Category Archives: strikes

“Policing Is Not Your Concern”

As the dust settles after the end of the University of Michigan’s (UM) historic eight-day strike, autopsies investigating the labor action are already being churned out. Why the strike ended, who is responsible for breaking the strike, and what future labor action at UM will look like are now questions that will doubtlessly rise to the forefront of debates among laborers at the university for many months—if not years—to come.

But we cannot allow those truly responsible for curtailing labor action to sink into the background: the university administration. Now is the time we should turn our focus to its functions, given it is an oblique and imposing assemblage that has been and will be difficult to reckon with. We know that it has already systematically worked to obstruct meaningful labor action across university campuses in the US. As we are made increasingly precarious as laborers and graduate student workers in the academy, what will our relationship be with university administration?

The presence of the university administration is clearly changing. In the past, the administration has only been exceedingly present and visible to those of us imbricated in its labor structure—faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. To us, it has historically and methodically directed its punitive dimensions, projecting its power and control over our employment and the budget to keep us in line. As laborers, we understand that its power to police is the core function of the university administration.

This also explains why, in the past, the administration has been less visible to undergraduate students. As customers paying a fee for subscribing to the academy, undergraduate students were meant to be strategically courted by the university. The administration’s core policing function is not attractive to consumers, and it has strenuously sought to keep itself less visible. Of course this, like in all circumstances of American life, was a raced and gendered experience. Some people are less likely to be courted than others.

Yet, under the conditions of COVID-19, the punitive appendage of the university administration is becoming perhaps its only one—it is making itself omnipresently visible both to consumers and to its laborers. The activity of customers (undergraduate students), after all, has taken on new threatening dimensions to administrations. What used to be part of the commodified university package—the “campus experience”—that the university once worked to sell is now a threat because of COVID-19.

Here, it is important to realize that the university’s apparatus to police is multifold. On one hand, universities across the US maintain an extensive and expensive campus-dedicated police force while also collaborating with municipal police. On the other, the actual university administration itself is a policing entity. It works to circumscribe students, workers, and faculty alike by holding finances, grades, and choices in its iron fist; to monitor, surveil, and record its student bodies; and ultimately to punish all people studying and working at the university when the occasion rises. We see these two phenomena—campus police and the policing function of the university administration—as inexorably imbricated. They work together to keep graduate students, staff, campus workers, faculty, and even students, from being able to effectively protest reckless university decisions altogether.

To understand the role of university administrations—disciplinary, punitive, and policing—one should turn to the various cases of labor actions that have dominated university laboring scenes in 2020. Students, workers, and student workers at the University of Michigan may have been the only ones to strike against a public university in the US during the Fall 2020 semester (so far), but they were not the only ones who agitated against university plans to reopen this fall. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) was one of the first public universities to open—and it was also one of the first that had to go online because of the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among students, as predicted by graduate students, workers, and everyone who agitated to keep the universities remote. Formal labor action in the form of a strike may not have happened at UNC, but campus workers, graduate student workers, and staff were far from silent in the face of the looming campus reopening. In both these universities, campus police and municipal police presence on campus has been an issue of contention between those performing labor actions and the university administration.

Comparing the labor actions of these two different university worker groups—given that they followed different labor actions, had different organizing capabilities, and were operating in different labor environments—merely demonstrates the continuous logic that undergirds university administrations across the nation. Both administrations refused to credibly negotiate with workers or listen to their concerns. Both fabricated evidence that showed that their plans to open would be “safe.” Both lied when it suited them to do so. And both ultimately threatened workers, especially graduate student workers, when push came to shove. The reasons why these administrations’ reactions were so similar and so punitive toward university laborers were, as we will evidence here, because of the neoliberal impulses of the corporate university.

Labor Actions and Their Contexts

The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) strike demands did not appear out of nowhere. These demands have a lineage that can be traced to GEO’s engagements with the University of Michigan administration earlier in the year. Throughout the winter semester, GEO was bargaining for its 2020-2023 contract. Considering that COVID-19 became more of a concern in the later stages of bargaining, demands for randomized testing and transparent public health models were not included as part of contract negotiations. However, our demands around racial justice were part of those negotiations, and as is expected from the university administration, discussions of disarming and demilitarizing were promptly dismissed and “off the table.” As contract negotiations concluded and fears over the university’s plans for the fall semester began to rise, GEO attempted to engage the university specifically over COVID-19, and it is in this stage of negotiations where a majority of the strike’s direct COVID-19 demands were first made known, such as emergency stipends, flexible childcare subsidies, and increased assistance for international graduate students navigating uncertain terrain around visas, work requirements, remote courses, etc.

Dismissing GEO’s COVID demands as financially infeasible, the university reminded graduate students that they received a pay raise while others across the university saw pay freezes. All the meanwhile, the administration continued business as usual, boasting about multimillion dollar gifts to the university, and approving credit lines to continue its capital projects. This tactic is, of course, nothing unusual. Similarly, graduate student workers have agitated at UNC for years to raise the base stipends, and during COVID-19, they have worked to secure a universal one-year funding extension and emergency funds across all departments—both of which have been dismissed by the university bureaucracy and individual departments as being similarly financially unfeasible. Even in the case of the history department, which has suspended graduate student admission next year, it is not clear that any of the funds saved by not paying salaries of new graduate student workers are going to tangibly increase the salaries of current graduate students (although the history department has granted funding prior to suspending student admissions next year). In fact, it’s not clear where the “savings” are going to go. Financial insecurity and the infeasibility and further financing precarious workers are oft-weaponized tactics by university administrations across the US.

The UM’s financial inconsistencies, claiming both impending financial doom for the university and a very strong financial position with a $12 billion endowment and a diverse revenue stream, coincided with the mass protests against police brutality in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well the Washtenaw County Police’s assault of Sha’Teina Grady El in Ypsilanti, MI, a neighboring town to Ann Arbor. Alongside several other graduate student organizations at UM, GEO called upon the administration to take tangible steps in living up to anti-racism, with a specific demand of beginning disengagement from police forces with known discriminatory practices and disarming campus police, picking up the demand UM refused to engage on during contract bargaining. During its early negotiations with GEO during the strike, the administration refused to engage in discussion around the graduate student workers’ policing demands, claiming campus policing falls outside of the union’s bargaining sphere and as separate from the COVID demands. However, GEO sees the two as inextricably linked, and when looking at the university’s opening plan, so does it. To enforce social distancing, and specifically to prevent large-scale parties off campus, UM created its “Michigan Ambassador’s” program, an initiative created in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department. With the backdrop of months of protests against police brutality, the university of Michigan saw a new policing body made up of students, AAPD officers, and DPSS officers as the solution to create a COVID-safe campus. Deliberately ignored by the administration is how this initiative immediately puts Black and brown students in a double bind of danger.  Not only are they brought back onto campus with limited testing and no contact tracing, but on top of that, police are the mechanism used to ensure so-called safe behaviors.

It is against the background of being dismissed by the University as GEO advocated for a safe and just campus throughout the end of the winter term and through the summer that GEO’s strike emerged. Starting at 5am on Tuesday, September 8, and in the pouring rain, GEO members began the first shift of a twelve hour long picket. The trade union members who arrived at their construction sites respected our picket lines, and they continued to do so throughout the strike whenever GEO picket lines were at their job sites. The university administration’s approach of simply dismissing GEO and its demands became immediately more punitive, filing an unfair labor practice on the first day of the strike. On Wednesday, things began to snowball. That morning, undergraduate residential advisors went on strike without the protection of a union, citing the lack of protections and no hazard pay. Late that evening, the University administration came to GEO with its first offer.

While filled with many threats of retaliation, including a possible injunction should the strike continue, the offer did not include sufficient responses to GEO’s demands for greater testing, flexible childcare subsidies, and a universal remote teaching option. Additionally, the administration stood firm in its refusal to entertain the thought of engaging around our anti-policing demands. Throughout the four-hour long meeting, strikers weighed these fears of retaliation against the fact that the deal contained few wins. Furthermore, GEO members had to grapple with the question of what GEO would be signaling to the non-unionized RAs who just began their strike if the union accepted a deal that did nothing to keep them safe. Ultimately, the membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the deal, and picketing continued through Friday when another group of non-unionized undergraduate workers, the student dining staff, began a work slowdown, an amended strategy due to threats of retaliation had they started a full strike.

GEO’s initial strike authorization only lasted until Friday, 11 September, and with no offer on the table, which meant no non-retaliation clause, GEO membership authorized a strike extension. Throughout the weekend, the provost and president sent out a flurry of emails noting their willingness to come to the table and engage in good faith discussions with GEO. However, to the contrary and to reiterate the emails’ rhetoric, President Schlissel simultaneously sued UM’s graduate students, filing a court injunction that would force GEO members back into the classroom and underscoring the administration’s “good faith” negotiations. On Monday, and with a looming injunction over our heads, GEO returned to the picket lines, continuing the strike through Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, GEO members reconvened for another general membership meeting to discuss and vote on UM’s second offer. Between the first and second offer, GEO made most of its tangible gains around childcare. Regarding the anti-policing demands, the second offer included the creation of a task force and a reevaluating the Michigan Ambassador’s program. Taken comprehensively, the second offer was just as insulting as the first. And while the university’s proposal had not changed significantly, the context in which strikers were agitating had. After the injunction hearing, those on the picket line would not have the protection of the union. To continue agitating with the injunction in place would shift punishment from the academic and university realm and into the legal sphere, placing our Black, brown, and Indigenous peers at greater risk. Furthermore, the irrevocable damage of a court filing abstractly mentioned in the 9 September meeting was now very real. GEO could not survive a court battle with UM lawyers. As graduate student workers, we have few protections, and the university administration made the conscious and intentional decision to attack the strongest protection graduate student workers have at our back: GEO. UM quickly engaged the courts, signaling loud and clear how it is unafraid to invoke hard punitive measures. GEO did not accept this second offer because of its content. GEO membership accepted the deal because to reject it would pave the way for the University to destroy our union.

Well before the strike, UM saw GEO’s demands that advocated for protecting the campus community and greater Ann Arbor community from seeing the town turn into a COVID-19 hotspot. Against the advice of its own ethics committee, the University of Michigan brought back a significant majority of its students to campus without honestly engaging with faculty, students, and staff about the risks. Now, both the campus and Ann Arbor community are left at risk. With inaccurate updating, it is unclear exactly how many cases of COVID-19 there are on campus. President Schlissel’s “public-health informed” semester was said to be based in science. Yet, as was found out through GEO’s strike, the models used to justify reopening campus had too wide of confidence margins and now the dashboard houses inaccurate and unhelpful data, leaving us wondering how the administration is using science to protect its community. When science didn’t work, the administration turned to policing. At both ends of the process of monitoring COVID-19, the administration enlists police forces to deal with students and workers. Roaming the streets on weekends, the police punish students hosting large gatherings and then later when someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the dorms, often campus security is called to escort them to quarantine housing.

The case of UM clearly demonstrates how the two veins of policing in the corporate university—campus police and the university administration’s policing capacities—are deeply intertwined. To further evidence the pervasiveness of this relationship across all US universities, we now turn briefly to UNC.

Labor Actions, Workers, and Allies

UNC has a history of graduate student worker strikes. After a semester of agitation which tore down the silent sam confederate memorial, in Fall 2018, TAs refused to submit final grades for students until the Board of Trustees rescinded their promise to erect a space that would continue to enshrine  the toppled racist edifice.

This was not the end of graduate student worker action in the last few years. At UNC, labor action has often been channeled between the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective and the local UE150 union. When UNC’s university administration announced its plans to reopen over the summer, the administration anticipated student backlash, and therefore formulated a plan to misdirect workers’ ability to agitate effectively: endless meetings that yielded no tangible results. For instance, early on in the agitation, activists were told by the university administration that they would only communicate via the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF), which they considered to be the only legitimate elected and representative body and therefore the mouthpiece of graduate students. When graduate students managed to get GPSF to pass a resolution that campus should remain remote (among other demands), UNC administration promptly ignored that resolution. In another instance, UNC students were told repeatedly that, if the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) mandated that the university close, UNC would adhere to that mandate. UNC students and workers were urged to email the OCHD at volume to beg them to issue this mandate. What UNC administration didn’t admit at the time was that the OCHD has no ability to issue mandates, only recommendations. When the OCHD did issue a recommendation not to open on campus, the administration then, predictably, ignored it.

There are countless examples of this sort of misdirection that occurred throughout the summer—and by the time August came around, the writing was on the wall. The university administration never intended to listen to workers, regardless of what happened, in order to meet that sacred bottom line. They were willing to sacrifice students and vulnerable staff no matter the cost, and had already proven it by sickening 37 student athletes and staff by July 2020. As in the case of the UM,  at UNC similarly linked demands for pandemic relief to the ending of police presence on campus, understanding, like the UM workers, that the deteriorative impact COVID-19 among the communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color has been exacerbated by racist policing across the US. UNC responded by posting police at dorms to “welcome” students back to campus—and more importantly, to ensure that students adhered to the frankly impossible distancing guidelines. Police were frequently employed to issue citations to students allegedly not correctly distancing—a move that, predictably given the racist core of police, most frequently targeted Black students most.

The lack of strong organizing and direct labor action over the summer cost the UNC and wider Chapel Hill community dearly. Hundreds of known COVID-19 cases spread in the first two weeks of students living on campus, and likely thousands of unknown ones since UNC sent students home without exit tests. At the same time, we had no clear allies: faculty were signaling obliquely they were unwilling to strike or support a strike, graduate student workers were divided, campus staff were similarly without a consensus. Yet, it is unclear whether direct labor action would have yielded a different outcome, given what we now see from the UM.

The Neoliberal Afterlives of Corporate University Action

In the wake of two modes of labor organizing—one with the support of a sanctioned union (UM), and one occurring in a hybrid form where students were divided between working within a union and outside of one (UNC)—we can now begin to draw conclusions about the kind of university system we now inhabit. After all, in neither case did the university administration attempt to engage in compromise. It seems that to universities now, any amount of labor organizing among graduate student workers on campus is too much labor organizing—on both campuses, the university moved to quash it without engaging in true-heartened negotiation. Furthermore, this is not the only circumstance in which university administrators have attempted to aggressively curtail labor action, as in the University of California-Santa Cruz’s infamous firing of 54 graduate student workers for engaging in a grade strike in Spring 2020 (41 who were eventually rehired due to continued graduate student worker agitation). Given this, what conclusions can we draw about the role of the university administration?

It’s obvious now: the core function—perhaps its only function—of the university administration is to police students and laborers alike. Its multidirectional ability to police, both through dedicated campus police that police our bodies and the university administration’s policing logic that circumscribe our range of choices, have been detrimental.

For generations, our collective ability to engage in labor actions has been deliberately undercut, both at the state level and at the level of our universities. From state legal impediments like right-to-work laws, to deliberate university decisions to keep workers weak, like the fact that graduate student worker stipends at UNC do not even come close to the minimum livable wage in Orange County, it is clear that the state and the university work hand-in-hand across the country in attempting to destroy our possibilities for labor action. Dragging its heels on providing conditions to benefit us, it is quick to lash out when its commodities (classes and grades) are threatened, levying injunctions and the omnipresent threat of firings and wage withholdings when it sees fit. The neoliberal corporate university seeks to individuate us as political-economic actors, to depoliticize us as laborers, and, failing that, to punish us aggressively for daring to envision a better future.

What does this mean for the future of university solidarity organizing?

At first glance, conditions appear bleak. But the university administrations are in a crisis mode. Reckless reopening plans across the country have sickened mass populations of students, staff, and workers across the US. Campuses have become the new national hotspots, contributing about 40,000 new cases since campuses began reopening in August (as of 11 September 2020). Class action lawsuits are pouring in. Some estimates show that college enrollment in the coming years could fall as much as 20%. All of these facts line up very dangerously against the business-as-usual model that corporatized universities have attempted to employ in the Fall 2020 semester.

Yet, UNC has now all-but-officially announced that it plans to once again attempt to open for Spring 2020, and UM continues to go about its business without the faith and support of many faculty and graduate students. What will the university administration do to protect this decision—and other dangerous, reckless, and selfish decisions like it—going forward now?

The post "Policing Is Not Your Concern” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Policing Is Not Your Concern”

As the dust settles after the end of the University of Michigan’s (UM) historic eight-day strike, autopsies investigating the labor action are already being churned out. Why the strike ended, who is responsible for breaking the strike, and what future labor action at UM will look like are now questions that will doubtlessly rise to the forefront of debates among laborers at the university for many months—if not years—to come.

But we cannot allow those truly responsible for curtailing labor action to sink into the background: the university administration. Now is the time we should turn our focus to its functions, given it is an oblique and imposing assemblage that has been and will be difficult to reckon with. We know that it has already systematically worked to obstruct meaningful labor action across university campuses in the US. As we are made increasingly precarious as laborers and graduate student workers in the academy, what will our relationship be with university administration?

The presence of the university administration is clearly changing. In the past, the administration has only been exceedingly present and visible to those of us imbricated in its labor structure—faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. To us, it has historically and methodically directed its punitive dimensions, projecting its power and control over our employment and the budget to keep us in line. As laborers, we understand that its power to police is the core function of the university administration.

This also explains why, in the past, the administration has been less visible to undergraduate students. As customers paying a fee for subscribing to the academy, undergraduate students were meant to be strategically courted by the university. The administration’s core policing function is not attractive to consumers, and it has strenuously sought to keep itself less visible. Of course this, like in all circumstances of American life, was a raced and gendered experience. Some people are less likely to be courted than others.

Yet, under the conditions of COVID-19, the punitive appendage of the university administration is becoming perhaps its only one—it is making itself omnipresently visible both to consumers and to its laborers. The activity of customers (undergraduate students), after all, has taken on new threatening dimensions to administrations. What used to be part of the commodified university package—the “campus experience”—that the university once worked to sell is now a threat because of COVID-19.

Here, it is important to realize that the university’s apparatus to police is multifold. On one hand, universities across the US maintain an extensive and expensive campus-dedicated police force while also collaborating with municipal police. On the other, the actual university administration itself is a policing entity. It works to circumscribe students, workers, and faculty alike by holding finances, grades, and choices in its iron fist; to monitor, surveil, and record its student bodies; and ultimately to punish all people studying and working at the university when the occasion rises. We see these two phenomena—campus police and the policing function of the university administration—as inexorably imbricated. They work together to keep graduate students, staff, campus workers, faculty, and even students, from being able to effectively protest reckless university decisions altogether.

To understand the role of university administrations—disciplinary, punitive, and policing—one should turn to the various cases of labor actions that have dominated university laboring scenes in 2020. Students, workers, and student workers at the University of Michigan may have been the only ones to strike against a public university in the US during the Fall 2020 semester (so far), but they were not the only ones who agitated against university plans to reopen this fall. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) was one of the first public universities to open—and it was also one of the first that had to go online because of the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among students, as predicted by graduate students, workers, and everyone who agitated to keep the universities remote. Formal labor action in the form of a strike may not have happened at UNC, but campus workers, graduate student workers, and staff were far from silent in the face of the looming campus reopening. In both these universities, campus police and municipal police presence on campus has been an issue of contention between those performing labor actions and the university administration.

Comparing the labor actions of these two different university worker groups—given that they followed different labor actions, had different organizing capabilities, and were operating in different labor environments—merely demonstrates the continuous logic that undergirds university administrations across the nation. Both administrations refused to credibly negotiate with workers or listen to their concerns. Both fabricated evidence that showed that their plans to open would be “safe.” Both lied when it suited them to do so. And both ultimately threatened workers, especially graduate student workers, when push came to shove. The reasons why these administrations’ reactions were so similar and so punitive toward university laborers were, as we will evidence here, because of the neoliberal impulses of the corporate university.

Labor Actions and Their Contexts

The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) strike demands did not appear out of nowhere. These demands have a lineage that can be traced to GEO’s engagements with the University of Michigan administration earlier in the year. Throughout the winter semester, GEO was bargaining for its 2020-2023 contract. Considering that COVID-19 became more of a concern in the later stages of bargaining, demands for randomized testing and transparent public health models were not included as part of contract negotiations. However, our demands around racial justice were part of those negotiations, and as is expected from the university administration, discussions of disarming and demilitarizing were promptly dismissed and “off the table.” As contract negotiations concluded and fears over the university’s plans for the fall semester began to rise, GEO attempted to engage the university specifically over COVID-19, and it is in this stage of negotiations where a majority of the strike’s direct COVID-19 demands were first made known, such as emergency stipends, flexible childcare subsidies, and increased assistance for international graduate students navigating uncertain terrain around visas, work requirements, remote courses, etc.

Dismissing GEO’s COVID demands as financially infeasible, the university reminded graduate students that they received a pay raise while others across the university saw pay freezes. All the meanwhile, the administration continued business as usual, boasting about multimillion dollar gifts to the university, and approving credit lines to continue its capital projects. This tactic is, of course, nothing unusual. Similarly, graduate student workers have agitated at UNC for years to raise the base stipends, and during COVID-19, they have worked to secure a universal one-year funding extension and emergency funds across all departments—both of which have been dismissed by the university bureaucracy and individual departments as being similarly financially unfeasible. Even in the case of the history department, which has suspended graduate student admission next year, it is not clear that any of the funds saved by not paying salaries of new graduate student workers are going to tangibly increase the salaries of current graduate students (although the history department has granted funding prior to suspending student admissions next year). In fact, it’s not clear where the “savings” are going to go. Financial insecurity and the infeasibility and further financing precarious workers are oft-weaponized tactics by university administrations across the US.

The UM’s financial inconsistencies, claiming both impending financial doom for the university and a very strong financial position with a $12 billion endowment and a diverse revenue stream, coincided with the mass protests against police brutality in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well the Washtenaw County Police’s assault of Sha’Teina Grady El in Ypsilanti, MI, a neighboring town to Ann Arbor. Alongside several other graduate student organizations at UM, GEO called upon the administration to take tangible steps in living up to anti-racism, with a specific demand of beginning disengagement from police forces with known discriminatory practices and disarming campus police, picking up the demand UM refused to engage on during contract bargaining. During its early negotiations with GEO during the strike, the administration refused to engage in discussion around the graduate student workers’ policing demands, claiming campus policing falls outside of the union’s bargaining sphere and as separate from the COVID demands. However, GEO sees the two as inextricably linked, and when looking at the university’s opening plan, so does it. To enforce social distancing, and specifically to prevent large-scale parties off campus, UM created its “Michigan Ambassador’s” program, an initiative created in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department. With the backdrop of months of protests against police brutality, the university of Michigan saw a new policing body made up of students, AAPD officers, and DPSS officers as the solution to create a COVID-safe campus. Deliberately ignored by the administration is how this initiative immediately puts Black and brown students in a double bind of danger.  Not only are they brought back onto campus with limited testing and no contact tracing, but on top of that, police are the mechanism used to ensure so-called safe behaviors.

It is against the background of being dismissed by the University as GEO advocated for a safe and just campus throughout the end of the winter term and through the summer that GEO’s strike emerged. Starting at 5am on Tuesday, September 8, and in the pouring rain, GEO members began the first shift of a twelve hour long picket. The trade union members who arrived at their construction sites respected our picket lines, and they continued to do so throughout the strike whenever GEO picket lines were at their job sites. The university administration’s approach of simply dismissing GEO and its demands became immediately more punitive, filing an unfair labor practice on the first day of the strike. On Wednesday, things began to snowball. That morning, undergraduate residential advisors went on strike without the protection of a union, citing the lack of protections and no hazard pay. Late that evening, the University administration came to GEO with its first offer.

While filled with many threats of retaliation, including a possible injunction should the strike continue, the offer did not include sufficient responses to GEO’s demands for greater testing, flexible childcare subsidies, and a universal remote teaching option. Additionally, the administration stood firm in its refusal to entertain the thought of engaging around our anti-policing demands. Throughout the four-hour long meeting, strikers weighed these fears of retaliation against the fact that the deal contained few wins. Furthermore, GEO members had to grapple with the question of what GEO would be signaling to the non-unionized RAs who just began their strike if the union accepted a deal that did nothing to keep them safe. Ultimately, the membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the deal, and picketing continued through Friday when another group of non-unionized undergraduate workers, the student dining staff, began a work slowdown, an amended strategy due to threats of retaliation had they started a full strike.

GEO’s initial strike authorization only lasted until Friday, 11 September, and with no offer on the table, which meant no non-retaliation clause, GEO membership authorized a strike extension. Throughout the weekend, the provost and president sent out a flurry of emails noting their willingness to come to the table and engage in good faith discussions with GEO. However, to the contrary and to reiterate the emails’ rhetoric, President Schlissel simultaneously sued UM’s graduate students, filing a court injunction that would force GEO members back into the classroom and underscoring the administration’s “good faith” negotiations. On Monday, and with a looming injunction over our heads, GEO returned to the picket lines, continuing the strike through Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, GEO members reconvened for another general membership meeting to discuss and vote on UM’s second offer. Between the first and second offer, GEO made most of its tangible gains around childcare. Regarding the anti-policing demands, the second offer included the creation of a task force and a reevaluating the Michigan Ambassador’s program. Taken comprehensively, the second offer was just as insulting as the first. And while the university’s proposal had not changed significantly, the context in which strikers were agitating had. After the injunction hearing, those on the picket line would not have the protection of the union. To continue agitating with the injunction in place would shift punishment from the academic and university realm and into the legal sphere, placing our Black, brown, and Indigenous peers at greater risk. Furthermore, the irrevocable damage of a court filing abstractly mentioned in the 9 September meeting was now very real. GEO could not survive a court battle with UM lawyers. As graduate student workers, we have few protections, and the university administration made the conscious and intentional decision to attack the strongest protection graduate student workers have at our back: GEO. UM quickly engaged the courts, signaling loud and clear how it is unafraid to invoke hard punitive measures. GEO did not accept this second offer because of its content. GEO membership accepted the deal because to reject it would pave the way for the University to destroy our union.

Well before the strike, UM saw GEO’s demands that advocated for protecting the campus community and greater Ann Arbor community from seeing the town turn into a COVID-19 hotspot. Against the advice of its own ethics committee, the University of Michigan brought back a significant majority of its students to campus without honestly engaging with faculty, students, and staff about the risks. Now, both the campus and Ann Arbor community are left at risk. With inaccurate updating, it is unclear exactly how many cases of COVID-19 there are on campus. President Schlissel’s “public-health informed” semester was said to be based in science. Yet, as was found out through GEO’s strike, the models used to justify reopening campus had too wide of confidence margins and now the dashboard houses inaccurate and unhelpful data, leaving us wondering how the administration is using science to protect its community. When science didn’t work, the administration turned to policing. At both ends of the process of monitoring COVID-19, the administration enlists police forces to deal with students and workers. Roaming the streets on weekends, the police punish students hosting large gatherings and then later when someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the dorms, often campus security is called to escort them to quarantine housing.

The case of UM clearly demonstrates how the two veins of policing in the corporate university—campus police and the university administration’s policing capacities—are deeply intertwined. To further evidence the pervasiveness of this relationship across all US universities, we now turn briefly to UNC.

Labor Actions, Workers, and Allies

UNC has a history of graduate student worker strikes. After a semester of agitation which tore down the silent sam confederate memorial, in Fall 2018, TAs refused to submit final grades for students until the Board of Trustees rescinded their promise to erect a space that would continue to enshrine  the toppled racist edifice.

This was not the end of graduate student worker action in the last few years. At UNC, labor action has often been channeled between the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective and the local UE150 union. When UNC’s university administration announced its plans to reopen over the summer, the administration anticipated student backlash, and therefore formulated a plan to misdirect workers’ ability to agitate effectively: endless meetings that yielded no tangible results. For instance, early on in the agitation, activists were told by the university administration that they would only communicate via the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF), which they considered to be the only legitimate elected and representative body and therefore the mouthpiece of graduate students. When graduate students managed to get GPSF to pass a resolution that campus should remain remote (among other demands), UNC administration promptly ignored that resolution. In another instance, UNC students were told repeatedly that, if the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) mandated that the university close, UNC would adhere to that mandate. UNC students and workers were urged to email the OCHD at volume to beg them to issue this mandate. What UNC administration didn’t admit at the time was that the OCHD has no ability to issue mandates, only recommendations. When the OCHD did issue a recommendation not to open on campus, the administration then, predictably, ignored it.

There are countless examples of this sort of misdirection that occurred throughout the summer—and by the time August came around, the writing was on the wall. The university administration never intended to listen to workers, regardless of what happened, in order to meet that sacred bottom line. They were willing to sacrifice students and vulnerable staff no matter the cost, and had already proven it by sickening 37 student athletes and staff by July 2020. As in the case of the UM,  at UNC similarly linked demands for pandemic relief to the ending of police presence on campus, understanding, like the UM workers, that the deteriorative impact COVID-19 among the communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color has been exacerbated by racist policing across the US. UNC responded by posting police at dorms to “welcome” students back to campus—and more importantly, to ensure that students adhered to the frankly impossible distancing guidelines. Police were frequently employed to issue citations to students allegedly not correctly distancing—a move that, predictably given the racist core of police, most frequently targeted Black students most.

The lack of strong organizing and direct labor action over the summer cost the UNC and wider Chapel Hill community dearly. Hundreds of known COVID-19 cases spread in the first two weeks of students living on campus, and likely thousands of unknown ones since UNC sent students home without exit tests. At the same time, we had no clear allies: faculty were signaling obliquely they were unwilling to strike or support a strike, graduate student workers were divided, campus staff were similarly without a consensus. Yet, it is unclear whether direct labor action would have yielded a different outcome, given what we now see from the UM.

The Neoliberal Afterlives of Corporate University Action

In the wake of two modes of labor organizing—one with the support of a sanctioned union (UM), and one occurring in a hybrid form where students were divided between working within a union and outside of one (UNC)—we can now begin to draw conclusions about the kind of university system we now inhabit. After all, in neither case did the university administration attempt to engage in compromise. It seems that to universities now, any amount of labor organizing among graduate student workers on campus is too much labor organizing—on both campuses, the university moved to quash it without engaging in true-heartened negotiation. Furthermore, this is not the only circumstance in which university administrators have attempted to aggressively curtail labor action, as in the University of California-Santa Cruz’s infamous firing of 54 graduate student workers for engaging in a grade strike in Spring 2020 (41 who were eventually rehired due to continued graduate student worker agitation). Given this, what conclusions can we draw about the role of the university administration?

It’s obvious now: the core function—perhaps its only function—of the university administration is to police students and laborers alike. Its multidirectional ability to police, both through dedicated campus police that police our bodies and the university administration’s policing logic that circumscribe our range of choices, have been detrimental.

For generations, our collective ability to engage in labor actions has been deliberately undercut, both at the state level and at the level of our universities. From state legal impediments like right-to-work laws, to deliberate university decisions to keep workers weak, like the fact that graduate student worker stipends at UNC do not even come close to the minimum livable wage in Orange County, it is clear that the state and the university work hand-in-hand across the country in attempting to destroy our possibilities for labor action. Dragging its heels on providing conditions to benefit us, it is quick to lash out when its commodities (classes and grades) are threatened, levying injunctions and the omnipresent threat of firings and wage withholdings when it sees fit. The neoliberal corporate university seeks to individuate us as political-economic actors, to depoliticize us as laborers, and, failing that, to punish us aggressively for daring to envision a better future.

What does this mean for the future of university solidarity organizing?

At first glance, conditions appear bleak. But the university administrations are in a crisis mode. Reckless reopening plans across the country have sickened mass populations of students, staff, and workers across the US. Campuses have become the new national hotspots, contributing about 40,000 new cases since campuses began reopening in August (as of 11 September 2020). Class action lawsuits are pouring in. Some estimates show that college enrollment in the coming years could fall as much as 20%. All of these facts line up very dangerously against the business-as-usual model that corporatized universities have attempted to employ in the Fall 2020 semester.

Yet, UNC has now all-but-officially announced that it plans to once again attempt to open for Spring 2020, and UM continues to go about its business without the faith and support of many faculty and graduate students. What will the university administration do to protect this decision—and other dangerous, reckless, and selfish decisions like it—going forward now?

The post "Policing Is Not Your Concern” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Uprising Is Only Beginning: Building Power To Win Our Demands

The current uprising against police violence and racism is just beginning. It is rapidly shifting public consciousness on issues of policing, violence against Black people and others, and systemic racism. The movement is deepening and becoming broader as well as putting forward solutions and making demands.

The confluence of crises including recent police violence, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic collapse along with the ongoing crises of lack of healthcare, poverty, inequality, homelessness, personal debt, and climate plus awareness of mirage democracy in the United States have created a historic moment full of possibilities. If we continue to organize and build power, the potential for dramatic change is great.

As we wrote last week, there are dangers coming from liberal Democrats and the black misleadership class who are trying to quell the protests with distractions and weak reforms. To achieve changes that will solve the crises we face, demands must address the root causes of them. And, we must understand the dynamics of demands in social movements – what it takes to win and to hold the ruling class accountable for enacting them.

Anti-police violence protester confronts militarized police at the White House on June 3. 2020 (By Oliver Douliery from Getty Images)

Demands to Defund and Abolish the Police

The demands to defund and abolish police are now part of the national dialogue. This is a major advancement for the movement against police violence. The pushback against these demands is coming from across the mainstream political spectrum from Donald Trump to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

When the bi-partisans unite, they are often wrong as they represent two parties funded by the millionaires and billionaires who put their interests first. Bipartisan means the various wings of the ruling class, represented by the two corporate parties, are uniting and that means a united attack on the people. They seek to protect systems that have created horrendous inequality and injustice. The police are the enforcement arm that protects the ruling class from the population impacted by that inequality and injustice.

Christy E. Lopez, a professor at Georgetown Law School who co-directs the Program on Innovative Policing, has worked inside the government on efforts to reform and control police for 25 years. Her conclusion: “it has become clear to me that ‘reform’ is not enough. Making sure that police follow the rule of law is not enough. Even changing the laws is not enough.”

There is tension within the movement against police violence between those who seek reform and those who want to change the whole system – to abolish policing as it exists and create alternatives. In 2016, activists across the country built encampments to heighten awareness for the demand to abolish the police, provide reparations for victims, and invest in black and brown communities. They demanded “community-based forms of policing in its place that are accountable to residents.”

Advocates of abolition consistently make the point that “abolition requires more than police officers disappearing from the streets. . . Police abolition could mean and require society to decrease and eliminate its reliance on policing.” It also means decriminalizing many activities that result in police abuse; i.e. decriminalizing or legalizing drugs and the untaxed sale of cigarettes that create illegal markets. Police spend more than 90 percent of their time on things people find annoying or social and health issues that police are ill-equipped to handle. These lead to police interactions that result in police violence, especially in black and brown communities.

Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson writes that the movement needs to become more radical, not more moderate. He points out that the solutions to the current crisis are deeper than reforming the police, explaining there are “calls to eradicate white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and settler-colonialism that have been on clear display.” The founding of police came out of the most extreme form of capitalism, slavery, where those with money owned other people as unpaid workers. Slave patrols developed into modern-day police so the very root of policing is rotten.

Max Rameau and Netfa Freeman write:

The core issue is POWER, not racism. We cannot change our reality by ending ‘racism,’ or the attitudes and opinions others hold of us. Our conditions will only change when we shift power into our own hands and exercise self-determination, thereby rendering the opinions of racists irrelevant.

When it comes to changing the power dynamic, one demand — democratic community control of the police — stands out among the others. Communities being able to hire and fire police officers, review their budgets, impanel a grand jury to investigate crimes, and approve police contracts among other changes, reverse the power dynamic. The people would be in democratic control of how their communities are policed and by whom. This is a long-term demand dating back to the Black Panthers, as Green presidential candidate Howie Hawkins points out. This transition to people-power over police is seen by many as the key transition step to abolition or replacement of the police.

Rameau and Freeman conclude that “the police MUST exist in order to protect property and wealth from those who do not have.” They argue that defunding police without changing that dynamic means the wealthy elites will find other ways to protect themselves, private police who are even less accountable than the public institution.

Akuno urges “the demand for abolition should be raised to heighten the contradictions. But, it must be accompanied by the call for revolution, and the organizing effort to dismantle the entire system.” He adds we “have to resist the elevation of the liberal and Democratic party narratives and positions. We have to assert a counter-narrative in all arenas — one that aims towards transforming the Floyd rebellion into something potentially transformative.”

People stand in front of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct sign in the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” while continuing to demonstrate against racial inequality and call for the defunding of Seattle police in Seattle on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (By Lindsey Wasson, Reuters)

Building Power for Positive Change

The power structure has started to make some concessions over the past few weeks of protests, but none of these has altered the systems that maintain the current inequalities and injustices.

Some police have been fired and charged for committing violence and murder. It remains to be seen if they will be convicted and kept from policing anywhere in the future. Some cities are talking about defunding or disbanding the police, but it remains to be seen what the details will be. Schools are breaking contracts with police. More segments of the population from the media to athletes to tech companies are challenging racism and oppression in our society. These changes are happening because the people power being displayed has exposed injustice, garnered support and put the elites in a panic. The elites need to give the people something to stop the protests.

The widespread actions of militarized police using extreme violence across the country backfired and resulted in the protests growing. Federal courts in Colorado and Washington ordered governments to stop using chemical warfare against US citizens. Adding 17,000 National Guard troops in 23 states caused the National Guard troops’ morale to plummet in embarrassment over using military force to stop people from exercising their constitutional rights. President Trump’s threat of military force caused divisions in the military as retired and active generals, GI’s and National Guard troops spoke out against it.

Popular power is growing in the United States, but to build enough power to win demands that significantly alter the economic and political systems will require sustained effort. While some reforms are significant because they may meet some needs of those in the movement, we can’t stop there.

As we describe in the second class of the Popular Resistance School, if movements make concessions too early, before they have the power to make sure their demands are met and to hold leaders accountable for their actions, they will fail. The ruling class will often feign concessions to quiet the rebellion knowing all along that they are still in control.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after signing a police reform bill, exemplified this when he said, “You don’t need to protest, you won. You accomplished your goal.”

When negotiating demands, it is all about power. If the sides coming together to negotiate do not have equal power, then the weaker side will lose. They may be given promises, but they can’t force the power holders to keep them. It is significant that elements in the society are opposed to military attacks on people expressing their First Amendment rights, but we must continue to heighten the conflict until there are real splits within the power structure.

In order to maintain their power, the ruling class requires support from the people.

  • They require people to give them authority. That is why the autonomous zone in Seattle is so powerful, it is challenging that legitimacy.
  • They require people to do the actual work, from the bureaucrats to city maintenance workers to other essential workers. That is why the call for a general strike is so powerful. If workers slow down or withhold their labor, governments and cities won’t function.
  • They require skills and knowledge of people. The ruling elites don’t know how to run the machines or systems on which they depend.
  • They require control over material resources such as energy, water and property. Last December, electrical workers in France cut off power to the police stations, big businesses and management and turned the power on for workers and the poor.
  • They require the ability to punish people who disobey them. If guards and police refuse to stop people, courts refuse to prosecute and jails refuse to hold people, the power elites lose that control.

The bottom line is that we have the ability to remove power from the ruling class and that must be our goal if we are to win the changes we need in this moment of multiple crises. The seeds of transformation have been planted, now it is our task to nurture them.

We do that by putting out a vision of the changes we require and continuing to protest in support of that vision. We need to build relationships with others in our community to raise awareness of the crises and how to stop them. We need to support each other through mutual aid and building alternative systems to meet basic needs. Through our collective effort, we can stop the destructive machine and create a new world.

We Don’t Have To Choose Between Our Health And The Economy

The United States is at a critical moment in the COVID-crisis. This week, the nation is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths and new hotspots in the south and midwest are developing. Forty-two states have either started “reopening” their economies or imminently plan to do so without putting in place essential public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. As of May 7, more than half of the states that had either reopened or planned to do so (30 at the time) have seen an increase in case counts or positive tests. Public health experts are predicting another round of mass illness and deaths.

President Trump, whose political future is tied to the pandemic and economic collapse, has been encouraging protests demanding the reopening of the economy. This is the latest in a series of mistakes made since China first warned the Centers for Disease Contol of the new virus on January 3. He is putting the economy ahead of public health and risking more than 200,000 deaths by October at the height of the 2020 elections. He seems to fear a recession becoming a depression more than mass COVID-deaths. In the end, he may get both.

Two opposite popular movements are developing. The movement encouraged by Trump is minimizing the pandemic and pushing for reopening the economy. They garnered national attention because of their open display of weapons, which resulted in the Michigan legislature closing down. The other movement is characterized by a wave of wildcat strikes, rent strikes, and a nascent general strike campaign calling for health protection for workers, hazard pay, a basic income during the pandemic, and access to healthcare without financial barriers. This movement is covered only in independent and social media.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. A protester holds a sign with a swastika (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Extremist Reopen Movement

The reopen protests play on the frustration of the restrictions put in place to respond to the pandemic. They shroud themselves with labels of “patriotism,” “freedom” and “libertarianism” but there are indications of manipulation by the Charles Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The pro-business magazine Forbes described the reopen protests as not spontaneous but astroturfing. They report on a security firm’s finding that they come from “various gun rights groups, state Republican Party organizations, and conservative think tanks, religious and advocacy groups.”

Many of the protesters wear Trump red hats and t-shirts. Trump responded by embracing the state-level push to reopen, and even encouraged protests against governors who maintain shelter-in-place instructions, declaring in late April, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” When protesters confronted the media, Trump encouraged them, calling the media “nonessential” and “fake news.” He described armed anti-lockdown protesters as ‘great people.’

In Michigan, the brandishing of weapons has been aggressive. Groups such as the Michigan Liberty Militia sent armed protesters inside the statehouse and crowded into the gallery of the state Senate after demanding to be allowed on the House floor. An attempt to ban weapons inside the statehouse was blocked by the Republican-dominated legislature resulting in Michigan canceling their legislative session.

Newsweek reports, “Dozens of posts in private invitation-only Facebook groups called for Whitmer to be hanged, lynched, shot, beaten or beheaded. One suggested crowdfunding sources to hire a hitman to kill her.” These followed President Trump’s attacks on Whitmer. Some legislators wore bulletproof vests to the capitol building and one black legislator was escorted by armed protectors. The armed extremists are in the minority as polling has shown that a majority of Michigan residents support the lockdown measures.

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers’ lockdown order was overturned by a 4-3 ruling by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court. The Tavern League of Wisconsin posted news of the ruling on its website and said it meant businesses could open immediately. Just hours after the decision, people flocked to bars in Milwaukee without wearing face masks or practicing physical distancing. Some county governments moved quickly to impose their own lockdown rules. Evers said the Supreme Court does not change science and urged people to stay safe at home to protect their families, friends, and communities. There have been reopen protests even though 70 percent of Wisconsinites support the governor’s order.

At protest rallies, people were seen holding signs with swastikas on them. At a May 2 protest in Boise, Idaho, militia extremist Ammon Bundy compared government quarantine measures to the Nazi holocaust and called public health measures “tyranny.” A “Reopen Philadelphia” protest, organized by small business owners and members of the far-right Proud Boys, was held at City Hall last Friday.

These reopen extremists that use fear are a slim minority in the United States. A recent PBS/Marist poll showed broad opposition to the rush to reopen. Results included 85 percent opposed to reopening schools, 80 percent opposed to allowing dine-in restaurants, and 65 percent believe reopening now would be a bad idea. Nicole Hammer, author of Messengers of the Right, said these were protests designed for media coverage, but “The thing to remember about these protests is they’re very small. They represent a small constituency.”

Evidence throughout history shows that pandemics can have second and third waves. Countries that have attempted to reopen have seen spikes and closed down again. During the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, the second wave was worse than the first. We have been warned that a second wave is likely in the fall, during flu season, especially if we reopen too quickly.

The reopen protests are a death choir that is willing to sacrifice lives for the economy. Former Republican governor Chris Christie compared it to World War II when soldiers were sent to battle. He said, “In the very same way now we have to stand up for the American way of life” as we ‘are going to have to’ accept more death to reopen the economy. Along the same lines, Trump issued an executive order under the Defense Production Act to force meat processors to stay open despite the risk to workers’ health and urged states to deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to return to work.

RNs affiliated with National Nurses United placed white shoes outside the White House, each pair representing a nurse lost due to insufficient PPE during COVID-19. | NNU via Twitter

The Larger Popular Movement Protects Life

People are taking action for the majority view by calling for adequate health protection for workers as well as hazard pay, access to healthcare without financial cost and an ongoing basic income to provide economic security throughout the pandemic and economic collapse.

There have now been three months of a COVID strike wave. The Payday Report has identified over 200 wildcat strikes since the beginning of March. Essential workers in the food industry, healthcare, and transportation are among those striking. The fruit workers strike wave in Washington State has spread to 13 major sites and there is a growing movement of truckers striking nationwideTruckers disrupted a Rose Garden presentation by Trump blowing their horns as he spoke. Trump falsely told the audience they were supporting him. When sanitation workers went on strike in New Orleans, they were replaced by prison slave-labor but the contractor has since stopped that. The strike is now in its second week.

Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest human, is being protested across national boundaries including in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States. Among the workers’ demands are permanent wage increases and extra break time,  two weeks of paid sick leave, and extending the unlimited unpaid sick leave program that the company just ended in the U.S. They want the company to work in good faith with unions and reinstate the workers fired for their activism. As Bezos’ wealth increased by $30 billion amid the pandemic, Amazon ended its $2 per hour hazard pay for workers. One executive engineer for Amazon resigned over the mistreatment of workers.

In the US, 91 nurses have died from treating patients with COVID19, while no nurses have died in Canada. Multiple nurses, doctors and hospital staff have been fired for complaining about the lack of protective equipment. An empty shoe protest was held outside the White House over the deaths of nurses.

Amalgamated Transit Workers Union members across the country have engaged in work stoppages to demand safety in mass transit. Detroit bus drivers kicked off protests on March 17, early in the pandemic, and won all of their demands around health and safety.  Birmingham drivers took action on March 23 and went back to work the following day after having won multiple safety measures. In April, drivers in Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina also won safety measures. Transit workers are now looking to redefine mass transit in the post-COVID era where confronting climate change will be important.

Groups representing workers, immigrants, and civil rights advocates are protesting reopening the economy too soon. As one advocate said, “We will not be guinea pigs.”  People want to return to work but they want the economy reopened safely. People’s lives should not be jeopardized for the economy.

These advocates have science on their side. On May 12, two top health officials in the federal government informed a Senate committee that the coronavirus is not contained and that reopening too swiftly is profoundly dangerous. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the current director of the CDC, who was hired by Trump said, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Deborah Burger, the co-president of National Nurses United (NNU), told In These Times, “We are way premature for opening when the cases nationwide have not gone down but continue to go up,” adding, “We are still experiencing a rationing of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and other protective gear. We just did a vigil for over 100 nurses who have died.”

#GeneralStrike2020 How to Participate

Protect Public Health before Reopening

It is a false choice to claim the country must immediately reopen despite the health risks. This is a red herring political maneuver by Trump. We can protect public health and economic security so we can quarantine safely and reopen when it is safe. This includes a public health system in every county that screens and tests for COVID19, traces the contacts of those who test positive and isolates all positives and their contacts until they are clear. It requires a universal basic income until the pandemic and recession are over. And it requires housing for all, universal health care and debt forgiveness. Essential workers must be provided with whatever they need to protect their health during the pandemic. This may include child care and separating them from their families so they can work.

President Trump’s divisive politics may mean the US will have more than 200,000 COVID deaths by the fall and that the recession has turned into a depression. His politics of disposability will result in human sacrifices for a failed restarting of the economy. Already data is being manipulated to falsely lower the number of deaths. For example, Florida is not counting reports from medical examiners. And, the loss of jobs is being underreported. In the end, none of this will hide reality.  People will see how the super-rich Wall Steeters once again cheated the rest of us while pillaging Main Street. To prevent this, we need to organize and strike now.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

The crises of COVID and economic collapse are triggers for people to demand change as a gateway to a new and better world.  The short term demands of public safety and economic security should be followed by longer-term demands for Medicare for all with a community-controlled national health service. After the pandemic and recession, we need to restart the economy in a way that provides economic security for all by confronting inequality and protecting the planet with a Green New Deal. The realities of capitalism have been exposed as the stock market shows its disconnect to the real economy and high unemployment.

The established order has been exposed and this experience will be embedded in people’s understanding of the world. This makes the powerholders weaker than ever before and if we act in solidarity, the opportunities for positive change are great.

Build the General Strike Movement to Change the World

Now that May Day is behind us, we must build the General Strike campaign. The next strike day, June 1, should be the culmination of a month of working toward the day of action.  This is the responsibility of everyone involved in the General Strike movement.

Join the next Popular Resistance General Strike call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.

This is an ongoing campaign. We emphasize it is a campaign as campaigns provide ongoing opportunities to build the movement. The goal is to ensure that those running for office, those in office and those who make policy — including non-profits, corporations, and the media — cannot ignore the movement as we demonstrate our ability to make the country ungovernable.

To do this we need to build a movement that: (1) Creates national consensus for our demands, and (2) Involves enough people to be a mass movement that cannot be ignored. This requires people to act at local and national levels to build the movement as described below.

Educating and Organizing 

The foundation of movement building is popular education followed by organizing and mobilizing people. People need to understand what the problems are, why the current system won’t solve them and what will solve them. Movements have short, medium and long-term goals.

In the short term, we need to ensure that essential workers are protected from the virus and are paid well for taking health risks, that there are widespread testing and tracking of the virus, and that people receive enough income to survive the economic collapse in both unemployment and direct basic income payments. Another urgent need is to save the Postal Service in the next COVID-19 bailout by Congress.

Longer-term changes include universal healthcare through national improved Medicare for all, fair treatment of workers and living wages, family and sick leave as well as safe workplaces, a guaranteed basic income, remaking the finance system so we are not dependent on Wall Street but on public banks throughout the country, Congress taking back the constitutional power to create money and more. We need to end racial discrimination, injustice, and inequality in income, education, housing, incarceration, and other areas that have been further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each of these goals is an opportunity to build a movement of movements by reaching out to people and organizations who are working on workers’ rights, healthcare, racism, inequality, housing, poverty, and other issues included in our demands. We need to understand how our issues are connected so that together we fight for all of them. For example, improving healthcare through national improved Medicare for All (NIMA) will reduce inequality and enhance the rights of workers. Currently, more than 10 million people have lost their healthcare due to more than 30 million becoming unemployed. With NIMA, healthcare will no longer be dependent on employment. It will cease to be a tool the bosses use to cut pay or threaten workers when they strike. And health is connected to social issues such as education, housing, access to healthy food, clean air and water and more.

A tool for learning how to organize and mobilize people in an effective way is the free Popular Resistance School “How Social Transformation Occurs.” This is a web-based school that includes eight classes and a detailed curriculum. We all need to become capable in building the movement. Please watch this series of classes and review the reading materials.

People can organize local General Strike Committees made up of people and organizations working on these issues. The committees will meet regularly, which can be done virtually through online platforms, to provide both education and to organize actions for the general strike, as well as creating local mutual aid networks to get through the pandemic and economic crisis.

We need to act with the intention of creating a national political consensus on the issues and building a mass movement. We should judge our outreach, organizing and actions by whether what we are doing is accomplishing those goals. We describe tools for movement-building in the final class of the eight-class web-based School for Social Transformation.

Your group can review the demands and analyze how you can reach out to and involve people and organizations working on those issues. Develop strategies to reach out to those groups and involve them. Your actions on June 1 could be designed to pull groups in, e.g. conduct an automobile picket line at Target, Whole Foods or Walmart to support the workers or conduct banner drops or hold signs near a hospital. Include information about how people who see you can get involved.

Between strike days you can also build solidarity by holding events online that bring people together and build relationships. This could include a book review, movie watching, or webinar. These can be used for not only building relationships but for outreach and deeper understanding of issues to achieve national consensus on our demands.

Art builds are a great way to form community and sharpen our messaging. With physical distancing, it is difficult to hold an in-person art build, but people can create art together online. This will coordinate messaging and create the images you want for your general strike action. If possible, there is a great advantage of making large pieces of art for actions, especially when the number of people is small.

General Strike Black Lives Matter, Shut-Down DC and SEIU workers. (Photo:  Caroline Brehman for CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

Learning from Each Other

We should review the tactics used by our allies on the first General Strike day of action. There were car caravans with signs of movement demands. Some slowed or blocked traffic while explaining the action on video. Some drove around stores where workers were striking to show support. Traffic was slowed at ports and other distribution centers, especially places like Amazon Prime where workers were on strike. In all of our actions, we must realize we are the media and always include a social media component.

There were also bike caravans where bikers put signs on their bikes rode through commercial areas to slow traffic and show the movement’s demands. Even a single bike with a large sign attached can ride through neighborhoods urging one or more of the movement’s demands. Making a videotape of bike actions and sharing it on social media expands the impact.

Some of the other tactics used include:

  • A boycott in support of workers. May Day included boycotts of Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, Instacart, and Trader Joe’s. People are boycotting corporate eat in support of meatpackers for Meatless May.
  • Report cards or movement demands can be wheat-pasted in commercial areas so people see them. They can also be put on sidewalks near businesses where workers are striking.
  • Holding a car-picket line at a store where workers are on strike.
  • Physically distanced sign-holding outside of a business where workers are not being protected. This one added live music and body bags outside of a McDonald’s.
  • Holding large protest banners at street corners. For example, you can buy a 3 by 9-foot dropcloth at a paint store to make a banner and use a pole across the top so two people can hold it.
  • A “Burma Shave protest” where people hold signs along a road, ten or so feet apart so when people drive by they see a series of messages. This could be a block-long or several blocks long. The Burma Shave can be videotaped or live streamed by someone driving by and shared on social media to reach more people.
  • Banner drops off bridges, overpasses, or buildings. A group can get together that lives in an apartment and do a simultaneous banner drop from their windows or balconies with different movement messages or calling for a rent strike. This can be videotaped from outside to catch a series of banners unfolding.
  • Workers making a video explaining the hazards they face at work, their low pay, and why they are joining the General Strike. Renters can do the same thing explaining the impact of unfair rents in the time of COVID-19 and mass unemployment. People telling their personal stories can be very powerful.
  • People joining together online to hold signs with our demands. This requires clear messaging and is a way to show that lots of different people support the goal.

As COVID-19 develops, we will have to constantly learn from each other and change tactics. A tool used in direct actions is the OODA loop. This is the cycle of observe–orient–decide–act. In this way, we are always observing the environment to understand the constantly changing situation and deciding which tactics are effective. Constantly changing in response to new situations makes it more difficult for law enforcement, the government, and corporations to predict what the movement will do.

May Day is Red and Green

May Day, or International Workers Day, is celebrated with marches and rallies every May 1 to lift up the working people and their demands for freedom, equality, and justice. That is the Red tradition of May Day. But there is also an older Green tradition in which cultures the world over celebrate as Spring arrives in temperate and arctic climates or the wet season arrives in tropical climates. This Green tradition of May Day celebrates all that is free and life-giving on the green Earth that is our commonwealth and heritage. These Red and Green May Day traditions are complementary.

Historian Peter Linebaugh, in his The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day, provides an evocative description of the Green tradition of May Day:

Once upon a time, long before Weinberger bombed north Africans, before the Bank of Boston laundered money, or Reagan honored the Nazi war dead, the earth was blanketed by a broad mantle of forests. As late as Caesar’s time a person might travel through the woods for two months without gaining an unobstructed view of the sky. The immense forests of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America provided the atmosphere with oxygen and the earth with nutrients. Within the woodland ecology, our ancestors did not have to work the graveyard shift, or to deal with flextime, or work from Nine to Five. Indeed, the native Americans whom Captain John Smith encountered in 1606 only worked four hours a week. The origin of May Day is to be found in the Woodland Epoch of History….

Everywhere people “went a-Maying” by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” and the “Queen of the May.” Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung.

The Red tradition of May Day developed in response to the rise of capitalism, which undermined the Green tradition of May Day that people the world over had celebrated for millennia. Beginning in the 1500s in a process that continues to this day, landlords and capitalists have increasingly dispossessed working people from their land, their tools of production, and thus control over their means to life.

In the 1500s, rich landowners, with the support of the state, began to appropriate and take exclusive ownership of ancient public lands and forests, enclosing them for their own private profit-seeking purposes. Peasant communities lost their communal use of common fields and forests for grazing animals, hunting game, and gathering food and wood. This process continues today in many parts of the world.

The next stage of dispossession developed with the rise of the factories of industrial capitalism, which underpriced the handcrafted products of artisans, who then became dependent on capitalists for employment in the factories. In the U.S., the American ideal of republican liberty grounded in the economic independence of a free citizenry of small farmers and artisans gave way to a more inequitable class society of many workers and increasingly fewer capitalists, alongside a moderately-sized middle class of professionals and managers. The working people no longer had their freedom grounded in the economic independence provided by their own land and tools. They were now dependent on capitalists for their means of livelihood. When they crossed the threshold of the workplace, they entered a dictatorship where they had to work as directed and surrender their political rights to free speech, press, and assembly in the workplace. They received a fixed wage, while the owners took all the additional value that their labor created. They soon began to call their oppressive and exploited condition “wage slavery” in a conscious comparison to the conditions of African slaves on southern plantations.

The workers’ movement that arose in response began to organize labor unions and political parties around a program of cooperative production where workers would democratically manage their collective work and workers would receive the full fruits of their labor. They reasoned that economic democracy in cooperative production was the only way they could restore their freedom and achieve a decent standard of living under the conditions of large-scale production. The first political party in the world to raise this program – which soon became known as socialism – arose in Philadelphia and New York City in 1929 when labor unions organized the Workingmen’s Party. The “Workies” elected the president of the carpenters union to the state Assembly of New York.

The author of the Workies’ platform resolutions, Thomas Skidmore, soon penned a book called The Rights of Man to Property! He argued for common ownership of large-scale means of production, universal public education, a debt jubilee, and land redistribution. He called for the abolition of private inheritance with estates going into a public fund for distribution of a share to each person upon adulthood. He called not only for the abolition of slavery but for reparations, for land and a share of the nation’s wealth to the former slaves to help them get started on their farms. He called for citizenship for American Indians and suffrage and equal rights for women. With an eye to environmental protection, he decried the destruction of the planet’s resources that would eventually result from capitalism’s promotion of the unrestricted use of unlimited private property.

This Red tradition of socialism can be seen as a way to recover the ecological sustainability that the Green tradition of May Day rejoiced and sanctified. It will take the full political and economic democracy of socialism to give the people the power to choose ecological balance instead of being powerless subjects of capitalism’s competitive structural drive for the blind, relentless growth that devours the environment. Hence Green Party activists often describe their perspective as ecological socialism.

The Red tradition of May Day emerged in the 1880s in the United States. It arose out of the worker’s movement fighting for the same kinds of demands that the Workies had raised in 1829. The immediate impetus came from the Haymarket Massacre in 1886. On the night of May 4, 1886, 176 Chicago police attacked about 200 workers who remained after a day-long demonstration for the 8-hour day. The police fired live ammunition, killing four and wounding 70. Somebody threw a stick of dynamite. Eight of the labor organizers were charged and convicted. Four of them were hung to death. One of the Haymarket martyrs, Albert Parsons, a white former confederate soldier married to Lucy Parsons, a former slave of African, Indian, and Mexican descent, said at this trial, “What is Socialism or Anarchism? Briefly stated it is the right of the toilers to the free and equal use of the tools of production and the right of the producers to their product.”

Lucy Parsons campaigned across the United States and Europe to have the worker’s movement commemorate May 1 as International Workers Day. Many workers’ organizations supported her call, including the American Federation of Labor, which then urged its adoption by the Second International of socialist parties. The first international May Day celebration in 1890 was a big success. The demonstrations worried the establishments across the world. After Coxey’s Army descended on May 1, 1894, in the first mass march on Washington, D.C. to demand public works spending to employ the unemployed in the midst of severe depression, President Grover Cleveland got Congress to declare a federal Labor Day holiday in September in a move designed to divide the labor movement.

Green Party members will be joining with other working people’s organizations to commemorate International Workers Day this year online given the social distancing we must practice in this coronavirus pandemic. What Greens can do to bring to these events is an understanding of the connections between the Red and Green traditions of May Day.

Conservatives try to red-bait Greens as “watermelons – green on the outside but red on the inside.” But we don’t take that as an insult. We will be on the ballot line in November as the Green Party, but there is plenty of Red as well as Green in our platform.

The Era of Mass Strikes Begins on May 1, First Day of General Strike Campaign

On Friday, May 1, an ongoing General Strike campaign begins. This campaign could become the most powerful movement in the United States and reset the national agenda. It comes when the failures of the US political system have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered an economic collapse in a presidential election year.  The General Strike campaign will be ongoing with actions on the first of every month. Strategic strikes of workers, students, consumers, prisoners, and renters will also continue.

This new era of mass strikes builds on successful strikes by teachers, healthcare workers, hotel workers, and others.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the last two years, there has been the largest number of major work stoppages in 35 years with more than 400,000 workers involved in strikes in both 2018 and 2019. This continues in 2020 with a wave of wildcat strikes.

People must commit to an ongoing campaign of strikes starting now and continuing after the election. FDR faced more than 1.4 million people striking after he was elected, which forced him to put the New Deal and workers’ rights legislation in place. The next president should be subjected to continuous strikes with specific demands. Striking is the most powerful tool of the people. We need to learn to use it effectively.

United action magnifies popular power and shows those in power that they cannot ignore us any longer. You can participate by sharing this article with other people and urging them to participate. Follow and share the hashtags #CoronaStrike, #GeneralStrike, #MayDay2020, #GeneralStrike2020, and #PeoplesStrike.

Participate in Popular Resistance’s Zoom call on April 29, 2020, at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific to learn about what will be happening on May Day and how you can be part of it. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.

General Strike

COVID-19 exposes the fact that essential workers who provide food, healthcare, and deliveries to our homes are mistreated and underappreciated. Workers are underpaid and are not being provided with protective equipment or allowed sick leave. The COVID-19 rescue laws have given trillions in funding to investors and big businesses while leaving people and small businesses with crumbs. Twenty-six million people have filed for unemployment but states are not processing claims quickly and the COVID-19 rescue only provided an inadequate one-time $1,200 payment. Millions of the newly unemployed are losing their health insurance.

The #GeneralStrike has five demands:

(1) Protection from Covid-19

(2) Safe Housing.

(3) Living Wages.

(4) Medicare for All.

(5) Equal Education.

We would add a sixth urgent demand – saving the postal service.

The tactics of the General Strike will vary over time. During this initial phase of the COVID-19 virus, there will be car caravans, sickouts, and signs on windows supporting the strikes. People will use social media to show support for the demands. On May 1 and beyond there will be webinars on the strike and the issues raised by it.

With a campaign of strategic and general strikes very likely going on until 2022, people can take control of the country and put the necessities of the people at the top of the agenda. Jane McAlevey points to three areas where workers have decisive power. These include logistics, healthcare, and education.

  • Logistics includes providing food, delivery, transit, and other services that keep the economy functioning. Workers disrupting these areas makes the country ungovernable by creating economic dysfunction. 
  • Despite being essential, healthcare workers lack protective equipment and basics such as tests. Healthcare workers have stood against the dangerous so-called “Liberate” protests Donald Trump is encouraging to prematurely re-open the economy. Nurses have protested the lack of protective equipment and been fired for doing so. These acts of defiance must be supported as we also demand national improved Medicare for All so everyone has access to high-quality healthcare. We must build our public health system so never again will the country be unprepared for a pandemic.
  • Teacher’s unions have developed the model for all unions to follow, strikes for the common good. Teacher strikes have been successful because they have represented the interests of students and the communities where they live. Poverty, inadequate housing, brutal policing, and ICE raids undermine the ability of teachers to do their jobs. Making demands for the common good unites us to work for what we need.

Recently, there have been wildcat strikes. These can include a variety of work stoppages; e.g., people taking sick days, work slowdowns, work disruptions due to flat tires on delivery trucks, and other ways that prevent work from being accomplished. To follow strike actions, visit On The Picket Line or check out this interactive map of strike actions, or the “Dual Power” map by Black Socialists in America. Get in the loop and get connected at General Strike 2020.

Rent Strike

As unemployment reaches Depression-era levels, with one in six US workers being unemployed, and the government is unable to process unemployment benefits and is refusing to provide a basic income, people are unable to pay their rents. According to data from the Rentec Direct property management software platform, “The rent received by property managers in the U.S. by April 8 was 17% less than it was through the first eight days of March. Other data point to a similar trend. For example, data from the National Multifamily Housing Council found that 69 percent of renters paid their rent between April 1 and April 5, down from 82% in the same period in April 2019.” According to the New York Times, 40 percent of New York City tenants may have skipped their April payments.

In January before the pandemic, a Harvard University report found that nearly half of US renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a quarter of renters—eleven million people—are “severely cost-burdened,” spending more than half of their income to make rent. There was already a housing crisis in the US. The economic collapse has magnified it

This economic reality is turning into an organized and growing rent strike against corporate landlords. Calls for an expanded rent strike on May 1 are growing. In Kansas City, Missouri, tenant advocates tweeted: “Highway takeover in an hour. We will have tenants spanning the state, every five miles, from Kansas City to St. Louis.” Tenant groups from South Carolina to Los Angeles called for a rent strike in May as have groups in Chicago, Milwaukee, PhiladelphiaDenverBloomingtonSt. Louis, and New York. Yesterday, Cancel the Rent car caravans were held in many cities. Rent strikes are building into a nationwide revolt with calls for rent strikes going viral in unlikely places like Georgia. How this will evolve? If tenants are made homeless, people will take over buildings to be housed, assets of landlords could be nationalized, and social housing could escalate.

Rent strike organizers say, “We are banding together: folks who cannot pay and those who will join them in solidarity. We refuse to pay for the right to live. Many will have to choose between rent and food, and many won’t have enough for either. We will not sacrifice our lives to keep the market afloat, or to fill the pockets of real estate lenders and landlords…Together, we can transform this moment of isolation into a moment of shared strength, support and compassion.” Rent strikes are demanding:

  • Forgive unpaid rents and waive mortgage interest and defer mortgage payments for the months of April, May, and June;
  • Cease evictions of any renters and foreclosures on any homeowners during the full duration of the crisis — for at least six months;
  • Use their political power to call on public officials to support housing relief for the tens of millions of American workers who have lost their jobs.

The COVID crisis has magnified a reality in US housing — housing has been turned in a profit engine for the super-rich. Rentals have been corporatized and controlled by some of the wealthiest individuals in the world. The Action Network reports: “Companies like Greystar, Equity Residential, and Lincoln Property Company control the rents for apartments in every state in the United States, while billionaires like Sam Zell, founder and chairman of Equity Residential, and Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital effectively serve as landlords for millions of us. These enormous companies dictate the rent and home prices in communities across the country. “

As a result, polling shows that a majority of people across the political spectrum support canceling rent payments and suspending home mortgage payments during the coronavirus pandemic. By a margin of 22 percent, voters strongly favor suspending or forgiving rents, for those under 45 years of age, the margin is 50 percent.

Building Power For An Effective General Strike

We do not yet have the organization to conduct a massive General Strike and only a few unions are aggressive enough to conduct strategic work stoppages. We must use the General Strike campaign to build our power and learn how to strike.

The foundation of all movements is education. We must constantly work to educate people about what is going on around them. This means overcoming the corporate media, which reports from the perspective of major corporate interests and the two Wall Street-funded parties. Independent media and social media are areas of activism that must always be a priority.

Subscribe to our daily digest for ongoing movement news and choose articles to promote in your social media networks. Each of us should act with the intention to build our social media networks so we become an effective media outlet. If the tens of thousands of people who receive this newsletter behave as media outlets, we will change the national dialogue.

We must organize to bring people into the movement. Mass movements win, fringe movements fail. How do you organize?  Organizing is as simple as talking to people who are not yet part of the movement, listening to their concerns, and showing them how joining together we can solve problems. This requires the patient and steady systematic building of relationships in the community. Talk to your neighbors, participate in apolitical neighborhood email groups, and speak with those who deliver to your home.

In the workplace, talk to co-workers, form clandestine strike committees, and speak and listen to each other. Work stoppages can vary in form. Workers can use the tactic of “Work to Rule,” following often ignored workplace safety and other rules, resulting in a slowdown. The bosses will fight back, so this will not be easy. Workers need to build community support so bosses are isolated and the conflict is broadened.

There are also tactics for at-home workers where sickouts and slowdowns are easy to adapt. Workers can call in sick during the first week in May. Even mild symptoms can result in a day or two off work. With the stress of COVID-19 and the economic collapse, a ‘mental health day’ is needed for many.

Then, we must mobilize people. When people are in the movement, a union, or an organization, they are ready to be mobilized in mass action. This requires showing this is a strategic campaign, not one protest, but a series of escalating events that build and are focused on achieving change. We discuss how you can create a strategic campaign in the free Popular Resistance School, How Social Transformation Occurs, eight web-based classes and readings we urge you to use.

If you are not part of a union or organization, become an active supporter of their actions. Show up, join them, call the media, religious leaders or neighbors, and urge them to show up.  If you see a picket line, join the workers or bring food and beverages. See yourself as the media and report on strikes, share their stories, and use your social media networks. If a union organizer is fired, come to the aid of that person including highlighting the injustice, insisting the person gets their job back, and raising funds to support them. We can support local strikers through “GoFundMe” pages or join a local Mutual Aid team.

In the coming era of strikes, we must remember that an injury to one is an injury to all. Show solidarity with the general strike. Wear red on Friday. Display a strike poster in your window. Wear a red or black or lavender bandana. Change your Facebook cover image.

As the era of strikes builds and people develop the skills, confidence, and courage to exercise their rights, the potential for transformational change will grow in ways that we cannot yet foresee.

2020 Election Year Is An Opportunity For Transformational Change If We Embrace Our Power

Although we do not tie our organizing to the election cycle, the 2020 election is an opportunity for the people to set the agenda for the 2020s. We need to show that whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden are elected, the people will rule from below. We need to build our power to demand the transformational we need.

We are living in an opportune time, as has existed previously in the United States when many of the issues people have fought for have come to the forefront, but the two parties disregarded the people. Similar to the abolition movement in the 19th century and the progressive/socialist movement in the early 20th century, this is our moment in the 21st century for systemic changes that fundamentally alter our healthcare system, economy, foreign policy, environmental policy and more.

As Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson said in our recent Clearing the FOG interview (available Monday), the right-wing is using this time to push through their agenda of corporate bailouts, deregulation, and worker exploitation. If the left doesn’t organize and counter this, the country will continue on its current destructive path. The changes we want won’t come from the top. Both corporate duopoly candidate’s priorities are the wealthy investor class and big business. We are going to have to organize and mobilize for the necessities of the people from below.

Join our May Day General Strike Call on Wednesday, April 29 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific to learn how to participate in the general strike from home. Click here to register.

Don’t Fall For The Illusion Of Democracy, Create Change

The reality that democracy is an illusion in the United States has been made much clearer in the 2020 election cycle. While Democratic voters supported the Sanders reformist agenda, Democratic elites, including the DNC and the Obama and Clinton teams, and members of the Progressive Caucus organized to stop Sanders and make Biden the likely nominee despite his terrible nearly 50-year political history of corporatism and militarism and his current incompetence.

Many people still feel trapped in the endless cycle of “lesser evil” voting that has driven a race to the bottom in the United States. Voting for either of the corporate parties reinforces their corporate-militaristic agendas and takes away the people’s power to force changes. Voters are taken for granted by both major parties who know their scare tactics work.

If there was any question, the handling of the current health and economic crises clearly demonstrates the duopoly does not work for us. As trillion dollars lifelines are thrown to big business and finance, people lack health care, protection of their homes from eviction, food, worker rights, and financial support. All of these could be provided easily and are being provided to people in other countries, many of which are poorer than the US.

Taiwan, China, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, to name a few, are responding to the pandemic effectively while the US is failing. They have public health systems with health workers and doctors embedded in communities. They are able to go door-to-door to check on people and provide advice, testing, and treatment. In the US, COVID-19 has become a top killer, killing more people each week than cancer, and nearly as many as heart disease, the two highest causes of deaths. These mass deaths are occurring at a time when the economy is virtually closed. If it were open, there would be hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million deaths.

The contradiction has never been clearer. The government does not serve the people, especially the working class, it serves the wealth-class. We will not vote our way out of these crises. However, we can learn from previous movements that had significant impacts on power holders.

Huey Long threatened a third party challenge against FDR in the 1936 presidential race. This helped pushed the enactment of the New Deal.

Lessons From History

This is not the first time in history where the two dominant parties have been out-of-touch with the necessities of the people. In those times, political movements organized and led from below by doing two things: (1) building mass social movements, and (2) putting the movement’s issues on the political agenda through third party campaigns.

Although third party campaigns cannot win in the manipulated presidential election, even without winning, third parties combined with movements have transformed the nation. Understanding how social transformation occurs is critical for those who feel trapped in the duopoly system. We discuss this in more depth in the sixth class of the Popular Resistance School. In our mirage democracy, voting doesn’t have much impact because the outcome of the election is predetermined in most states due to the Electoral College.

From the colonial era to the Civil War one of the most extreme forms of capitalism – owning people as property – dominated US politics. The founders of the country, slaveholders and businessmen, protected their valuable slave property by drafting a property rights constitution. This was reinforced by the two parties, the Whigs and Democrats, who prohibited discussion of the abolition of slavery in Congress. Chattel slavery was the most valuable business of the era — more than railroads, banking, and industry combined.

Throughout that time, there was a movement to end slavery. By the time the country was formed, Vermont had abolished slavery. Abolitionists kept struggling through protests, slave revolts, writing, and speeches. With Westward expansion, the contradiction of slavery escalated as the debate became whether new states would be slave states or free.

Abolitionists decided to enter electoral politics. They formed new anti-slavery parties and ran a series of candidates including former president Martin Van Buren, with the Free Soil Party in 1848, and former President Millard Fillmore, with the American Party in 1856. Like third party candidates today, abolitionists were called “spoilers,” but they persisted. The Whigs weakened to virtually disappearing and the Democrats divided. As a result, Abraham Lincoln won a four-way race with 38 percent of the vote and ‘ended slavery’, the first third-party president elected in US history

In other cases, third parties won without winning the presidential election by putting the issues of social movements into the national debate. This is how we achieved the 8-hour work-day, ending child labor, women’s voting rights, breaking up monopolies, gaining union rights, the minimum wage, unemployment, worker’s compensation, and massive public works projects as well as retirement security and more. The entire New Deal was built on the platforms of  the Progressive Party and Socialist Party in 1912 and 1928.

FDR did not come into office advocating the New Deal. It was political movements like the Bonus March of 1932  and 1936 that led to people receiving federal support. There were also protests by farmers and strikes by workers during his presidency. And, there was the threat of a third-party challenge by Huey Long on the Share Our Wealth ticket, which had thousands of chapters across the country. All of this pushed FDR away from his concern about deficits to massive spending on the New Deal before the 1936 election.

In the 1940s, as the union movement continued and the civil rights movement grew, the Progressive Party with Henry Wallace, FDR’s vice president, urged the end of Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South, the advancement of women’s rights, the continuation of many New Deal policies including national health insurance and unemployment benefits, the expansion of the welfare system, and the nationalization of the energy industry, among others.

In this century, it was Ralph Nader in 2000 who first advocated single-payer, Medicare for all. Jill Stein ran on the Green New Deal in both her Green Party campaigns, after Howie Hawkins, the current leading candidate in the Green Party in 2020, advocated for a Green New Deal in a gubernatorial run in 2010. Every Green since Nader has criticized corporatism, the wealth divide, and Wall Street corruption as well as never-ending wars and US imperialism. All of these issues are advocated for by social movements and now have majority support. They are on the national agenda.

General Strike protests in Oakland (From CNN)

Building Popular Power in 2020

The quadruple threats of the pandemic, economic collapse, climate crisis, and nuclear war have changed the national dialogue.  Institutionalized racism is being acknowledged as black and brown people are disproportionately contracting COVID-19 and dying from it. Worker exploitation is starkly visible as essential workers are underpaid, lack paid sick leave and are mistreated with inadequate job safety. The fragile debt-riddled economy is evident as food lines grow with a record 22 million newly unemployed in the last month.

Many groups, including Popular Resistance, are urging a campaign of general strikes. A coalition has called for a general strike beginning on May 1 and has made specific demands. People are sharing information about how to conduct a general strike so people know what it takes and how a general strike would look.  Even before COVID-19, in the last two years, there were record numbers of strikes and now a wave of wildcat strikes is evolving.

Organizers of the general strike campaign are using the hashtags #GeneralStrike2020, #Coronastrike, #MayDay2020, and #StrikeForOurLives. There are many ways people can participate whether they are currently employed or not. If people refuse to pay their debts or rent, the financial system will collapse. And there are ways people can connect to the strike from home through social media.

Join our May Day General Strike Call on Wednesday, April 29 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific to learn how to participate in the general strike from home. Click here to register.

People have power. We need to make the General Strike a campaign that continues throughout the 2020s. It needs to become the US version of the Yellow Vest movement. And, the strike can evolve with new disruptive tactics that force whoever is elected president to address the people’s issues.

This election, there is only one left-progressive candidate who will be on most ballots across the country, the leading Green candidate Howie Hawkins. If his campaign is heard, the agenda of the movement will be elevated. He is making progress to achieving federal matching funds, which would greatly amplify him and his strategy to unite the left will strengthen the challenge against the two parties.  Gloria La Riva is another left candidate running with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Jeff Mackler is running with Socialist Action. Both will be on the ballot in some states. All three of these candidates are putting forward the agenda of the popular movement. We need to build a left party from the grassroots up. The two Wall Street-funded parties need to be challenged by a party that puts the planet and people first.

The Democrats have insulted progressives for years with corporate candidates because they think progressive-left voters have nowhere else to go. They need to see that voters have an alternative and are withholding their votes. They also need to see us building an alternative that is aligned with popular movements for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace.

There are more thought leaders standing up to the Democrats in 2020. This includes Krystal Ball of Hill TV’s Rising who has repeatedly criticized Biden and has not endorsed him, as has Sander’s press secretary Briahna Joy Gray. and the executive director of Justice Democrats, Alexandra Rojas. Multiple new media outlets including the host of the largest podcast in the nation, Joe Rogan, and podcasts with hundreds of thousands of listeners like Chapo Trap HouseKyle Kulinski and Jimmy Dore have all criticized Biden and said that they are unlikely to support him. The new media reaches millions of people and is challenging the old media narrative of pushing voters to ‘hold their nose’ and vote for unacceptable candidates.

Saying we ‘will not go along with your charade’ tells the political elites that people have minds of their own and will not be manipulated into voting for candidates who they know will sell out the people on behalf of the wealthy. Combining that with an ongoing campaign of general strikes in 2020 and beyond will show the political and economic elites that the people are taking power. The only path to victory is for people to organize and show we are not afraid to take action. It is time to embrace our power, not fear it.

Fire and Brimstone at the O.K. Corral, known today as the Democratic Party

Yes, Putin’s hackers would love to see Trump reelected. And it’s also true that unknown to us there may be a new Giuliani-led team of huckster guerrillas sealing dirty deals behind the scenes in order to bring the Democratic Party (DP) down.

But no matter how true these things are, responsibility for the party’s current predicament — i.e., that it’s doing a lousy job of preparing for the November showdown with Trump — lies in its own hands.

As CNN’s Chris Cillizza pointed out by summarizing the obvious, tensions have mounted within the DP as the party struggles over its direction in the lead-up to its convention and the 2020 election.

The rise of Sanders — and the considerable concern within elements of the Democratic Party about nominating a democratic socialist — means that this primary season is going to be very long and likely very nasty, as the party dukes it out over what its present and future should look like.1

Of course, when Cillizza suggests there is “concern within elements of the Democratic Party” about Sanders’ growing strength, the elements to which he refers are the DP’s leaders.

Regarding these leaders and their acolytes, and contrary to what their sound-alikes in the media insist, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which develops party strategy and oversees its organizational activities, isn’t primarily worried about Sanders’ electability and democratic socialism. Instead, its panic has been ignited by fear of the dialogue the Sanders’ movement has already started about not only how to jettison Trump, but also about what’s wrong with US politics in general. This second part of the dialogue — the one which concerns the funding and control by elites of the current two-party political system — is not a discussion the DP leadership wants to have with us — i.e., its rank and file, its non-member sympathizers and potential independent converts. Instead, they resist such dialogue at all costs.

Given this, it was no surprise recently when James Carville, Bill Clinton’s former campaign manager and current party gadfly at large, did his best to undermine Sanders’ status as a top-tier candidate, not by debating him on the issues, but by trying to frighten voters away. To do this, hyperbolic language was his choice of weaponry as he denigrated Sanders’ supporters as an “ideological cult” and proclaimed, “There’s no chance in hell we’ll ever win the Senate with Sanders at the top of the party.”2

During the same span of a few weeks, Klobuchar and Buttigieg participated in the official primary debates by imitating two ventriloquist’s dummies sitting on the DNC’s lap while mouthing for viewers the CNC’s anti-Sanders sentiments. In keeping with the CNC’s mindset, these sentiments were frequently expressed in a recycled red-baiting style unearthed from the US’s smear-tactic arsenal from before the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, thirty years ago. Consequently, Klobuchar denounced the Vermont senator simply because “having a Democratic socialist on the top of the ticket” is anathema to her, unacceptable.3 No discussion  of his capacity to lead a mass movement against Trump, no pondering why polls show him as the “most trusted” candidate, only that his candidacy is unacceptable by definition — i.e., as determined by notalgists interested in resurrecting old cold war models for how to defame those with whom you disagree.

During the debates and elsewhere, Buttigieg also played his role of ventriloquist dummy well.  Referring to Sanders’ so-called socialist radicalism, he warned that the DP doesn’t need a “candidate who wants to burn this party down”4 with his allegedly alien ideas.

Why such fierce resistance to Sanders?

The simple answer is that the more the Sanders’ movement grows, the more we all (the DP rank and file and also the public) learn about how much the DP leadership itself, not outside forces, is responsible for the party’s current instability and loss of national appeal. Hence, the reason for the DNC’s desire to undercut the pro-Sanders upheaval’s success.

Take the DP’s apparent failure to learn anything from the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections, each of which was groundbreaking in its own way. In both campaigns a first-time presidential candidate won. In both campaigns the candidate employed untraditional methods to secure victory.

Although Trump and Obama were polar opposites philosophically, there is one characteristic they shared — i.e., a gut instinct which told them that in the current era a history-making campaign isn’t rooted in selecting safe-bet candidates, but rather on building a grassroots movement around a candidate whom people on the ground, as opposed to party leaders, believe can best articulate their views.

This idea that masses of voters — i.e., grassroots volunteers and activists — should drive the campaign is the exact opposite of the so-called “pragmatic” candidate approach suggested by the DP leadership. Their tactic stresses that the best way to get out the vote in 2020 is to cautiously select a lowest-common-denominator candidate whose lack of controversial characteristics hopefully will preordain her/his victory.

Yet in spite of the fact that this method (epitomized by the Never-Trumpers) didn’t work against Trump in the 2016 primaries nor against Obama in the 2008 primaries when he was attacked by the more traditional establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, the DP leadership and its media enablers are currently pushing the DP in precisely this direction. As noted above, this is because of their anti-Sanders animosity, an animosity which, as it grows ever more fanatical, reveals a disturbing possibility: that the party’s centrist cabal would rather lose the 2020 election than accept the party’s reinvigoration with new blood and new ideas.

If one didn’t know better it might seem as if the party’s leaders have accidentally forgotten the lessons to be learned from the 2008 and 2016 election. But there’s nothing accidental about what has happened. On the contrary, the DNC has willfully refused to apply those lessons to the current situation because those lessons raise questions about the DNC’s character.

So, let’s look at 2008 and 2016 to see what aspects of those elections make the DNC uncomfortable.

Obama’s first presidential run wasn’t structured like a typical electoral campaign. Instead, it drew its organizational form from two non-electoral mass movements that preceded his presidency by decades — i.e., the post-WW2 civil rights/black power movement and the pre-WW2 labor movement, both of which had strong leaders but, just as importantly, a coordinated yet highly decentralized mass of supporters who weren’t merely passive followers but rather people who turned themselves into activists for the purpose of improvising innovative new strategies to further their cause. It was this aspect of these movements that Obama, through the use of high-tech (smartphones, laptops, etc.) incorporated into his campaign, thereby uniting tens of millions of supporters nation-wide and encouraging them to launch their own activist groups — ultimately, approximately 35,000 were created — for the purpose of brainstorming and coming up with innovative ways to further the campaign by creating a wave of energy that Obama eventually could ride into office.5

Of course, none of this could have happened without some initial excitement for Obama at the beginning, a catalyst to get the movement off the ground. What triggered this was Obama’s stature as a “different” and charismatic candidate, one characterized by a variety of outsider attributes — e.g., if elected he’d be the first black president; he was the lone antiwar voice among primary foes like Biden and Clinton until they finally adopted a similar position but (unlike Obama) did so for mostly partisan reasons; he represented a generational and philosophical break with the old Washington, heralding the birth of a new political age; and, as the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg suggested, he was, in terms of swag, a trend-unto-himself, a blend of Miles Davis’ “cool” and Bobby Kennedy’s “earnest, inspiring heat.”6

This combination of against-the-odds hip candidate and frustrated voters hungry for substantive change resulted in a level of campaign activism that unleashed, according to a perceptive Wired magazine article, the “creativity and enthusiasm” of grassroots backers to such an extent that “In many ways, the story of Obama’s campaign was the story of his supporters.”7

This view was also espoused by Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democratic Network (NDN), who considered Obama’s victory a grassroots upsurge which employed “very modern tools, spoke to a new coalition, talked about new issues, and along the way . . .  reinvented the way campaigns are run.”8

Along with the DP’s rank and file, the DNC was jubilant about Obama’s 2008 win. However, through its actions since then, the DNC, although still celebrating Obama as a party icon, has resisted the use of his first presidential run as a model for other campaigns. At the heart of this unwillingness is the campaign’s grassroots-centered, mass-movement-building character and the DNC’s fear that, if used as a paradigm for other campaigns, it will continue to shift, as the 2008 campaign did, the political emphasis away from the party’s alleged center, the DNC, and toward its periphery, a still-forming army of free-thinking activists who, the leadership fears, will start a wide-ranging discussion within the party about the party’s strategy failures over recent decades and how these errors must be corrected so the party can rethink its future.

This distaste for the new was implicit in the DNC’s prioritization of Hillary Clinton’s campaign over Sander’s movement in 2016. It’s also been on display this year in a variety of ways, including the DNC’s rewriting of its primary rules in the midst of the primaries for the sole purpose of allowing a billionaire to join the contest in the hope that he might prove to be a more effective challenger to Sanders than the other candidates, who haven’t yet risen to the challenge.

Now to the 2016 election and Trump.

Like Obama, although in a right wing populist manner, Trump also launched an outsider campaign. Understanding better than Clinton how fed up voters were with politics-as-usual in Washington regardless of which party controlled the White House, Trump’s candidacy quickly became a rowdy carnival which mocked both (1) Democratic neo-liberalism’s failure to deliver over recent decades on promises made to many of its core constituents (i.e., the poor, women, labor and people of color), and (2) the Republican Party establishment which he derided with scathing language as elitist and condescending toward those whom he called (in his convention nomination speech) “the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.”9

Given this assault against not only the DP but also against his own party’s leaders, many prospective voters heard Trump’s flamboyant denunciations of the political class as a cry for radical people-empowering change. Consequently, as detailed by Anthony J. Gaughan, “Trump’s populist rhetoric and open contempt for civility and basic standards of decency enabled him to connect”10 with a core of supporters in a visceral way because of their rage against what they believed was a bipartisan federal government elite which, no matter how loudly they debated each other along party lines, ruled the nation together on the basis of a shared desire to perpetuate their power at the public’s expense.

Although Trump is a racist president who displays no hesitation in his attacks on latinxs, blacks, darker-skinned immigrants, Muslims (from the Middle East, Africa, etc.), a significant percent of his appeal during the 2016 campaign cycle wasn’t merely race-based and anti-immigrant, but was also rooted in US class divisions, particularly the working class’s loss of economic power. In pursuing this track, he talked about aspects of recent history DP leaders didn’t want (and still don’t) to discuss openly. Consequently, Trump repeatedly harangued audiences with assertions that labor’s supposed protector, the DP, had played a major role in undermining workers’ economic security over previous decades.

Many of these workers instinctively understood him because of their firsthand experiences of abandonment by the DP. In spite of this, the party refused to reevaluate or openly discuss the decisions which caused this abandonment. Consequently, the DNC continued to lead the party deeper into ineffectiveness and self-unawareness. Therefore, if the party wants to win the 2020 presidential race, it must first understand what events in party history precipitated this alienation from so many working families. Only then can it select a candidate and platform that may reverse this trend.

First, let’s survey how the party drove a wedge between itself and the working class. To do this, we can look at the period 1978-2017, which provides a good glimpse into this evolving tension, covering, as it does, a time span during which organized labor and union benefits (e.g., healthcare, pensions, workplace protections, wages, etc.) suffered a catastrophic stretch of major blows and losses.

During this cycle, three Democratic presidents — Carter (a single term), Clinton and Obama (two terms each) — supported labor in minor ways but, more importantly, played an active role in boosting policies which pushed unions into an irreversible tailspin by slashing their memberships by over fifty percent from approximately one-quarter of the workforce down to 11.9 percent.11 Tragically for working people today,  both those who do and those who don’t belong to unions, organized labor’s era-defining shrinkage from 1979-2017 radically reduced the number of better paying working class jobs available to job-seekers and thereby became a driving factor in what is now one of the nation’s hottest-button issues: the continually increasing income equality between oligarchs and everyone else.

How did this happen?

Let me begin with Carter, the first Democratic president during this time-frame.

Carter’s deregulation of three significant industries — air travel (Airline Deregulation Act, 1978), the railways (Staggers Rail Act, 1980) and commercial trucking (Motor Carrier Act, 1980) — weakened the earnings, workplace protections and job security of those industries’ workers. But this wasn’t all. Carter also supported the Chrysler bailout which seemed on the surface to benefit the company by keeping it afloat while simultaneously preserving union jobs. Unfortunately for the corporation’s workers, however, the bailout agreement included a labor-management “cooperation” component, that saved the company and its shareholders but cost workers 60,000 jobs12 while those who retained their jobs endured heavier workloads, speedup and diminished benefits.

Making the Carter-sponsored bailout even worse was the fact that it set in motion a series of labor-management cooperation contracts within the industry in the 1980s. Although these contracts often specified job savings and company commitments not to close plants, the contracts were filled with sufficient loopholes to offset these apparently “airtight” promises. For instance, in 1984 the United Auto Workers leadership in its Contract Highlights,1984 told the membership that the proposed contract which they were submitting to them for ratification contained “an unprecedented job security program with far reaching protections against job loss.” Yet in 1986, two years after its 1984 ratification, GM showcased what “job security” really meant when it announced plant closures which would entail 30,000 lost jobs.13

Carter’s role in laying the groundwork for the DP’s transition away from labor also undermines today’s DP narrative that Ronald Reagan in 1981 started a new anti-labor epoch — one which still hasn’t ended — when he fired 11,000 air traffic controllers. But as the facts show, this isn’t correct. It’s  Carter, the president who preceded Regan, who gets the credit.

Bill Clinton later followed in Carter’s footsteps.

Clinton’s support of NAFTA was a giant slap in the face to organized labor and the working class. It signaled the DP’s embrace of pro-corporate trade legislation that Republican presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush had supported before him, but were unable to get through Congress. In keeping with this, NAFTA’s repercussions moved the DP further to the right on union issues and job security than ever before. Under NAFTA, ultimately 700,000 jobs were relocated to Mexico,14 pressuring US workers who still had jobs to make wage, benefits  and safety concessions in order to keep them. A new template had been created:  all demands for greater worker protections were now met with the same corporate reply:  either shut up and accept what you have or we’ll relocate elsewhere and you’ll have nothing. More openly than at any time in the previous half-century the DP shifted away from labor and embraced Big Money and Wall St.

As part of this shift, and also as a continuation of Carter’s affection for deregulation, Clinton teamed with Wall St. to placate its desire for a relaxation of the economic fetters that allegedly stifled it. Hence, his vigorous support of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act, “one of the most far-reaching banking reforms since the Great Depression,”15 which loosened restraints on companies in the financial sector (commercial banks, securities companies, insurance firms, etc.), thereby allowing them to more easily build concentrations of wealth through investing in each other, program and activity sharing, and consolidation. All this helped pave the way to the bubble economy that burst in the late 2000s, wreaking tens of millions of lives, many of them already on life support as the result of the downturn in workers’ wages and the loss of better-paying jobs.

But the DP’s process of distancing itself from  labor wasn’t over yet.

The situation, though, did look like it had improved when Obama campaigned in 2008 as a devoted labor supporter. As he told the  Building Trades National Legislative Conference in April of the that year, “Politics didn’t lead me to working folks; working folks led me to politics.”16  This sentiment in combination with the swag in his walk and charismatic I-know-what-you-feel style attracted many workers to his campaign. It paid off during the election. He clobbered McCain by 18 percentage points among union voters.

Unfortunately, during his two-term presidency Obama frittered away that support with a lackluster performance on a variety of labor-related issues. The bold strategizing of his 2008 campaign was gone. As with other issues he ran on — e.g.,  antiwar promises, the fight against racist police violence, the need to reign in Wall St. — once in the White House he brought neither an organizer’s inventiveness nor an inspiring speaker’s rousing words to his proclaimed desire to support labor.

One example of this was that although in 2011 Obama ostensibly backed the tens of thousands of Wisconsin workers and their supporters who staged giant rallies to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union right-to-work law, his opposition was soft, although the law itself was anything but soft. As Robert Samuels described in the Washington Post, the law decimated local unions, eviscerated their memberships and required “most public employees to pay more for health insurance and to pay more into retirement savings, resulting in an 8 to 10 percent drop in take-home pay.”17 Consequently, workers and unions nationally were frightened that Walker’s success, if unchallenged, could spread momentum for similar efforts in other states.18  In spite of this, Obama’s support for the protestors showed its true colors when he ignored the unions’ and other demonstrators’ requests that he come to Wisconsin to stand with them in solidarity. He stayed away instead.

In a similar vein, Obama did little to show any pro-labor political will when it came to his support of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a federal bill designed to help workers by limiting companies’ power to disrupt union organizing attempts at their workplaces. But as in Wisconsin, his support was lethargic.19  He refused to place the full weight of his presidency behind the bill and fight for it tooth and nail. He continued to back EFCA, but not hard enough to pass it without major concessions or make any enemies.

In contrast to this, however, Obama was perfectly willing to make enemies on the labor side by aggressively placing his full weight behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), his attempt to forge a NAFTA-like trade agreement for nations with borders on the Pacific ocean. Not surprisingly, the TPP was opposed as vehemently by labor as its NAFTA model had been and for the same reason:  failure to adequately protect workers’ jobs. It was one more step on the DP’s road away from the working class.

The  labor-related patterns just described — Carter’s, Clinton’s, Obama’s — provide a brief schematic of how the post-1960s DP evolved from its once strong relationship with labor (1930s-1950s) to a more token one that has lost its hold not only on white workers but on workers of color also. Consequently, it wasn’t the Republican Party but the DP itself that orchestrated its 2016 defeat, a loss not in small part traceable, as I have just shown, to the party’s methodical pursuit of policies over the last five decades that purposefully abandoned its allegiance to labor, thereby leaving an angry restless working class looking (justifiably) for a fight. Ironically, many of these previous DP sympathizers, having thrown up their hands in disgust with the DP, voted against Hillary Clinton who was one of the many DP leaders who didn’t merely passively watch, but actively worked to bring about, the party’s ever-increasing distance from the working class.

Not only have tens of millions of working families been backed into a dark economic corner as a result by the policies that created this mess, but tens of millions more have suffered the additional, but interrelated, burdens produced by being the target of racial, gender, cultural, religious and other forms of bigotry.

Yet in spite of there being so many of us who are tired of Washington’s elites — worn out by their love affairs with Wall St., their comfort with wage-gaps, their endless white supremacist solutions to everything, their chronic political double-talk, their two main parties’ refusal to think outside of the box and come up with daring but creative ideas to solve the problems facing us —  in spite of all this, in spite of our numbers and our anger, we remain unheard.

And so here we are. It’s fire and brimstone time at the OK coral, and the OK coral is the Democratic Party.

In this article — no, it’s more of an outcry than an article — I’ve discussed issues the current DP leadership refuses to address. I’ve mentioned these issues because without understanding them in some detail, we can’t be successful in the current struggle to take the White House. The DNC’s lack of introspection is the death knell of this struggle. They can’t be allowed to dictate the outcome of the primaries and/or the type of campaign the nominee should run. The voters must lead the leaders, not the other way around. We the people must be in control, not a self-preserving party elite.

In conclusion —

At the beginning of this piece I mentioned that in 2020 the DP can’t afford to run a non-mass-movement type of campaign in its battle to oust Trump and take over the White House.  Such campaigns, which are premised on choosing a lowest-common-denominator candidate least likely to ruffle anyone’s feathers, aren’t in sync with the times, nor are they energetic enough — inspired! enough — to bring to fruition our goal:  a revolution.

The contemporary US is too haywire to be healed by a caution that masks itself as traditionalism, but which is actually a fear of innovative thinking and breaking with the past.

No matter how loudly many DP centrists and leaders shout otherwise, they possess less of a political movement-building mentality than they do a preserve-the-status-quo mentality. They want to win, but to win with the least amount of personal time wasted and the least amount of systemic change, and so their vision entails marching to victory along the route of least resistance.

As a strategy, such a vision entails trying to figure out beforehand the most practical and statistically likely candidate to win the election and then, once she or he is chosen, to funnel the candidate into a campaign run by “safe” establishment thinkers.

Even the quickest look at 2008 and 2016 shows that running for the presidency in this way ignores the level of distrust among the population at large for the standard way of doing things.

No matter what its advocates say, the “safe-bet” candidate scenario favored by the  DNC isn’t in the party’s best interest — unless DNC members know something we don’t:  that if Sanders or another left candidate wins the nomination, party honchos along with most of the current candidates would rather lose the election than unify behind such a candidate, and will therefore undermine such a candidate’s campaign to make sure such a defeat occurs.

We can’t allow this. Not if we want to break free of the we’ll-promise-everything-but-do-nothing mindset the DNC brings to the challenge of improving the nation and the world.

  1. Chris Cillizza. “John King: Sanders Has the Most Cherished Gift in Politics.” CNN. February 23, 2020.
  2. Bill Scher. “Hey Moderates, It’s Time to Compromise—with Yourselves.” POLITICO. February 12, 2020.
  3. Devan Cole. “Klobuchar: People Want Plans Not Pipedreams.” CNN. February 16, 2020.
  4. Kit Norton. “Sanders Spars with Bloomberg and Buttigieg in Nevada Debate.” VTDigger. February 20, 2020.
  5. Sarah Stirland, Andy Greenberg, Lily Newman, Garrett Graff, and Gilad Edelman. “Propelled By Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency“. WIRED. Accessed February 14 2020.
  6. Hendrik Hertzberg. “The Spat.” The New Yorker. February 3, 2008.
  7. Sarah Stirland, Andy Greenberg, Lily Newman, Garrett Graff, and Gilad Edelman. “Propelled By Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency“. WIRED.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Donald J. Trump. “Full Text: Donald Trump 2016 RNC Draft Speech Transcript.” POLITICO. July 21, 2016.
  10. Anthony J. Gaughan. “Five Things That Explain Donald Trump’s Stunning Presidential Election Victory.” The Conversation. November 9, 2016.
  11. Eric Levitz. “Democrats Paid a Huge Price for Letting Unions Die.  Intelligencer. January 26, 2018.
  12. Andrew Glass. “Reagan Fires 11,000 Striking Air Traffic Controllers.” POLITICO. August 5, 2017.
  13. G.M. and Suzuki.” The New York Times, May 17, 1986.
  14. NAFTA’s Impact on U.S. Workers.” Economic Policy Institute. 2013.
  15. Timothy A. Canova. “The Legacy of the Clinton Bubble.” Dissent Magazine. 2016.
  16. Barack Obama. “Barack Obama Speaks to Building Trades Legislative Conference” (text of speech). Realclearpolitics.com. 2020.
  17. Robert Samuels.  “Walker’s Anti-Union Law Has Labor Reeling in Wisconsin.” The Washington Post, February 23, 2015.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Richard A. Epstein. “Obama’s Welcome Silence On The Employee Free Choice Act.” Forbes, July 11, 2012.

2019 Latin America in Review: Year of the Revolt of the Dispossessed

A year ago, John Bolton, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine making explicit what has long been painfully implicit: the dominions south of the Rio Grande are the empire’s “backyard.” Yet 2019 was a year best characterized as the revolt of the dispossessed for a better world against the barbarism of neoliberalism. As Rafael Correa points out, Latin America today is in dispute. What follows is a briefing on this crossroads.

Andean Nations

Venezuela, the leader for regional integration and 21st century socialism, continued to be ground zero in the clash between the empire and those nations pursuing post-neoliberal alternatives and a multipolar world.

On the evening of January 22, trained US security asset and head of the suspended Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó received a call from US Vice President Pence, giving Guaidó the green light to declare himself president of Venezuela. The next day, Guaidó proclaimed his presidency on a Caracas street corner. Within minutes Trump recognized the self-appointment, later followed by some fifty US allies. Still most nations in the world did not recognize Guaidó, and the United Nations continues to recognize Maduro as the constitutional president of Venezuela.

Guaidó called for harsher US sanctions on his own people and even the US “military option.”  Gone was the pretext that sanctions targeted only the government. The former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield  boasted that these measures “would have an impact on everyone… to accelerate the collapse.” From President Barack Obama’s sanctions in 2015, Trump progressively ratcheted up the pain to the current blockade. This illegal collective punishment had already caused over 40,000 deaths by the beginning of the year according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in a war by economic means, denying the Venezuelan people vital food and medicine.

Yet Guaidó failed to come to power. His publicity stunt on February 23 to bring “humanitarian aid” from Colombia fizzled. To make things worse, envoys of Guaidó in Colombia were caught embezzling some of the very funds slated for humanitarian assistance. Soon after this debacle, a staged coup on April 30 by Guaidó and a few military officers on an overpass in eastern Caracas aborted. In November, Guaidó made an even more pathetic coup attempt. His ability to garner support atrophied, drawing the ire even of some hardline opposition who formerly backed him, while the Maduro government continued to rally substantial popular demonstrations and signed a peaceful coexistence agreement with some moderate opposition parties in September.

Despite attempts by Washington to incite ruptures within the Venezuelan security forces, the “civic-military union” built by Chavez and continued under Maduro held firm, and the ranks of the militias continue to grow. And despite heavy lobbying by the Trump administration, Venezuela was voted onto the UN Human Rights Council on October 27.

In a bid to compensate for the diminished stature of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group,  on December 3, Colombia convened a summit for the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) against Venezuela, to ratchet up sanctions even further and keep the military option on the table. By the end of 2019, even the Wall Street Journal conceded, “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, once thought ripe for ouster, looks firmly in place.”

In Washington, North American solidarity activists defended the Venezuelan embassy from being taken over by Guaidó collaborators (April – May 2019). With the permission of the Venezuelan government and pursuant to international law, the Embassy Protectors held out for 37 days until expelled by the Secret Service. The four last defenders – Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, David Paul – will go to trial, facing possible stiff penalties. On October 25, journalist Max Blumenthal was also arrested and charged (subsequently dropped), as the US government cracks down on dissent both at home and abroad.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere. Hillary Clinton called Plan Colombia a model for Latin America. Yet this model leads the world in extra-judicial killings of journalists, union leaders, and environmentalists. Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be the planet’s largest supplier of illicit cocaine.

A 2016 peace agreement saw the guerrilla FARC lay down their arms, but the government has honored the agreement mainly in the breach. Death squad activity continued in 2019, targeting former FARC militants. A faction of the FARC returned to the guerrilla path.

In a sign of growing disaffection with the hardline right-wing influence of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his protégé and current President Iván Duque, the far right suffered significant losses in the October regional and municipal elections. Left-leaning Claudia López became the first woman and first lesbian to be mayor of the capital city of Bogotá. By year-end, Colombia experienced massive general strikes opposed to government austerity policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bolivia. Evo Morales was the first indigenous president of this largely indigenous country. Under the 14 years of his Movement for Socialism party (MAS), Bolivia had the highest economic growth rate and the greatest poverty reduction in the Western Hemisphere. Bolivia became a world champion for indigenous and poor people, aligning with the progressive governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Morales was fairly re-elected president on October 20. Because the US-backed candidate lost, the US called his election “fraudulent.” A compliant Organization of American States (OAS) disseminated misleading information on the validity of the election. Thus, the stage was set for the November 10 coup, when Morales was forced to “resign” by the military.

Thirteen US members of Congress sent a “dear colleague” letter condemning the “Administration’s support for [the] military-backed regime and silence on violent repression [which] contributes to spiraling crisis.” This letter stands in stark contrast to the close association of key figures behind the coup with allies in Washington, the OAS Secretary General’s embrace of coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho, and the endorsement of the coup by the right-wing neighbors. President Trump “applauded” the Bolivian military despite its well documented systematic  violations of human rights.

The self-proclaimed President Jeanine Áñez smeared indigenous communities as “satanic” in tweets, later deleted. Morales is now in exile, and the indigenous and other poor continue to protest in the face of lethal, racist repression.  At this writing, Morales, the MAS, and most of the popular sectors have agreed to new elections but efforts are underway by backers of the de facto government to disqualify the MAS from participating in an eventual election.

Ecuador. Speaking of reversals, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno took the prize. Moreno had served as vice president in a previous leftist government headed by Rafael Correa, who had campaigned for Moreno. Upon assuming the presidency in 2017, Moreno inexplicably and unexpectedly betrayed the platform, the voters, and the party that put him in office. He jailed his vice president and later other leaders of his former party and put out an arrest warrant for Correa, who is now in exile. On April 11, Moreno handed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had been in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to the British police.

Moreno withdrew Ecuador from ALBA, the leftist regional organization of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and some Caribbean nations. Last January, he recognized the US puppet Guaidó as president of Venezuela. By mid-year, Moreno gave the US an airbase on the Galápagos.

Moreno forgave some $4.5 billion in fines and debt by major corporations and oligarchs and then papered it over by an IMF loan. With the loan came austerity measures, el paquetazo, including removing fuel subsidies. The mass protest of the dispossessed, led by the indigenous CONAIE organization, was so overwhelming that Moreno was temporarily forced to flee the capital city of Quito and rescind some elements of the paquetazo. Moreno continues to push IMF stipulated austerity measures, while repressing his former party’s elected representatives.

Peru is in crisis, wracked with corruption scandals. In April 2019, former President Alan García shot himself as the police were preparing to arrest him for corruption, while fellow former President Alberto Fujimori is in jail on corruption accusations and human rights violations.  Former President Alejandro Toledo also faces corruption accusations and is fighting against extradition from the US. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was the last directly elected president of Peru. Formerly a US citizen and an IMF and World Bank official, he was forced to resign for corruption in March 2018 shortly before he was slated to host a meeting of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group to expose Venezuela for corruption.

Ever since, the presidency of Peru has been disputed. The current moderate-right President Martín Vízcarra dissolved the congress; the congress controlled by the far-right Keiko Fujimori (free after a year in detention for corruption) impeached the executive, although Vízcarra recovered the presidency. In the context of this dog fight among the elites have been massive anti-corruption mobilizations from below.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. New Year 2019 marked the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. The election of hard-right Bolsonaro – called the “Trump of Brazil” by friends and foes alike – was a major reversal from the previous left-leaning Workers Party governments.

Brazil has by far the biggest economy in Latin America and the eighth in the world and is part of the BRICS bloc including Russia, India, China, and South Africa. With a sycophant of Trump heading Brazil, both hemispheric and world geopolitics suffer the loss of a countervailing element to US hegemony. Brazil voted with the US and Israel for continuing the US blockade on Cuba and against 187 other UN members.

Former left-leaning President Lula da Silva would have easily beaten Bolsonaro, if the polls were any indication, but corrupt judge Sergio Moro sent Lula to prison on evidenceless charges. The judge was rewarded by ironically being made minister of justice in the new Bolsonaro government. Similarly, Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s left-leaning successor as president of Brazil, had been deposed on a technicality by the right-leaning congress in what amounted to a parliamentary coup in 2016.

An international campaign to free Lula finally succeeded in November, but far too late for him to run against Bolsonaro. Lula is free and fighting now, but could be incarcerated again.

Bolsonaro went about dismantling social welfare measures, firing government workers, and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned. Predictably the popular sectors arose leading to an uncertain political situation in Brazil.

Chile. The Chilean people launched a general strike against austerity with slogans such as “neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die here.” Reacting to the “privatization of everything,” the uprising this fall has been truly from the grassroots with the established political parties sprinting to catch up with the popular revolt of the dispossessed.

Over a million protestors have taken to the streets in a country with a population of only 19 million. Many have remained there for weeks despite severe repression by the state, leaving numerous killed by live ammunition and rubber bullets. According to official state data, more than 8,000  have been jailed, almost 3,000 injured, and over 200 suffered ocular damage. Hundreds of  lawsuits for police brutality have been filed, including sexual abuses. The right-wing billionaire President Sebastián Piñera suspended some constitutional rights, declaring a “state of emergency” in a country still under the constitution created by the dictator Pinochet.

Argentina. After right-wing President Mauricio Macri imposed textbook perfect neoliberal economic reforms, the Argentine economy spectacularly and predictably failed with rampant inflation, food shortages, currency free-fall, and capital flight. Even the middle class protested in the streets in enormous uprisings of the dispossessed.

On October 27, the center-left ticket of Alberto Fernández as president and Cristina Fernández as VP won and announced Argentina will leave the regional anti-Venezuela Lima Group. They will also have to deal with Macri’s record breaking $50.1 billion IMF loan, saddling the people with austerity measures in a country that is broke and again at the edge of default.

Uruguay. The ruling left-center Frente Amplio’s candidate, Daniel Martínez, won in the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on October 27, but by a too narrow margin to avoid a runoff election. He faced a united right-wing in the November 24 runoff against Luis Lacalle Pou, which ended his party’s 15-year rule.

The Caribbean

Cuba. The US embargo of Cuba, initiated  by US President Kennedy and now a blockade (el bloqueo), along with covert regime-change operations and occupation of Guantánamo have continued in an unbroken policy of aggression through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Most recently Trump resurrected Title III of the Clinton-era Helms-Burton Act to intensify the blockade. The Cuban people show no sign of capitulating.

Cubans welcomed a new president, as Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro. On April 10, they ratified a new constitution, after an extensive consultative process, engaging some 9 million people, 780,000 suggestions, 9,600 proposals, and 133,000 citizen meetings.

Puerto Rico and Cuba were the spoils of the first imperialist war, the 1898 Spanish-American War. Unlike free Cuba, Puerto Rico is still a neglected colonial possession of the US. And that political fact has never been clearer with Puerto Rico still not fully recovered from Hurricane María and still not governing itself to solve its own problems.

Puerto Rico experienced mass protests and a general strike in 2019. Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló was forced to resign on July 22. Puerto Rican liberation hero Oscar López Rivera observed: “Even before the governor announced his resignation, the fact is that he was not governing Puerto Rico.”

Haiti. After the harsh 29-year US-backed Duvalier dictatorships and the subsequent “military transition,” a brief flourishing of democracy ended in Haiti when the US brazenly kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and flew him into exile in 2004. Since then, a series of dubiously elected presidents – some literally installed and all propped up by the US – have produced human rights and social welfare conditions worse than under the dictatorships.

Billions in relief after the 2010 earthquake and in Petrocaribe funds from Venezuela have largely “disappeared” into the pockets of corrupt politicians. In response, the ever-restive Haitian populace has yet intensified the uprising of the dispossessed throughout the country. The newly formed Patriotic Forum united 62 social movements, who call not only for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, but a complete dismantling of the “system of exclusion” and for a new republic of justice, transparency, and participation. They demanded chavire chodyè a (overturn the cauldron).

Central America and Mexico

Honduras. The designation of Honduras as a narco-state is supported by the October 18  conviction in US federal court of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) brother Tony for cocaine smuggling.  JOH, the latest of a line of corrupt presidents since the 2009 US-backed coup, is identified as co-conspirator by the prosecutors. Testimony in the US court revealed that the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo gave JOH $1 million to help him rig the presidential election in 2013.

The US continued to prop up the tottering JOH regime staggering in the face of huge waves of popular protests including a prolonged national strike this summer. And those not opposing the government in the streets headed for asylum in the US, fleeing from gang violence and government malfeasance.

Guatemala. Right-wing comedian Jimmy Morales became president of Guatemala in August. In response to the revolt of dispossessed against his neoliberal rule, he declared a state of siege in five departments. Tens of thousands marched on Guatemala City, including the indigenous Xinkas, while many more Guatemalans fled the violence and everyday oppression seeking asylum at the US border.

The wounds of the US-backed genocidal dirty war of the 1980s against the largely indigenous population, taking some 200,000 lives, have not been healed but continue to be reinforced by harsh neoliberal measures and a regime of impunity fueling the exodus to the north. While lamenting the plight of these migrants, the corporate press in the US failed to recognize the made-in-America causes of their evacuation.

El Salvador. Likewise, El Salvador, another former victim of the US-backed dirty wars, added to the stream of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants seeking asylum in the US from the conditions created in large part by the country of their intended refuge.

Businessman Nayib Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party and now turned right, was elected under the banner of the right-wing GANA party. He assumed the presidency on June 1, replacing Salvador Sánchez Ceren of the FMLN. Bukele has fallen in line with Washington’s drive to curtail emigration from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and has reversed his nation’s foreign policy to accord with the Lima Group’s drive for regime change in Venezuela.

Nicaragua. 2019 was a year of hopeful recovery in Nicaragua, healing from successfully repulsing a US-backed coup the previous year. The domestic perpetrators were granted amnesty by leftist President Daniel Ortega, and social welfare indices were again on the ascent. Although the poorest country in Central America, Nicaraguans were for the most part not fleeing for the US but were rebuilding their homeland.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin American and the eleventh in the world. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) assumed the presidency last December and his new MORENA party swept local and regional offices with the expectation that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices would be addressed. AMLO dissented from the anti-Venezuelan Lima Group and instituted a series of progressive domestic reforms.

Trump forced AMLO to contain the Central American immigrants massing on the US southern border or face tariff increases and other measures that would wreck the Mexican economy. As nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

A New Year’s message

2019 has not been an entirely bullish year for US imperialism, notwithstanding the hard turns to the right in Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  Powerful winds against neoliberalism are gusting in Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and even in the US “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico. Regime-change operations failed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. US-preferred candidates suffered losses in Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia (later reversed by a coup). And the hegemon is challenged in its own “backyard” by the increased influence of Russia and especially China, now the second largest trading partner with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Recently Cuban President Díaz-Canel addressed the 120-state Non-aligned Movement (a third of which are sanctioned by Washington) with this perceptive thought for a multi-polar world: “There are more of us. Let us do more.”