Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Forward to the past?

Letter to Our Readers and Supporters: Join Us in Supporting and Building the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International

We are writing this letter to ask you to join us in advancing our important political work in the coming period.
In eight months, the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International — the international political organization to which we are affiliated — will take place in Europe. We wish to explain here why we will be sending delegates from the United States to this World Congress; why we are raising funds to help send delegates from Latin America, Africa and Asia; and why we are calling upon you to support the $10,000 Fund Drive for the 8th World Congress and to join with us in the political discussion preparatory to this congress.
You will find attached the text adopted by the General Council of the Fourth International to open the World Congress discussion among its sections. As you read it, you will see that although it is a text that deals mainly with the general international political situation, with a focus on the mass working class upsurge in Northern Africa and Europe today, it also speaks to fundamental questions that confront the working class, the youth, Blacks, Latinos and all the oppressed and exploited people in the United States. Why do we say this?
In two months, presidential elections will be held in the United States. Millions of people are asking how it came about that the hopes raised four years ago with the election of Barack Obama, the nation's first Black president, were so quickly dashed? And they are also trying to understand how it could be that the polls are raising the specter of a possible victory of the Romney-Ryan ticket, without a doubt the most reactionary anti- worker ticket on the ballot in a very long time.
The Draft Resolution submitted to the 8th World Congress invites us to find a reply to these questions by examining the role of the leaderships (misleaderships to be more precise) of the working class organizations — that is, the organizations built by the workers to defend their interests against the bosses and their representatives in the halls of government.
Does this response apply to the United States?
To answer this question, let's first look at the objective situation: What is the reality on the ground that confronts working people and all the oppressed in the United States?
* Unemployment continues to soar, with more than 27 million people without a job or working less than 10 hours per week, while unemployment benefits are being cut in more and more states and President Obama's much- touted JOBS Act, if passed, is slated to create 2 million jobs, at best;
* The destruction of public services — from public education to the full range of health and social services for the most needy — continues unabated;
* Pensions, Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are being gutted piecemeal, with huge attacks looming on the horizon;
* Millions of people are continuing to lose their homes to foreclosures, with no relief in sight;
* The health care situation of millions upon millions of Americans continues to deteriorate, despite Obama's healthcare law — the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, or PPACA – which will still leave 28 million people uninsured, while forcing millions of others, under the threat of high financial penalties, to buy sub-par insurance policies from private insurance companies and taxing the healthcare benefits of a high percentage of union members;
* Factories continue to close, with jobs often moving to sweatshops south of the border or overseas;
* Immigrant workers continue to be scapegoated for a crisis that is not of their making, with more deportations per year (400,000) under Obama than under George W. Bush and mounting racial profiling and police repression across the country, while Obama's "Deferred Action" plan for young undocumented immigrants is cynically predicated upon registering with Homeland Security, showing that it's mainly a ploy to re-elect Obama, not a road to the DREAM Act without military strings attached demanded by immigrant youth, and while Obama's AgJobs plan would extend the "guestworker" programs that provide non-union, slave labor to agribusiness;
* Union rights — particularly the right to collective bargaining for public-sector workers — are on the chopping block in state after state, with no redress in sight; in fact, no sooner was Obama elected than he dropped all efforts to enact the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), his No. 1 promise to the labor movement;
* Democratic rights are more and more trampled upon in the name of "national security" — either through the Patriot Act or, more recently, through the National Defense Authorization Act, which codifies into law for the first time in U.S. history indefinite military detention without charge or trial. (1)
* Not only have the working and living conditions of Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed peoples continued to plummet, their basic democratic rights are facing renewed attack, with more and more Black people victimized by police repression and warehoused in the prison-industrial complex, deprived of their basic rights (including the right to vote) and forced to work for pennies as outsourced labor for major corporations in a burgeoning new Jim Crow system;
* A war on women, particularly lower-income women of oppressed communities, has been unleashed with a fury unparalleled in recent times, with the undermining of women's legal rights, health, and economic and social status; the right to an abortion and family planning, in particular, are under intense assault;
* The environmental degradation, particularly in working-class communities, continues unchecked, despite all pledges to the contrary — with more disasters such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and greater devastation in sight with the Keystone XL Pipeline;
And the list goes on and on.
And while all this is happening, trillions of dollars continue to be allocated by the government to bail out Wall Street and the banksters, and to fuel military interventions and wars of occupation abroad.
Destruction of the Productive Forces Worldwide: Who Is Responsible?
This overall situation is not that different from the one facing the workers, youth and people of Greece, France or Spain. All face a similar corporate onslaught on their jobs, gains, rights and very existence.
As working class militants, we are not surprised by this fact. This is the logic of the capitalist system — a crisis-ridden system that in its mad attempt to overcome its crisis must destroy all "excess" productive forces, that is, industries, public services, and workers themselves (including destroying the right to a future for young people).
We cannot accept the arguments that we hear from all quarters, including from the top trade union officialdom, that it's the workers' "passivity," their alleged lack of will to fight back, which is responsible for this situation, for these attacks.
No, events these past two years have proved the exact opposite!
Revolutionary uprisings threw out the military dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, while massive general strikes mobilized millions of workers and youth in the streets of Spain, Greece, Italy, England and France against the joint attacks leveled by the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank — the infamous "Troika."
This mass upsurge has not been confined to Europe or Northern Africa. In Chile and Quebec huge mobilizations of students and their supporters took place against the corporate austerity/privatization attacks. And in Mexico, a youth movement has galvanized a mass struggle all across the country against yet another electoral fraud perpetrated by the PRI-PAN regime.
The sentiments and actions of workers and youth in the United States are not disconnected from this powerful movement of resistance internationally. From Wisconsin to Ohio, and from the ongoing struggles across California in defense of public education and social services to the Occupy movement (where, despite the misleadership of a large number of its main organizers, hundreds of thousands of people mobilized day after day, including with port shutdowns in solidarity with the fighting longshore workers in Longview, Wash.), working people, youth and oppressed nationalities have taken to the streets to express their rejection of the bank bailouts while millions are driven from their homes and jobs. They have demonstrated a strong will to resist and fight back.
No! Those who seek to place the onus for this deteriorating situation on the backs of working people do so only to hide their own complicity. We reject all such bogus claims.
An article in the August 17, 2012 issue of the New York Times by Mark Bittman accurately describes the plight of the working-class majority in the United States and begins to respond to the question: Who is responsible for this situation?
Bittman writes:
"Most people — call them working class, middle class or the 99 percent — have less money than they did a generation ago; the super-rich have scads more. A vast majority of Americans are on the losing end of the class war, as evidenced by lower pay scales, eviscerated unions, fewer benefits, later retirement, shortened or eliminated vacations, starved municipalities and of course the quality of our food and the impact it has on us and the environment."
And Bittman continues,
"In the last 40 years we've witnessed a long, steady move to the right, which Democrats occasionally whine about, protest and even fight, but in which they've been mostly complicit."
How true! But not only are the Democrats "mostly complicit", more often than not they are the ones leading the attacks against workers and the poor. The four-year record of the Obama administration illustrates this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Getting back to the central question that is posed in the Draft Resolution for the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International, what has been the response of the trade union leadership to the deepening crisis and to the Obama administration, in particular?
The first thing to say is that Obama would not have been elected without the huge financial and logistical support of the labor movement; in fact, without labor's support, Democrats would have a hard time getting elected as dog-catchers in many places.
Second, throughout the Obama presidency, the labor leaders have gone along with all the corporate bailouts and all the attacks against working people, with only a minimum of lip-service in criticisms, thus turning their backs on the aspirations and fightback will of their members.
Let's just look at four recent cases to illustrate our point — four cases among all too many other such examples.
Four Cases of Corporate-Labor Officialdom Collusion to Subvert the Will of the Rank and File
1) Detroit: Recovery for the auto bosses, not for the workers or the city — thanks to the help of the UAW leadership
In his January 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama invoked the auto bailout and the "recovery of the automakers and Detroit" as one of the major achievements of his administration. But recovery for whom?
The U.S. Treasury provided $80 billion in TARP bailout funds to General Motors and Chrysler, and in exchange it demanded the following from the United Auto Workers union leadership and members: a wage freeze, a 50 percent pay cut for a new second-tier category of workers, the destruction of more than 20,000 jobs, major cuts in pension and healthcare benefits for retired workers, and a ban on strike action. Workers who opposed the contract — representing about one-third of the workforce — called it a "slave labor contract."
The result was that the U.S. auto industry bounced back, while the workers and their union were smashed. Most workers now make a bit more than half of what they made a decade ago, workers' benefits and pensions have been decimated, and the union has been transformed into a shadow of its former self.
An editorial in The New York Times noted poignantly that "it took a Republican, Richard Nixon, to open the doors to Western investment in China, and it took a Democrat, Barack Obama, to break the UAW."
And the same is true for the city of Detroit itself and for huge parts of the state of Michigan: Municipal bankruptcies are the order of the day, poverty and unemployment have skyrocketed, and foreclosures and utility shutoffs are rampant. In fact, the situation is so bad that the state government, with the support of Democratic Party administrations, has installed an unaccountable Special Emergency Board authorized to suspend local governments, rip up union contracts and rule by decree — much like the European Union's Commission of Experts has been empowered to impose the Draconian cuts demanded by the Troika, subordinating all elected parliaments and governments in Europe to their dictates.
It should also be noted that this concessionary contract was imposed by the bosses and the twin parties of capitalism with the full endorsement and support of Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and the leadership of the labor federation. The autoworkers have fought back courageously over many years against these and other concessions, beginning with the formation of the New Directions rank-and-file movement in their union, but they have been beat down time and again by union-accepted concessionary contracts that have gutted their strength and ability to fight back.
Obama concluded his January presidential address by vowing "to repeat in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Raleigh" what he was able to "accomplish" in Detroit.
In the spring of 2009, the San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO) adopted a resolution on the auto crisis that called for, "Not one more layoff in the auto industry! Nationalize the Big Three under the control of an elected labor-community board of directors! Retool the auto industry, retrain the workforce, and ensure that all laid-off workers can return to work immediately with union contracts at union scale."
Isn't it time for the entire labor movement to draw a line in the sand and follow the example of the San Francisco Labor Council?
2) A concessionary contract agreed to by the ILWU leadership behind the backs of the Longview (WA) workers
Another example of a powerful labor fightback in the recent period that was subverted by the trade union bureaucracy is the months-long battle by a local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to retain its union in the small grain-handling port of Longview, Wash.
While the union was able to retain union recognition, the ILWU leadership signed a contract without the membership voting on it (first time in ILWU history) that destroyed the hiring hall, allowed continued employment of scabs side-by-side with ILWU members, and eliminated ILWU jobs in the control center of the port.
This concessionary contract was the result of the ILWU leadership's fear of mobilizing its own 40,000 members in support of its local in Longview, to the point of actually sabotaging any form of solidarity by other unions and large Occupy contingents that had begun to mobilize across the West Coast of the United States in solidarity with the Longview workers.
In October 2011, in fact, a one-day citywide strike shut down the Port of Oakland, Calif., in solidarity with Longview with the active participation of the memberships of ILWU Local 10, the Oakland Education Association, and many other unions and community organizations. And in January 2012, unions and activists up and down the West Coast had prepared to mobilize in Longview to prevent a ship from loading scab cargo by scab operators. It was at this very moment when the momentum was building for a powerful confrontation on the Longview waterfront — a struggle that could possibly have succeeded in imposing a fair contract for the workers — that the Democratic Party governor of Washington intervened and secured the agreement of the ILWU leadership to force an unacceptable contract down the throats of its union members.
This concessionary contract now places the ILWU in the rest of the Northwest grain operations in jeopardy, with the operators now gloating over a contract that strips the ILWU of job control via the smashing of the hiring hall and the loss of the clerks' positions within the contract. The bosses will now use this victory for them as a way of generalizing similar concessions and take-always for all grain handling contracts.
Given that this is occurring to arguably one of the most militant and democratic unions in U.S. history, the political implications go way beyond this one disaster. In 2014, the Master Longshore Agreement — the heart and soul of the union's militant tradition — is up for negotiations. The maritime owners will surely use this defeat in Longview in negotiating the general Longshore contract, thus threatening the continued existence of the ILWU itself.
The McEllrath leadership of the ILWU relied on the Democratic Party governor of Washington and "tripartite" bargaining with the operators and imposed a contract behind the backs of the membership of Local 21 in Longview. The union leadership has set up the ILWU for defeat after defeat unless a class struggle left wing can develop out of the Longview fiasco and become a powerful enough force to allow the membership to reclaim their union for struggle and reverse the leadership's concessionary bargaining.
3) Teachers and their union in Chicago fight back against a privatization onslaught led by Obama's right-hand man — while the top officials of the teachers' unions continue to march in step behind Obama's and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's privatization plans
For over a year, the new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been fighting against all the cuts and concessions demanded by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former press secretary and right-hand man of Barack Obama. The new CTU leadership was part of a rank-and-file caucus (CORE) that was voted into office on a platform that rejects the givebacks demanded by Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, in the name of their "Race to the Top" program — which is in continuity with Bush's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) program.
NCLB and Race to the Top are basically plans to restructure and privatize the U.S. public school system and break the powerful teachers' unions. They call for Merit Pay and teacher advancement based on standardized test scores while penalizing schools that perform poorly on these tests with their restructuring into Charter Schools (where union contracts and state standards are voided) — a first step toward their privatization.
The top trade union officials in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), both of which represent jointly one out of every four unionized workers in the United States, have bought into this NCLB-Race to the Top process and have gone along with this corporate assault on public education and on the teachers' unions themselves.
But in Chicago, the 26,000 members of the CTU said "Enough!" and voted by an overwhelming majority (98% of the teachers in the Chicago Public Schools) to authorize a strike, should the talks break down, to demand that the mayor and the district meet their pressing demands. The talks then broke down — with the district refusing to back off from its drive to cut wages, close schools and impose a longer workday, among other points. The CTU leadership has set September 10 for a strike vote.
The corporate anti-teacher lobby, led by multi-billionaire Bill Gates (who was invited by AFT President Randi Weingarten to speak at the July 2010 AFT convention in Seattle, where he was praised for his push to create non-union Charter Schools), pulled out all stops in their effort to defeat the Chicago teachers. And behind the scenes Randi Weingarten and Arne Duncan tried to work out a deal that would prevent a strike — given that a strike would inevitably embarrass Obama and the Democrats on the eve of the presidential election.
While Weingarten issued a statement in support of the Chicago teachers' union following their 98% strike authorization vote, the week of that vote she'd been in Chicago, where she praised Mayor Emanuel to the skies for his strong commitment to "public-private partnerships" and summoned teachers wanting social justice to hold out till November, when they could go to the polls to vote for Obama.
Another indication of the fact that the AFT leadership wanted to avoid a strike in Chicago at all costs can be seen in the Labor Day message sent out by Weingarten on August 31 to all AFT affiliates — a message that did not even mention the Chicago teachers. Substance News, a publication devoted to defending Chicago's public schools, highlighted this grave concern, stating:
"One week after a controversial article in the Chicago Sun-Times declared that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would intervene in contract negotiations between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, a stunning 'Labor Day Message' from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has many Chicago teachers wondering whether Weingarten has been selected to cut a deal on behalf of Rahm Emanuel — and against the members of the CTU, the most militant of the K-12 locals in the AFT.
"The increasing suspicion about Randi's work not only comes from her history (she was completely committed to the programs of former CTU President Marilyn Stewart and promoted them enormously during the 2008 AFT convention which was held in Chicago), but also from current events. Randi's 'Labor Day Message' … did not mention the Chicago struggle, even though Randi was in Chicago for May 23 and has had a representative at the CTU offices for several months. Additionally, the AFT convention passed a Special Order of Business pledging support for Chicago and other locals under attack. While many delegates to the convention were suspicious at the time, the 'Labor Day Message' confirms those suspicions. (September 1, 2012)
But despite all the efforts by the labor officialdom to undermine/prevent a strike, the movement of the Chicago teachers and their working-class supporters was more powerful than the apparatuses.
On September 10, a strike that was not supposed to happen — at least not from the point of view of the Democratic Party machine and the top national leadership of the American Federation of Teachers — happened.
Despite the torrents of attacks in the mainstream media, the bullying from Emanuel, and the pressure from their own AFT leadership, the Chicago teachers refused to accept a concessionary contract. During the seven days of their strike, the teachers, with their union, stood their ground and asserted their independence in relation to the bosses, the politicians, and their own national union leadership. And they ultimately prevailed, wresting important concessions from Emanuel and the board of the Chicago Public Schools and winning a big political victory for all working people.
[See the editorial in the September-October 2012 issue of The Organizer newspaper for more news and analysis on the strike and its outcome.]
And the movement that arose inside the Chicago teachers' union is developing elsewhere across the country. Rank-and-file caucuses such as CORE (which defeated the pro-Weingarten slate) are springing up in AFT locals nationwide. In San Francisco's 6,000-member teachers' union, a similar slate, Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), challenged the pro-Weingarten forces, falling just 65 votes short of winning the top union offices in an election this past May. EDU locals have been formed in Massachusetts and other states. The task is now to coordinate the work of these dissident locals to build a national rank-and-file EDU that can enable the membership to take back their union and defeat the concessionary policies of the leadership caucus.
4) A promising fight for a real Millionaires Tax and against all cuts and concessions in California's public education system is subverted by the Democratic Party governor in collaboration with the leadership of the California Labor Federation
On March 13, 2012, supporters of the Millionaires Tax across California were stunned to learn in the mainstream media that a deal been reached between the leadership of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to drop the Millionaires Tax, the only truly progressive tax slated to appear on the November 2012 ballot in California. The CFT had taken the lead in placing this initiative on the ballot.
For months, Governor Brown had been leaning on all the unions to try to impose a "shared sacrifice" tax measure that would be acceptable to the Chamber of Commerce. Key to this was the inclusion of a regressive sales tax demanded by Big Business. The strength of the Millionaires Tax was that it rejected this unacceptable compromise with the bosses.
For weeks, it appeared that the CFT leadership would be able to withstand the pressure from the governor — especially after a Millionaires Tax movement erupted, with thousands upon thousands of young people, unionists, and community activists mobilizing to demand that the rich and the corporations pay for the economic crisis that they had created. But this was not to be.
No sooner had news of this rotten deal been circulated, however, than activists in Occupy Education CA and the CFT — representing this growing movement for a genuine Tax the Rich movement — launched a statewide campaign to urge the CFT leadership to reconsider its decision and not drop the Millionaires Tax.
On March 20, the labor-community coalition responsible for the huge March 1 Day of Action in defense of California's public education, the 99 Mile March, and the March 5 mass protest and occupation of the Capitol in Sacramento, organized a rally and press conference in Oakland, Calif., to urge the CFT leadership and the Restoring California coalition to maintain their support for the most popular — and most winnable — initiative for refunding California. Their call read, in part:
"The Millionaires Tax remains the only proposal that would take steps to permanently fund public education and services — and it would do this without regressive sales taxes. We reject the notion of 'shared sacrifice' — we have already sacrificed more than our share. The 99% should not be asked to pay for the crisis caused by the 1%.
"The so-called 'compromise' pushed by Governor Brown is a ploy to prevent the Millionaires Tax from getting on the ballot. … We too must continue our campaign. The Millionaires Tax has galvanized thousands of students, teachers, workers, and community members to build a historic mass movement capable of transforming our state. The 1% are on the defensive, now is not the time to back down!"
Addressing the rally, Peter Brown, a member of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, expressed the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of supporters of public education when he stated:
"The Millionaires Tax is the first initiative to put class wealth and privilege front and center, and that's why people are responding to it. It is more important that this go forward and give Californians a strong position they can gravitate around, than whether or not it wins in the end. Only by fighting for what we want will be in a position to succeed.
"The corporate forces are dead set against the Millionaires Tax precisely because it clearly expresses the polarization which is now raging through our communities, and creates a rallying point for the 99%. … They want us to feel confused and powerless. We must not back down."
Today, the regressive sales tax component of the "compromise" deal (Prop 30) threatens to lead this proposition to defeat in November. California voters, already hard hit by mass unemployment, a high sales tax and a proportionately high rate of taxation, are hardly in the mood to dig deeper into their pockets to support a proposition whose funds will not even necessarily go to pay for public education and services — as much of the funding in the governor's proposal is earmarked to repaying the debt to the banks that caused the crisis in the first place.
Predictably, the Democratic Party-imposed "compromise" tax prevailed; the CFT leadership, under pressure from the California Federation of Labor and the Democratic governor, abandoned the Millionaires Tax. The demands with the greatest support across California and the entire country — "Make the Wall Street and the Banksters Pay for Their Crisis, Not Working People! Bail Out Working People, NOT the Banks!" — was jettisoned under pressure from the Democratic Party governor, with the complicity of the leadership of the California labor leadership.
This is a particular reason for concern today as the Democratic Party governor and state legislature are threatening to enact even more massive budget cuts — in the name of addressing the $18 billion budget deficit — should Prop 30 not be approved by voters in November. City College of San Francisco, for example, is facing its near decimation should Prop 30 fail in November, and public school districts across the state face massive cuts and a three-fold increase in "furlough days" — that is, non-school days where children stay home and teachers are not paid.
The San Francisco teachers' union agreed to a concessionary collective-bargaining agreement with the school district that would allow up to 16 furlough days in the next two years and massive teacher and para-professional layoffs should Prop 30 not be approved, thus undermining the very essence of collective-bargaining, as it entrusts the satisfaction of some of the teachers' basic demands to the California voters — who, it should be added, are being asked to support a "compromise" tax initiative, with a major regressive taxation provision. Talk about blackmailing the teachers!
A way forward in defense of public education is being shown by a new student-teacher-worker coalition that is calling for a mass demonstration in San Francisco on September 11, when the Board of Trustees of City College of San Francisco will be meeting to approve a change to the Mission Statement of CCSF and an agenda of increased cuts.
The September 11 coalition's call to action, titled "Say No To the 'Special Trustee'! Yes to Democracy, No to Imposition!" states, in part:
"We invite all students, faculty, staff, and communities allies to take action in defense of democracy and in defense of our community college. On Sept. 11, the democratically elected Board of Trustees of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) will vote on a proposal to hand over all decision-making power to an unelected and unaccountable 'Special Trustee'. This is unacceptable! This dictatorial proposal is the most blatant expression of the anti-democratic … drive to impose their agenda of cuts, cuts, and more cuts. …
"But here is an alternative to this authoritarian austerity drive. By building a mass movement to say 'No Cuts! Bail Out CCSF! No to the Accreditation Imposition!" we can stop the re-segregation of education and save CCSF as an affordable, accessible, and democratic community college!"
The Independence of the Unions and the Fight for Independent Labor Political Action
These four cases all raise the crucial question: Should the trade union movement be independent of the bosses, from the factory plant, office building and school classroom all the way to the political arena — or should it continue to be subordinated to the powers-that-be? Should it not break its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party, one of the twin parties of the bosses?
Again, this is a question that applies not only to the trade union movement in the United States.
In Europe, the Socialist Party prime ministers in Greece, Spain and Portugal accepted to deal the most violent blows against the workers under the aegis of the European Union and its directives. And today, the politicians of all political stripes, from left to right, have agreed to implement the even-more-Draconian attacks demanded by the Treaty on Stabilization, Coordination and Governance (TSCG).
The policies of "labor-management partnerships" and "consensus" — which the ruling rich and their political parties need so badly in their effort to bolster their dwindling profit margins — are now universal.
Obviously, the class struggle is not an easy arena to wage battle. There is no guarantee that when you go out on strike you will succeed in winning your demands against the bosses. But is it not the role of working class organizations to help the working class and the youth organize the resistance and beat back all the anti-worker attacks coming down the pike — instead of doing what the trade union officialdom is doing today, that is, going along with, and often even participating in, the implementation of the cuts?
This question of the independence of the workers' movement — and of its unity to defend and advance all the gains made in the past — is at the heart of the discussions and deliberations that will take place at the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International.
Why does Socialist Organizer look to the trade unions as a central avenue for our work? It is certainly true that the unions are currently in a tremendous crisis, given their subordination, via the trade union leadership, to the Democrats. But we need this situation to change — because the most powerful and effective means for resistance remains mass organization on a explicitly working class basis against the bosses. It would be a serious mistake to let the current state of the organized workers' movement let us lose sight of its tremendous revolutionary potential. History shows that the U.S. labor movement can reverse its fortunes very quickly, sometimes virtually overnight — e.g., in the strike wave of 1934. Today, the deep anger and frustration of working people is looking to find an expression. Even one successful strike — for example, that of the Chicago teachers — could be enough to re-ignite and inspire a massive and militant nationwide labor movement.
Fortunately, we in the Fourth International are not alone in posing these questions and in looking for answers about how best to preserve the independence of the workers' movement. Around the world, workers, political organizations, trade unions and activists of all ages and backgrounds are coming to understand that only by building a genuinely independent workers' movement can we have any chance of reversing the deadly course of events today.
That is why we in the Fourth International have sought at all times to promote unity in action and trade union independence within the framework of the campaigns of the International Liaison Committee for a Workers' International.
In the United States itself, the call for the independence of the labor movement is concentrated in the call for labor to break its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party, one of the two parties funded, controlled, and run by the capitalist class.
While the media are all focusing on the top labor officialdom's backing of Obama, the grumblings and growing discontent within the house of labor, from top to bottom, have gone largely unnoticed. Yet there are many examples of this; let's take a look at a few:
a) NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro calls for building an independent labor movement
National Nurses United, the main nurses' union in the United States and an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has refused to endorse Obama, preferring instead to allocate its precious funds to recruiting new members into the union and mobilizing its members and community allies for their contract fights with the employers. NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro — who is also a member of the National Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO — explained her union's stance in a May 11, 2012, interview with PBS TV anchor Bill Moyers. She said, in part:
"Given the current way we practice politics, we are headed for devastation. … I'm very tired of all of us being disappointed in Democrats. I mean, how many more Democrats can we be disappointed in? … We should never give our power away. And we should never buy into the lies that have been told to us for so long.
"I don't even recognize liberals anymore. … [T]hey will invariably be apologetic for anything that comes down. In healthcare reform. Liberals said we absolutely want single payer. And then suddenly single payer was off the table.
"Then everyone said, 'Okay, well, we're now drawing the line on the public option. We will never ever compromise off the public option.' All of a sudden public option's gone. And then it came to an individual mandate. 'We will never agree to tax workers' healthcare benefits.' And now all of a sudden liberals are rallying around taxing healthcare benefits. It's, like, how low can you go?
"So I'm looking now at a stage for absolutes. We've made compromises and look where these compromises have got us. Do I think that there's an absolute right for people to have healthcare in this country? Absolutely. Do I think people are entitled to work and provide for themselves and their families? Absolutely. That's an absolute.
"Do I think that people should have a home to live in and to be able to care for the most vulnerable? Absolutely. Yes, I'm looking for absolutes. I'm not interested in the neo-liberal agenda. I'm not interested in bipartisanship. I'm interested in social change that actually puts society back with the people. I'm talking about building an absolute mass movement. …
"Labor has bought into the paradigm of saying 'middle class' and 'working families' — instead of working class. This fosters disdain for the working class. They [the top union officials] bought into the paradigm, to where they became vulnerable to middle class consultants who redefined what they were supposed to be.
"We are now being taught to be non-confrontational and use non-confrontational language. Well, why in the hell would I want to be non-confrontational? There are people out there who are trying to harm my members — working people, poor people — and I don't want to confront them? Of course I want to confront them.
"We've been told that fighting back can actually be defined as something that's pathological. And the labor movement bought in.
"I am really sick of the people who are apologists for finance. From my perspective, and it may sound simplistic, but working people built this country. And you know what, if we have to, we can build it again."
b) Deep Anger at Obama's Policies Expressed at ILWU Convention
The June 2012 issue of The Dispatcher, the ILWU's monthly newspaper, provided a full report on the union's recent convention that includes a section on the floor discussion regarding endorsing Obama for a second term. Convention delegates took the floor to rake Obama over the coals for his failed promises. While the convention ultimately voted to endorse Obama to stop Romney, it was hardly a vote of confidence in Obama. Quite the contrary, as the Dispatcher account reveals:
" A resolution endorsing Obama for a second term was also controversial, sparking a debate that attracted many speakers to the microphone from across the political spectrum. Many were critical of Obama's willingness to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits — instead of raising taxes on the rich to save those programs. Others criticized his cowardice toward Wall Street and appointment of investment bankers who arranged a taxpayer bailout for the big firms, while doing little to help millions of home-owners who lost their homes or are deeply underwater.
"Some attacked his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and 'war on terror' at home that sparked the wasteful and ineffective Transit Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program. Several rose to criticize Obama's timid support for labor reform that would have made it easier for workers to join unions.
"And the President's healthcare plan attracted the scorn of nearly everyone because he dropped the 'public option,' agreed to subsidize private insurance companies, and cut employer tax credits for many union health plans.
"But when the debate wound down, the specter of Mitt Romney's avowed anti-union administration in the White House was something delegates just couldn't stomach. So the vast majority voted in favor of a resolution endorsing President Obama for a second term."
In a situation where the labor leadership continues to support the Democrats, refusing to chart an independent political course for the working class, it is not surprising that the huge anger at the Obama's policies were channeled into "lesser-evilism" — a scourge that for more than a century has prevented the labor movement from creating its own political party and having its own political voice.
Having said that, it is also worthwhile noting that the anger at Obama and the Democrats was also expressed in a resolution that calls for not endorsing Democrats who collude with Republicans in eliminating or privatizing Medicare or Medicaid. But this poses an obvious question: Aren't all Democrats who support the Bowles-Simpson "Grand Bargain" in fact colluding with the Republicans in their effort to defund and dismantle Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Social Security? And doesn't this include Obama and Nancy Pelosi?
c) Chicago Teacher Union Delegates Refuse to Wear Obama-Biden T-Shirts at AFT National Convention
In the same way that up to one-third of the delegates turned their backs on Bill Gates and walked out of the AFT national convention during his speech in Seattle in June 2010, delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union refused to implement a directive by AFT President Randi Weingarten for everyone to wear Obama-Biden T-shirts when Vice President Joe Biden addressed the union's July 2012 convention in Detroit.
This should come as no surprise. The Chicago teachers have had to take on three prominent Democratic Party leaders from Chicago — Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel in their fight for a decent contract. This small act of defiance may appear to be insignificant in the greater scope of things. But it isn't. It's a sign of the deep anger simmering just below the surface in the labor movement — an anger that is looking for any avenue, any fissure in the edifice of the house of labor, to break out and be channeled into a real fightback movement cemented in a truly independent labor movement.
Through their seven-day strike [see lead editorial in this issue], the Chicago teachers stood strong against the combined pressures of Obama, Duncan, and Emanuel. They pointed the war forward for the labor movement in the fight against cuts and concessions.
d) Charlotte, N.C., Workers Organize Protests at Democratic National Convention to Demand Union Rights
On September 3-6, Democrats will gather at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, a "right-to-work" state where city workers, including sanitation workers so essential to the convention, have no union rights.
On August 24, leaders of the North Carolina affiliate of the United Electrical Workers of America (UE), a union not affiliated with the AFL-CIO and that voted not to endorse Obama for president, released a letter appealing to President Obama and the Democratic National Committee for support in their effort to win union rights.
"Despite the added work and dangers for Charlotte City workers in preparation for and in the aftermath of the DNC, and the fact that $50 million in federal funding has been allotted to the City of Charlotte to host the Democratic National Convention," the leaders of UE Local 150 wrote, "the City of Charlotte refuses to address the needs and rights of the City workers."
The restrictions on public workers' union rights in Charlotte are even greater than those signed into law by Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. North Carolina is only one of two states in the country to ban all levels of government from negotiating any contracts with public employees' unions, regardless of how many workers support the union.
Union activists and many top union officials in the AFL-CIO were outraged that the Democratic National Committee chose a right-to-work state for their convention and that the top AFL-CIO leadership was not more outspoken in support of collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
UE organizer Ashaki Binta said that Obama and the DNC have a responsibility to back the workers' campaign: "If you're going to meet here in Charlotte, then you should be respecting the rights of the workers who are on the front line of providing for the Democratic National Convention."
Accordingly, in their August 24 letter UE leaders called on the Obama administration to support a Bill of Rights for Charlotte workers, as well as the overturning of the state ban on collective bargaining.
In response to those union officials who justified holding the DNC in a right-to work-state on the grounds it would create much-needed jobs, Locklear put it this way: "I know it's going to benefit the city, all this money they're going to be getting. But us workers, what are we going to get? Nothing but work, work, work with no rights."
This is why UE will be holding marches and pickets throughout the DNC to attract public attention to their struggle for union rights. Also, as a sign of protest, many unions will not be sending delegates or providing funding to the Democratic Party convention. The Wall Street Journal(July 15) took note of this fact, reporting on statements by top Democratic Party officials who criticized the labor movement's failure to live up to its commitment to help fund the DNC.
This situation in North Carolina again brings to light the growing fissures within the labor movement resulting from the trade union's continued subordination to the Democratic Party.
What Way Forward on the Road to Building an Independent Labor Movement?
The leadership of the AFL-CIO tells us that whatever problems we may have with the Obama administration, it is vital that we put our criticisms on hold so that we can stop the Romney-Ryan ticket in its tracks. They explain that the Republicans this time around are among the most reactionary politicians to surface on a presidential ticket in a very long while.
It is true that no worker, no trade unionist, no youth activist can be indifferent to this ultra-reactionary wing of the U.S. ruling class — a wing that seeks to go the furthest in the destruction of the trade unions and of democratic rights. But the question remains posed: What is the best way to fight this reactionary wave?
Is it by supporting, or worse still, participating in the weakening of the trade unions and workers' rights and in the undermining of all the gains won by the working class through bitter struggles — as the trade union officialdom has been doing year after year — or, rather, is it by organizing the most massive and united mobilizations in defense of past gains (public education, social services and more) and in support of the immediate and pressing demands of the workers and their community allies?
Is it by supporting a presidential candidate, Obama, who on August 24 told the Associated Press that if re-elected he "will make a whole range of compromises to the Republicans" — compromises which he acknowledges will rankle huge numbers of people in the Democratic Party? (Obama insisted that "the days of viewing compromise as a dirty word need to be over.")
Is it by supporting a presidential candidate who promised that when elected he would enact the Employee Free Choice Act to promote unionization, and who said he would "put on his walking shoes" to support workers' on strike — but who, once in office, abandoned EFCA from Day 1 and was MIA in Wisconsin and Chicago?
Is it by continuing to support Democratic Party politicians whose attacks on labor and on all the oppressed communities are only deepening by the day?
Or is it by building a truly independent labor movement in deeds — not just in words, as Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO has been trumpeting over the past two years, only to do the exact opposite of what he preaches.
This question is posed for all the working class, but especially for its most oppressed sectors in the Black and Latino communities, where the hopes and aspirations in the country's first Black president were possibly the highest.
The indignation felt all across the United States, but particularly in the Black liberation movement, over the cold-blooded assassination of more than 40 Black miners in Azania/South Africa shows clearly that the policies of apartheid, racism and discrimination cannot be eradicated if one agrees to become the instrument of the transnational corporations and imperialist interests, as the ruling Tripartite coalition (ANC, South African Communist Party, and COSATU) has done.
This, in turn, raises the question here in the United States of an independent Black political organization, the building of which would represent a huge leverage point in the struggle to build an authentic Labor Party in the United States.
At the same time, the struggle of Chicano/as — i.e. Mexican-Americans — and of immigrants from other countries of Latin America is a major component of the class struggle today. The struggle for legalization, against racial profiling and deportations (SB1070, etc.), in defense of Ethnic Studies and bilingual education, and other demands for equality and cultural rights are hugely important, particularly given the massive scapegoating of immigrants across the country.
It is important to support the self-organization of all groups in the United States that face racial and/or oppression based on their national origins in their fight for equality and social justice, while fighting to forge the unity of all components of the U.S. working class in the fight to overturn the outdated capitalist mode of production, which is the precondition for eradicating racial oppression at its roots.
In this sense, the call for the self-organization of Chicanos and Latinos is part and parcel of the struggle to forge the most solid unity between Chicanos/Latinos, the organized workers' movement, and the Black liberation movement in the fight to build a Labor Party.
We, militants of the Fourth International in the United States, are part and parcel of all the struggles to mobilize against the budget cuts and giveaways, raising high the independent banner of, "No Cuts, No Concessions!"
There are no cuts and concessions that are justified. It is possible and necessary to mobilize huge numbers of people in the streets around these demands: Tax the rich, Confiscate the $1.65 trillion of Washington bailout funds that are still sitting idle collecting interest in the coffers of the Wall Street banksters! Slash the military budget and fund a desperately needed public works' jobs program and public services!
We, militants of the Fourth International in the United States, are on the front lines in the fight against imperialist wars and interventions — from Iraq to Syria, Afghanistan to Iran, Libya to Mali, and Haiti to Colombia. No imperialist intervention is justified anywhere in the world; everywhere such interventions represent an affront to the rights of oppressed peoples and nations to self-determination.
We, militants of the Fourth International in the United States, are part and parcel of all the initiatives seeking to preserve the independence of the labor movement and to lay the basis for building an authentic Labor Party based on the trade unions and all the organizations of the oppressed.
We are confident that by acting in this manner we are on the side of the workers and activists fighting for their rights and gains in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In fact, never before in the history of the United States have the issues facing U.S. working people coincided so much with the issues facing workers and peoples on all continents. It is the same combat of the exploited and the oppressed the world over resulting from a deepening capitalist crisis that is sparing no nation, no peoples.
That is why we are seeking to play our full role, together with delegates from countries on all continents, in building the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International, understanding, in particular, our special responsibilities in this regard, here in the belly of the imperialist beast, in the main capitalist power that is seeking to impose its dictates upon, and its domination over, all peoples and nations the across the globe.
Dear Readers of The Organizer newspaper,
Dear Friends and Supporters of Socialist Organizer and Our Campaigns:
We invite you to discuss with us both this Open Letter and the Draft Resolution opening the pre-World Congress debate within the Fourth International.
We ask you to meet with us and to join us to build this instrument — the Fourth International — that is indispensable to the emancipation of workers, peoples and youth; this international organization that is independent of the bosses and of all the political parties and politicians in their pay; this organization founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938 to help workers and oppressed peoples emancipate themselves from the yoke of capitalist exploitation and oppression by abolishing the capitalist means of production, thereby paving the way to their socialization — to a socialist society.
We ask you to contribute generously to our $10,000 World Congress Fund Drive to enable delegates from countries oppressed by imperialism to send delegates to the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International.
Delegates at the World Congress need to hear from comrades in Azania/South Africa who are fighting to defend the embattled mineworkers in Marikana and building a powerful united front with sectors of the ANC Youth, COSATU, and Black Consciousness forces for the nationalization of all mines and for the distribution of all land still held by the white minority, that is, for true Black majority rule;
Delegates need to hear from youth and working class comrades in Haiti who are on the front lines of the fight to oust the UN-MINUSTAH occupation troops and to restore Haiti's sovereignty while building a Workers Party in Haiti needed to carry forth the struggle for national liberation and social emancipation;
Delegates need to hear from young people in Chile and Mexico who are in the street fighting to defend their schools, universities and other demands, side by side with the fighting trade unions, and who, in the case of Mexico, are building a Workers Party together with the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and other political and trade union forces;
Delegates need to hear from young working class comrades in Bolivia who are similarly fighting to build a mass Workers Party in response to the call issued by the Mineworkers' union and the COB trade union federation;
With your help, we in Socialist Organizer, U.S. section of the Fourth International, will be able to help our Azanian, Haitian, Mexican, Chilean and Bolivian comrades and supporters get to the 8th World Congress. We are counting on your help, which is why we are asking you to make a generous contribution to our 8th World Congress $10,000 Fund Drive.
And, just as important, if not more so, we would like to urge you to contact us about joining us in building the political instrument — the Fourth International and its U.S. section, Socialist Organizer — which is so urgently needed to push aside the specter of barbarism, misery, and hopelessness to which working people and the oppressed are being submitted every day by a long-outdated capitalist system.
Yours, in Struggle,
The National Committee of Socialist Organizer,
U.S. Section of the Fourth International
* * * * *
(1) On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which for the first time in U.S. history allows for indefinite military detention without charge or trial. The NDAA's dangerous detention provisions authorize the U.S. president — and all future U.S. presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, whether U.S. citizens or foreign citizens and whether close or far from any battlefield, on the grounds of "national security" and "national defense."


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