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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.

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.

Let’s Get to Work

By Erik Forman - Jacobin, February 7, 2017

The Left has a long tradition of asking ourselves, “What is to be done?” Ever since Lenin posed this rhetorical question, it has served as the hook for an ever-expanding genre of think pieces and calls to action on every imaginable social-movement dilemma.

“What is to be done?” bounces from movement to movement, crisis to crisis, and occasionally illuminates more foundational existential problems of the Left. In that spirit, Jacobin’s recent “Rank and File” issue examined one of our more urgent contemporary questions: what is to be done to revitalize the labor movement?

Contributors offered up numerous diagnoses and prescriptions. Charlie Post pointed out the crucial role the militant minority played in labor’s twentieth-century successes; Jane McAlevey called for “whole worker organizing,” Joe McCartin urged unions not to squander the brief window between the Friedrichs decision and the next attack on collective bargaining rights; and Sam Gindin proposed the “class-based left” as an alternative to social movement unionism.

Since publication of these articles, labor’s crisis has deepened. The right wing now controls all three branches of the federal government and the majority of states. The sequel to Friedrichs, Janus v. AFSCME, is headed for the Supreme Court, threatening to decimate public-sector unions nationwide. Talk of a national right-to-work law is spreading.

Figuring out “what is to be done” has only become more urgent. But there’s a problem with this question, evident first at the level of grammar. “What is to be done?” commits every writing teacher’s cardinal sin: the passive voice. Who is the subject here? Who is going to do what needs to be done?

The absence of an active subject is more than a grammatical problem — it represents the problem of the labor left. The militant minority is small to nonexistent, and it’s not even clear who is going to do the work to rebuild it. There is a large gap between the intellectual left and the working class it discusses.

Working-class voices are rare among the talking heads who dominate left discourse. Most theorists on the Left write of labor from the perspective of intellectuals who stand above the class struggle, rather than workers in the thick of it.

The decision-makers for labor are often literal miles away from their own rank and file. As a result, we more often talk about unions organizing workers than workers organizing unions. Workers are positioned as the objects rather than the subjects of their own organizations.

This alienation manifests in a variety of ways: members don’t participate in meetings, are unready or unwilling to strike, accept concessionary bargaining, and as the recent election made clear, express alarming levels of support for right-wing candidates.

Labor liberals believe these problems can be corrected with small-picture fixes: social media, paper coalitions with community groups, narrow campaigns against this or that particular right-wing legislation, and other tactical shifts that leave the structure of the union unchanged. The present moment shows that this band-aid approach has failed to reverse labor’s decline.

And even if they could, they would not go far enough. The labor left must seek not just to salvage labor’s existing institutions but to transform them and build new ones. Our goal should be to make workers the subjects rather than the objects of their own organizations — and of history.

Our prescription for the labor movement’s renewal needs a new grammar. Instead of asking “What is to be done?”, we could start with a different question: “What should I do?”

As it turns out, the right-wing hecklers we’ve all encountered are half right: we should get jobs. And then we should do what we tell workers to do all the time: organize our workplaces.

This tactic has a name and a history. It’s called “salting,” and it was foundational to the development of the American labor movement.

Beyond Resistance: Defeating Trump’s Burgeoning Dictatorship

By - CounterPunch, January 31, 2017

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dictator is “a ruler or governor whose word is law.” And whether it’s via Trump’s tweeted word, which triggers stocks to rise or drop across the planet, or via his signature on an executive order that just banned over 100 million people, including legal residents, from entering the U.S., Trump seems to be just that. Despite its lack of constitutionality, his word functions as the law. Although his Muslim ban (which discriminates against people based on national origin and religion, and is therefore a breach of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) was temporarily stayed by the courts, Trump released a statement shortly afterward announcing that it remains in complete effect. In this defiance of the law he seems to be following the example of Andrew Jackson. For let us recall that Jackson notoriously defied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, which held that the Indian Removal Act was unconstitutional, and that the brutal removal of the Cherokee people via the infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma be stopped. Jackson (whose portrait was recently hung in Trump’s Oval Office) ignored the Court, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgia to continue.

While it isn’t clear whether Trump or the courts will prevail over the issue of the Muslim ban, it seems clear that the constitutional crisis posed by Trump’s presidency will only intensify (just as the economic crisis, and the ecological crisis, and the refugee crisis that stems from these, will only intensify). And though defensive protests against this burgeoning dictatorship are crucial, and the turnout in airports across the country on Saturday were key to blocking part of Trump’s ban (in law if not in fact), defensive protests alone are insufficient. Offensive actions must also be waged, or those who wish to stop Trump will always be a step behind a movement committed to rapidly gutting society, eliminating basic democratic norms, and instituting barbarism across a wide range of fronts. As when Hannibal marched his elephants and army over the Alps toward Rome, and Scipio defeated him by taking the offense, attacking Carthage and forcing Hannibal to retreat, the opposition to Trump must take the offense. The focus of the resistance ought to be the removal of Trump from power, as well as his accomplices, though this must not be the sole goal. The resistance must also not allow power to revert to those whose policies created the misery that gave rise to Trump in the first place.

As many have pointed out, Trump’s victory can be understood as stemming from a rejection of neoliberalism, particularly the neoliberalism of Clinton and Obama (a political-economic order characterized by permanent war, permanent unemployment, privatization, austerity, and free trade agreements that have hollowed out and impoverished much of the country). Deeply unpopular and mistrusted, most Trump supporters did not support him for positive reasons. One of the most unpopular people to ever run for president of the US, he was supported because he loudly and clearly rejected the miserable neoliberal status quo. It is crucial to point out, however, that Trump was not rejecting the status quo in favor of creating anything genuinely new. As his campaign slogan made patently clear, he was not rejecting the status quo in order to go beyond it. He was rejecting it in order to return, to regress, to a time before neoliberalism (and not just before neoliberalism but before environmental regulations, labor laws, occupational safety and health regulations, rights for women, rights for African-Americans, and other social advances introduced over the past century).

While Trump’s Secretary of State, who represents the interests of Exxon foremost, is overjoyed to roll back environmental laws that infringe upon corporate profits, Trump’s white nationalist (aka alt-right) supporters (who have an accomplice in the White House in the person of Steve Bannon), would like to regress even further back in time, to before modernity itself. Though it may be understated, we can characterize this tendency as reaction. And, because much of the reaction is animated by a rejection of neoliberalism, which it shares with the left, the left ought to make an effort to strengthen itself, and weaken Trump, by encouraging this anti-neoliberal faction of the Trump coalition (many of whom were Bernie Sanders supporters) to switch allegiances. To be sure, according to the legendary military strategist Sun Tzu, the supreme strategy of warfare, after attacking strategy itself, is attacking alliances.

Democratize the union: let the rank-and-file decide!

By Alexander Kolokotronis - ROARMag, January 25, 2017

According to exit poll data, Donald Trump won Ohio union households 54 percent to 41 percent against Hillary Clinton. At the national level, Clinton achieved a narrow victory, winning 51 percent, to Trump’s 42 percent. This despite the fact that labor unions spent more than $100 million in support of Clinton. Of course, factors relating to race, gender and class are at play. Nonetheless, the right-wing slant of union households should also be cause for concern.

Unionization of US workers has declined both under Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses. In the 1950s, approximately 35 percent of US workers were in unions. Today, this number has dropped to a mere 11 percent. Unless organized labor finds solutions to problems pervasive within its own organizations and structures, union membership numbers will continue to shrink, and remaining members will be too cornered to mobilize effectively.

To tackle longstanding administrative and organizational problems endemic to labor unions, we must start with how we approach union dues. That is, creating member-focused and driven mechanisms which endow the rank-and-file with direct control over dues allocation a fiscal base amounting to $8.6 billion in the United States.

Fortunately, such mechanisms of direct control like participatory budgeting  have been tried and tested in other areas of social life. Participatory budgeting has revitalized social life and empowered people through its implementation in municipalities, in schools and colleges, in public housing and now even at the national level. What problems could participatory budgeting address in labor unions? And how can it provide a socialist thrust to one of the bulwarks of the American left?

IWW Resolution Against DAPL and KXL

Resolution passed by the IWW General Executive Board - January 28, 2017

Whereas: Neither the Dakota Access Pipeline nor the Keystone XL Pipeline will provide anywhere near the number of permanent union jobs the promoters of these projects promise they will, and

Whereas: Far more permanent union jobs can be created at comparable wages by repairing existing pipeline infrastructure, such as water mains in Flint, Michigan, or repairing leaks in existing pipelines (which, if unfixed, release harmful amounts of methane, a known greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming); and

Whereas: Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector; and

Whereas: Though these renewable energy jobs are currently, typically nonunion, unions if so determined, could easily develop a successful organizing program, using solidarity unionism, that could revitalize the currently struggling labor movement; and

Whereas: Neither pipeline project will deliver the promised "energy security" or "energy independence" promised by their promoters, including the Building Trades and AFL-CIO Union officials among them; and

Whereas: oil pipelines, such as the aforementioned pipelines tend to leak and create unnecessary risk to the surrounding environment both through methane gas leaks and crude oil spills; and

Whereas: such pipelines endanger the communities along their routes, including many indigenous communities whose tribal sovereignty has been often ignored or violated during the permitting process by agencies subject to regulatory capture by the capitalist interests that promote them; and

Whereas: the construction of these pipelines will contribute to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of currently existing greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to the already dangerous levels of climate change, which could lead to a dead planet with no jobs of any kind; and

Whereas: many unions, including the IWW, have already publically stated opposition to one or both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Whereas: President Donald Trump's "executive orders" that ostensibly "clear a path" for the completion of the aforementioned pipelines  and mandate that they be constructed using US manufactured steel are contradictory in nature and are designed primarily to divide workers and environmentalists over the false dichotomy of "jobs versus the environment", which is utterly false as previously described;

Be it Resolved that: the IWW reaffirms its opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and officially declares its opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW stands in solidarity with the First Nations, union members, environmental activists, and community members who oppose both; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW urges rank and file members of the Building Trades, Teamsters, and other unions who have declared support for these pipelines to call upon their elected officials to reverse their support; and

Be it Finally Resolved that: the IWW demands that the promoters of these pipelines develop a "just transition" plan for the pipeline workers that would be affected by the cancellation of these pipeline projects.

Setting out a left agenda in the Trump era

By Danny Katch - Socialist Worker, January 23, 2017

THE ENORMOUS anti-Trump protests on January 21 are a major opportunity to build a new political resistance. Yet the expanding but still small radical left in the U.S. also faces a major challenge in creating an alternative to the failed strategy of channeling all opposition through the dead end of the Democratic Party.

With the aim of strengthening this left, Jacobin magazine, Haymarket Books and Verso Books organized "The Anti-Inauguration"--a panel discussion of five prominent writers and activists in Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Theatre on the night Trump took office to talk about how to build an opposition to the threat he represents and the rotten status quo that got us into this mess. You can watch a video stream of the event at Facebook.

"Donald Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States," said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. "The shock and disbelief must now give way to defiance and organizing. Part of that pivot demands that we understand how we got here in the first place, but more importantly how we move forward."

War correspondent Anand Gopal, author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, ran through two decades of anti-Muslim measures enacted by Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama before concluding:

It's only because of all of those policies that came before, it's only because of the dog-whistle politics around the questions of Islam, it's only because of the institutionalizing of Islamophobia by three administrations that we could come to a point in 2016 where a man can stand for president and openly call for banning Muslims.

So we need to resist Trump, but we also need to resist a system that makes a Donald Trump possible. That means allying with everybody who's on our side, but maintaining independence from a liberal establishment that aided and abetted this calamity from the very beginning.

Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions

By Patrick Bond - CounterPunch, January 19, 2017

The forces arrayed against Donald Trump’s presidency and neo-fascist movement range from the Central Intelligence Agency to oppressed minorities, and will soon encompass the whole world once his climate change threats are carried out. From above, conflicts will continue with moderate Republicans, Democratic Party elites, so-called Deep State opponents including neoconservative factions of the military, exporting companies concerned about protectionism, and deficit hawks worried about excess spending on filthy-Keynesian infrastructure.

But it’s likely that elite opposition will fade within weeks. Then what about resistance from below? Learning explicitly from apartheid’s defeat, it makes sense to prepare a global Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) strategy against Trump, his leading cronies and United States corporations more generally.

For human rights victims in the US, mutual aid commitments like the new United Resistance linking dozens of campaigning groups and a sanctuary movement (hated by the far right) offer close-to-home “social self-defence,” as activist Jeremy Brecher remarks in his survey of myriad anti-Trump struggles.

When it comes to raising the costs of Trump’s noxious politics internationally and preventing corporations from full cohesion to his program, the US oppressed still must take the lead. Evidence of this is already emerging, with Trump boycotts seeking to delegitimise his political agenda and companies that support it. Internationally, we can predict that when Rex Tillerson takes trips or Trump attends the Hamburg G20 in July, protesters will be out.

Labor under Trump part 3: death of the labor movement?

By S Nicholas Nappalos - Recomposition, January 18, 2017

For years now commentators have predicted the collapse of the unions. This has not happened. There has been a long slow decline with areas of victories as well. Following the Trump victory speculation has been rampant and has led to various proclamations yet again of the death of labor. It is clear that Republican domination of all branches of government poses a real threat to the Democratic-party aligned unions, particularly public sector unions, and that we are entering a new era both for the working class and the vestiges of their historic organizations. Our third piece exploring the potentials for labor under trump comes from one of our editors S Nicholas Nappalos. He argues that while these dangers are real, they also come with new possibilities for a militant participatory workers movement. Moreover it is not apolitical unions that can address the weaknesses of the labor movement heading into a collision with this government, but an active politicized union movement marking its opposition to both capital and the state. 

Labor’s death under trump? the potential for a renewed workers movement in an era of dangers

It’s no secret that the labor movement of the United States is in serious danger. Every year union membership continues to shrink. This happens despite large scale organizing attempts by the minority of unions willing to do something about it. Having put all their eggs in the basket of the Democrats, AFL-CIO and Change To Win unions were handed a spectacular failure with the election of a Republican sweep of all branches of government. All this comes on the heels of a broad decay of living conditions amongst the working class in general, but disproportionately concentrated upon women, blacks, latinos, and indigenous communities in particular. The Democrats kept their loyalty to business interests at all costs and the unions largely didn’t flinch.

Today the vast majority of union members are public employees, and attacks on their ability to bargain and sustain union membership are all but certain by the incoming Congress. If something significant doesn’t change we can anticipate nation-wide union membership in the single digits, whole regions virtually union free in some areas (many states in the South presently sit at less than 3-5% unionization rates), and a calling of the question on the labor movement’s ability to defend the workers. 2016 is set to close with ominous tones as the second largest union in the US, SEIU, plans to cut their budget by 30% as revealed in a leaked internal memo with clear implications for organizing in the coming days.[1]

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