The missing and murdered Indigenous people movement in Canada has been gaining increasing awareness in the past few months. More and more groups are lobbying the federal government to call a national inquiry into the disappearances and murders of thousands of First Nations men and
The post Stark similarities of missing indigenous peoples of North and South America appeared first on Two Row Times.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that there will be peace in my lifetime.”
For Miko Peled, an Israeli peace activist, a one-state solution is inevitable. For years he has been speaking around the world, advocating for a single, democratic state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s not common to hear this coming from a man who grew up in a prominent Zionist family. Peled’s grandfather signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 and his father was a Major General in the Israel Defense Forces who fought in several wars. Peled was raised not to question the Jewish state or its discrimination against Palestinians.
After the Israeli Cabinet ignored his father’s investigation of a 1967 Israeli war crime, his father became a leading advocate for an Israeli dialogue with the PLO and for the complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. He was shunned for his activism and proposal for a two-state solution.
Peled followed in his father’s footsteps. He trained with the Israel Special Forces, but appalled by what he saw, surrendered his status soon after he earned it.
Years later in 1997, his 13-year-old niece was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem; his sister Nurit insisted the tragedy was a consequence of the occupation. It’s at this moment when Peled began to seriously examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and dedicate his life to activism.
Last year he published his book The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, whichexplains the myths and misconceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With an expected Palestinian majority in Israel by 2020, Peled says the apartheid wall will have to come down.
I caught up with Miko Peled just before his Toronto lecture on a warm October day where he explained what it will take to form a one-state solution, what it was like to serve in the Israel Special Forces, and how despite the mainstream media’s statements, Israel has never been under threat.
You’ve been speaking at many events in the West, but not in Israel. You’ve said previously your book isn’t promoted in Israel, it’s not sold in bookshops, Israelis are ignoring it. How do you think it’s possible to create a one-state democracy when Israelis don’t even want to hear about this proposal?
Israel is one state and it governs the entire country. A lot of people think that there’s a Palestine and an Israel and they’re at war. Israel and Palestine are two names for the exact same country. Even though the communities are completely segregated, they’re very close to each other. Everybody is governed by the same government. Except, the Palestinians don’t get to participate in the process. They’re deprived of rights, water, land; they get shot, killed; they’re thrown in prison.
So it’s one state already and it’s always going to be a one state. The question is- is it going to continue to be like this? Which is what Israel wants and Israel supporters are fine to have it continue. Or if people feel that it’s wrong and there needs to be justice towards everybody who lives there, then we have to fight to transform it into a democracy.
That’s how the world got behind the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and that’s how apartheid fell. The Israelis don’t need to like it; they don’t need to know about it; they don’t need to agree. Whites in South Africa, or whites in the United States in the south, they didn’t agree to end racism. If they agreed, it wouldn’t be a problem. People never agree to give up their privileges. But the world rallied around it, people rallied around it, and apartheid fell in South Africa. That’s how it happens.
So, I don’t think it matters whether Israelis know about it or not, or agree to it or not. They’re going to wake up one morning and there’s going to be a new reality. I think the world is already rallying behind this idea that Palestinians should also have rights, that their rights should be respected.
What will it take to create a single, democratic state?
It’s not easy. You have to rally around the idea, you have to protest, you have to make sure politicians listen; there has to be a strong pressure applied on Israel. You may have heard of BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement on Israel]. More and more people have to realize that there’s a terrible tragedy being perpetuated there by Israel.
The other aspect is that we have 6.5 million Israelis, 6 million Palestinians. In the next five to seven years there’s going to be a majority Palestinian population. So how much longer is it sustainable to keep people without rights who count for half or over half of the population in a small country? It’s not sustainable.
Something is going to happen anyway so we need to help that thing to happen. I think this transformation into democracy is inevitable where it’s going to require the world to apply pressure on Israel and of course the reality on the ground is going to be contributing to it as well.
Whenever Gaza is under attack (or any region with a Muslim majority), we always hear on the mainstream media how Israel has the right to defend itself, that it’s under existential threat from surrounding countries or from groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. How much of a threat do you think these groups pose to Israel?
Zero. Israel is not under threat; it’s never been under threat. It’s got the biggest army in the region; it’s the biggest bully around.
Hamas and Hezbollah are resistance movements. Resistance movements act as a response to something, as a response to oppression, as a resistance to occupation. They’re not initiating the violence; they’re responding to the violence and fighting back.
To be fair to the Palestinians, the vast majority of Palestinian resistance has always been unarmed resistance; it’s just that the violent, armed resistance always gets all the attention.
But of course there’s going to be resistance- who wouldn’t fight back? What are they going to do, just sit there and let planes drop bombs on them and nobody’s going to do anything? Is it realistic? Almost two million people who live under such horrific conditions and there won’t be any armed resistance, there won’t be any response at all? It’s stupid to think that away.
If Israel wants the rockets to stop being fired at them from Gaza, then they need to end the oppression and give them the freedom. It’s all in the hands of Israel. If Israel doesn’t want to fight Hezbollah, then it knows what to do.
In the past 5-7 years we’ve seen news concerning Israel shift from Palestine to Iran. Yesterday Obama announced Iran is a year away from building a nuclear bomb. In September 2012 Netanyahu demonstrated with his bomb caricature at the UN that Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb by June 2013. June came and passed- nothing happened. Many deadlines like this were made and amounted to nothing. What do u think of Iran and the ‘nuclear problem’? Do u think it’s a threat?
No, not at all; it’s not a threat. When I think about Iran, I think of 75 million Iranians that have to suffer these horrible sanctions that have been imposed on them. They occupied no one; they attacked no one. I’m thinking of the same 75 million Iranians that have to worry everyday if an Israeli fighter jet is going to come and start bombing them, once again for no reason at all. They’ve done nothing; they’ve threatened no one. I don’t think they’re capable, and I don’t think they’re interested; Iran doesn’t have a nuclear bomb and Israel does. The whole issue was brought up as a smokescreen to divert attention from what Israel does in Gaza and other parts of Palestine.
I remember last October [before Israeli elections] people were asking me, ‘Will Israel attack? Will there be an October surprise?’ I said, ‘Of course they’re not going to attack. Why would they attack?’ Israel needs the issue. It’s politics. If they have the issue, it’s like you said, from time to time, they climb up on the tree and say, Iran’s going to do this and Iran’s going to do that. And when it’s over, they come down off the tree, life goes on and nothing happens. And once again they climb up the tree and they start shouting Iran, Iran, Iran.
But there is no threat. Israel has got nothing to gain by attacking and everything to gain by keeping the issue alive, which is exactly what it’s doing.
Since October 1973 the U.S. has been providing Israel far more money than any other country in the world. The U.S. provides Israel $8.5 million in military aid everyday despite the fact that Israel is a wealthy, industrial state, a First World country, with high human development and some of the world’s best universities. Why do you think this is?
I wish I knew. I think that’s the million-dollar question. I think a lot of the fact has to do with Americans. They’re so ill informed that they don’t even know where their money is going. They think it’s going to support the Jewish state, it’s under threat, we’re saving the poor Jews and all this nonsense. Considering that Americans pay more money than any other country to Israel, it’s amazing how little they know. It’s tragic. It’s pathetic really.
On top of that you have a really strong Israeli lobby that influences American politics. It’s a very effective lobby. No American politician would dare suggest not to support Israel, would dare suggest reducing even by a penny the foreign aid, suggest to stop selling Israel weapons, even though Israel doesn’t need the money or the weapons. It’s not under threat. This is the absurd reality.
The only thing left is for grassroots movements to get up and start asking these questions. You’re going see this in Toronto too pretty soon, you can go and see it in America, it may already have happened in Vancouver, where they have billboards and posters on public transportation educating people about this issue.
People need to be informed. Canadians need to know, what it is that their government is supporting. The Canadian government is supporting Israel whole-heartedly 110% Why? It’s making Canadians look bad and I would encourage Canadians to get informed and get behind this cause of changing the regime in Israel and creating a real democracy.
One myth that you expose is about the 1967 war. You state Israel didn’t go to war because they were under existential threat, rather that it was a war of choice. What exactly happened?
The Military High Command wanted the civilian governments to approve a pre-emptive strike [against Egypt] and they were hesitating. As the military was giving out information, they kept saying that Israel is under an existential threat, we have to wait, we can’t attack now, we have to wait for politicians to decide, but the existential threat remains. This was the message coming out of the military. Israelis really thought the Arabs were going to come kill us like the Nazis did. I remember as a kid there was this fear, that the Arabs are going to come kill us, they’re going to come in our house and slaughter all of us.
Of course the war passed quickly. Then in order to justify keeping the territories that were conquered and occupied [Gaza, West Bank, Golan Heights, Sinai Peninsula], they brought this back, and they said Israel can’t give back the territories, Israel has to be strong, Israel needs it because Israel is always under existential threat.
This feeling of existential threat is kept alive all the time in order to justify keeping territories, to justify the mistreatment of Palestinians, the ongoing militarization of Israel as a state and as a society, it’s always there in order to justify what Israel is doing. There’s this constant message- they’re trying to kill us, they all want to kill us. So it’s being used like that.
But both my dad and other generals later on said, there was no existential threat, it’s a joke, anybody could see there was no threat. This was a war of choice. And that’s the choice we made to go to war.
What did you observe while serving in the Israel Special Forces that made you question Israel’s policies?
Little by little I saw things that didn’t make sense to me. For example, there are lots of long marches at night. The base is in the West Bank by Palestinian villages and on Palestinian land. At night when we would march, we would trample over crops. I would think, why are we trampling over these crops? These are crops! The next morning some farmer is going to get up and his crops are going to be destroyed. I remember trying to say something and of course you’re told to shut up and keep walking.
Then, we would patrol Palestinian cities. We were given batons and handcuffs. We’re a combat unit, infantry unit- why do we need batons and handcuffs? What are we, cops? The directions we were given were: we were supposed to patrol the streets, just walk up and down the streets, not do anything in particular, but if anybody so much as looks at us, you break every bone in their body. You smash the hell out of them.
Now imagine the city- just a normal city, streets, cars, people, shops. Suddenly twenty soldiers, combat soldiers in full gear are marching up and down the street. Can you imagine there would be anyone who wouldn’t look at us? So are we supposed to beat everyone up? What a weird thing to say.
Little by little I realized this is not what I signed up for. This is not what I thought we were going to do. We are really a part of this occupation thing; we aren’t soldiers.
If you had known when you were younger what you know now, would you have still joined the Israel Special Forces?
When I was 18, if I knew what I know now, there is absolutely no way in the world that I would have set foot, that I would have worn the uniform for one day.
It’s interesting that I didn’t know; it’s almost strange to me. You get indoctrinated into a certain narrative. There was never any talk. Even though my family was progressive on this issue, the progressiveness remained within the Zionist parameters, which is typical for liberal Israelis.
Nobody discussed what happened in 1948, beyond saying that it was an act of heroism, and that the Jewish state was created. And all the other wars that took place after that, nobody questioned the actual Zionist narrative, nobody went beyond those parameters, which is something that I did. Even in my family the parameters were kept pretty clear as to where the discussion was going to go.
If Netanyahu or Zionists were listening to you right now, what would you tell them?
That’s easy. I would tell them that when we all get old or older, and our children and grandchildren will ask us where we stood on this issue, people are going to be ashamed to say they did not support the Palestinian cause. Very ashamed.
If you talk to people in Canada and ask them did they participate in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, nobody will say, ‘no, we supported the Afrikaners, we supported apartheid,’ although many people did. The struggle to end apartheid was very tough and I hear this from a lot of activists who participated. A lot of people in the West supported apartheid, didn’t want it to end. Presidents and Prime Ministers, but you’re not going to get anybody admitting it today. In Germany today, you’re not going to find a single person who was a Nazi. Nobody will say ‘yeah, my grandfather was a Nazi and I’m proud of it.’
You want to be able to tell your grandchildren that you were on the right side of justice, that you were on the right side of an issue. There’s nobody that’s involved in this issue that doesn’t know which side is the right side, which side is the side of justice. It’s absolutely clear. Yet people like Netanyahu and people who support the state of Israel choose to be on the wrong side, they choose to be on the side of the oppressors, on the side that violates human rights, that kills children, that denies people water even though they live in the desert, people who throw excrement into wells and block people from their land and from their water sources.
Are they going to be proud to say that to their grandkids one day? All of this today sounds like, ‘wow, we’ve never heard of this.’ But in twenty years everyone is going to know this; it’s going to be common knowledge.
Mersiha Gadzo is a Toronto-based multimedia journalist with interests in global politics, human rights and social justice issues. View more of Mersiha’s work HERE.
"Counciling T.O. Wards 2014" is a discussion with each of the 44 Toronto city councilors. The interviews aim to give insight into local issues at a time of chaos when it can sometimes be hard to tell fact from campaign rhetoric. This episode features Ward 33 Councilor Shelley Carroll and discusses everything from the TDSBs relationship with IEPs to infrastructure post Pan Am, the recent storm that left people without power for days if not weeks and everything in between. Credits Interviewer Bebe Goldmacher Camera Ed Bradley
The fate of Heather Place, an affordable housing complex some have described as Vancouver's next "Little Mountain," is still unclear. Read more ...Related Stories
Went to Saskatoon and got some great answers to the question: What would you tell your younger self? SUBSCRIBE and check out our other videos! http://www.ope... From: OperationMaple Views: 61 7 ratings Time: 03:20 More in People & Blogs
“Today” personality Kathie Lee Gifford was recently admonished by NBC higher-ups for promoting her line of wines, the punnily named Gifft, on-air. The idea, in part, is that “Today” is to some degree a news program, one that ought to be held to a higher standard than a regular chatfest.
Fortunately Gifford has a podcast, where she has for months been endorsing personal causes, from her wine to right-wing politics. It turns out that Gifford is something of a Trojan horse for conservatism, presenting for an hour a day the banal niceties that get viewers through the morning–then putting out a weekly podcast that’s one long dog whistle with occasional wine plugs.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course — Gifford’s entitled to her opinions. But the success of her TV persona has rested upon the perception of Gifford as a freewheeling truth-teller who will say anything on camera. As it so happens, this whole time she’s been holding back more than a few opinions.
On a recent podcast episode, for instance, Gifford interviewed Cal Thomas, a Fox News commentator who has said that no new mosques should be allowed to be built in the U.S. and has been outspoken against acceptance of homosexuality. Oddly, Gifford consistently represented Thomas as a nonpartisan figure striving only to find solutions to unnamed crises. “There’s no hidden agenda with you, is there? You just love this country and want it to be great.” The pair went on to discuss the necessity of Congressional term limits (because, in Gifford’s telling, the human heart is twisted and dark) and the so-called “Age of Entitlement.” Gifford told a stem-winder about how she once confronted Hillary Clinton and asked her when rich people “became the enemy.” (The social safety net, in Gifford’s telling, “destroys lives” because dreams of growing rich are what make life worth living.)
Gifford and Thomas agree on just about everything — for much of the interview, neither will mention President Obama at all, but they shame the listeners for not voting, or for not paying attention to the consequences of how they voted. (The idea that those who vote for Democrats were somehow tricked into it and not thinking is an old conservative canard that Obama’s popularity at election time has brought roaring back.) When Obama finally came up explicitly, it was in Gifford’s allegation that his administration is not telling the truth over Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers: “I don’t know that there’s a person on the planet who believes those numbers are true.” Thomas said those who did were “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
And so it is with Gifford — without a TV production team holding her back, she’s considerably more loose-lipped than she is on “Today.” Her interviews (all available here) had, for a long time, been focused on either generic show business gab or Gifford’s brand of evangelical Christianity (viz. interviews with the cast of the film “Son of God” or with, say, Glenn Beck). The political turn has been a more recent development, with Candace Cameron Bure using the show as a platform to defend her claims that wives should be “submissive” to their husbands, or with Donald Trump stopping by after CPAC. Gifford joked that Trump “didn’t need a TelePrompTer” — a random reference to year-2008 critiques of Obama — and said that those who believe the Tea Party has any position on social issues are confused. “It’s not the social issues — they keep combining the social issues. The Tea Party, as I understand it, was low taxation, small government, and fiscal responsibility. By that definition, that’s me!”
And why not? Gifford has, through her career, been outspoken not about politics but about religious belief, from her advocacy work for children to her Broadway musical about Charismatic Christian Aimee Semple McPherson. But it’s not shocking that she, a wealthy woman of faith, would hold conservative beliefs. It is a little shocking, though, that she expresses them so freely as someone in the employ of a network news program — would she be as easily able to allege, on “Today,” that the president were lying about Obamacare enrollment? Or to put out nebulous language about the war on the wealthy? We have no idea what Gifford’s “Today” cohort believes politically — if Matt Lauer voted at all, no one’s heard about it. But “Today” is ostensibly, at least in part, a news show, if a softball one. And Gifford’s insistence that people need to wake up and see it her way is the nastiest side of conservatism: the belief that the baseline human should see this worldview as the common-sense solution, and that other outcomes are the result of weird subterfuge. That’s how Cal Thomas becomes a figure who, very simply, just wants America to be great.
Gifford’s podcast is compulsively listenable for the new insight it offers into the brain of a person whose life has been up for public consumption since the early nineties. That said individual is really, really interested in conservative talking points is not troubling in and of itself. At least, if one presumes that a deep-seated belief that a massive swath of the country has been tricked into hating the rich has as little bearing over one’s ability to cover the news objectively as does a new line of novelty wines–and that both can be easily put aside.Related Stories
Rejecting dozens of heroic characters, from Captain America to Underdog, Republicans last week chose instead a villain for their figurehead.
They selected Prince John, the guy who coddled the rich and tried to crush Robin Hood. House Republicans voted to elevate Prince John as their champion when they passed a budget slashing taxes for the rich and decimating programs for workers and low-income Americans.
Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who authored the anti-Robin Hood spending plan, said the budget “comes down to a matter of trust.” Trust, Ryan believes, should be placed in the rich and Washington politicians like him, a Prince John man who devised a spending scam enriching the rich and depriving the rest. Ryan asked, “Who knows better: the people or Washington?” The GOP answer: Washington, of course. A place purchased by the very, very rich.
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending plan takes health care from the poor and elderly and gives tax breaks to the rich and super rich. Really. Republicans voted to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Nice, right? Except for Americans who depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.
Republicans voted to voucherize Medicare, which would force senior citizens to pay thousands of dollars more each year. Ryan and his fellow House Republicans voted to kill Obamacare, which means the 7.1 million who got insurance on the exchanges would lose it; the 3.1 million young people covered under Obamacare’s extension of their parents’ plans would lose insurance, and the 3 million who got insurance under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would lose it.
That’s 13 million without health insurance, in addition to low-income seniors struggling to pay premiums as Ryan’s vouchers lose value. But, hey, billionaires get a tax break!
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending scheme provides more money for guns and less for bread. Republicans would increase military spending by $483 billion above caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act while slashing non-arms spending by $791 billion.
That works out well for Republican hawks like John McCain who want to “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Not so much for low income parents who want their children to eat. Republicans voted to cut food stamps, school lunches and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The GOP serenade to those Americans: “Starve, starve, starve, starve, starve poor kids.”
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending plan robs low-income Americans of funding for Pell Grants, Head Start and special education while granting tax breaks to corporations so profitable that they are sitting on $1.5 trillion in cash. Republicans would hand corporations a tax rate cut from 35 to 25 percent, while ensuring that an uneven educational playing field prevents impoverished Americans from ever achieving those new, lower tax rates for the rich.
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood plan would pierce Big Bird’s heart with an arrow while freeing corporations from paying taxes on overseas corporate earnings. Just to be clear, that would mean the death of Junior’s Sesame Street program and his daddy’s manufacturing job, since this tax system would encourage corporations to ship factories overseas where profits wouldn’t be taxed.
Ryan said federal subsidies for Big Bird’s nest – the non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting – “can no longer be justified.” But, Republicans believe, for-profit corporations that don’t provide public education should pay no taxes at all on offshore earnings – even while Americans supply the big military stick that protects these corporations’ foreign facilities.
Washington politician Paul Ryan’s priorities are not America’s. Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe corporations should pay the same tax rate on foreign profits as they do on domestic profits.
Forced to choose, the majority would pick Big Bird over a big bomb. Support for the war in Afghanistan has plummeted to 17 percent. Fewer than 13 percent support military action against Russia for its actions in Ukraine.
Some 70 percent of Americans oppose cuts to food stamps. Similarly, 69 percent want the nation’s education system improved. Sixty-one percent say the rich don’t pay enough taxes.Sixty-six percent believe corporations don’t pay enough taxes. Seventy-four percent favor the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.
The Republicans’ priorities are all wrong. As were those of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Ryan and his right-wing crew focus on the demands of the wealthy and ignore the values of the vast majority of Americans.
Ryan uses magical accounting to assert that his budget will balance in a decade. Eliminating the deficit is an urgent matter for Ryan and Washington Republicans, but it’s not among the top priorities of most Americans. Theirs are improving the economy and increasing jobs. Republicans ignored that, approving a budget that will reduce jobs.
Over decades, Americans created and strengthened social programs for themselves that they now cherish. These include Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Head Start, and public radio and television.
In polls, Americans have even said they are willing to pay more taxes to support beloved social welfare programs. Most believe, however, that if corporations and billionaires paid their fair share, these programs would not be threatened. For example, if millionaires paid the same percentage of their income into Social Security that minimum wage earners do, the trust fund would not run dry in 20 years potentially limiting benefits in 2033.
In a principled budget process, elected representatives would fairly tax the rich, not steal from the poor. There’s even a partial antidote for Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood budget. It’s called theRobin Hood tax. It’s a tiny fee on financial transactions. Many experts believe it would discourage risky trading on Wall Street while raising billions for programs like Pell Grants and Big Bird. Eleven European Union nations, including the four largest, are moving toward levying it.
That tax is not in the Republicans’ anti-Robin Hood spending scheme. That’s because Ryan’s a Washington politician who believes he knows better than the American people.Related Stories
SAN ANTONIO (CN) - An off-duty San Antonio police officer shot to death an unarmed black man as he walked away from a restaurant drive-through, the man's parents claim in court.Cheryl Jones and Black Lamkin sued the city, police Officer Robert Encina, Quinonez Foodservice, Chacho's 8614 Perrin Beitel Ltd. and John Burke, president of Quinonez and Chacho's, in Federal Court.Their son, Marquis Jones, 23, was a passenger a car driven by Fabian Garcia on Feb. 28. Jones' sister, Whitney Jones, and her roommate, Dominue Carter, also were passengers. None are parties to the lawsuit.Garcia's car struck the car in front of it in the drive-through lane at Chacho's and Chalucci's, a Tex-Mex restaurant in northeast San Antonio. The collision was minor, no damage was done and the unidentified driver of the other car returned to her vehicle to wait on her order "without incident" after Garcia apologized, the parents say in the complaint.Encina was in uniform working security at the restaurant."Out of nowhere, defendant Encina approached Garcia's car and demanded that he turn off his vehicle and get out of his car for no lawful reason," the 26-page complaint states. "Defendant Encina searched and handcuffed Garcia and used inappropriate force on him. Jones, witnessing how defendant Encina was treating Garcia, became afraid and decided he would leave so that he would not be attacked by defendant Encina."Jones was afraid because he Officer Encina harassed him a few days before, his parents say."Defendant Encina, noticing Jones leaving, pushed Garcia aside and began to pursue Jones," the complaint states. "Not once did defendant Encina identify himself or command Jones to stop. Defendant Encina, for no lawful reason or fear of imminent danger, pulled out his service revolver and shot Jones in the back as he attempted to leave Chacho's. There exist no reasons for Defendant Encina to shoot and kill Jones in cold blood."Police told the San Antonio Express-News that Jones displayed a handgun as he left the front passenger seat. They said Jones ran and collapsed after a short distance, dying at the scene. Jones' handgun was found nearby, police claimed.Jones' parents disagree. They say Garcia and his passengers were leaving to go home and that they "did not want any problems, nor were they causing any problems.""Upon information made available to the plaintiffs by a number of witnesses, Jones did not have a gun in his hand nor was he attempting to cause bodily harm to defendant Encina," the complaint states." Defendant Encina fatally shot Jones in the back for no lawful reason as he attempted to leave Chacho's."The parents claim Encina has a "short fuse" and a bad history of dealing with minorities, particularly blacks. They claim Encina was suspended from the police department for 45 days after an incident in 2010 at Mama Margie's Restaurant in San Antonio involving black males."Defendant Encina was found to be highly intoxicated, used profanity, insulted customers and employees of Mama Margie's, assaulted an employee and identified himself as 'a baller' and 'from the East side' as he initiated a confrontation with several African American males and employees of Mama Margie's," the complaint states.Encina has been known to harass customers at Chacho's as well, the parents claim.They blame the city for having "a longstanding record" of not providing officers with adequate training and of not stopping excessive force and extrajudicial killings. They claim police officials know its internal affairs section is a "real problem.""As a result of the lack of training and the official custom or policies of the SPD, San Antonio remains at the top of the list in the state of Texas for police misconduct," the complaint states. "The internal affairs section of the SPD has received hundreds of complaints involving the use of excessive force by police officers without ever having taken disciplinary action. This has resulted in a failure to supervise, discipline, counsel, or otherwise control police officers who are known or should be known to engage in the use of excessive force."The parents also claim that Chacho's is an unsafe establishment - that police have been called there 220 times since 2012."During the same period of time, SPD officers responded to a restaurant across the street from Chacho's 13 times and a liquor store two blocks north of Chacho's 17 times since the start of 2012," the complaint states.City officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.The parents seek actual and punitive damages for wrongful death, excessive force, racial profiling, negligence, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are represented by Daryl Washington of Dallas.
This piece was originally published in Monthly Review and republished here with the author’s permission.
This old airport’s got me down—it’s no earthly good to me, ‘cause I’m stuck here on the ground as cold and drunk as I can be. You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train. So, I’d best be on my way in the early morning rain.
—Gordon Lightfoot, “Early Morning Rain,” 1966
My hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan, was once known as the Furniture Capital of the world. The furniture industry moved south, and then overseas, but in the 1970s a few stalwarts still plied the pretensions of the uppity class with vestiges of noblesse oblige. We made reproductions of antiques.
Why not? We had the blueprints, patterns, jigs, fixtures, and most importantly, the experience. I worked at John Widdicomb Furniture Co.
I never studied the history of furniture design. I couldn’t distinguish between Louis XV and Louis XVI, but I closely examined notes which old cabinet makers scribbled on the jigs and fixtures I used for machining. Usually they inscribed advice about how to run the job. At times the jottings were simply weather reports from before I was born. A note unrelated to the task at hand made the transcription personal as if a co-worker from 1914 tapped me on the shoulder and whispered his liverwurst scented secret in my ear.
The floors of the factory were maple. The windows were wider than my arm span and taller than a bishop’s hat to a child on Easter. In the old days factories needed light in winter and air in summer. We were stuck in the old days. In winter the panes frosted. We dressed in moth-eaten wool sweaters and bulky wool shirts which garnered wood shavings like dust mops. In the summer, we opened the windows wide and let warm breezes mingle with odors of raw lumber and three-in-one oil. We waved at school children placing pennies on railroad tracks and train engineers blowing their horns.
During the Great Furniture Strike of 1911, John Widdicomb Furniture Company was the scene of a riot. The wives and children of workers broke all the windows with stones. By the time I got there in the 1970s, the rancor had evaporated. We had a union, but labor strife was a thing of the past. Likewise our trade was a thing of the past. The antiquity of the place appealed to me.
I was a machine operator, which sounds dull, but production was low and quality, not quantity, was the goal. Our focus was craftsmanship. No one hurried. I may have had only one small task, for example, a mortise in a table leg, but I only had to cut a mortise in eighty-eight pieces of stock, then I would break down the set-up, and start a new job. The set-up took longer than production.
I loved the feel of wood in my hands. The smell of cherry, mahogany, and ash. Walnut was the most aromatic. It was intoxicating like roasting coffee. Sawdust is a fragrance that provokes memories as ancient and arousing as tools made by hands deep in the forest of our collective memory. Wood, even kiln-dried wood, feels and looks alive. I studied the grain of each piece before I cut, shaped, bored, or mitered it to fit. The work was satisfying and the job was integrated.
By integrated I mean, each worker understood their personal role in the finished product and how our roles as individual workers were interrelated. When we looked at a finished piece of furniture we could locate our individual task and identify the tasks of our co-workers in the construction of the whole.
We couldn’t afford to buy the furniture we made but it belonged to us by virtue of our labor. The buyer owned the object of his admiration. We owned our collective experience. We took pride in our work. Each of us, whatever our role, felt like a craftsman. Whether we ran a drill press, hand carved designs in a rail, assembled cabinets, or sanded and finished a table top until the grain glowed soft and warm as the mystery of photosynthesis embedded in the seed of a tree, we strove for perfection.
We were never pressured to hurry. Quality wasn’t a slogan, it was a relationship we had with our labor, our co-workers, even our supervisors. My first day on the job at John Widdicomb’s a foreman told me, “Slow down.”
Perhaps nostalgia has inserted a soft focus lens over my recollection. I don’t recall the slivers of annoyance, the high whine of a rip saw that made my ear drums cry, the revulsion of my nonchalant youth to the regimen of work. But my recollection isn’t limited to a sentimental veneration of a bygone era in manufacturing.
A lot of my co-workers were over sixty-five. They had no desire to retire. They enjoyed the work. They were at home in the factory. No one complained about how slow they moved. They were masters. For them it wasn’t a job, it was a hobby. It wasn’t a factory, it was the club. There was nothing they would rather do with their time.
How different from the company I retired from where the pension goal, “thirty-and-out,” was pronounced like a prison sentence.
In a simpler day and age, I would have been content to stay at John Widdicomb’s and grow up to be a master cabinet maker, proud of my work and my place in life. But it was 1979 and as Gordon Lightfoot sang, “You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train.”
I needed to move on. I had a young family and the times demanded higher wages than the furniture industry could offer. I got a job at General Motors.
The first day I walked through the doors of GM, my body cringed. Every day for the next thirty years, my body cringed when I walked through the doors of GM. My senses felt assaulted by the noise and toxic vapors. A cloud of oil and coolant hung in the air. The concussion of mechanical clamor penetrated my body and hammered my ear drums. Everyone shouted. Curses were a natural response to the environment. At Widdicomb’s I considered eighty-eight pieces high volume. The production rate on my first job at GM was 88,000 pieces for eight hours of work.
Eleven thousand pieces per hour is 183.33 parts per minute, more than three parts per second, and we had to accelerate the rate if we wanted to take any breaks. And we did.
At Widdicomb’s there was only one shift. We never worked more than eight hours a day. If we had to work on Saturday, we only worked until noon. At GM ten hours was mandatory. All three shifts worked every Saturday. Sixty hours a week on top of a big hourly raise meant I was in the money. It also meant that I was paying for the money with my life. I was grinding 660,000 valve lifters a week.
I didn’t like the job. I promised myself it was temporary, but I didn’t foresee what old timers called, “the golden handcuffs”—overtime, pension, benefits—or what pundits called, “the social contract.” Pundits didn’t understand that our work experience was dis-integrated and the so-called “social contract” bound us to a dehumanized system of labor. It was in effect an anti-social contract.
I defended myself the best way I knew. I drugged myself.
I’m an alcoholic. At Widdicomb’s I drank occasionally. At GM I drank day in and day out. I wasn’t alone. There was plenty of overtime but little time for family or leisure. Whether it was drugs, alcohol, gambling, or something else your mother never taught you, everyone sought gratification in consumption.
We didn’t derive any satisfaction from the work. No one could identify the value of their labor in the finished product. Even tradesmen at GM were reduced to routine maintenance which diminished their skills and mocked ingenuity. They hated their jobs as much as every grunt humping the line or manning a machine.
Our reward was the paycheck. When a paycheck is all you are worth, you get addicted to spending money rather than spending time doing things that enrich your life.
GM pumped out quality slogans faster than a cow passes methane gas. We didn’t pay any attention. How could we? We were up to our necks in toxic work ethics and moronic management. When you grind 110,000 valve lifters in ten hours you can’t possibly give a shit about any one of them.
When I worked at Widdicomb’s I rolled my own cigarettes—three or four a day. It was a social habit, something I did with coffee and conversation. At GM I smoked thirty to forty tailor-mades a day. If I had any left in the morning, they smelled like coolant. I wondered if I should smoke them. But what the hell did it matter? The bosses could have squeezed all the blood and juice from my body and used the tincture for pesticide.
Then, in the winter of 1981 everything crashed. We didn’t understand what happened. We did our job. The bottom fell out of the auto industry and we were left with a dead key fob. The union’s response was to foment hostility against foreign workers which played right into the bosses’ hands. The Japanese built plants in America and called the union’s bluff.
By the time I got laid off—along with tens of thousands of other auto workers—I was a mental, physical, emotional wreck. All I was worth was a paycheck and that was gone. Fortunately, I had a friend who worked in the high-end furniture industry and he got me a job working with him at Kindel Furniture Co.
I remember the first day. My nerves were shot, but I managed to keep my hands steady as I ground a keen edge on a piece of steel. Then I cut a handle for my self-styled knife on a bandsaw, smoothed the grip on a belt sander till it fit my hand like a shiv, shimmed the blade in the slot with maple sliced on the table saw, and lashed it together with masking tape. I used this jailhouse knife to cut half round pieces of cherry bead molding which I fitted and glued together to form a lattice to grace the glass on a china cabinet, which sold for more money than I would make that year.
The work was tedious but precise. It required patience and meticulous attention. I concentrated. The room was quiet. I could smell raw lumber. I could hear rip and crosscut saws whine and sigh in the rough mill. I gazed out the window from time to time and peered at snowflakes in refracted winter light. I relaxed. The work was meditative. Time elongated, contracted, and evaporated. Before I knew it, my first day on the new job had passed.
Thanks to my friend, not only was I able to put food on the table, I also healed—but I wasn’t any wiser about the disease of capitalism. I thought I was okay because I quit drinking. I didn’t understand how a job, even a good-paying union job, could devalue a person and incite a compulsion to compensate for the loss of dignity with consumption. I blamed it all on alcohol.
I am using alcoholism as a rhetorical device, a metaphor, which may enable readers who aren’t addicts to understand one must compensate in some way for the disintegration and degradation we experience at work. I was a factory worker but I believe teachers, nurses, social workers, and other professionals are likewise devalued and degraded because the principles of lean manufacturing, or “management by stress,” have been implemented in every field of work.
Perhaps you don’t consume drugs or alcohol. My question then is, how do you cope with a job that reduces your human potential to a cipher, a data entry, a hanging chad of a wish to be significant?
One must compensate for the disintegration we experience at work, hopefully, in a healthy, constructive manner. But as any old soldier will tell you, if you don’t recognize the threat, you can’t protect yourself.
Capitalism demeans labor for profit. That’s not opinion, it’s bookkeeping.
We need to evaluate the cost of dehumanizing workers. We need to determine how the degradation of labor affects our health physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. The glorification of individual consumer choice disguises the consequences of disintegration in the workplace. We neglect the total cost of the cheapest price at our own expense.
Eventually I was called back to GM. I couldn’t resist the money. I had a third child to support and the demands of society were growing exponentially. It was the 1980s. Every worker with an extra buck was hustled into tax-deferred investment plans as a retirement option. The future of the American Dream was in hock. It was the pawn broker’s paradox. Redemption was something no one could afford.
The new GM plant I worked at was cleaner. The work was lighter and easier, but we were still exposed to toxic chemicals. The chemicals were so pernicious that the state of Michigan wouldn’t allow GM to vent air from the factory. We had to trust that GM would filter the toxic fumes so the recirculated air would be safe to breathe. No one believed GM gave a damn about our health.
But air quality wasn’t my immediate concern. I had the dullest, most stupid job of my life. I could have been replaced by a machine but I was cheaper. I experienced an intense need to feel integrated with my work and my co-workers.
Recovering alcoholics say, “I get drunk and we stay sober.” That is, we understand that as individuals we are powerless, but collectively we have strength and purpose. Solidarity is not an ideal for us, it’s a practical solution to an urgent need.
I was fortunate. I discovered a knack for writing. I began to write shopfloor flyers which articulated the core-to-core class conflict that my co-workers confronted every day. What I wrote rang true to my fellow workers because I didn’t say anything they didn’t already know in their hearts.
I called my flyers Live Bait & Ammo. Bait for the bosses and ammo for my fellow workers. The work of writing helped me to integrate with my brothers and sisters in the struggle for dignity on the shopfloor. I became part of something greater than myself.
Although the prevalence of cancer in my former workplace was shocking, I don’t believe the exposure to toxic chemicals is solely responsible for the lower life expectancy of blue-collar workers.
Stress exacerbates our immune system. Employment is precarious because of downsizing, outsourcing, and automation. On top of that we live under the constant threat of termination. Union or non-union, in the United States we are all “at will” employees—meaning that we can be fired for no reason at any time. It helps to have a union, but in the grievance process a worker is guilty until proven innocent and the process can drag on for years while the worker is deprived of pay and benefits.
A particular supervisor at our plant had a reputation as “The Terminator,” because she liked to fire workers. A few weeks before Christmas one year, The Terminator fired a co-worker, a single mother who was particularly vulnerable, for allegedly “making scrap.” That is, she produced parts on the machine she was operating which were defective and had to be thrown away. Then The Terminator assigned me the same job.
Skilled machine operators can discretely cause malfunctions and breakdowns which halt or slow production. I made damn sure to produce scrap and I shut the machine off. When The Terminator asked why the machine wasn’t running, I said, “I am not going to let you fire me for making scrap.” She told me to keep operating the machine.
I said, “If you want me to keep running this machine, you will have to give me an A.V.O. (Avoid Verbal Orders) so that I have it in writing that you know the machine is making scrap and needs repair.”
She said, “I don’t give A.V.O.s. I give direct orders.”
“That’s better yet,” I replied. “Get my committeeman and my Quality Network Rep. I want your order documented and investigated.”
Precision standards are exceedingly high in the auto industry but the demand for quantity and on time delivery usually trumps management’s priorities. Bosses don’t want to invest the time or money to correct mechanical problems because the demand is so urgent.
I made sure the machine produced more scrap. My committeeman wrote a grievance and the Quality Network Rep started an investigation that could climb the corporate ladder if it wasn’t settled in house. No plant manager wanted desk jockeys in Detroit to think he couldn’t manage local affairs.
Co-workers followed my example. They made sure their machines produced scrap, and when they were ordered to keep the machines running, they demanded grievances and Quality Network investigations. Job setters conspired with machine operators and called out skilled trades who dismantled the machines. The rebellion spread.
Soon, most machines in the department were broken down. Workers stood around and spit on the floor. A union rep told us that the plant manager was angry and had sent him out to tell us to get back to work. I won’t repeat what we said to that sorry s.o.b., but in short, we informed him that we didn’t take orders from him. We didn’t elect him to be the boss’s messenger boy, and if the plant manager wanted to give orders he should come out and speak for himself. We had some things to say to him as well. The plant manager didn’t show up.
Since GM had an open door policy whereby workers could talk face to face with bosses in the front office, I went to Human Resources and requested an interview. I was told that management would meet with two workers from the department. I invited everyone. Roughly thirty workers jammed into the office, closed the door, and blocked it. There were six managers ready to confront two workers. The bosses picked up the telephone and called the union to protect them. We let the committeeman in and told him to take notes. I may have been the ringleader but I didn’t have to say a word. The rank and file were in command.
Then we went to a union meeting and demanded a civil rights investigation.
“A white woman fires a white woman and you claim discrimination?” the Bargaining Chairman asked.
Damn right. Unequal treatment without reasonable cause is discrimination. The boss gave us all direct orders to make scrap. We had proof. The union couldn’t deny or delay our demand. There were too many of us.
Documentation and witness testimony is important in the grievance process, but the primary purpose of the civil rights investigation was to rob management of their time and cripple production. The only way to leverage negotiations with management is to shut off the profit faucet. As long as profit is flowing smoothly, the bosses don’t care how long a worker stands in the gallows of the grievance process.
The civil rights chairman not only interviewed workers, he interrogated engineers and supervisors. He took high-value salary employees off their jobs and squeezed them through the gut wringer. When one department slows down it impacts production in all the other departments. We were cutting into profits and the rebellion couldn’t be contained.
The culmination of our campaign arrived when we got wind of a corporate tour. The bosses like to shine for the entourage. The day of the tour everyone in our department on all three shifts wore red and black t-shirts that said “Stop Harassment” on the front and “An Injury to One is an Injury to All” on the back. It was apparent to the corporate entourage that all was not right in River City.
In order to aid their insight we planted Bullets, which were short versions of Live Bait & Ammo, all over the plant. The Bullets accused the bosses of sabotage, of deliberately making scrap. The plant manager had some explaining to do.
Our co-worker got her job back before Christmas. The Terminator was forced to take a week off and go to charm school. She never tried to fire anyone again. Most importantly, we learned a valuable lesson. Solidarity is not an ideal. Solidarity is a practical solution to an urgent need.
The urgent needs of the working class have spiked since the advent of the Great Recession in 2008, but the response from the left has been unmoored and bereft as the occupation of an unoccupied park.
Capital restructured fast. The market roared back. All debt and penalty were plastered to the backs of the working class. Banksters and corporate baggers are flush with cash. Yet pork-bellied politicians bend workers and retirees over the austerity barrel with the high-hat aplomb of bishops at Easter mass.
Where’s the fight back? Where’s the practical solution for working people?
We’ve been hit with a megadose of Shock Doctrine. Working folk are in desperate need of a labor movement, but Trumpka, the AFL-CIO President, squatting on his throne, appears comatose—content to issue press releases and lobby Congress for reform. Maybe he’s the victim of a dope-shooting drone.
Has a drug as potent as a six-figure salary conned him into believing power can be persuaded by appeals to conscience rather than struggle? Or maybe we are the ones who’ve been doped into the inertia of waiting for leaders while biding our time in line.
A person who opposes capitalism in the United States today requires a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance—that screeching metal-on-metal sound you encounter when your walk sideswipes your talk racing past in the opposite direction. One may reject the dog-eat-dog paradigm but one cannot reject the need for food, shelter, and health care. For most of us that means scoring a job with a capitalist employer where the dissonance commences like a drum roll on a song we’d rather forget.
In most areas of the North American labor market, gainful employment requires an automobile which in turn requires gas and insurance and monthly payments to a dealer. The drummer hits the cymbals and the beat goes on. Once you have acquired employment you must choose between a landlord or a mortgage broker. Every deal requires a compromise and every compromise is a link in the chain that binds us to a concussive cognitive dissonance.
If you live in a capitalist society you must make provisions for old age—those golden years when a coldblooded devaluation of monetized human worth is measured on a scale of employability—which requires saving and investing. For most workers paying the mortgage on a slice of private property is their only investment, but anyone with a modest amount of extra income will sock it away in a tax-deferred investment account. You may not like the game but when it’s the only one in town you put your head down and play for all you are worth.
My personal stake in the market is modest, but nonetheless it is my fortune, and it casts a shadow over my beliefs and values. I feel like a recovering alcoholic with a wine cellar.
If you want to call yourself a socialist in the United States, you join a study group because socialism in an advanced capitalist society is ideological, not workable. You may protest. You may resist. You may advocate for peace, justice, and an environment clean as an angel’s spit, but your day-to-day life is bound to an economic system at odds with socialist ideals. Unless we can implement a viable alternative, an actual way of living and working which replaces and surpasses the only practicable system workers in North America have ever known, all socialist proclamations are pie in the sky. As Gordon Lightfoot sang, “It’s no earthly good to me, cause I’m stuck here on the ground,” where philosophies don’t bleed.
We need a new vision and a practical plan to get there.
Anyone living in Detroit—that ominous effigy of capitalism—needs to devise a practical means to survive in an urban setting abandoned by investors. But reconstructing in the shadow of capitalism is like pitching a tent under an elephant’s ass.
The bankruptcy of Detroit is emblematic of capital’s habit of shitting on workers and then blaming them for the mess. Coined words like competitive and globalization are simply code for low wages, high deductibles, zero security, and no pension. Austerity isn’t a solution for workers, it’s life without parole.
Yet affluence can be corrupting.
After the Second World War, autoworkers gained higher wages and benefits. We were separated from our class financially and in the process we embraced an economic system which causes global human misery. A misery which has come back to haunt us like a self-inflicted disease, an illness born of uncontrolled appetite. Many of my comrades worked excessive overtime, gambled on the stock market, and invested in extravagant real-estate ventures. They were buried so deep in debt that a strike was unthinkable to them. They couldn’t afford to miss a payment to the man. Everything they earned was turned over to dealers who already had plans for all the money these workers would ever make in their lifetimes. Consumption appeared to be an end in itself. The only difference between these good hard workers and junkies was that the capitalist system conferred status on their addiction.
It’s demoralizing to see fellow workers turned into puppets. But why should we hesitate to demand more? As Samuel Gompers said, “More schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed.”
We should demand more for all workers not just the glorified individual of American myth, or the vaunted middle class waved like a pennant above the heads of workers by union bureaucrats, as if we should strive to be separated like wheat from chaff. If we want more for everyone then we may have to limit our consumption, to refine our tastes, and to consider our impact upon the ecosystem more important than our economic self-interest. The UAW is notorious for lobbying against improved CAFE or emission standards. The cognitive dissonance of corporate-dominated unions is like thunder in a collapsing mine.
When autoworkers could buy not only a house in the city but a cabin up north, they retired from class struggle and forgot to bookmark their place in labor history. Excessive overtime coupled with tax deferred investments in the stock market stuck a needle in the arm of ordinary auto workers. I watched my comrades succumb to the anesthetic.
I saw fellow workers invest their life savings in Delphi, a company designed for bankruptcy. They thought they were investing in the farm, a place where they worked and lived. I was stunned by their trust in capitalism, but they had never witnessed another economic system. They didn’t experience cognitive dissonance. I did. I experienced more red lights, alarm bells, and guard rails than a railroad crossing.
I distrusted capitalism. Not because I was educated or understood Marxism but because I was raised in a home where things like furniture and appliances were confiscated for late payments. I never trusted the deal.
But the deal is on the table and we have to play our hand, not some hypothetical game. If one rejects capitalist values and desires to live without cognitive dissonance, it’s imperative that he or she engage their fellow workers, organize a union, and confront the bosses directly. Any other option is academic, by which I mean it’s a nice idea but risk free and ineffective because power respects power, not ideological eloquence. For workers, power in a capitalist society is at the point of production and the delivery of goods and services—not at the tip of a pencil, mine included.
Protest is essential. Our dignity demands it. But the truly effective protest in an advanced capitalist society isn’t the occupation of a park for a week, or a street for an afternoon, it’s an occupation of the workplace, a strike, a direct confrontation with bosses over the control of profit, distribution, and the means, methods, and fruits of production. A confrontation, I may add, which actually threatens one’s livelihood, puts the fundamental reason for working, one’s family, on the line. Such risk separates liberals from radicals and students from revolutionaries.
Once upon a time, I worked like an old-fashioned craftsman. I valued my experience. I felt integrated with my work and with my co-workers. I was proud of my craft, but I was compelled to hop the Capital Express by an urgent need for more money. I didn’t go to work for GM because of an ideology, but the experience changed me. I grew to realize that in an advanced capitalist society the only way to feel integrated rather than alienated, and to have integrity as a working person with social consciousness, is through solidarity actions with fellow workers in the workplace.
Any young person joining a union or working as an organizer in a union today may feel dismayed by the corporate clones running the union bureaucracy. But if we can’t organize our fellow workers to take over their own unions, or to organize a new union, how can we expect to engage in a mass struggle of any consequence?
A social movement may take seed in a classroom but it won’t gain traction until we confront the boss face to face. The practical means of mass struggle begin in the workplace because unions can directly challenge capital by throttling profit and providing a platform for participatory democracy.
I don’t have a diploma. I am not a master of any ism. But I do know that the high point of union struggle in the United States was led by communists and socialists. The low point of unions today, the nadir of organizing, is led by liberals who believe a practical solution to an urgent need means cutting wages and benefits, while spending dues on the same political party that gave us NAFTA and is working overtime to ramrod the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement before Obama thumbs his nose at the masses and leaves office to collect his bounty.
Unions from the longshore to the classroom to the post office and beyond are under attack by an administration which pocketed donations from unions. But union leaders don’t suffer cognitive dissonance, and neither do the liberal pundits who support the double-jointedness. They don’t have any problem swinging both ways because it pays six figure salaries.
If there shall ever be a resurgence of union organizing, it will be led by people who aren’t wedded to capitalism. I am convinced they will rise from the ranks. They may not start out to be socialists or communists, but I am certain they won’t promote competition with other workers. They won’t push their comrades to work harder and faster and longer for less. They won’t confine bargaining to a single craft or industry. They won’t be corralled by borders. They will look over their shoulders at the Treaty of Detroit and refuse to relinquish the right to strike or the right to control the workplace.
“You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train,” but if you look around the tarmac, you’ll notice a whole bunch of folks who look just like us—abandoned. We need somewhere to go and something to do and something to join besides a study group, the occupation of a park, or passive participation in a Roberts Ruled bureaucracy. We need to organize a union that unifies rather than alienates the rank and file; a union with a fist connected to an arm connected to a shoulder connected to a body of people who are willing to fight for economic justice, fight for the integrity of labor, fight for the dignity of all working people in that place where effective class struggle inevitably begins: the workplace.
Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor ... by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.
This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California's Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial "homeless capital of America", where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called "quality of life" laws. But they certainly don't protect the quality of life of the poor.
To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a "magnet" for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.
Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.
Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.
The paths from eviction to homelessness follow familiar patterns. For the completely destitute without family or friends able to help, that path leads more or less directly to the streets. For those slightly better off, unemployment and the exhaustion of meager savings – along with the good graces of family and friends – eventually leaves people with only two alternatives: a shelter cot or their old automobile.
However, in places like Los Angeles, the shelters are pretty much always full. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 67%. In Palo Alto last year, there were 12 shelter beds for 157 homeless individuals. Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or – if they are relatively lucky – in a car. But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. The car is the best of bad options, now common enough that local bureaucrats have devised a new, if oxymoronic, term – the "vehicularly housed".
People sleeping in cars try to find legal, nighttime parking places, where they will be less apparent and arouse the least hostility. But cities like Palo Alto and Los Angeles often forbid parking between 2am and 5am in commercial areas, where police write expensive tickets and arrest and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders. That leaves residential areas, where overnight street parking cannot, as a practical matter, be prohibited.
One finds the "vehicularly housed" in virtually every neighborhood, including my own. But the animus that drives anti-homeless laws seems to be greatest in the wealthiest cities, like Palo Alto, which has probably spawned more per-capita fortunes than any city on Earth, and in the more recently gentrified areas like Los Angeles' Venice. These places are ruled by majorities of "liberals" who decry, with increasing fervor, the rapid rise in economic inequality. Nationally, 90% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) believe the government should act to reduce the rich-poor gap.
It is easy to be opposed to inequality in the abstract. So why are Los Angeles and Palo Alto spending virtually none of their budgets on efforts to provide housing for the very poor and homeless? When the most obvious evidence of inequality parks on their street, it appears, even liberals would rather just call the police. The word from the car: if you're not going to do anything to help, please don't make things worse.
In a newly published book, Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity, Micah Uetrich offers a gripping profile of what has been called, "the most important domestic labor struggle so far this century.”
In just 130 pages, Uetrich makes the case that, after a successful strike in 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) achieved victory with their new contract through the powerful combination of thoughtful militancy, community engagement and massive member outreach. Public support for the strike was so high that the red solidarity T-shirts became hot items; independent polls found a majority of parents supported the teachers—despite having to deal with the personal inconvenience of finding care for their children while schools were closed.
Uetrich, a contributing editor for In These Times and an assistant editor for Jacobin, lays out how the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), which won leadership of the CTU in 2010,fought back against school closures and helped shift the narrative away from one where teachers are seen as primarily concerned with advancing their own interests. On a book tour stop in San Francisco, Uetrich talked to AlterNet about how the CTU combined militancy with community outreach to stand up neoliberal education reforms; the gains they won in the contract; and the need for unions to reposition themselves as part of a broader social justice movement in order to realize victories of this kind. (The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
AlterNet: What made you decide to write this book?
Micah Uetrich: It’s a very dramatic story that won’t sound real. It was, I believe, the third day of the CTU strike, and I was downtown [in Chicago] at a mass protest the union did almost every day during the strike. I was there with my friend, [journalist] Danny Postel, and I had written an article for Jacobin that had come out that day. We were marching, and all of a sudden, Danny stops in the middle of the street, and says, “Micah, this tale of the CTU must be chronicled and you must be the one!” I’m like, “Danny, you are insane. I have no business writing a book about anything.” But he sort of badgered me over the weeks to come, and he convinced me I could write a book on this.
I had reported on [the strike] for different places like Jacobinand the Nation. So I wrote up a pitch, and sent it to [editor] Bhaskar Sunkara at Jacobin. He was interested, and I think he recognized the tale of what happened in the CTU could be a resource for other rank and file activists.
A: How did CORE, the group elected to leadership of the CTU in 2010, come into being?
MU: The free-market education reform agenda was quickly picking up steam in the '90s and 2000s, and there were school closures and attacks on teachers and the growth of charter schools. The union leadership [at the time] repeatedly indicated it had no real interest in creating any kind of movement to fight back against these attacks. So there was an attempt in the union, at first, to have a kind of reform from above, where some liberal reformers told members, “The union leadership has failed you in the past, vote for us, and we’ll take care of it for you.” They ended up failing after one term in office; they didn’t engage the mass rank and file of the union in any significant way.
Then there’s a small group of activist teachers who says, “OK, our union leadership still isn’t pushing back against these attacks that could destroy public education in Chicago. We’ve seen this top-down effort doesn’t change our union in any way.” So this small group starts organizing among community members and building up a strong organization of rank-and-file members to try and work with parents and community groups who had been fighting against school closures for years. That was the first priority—not running somebody for office or taking over the union, but fighting back against free-market reform.
A: It sounds as if the community played a critical role in CORE’s success. What was different about how CORE approached community engagement?
MU: A lot of times support from community looks like just trotting out a member of a community group at a press conference and saying, “Look! Right here, it’s the community! We brought them.” It’s a very shallow level of engagement.
What’s unique about what’s going on in Chicago is the caucus has its roots in working alongside these community groups as equals. CORE would approach parents and community groups at meetings who were speaking out against school closures. They would engage with them and tell them about the organization they’d started.
So they started working together to fight school closures, and for the first time they were able to get some school closures off the list. The official union had never tried to engage folks around school closures in any significant way, and the CORE folks had some real victories, and forums CORE was hosting would draw 500 people to talk about free-market education reform. This was all before they were in power. They’ve created an organizing department that tasks itself with solidifying relationships with community groups, and they take these relationships seriously. They have approached their work with community groups in [a] very intentional way in order to make sure it’s not this shallow veneer of “community support.”
A: You talk in the book about how militancy was key to the success of the strike, but you also say that more than just militancy is required. What else did CTU do that was critical to their success?
MU: On the one hand in the American labor movement, we’re at a time when strikes are at an all-time low, and many union leaders want to pursue these kind of union/management partnerships. Militancy among unions is seen as part of a bygone era; maybe we had to do that in the 1930s or something, but now we’re more mature.
But on the other hand, sometimes we get folks on the left whose response to anything is militancy, and going on strike. The thing about the CTU is not that they went on strike, but that they went on strike after they spent years at a community level establishing themselves as fighters for a broad educational justice movement. They had countered the narrative of being lazy overpaid public sector workers who don’t care about kids. And once they had established that, then they could go on strike, and the strike could be seen as a way of furthering the educational justice movement.
I don’t think the answer to all of labor’s problems is to go on strike. In many ways, if folks do go on strike without [movement] building those strikes could end badly. It’s not just militancy, but creating broad movements in tandem with militancy. And one of the key lessons of the strike is when you do that you can actually win.
A: Did you feel, during the strike, that there was a great deal of support for the teachers?
MU: One of the most incredible things that came out of the strike was that at the moment when teachers are out on strike and parents are having to make childcare arrangements and their lives are potentially in upheaval, two independent polls showed the majority of Chicago backed the teachers over Rahm Emanuel. And one poll showed two-thirds of black and Latino parents supported teachers over Emanuel, at the moment when they’re being inconvenienced.
That doesn’t happen spontaneously. The only way to get that kind of support is by doing that long-term building with community members. I think that was the moment when the Board of Education and Emanuel realized they had lost the battle and there was no way they could win.
The feeling on the street level in Chicago during the strike was just full of excitement. There was a sea of red everywhere you went. I left my house on a bike and every few blocks as I was heading downtown, there was a group of teachers. There was no sense of an enraged Chicago public. Every picket line I was on or heard about was a cacophony of supportive honks, people stopping by bringing breakfast and coffee; there was a feeling in the air that there was never any doubt the teachers are going to win. There was never any feeling of desperation.
I tell the story in the book of wearing the CTU solidarity shirt, which was a very hot fashion commodity, these red solidarity shirts. I walked into a café and got a free cup of yogurt from this minimum-wage cashier who says she wishes she could be out there with the teachers. And a bus driver waves me on and tells me to get on the bus for free, and he says, “We’ve got to support these teachers.” There was just this outpouring of support from the public. Teachers unions have to establish themselves as credible voices for social justice and public education in order to get that kind of support.
A: Tell us about the gains they secured in the contracts. What did the teachers actually win?
MU: There was a sort of wish-list of neoliberal reform in the initial contract, and the union scaled back the worst of that. For example, the district had wanted to raise the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation based on test scores, and the union was able to negotiate that down to the legal minimum of 30 percent.
Rahm Emanuel had wanted to introduce merit pay; they were able to fight back on that. Knowing that a big fight was going to happen on school closures, they won some provisions that allowed teachers from schools that would be closed to follow their students. Crazily, they had to fight to get textbooks on the first day of class, so the district guaranteed that. The district had wanted to raise the cap on class sizes, and they were able to defeat that. They doubled their budget for what teachers could get reimbursed when they spent money on classroom supplies. And they did get a pay raise.
A: What’s the most important thing labor can learn from this strike?
MU: At a time when labor is so beaten down and we’re accustomed to hearing defeat after defeat, it is possible for unions to fight back and to win. The war has not been lost, but it’s not going to happen with just the election of the right people —leaders who have all kinds of blustery militant rhetoric. These kinds of victories can come about when unions are more democratic and engage with community groups, and [act as] part of a broader movement for social justice.Related Stories
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