Responses to Recent Portside Labor Posts
* Re: Can The Unions Survive? (Judy Atkins, Laurel MacDowell)
* Re: South Africa's Mine Massacre Reveals Ugly Realities
(Michael Eisenscher, Ethan Young, Marilyn Albert, David
* Re: The Skills Gap Myth - There Are Far Too Few Skilled
Workers For Some Jobs? Really? (Carl Davidson)
* Re: Why Are Our Public Schools Up For Sale? (Bruce Rosen)
* Re: The Broken Table: Tale of a Newspaper Strike that Didn't
End Happily (Like in Newsies) (Larry Goldbetter)
* Re: Can The Unions Survive?
The future of the left and of unions is inseparably linked.
One goes down, the other goes down, and vis versa. Without
organization, the working class is pretty much voiceless, and
the left is without its base.
Nelson Lichtenstein makes the case that the organization of
private sector workers is crucial to the future of progressive
politics. Unions that are doing their job, organize and
educate their members and help to develop the democratic and
leadership skills that then can be applied in the public arena
Lichtenstein is talking about electoral politics, but I think
it is true for the other realms of political engagement.
Unions are the only organization I can think of which are
composed of workers exclusively. All other organizations are
cross class groupings, usually led by people from another
I don't mean to say that people's political views are solely
determined by their class, but it becomes easy for the demands
of workers to be ignored in favor of other priorities. And
easy for activists to complain that U.S. workers are too
We need workers to be organized in a worker-directed union
movement in order to have a solid footing from which to
develop progressive and socialist struggles.
With all the incredibly difficult situations facing all of us
in the left, I believe their should be a concentration on
organizing, and not in a self serving manner, but for the
purpose of developing a working class which can speak up and
struggle against its own exploitation here and everywhere.
This is an interesting analysis, but it neglects a few
factors. There has been an enormous shift in wealth in the
last 30 years. It has gone to large multinational corporations
and financial institutions in the form of corporate bonuses,
and disastrous financial manipulations for profit which
brought about the economic crash in 2008. These powerful
interests have decided it is not enough to have money and
influence; they now want to have more political power and are
pursuing that interest in an organized way. Politicians who
support corporate interests have cut taxes for companies and
for the very rich for years. They want to do away with social
security of all types. They can now buy votes, thanks to the
packed conservative supreme court. But that is not enough!
They have orchestrated legislation in quite a few states to
make it harder for poor people to vote. They are fundamentally
undemocratic. And they hate unions. Corporations in America
have succeeded in smashing the labour movement in much of the
private sector and now they are attacking public sector
The result of all of these policies is that they will
impoverish and bring down the country. Because you cannot have
a good country with only 1 % with money, no matter how rich
More recently the Republicans, as they move right, have added
to their racism and anti-unionism, antagonism to women,
including endorsing forced pregnancies.
Why? Studies have shown that when you have a small group of
very rich people, they come to believe that they are at the
top because they are better than everyone else. They feel
entitled and they see themselves not just as privileged but as
superior. That is where they get into trouble because such a
world view is fundamentally delusional, but also undemocratic
and it leads to ruthlessness. That is why recently you hear
that Paul Ryan and the head of Exxon-Mobil like the writings
of Ayn Rand. Fundamentally these people are fascists, so the
US, which historically was always an experiment in democracy
is rapidly going in the direction of other less wealthy
countries which have dictators with the support of their
military, ethnic divisions, and beastly policies towards
women. And of course they have no unions, unions being
It is great the unions are supporting the Democratic Party
even though they get little for their support but such support
is a drop in the bucket compared to the vast sums of money the
corporate and wealthy donors are giving to Romney now that the
Supreme Court has allowed them to do openly.
I think the time has come for Americans who want to preserve
democracy in their country to call a spade a spade. The Occupy
movement was refreshing because it did that, but it is the
union and environmental movements that know how to organize.
They have to get out the message (not easy when up against
that crook Murdoch who owns Fox News) that if you want a fair,
free country, people need to elect Obama firstly and THEN they
need to clean up the mess. That means curbing corporate power,
reforming the tax system to make it fairer, regulating
political donations of the citizenry in a fair way, and
basically creating a bottom up social movement to transform
American politics and make them democratic and fair. This is a
tough task, but for people who are losing everything - jobs,
pensions, educational opportunities, etc. it may be worth it
to join such a movement.
What is the chance of this happening and succeeding? Pretty
slim! But what is the alternative? I was hoping those climate
deniers in the Republican Party would get soaked by the
hurricane as a reminder of another earthchanging issue they
are ignoring, because they love the current status quo.
Americans need to get angry at the nonsense and think about
what kind of country and society they want and need. Because
the Republican blueprint is not only scary, but a failure
democratically, economically and socially. Peace!
Re: South Africa's Mine Massacre Reveals Ugly Realities
There is much in the article by Leonard Gentle that offers
valuable insight into developments in South Africa that
mystify, perplex or confuse distant observers. But there is
also something missing.
Brother Gentle says, "The mine owners have been aided by the
ANC in maintaining this scenario. By sending police to attack
workers, the ANC moved to defend the new elite in South
Africa: old white business owners garnished with a sprinkling
of politically connected Blacks.
"The ANC is stepping squarely into the shoes of its apartheid
predecessors, acting to secure the profits of corporate mining
interests through violence. Successive governments always have
done what was necessary to ensure a cheap, divided, and
compliant labor force for the mines."
Yet he offers no explanation for what might explain the ANC's
transformation from a revolutionary vanguard that successfully
led the movement that defeated Apartheid and liberated the
nation's majority into a willing servant of the old ruling
class with the addition of "sprinkling of politically
Given its revolutionary history and historic contribution to
the defeat of Apartheid, what accounts for this transformation
by ANC? Brother Gentle offers no explanation. He simply
asserts it as a self-evident fact deserving no further
exploration. That may be because his analysis of the labor
conflict in the mining sector stops at the borders of the
South African state. Yet what he describes are the
consequences of class conflicts that can be properly
understood only if what is happening in South Africa today and
what has transpired since its liberation from Apartheid are
placed in the context of the neo-liberal phase of global
What is happening in South Africa may have its peculiar
national expressions but it is reflective of a process that
has impacted national liberation and working class movements
around the world, including in the U.S. The South African
experience has its peculiar manifestations but the rise of
precarious work relationships and informalization of
employment relations, the use of third party labor
contractors, exploitation of ethnic, language, racial and
other divisions within the working class, and the ascendance
of a new "knowledge class" of workers associated with the
impact of technological change - and the contradictions these
changes create for entrenched labor union bureaucracies - are
a common denominator of the neo-liberal capitalist model.
How else are we to explain, less understand, what accounts for
the counter-revolutionary role of one of the most important
and successful revolutionary institutions of the 20th century
national liberation struggles?
I, for one, would welcome further explanation.
Leonard Gentle writes:
'The major labor organizations, the National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM), and the federation to which it
belongs, COSATU, are rallying behind their ally--the
'They are all stigmatizing the strikers and the
breakaway union they have joined, the Association of
Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), as a
union" that is "paid for" by corporate interests.
'Why corporations would pay to form a striking,
union rather than a union like NUM that enforces labor
peace makes no sense. But some people choose to
I think he's being naive here. Corporations have every reason
to prefer a feisty union to a quieter one, if the feisty one
is tiny and unstable, and the other is large, established and
In the face of a tragedy, observers want answers: who is
responsible, what does it tell us about the situation in South
Africa. Workers' blood has been shed by police, and that must
point back to the ANC government in whose name the police act.
Things get more complicated when union rivalries and political
alliances are part of the picture.
The answers will be a longer time in coming than we would
like, but a simple 'good guys/bad guys' frame won't provide
them in this case.
* Radio show on massacre of miners in South Africa
On Monday there will be a radio show produced by journalist
David Bacon about the Marikana massacre in South Africa -- a
topic generating much debate in the US labor movement.
Listen live at 7am Pacific Time on Monday or anytime on the
internet. The show is called "Upfront" on KPFA, www.kpfa.org
Hour-long Labor Day Show on the Massacre of South African
On Monday KPFA will air an hour-long special show produced by
journalist David Bacon about the Marikana massacre in South
Africa -- a topic generating much debate in the US labor
Interviews will include Greg Marinovich of the South Africa
Daily Maverick, Patrick Craven, national spokesperson of the
Congress of South African Trade Unions, and Chris Mathlako,
international secretary of the South African Communist Party.
In-studio commentary will be provided by Jean Damu.
Listen live at 7am Pacific Time on Monday or anytime on the
internet. The show is "Upfront" on KPFA, 94.1 FM or online at
www.kpfa.org The show will be archived after broadcast for
those unable to listen live.
* Re: The Skills Gap Myth
There Are Far Too Few Skilled Workers For Some Jobs? Really?
I don't doubt any of the stories told in this article. But I know from a study we did at the Center for Labor and Community Research in Chicago, funded by the Dept of Labor, that the city's school came up 12,000 graduates short every year in applicants with high-tech manufacturing skills--robotics and systems design and management--for positions open in the Chicago area. We designed and started a new public high school in a low-income, all Black neighborhood called Austin Polytechnical Academy on the basis of that study. In addition to Chicago unions, like the teachers and the Machinists, we were able to recruit 20 high tech firms to partner with this school. They were quite willing to donate state-of-the art equipment to the school, and train teachers on how to use it, as well as offer the kids internship, summer jobs and, in a number of cases, hiring on graduation. If they had gone beyond the Midwest or even abroad, they may have found suitable new hires, but they preferred
hiring locally. There's more than one side to this story.
* Re: Why Are Our Public Schools Up For Sale?
Please see NY Times' Frank Bruni re Teachers on the Defensive
Round-up of leading thinkers on parent-trigger laws
NYC Public School Parents: FAQ re the movie "Won't Back Down"
Parent trigger « Diane Ravitch's blog
* Re: The Broken Table: Tale of a Newspaper Strike that Didn't
End Happily (Like in Newsies)
Chris Rhomberg is a member of the National Writers Union/UAW
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