chaos? Why should critical social responsibilities be based on the narrow profit motive? Modern humans need education (and healthcare, food, and shelter) on a reliable, sustainable, crisis-free basis. Subjecting basic needs to the blind destruction of the “free market” is irrational, irresponsible, and historically unwarranted. Schools should not be closing and opening every day, and in such an inhuman dog-eat-dog environment. The needs of students, educators, parents, the economy, and society cannot be met properly when the profit motive and the “law of the jungle” are the main modes of life.

The “free market” works only for a tiny ruling elite, and even then with great risks and insecurity. Education, like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare are social responsibilities which cannot be treated as commodities. Education is not a business. Nor can it be left to chance. Students, parents, and teachers are not consumers. Their identity, needs, and complexity cannot be reduced to buying and selling, winning and losing. Homo Sapiens are more than Homo Economicus.

The right to education in a modern society based on large-scale production cannot be guaranteed without conscious human planning. Economic “booms and busts” and the devastating ripples they regularly send through society and all of its institutions can be avoided. There is an alternative, one whose seeds lie in the present. It is both possible and necessary to set a new direction for society and the economy and to live in a human-centered way. No human or institution has to be the victim of blind anarchic “market forces” that always seem to perpetuate upheaval and anxiety while always benefitting the privileged few the most.

Heroes and Villains – The Daily Show in a Homeless Shelter

Now, during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way. Order couldn’t be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out. That war only made billionaires out of millionaires. Today’s war is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

These ain’t popular topics, for sure, brother/sister American. You see, the entire homeless problem in America is a bigger problem of the almost homeless, the disposed, the enslaved youth heading to State U, the Amazing Theft of Wages (Tax Day, Man), Theft of the Commons by Bureaucrats Working the Soft Shoe Corporate Game — kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves), and representative government has been rejected in favor of a kakistocracy (a government run by the most unprincipled citizens that panders to the worst vices in our nature: greed, violence, hatred, prejudice and war).

There is no skip in the beat with Boss Tweet, fawning over military hardware hustled to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the entire Empire Protecting Planet. This fawning this fourth-grade thinker does is a lot like his days at Studio 51 or the Playboy Mansions or the Pageants where his spittle lubricated his huffing and puffing orgasmic dead space between his ears. He is the leader of the pack, sad-sack of a playboy and land baron, thief, who gets the book deals, TV contracts, cameos in movies, his brand plastered all over Madison Avenue – make no bones about it, Trump is America. He is Dollar Store plastic and Neiman Marcus glitter. He is the freewheeling liberal lover of money and play things and parties, and he is the mean-assed inexperienced one, yellow belly, calling for war, a hater of soldiers, a hater of my people I serve daily – military veterans, not retired NCOs and Officers, but mostly those ending up in the Poverty Drafts and some drafted in Vietnam, Korea. A few years in and bam — total physical and mental calamity!

All PTSD-living, poverty people (most are poor). Trump would lambaste my work serving as social worker and finder of funds, and he’d laugh off PTSD as “nothing but an entitlement dream in your white cracker and people of color case loads’ heads.” Trump or his filthy generals, all of them, even cabinet-level creeps running all systems foul in DC, they hate the poor, the misbegotten, the broken, the addicted, the mentally cracked, the physically cleaved.

Make no bones about it, gents and dames, Trump is Obama is Clinton is Reagan. These people would love to see Soylent Green is People scaled up, now, and they openly love the $5 a day prison labor, and they love the stock maximization of everything private – drugs, prisons, health care, education, water-sewer-lights, and every bureaucratic thing that makes this tax time a time of death and loathing in a time of absolute penury cholera.

There is one hell of a lot of Non-Trumpers — those oh-so racist, rotten to the core Democrats or liberals or whatever creepy foodie-hot sauna-farmers’ market going folk that gentrify, who end up as WASP-Jew heads of every-self-loathing non-profit – absolutely holding onto the glory of the dollar, of the endless jujitsu that is standing for the anthem and going on and on about a few Trump loyalists and Alt-Right scoundrels being bad hombres too. Remember, these whites are voting against the people, the 80 percent, no matter how many pet projects they may undertake or scramble for Sundance documentary glory or big-time book glory, and they can go onto Amy Goodman’s show, talk the talk, but in the end, the people who should be talking or yelling or attacking, the very victims of the theft – grand theft of agency-past-future-progeny – they never get on that “liberal media.”

Make no bones about it, Democrats, with or without life coaches, all solar-powered up, bamboo floors and kids doing secular missions in third world depravity before going onto college and those non-profits, they are voting for war, voting for more jobs in the death industries, more and more work holding up the death machine of capitalism that eats at the very soul of their own, yet, for the time being, these 5 and 15-percenters, they sigh and get all Rachel Maddow like when they think they are caring about another black woman in jail, shackled during labor, or when some deranged (mentally challenged) black youth jaywalking gets mowed down by the police. The police – ahh, the variations on a theme when we say police, as in the HR departments, the school boards, the city and country code enforcers, the law firms, the forced arbiters, the endless thuggery of tax-levy-fee-fine-GAT-toll-penalty-surcharge makers and collectors, the endless Little Eichmann lever pullers and auditors, all those regulators and deregulators, all those heads of the departments and sub-agencies of all those alphabet soup Government Agencies – the grim reaper of compliant consumers, the toasty 15 and 20 percenters who make either a killing or a cool million from the depravity of these systems of usury and penury and PayDay loan-sharking.

Okay-okay – heroes and villains, part one:

Hero in Merced, California, way past mid-sixties, Joe, who has worked the land as an agricultural purveyor, and he’s seen water rights go the wrong way, seen the endless corporate theft in his neck of the Northern California woods ramp up yearly. He knows the crimes of school boards, the crimes of the big businesses, big ag, big energy, big everything.

I’ve been in communication with him for several months, and his wisdom and ire, his history, and his perspective over time, and his heart and soul, and his humor, man, well, this is a hero. He just sent me some links to Counterpunch and Global Research and came up with this quick reaction, triggered by Tax Day, and comments on a great writer’s works, stuff that has been published at Counterpunch and Dissident Voice to name just two – John W. Whitehead. Here’s Joe’s take on Whitehead’s most recent:

An electorate as indoctrinated as the American people are by corporate media would have a hard time distinguishing between shit and a poor grade of mush. This country’s citizens have never experienced war except for the fantasy war that Hooligan-wood and the latest X-box crap-app subjects them to 24/7. The public’s minds have been Disney-fied and fried by corporate media. The sad thing is that even Europe has few citizens left that remember the horrors of war. I’m afraid we are going to have to relive that lesson all over again. Maybe after the idiot populace of this country experiences the ravages of war right here in the land of easy credit, fantasy and denial, they won’t be so stupid as to support idiots that lead them into this misery. I don’t hold out much hope though. This country has been electing these corrupt war mongering bastards from both parties as long as I can remember. I don’t think it will change until the American public is walking around with their flesh dripping off their bones. Even then the public is so indoctrinated with this endless military crap brought to them as patriotism they will still be clamoring for revenge and more war. Stupid, ignorant and arrogant rules in this country, whether it be from Democrats or Republicans.

I hope some of the wildlife I hold so dear makes it out alive.

Hero, versus villain – I’d say anyone looking to bullseye Joe for being cantankerous, for being old and critical, for pointing out the futility of a country prostituted by both parties and ravaged by the stupidity of its populace, for having a keen sense of humor (not this one blurb, but he has some hilarity in this series he’s been writing – Letters to Cousin Linda) that person is the villain.

Hero – Three strikes and you are out. Now, out at age 64, African American, in prison for using drugs, and, whoops, when you use drugs, well, the excess is sometimes bartered off, traded and sold. Black man with cocaine equals the villains’ mark – criminal courts, public defenders, bail bondsmen, lawyers, municipal departments, prison systems, PayDay crap, probation officers.

This man is working at my shelter, a veteran, though he doesn’t pull that card much, and he is doing some amazing work making music, electronic stuff, sampled and using his own keyboard. There is no way in hell this fellow isn’t a hero: he is looking to reconnect with his sons and daughters in California. He ran the streets of Portland, and the villains – cops, judges, prosecutors, the entire carnival that is the criminal injustice system and its auxiliaries, including some social service non-profits – are a constant reminder to me that the white class – whatever that is – has ensconced itself into this people-killing, African-American defiling, people-of-color-community-imploding monster.

My hero and I talk about the way of the black man, the way of the white racists, this supremacist shit-hole that is America, and he calls me his advocate, his rare white man on the side of real justice friend.

Hero, 78, calling himself the gravedigger’s son, grew up in Massachusetts, near Boston, and he’s been a vagabond, man, and I am helping him get his studio apartment, getting him some free furniture, helping him think outside the meth-amphetamine box. Fucking 78, and he relapsed, recently, one day bender, and, he’s got COPD and hallucinates – talks about the people around me he sees and I do not.

He’s well-read, not college educated, and grew up in an Irish Catholic family, and he’s been to Ireland and parts of Europe. He hates the military, and talks about being in Korea, and seeing the shit hole America created in both zones. He is Irish and socialist, but he has been wandering the world, cook here and dishwasher there. Imagine, he’s been wandering the country and the world for more than 40 years, and, alas, Portland is his home.

He’s been throughout the Pacific Northwest, to encampments of hard-living people in the  Cascades, living hard and off the grid. Story teller, gift of gab, and he’s the typical detritus of America – whether Trump or Hillary, whether young or old. People do not listen to him.

Villains? Think of the thousands of people who have shut off when he’s been around. Think of the hundreds of people lording over him in the social services and government agencies. Think of the hundreds that look right through him on public transportation or when he’s at the side of the road.

A dignity in drifting, and he’s kipped in more than just a few cemeteries around the country and the world. He attended a poetry workshop I was holding, and his memory is amazing, and his son of the gravedigger narratives are more amazing. Pure poetry!

Villains – not one soul would want his stories published. The American attention span is all hooked into Zombie-Land, faux memoir writing, Marvel Comics thinking, absolute shit-hole narratives and fiction.

Hero – Irish American socialist who questions every step of the military might of this messed up country.

Villains are the takers, the judgers, the ticket givers, the processors, the CPAs, the balance sheet coveters, the liberal social services folk who talk like HR people and who know shit what it’s like being old or imprisoned or full of meth nightmares. It’s the villains who soft-shoe through the DSM-V and saunter through workshop after conference on what it is to be trauma-informed social workers, or what harm reduction principles are, or what it is to be middling people and middling social workers.

Heroes are the ones that live it out in tents, on the road, under overpasses, who crunch down in old cars and pick-up trucks, who cardboard surf in warehouses and in friends’ garages. These people are heroes in the sense that my social services non-profit believes everyone who served their country in the armed forces is a hero.

Heroes know that’s bullshit. Golden ticket for what? So, that family of four, mother with children, mother who works two jobs and has friends watch the kids, whose husband booked – yes, military veteran dude – so she’s not worthy of the golden ticket because she sweated over hamburgers and cleaned up feces of the rich and decaying, or she turned beds and sheets at the multi-billionaire’s chain of hotels?

Heroes and villains. Not difficult to spot the true hero, the survivor, the ones with a sense of dignity or perspective or time on the road, versus the ones who cut homeless programs, who vote against more food stamps, who demand drug testing for the shit pittance one might get in benefits.

Villains who gutted social security and gutted the post office and who closed the libraries and who Dread Scott-ed the world, who attack the good schooling public schools used to give. Villains are the militarists, Lords of War, the heathens and devil worshipers in the military industrial complex.

I am working with veterans who have been shot up with bullets, shrapnel, chemicals, toxins, propaganda, debasement, demands. Soldiers who were put on military bases/forts where the water is so bad, so polluted by solvents from military machinery and laundry (dry cleaning) that the Veterans Administration even has a name for the Parkinson’s — Camp Lejeune  Parkinson’s: various chemicals, including the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) known as PCE (Tetrachloroethylene aka Perchloroethylene), TCE (Trichloroethylene), DCE (Dichloroethylene), Vinyl Chloride and BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene). These chemicals are either known or suspected human carcinogens. Many Marines, Sailors, their families and loyal civilian employees have been affected by the contamination in various ways including, but not limited to: liver cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, liver disease, miscarriages, birth defects (cleft palate, heart defects, Choanal atresia, neural tube defects, low birth weight, and small for gestational age),etc.

Heroes are the one’s shaking so hard at 65 they can’t even sign their names on forms that will get them subsidized housing. Heroes who are homeless, misbegotten, broken, incapable of navigating systems and job markets and economic hoops with Parkinson’s and the other effects associated with the decay caused by the military pollutants.

Villains? Just imagine the cadre of corporatists, the protectionists, the Little Eichmann’s, anti-whistle blowers, the lock-step ones fighting the science behind the disease and destruction and decay and denuding of humanity and ecologies because of that profit margin, and that grim reaper’s scythe chopping off the heads of us, the 80 percent. How difficult is it to see those lip-less white men and women, hear their ameliorating, their HR bullshit, listen to their shallow and pedestrian articulation?

Facts – the systematic lack of affordable housing and the Draconian limited scale of housing assistance programs all contribute to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Foreclosures? In the hundreds of thousands each year! Result? Homeless.

The 2008 recession forced two million more people into homelessness over the following two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

One or two out of 50—or about 2.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. These are nine year old stats.

Here are some of the causes of homelessness:

For persons in families, the three most commonly cited causes, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors study are:

• Lack of affordable housing
• Poverty
• Unemployment

For singles, the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness are:

• Substance abuse
• Lack of affordable housing
• Mental illness

Veterans are more likely than other populations to be homeless.

We are talking around 40% of homeless men being veterans, although veterans comprise only 34 percent of the general adult male population, according to research on veterans by the National Coalition for Homeless. On any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless.

Do wages count? The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2017 Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour, exceeding the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour. This $16.38 an hour exceeds wages earned by low income renter households. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is almost twice ($13.96) higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25.

What about the food insecure. It’s 51 million people in the United States living in food insecure households, 15 million of whom are children. While the magnitude of the problem is clear, national and even state estimates of food insecurity can mask the nuances that exist at the local level.

Here: Feeding America; Foreclosures; Minimum Wage; Wage state-by-state; True Minimum Wage.

What is the real unemployment figure for US of A?

The U-3 unemployment rate is the monthly headline number. The U-6 unemployment rate is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) broadest unemployment measure, including short-term discouraged and other marginally-attached workers as well as those forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment.

The ShadowStats Alternate Unemployment Rate for March 2018 is 21.7%.

Heroes and Villains? Rage and reckless indignation. Anger and attack, those are the hero’s tools, and the villain’s tools are based on hierarchy of consumption, the power of the people who have and the impotence of those who do not have.

What is it to have anything, that’s what many of my heroes ask, those who are homeless, on $1,200.00 a month for Social Security? Imagine this world with heroes. One hero, oddly, is the lady doing my taxes. She despised what has happened to this country, and she knows the true figures for saving and investing in a social security system – average person would come out at age 65 with $250,000 or $500,000 in his or her retirement account based on social security deductions. If this fact came out, parsed and discussed daily at the water cooler and forklift bay, we’d be pounding constantly how this country is one giant theft-creating/theft-inducing continuing criminal organization . . . then would more people revolt?

Heroes are guys like Whitehead or Nasser!!!

Whitehead: All of those nefarious government deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work. It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road, or shoot an unarmed person. And it’s your money that leads to innocent Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as raising chickens at home, growing vegetable gardens, and trying to live off the grid.

Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a child being kicked out of school for shooting an imaginary arrow, or a homeowner being threatened with fines for building a pond in his backyard, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started.

Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please.

Heroes are students trying to solve this shit-hole’s problems, hitting the books, and attempting to coalesce around strong thinking, critical solutions-generating thinking, and holism. Villains are the ledger counters, the money changers, the actualizers of debt.

Nasser: The burden weighing like a nightmare, to coin a phrase, on 44 million indebted current and former students will haunt these people for a good portion of their lives. The average student debtor graduates owing close to $34,000 and is projected to spend 21 years paying it off. At present, the average monthly payment for those between 30 and 40 years old is $351.00. It is not uncommon for repayment obligations to be borne by underwriters of these loans, typically the primary borrower’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Taking these co-signers into consideration, we have about 100 million people adversely affected, directly or indirectly, by the difficulty very many have repaying these loans.

Because the serving of warrants and jailing of debtors has begun picking up steam in recent years, and the financial situation of these potential prisoners has been gradually deteriorating, we have reason to expect that student-loan debtors could come to make up a significant portion of the growing ranks of those threatened with debt prison. Arrest warrants have been issued in California, Florida, Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas. Arrests have been heaviest in California, Texas and Minnesota. In many cases there was no announcement of court orders or that the debtor was being sued. U.S. marshals in Minnesota conducted “Operation Anaconda Squeeze” to arrest student-loan debtors who had failed to appear in court for a “debtor’s examination.” Whether they had received prior notice was often thought by the court to be beside the point. As with the cases described earlier, often defendants are ordered to pay much more than the amount of the original loan. A Texas man, who received no prior notice about the debt or the court case brought by a private collection agency on behalf of Uncle Sam, was arrested by seven armed U.S. marshals for an unpaid $1,500 student loan he had borrowed 29 years earlier. He was ordered to pay, after interest and court fees, more than twice the amount of the original loan. $1,258.60 was added to reimburse the marshals for his arrest.

When Armistice Day and Remembrance Day Turned into War Day

Cognitive dissonance in Psychology

The psychological tension that occurs when one holds mutually exclusive beliefs or attitudes and that often motivates people to modify their thoughts or behaviors in order to reduce the tension.

Anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like, as when one likes a person but disapproves of one of his or her habits.

Motivated Ignorance in Politics

Motivated ignorance can be simply defined as when people don’t want to know the facts. While ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge, education or understanding; motivated ignorance is when others choose not to educate themselves out of fear.

Example of Motivated Ignorance with Trump’s  Base

If you’re looking for an explanation for why Trump’s support is so solid among his base — and why it will remain so stubbornly high — read this piece by the Associated Press, where the reporters asked Trump supporters how they’re handling the wave of scandal.

“I tuned it out,” Michele Velardi, a 44-year-old in Staten Island, told the AP of the recent news. “I didn’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.”

This line is extremely revealing. It shows a psychological tendency we’re all susceptible to. That tendency is called “motivated ignorance,” and it’s an extremely powerful force in American politics.

It’s also one of the keys to understanding why political discourse can be so irrational.

The reality of this motivated ignorance in this country is it is deep running, the very foundation of how American “democracy” runs — how we as a collective have allowed for the casino, predatory, shock doctrine capitalism to pervade every waking second and sleeping nanosecond. It’s the cognitive dissonance at looking at the old apple pie, in this case, where our collective taxes (those of the 85 percent, not those from the One Percent and their Little Eichmann hit men and hit women 14 percent who steal, hide, launder, offshore, dodge and deny their fair share of the bill to keep America running) go to support the Oligarchs, the Kochs-Bloombergs-BlackRock Capitals-Zuckerbergs- et al.

See the source image

Seriously, look at the simplistic things listed above – 59 percent of the budget is for military, which in my mind is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual toll we pay for militarism and Empire. Put in International Affairs at 2 percent, Transportation at 3 percent, Energy/Environment at 2 percent, hell, Science at 3, Education at 5 percent, and Health at 5, and then Veterans’ Benefits — 7%. Truly, how many of those sectors support adventurism, playing the world’s cop, or our thuggery and invasive rogue statesmanship (sic)? How much of the budget is in line for supporting the grifters that are American corporations, profiteers preened by lobbyists, what Matt Taibbi calls – Griftopia and Vampire Squids from his 2010 book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America?

How much of what we do-think-consume-buy-sell-hope for-believe in-educate-govern is tied to this rancid desire to control markets, control destinies, control geo-political zones, control futures? Can we divorce anything in this society – Hollywood, food, medicine, urban planning, banking, science, technology, etc. – from the very foundation of uber alles zieg heil capitalism, above anything else?

Never.

Ironies and contradictions and counter-intuitive thinking abound in this wasteland of capital and profits and vast piles of wealth controlled by a smaller and smaller slice of the population. Daily, now that I am back off the dole and working as a social worker for homeless veterans, the Make America Great aging and down and out veterans are floundering minute by minute to find stability. That’s health, housing, any safety net or blanket.

Veterans and the VA and the pressures of a tri-county arena in the Portland, OR, market, where apartments of any affordable nature are few and far in between. Disgusting rents, disgusting digs. I work at a temporary shelter for vets, of all ages, all genders, families, and their companion dogs. Housed temporarily, and my job is connecting them to services, scrounging for resources, helping them navigate towers of bureaucratic paperwork.

Here’s what one fellow I met at the VA hospital told me:

Yeah, they never prepare you for coming back into civilian life. Truth be told, brother, the entire experience being in the Army, or military, is trauma inducting. Shit, doesn’t matter if you end up in one of the war zones. Think, man, I am a black man, and you think the military is one cakewalk? It’s white supremacist, no two ways about it. They don’t prepare you for the shock, first, of the shit they put you through in the Army. Daily, it’s hazing, humiliation. Daily, it’s one ordeal, man, after another. I don’t think someone who hasn’t been in understands that. We come out traumatized. We all come out with service connected trauma. Hands down, that’s one hundred percent disability. Forget about the hearing loss, the smashed discs in the back, the exposure to chemicals, the constant stress they put you through. I wasn’t prepared for this life, man, coming out of Iraq. I am hands down messed up, not prepared for anything, and dealing with what I went through in the Army, come on, it’s one hundred percent disabled. Hobbled by the mind games, the razing, the constant bullshit of the systems. You think as a black man, really, that it wasn’t like at times being in the Klan, or around these racists? You either hate brown people in the Middle East, or you are one of them. ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaeda. Every day it was a constant racist shit-show with Obama in as their and my commander in chief. Imagine that shit. Now, these young guys and gals have that freak show of a Trump and his Aryan Brotherhood , and how’s that transformation going to look like for brothers and sisters leaving after three, five, seven years? What shit have they prepared us for coming back into civilian life with all those emotional and psychological batterings?

This is one fellow I ran into a VA clinic, not even one of my clients. He somehow pegged me as Marxist, anti-authority, and he let go the floodgates. You can’t make these things up anymore as a traveler, as a writer who is incognito as a social worker.

Look at the pie above for aid to the Veterans, and see what the shit show pays out for the walking wounded, the chronically ill, the near insane, and the mentally deranged. Think about how much communities spend on housing, safety nets for the poor – the working poor, the children of this warped nation? Nothing, little, but the toll, and intended consequences, oh, what a toll.

Daily reminders of the stench of the racism of this country come to me as I navigate systems of penury, systems of poverty, the entire mess of the indebtedness, years of back child support, unimaginable fees to be paid to University of Phoenix, the Trump Universities of the system of deceit and destruction.

These conversations are pretty deep daily, as the men and women of the military are housed in temporary quarters, looking for ways to find housing. These are people with three or four or a few more years in the military, and they have no pensions, and in reality, after the service, many of them have kicked about, aimless, broken, working class hard, somehow broken from the line of logic that “serving your country means your country will serve you.”

Homeless, people, and that’s rotten teeth, rotten criminal records, rotten credit, rotten evictions, rotten bills, and a system that barely puts a few dollars worth of food stamps a month in their hands. The walking wounded, and the wandering poor. Each day another one hits the road, finds abandonment his or her only option, and it’s another day they have without social safety nets.

There are dozens of cases each day, how these young and not-so-young end up in an emergency shelter for veterans. Many are hammered  by huge changes in their relationships; i.e., divorce. That SEE — significant emotional event — spirals mostly men, but many women, into hitting the road and losing a home. As if the entire ranch is predicated on that 2000 or 3000 square foot home. Garage full of stuff. Children, pets, and, well, one thing leads to another, and, bam, the person — veteran — is couch surfing, living in their cars, and, bam, something gets them into a criminal justice situation or medical intervention.

For years, the spiraling, homeless, but with a job, and, then, another SEE — death of a buddy, war buddy, or, their PTSD and other ailments start shivering the soul. Booze and drugs, pain pills and meth. Whatever it is, these former soldiers — many of whom went into the military with baggage — come out with some mean and deep scars.

One fellow was working security at a fancy hotel. Had a dog as a service animal. Kicked out of apartment that did not recognize the doctor’s orders for a dog. Then, this former Marine is living in the hotel, and his dog is in a shelter. He rents a car, gets the dog, and sleeps in the vehicle and ends up working, still, with the dog in the car and people walking her for a few bucks.

Cold snap, snow in downtown Portland, and the fellow is at the wheel, with the engine on, parked, so the heater will work. He had a few drinks, a few bottles empty in the car, but he never drove the vehicle plastered.

Now, he faces $5000 or more in court costs, rehab costs, license suspensions, towing bill, rent-a-car clean up of $500 since the soldier never had a chance to clean it up.

He ends up in the shelter where I work. Bam, I find him a free dog crate, and the dog is freed from the pound, and the soldier is in a shared room with a dog companion and another homeless roommate who actually loves the dog.

Story after story, scenario after scenario. Veterans who served five years, or Vietnam Vets who had two tours in Vietnam, saw killing, and sucked in the beast of Agent Orange, Phosphorus and all the diseases and molds of Indochina.

One fellow spent three stints in prison. What, 28 years total. Veteran who ended up in his native Portland during the days of the West Coast CIA Cocaine Infusion Gary Webb and others wrote about. The crack cocaine was rampant in Portland, LA, San Diego, other locales. Coke and PTSD from military and war, and the combination turns into crime for money to support a dime a day or eight-ball.

Aged 62, and 16 years in prison for the last crime and here he is my client, working to find something, housing, a job, and he wants to keep pursuing some music career — electronic stuff, with all the software, licks, keyboards. Hell, he knew the drummer from the Yellow Jackets who did work for lots of people, including Michael Jackson.

Now how easy is that for a veteran, now in a shelter, sharing a room with another fellow, to get out of the institutionalized way of thinking? Prison mind. Hell, this African-American is the exact person the Yellow Bellied Trump and dictator of Philippines and Singapore Sadists and Chinese think drug users are good for — the firing squad.

Really, make no bones about it, Vietnam Navy veteran, using the cocaine of the Contras and Reagan Years, Colonel Ollie North and Colonel McFarland, all those blasted neocons and Israel-firsters essentially pushing drugs into Compton and Portland, and he is now the perfect model for electrocution. Because a drug user is always a drug money holder who is always a drug dealer willing to move more stuff than personal use can suffice in order to pay for rent and buy food.

Imagine the stories about Trump in New York City? Imagine how much white powder was stuffed up noses in his hotels, hell, maybe in his own suites and bathrooms, golden toilet lids for lines of coke to be inhaled with crystal pipettes. Studio 51, Trump’s parties at the Playboy Mansion, Trump the Playboy with Jeffrey Epstein, with known drug users, dealers, all those boozers, and, well, anyone owning a casino is in the business of dealing the most lethal drugs of them all — booze and smokes. Pall Malls and Jack Daniels.

Story after story I absorb. Wounded warrior after traumatized veteran. An army of none, an air force for bombing, a navy for nihilism, a marine corps for murder. So, Trump-Clinton-Obama-Bush-Reagan-Every-Member of Congress and the Senate voting for more war, more murder, well, who are the dealers really, dealers of death to not only the enemy in name (people of color) but dealers of death to their own people? Politicians, Economic Hitmen, Bankers, and Judges? Hmm.

And my work at this shelter is so-so under the radar of those Trump-Clinton-Obama-Bush-Reagan-Every-Member of Congress and the Senate-and-Corporate Leaders who vote-vote for more prisons, missile launchers, satellites of death, drones of destruction, mountain heaps of bullets and rifles, stealth bombers and endless logistical crap that feeds, clothes, houses, warms, cools, placates the soldiers.

Not a tear dropped for homeless veterans, because under the calculus of Trump and Accompanying Neoliberals, these “scum-bags” as they call them are in their own self-imposed dire straights one hundred percent because of all THEIR wrong choices.

Some choice:

A thousand a month in benefits from social security with a few service connected claims, and a 185 square foot room with two burner stove-top. Smaller than a prison cell, and these old men and old women end up living their last few years cramped in, single occupancy rooms, and somehow, we call that a success story.

If only the masters of the world, the Fortune 1000, and the Cadet Bone Spurs Trump, and his entourage of freaks and freakish family and extended clan could really get something under their manicured nails. Imagine, this draft dodger, Trump, who vilified John McCain, joking at his POW status. Imagine, this president (sic) forgetting the name of the soldier recently killed as he attempted to talk to the widow. Imagine, this unreality TV show blob, planning 50 million dollar arms parade. Imagine, all his cabinet, spending $19,000 here for a new office table, $50 thousand there for first-class flights, trips to Europe, with family in tow. Imagine, this fellow, Teflon, imagine, weak knees and golfer’s belly, commanding the men and women in uniform, pushing more war toys onto the commanders, all the graft of the multiple military lords of war, in the civilian world.

To the editor:

Cadet Bone Spurs claims he would have run into Stoneman Douglas High School unarmed if he had been on the scene of the recent shooting there. Apparently, he is braver now than he was during the Vietnam era when he secured five deferments. I would like to call on him to immediately fly to the scene of the next school shooting and put his new-found bravery into action. Come on, Bone Spurs, show us what you’re made of!

Mark Ward

Then imagine the 40,000 veterans who are deemed homeless by some measures (I believe more than that number are without housing). Imagine the broken VA system, all the vets that don’t get mental health support, all the callous and corrupt officials and medical experts who just push patient after patient back into the cold of night, the drizzle of Portland in the dead of winter.

Oh, there are homeless social workers, man, living in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and You Name It Rah-Rah America. Working daily to help homeless veterans in some non-profit (poverty-wage poverty pimping entity) in Seattle, and the fellows have to kip inside their cars, or find shelters to wash up for a new day’s work.

And we are now in March Madness, post-Oscars, ready for the new 2018 Line Up of Trucks and Cars, and we give a shit about some black actors in the wrinkle of time or black panther, when the entire mess of America is a hall of mirrors, broken, shards, reflections of the horror show that is capital – money hoarders, the launderers, the developers, that Chamber of Death called the Chamber of Commerce.

The reverberating stupidity of anyone supporting anything that resembles a politician is a daily reminder of how many millions upon millions of Americans who are my enemy, the grease (suet) that oils the death trains of capitalism.

Daily, the discussions I have are telling, sometimes revealing. More and more people are broken children, and their hard ways, after hitting 70 or 75, are softened by their very own time in a shelter, and on the streets. Listening to the stories of pain, of all those broken people, the families that are the enemy, and the pounding chronic physical and psychological illnesses that now define America, the underclass, or even the 80 Percenters, those of us precarious, struggling to make ends meet.

Grown men who saw and breathed the Agent Orange fogs, who still call people Gooks, who ended up broken and flailed by war, and then facing the truth, the inability to make it in the American Fun House of Nightmares, which were not the Dreams of Children growing up playing baseball and running track.

I had one fellow recently who said he had grown hardened, calloused, after decades driving trucks, hard labor. He said that life breeds entire armies of hardened and severe thinkers. But my guy has seen the light, heard the stories of people in this shelter with lives unimaginable, as youth, pounded by parents, the rapes, the drugs, the abject poverty, and then signing up for the military, that economic draft we call it.

Living in the thrushes or old warehouses. Some after awarded purple hearts and bronze stars for valor, living in old container boxes, in tents near highway ramps.

Who would have thought that 9th grade baseball game, seventh inning, hot dogs, popcorn, the Dr. Pepper and cheerleaders and verdant fields and all those supports with advertising logos in left field, who would have thought that was miasma, a dream, some lost memory?

Then they genuflect to the antithesis of duty to country (Trump), the exact opposite of sacrificing for country, the entire Trump regime. America, the façade, the revolving paper poster and tinsel all glued on, all bullshit, memories falsified by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Who would have thought a Marxist atheist like myself would be salving the mental and spiritual wounds of the walking wounded, the warriors, some, and the others who just did their time in the grinder called US military?

The trauma is inflicted and is infectious, and we go home, social workers, never satisfied with the work we did, and our phones are turned on 24-7, and we want the ones that can survive to do that and more, and some vets, yeah, they have some money coming in, but they are broken, ending up in a shelter, and we hold their hearts, solve their issues, and we go home, poor, not wanting anything in return, but for another veteran to be housed.

Six years after the Great Recession began, the number of homeless families with children remains stubbornly high. And the number of low-income households with unmet needs for housing assistance—especially families with children—has soared. Funding cuts under sequestration threaten to halt progress against homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable housing.

This unprecedented reduction in federal rental assistance primarily affects low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children who are currently on waiting lists for assistance. The voucher cuts also mean that many fewer families that are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness will have access to vouchers.

On top of this are the reductions in federal food aid to the poor, once called food stamps and now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Four out of five of these recipients have gross incomes below the poverty line, about $23,500 for a family of four. As many as 4 million more would be dropped from the program under cuts proposed by House Republicans.

Homeless children, or those threatened with homelessness, are among the most heart rending victims of this assault by Republicans on housing and nutrition for the poor. They go hand in hand. Homeless children suffer much more from obesity and other diet-related ailments than other children.

— Barbara Sard, the vice president for housing policy at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

When Armistice Day and Remembrance Day Turned into War Day

Cognitive dissonance in Psychology

The psychological tension that occurs when one holds mutually exclusive beliefs or attitudes and that often motivates people to modify their thoughts or behaviors in order to reduce the tension.

Anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like, as when one likes a person but disapproves of one of his or her habits.

Motivated Ignorance in Politics

Motivated ignorance can be simply defined as when people don’t want to know the facts. While ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge, education or understanding; motivated ignorance is when others choose not to educate themselves out of fear.

Example of Motivated Ignorance with Trump’s  Base

If you’re looking for an explanation for why Trump’s support is so solid among his base — and why it will remain so stubbornly high — read this piece by the Associated Press, where the reporters asked Trump supporters how they’re handling the wave of scandal.

“I tuned it out,” Michele Velardi, a 44-year-old in Staten Island, told the AP of the recent news. “I didn’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.”

This line is extremely revealing. It shows a psychological tendency we’re all susceptible to. That tendency is called “motivated ignorance,” and it’s an extremely powerful force in American politics.

It’s also one of the keys to understanding why political discourse can be so irrational.

The reality of this motivated ignorance in this country is it is deep running, the very foundation of how American “democracy” runs — how we as a collective have allowed for the casino, predatory, shock doctrine capitalism to pervade every waking second and sleeping nanosecond. It’s the cognitive dissonance at looking at the old apple pie, in this case, where our collective taxes (those of the 85 percent, not those from the One Percent and their Little Eichmann hit men and hit women 14 percent who steal, hide, launder, offshore, dodge and deny their fair share of the bill to keep America running) go to support the Oligarchs, the Kochs-Bloombergs-BlackRock Capitals-Zuckerbergs- et al.

See the source image

Seriously, look at the simplistic things listed above – 59 percent of the budget is for military, which in my mind is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual toll we pay for militarism and Empire. Put in International Affairs at 2 percent, Transportation at 3 percent, Energy/Environment at 2 percent, hell, Science at 3, Education at 5 percent, and Health at 5, and then Veterans’ Benefits — 7%. Truly, how many of those sectors support adventurism, playing the world’s cop, or our thuggery and invasive rogue statesmanship (sic)? How much of the budget is in line for supporting the grifters that are American corporations, profiteers preened by lobbyists, what Matt Taibbi calls – Griftopia and Vampire Squids from his 2010 book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America?

How much of what we do-think-consume-buy-sell-hope for-believe in-educate-govern is tied to this rancid desire to control markets, control destinies, control geo-political zones, control futures? Can we divorce anything in this society – Hollywood, food, medicine, urban planning, banking, science, technology, etc. – from the very foundation of uber alles zieg heil capitalism, above anything else?

Never.

Ironies and contradictions and counter-intuitive thinking abound in this wasteland of capital and profits and vast piles of wealth controlled by a smaller and smaller slice of the population. Daily, now that I am back off the dole and working as a social worker for homeless veterans, the Make America Great aging and down and out veterans are floundering minute by minute to find stability. That’s health, housing, any safety net or blanket.

Veterans and the VA and the pressures of a tri-county arena in the Portland, OR, market, where apartments of any affordable nature are few and far in between. Disgusting rents, disgusting digs. I work at a temporary shelter for vets, of all ages, all genders, families, and their companion dogs. Housed temporarily, and my job is connecting them to services, scrounging for resources, helping them navigate towers of bureaucratic paperwork.

Here’s what one fellow I met at the VA hospital told me:

Yeah, they never prepare you for coming back into civilian life. Truth be told, brother, the entire experience being in the Army, or military, is trauma inducting. Shit, doesn’t matter if you end up in one of the war zones. Think, man, I am a black man, and you think the military is one cakewalk? It’s white supremacist, no two ways about it. They don’t prepare you for the shock, first, of the shit they put you through in the Army. Daily, it’s hazing, humiliation. Daily, it’s one ordeal, man, after another. I don’t think someone who hasn’t been in understands that. We come out traumatized. We all come out with service connected trauma. Hands down, that’s one hundred percent disability. Forget about the hearing loss, the smashed discs in the back, the exposure to chemicals, the constant stress they put you through. I wasn’t prepared for this life, man, coming out of Iraq. I am hands down messed up, not prepared for anything, and dealing with what I went through in the Army, come on, it’s one hundred percent disabled. Hobbled by the mind games, the razing, the constant bullshit of the systems. You think as a black man, really, that it wasn’t like at times being in the Klan, or around these racists? You either hate brown people in the Middle East, or you are one of them. ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaeda. Every day it was a constant racist shit-show with Obama in as their and my commander in chief. Imagine that shit. Now, these young guys and gals have that freak show of a Trump and his Aryan Brotherhood , and how’s that transformation going to look like for brothers and sisters leaving after three, five, seven years? What shit have they prepared us for coming back into civilian life with all those emotional and psychological batterings?

This is one fellow I ran into a VA clinic, not even one of my clients. He somehow pegged me as Marxist, anti-authority, and he let go the floodgates. You can’t make these things up anymore as a traveler, as a writer who is incognito as a social worker.

Look at the pie above for aid to the Veterans, and see what the shit show pays out for the walking wounded, the chronically ill, the near insane, and the mentally deranged. Think about how much communities spend on housing, safety nets for the poor – the working poor, the children of this warped nation? Nothing, little, but the toll, and intended consequences, oh, what a toll.

Daily reminders of the stench of the racism of this country come to me as I navigate systems of penury, systems of poverty, the entire mess of the indebtedness, years of back child support, unimaginable fees to be paid to University of Phoenix, the Trump Universities of the system of deceit and destruction.

These conversations are pretty deep daily, as the men and women of the military are housed in temporary quarters, looking for ways to find housing. These are people with three or four or a few more years in the military, and they have no pensions, and in reality, after the service, many of them have kicked about, aimless, broken, working class hard, somehow broken from the line of logic that “serving your country means your country will serve you.”

Homeless, people, and that’s rotten teeth, rotten criminal records, rotten credit, rotten evictions, rotten bills, and a system that barely puts a few dollars worth of food stamps a month in their hands. The walking wounded, and the wandering poor. Each day another one hits the road, finds abandonment his or her only option, and it’s another day they have without social safety nets.

There are dozens of cases each day, how these young and not-so-young end up in an emergency shelter for veterans. Many are hammered  by huge changes in their relationships; i.e., divorce. That SEE — significant emotional event — spirals mostly men, but many women, into hitting the road and losing a home. As if the entire ranch is predicated on that 2000 or 3000 square foot home. Garage full of stuff. Children, pets, and, well, one thing leads to another, and, bam, the person — veteran — is couch surfing, living in their cars, and, bam, something gets them into a criminal justice situation or medical intervention.

For years, the spiraling, homeless, but with a job, and, then, another SEE — death of a buddy, war buddy, or, their PTSD and other ailments start shivering the soul. Booze and drugs, pain pills and meth. Whatever it is, these former soldiers — many of whom went into the military with baggage — come out with some mean and deep scars.

One fellow was working security at a fancy hotel. Had a dog as a service animal. Kicked out of apartment that did not recognize the doctor’s orders for a dog. Then, this former Marine is living in the hotel, and his dog is in a shelter. He rents a car, gets the dog, and sleeps in the vehicle and ends up working, still, with the dog in the car and people walking her for a few bucks.

Cold snap, snow in downtown Portland, and the fellow is at the wheel, with the engine on, parked, so the heater will work. He had a few drinks, a few bottles empty in the car, but he never drove the vehicle plastered.

Now, he faces $5000 or more in court costs, rehab costs, license suspensions, towing bill, rent-a-car clean up of $500 since the soldier never had a chance to clean it up.

He ends up in the shelter where I work. Bam, I find him a free dog crate, and the dog is freed from the pound, and the soldier is in a shared room with a dog companion and another homeless roommate who actually loves the dog.

Story after story, scenario after scenario. Veterans who served five years, or Vietnam Vets who had two tours in Vietnam, saw killing, and sucked in the beast of Agent Orange, Phosphorus and all the diseases and molds of Indochina.

One fellow spent three stints in prison. What, 28 years total. Veteran who ended up in his native Portland during the days of the West Coast CIA Cocaine Infusion Gary Webb and others wrote about. The crack cocaine was rampant in Portland, LA, San Diego, other locales. Coke and PTSD from military and war, and the combination turns into crime for money to support a dime a day or eight-ball.

Aged 62, and 16 years in prison for the last crime and here he is my client, working to find something, housing, a job, and he wants to keep pursuing some music career — electronic stuff, with all the software, licks, keyboards. Hell, he knew the drummer from the Yellow Jackets who did work for lots of people, including Michael Jackson.

Now how easy is that for a veteran, now in a shelter, sharing a room with another fellow, to get out of the institutionalized way of thinking? Prison mind. Hell, this African-American is the exact person the Yellow Bellied Trump and dictator of Philippines and Singapore Sadists and Chinese think drug users are good for — the firing squad.

Really, make no bones about it, Vietnam Navy veteran, using the cocaine of the Contras and Reagan Years, Colonel Ollie North and Colonel McFarland, all those blasted neocons and Israel-firsters essentially pushing drugs into Compton and Portland, and he is now the perfect model for electrocution. Because a drug user is always a drug money holder who is always a drug dealer willing to move more stuff than personal use can suffice in order to pay for rent and buy food.

Imagine the stories about Trump in New York City? Imagine how much white powder was stuffed up noses in his hotels, hell, maybe in his own suites and bathrooms, golden toilet lids for lines of coke to be inhaled with crystal pipettes. Studio 51, Trump’s parties at the Playboy Mansion, Trump the Playboy with Jeffrey Epstein, with known drug users, dealers, all those boozers, and, well, anyone owning a casino is in the business of dealing the most lethal drugs of them all — booze and smokes. Pall Malls and Jack Daniels.

Story after story I absorb. Wounded warrior after traumatized veteran. An army of none, an air force for bombing, a navy for nihilism, a marine corps for murder. So, Trump-Clinton-Obama-Bush-Reagan-Every-Member of Congress and the Senate voting for more war, more murder, well, who are the dealers really, dealers of death to not only the enemy in name (people of color) but dealers of death to their own people? Politicians, Economic Hitmen, Bankers, and Judges? Hmm.

And my work at this shelter is so-so under the radar of those Trump-Clinton-Obama-Bush-Reagan-Every-Member of Congress and the Senate-and-Corporate Leaders who vote-vote for more prisons, missile launchers, satellites of death, drones of destruction, mountain heaps of bullets and rifles, stealth bombers and endless logistical crap that feeds, clothes, houses, warms, cools, placates the soldiers.

Not a tear dropped for homeless veterans, because under the calculus of Trump and Accompanying Neoliberals, these “scum-bags” as they call them are in their own self-imposed dire straights one hundred percent because of all THEIR wrong choices.

Some choice:

A thousand a month in benefits from social security with a few service connected claims, and a 185 square foot room with two burner stove-top. Smaller than a prison cell, and these old men and old women end up living their last few years cramped in, single occupancy rooms, and somehow, we call that a success story.

If only the masters of the world, the Fortune 1000, and the Cadet Bone Spurs Trump, and his entourage of freaks and freakish family and extended clan could really get something under their manicured nails. Imagine, this draft dodger, Trump, who vilified John McCain, joking at his POW status. Imagine, this president (sic) forgetting the name of the soldier recently killed as he attempted to talk to the widow. Imagine, this unreality TV show blob, planning 50 million dollar arms parade. Imagine, all his cabinet, spending $19,000 here for a new office table, $50 thousand there for first-class flights, trips to Europe, with family in tow. Imagine, this fellow, Teflon, imagine, weak knees and golfer’s belly, commanding the men and women in uniform, pushing more war toys onto the commanders, all the graft of the multiple military lords of war, in the civilian world.

To the editor:

Cadet Bone Spurs claims he would have run into Stoneman Douglas High School unarmed if he had been on the scene of the recent shooting there. Apparently, he is braver now than he was during the Vietnam era when he secured five deferments. I would like to call on him to immediately fly to the scene of the next school shooting and put his new-found bravery into action. Come on, Bone Spurs, show us what you’re made of!

Mark Ward

Then imagine the 40,000 veterans who are deemed homeless by some measures (I believe more than that number are without housing). Imagine the broken VA system, all the vets that don’t get mental health support, all the callous and corrupt officials and medical experts who just push patient after patient back into the cold of night, the drizzle of Portland in the dead of winter.

Oh, there are homeless social workers, man, living in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and You Name It Rah-Rah America. Working daily to help homeless veterans in some non-profit (poverty-wage poverty pimping entity) in Seattle, and the fellows have to kip inside their cars, or find shelters to wash up for a new day’s work.

And we are now in March Madness, post-Oscars, ready for the new 2018 Line Up of Trucks and Cars, and we give a shit about some black actors in the wrinkle of time or black panther, when the entire mess of America is a hall of mirrors, broken, shards, reflections of the horror show that is capital – money hoarders, the launderers, the developers, that Chamber of Death called the Chamber of Commerce.

The reverberating stupidity of anyone supporting anything that resembles a politician is a daily reminder of how many millions upon millions of Americans who are my enemy, the grease (suet) that oils the death trains of capitalism.

Daily, the discussions I have are telling, sometimes revealing. More and more people are broken children, and their hard ways, after hitting 70 or 75, are softened by their very own time in a shelter, and on the streets. Listening to the stories of pain, of all those broken people, the families that are the enemy, and the pounding chronic physical and psychological illnesses that now define America, the underclass, or even the 80 Percenters, those of us precarious, struggling to make ends meet.

Grown men who saw and breathed the Agent Orange fogs, who still call people Gooks, who ended up broken and flailed by war, and then facing the truth, the inability to make it in the American Fun House of Nightmares, which were not the Dreams of Children growing up playing baseball and running track.

I had one fellow recently who said he had grown hardened, calloused, after decades driving trucks, hard labor. He said that life breeds entire armies of hardened and severe thinkers. But my guy has seen the light, heard the stories of people in this shelter with lives unimaginable, as youth, pounded by parents, the rapes, the drugs, the abject poverty, and then signing up for the military, that economic draft we call it.

Living in the thrushes or old warehouses. Some after awarded purple hearts and bronze stars for valor, living in old container boxes, in tents near highway ramps.

Who would have thought that 9th grade baseball game, seventh inning, hot dogs, popcorn, the Dr. Pepper and cheerleaders and verdant fields and all those supports with advertising logos in left field, who would have thought that was miasma, a dream, some lost memory?

Then they genuflect to the antithesis of duty to country (Trump), the exact opposite of sacrificing for country, the entire Trump regime. America, the façade, the revolving paper poster and tinsel all glued on, all bullshit, memories falsified by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Who would have thought a Marxist atheist like myself would be salving the mental and spiritual wounds of the walking wounded, the warriors, some, and the others who just did their time in the grinder called US military?

The trauma is inflicted and is infectious, and we go home, social workers, never satisfied with the work we did, and our phones are turned on 24-7, and we want the ones that can survive to do that and more, and some vets, yeah, they have some money coming in, but they are broken, ending up in a shelter, and we hold their hearts, solve their issues, and we go home, poor, not wanting anything in return, but for another veteran to be housed.

Six years after the Great Recession began, the number of homeless families with children remains stubbornly high. And the number of low-income households with unmet needs for housing assistance—especially families with children—has soared. Funding cuts under sequestration threaten to halt progress against homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable housing.

This unprecedented reduction in federal rental assistance primarily affects low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children who are currently on waiting lists for assistance. The voucher cuts also mean that many fewer families that are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness will have access to vouchers.

On top of this are the reductions in federal food aid to the poor, once called food stamps and now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Four out of five of these recipients have gross incomes below the poverty line, about $23,500 for a family of four. As many as 4 million more would be dropped from the program under cuts proposed by House Republicans.

Homeless children, or those threatened with homelessness, are among the most heart rending victims of this assault by Republicans on housing and nutrition for the poor. They go hand in hand. Homeless children suffer much more from obesity and other diet-related ailments than other children.

— Barbara Sard, the vice president for housing policy at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Brexit, Corbyn and Trade Unions

RMT demonstration at King’s Cross Station in London (RMT Photo)

A broken-down consensus and a resurgence of socialist ideas – this is how Steve Hedley describes the current political landscape in the United Kingdom. Hedley is the Senior Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the RMT. In this interview he guides us through the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the turmoil in the ruling Conservative government and the leftward steer of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The RMT is also one of the most militant trade unions in the UK, and Hedley tells us about the attacks against trade unions and the recent struggles of the RMT, particularly in the rail sector.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: How would you describe the current political situation in the UK?

Steve Hedley: We’re in a period of transition. For the best part of 30 years we had a Labour Party that was following neoliberal policies and at the minute we’ve got a leadership of the Labour Party, in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, that is reverting to left-wing social-democratic policies. And there is a lot of resistance within the Labour Party, because most MPs (Members of Parliament) are wedded to neoliberalism, although they think of themselves as left neoliberals. Corbyn and the Labour Party did much better than expected in the last election, so in order to maintain power the Conservative government has been relying on the votes of 10 Democratic Unionists, which are a far-right party in the North of Ireland.

I think everyone expects Corbyn to be the next prime minister. The country is in turmoil, no one really knows what’s happening with Brexit, there seems to be no clear strategy coming from the government. The last estimate was that it’s going to cost 50 billion pounds to exit the European Union, and the indications are that the government will be trying to maintain a place within the European single market. And that was not what people voted for when they voted for Brexit.

The ruling party at the minute, the Conservatives, are in absolute turmoil. Because they’ve got about 30 MPs who won’t accept anything rather than a hard Brexit, they’ve got a large moderate section who are business-friendly and want a very soft Brexit, and those positions are irreconcilable. So these are very tumultuous times in British politics. I think we’ve now had a breakdown of the consensus between the two main political parties, and we await to see the results.

RV: On the subject of Brexit, the RMT, during the referendum campaign, argued for exiting the EU. Why was that?

SH:  Very simply, because the European Union was, and is, a rich man’s club. It was set up as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. NATO was the military arm and the European Union was the economic arm. It’s a trading bloc that is competing against other trading blocs. If you look at the history of the European Union, it has free movement of capital, free movement of labour, and a neoliberal economy written into the treaties. Therefore to be part of the European Union is to accept all of those things.

Steve Hedley addressing an RMT picket (Photo from Steve Hedley’s Facebook)

In a socialist society we would have no problem with the free movement of labour. But we’re not in a socialist society. People have been shipped around Europe to work on less wages and worse conditions than national workers. That’s not the kind of immigration we want. We want people to come freely and work on the same conditions as people who live here. But, of course, that doesn’t suit the neoliberal project.

Closer to home we have the Fourth Railway Package, which has now been delayed until the coming year. What that does is it compulsorily privatises, or at least imposes private competition, in all the rail networks in Europe. We’ve had a disastrous rail privatisation in Britain, and they simply want to legislate and export the worst possible system out to the rest of Europe. So for those reasons, we were against membership in the European Union.

RV: Let’s hold off on the rail privatisation and go back to Corbyn for a second. What does it mean to have someone like Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader?

SH: First of all, I should say that our union is not affiliated to the Labour Party. We’re not affiliated because we’ve been through a process where we actually got thrown out for supporting socialist candidates in Scotland. We’re now considering re-affiliation, and the only reason why we are considering re-affiliation is because we have hope that Corbyn can lead the party in the right direction. There are still many people within our union who are very suspicious, because they see Corbyn and the leadership as a minority within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

RV: When there were all these attacks from the media and from within the Labour Party against Corbyn two summers ago, there was a slogan “Defend Corbyn! Fight for socialism!”. Can you explain what this slogan entails?

SH: I think that Corbyn, for the first time in some 30 years, has broken the neoliberal consensus between the two parties, he’s pushing left-wing social-democratic ideas. He’s not talking about socialism in the sense that we would understand it, that we take the commanding heights of the economy and seize the means of production. But he is talking of what we could call 1970s social-democracy, which was a far better system than the neoliberal system we’re living in at the moment. So we would support Corbyn so far as he’s going to push those policies, and as a union we encourage our members to take part in their local Labour Party branches, to support Corbyn and McDonnell.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks in a NCAFC picket against education cuts and fees (Photo: NCAFC)

RV: The fact that Corbyn is viewed as such a radical, isn’t it also a testament to how far to the right the consensus has moved?

SH: Indeed. If you look back at the consensus after the war, the Conservatives were in favour of national ownership of railway and utilities. Not for any particular ideological reason, just because it made business sense that all those revenues would go into the budget. Then starting off in the late 70s we had neoliberalism, adopted in this country from the Chicago school of economics, we had basically a robbery of the national purse by rich individuals, and politicians who were supporting those rich individuals. That’s what we had, a period of people enriching themselves from the system, that’s neoliberalism in a nutshell.

That wasn’t the consensus until about the late 70s, early 80s. The turnaround came because of the defeat of a major struggle in this country, the miners’ strike, and in an international context where the Soviet Union was no longer the force it had been, so there was no ideological opposition either.

RV: And why is this consensus breaking down now?

SH: That consensus is now breaking down because people are not seeing their lives get better, their children’s lives are not getting better. We’ve now got job insecurity, millions of people are in precarious jobs, nearly a million people are using food banks. The majority of these are actually employed people, it’s just poorly paid employment.

There’s also a housing crisis. Walking past King’s Cross station you can see people lying on the streets. This is the fifth richest country in the world, I believe, and we can’t even house people. There are thousands of people on the streets. Young people have to stay in the house now until they are 30, 35 years of age before they can move out, because there’s no affordable housing. The position of the average person in this country has got worse and worse over the past 10, 15 years. That’s why there’s now a resurgence in socialist and social-democratic ideas.

RV: But while there is this resurgence of socialist ideas, the media, even those supposedly on the left like The Guardian, keep lobbying for a Macron-type centrist or giving a platform to Tony Blair. What do you think of that?

SH: Well, The Guardian is not a left-wing paper, it’s a liberal paper. They’re slightly to the left of the mainstream capitalist class and they act as a good shield for them and their policies. Even when Labour was a little bit left-wing in the 1980s the Guardian attacked them and supported the right-wing breakaway, which was the Social Democratic Party. But the mainstream media have not got the power that they once had in this country. They’ve still got a huge sway, there’s no two ways about that, but I think the internet and other electronic/alternative media have made it so that the mainstream media can no longer dictate to people like they used to. When people’s reality conflicts so deeply with what they’re being told in the media it jars people into having their own thoughts.

RV: Let’s go more in detail into the issue of trade unions. This neoliberal dogma has also seen a relentless attack against trade unionism. Can you talk about these attacks, and of legislation such as the Trade Union Act of 2016?

SH: The attacks have been coming since 1979, with the election of the Thatcher government, and they’ve increased in severity, particularly since the crisis of capitalism and the meltdown of the banks and financial institutions. This has meant a long period of austerity, where people’s living standards have fallen. I think it’s one of the longest recorded periods where people’s living standards have got continually worse.

This has led to a situation where even moderate trade unions have been forced to defend their members. The government, to stop that fightback and that resistance to their policies, has brought in new anti-trade union laws. In our own industry we now have two stipulations to meet after this latest legislation. The first stipulation is that for a ballot to be valid, 50% of the people that are entitled to vote have to vote.

For example, imagine a workplace with 100 people, if 49 people vote for action, and no one votes against it, then that ballot is not valid. If 49 people vote “Yes” and one person votes “No” then it is valid. That’s the kind of nonsense that we deal with. The second stipulation is that even when do get a 50% vote, then 40% of people have to vote “Yes”. Thus in this scenario you could have a situation where 39 people vote “Yes”, 30 vote “No”, which is nearly two-thirds participation, but still that would be ruled as an invalid ballot. That’s the reasoning behind it, they want to stop people struggling and fighting back against their economic policies.

RV: In effect they are imposing barriers on democracy inside unions…

SH: Absolutely. If they imposed the same barriers, the same stipulations upon themselves, there would be very few MPs left. There certainly wouldn’t be any local councillors left! But obviously they want to attack the institutions of the working class, they want to attack the trade unions, because they’re frightened that they will disrupt their economic policies.

“The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin in the IWW magazine Solidarity (1917)

RV: And is there any pledge from Corbyn and his team on how they would act regarding this legislation?

SH: Yes, Corbyn has said that he’s going to scrap the anti-trade union laws, all of them. That’s a really good aspiration; however, I’m not sure if the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party would agree with him. They’re probably very happy to see them in place…

RV: They are responsible for some of them!

SH: Indeed, yes! One of the analogies we’ve been giving and I think is useful is the following: we can stand on the sidelines and shout “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“, or we can get on the pitch and start playing, because if we become re-affiliated to the Labour Party we can support the Corbyn movement within the party, the constituencies, and the councils, get people there that are worthy of the name Labour politicians.

RV: In other words, move the struggle forward not just in parliament but also outside…

SH: Exactly. It’s always going to be a dual strategy, even if we had a Corbyn government. There’s no way that our union is going to lie down and accept that our members are going to have to sacrifice for anybody else. We will always be pushing that the bosses, not the workers, be the ones to make the sacrifices. We will push the Corbyn vehicle as far as we can and, if we reach a point where it’s no longer a suitable vehicle for us, then we’ll get out of it and get another one, or take over the vehicle!

RV: Let’s go back to the issue of privatisation. If you look up today any mainstream media outlet, any “responsible” policy maker will tell you that the services and utilities are better run and more efficient in the hands of the private sector. From your experience with the British rail, what’s your take on this issue?

SH: Well, in 2010 the Labour government commissioned a report called the “McNulty Report”.1 This study said that the privatised system was claiming more than three times the subsidies that nationalised system had. We have the highest fares in Europe, we have immense customer dissatisfaction with the system right now. After it was first privatised we even had a period with a series of rail accidents that killed many people. I think that privatisation has been an absolute disaster.

We have the French, Dutch, German national rail companies all making money from the British system, they’re shareholders making profits from the British rail operation. For example, you had the German department for transport issuing a statement where they clearly admitted that they were subsidising fares in Germany from the profits that they were raising in Britain! But we’re told that the British government can’t have a national railway in this country, they must be the only government in Europe that can’t make money from the British system! It’s an incredible position.

Greater Anglia picket line at Ipswich on Jan 10 for strike over safety and keeping the guard on the train (Photo: RMT)

RV: There have been some RMT strikes in the recent past. There was a strike on the Virgin Trains, there was a strike on new year’s eve, and there’s the issue of driver-only operated trains. Can you give us an overview of the current struggles in this sector?

SH: To increase the profits, the private companies, with the help of the government, are trying to get rid of guards from the trains and station staff. This has major impacts. There’s a safety impact, because if there’s a problem on a train or an emergency, the guards are in charge of safety on the train. They evacuate the train in an emergency, get people to safety, turn off all the electric components, make sure that there are no trains running anywhere near that train, etc., and that’s the first aspect of it.

The second aspect of it is accessibility, particularly for disabled people. Unless there’s a guard, they find it very difficult to get on and off the train. We have a situation now in Southern Rail where disabled people have to book their tickets 48h in advance if they want to be escorted on and off the train, we find this to be a clear discrimination. So for those reasons we’re opposing it. Obviously there are jobs involved, we want to keep jobs. Stations are being de-staffed, not major stations but smaller ones, with staff there only during peak times, so we’ve had situations with disabled people left stranded at stations. Those are the main two reasons why we’re opposing driver-only operated trains.

RV: In the face of these attacks against unions and privatisation of services, is there also some responsibility from some union leaders in accepting these changes too easily? For example, the role of ASLEF in the driver-only operated trains…

SH: The ASLEF leadership have been absolutely appalling, a glaring example of collaboration with management. The TUC, ASLEF and the management of Southern Rail met up2, in a meeting of which we were excluded, and tried to stitch up a deal. They tried to do a deal which affected our members, the guards, because they don’t have negotiating rights for the guards. And they twice put that to a referendum to their members, and it was twice rejected. So it was a humiliating process for the leadership of the TUC and ASLEF. It was third time lucky for them, the third time came with a huge “bribe”, a multi-year pay deal which gave their drivers a 28.5% raise, and unfortunately on that occasion the drivers accepted it. But both the TUC and the ASLEF leaderships played an absolutely treacherous role in this whole process.

RV: But this is a common strategy, right? Of trying to divide the union movement? This also happened during the miners’ strike.

SH: It’s a common strategy, but it also has to do with what kind of union you are. We’re an industrial union, we organise everybody from the person who makes the sandwiches, to the person who cleans the train, to the person who cleans the stations, the guard, the driver, the signaller, the technician, everyone. Unions like ASLEF are craft unions, they believe they are labour aristocrats, they’re only interested in getting money, and terms and conditions for their own members, even if it means selling out their workmates.

RMT campaign to keep the guard on the train

RV: This will be a very obvious question, but I assume you’re in favour of (re-)nationalising rail?

SH: Absolutely. We want re-nationalised rail, but we don’t just want to go back to the old system of British Rail. We want democratic control and accountability. We want workers to be a genuine part of the decision-making process, together with elected individuals from the community and transport groups and obviously members of Network Rail, or a similar public body, which would be accountable to the public and not just to a government bureaucrat. We don’t want to go back to the top-down system of British Rail that took strategic decisions without consulting with the communities and the people that it was supposed to serve. We want a democratic system, one that’s decided upon after full negotiation and consultation with the trade unions and the passengers.

RV: And this was in the Labour manifesto?

SH: The nationalisation of rail is in the manifesto, but not in this form. Not yet!

RV: One final question, concerning strikes. Whenever you read about strikes, they are constantly demonised in the media. You hear that strikers are “creating unnecessary disruption”, or that they “don’t care about commuters”. How do you react when you see these portrayals? What do you tell people?

SH: Well, first of all, no one wants to go on strike. 99.9% of people would rather go to work and earn a day’s money because they don’t get paid when they go on strike. Strikes are always a last resort, when the negotiations are finished, when we’re not making any progress negotiating. Or when management are pretending to negotiate with us on one hand, and implementing the policies that we are opposed to at the same time. So it’s like trying to negotiate with a crocodile while your head is in the crocodile’s mouth! You’ve got to first struggle and get your head free, and then you can negotiate. Because otherwise you’re going to be eaten!

That’s what we’ve got to get through to the public. Of course, the press are run by the capitalist class or the government, they are opposed to everything we do. They hate us particularly as a union because we’re a militant, class-conscious union, and everything we do is going to be pilloried and demonised. But that’s part of the territory, we expect that.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. This report, called “Realising the Potential of GB Rail”, was commissioned by the Labour government of Gordon Brown in February 2010. The Conservative Party won the election in May 2010 and endorsed the study, which would be published in May 2011. See here for a summary report and here for the full study.
  2. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is a trade union representing train drivers. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is a federation of trade unions in England and Wales. Southern Railway is one of the multiple private rail companies operating in the UK.

Ensuring Justice In The Era Of Transformation

In our last article, we predicted that the 2020s will be an era of transformation.  We focused on the development of the movement since the “Take-Off” phase of the 2011 Occupy encampments, followed by Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, Idle No More, carbon infrastructure protests, debt resistance, immigration protests and more. The 2020s will be a decade when the impacts of years of mismanagement of crisis situations, such as climate change, inequality and US militarism, become unavoidable requiring major transformations. What we do now to prepare will help determine the result.

Transformative Era will be Driven by Long Neglected Issues

For many of the issues the popular movement has been raising, the government has failed to act or taken counterproductive actions, putting the profits and interests of campaign donors ahead of the necessities of people and protection of the planet. The environment is being destroyed, the food supply is being poisoned by pesticides and the wealth divide is widening.

The massive threat of climate change has become more immediate and worse. In the last year, the scientific consensus has become more dire. The impacts are upon us now wildfires and superstorms, war brought on by drought, mass migrations and deaths.

At the same time multiple analyses and government reports point to a fading US empire. Since the end of World War II, the US has dominated the globe politically, economically and militarily becoming the largest empire in world history. That era is coming to an end.

In his new book, In the Shadows of the American Century, historian and chronicler of empire Alfred McCoy writes that US empire will end in the next decade. The US is falling behind in all spheres of influence. McCoy demonstrates how US spying on foreign governments and using torture in multiple countries have undermined the US’ moral authority, as have aggressive bullying for corporation-friendly trade deals, holding back climate agreements in the Obama era and pulling out of the climate agreement in the Trump era. He chronicles the rise of China, India and Russia, among other countries. The power dynamics of the world are changing with the US being left out of important decisions while China and Russia work in tandem in more areas.

McCoy describes various scenarios for how US empire will end, depending on how the current crises play out. No matter what happens, it is up to those of us living in the US to demand the US dismantles its empire in a way that causes the least harm. Paul Street writes, “the decline of the American Empire might be a good thing for ordinary people at home as well as abroad.” Ending empire is an opportunity for changes that move us toward being a cooperative nation in a multipolar world rather than hanging on to power through military might.

The end of empire will have many repercussions. Public investment in empire has meant a lack of investment on urgent needs; e.g., repairing failing and inadequate infrastructure, rebuilding cities that have been ignored, especially in black and brown communities, strengthening education from pre-school through post-graduate, to name a handful of many inadequately-funded areas. The empire economy helped create an unfair economy at home that pushed people into poverty, debt and homelessness. To reverse those impacts, the US must shift military spending to meet civilian needs and provide funding for a new democratized economy.

System-changing Issues

The credibility of the power structure that allowed these crises to fester will shrink. On each of the issues where the people’s movement has been growing, those in power have either denied reality and done nothing or have made matters worse through counterproductive policies. Multiple crisis situations barreling toward us require mobilization for system change, not simple reforms.

The US democracy crisis is due to the corruption of money in elections, laws that prevent challenges by third parties, media that warps coverage in favor of the duopoly, gerrymandering and more. The mirage of US elections has become evident to tens of millions of people resulting in both duopoly parties being unpopular and in disarray.

System failure is also a failure of the capitalist economic system, dominated by Wall Street, monopolies and massive transnational corporations. The kleptocrats in power are looting public treasures, monetizing and profiteering off our basic necessities such as water, energy and transportation. Increasing numbers of people agree we need a new economy based on economic democracy and the Commons where key sectors are socialized and under democratic control.

In Seymour Melman and the New American Revolution, Jonathan Feldman describes Melman’s ideas for dismantling empire and capitalism and shifting economic and political power to people through worker ownership and other democratized systems.

The movement must position itself for this coming era of transition by: (1) weakening the power structure by protest of mistaken policies and building alternatives to replace them; and (2) specifically defining the transformations we want so that the power holders cannot deceive us with false measures.

Opportunities to build movement power

Economic justice: Inequality in the United States is extreme and the world’s wealthy grow obscenely richer. Three people in the US have wealth equal to half the population while millions in urban areas have zero wealthtens of millions cannot handle a surprise $500 expense and an entire generation is entering adulthood in massive debt to a job market that will keep them in debt.

Over the last 40 years, CEO pay rose 937 percent while worker compensation remained stagnant. The recent tax cuts will add to all of these problems with increased debt caused by tax cuts for the rich causing cuts to social safety net programs like Medicaid and privatizing Social Security and Medicare. An economic crash seems almost inevitable as this decade comes to a close.

National consensus on issues like taxing the rich and building the economy from the bottom up will grow, creating opportunities for new economy programs; e.g., workers owning businesses, laws ensuring a livable wage, public banks, participatory budgeting where people decide public expenditures, a guaranteed income to ensure people can meet their basic needs and other programs giving people power in the economy. Not only should the recently-passed tax cuts be repealed, but an aggressively progressive income and wealth tax should be put in place along with a financial transactions tax to shrink the wealth divide and finance essential services.

Healthcare as a public good: Health care continues to be a top issue of concern as people cannot afford necessary care. Even with insurance, the deductibles and co-pays on top of high premiums are unaffordable and tens of millions of people cannot afford any insurance. To confront the healthcare crisis, the US most move from a system dominated by profits for insurance companies, Big Pharma and providers to a system where health care is a public good with equal access for all funded by a progressive tax. National improved Medicare for all has majority support and is poised to become a litmus test issue in upcoming elections.

Internet freedom with equal access for all and independent media: The attack on net neutrality has created a massive movement and national consensus that access to the Internet should be equal for all. People recognize that the Internet is essential to participate in the economy, politics and culture, resulting in calls to nationalize the Internet. The quality of Internet service must be improved so there is high speed Internet, as exists in other developed countries. We must create an Internet for the 21st Century.

Further concentration of media is limiting access to a diversity of views. Freedom of speech in the 21st Century requires protection of political speech on the Internet not only from government but from corporations; e.g., Google and Facebook, that control social media. Laws must protect independent and social media as democracy requires diverse information and robust debate.

Confronting climate change and reversing environmental degradation: There must be a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, which will create jobs for those who install solar, wind and other clean energy sources, construct efficient transit and housing, and conduct research to develop technology needed to remake the economy. The climate crisis will impact all aspects of life, including food, farming, water management, housing and more. Energy must be democratized so people who create more energy are compensated as producers and energy is socialized through public utilities. A carbon tax will encourage the change to clean energy and provide funds for the transition.

End of empire: There will be massive shifts in the economy at home and abroad and in foreign policy as empire comes to an end. The military-security state comprises a large and decentralized sector of the US economy. A just transition to a civilian peace economy will be required. The US will no longer have the power to coerce countries into signing trade deals, an economic arm of empire, that allow the exploitation of workers, communities and the environment. A new era of trade designed to protect people and planet will become possible. New international institutions will be needed to correct the weaknesses of the United Nations and allow governance that protects human rights and economic and racial equality. Mechanisms will be required to resolve conflicts between nations peacefully.

Systemic Racism: Through all these issues, racism, a hierarchy of power that allows one group of people to dominate another, is intimately intertwined. Institutions that perpetuate racism and inequality will need to be dismantled. This is not identity politics, as some have accused, nor does it negate the suffering and oppression of poor white people. It is a reality that must be faced if we are to create new systems that do not default to disparities between groups of people. Indigenous rights and sovereignty must be respected. Reparations must be paid for generations of stolen wealth.

The Task of Insuring Justice

While transitions are inevitable, it is not inevitable they will be made based on economic, racial and environmental justice and peace. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and each other so people understand the root causes of the crises we face, build popular power and create alternative systems that have desirable results. This is not the time for reform or the belief that we just need to elect the right person. The current systems, including the electoral system, are rigged against us and we need to use popular power change them.

As Kevin Buckland writes in Roar Magazine:

If we fail to offer scalable discursive, tactical and structural alternatives to the extractivist logic that has created the climate crisis, capitalism may itself transform the coming wave of disruptions into its own benefit, exacerbating existent inequalities for every social and ecological ‘issue’ as it strengthens its stranglehold of the future on a rapidly destabilizing battleground.

Buckland focuses on the climate crisis, but the same is relevant for other crises. A crisis  provides an opportunity for change. Those who have solutions on hand and power will determine what type of change occurs.

We face formidable opponents. They have resources, money and tools that can thwart our efforts. But this is nothing new. All movements for social transformation have faced difficult odds, still they have prevailed. We outnumber our opponents and when we work together, though we may not have the money, we do have resources and tools. We also have allies.

At a recent family gathering, one of our relatives who does human rights work remarked that people in other countries feel that they should be able to vote in US elections because the US has such a significant global impact. While that isn’t going to happen, there are ways that the international community outside the US can have influence, and that is through boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This can happen at the individual level, through institutions such as universities and at the governmental level. Activists can call on their governments to target US institutions of military and economic dominance.

During the South African Apartheid, it was South African activists who called on other nations to boycott their country. This was a primary reason why apartheid ended. A decade ago, hundreds of Palestinians came together and called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. The BDS movement is having such a great effect that Israel is fighting to stop it.

And while we are reaching out to our international allies, we can share information with each other about what systems work and don’t work so that we can create the new world we need more rapidly. Collectively, we have greater wisdom than individually.

We live in a difficult time, but it is also a time of opportunities to correct our mistakes and build something better. Change is coming. As we wrote in 2011, history is knocking. We must all decide in 2018 how we will answer it.

Making the 2018 Elections a Struggle for Peace, Jobs and Justice

As we head into a pivotal mid-term election year, it is clear the Democratic Party establishment has not learned a key lesson from the 2016 election. That is, that many of the party’s former and current constituents reject the party’s establishment leadership and its lackluster program. These voters are looking for alternatives. In 2016, en masse they deserted the party for a new kind of politics they found in Bernie Sanders and some saw in Donald Trump.

Voters passed judgment on the leading figures of both parties. Distrust and discontent disrupted politics as usual. The opportunity to fill this void with left-of-center electoral initiatives abound. It starts with building on the momentum of Bernie Sanders’s campaign that resonated with tens of millions. In some fashion or another, ready or not, the 2018 midterm elections must become an arena of struggle for peace, economic security and racial justice.

Sanders’ leadership in 2016, and still today, falls short in two key areas to meet this challenge. First, during his campaign he did not offer Americans a bold new foreign policy. To start with, a plan to end the war on terrorism and the foreign military adventures that have made us less safe and destabilized and laid waste to a dozen nations. Secondly, after November, instead of calling for discussion on forming a new political party he and his advisors chose to form yet another 501c entity, Our Revolution, primarily as a vehicle to move the Democratic Party to the left. It would behoove Sanders to reconsider both choices. The Democratic Party’s electoral structure is certainly a vehicle for advancing progressive and even left candidates, but the party’s owners are not likely to hand over its bank accounts to Sanders, labor unions and people’s organizations.

Months after the elections the Clinton-Obama-Pelosi centrists still hold the reins and drive a shameless hubris as they scramble to blame someone for the party’s declining appeal and its 2016 losses. No, it was not Obama and Clinton’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Bill Clinton’s betrayal of labor unions on NAFTA.  It was not due to Hillary’s use of the term “super predators” in 1996 to describe black youth involved in criminal activity. No, it was not the shortcomings of the bureaucratic, insurer-friendly Obamacare.

No, it was the Russian television network Russia Today brainwashing its 8 million American viewers. No, it was Russian cyber meddling in the election, for which months later we have zero evidence. Same goes for alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. No, the loss was due to FBI director James Comey’s late in the game letter to congress about Clinton’s emails. No, it was WikiLeaks alleged release, in collaboration with Russia, of emails showing the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sought to derail Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Which, as we learned was the case.

After a full-court media campaign to convince Americans of Russian meddling, many remain skeptical. In a May 2017 CBS poll, 55 percent of Americans considered the allegations a distraction that “get in the way of getting things done.” In October, 41 percent still agree they were a distraction.1

Clinton again blamed Bernie Sanders in her post-election book tour, dubbed by some The Denial Tour.  “His attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election….” Not exactly the kind of message designed to heal and unify the party going into 2018 elections. Since polls show Bernie is the most admired politician in America, topping 70 percent, to say her grumbling is a political misstep for the party is an understatement.

Yet, even as Clinton’s own poll ratings dropped to 30 percent, she continued to maintain the loss was due to something other than an uninspiring campaign and the neo-liberal, anti-working class politics the Democratic Party’s centrist leadership has pedaled for 30-plus years. Clinton even blamed the Democratic National Committee (DNC), led by a loyal Clinton supporter, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, saying it “…was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.”2

A crisis of legitimacy

Both Sanders and Trump’s campaigns rode on a crisis of legitimacy in the two parties. Today, only 18 percent of voters consider themselves strong Democrats. The no longer Grand Old Party is slightly worse off at 15 percent. So far, Trump maintains most of his loyal voter support, which we should keep in mind, is only around 25 percent of the total electorate.

The attendant political volatility arising from the 2016 election combined with numerous international crises, presents an opportunity for demagogic appeals to patriotism, xenophobia and racism to deepen and spread. At the same time, it is an opening to advance a working-class political and economic program to provide meaningful, concrete solutions to address people’s grievances and discontents. A program, we might call a Sanders plus program, the plus being a plan for peace.

The Sanders wing of the Democrats is hesitant, waiting. Will Sanders break with the party? Be sidelined? Clearly, Sanders is taking on the establishment, pushing his economic program of social benefits, but it appears his aim is to reform or take over the party. A tough job when those hanging on to power, did not mention Sander’s program until September, when 15 Democratic senators finally endorsed single-payer national health insurance. In the House, progressive Democrats have signed on Bernie’s program for free post-secondary education, paid parental leave and expanding social security. However, there is little evidence of serious actions being taken on the part of the leadership to rally Americans behind the legislation. After Sanders introduced his single-payer bill, Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders, notably Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, told voters they do not support single-payer. Again, the failure of the leadership to learn the lessons of 2016.

Understandably then, Americans give the leadership low marks when it comes to presenting alternatives to Trump’s reactionary program. A Washington Post – ABC News poll in late October this year found only 28 percent of voters thought the Democrats were offering real alternatives.3 Nearly one half of Democratic responders and 65 percent of independents said the leadership was just criticizing Trump. One attempt to launch an alternative program failed miserably.

The Democrats “Better Deal” falls flat

In July, a Pelosi–Schumer road show unveiled the party’s alternative to the Trump-GOP program: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” In a Washington Post, Op-ed, Pelosi said the Deal, “represents a renewed Democratic commitment to the hard-working men and women across the United States who have been left out and left behind for too long.” It rained hard in Berryville, Virginia that day, the site of show. Reviews rained even harder on the Democrat’s proposal. It made no mention of Sanders’ far-reaching social benefit program that would lift up the left out. Their effort to make a splash with the working class was drowned in empty words, rhetorical promises and contrived apologies for abandoning working-class voters.

If Schumer, Pelosi, Clinton et al wanted to rebuild the party they only need reach out to the millions who responded to Sanders program for expanding social benefits at the expense of the billionaire class. Instead all we hear is Russia, Russia, Russia. Some pundits allege the Democratic leadership is tone-deaf to political reality, but their silence is due to an unwillingness to break with their corporate sponsors any more than are the masters of the once Grand Old Party. Instead both parties, and institutions in their orbits, are worried Americans are losing faith in the long-standing institutions of the limited “democracy of the few” embodied by the two-party capitalist system.

In January, Linda Chavez, a former Reagan cabinet member turned media pundit, put it this way in her New York Post column: “Democracy can only exist as long as the people trust its institutions. The greatest calamity of this election cycle has been the weakening of that trust.” Another reading of her statement is both Sanders and Trump upset the well painted façade of democratic governance. Neither candidate could be trusted to be loyal administrators of the bi-partisan imperialist foreign policy and neo-liberal economic program of capitalism.

While Chavez may lament this decline, those seeking a more just, peaceful society have an opportunity to step into this vacuum and begin building a new political party responsive to, and with, our nation’s multi-national working class, white and blue collar, youth and students. The massive discontent with politics as usual offers fertile ground. The first step is to agree on a working-class program for economic security, peace and racial justice. The next is to bring it into the 2018 mid-term election and beyond.

Resolutions at the AFL-CIO Convention in October showed emerging sentiment among labor union leaders for independence from the two parties and for renewing the idea of a Labor Party. A resolution calling for a pro-worker agenda and “an independent political voice,” stated: “The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”4

According to the People’s World reporting from the convention, 50 delegates met for a discussion on the idea of a Labor Party.5 Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein led a convention floor discussion and roused an applause when he said: “The Democratic Party was not delivering anything even when it had control of the White House, the Congress and the Senate.” This echoed the position of another resolution on electoral politics that concluded that: “continuing to follow the same model, expecting different results, is not an effective strategy for labor.”6

Help wanted: political leaders who stand for something

Propelling the urgency for bold alternatives in 2018 and beyond is that another capitalist economic crisis is looming on the horizon. Absent an alternative such a crisis will enlarge the opening for demagogic solutions like those offered by Trump’s GOP, as well as, austerity measures authored by the corporate allies of both parties. Might it be possible that Our Revolution will find an independent political footing to meet this challenge? Might progressive labor unions unite with people’s movements and Our Revolution to meet this challenge? These possibilities deserve urgent attention if we are to prevent Trump’s new GOP from consolidating power.7

Single-payer advocates welcomed senate Democrats finally getting behind Medicare for all legislation, but there is a steep hill to climb to win over skeptical workers fed up with just about every establishment Democrat. Democratic Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio said, in a New York Times interview in June, following the loss of Jon Ossoff in Georgia, that the party had become “toxic” in much of the country as voters see Democrats as “not being able to connect with the issues they care about.”8

In the same article D. Taylor, the president of the union Unite Here, representing hospitality workers across the country said, “Millions of Americans are desperate to be led by political leaders who stand for something, are willing to take risks, and are willing to tell the truth and engage Americans where they live. That just isn’t happening.” Labor unions and people’s movements who wait for the Democratic Party to make it happen will still be waiting in 2024. Now is the time to build and organize the mass sentiments revealed by the Sanders’ campaign. It’s no time to hesitate or go slow. It is time to take bold risks with confidence and trust that people will respond.

Although the Tim Ryans of the Democratic Party are not likely to call their own foreign policy “toxic,” 2016 showed millions of voters were concerned about Hillary Clinton’s aggressive support of military interventions. Sanders’ repeated criticism of her record resonated broadly with young people, progressives and among the working class. In the fall, Trump even told his voters at rallies that a vote for Hillary would be a vote for more war.

Yet, since the election the Democratic leadership has lent tacit support to Trump’s military budget increases and his ratcheting up of aggression against Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and China. Particularly egregious is the support of both parties’ leaders, for Saudi Arabia’s murderous war against the people of Yemen. Aggression that began with support from the Obama Administration. Not a word of criticism, except for a handful of progressive Democratic officials.

An electoral counter to such dangerous jingoism requires fielding dozens of congressional candidates on a program for peace. This is the glimmer of rationality that peace-loving, oppressed and war-torn peoples around world desperately await U.S. activists to initiate in the citadel of imperialism. Left and progressive organizations that avoid this work shirk their international responsibilities.

A good place to start is to press candidates and incumbents to support a new direction in foreign policy as advanced by AFL-CIO resolution: War is not the Answer.9 It calls on the president and congress “to bring the war dollars home and make our priority as a nation rebuilding this country’s crumbling infrastructure, creating millions of living wage jobs and addressing human needs such as education, health care, housing, retirement security and jobs.  Furthermore, it calls “for a foreign policy based on international solidarity of all workers, mutual respect of all nations and national sovereignty…”

If candidates won’t sign on, challenge them. Pressure them. Americans are tired of war. The AFL-CIO resolution reflects this sentiment. Make 2018 a struggle for peace. General election and primary challengers running on a plan for peace may not win, but such a presence is urgently needed to elevate the struggle for peace, economic security and racial justice.

  1. Americans worried about Russian influence on elections,” October 30, 2017. SurveyMonkey poll conducted from October 23 to October 26.
  2. CNN, Chris Cillizza, Editor-at-large. “In election blame game, it’s time for Hillary Clinton to take her share,” June 1, 2017.
  3. Washington Post. “Trump’s approval rating remains historically low and confidence has declined.” Washington Post-ABC News poll, October 29-November 1, 2017. November 13, 2017.
  4. Resolution 2: “An independent political voice.” Resolutions, 2017 AFL-CIO Convention.
  5. John Wojcik and Mark Gruenberg. People’s World, “AFL-CIO calls for a break with “lesser of two evils” politics,” October 25, 2017.
  6. Resolution 48: “Exploring new directions for labor in electoral politics.”
  7. See my analysis of this danger in the December 2017, Adonde Press pamphlet, “The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Task Ahead.”
  8. Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin. New York Times. “Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump.’”, June 21, 2017.
  9. Resolution 50: “War is not the Answer.” Resolutions, 2017 AFL-CIO Convention.