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Are Americans Ready to Strike?

By James Trimarco - Yes Magazine, February 14, 2017

It was April 2012, and I was standing outside a Brooklyn subway station, handing out fliers for the May 1 general strike. Organizers were calling on employees to refuse to go to work and for students to refuse to go to school. We were urging everybody to gather in the streets instead for a festival of resistance and to demand economic justice.

Our fliers said “No work, no school,” and we meant it. We knew that getting even 5 percent of the city’s workers and students to strike would show the 99 percent’s willingness to walk away from an economy that exploited them. “Just try running this city without our labor,” we wanted to say.

But when May Day came around, we found most businesses bustling. Shopping and banking went on without a hitch. Even though thousands of people in cities across the United States participated, our organizing just hadn’t been strong enough to make a dent in business as usual.

Today, there are new calls for strikes in response to the actions of the Trump administration. The novelist Francine Prose published the first of these at the Guardian website. “Let’s designate a day on which no one (that is, anyone who can do so without being fired) goes to work, a day when no one shops or spends money, a day on which we truly make our economic and political power felt,” she wrote. Shortly after that, the creator behind the TV show The Wire, David Simon, suggested the date of Feb. 17 on Twitter. “No one spends, no one produces,” Simon tweeted in response to a critic. “The metric they understand is profit.”

Organizers quickly put together a website and are organizing local events in almost every state via a Google doc. This strike has two specific demands, according to its website, both of which ask members of Congress to stand up for the U.S. Constitution.

But Feb. 17 is just the beginning.

General Strike: How the Working Class Takes Control

By Jack Rusk - Left Voice, February 9, 2017

Since the Women’s March brought millions into the streets the Saturday after inauguration, there has been a rising clamor on social media for a ‘general strike’ against the Trump administration.

Since the Women’s March brought millions into the streets the Saturday after inauguration, there has been a rising clamor on social media for a ‘general strike’ against the Trump administration. The call to stop work was picked up by the U.K. Guardian, Washington Post and now by Cosmopolitan magazine. And the discussion took off so quickly, it gave us multiple proposals for when the strike should happen: February 17 (to counter President’s day), March 8 (International Women’s Day), May 1 (the international workers’ holiday and anniversary of the huge immigrant-led protests of 2006). And the proposals emphasize different kinds of demands, from general resistance to Trump, to defending the rights of women, Black Lives Matter, and immigrants through mutual action to enforce those rights.

But numerous leftists also came forward to announce concerns about the feasibility of a general strike, especially if labor unions are not involved in organizing it. Among the first was Alex Gourevitch, writing in Jacobin, who gives an informative history of militant strikes in the U.S. that faced repression by the state and (sometimes) won. The implication of this and similar pieces is that a general strike call is irresponsible for this spring because organized labor is simply not in a position to carry out the work stoppage and protect striking workers:

If you’re going to ask people not just to risk losing their jobs but potentially face the armed apparatus of the state, there had better be preparation, leadership, and some evident readiness for mass labor actions… It would be reasonable for workers to dismiss the call for a general strike. It looks like they are being asked to be actors in someone else’s drama, by people who just cottoned on to the fact that things are shitty out there.

Gourevitch has the elements of a good argument there, but this kind of naysaying about general strikes misses the point. Of course the workers in the U.S., after decades of setbacks, can’t carry off the kinds of strikes that are difficult even with high levels of organization. But it is very important to recognize that strikes called for Black lives, women’s safety and immigrant rights are not appeals from outside the workers’ movement, they are bottom line calls for solidarity that labor must take seriously if it is going to defend the working class and mobilize against anti-union and anti-strike laws.

What is remarkable, and should be lauded by everyone on the left, is that the mass movement in this country has settled on a tactic that is not just rooted in the working class, but involves the whole class as a class — the general strike. Not to enthusiastically support and amplify this demand is for the left to fall behind the mass movement and the consciousness of the most active workers.

What socialists can advocate, which Gourevitch does not, is just how powerful the strike weapon can be, and how to get from the big protests we can expect on February 17 and March 8 to an actual shutdown of U.S. capitalism, starting with a true holiday from all work on May Day. To see that, we have to look outside the U.S. and have an international view of the workers’ movement that is lacking in the Jacobin article. Because the kind of action that we are now talking about — a massive political protest launching into a strike wave — is exactly how the worker’s movement usually revives itself, most recently in the protests to bring down the dictatorship in Egypt.

Brothers and Sisters, It’s Time to Fight

By Kevin Norton - Labor Notes, February 15, 2017

The speed of events since Trump’s inauguration has made my head spin. The administration’s absolute onslaught against women, environmentalists, Muslims, immigrants, and the government itself began on day one. So I was a little shocked to see some of the building trades union leadership meet so happily with our nation’s first orange president.

“We have a common bond with the president,” Building Trades President Sean McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.” McGarvey also commented that President Obama had never met with the trades.

Some enthusiastic Trump supporters have lit up my Facebook page with stories about how he is going to “Make America Great Again.” One wrote, “I was told Trump was anti-union... Being an informed voter, I knew it was hogwash... here’s the proof.” He left a link to an article about the new president’s meeting with the union leaders.

Fawning over Trump Shuts Out Our Movement’s Future

By Len Shindel - Labor Notes, February 15, 2017

Surrounded by key union leaders, Trump was relaxed and smooth. He thanked the Sheet Metal Workers for their work on his hotel down the street—even as an electrical contractor was suing his company after allegedly getting stiffed on the job.

Union leaders clapped when Trump announced he was trashing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump said their members would soon be needed to complete a load of new projects as he terminated the “disastrous” trade policies that had sent jobs out of the country.

He assured them they would be building new Ford plants and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities for companies like Johnson and Johnson. The union leaders said they also asked Trump to move ahead, despite widespread protests, on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Free-Speech Restrictions Leave Federal Workers Anxious About Challenging Trump

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, February 14, 2017

Recent internal memos on how and when federal employees can speak their minds has left those frustrated by President Trump in murky waters, according to advocates.

For climate scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or rogue members of the National Park Service, this uncertainty around their ability to speak without fear of reprisal is causing confusion and despair as the Trump administration assumes control and attempts to assert its version of the facts, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a watchdog group that represents civil servants at agencies like the EPA.

"There will be a number of instances where people are speaking their minds and the rules aren't all that clear," said PEER Director Jeff Ruch, who counsels government employees about their rights. "And you have a chief executive who is somewhat thin-skinned, and that may trickle down through his appointees," who could punish employees for actions perceived as dissent.

Ruch said there seems to be a "level of mutual mistrust" between civil servants who staff federal agencies as nonpartisan workers and President Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to gut agencies like the EPA, and announced a hiring freeze for many agencies shortly after taking office.

"The hiring freeze was not an economic measure but an effort to drain the swamp, as if [federal employees] are a malignant force and, if you can bleed them off, then government will be better," Ruch said. "And a lot of this could be offensive to some of these career civil servants."

Some civil servants have dared to challenge Trump. Since the National Park Service's Twitter account was temporarily shuttered after it questioned White House statements on the size of the crowd at Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, dozens of "alternative" federal agency accounts (such as AltEPA and AltFDA) have opened and amassed followings that rival their official counterparts.

These accounts identify with the anti-Trump resistance, and are unofficial. Many make it clear that tweets and posts are not coming from government employees in their official capacity, if from government employees at all. Ruch said PEER has been fielding questions from operators of these alternative accounts, which often challenge Trump's public statements and draw attention to the latest climate science.

Agency employees who speak out against Trump are treading on difficult ground, particularly since federal civil servants have limited rights to free speech in the workplace. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect public employees for statements made while acting in their official capacity, making it risky to speak out against a new administration that has been openly hostile to the media and anyone else who challenges its narrative.

Moreover, the Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits the vast majority of federal employees from participating in certain political activities on the job, including advocating for and against political candidates. Trump has filed 2020 campaign paperwork and is considered a political candidate. This means that federal employees are prohibited from speaking for or against his reelection in their official capacity, according to a memo circulated by the US Office of Special Counsel last week.

Ruch said making a statement as simple as, "This is a disaster, we've got to get rid of this guy," around the water cooler at a federal office could apparently cost a federal employee their job.

Federal employees do have First Amendment rights as private citizens, but that doesn't protect them in the workplace. Not too long after the White House's snafu with the National Park Service's Twitter account, the EPA sent out an agency-wide memo advising employees about the difference between addressing the public as an EPA employee and in their "individual personal capacity."

Will science go rogue against Donald Trump?

By John Steele - Socialist Worker, February 6, 2017

IN THE age of Trump, the person writing those words has much to teach us about the impending scientific struggles of our own time.

So spoke Salviati on day two of his debate with Sagredo and Simplicio in a hypothetical discussion imagined by the great scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, for his book Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632.

In the Dialogue, Galileo puts forward his heretical view that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun in opposition to the Catholic Church-sanctioned Ptolemaic system in which everything in the universe revolves around the Earth.

Galileo hoped that by adopting a conversational style for his argument, it would allow him to continue his argument about the true nature of the universe and evade the attentions of the Inquisition, which enforced Church doctrine with the force of bans, imprisonment and execution.

However, Galileo's friend, Pope Urban VIII, who had personally authorized Galileo to write the Dialogue, didn't allow sentimentality to obstruct power. Galileo was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his days under house arrest--the Dialogue was banned by the Inquisition, along with any other book Galileo had written or might write.

Typically portrayed as the quintessential clash between religion and science, Galileo's conflict with the Papacy was, in fact, just as rooted in material considerations of political power as it was with ideas about the nature of the solar system and our place within it.

Amid parallels to today's conflict between Donald Trump and the scientific community over funding, research, unimpeded freedom of speech and the kind of international collaboration required for effective scientific endeavor, neither situation exists solely in the realm of ideas.

Pandering to the Predator: Labor and Energy Under Trump

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, February 3, 2017

Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th 2017 saw unions and activist groups from numerous social movements take to the streets and declare an all-out war of resistance to both his presidency and his agenda.  

As is now clear, some union officials have not only dodged the draft, but have actually joined the opposition. Trump has made it clear that he intends to give full-on support for the further development of fossil fuels. He plans to revive coal, and get behind fracking for shale oil and shale gas. He also plans to approve major infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. This just happens to be a big part of labor’s agenda also, and agenda that has been largely shaped by the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

A Trump-Trades Confederacy?

Leaders of NABTU have not only openly embraced Trump’s energy agenda, they  quickly warmed up to Trump himself—and some of his proposed appointees. In a pre-inauguration statement, NABTU praised Trump for nominating former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillermen to be Secretary of State. NABTU said, “We believe he will be a tremendous success,” and praised Tillermen’s “resilient and dynamic grasp of both global and domestic policy issues, and a deep and unyielding sense of patriotism for our great nation.” Of this writing, even prominent Republicans are uncomfortable having someone with a pension plan worth $70 million and who owns $218 million’s worth of company stock become the country’s top diplomat.

In another sign of approval for Trump, the Laborer’s union (LiUNA) criticized the outgoing Administration’s decision to remove offshore areas for future leasing. In one of his final acts as president, Obama thwarted oil and gas industry plans to explore and drill in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Attacking Obama, the union stated, “LIUNA looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to reverse this and other regressive energy policies enacted by the outgoing President.”  This from a union that just a few years ago was on the cutting edge of the “green jobs” agenda, an active partner in the Blue-Green Alliance, and one of the first US unions to call on the Obama administration to adopt the science-based emissions reductions targets proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Also significant was Trump’s post-inauguration White House meeting with labor leaders on Jan 23rd.  Participants included NABTU President Sean McGarvey, LiUNA President Terry O’Sullivan, Sheet Metal workers’ union President Joseph Sellers, Carpenters President Doug McCarron and Mark McManus, president of the Plumbers and Pipefitters. Progressive unions were, it seems, not invited. McGarvey told the New York Times “We have a common bond with the president…We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

To Halt the Slide Into Authoritarianism, We Need a General Strike

By The Shutdown Collective - Truthout, February 11, 2017

In the weeks immediately after Donald Trump won the presidential election, many people expressed serious concern about the content of his policies and platform. This isn't surprising. Having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Trump had the thinnest support of any incoming president in modern history. However, in the two weeks since he has taken office, these concerns have moved into a whole new realm. Widespread opposition to his administration is mobilizing now not merely around the content of his policies (what he does), but also the manner in which he is governing (how he does it).

President Trump has begun his term by governing by executive order, launching a rapid series of initiatives that threaten the democratic constitutional structure of the United States. These include: repeated attacks on the institutions of a free and independent press; silencing and summary dismissal of government employees, including the Attorney General; failure to divest personal business interests from the office of the presidency, or release his tax statements; the consolidation of power in a small circle of close friends (e.g., dismissing top military officials from the National Security Council to make room for political advisor and Breitbart executive, Stephen Bannon) and family (e.g., the appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior White House adviser). Perhaps most infamously, the administration has moved forward with a wide-reaching immigration and refugee ban that specifically targets people based on their religion and country of origin. Taken together, these signal a dangerously anti-democratic, even authoritarian impulse at the heart of the Trump administration.

We have seen this before. In other times and other places, authoritarian leaders have come to power through the manipulation of democratic institutions, often by exploiting major divisions within the general electorate. Even though they come to power in this semi-democratic manner, such figures recognize that they will not be able to maintain the broad-based support needed to remain in power, or accomplish anything while there. As a result, they frequently work to undermine the basic institutions of democracy, such as independent electoral commissions, the judiciary, and a free press.

Trump's "America First" puts the planet last

By Michael Ware - Socialist Worker, February 9, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S executive orders for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and for building a border wall provoked the most visible and immediate responses of the early days of his presidency.

But his moves to restart construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and the new administration's censorship of government workers and federally funded scientists regarding climate change were a shot across the bow of the environmental movement.

Upon taking office, Twittler and his henchmen directed federal agencies to cease public communication that wasn't vetted by the new administration, effectively putting a gag order on any talk about climate change or scientific research that contradicts the administration's taste for "alternative facts."

The Badlands National Park Twitter account defied the ban, issuing unspeakable truths like "The Pre-Industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93ppm." The account has since been reigned in and the tweets deleted.

This week, the new administration scored a victory when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bowing to an order from Trump, reversed its denial of an easement needed to complete a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline running under the Missouri River. The Army Corps not only abandoned plans to wait for an environment impact study, but rushed through approval so drilling could start in 24 hours--making it harder for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to take action in court.

America The Not So Beautiful

By Richard Mellor - Facts For Working People, February 8, 2017

The US is a country of extremes. It is the porn capital of the world where young 18 year-old women and men can bare all on screen or be sent to fight in wars yet can’t buy a bottle of beer at a convenience store.

It is also the richest and most powerful nation in history and its defense budget at $608 billion annually, dwarfs all others. China is a poor second at a little over $215 billion with the Russians lagging at third with a paltry $66 billion.

God Bless America is a familiar phrase in these United States but when we look at quality of life, God’s blessing has been very selective. We have more billionaires than anyone else and more people in prison than anyone else. The incomes of the most blessed, a tiny section of US society, are staggering. The wealth displayed at the Superbowl for the world to see is not America. It was bizarre to see these players kissing this oblong silver object passed along as if it was some oracle from above. Sport should be a cultural event.

Trump makes much ado about the loss of jobs and especially blue-collar post war jobs that were the traditional home for white males although this changed to a degree after the rise of the CIO and the Civil Rights movement that followed. It is to this constituency that Trump has appealed as these jobs have disappeared due primarily to innovation and technology and moving production oversees where human beings come cheaper.

But as Sarah O’Connor points put in today’s Financial Times, “…prime-age male participation has been falling in the US for 60 years without much panic. What tempered this to a degree was the entrance of women in to the workforce. Immediately after WW11 less than one third of US women were in the workforce and by 1999 that had risen to 60%. *As most workers are aware, back in the 1950’s one income covered a mortgage, today that is almost impossible certainly when we throw in childcare and other related expenses.

But women’s labor force participation is declining along with men and was just under 68% by 2012.This is not the case in most advanced capitalist (OECD) countries as O’Connor points out and the US now has a lower female labor force participation than Japan. Similar factors that have affected male rates affect women’s but there is another major factor and that is the barbaric nature of US capitalism.

In the age of the Internet most people are aware of the disparity in statistics like health care, infant mortality, crime, homelessness working hours, incarceration and basic social services between the US and other OECD countries; even tiny Cuba has a better infant mortality rate than the US. It is this human/family hostile free market haven that is also forcing women out of the workforce reversing the trend that began after WW11. US policy is  “…particularly unsupportive of women who want to stay in work when they have children — with the result that many drop out.”, O’Connor writes.

Despite major gains, women still bear the brunt of housework and basically caring for the family. In the US, pregnancy is almost treated like an illness. Meanwhile it is the expansion of “family friendly” leave policies in other advanced capitalist economies that O’Connor cites as the cause of why US female labour force participation had fallen behind.”

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