BY PETER OLNEY AND RAND WILSON
The American presidential primaries began in earnest on February 3, 2020, with the now infamous Iowa caucuses. Iowa is a small mid-western state with a population of 3,155,070. Almost 85% of its residents are white – hardly representative of the U.S. as a whole, yet this is where the voting begins every four years to nominate candidates to the Democratic and Republican parties. It is a process of thousands of local meetings held across the state where voters come together to “caucus” for their chosen candidates. While most American states have simple ballot voting for candidates, the Iowa system choses its delegates based on a complicated formula “initial alignment votes” and “final alignment votes” that are used to determine the statewide number of “state delegate equivalents” for Iowa’s 41 delegates to the Democrats nominating convention
One thing is clear: democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won the popular vote with 42,672 first choice votes, about 6,000 votes more than former South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. However, the byzantine caucus system apportioned 13 delegates to Buttigieg and only 12 to Sanders.
Sanders’ strong showing in Iowa was followed by a narrow victory on February 11 in the New Hampshire primary — another small and racially unrepresentative state — but an important bellwether of voter sentiment on the road to the nomination. Sanders won with 25.7% of the vote, Pete Buttigieg came in second at 24.4%, followed by a surprising strong third place finish for Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at 19.8%. The dismal fourth place finish for Senator Elizabeth Warren of neighboring Massachusetts at 9.2% is of concern to the left because she and Sanders represent the anti-corporate wing of the electoral field.
Support for Sanders’ is surging with a strong base of young people and working-class voters. Amazingly, more than 1.5 million people have donated to his campaign with an average contribution of only $18. Unlike other candidates, who rely on major donors from Wall Street and corporate America, Sanders’ grass roots effort has shattered all previous records by raising over $121 million dollars — $25 million in January 2020 alone.
Despite Bernie’s initial successes, many Democrats have raised concerns about whether Bernie is the best candidate to beat Republican President Donald Trump on November 3, 2020. Beating Trump will require a “united front” of voters who may not be ready to support Bernie’s more radical “social democratic” proposals. For example, Sanders has championed Medicare for All and free college tuition for all, policies that are long established in Europe but viewed as very radical in the United States.
The U.S. “winner-take-all” Electoral College system does not lend itself to building electoral support with your preferred candidate in the election and then making parliamentary alliances after the election to form a government. In the case of the U.S., it will require broad unity behind one candidate for the Democrats to defeat Trump.
While the corporate-controlled news media is constantly degrading Bernie’s chances, there is a strong argument that he is the best candidate to form the broad coalition needed to beat Trump. In a head-to-head match-up with Trump, Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to:
How Socialists Can Govern
Bill Fletcher Jr.
February 1, 2020
Many on the U.S. left fear governing power, in part because it has been so difficult to achieve. More recent optimism among socialists is a welcome development—but we need a middle ground between being cynical and naive.
Gary, Indiana, faced capital flight after the city’s first black mayor, Richard Hatcher, attempted to implement a social democratic program., Bettmann/Getty Images // Dissent Magazine
Bernie Sanders’s presidential primary run in 2016 saw 13 million people vote for a democratic socialist. Two years later, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s underdog, grassroots-driven victory against one of Congress’s most powerful Democrats shook the political establishment. Combined with the election of Donald Trump, these two campaigns reignited interest in something many on the left had shied away from for the better part of a century: electoral power.
But what is electoral power? Many political theorists distinguish between “state power” and “governing power.” The “state”—as described here—is not simply a series of apparatuses but instead the representation of the balance of class forces, with a hegemonic bloc—made up of institutions like the police, Congress, and the Federal Reserve—looking out for the long-term interests of the dominant class—in our case, the 1 percent. There are different fractions in the 1 percent with interests that sometimes diverge. They might receive differing degrees of support from the state and sometimes have stronger relationships with one party over another. Overall, the capitalist state looks out for the long-term interests of capital rather than the particular interests of any one capitalist.
“Seizing state power” is therefore a process of fundamentally altering the balance of class forces and creating a new hegemonic bloc that moves us away from capitalism. Winning state power involves the domination and, over time, deconstruction and replacement of capitalist institutions.
“Governing power” is something altogether different—effectively, progressives or leftists winning political office within the context of a capitalist state. They may be elected to positions of leadership, but they do not control the state apparatuses and do not have the mandate or strength to carry out a full and thoroughgoing process of social transformation.
This might look like winning a mayor’s or governor’s office. This is also the situation Sanders or any other left-leaning candidate is likely to walk into should they make it to the White House. More crucially, this is the situation that has faced countless left-leaning politicians in the United States and abroad who have tried to make inroads toward a consistent democracy, let alone democratic socialism, at the local, state, and even federal level.
That governing power has been so difficult to achieve and exercise has led many on the left in United States to fear it, and not without reason. Domestically and internationally, there have been many examples of significant challenges faced by a left that has gained governing power only to become corrupted or checkmated. But too many have taken the wrong lesson from this history and fallen back on empty rhetoric to articulate a path to power: first, describe a list of capitalism’s atrocities; second, say that socialism will resolve said atrocities—no intermediary steps required.
read more. https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/how-socialists-can-govern
Bhaskar Sunkara, The Guardian.
This has been a confusing 24 hours, to say the least. The Iowa caucus appeared to go fine, but then a tabulating fiasco delayed official results. We’re still waiting on them.
The problem, in part, was rooted in a “Shadow Inc” application used to help tally the votes. The app had gotten attention in the weeks before the caucus, with experts worrying that it could be vulnerable to hacking.
There’s no indication that happened, and since the results were also all recorded manually, we should have confidence in their integrity (if not the byzantine caucus system itself). But it’s just another reason why some voters might not trust election results. Liberals have at times made hysterical claims that Russia “hacked” the election results in 2016. Keith Olbermann even went as far as to say that the United States was the victim of a “Russian coup”.
On the right, Donald Trump pushed the idea that illegal voting could swing elections in 2016, paving the way for him to contest a potential Hillary Clinton victory that year. And he’s renewed those claims recently, stating last July that “You’ve got people voting that shouldn’t be voting. They vote many times. Not just two times, not just three times … It’s a rigged deal.” Of course, the widespread problem is not illegal voting, but voter suppression – the systematic effort by Republican officials to make it harder for poor people, particularly people of color, to participate in elections.
On the left, Bernie Sanders supporters have a more reasonable beef. The Democratic National Committee pushed its preferred candidate in 2016, helping the Hillary Clinton team beat Bernie Sanders through measures such as limiting the number of debates (25 in 2008, but down to six in 2016). But these actions have been inflated into a narrative that the DNC “rigged” an election that Sanders would have otherwise won.
The key reason why Sanders fell short by several million votes in the primaries – that he was a relatively unknown candidate who ran out of time as he was gaining momentum – doesn’t have the same visceral appeal as a “stolen” race.
With Iowa, these claims will only get more attention. With 62% of the vote released as of Tuesday night, it appears that Sanders won the first and second rounds of the popular vote, but is slightly behind Pete Buttigieg in the delegate count. But on Monday night Buttigieg was able to take the stage and prematurely claim victory, and more importantly Sanders’ main rival, Joe Biden, was able to escape to New Hampshire without having the media reckon with the fact that the presumptive national frontrunner probably placed fourth in Iowa.
Saying that elections are all 'hacked' or manipulated nowadays is a great way to encourage working people not to come out and vote
It’s all quite convenient. And the name of the tech company that made the dubious app that caused much of the trouble is Shadow Inc!
But fellow Bernie Sanders supporters hear my plea – we gain nothing by playing into the idea that the process is so stacked against us that we can’t win. For one, saying that elections are all “hacked” or manipulated nowadays is a great way to encourage working people not to come out and vote. Why bother supporting an insurgent candidate, if the outcome is already assured?
Beyond that, this emphasis is a distraction from both the economic concerns that Bernie Sanders excels at talking about and the grassroots organizing that’s propelling him so far this campaign. Sanders placed well in Iowa, not because his Twitter warriors memed the DNC hard enough, but because his volunteers knocked on 500,000 doors in the state inJanuary alone. Despite only 4% of caucus attendees being Latino, they poured $1.5m into bilingual mailers. The campaign made so many phone calls (more than 7m) that they had to tell volunteers to stop – they had virtually no one left to call.
This unprecedented ground game was all in the service of a popular candidate running on a popular set of issues. There’s a reason why Democratic party elites like John Podesta are worried about the Sanders campaign – Bernie could very well win. With a dedicated base of supporters and turnout from lower-propensity voters, like working-class Latinos, Sanders has reliable votes and volunteers. And by the time the establishment coheres around Biden or some other candidate it will be too late.
We need to be vigilant for dirty tricks and rule changes meant to undermine us, but we should feel confident that victory is possible. And that means letting people know that their vote will be counted, and that even the flawed institutions of American democracy can sometimes deliver progress.
Thirty years of sophisticated attacks on runaway corporate power show that Elizabeth Warren would be a radical president
Written by Nathan Newman January 30, 2020
Capitalism dumps its financial dead in corporate bankruptcy courts–-and Elizabeth Warren knows where the bodies are buried.
Over thirty years ago, Warren made it her academic mission to understand the intricacies of how companies die, how the law decides who inherits the assets of the corpse and how that process drives rising inequality in the economy.
There is a trope that Warren was a late convert to progressivism – itself a bit debunked since she voted against Reagan in 1980. But dismissing her as a “technocratic” proponent of “good capitalism,” as Jacobin’s editors do, misses the deep radicalism of her legal and economic analysis. If you really want to place the candidate on the political spectrum, you need to understand the critique of corporate bankruptcy she made over 30 years ago when she argued that government, not some objective “market,” decides who wins and who loses and detailed how the rules shape our broader economic system.
One key divide between liberalism and radicalism is whether politicians let the market produce inequality in the economy and then use taxation and public spending to clean up the mess afterwards–the paradigmatic liberal approach. This contrasts with the more radical approach of actively shaping the rules of the economy up front to prevent the wildly unequal distribution of wealth in the first place.
Warren’s writings and her stump speech advocacy for “big structural change” place her decidedly in the second camp. That is reflected in her policy proposals —from remaking the financial system to calling for putting workers on boards of directors to promoting the break-up of monopolies to reshaping housing markets to arguing for redistributing wealth itself through a tax on the net worths of the richest Americans rather than just raising taxes on high-earners’ incomes.
Over thirty years ago, Warren was arguing that economic redistribution should not be left to budget politics but that policymakers need to be “dealing with the distributive issues that bankruptcy policy implicates”—the issues that create lopsided distributions to begin with.
As early as 1987, Warren was trashing the economic models of law and economics with their “simple answers” where “economic analysis is utterly self-referential…within a confined, abstract scheme” with no empirical basis in reality.
Conservatives, she wrote, must assume a sufficiently imperfect market for businesses to fail, but a sufficiently perfect market for their “version of a ‘market based’ solution’ to be effective in dealing with those failures. I have difficulty envisioning that market.”
Warren’s diagnosis of the problem of inequality dates back thirty years in her writing and is remarkably similar to what she says on the campaign trail now: the solution is not just getting better technocrats running the system but reducing the power of financial interests and increasing the voice and organizing power of average workers and consumers to control what laws get written in the first place.
Why Bankruptcy Laws Matter
Your eyes may glaze over hearing the words “corporate bankruptcy” – and that’s the point. The media tell endless stories of the winners of capitalist competition – the Apples, the Googles, the Exxons – but most firms, especially smaller firms that are never listed on the stock market, don’t survive and the distribution of their assets in bankruptcy court matters. But that process is arcane and meant to be that way to the advantage of those who benefit from it.
Donald Trump epitomizes this reality since several firms that he has owned have gone through bankruptcy, stiffing creditors and contractors, even as Trump himself leveraged the legal system to shield most of his own personal assets. As Trump himself acknowledged when asked about his many bankruptcies, “I’ve taken advantage of the laws of this country.”
Documenting how wealthy operators like Trump take advantage of the bankruptcy laws to increase economic inequality and figuring out how to design the law to promote greater equity has been much of Warren’s life work.
Bankruptcy is actually at the center of our economy. as Warren wrote back in 1992, “The most difficult social problems get dumped into bankruptcy– mass torts, environmental disasters, the dashed expectations of retired employees.” The failures of capitalism have to be managed by bankruptcy court judges. That’s where, for example, kids in chemotherapy, union workers with empty pensions and bankers square off to divvy up the assets of a belly-up chemical company that poisoned the groundwater in multiple communities.
Economists and legal writers like to pretend that the economy is made up just of markets and contracts, but Warren dismisses this as a “fiction” which lasts until one party or the other no longer has the money to make good on those promises. At that point, bankruptcy courts navigate all the “normative issues of fairness ignored in contract law,” which Warren argues the business class pretends has no place in economic thinking.
Bankruptcy exists not to further markets but to correct the mistakes that led to bankruptcy happening in the first place – and brings active government concerns for distributional fairness into play. “It provides a forum for negotiating deals, and, ultimately, it allocates the value of a firm to all claimants, making difficult distributional decisions among competing parties.” Pension holders owed money long into the future get into the same court proceeding with the banks holding immediate debt–“both present and future claims at once,” as Warren highlights.
How Bankruptcy Law Shapes Markets and Economic Inequality
Every legal rule in bankruptcy, Warren argues, reverberates in the broader economy to shape market outcomes, sometimes to the good, more often to the advantage of the wealthy, but never in some “natural” way as conservative economic thinkers would have it.
Warren writes: “Any legal rule will cause some redistribution of wealth.”
This may be obvious to many progressives, but it challenges the core capitalist legal ideology that law can stand outside the market and be a neutral arbiter of contractual relationships. Instead, Warren sees legal rules as inherently favoring one group over another at every economic point of negotiation: “A rule of ownership, a rule of liability, or a rule of priority will relatively advantage or disadvantage competing parties.”
Stakeholders with explicit debt-based contracts with a firm, so-called “secured creditors”, consistently get priority by bankruptcy judges because, as Warren argues, they helped write most of the rules: “The group that profits from priority is well-funded and active…Their representatives are present at every drafting committee meeting and debate on the subject.”
Consumer debtors “have a perpetual problem” in Warren’s words: “they do not have money and they do not organize.” For more organized labor and civil rights groups “bankruptcy was never a top priority,” so, she argues, the monied interests with their singular focus and far deeper pockets dominate the process far more of the time- one reason Warren makes strengthening the organizing power of workers and consumers a priority to alter that dynamic in the setting of legal rules across the economy.
Bankruptcy as Backdoor Industrial Planning
Warren focuses relentlessly in her work on the role of firms not just as profit-maximizing machines for shareholders – the conservative ideal – but as institutions serving the broader economy, the perpetual focus of progressives who promote industrial planning.
Industrial planning by the government is usually talked about on the left only after firms have shut down in a community, but Warren focuses on why bankruptcy law brings the broader social values of industrial planning to bear before companies disappear, and argues that it must go further in this area.
One key goal in bankruptcy is keeping the firm going. Partly, this enhances the value of its assets to pay off its obligations, but it also serves broader political interests of those outside contract relationships in the market. As Warren wrote, “the revival of an otherwise failing business also serves the distributional interests of many who are not technically ‘creditors’ but who have an interest in a business’s continued existence.”Those interests include older employees who can’t be retrained for other jobs, customers losing key suppliers of goods and services, suppliers losing current customers, property owners suffering declining property values, and states or municipalities facing shrinking tax bases.”
While corporate law and general contract law studiously exclude those broader community stakeholders from legal consideration, federal bankruptcy statutes create a real role for those interests – and Warren makes clear that expanding the law’s focus on those broader community interests should be a priority.
Creditors may want to dismantle a firm so they can get paid quickly but bankruptcy court, Warren argues, is where government is mandated to step in to protect the social values the market ignores.
Warren’s Ideological Challenge to Market Economics
Warren’s focus on community interests beyond the narrow confines of the market reflects her deeper ideological challenge to traditional legal economics. Warren argues that markets ignores ”parties without legal rights” and that we need a legal system to “protect these parties [and] more than the goods that are traded by private contract.”
Thirty years ago, Warren was a very public combatant with conservative “law and economics” legal writers, quoting Duncan Kennedy of the quasi-Marxist Critical Legal Studies movement that “the insulation from value judgments that economic analysis offers is illusory.”
Warren openly mocked the idea that there was any “real” market that law was supposed to try to drive the economy towards. Any attempt to discuss policy “in a perfect market is a Zenlike exercise, much like imagining one hand clasping,” so attempts to imagine a “perfect market” were “worth little.”
Warren’s was an empirical critique of how markets function, but it was also a values-based statement that recognizing just the interests of those with property rights in the market would fundamentally be unjust. She rejected market-based bankruptcy schemes as one where those without direct contracts with a firm, including “tort victims, discrimination and harassment complainants, or antitrust plaintiffs, would be left out.” A market approach “is overtly distributional in a regressive sense” in moving wealth from those with weak or no property rights claims in the market to those with enough political power to shape the rules.
At the heart of Warren’s ideological vision is a clear demand that the market and property rights be subordinate to the human needs and democratic will of the community.
Warren as a Radical Leader
Even as the corporate Right has been determined to conquer the courts in order to shape the law to further corporate interests, the liberal movement has been remarkably unfocused on the role of law in promoting economic inequality through the rules of the market.
Liberals have tended to treat battles in the courts as the place where social issues like abortion and gay marriage play out, while reserving their energy fighting economic inequality for tax and budget battles. Based on her corporate bankruptcy writings and current proposals, a Warren Presidency, probably even more than a Sanders Presidency, would refocus the liberal-left on how legal rules decide winners and losers in the economy before a widget is produced or a line of code is written.
All her skepticism of markets is reflected in Warren’s array of economic plans in her Presidential run which systematically subordinates every market and property rights claim to regulatory supervision. Most on point is her proposed “Accountable Capitalism Act,” which would take supervision of large corporations away from the states and put them under federal regulation- and require them to “consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders – including employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities in which the company operates”– exactly the broader stakeholder interests usually considered only once companies have failed and gone into bankruptcy court.
Warren may call herself a “capitalist to my bones” but it is a “capitalism” in opposition to the systematic valorization of property rights and market solutions that is currently embedded in our economic and legal system.
Warren has spent decades arguing markets are the legal creation of government rules- and argues for far-reaching changes in how that government should design those rules. Whatever you call it, Warren’s analysis dating back thirty years, and the proposals she now promotes, reflect an ideology that would make her orders of magnitude more radical than any President in our history.
A lawyer, policy advocate and writer, Nathan Newman also teaches sociology and criminal justice at CUNY.
In spite of my consistent attempts, I was unable to insert a read more tag in this post.
Bill Barclay, CPEG, and Ventura DSA
Last year was the tenth since the end of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) and the third of trump’s presidency.
Trump came into office promising increased rate of growth – 4% maybe even 5 or 6% – an end to trade deficits and more jobs, including a revival of manufacturing.
So, where so we stand?
On the question of growth there is no doubt: although the numbers for the 4th quarter GDP growth are not in yet, it is clear that 2019 will be the 13th consecutive year of real GDP growth below 3%, probably around 2.3%. This number is in contrast to the 3% annual real GDP growth that occurred between during early 1987-2007 neoliberal decades, and even further below the 3.7% average for the first three plus decades (1948-1980) following World War II. The U.S. economy is stuck in low gear. And, the usual policy response of the neoliberal era – cut corporate tax rates in the hopes that more investment will occur – is not working. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), Trump’s major tax cut enacted in 2017, has not moved us off the launching pad.
The Stock Market
Or at least not most of us. After a down year in 2018, the stock market raced to quite a few records in 2019, rising 30%. A major driver of this gain was the use of the increased cash in the hands of corporations to purchase their own stocks. While 2018 will probably remain the record year for such stock buybacks, 2019 will be a close second. (Among the chief beneficiaries of stock buybacks are the company executives who are offered stock options as part of their benefits.)
But the interesting, although often neglected, fact about stock buybacks is how they have been financed. More than half of all buybacks are paid for by the purchasing company taking on more debt. It is sort of like mortgaging your house so you throw a big party. The result was a ramping up of non-financial corporate debt in 2019 that now exceeds 75% of GDP, above the previous record peak in the midst of the GFC. And, half or more of this debt is rated BBB, the lowest grade above junk bond status. The risks for your pension fund – yes, it is probably buying this stuff to get higher yields – is that, if a downgrade to junk status occurs (as happened to Ford in late 2019), your fund will have to sell – pension funds can’t own junk bonds.
The use of corporate cash to buy back stocks was accompanied by a failure of the TCJA to achieve its stated goal of increasing the rate of investment, by providing “rocket fuel for the economy.” Business investment has declined throughout 2019 and now is at a level similar to that of the 2000-01 recession, although well above the trough during the recession that followed the GFC. Of course, Trump blamed others for the failure of the U.S. economy to achieve a 4% (or even 3%) growth rate – in particular the Federal Reserve – in his January 2020 Davos rant.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked existing trade agreements, labeling NAFTA as “perhaps the worst deal ever made.” He also vowed to end the “cheating” by China in trade practices, although he blamed previous U.S. leaders for letting China do so.
At the end of 2019, Trump got a new NAFTA, “The U.S./Mexico/Canada Agreement (USMCA) through Congress. The USMCA does have some improvements over the old NAFTA but is very weak on environmental issues – climate change is never mentioned – and will likely have limited impact on the economic geography of automotive jobs.
What about the big trade picture? In December 2019 there was much made of the quarterly decline in the U.S. trade deficit. But missing from the self-congratulatory posturing was the fact the 2018 trade deficit was a record, eclipsing even those just prior to the GFC. The year 2019 will likely see a smaller trade deficit – but still much larger than the early 2000s.
Read more: https://www.cpegonline.org/post/year-three-of-the-trump-economy-the-us-economy-in-2019
by Benjamin Sachs
Published January 23rd, 2020
After eighteen months of highly collaborative work involving over seventy academics, organizers, lawyers, and students from around the world, we released this morning the report and recommendations of the Clean Slate for Worker Power project. You can learn all about the project at cleanslateworkerpower.org. Our full Report is available here, and the Executive Summary here. The Introduction, which outlines the theory and ambition of the project, is below:
A Clean Slate for Worker Power:
Building a Just Economy and Democracy
Since the founding of the country, concentration of power in the hands of a small minority has been recognized as a threat—perhaps the primary threat—to the viability of American democracy. This threat of concentrated power motivated the drafters of the U.S. Constitution to advocate for a system of checks and balances and a division of authority between state and federal governments. Concern over concentrated power explains the founders’ desire to ensure that a “multiplicity of interests” would be represented in the decisions of the national government. This aspiration finds expression in core principles of our democratic system: in the idea that every person should have one vote, no more and no fewer; in the idea that we are to have a republican form of government, not an oligarchy or an aristocracy; in the idea that we are all equal before the law.
But, since the founding of the country, the struggle to uphold these constitutional principles against the threat of concentrated wealth has been a continual one. This struggle was central to the story of the New Deal. Thus, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt critiqued wealthy business and financial elites by naming them “economic royalists,” thereby invoking the American revolutionary struggle against political royalism. As FDR put it in 1936: “For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.” 1 This democratic struggle against concentrated economic power has also been core to the highest aspirations of the labor movement. Dolores Huerta, leader of the United Farm Workers’ historic organizing effort, put it this way: “Organized labor is a necessary part of democracy, [because o]rganized labor is the only way to have fair distribution of wealth.”
The struggle to preserve democracy in the face of extreme wealth concentration is a defining feature of our current historical moment because we live in a time of radical economic inequality. The point can be illustrated with any number of statistics, and it is worth reviewing a few of them:
· The average Amazon worker makes $29,000 per year, while Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has a net worth of $110 billion. This means it would take an Amazon worker 3.8 million years, working full time, to earn what Bezos now possesses. It would take an Uber driver, driving full time, nearly 150,000 years to earn what Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick made on the Uber IPO.
· The country’s wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than half of the nation combined—20 people with more wealth than 152 million others.
read more. https://onlabor.org/a-clean-slate-for-worker-power-building-a-just-economy-and-democracy/
Bernie-and-Elizabeth Matters More Than Bernie-vs.-Elizabeth
History will remember both Sanders and Warren for taking on American capitalism. Their differences won’t loom that large. BY HAROLD MEYERSON
JANUARY 16, 2020
Preliminary thoughts on reviving a U.S. antiwar movement
JANUARY 9, 2020 BY JOE ALLEN
We haven’t had an antiwar movement in the U.S. for a long time. So, when Iranian General Qassem Suleimani was assassinated on orders from President Donald Trump on January 3rd, it immediately raised the prospect of a real shooting war between the U.S. and Iran. It also caught many of us flat-footed and scrambling to respond.
Read the essay on Democratic Left.
Interesting article on Working In These Times.
#NoWarWithIran: What You Can Do NowJANUARY 7, 2020People across the globe are reeling from the U.S. military’s escalation towards war. Just weeks after anti-government protests in Iran about rising fuel prices, these attacks on Iraqi soil bring us dangerously close to never-ending U.S. led war with catastrophic consequences for millions of Iranians, Iraqis, and people across the Middle East.
Join our national organizing call this Thursday, 1/9 at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm CT/5pm PT.
War would also immediately put at risk our own domestic fights for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other programs. It would bring thousands more working-class people from the U.S. into the war zone. And it would lead to increased racial and religious profiling in our communities and suppression of dissent. Democratic socialists understand that working class people in the U.S. have nothing to gain from war in the Middle East and we must do everything in our power to stop further U.S. military intervention in the region.
Already, DSA chapters all over the country are organizing demonstrations demanding an end to the escalation, but it will take sustained pressure from a mass movement to stop U.S. imperialism.
Join us for an emergency national strategy call THIS THURSDAY NIGHT, January 9th, 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/5pm PT on how we can help reignite a mass anti-war movement to stop a war with Iran.
On the call, we’ll be joined by:
Demand they support:
You can read our DSA National Political Committee statement for more information. And if your chapter is having a #NoWarWithIran action, or you’d like rally posters for friends and neighbors, you can order union-printed posters through our swag store. Overnight shipping is available.
We will update this page as the situation unfolds.
There was a time in America when being called a socialist could end a political career. Not anymore.
By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Dr. Taylor is the author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.”
· Dec. 10, 2019
…Adding to that, Mr. Sanders is the top recipient for donations by teachers, farmers, servers, social workers, retail workers, construction workers, truckers, nurses and drivers as of September. He claims that his donors’ most common employers are Starbucks, Amazon and Walmart, and the most common profession is teaching. Mr. Sanders is also the leading recipient of donations from Latinos as well as the most popular Democrat among registered Latinos who plan to vote in the Nevada and California primaries. According to Essence magazine, Mr. Sanders is the favorite candidate among black women aged 18 to 34. Only 49 percent of his supporters are white, compared with 71 percent of Warren supporters. Perhaps most surprising, more women under 45 support him than men under 45.
Mr. Sanders’s popularity among these voters may be what alienates him within the political establishment and mainstream media. The leadership of the Democratic Party regularly preaches that moderation and pragmatism can appeal to “centrist” Democrats as well as Republicans skeptical of Mr. Trump. It is remarkable that this strategy still has legs after its spectacular failure for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In many respects, Bernie Sanders’s standing in the Democratic Party field is shocking. After all, the United States government spent more than half of the 20th century locked in a Cold War against Soviet Communism. That an open and proud socialist is tied with Ms. Warren for second place in the race speaks to the mounting failures of free market capitalism to produce a decent life for a growing number of people. There was a time in America when being called a socialist could end a political career, but Bernie Sanders may ride that label all the way to the White House.
This essay has been updated to reflect news developments.
From the New York Times
All unhappy social democratic parties are alike: They’ve lost the white working class.
Britain’s Labour Party was decimated in its working-class home last night, when Boris Johnson’s nativist Tories ousted one Labour MP after another in England’s North, once the U.K.’s industrial heartland, today its rust belt. The migration of Britain’s abandoned workers to the anti-immigrant nationalism at the root of Brexit closely tracks the pattern we’ve seen in France, where the longtime proletarian strongholds of the French Communist Party have turned to the insular nationalism of two generations of Le Pens in recent elections. And in the historic home of European social democracy, Germany, the world’s oldest social democratic party is polling close to single digits.
Last night’s election in the U.K. marks the worst performance by Labour since 1935—just as the most recent elections in Germany and France also marked the low points for the Social Democrats and Socialists, respectively. Socialists do govern in Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden (though the Swedish Social Democrats also experienced their worst election in 2018 and govern now in coalition with that nation’s Greens), but these are exceptions to the painful decline of European social democracy.
Four kinds of fragmentation have vexed the parties of the European left over the past 20 years, as they’ve vexed the Democratic Party in the United States as well. The first stems from the growing presence in those parties of urban upper-middle-class professionals, who are often at odds on cultural questions, broadly defined, with the parties’ more traditional and patriarchal working classes. The second is no stranger to the United States but is only now impacting Europe with the diminution (not sudden, but perceived as such) of many nations’ relative racial and religious homogeneity—defections from the left due to racism and nativism. The shift last night of England’s North from Labour to the Tories summoned memories of George Wallace’s surprising successes in Northern states in the Democratic primaries of 1964, heralding the end of the New Deal coalition and the subsequent electoral victories of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The third fragmentation results from geographic divergence—with minorities and the culturally liberal young and professionals clustering in cities with large service sectors, while formerly industrial and rural areas, increasingly poor and elderly, experience both the reality and the sense of abandonment.
Underlying all three of these fragmentations is the de-linking of class interests: As globalization and financialization (the latter particularly pronounced in the U.K. and U.S.) have undermined the egalitarian achievements of the postwar era, parties of the center-left have been stretched ideologically, often to the breaking point. The ’90s saw Britain’s New Labour under Tony Blair, America’s Democrats under Bill Clinton, and Germany’s Social Democrats under Gerhard Schröder all move to globalize and deregulate their economies, to the benefit of those nations’ banking and corporate sectors and the detriment of their working-class voters. The collapse of 2008 and the hugely unequal recovery that followed has led to battles between the center-left and a more militant left in virtually every industrialized nation.
Introduction to Seed the Vote
Jason Negrón-Gonzales, Organizing Upgrade
The Trump era has been all about the naked aggression of the far right, but cracks are appearing. Trump is battling impeachment, a result not only of his criminality but of the changes that the blue wave brought to Congress. Last month we saw further losses for the right in Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania – the result of sustained organizing by hundreds if not thousands. That work didn’t start this year; it’s the culmination of many years of work. None of this was spontaneous. When we organize, we can win. When we step up to fight, we can win.
… The possibility of Trump’s re-election in 2020 is a real one. And it’s one we are determined to stop. When we – a group of left activists rooted in community and labor organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area – gathered this spring, it was with the urgency that came from seeing our communities under relentless assault from a white nationalist, authoritarian administration. But we also knew that 2020 – with the size, energy, and leftward shift among the opposition to Trumpism – would give us an opportunity: if we plan carefully and think big, we can make a difference at the ballot box in 2020, the kind of difference the Left failed to make in 2016. And we thought we could do this while building a stronger and more cohesive Left.
Social justice efforts have been able to activate significant mass actions in opposition to Trump and right-wing policies, from the Women’s March to airport protests to the more recent teacher strikes. Mass mobilization played a particularly important role through 2018, in stalling or rolling back many of Trump’s assaults on communities of color and democratic rights. Alongside the energy in the streets, progressive institutions have gotten renewed energy.
The Democratic establishment makes consistent efforts to squelch progressive electoral insurgencies, for example proposing bans on consultants who work with radicals challenging incumbents in the primaries. And the ‘moderate’ forces use their command of the media to undermine or even smear left candidates and grassroots non-electoral organizations.
**The influence of progressive ideas and the reach of organizations espousing a social justice agenda have grown substantially since 2016, but a realistic assessment of the balance of forces tells us that the progressives remain fragmented in many ways and, even if we were more united, remain weaker and far less resourced than the long-established centrist and corporate forces in the opposition to Trump and, specifically, within the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Socialists of America’s Immigrant Rights Working Group organized a very successful webinar on the topic, No One Is Illegal! Capitalism, Imperialism and Borders on November 21. Hundreds of people registered and about eighty participated. We were assisted by the national office of DSA.
For those that missed the webinar live, find the link to the recording here.
We encourage immigrant rights groups and activists to share it and also organize discussions around it. The speakers explained the roots and nature of the attack on immigrants and presented a working class strategy for resistance and liberation.
This webinar is the first of several that we will be organizing. The next one will be a version of this one in Spanish. Please stay tuned for details on that one. We are also going to be putting together a webinar on practical tips and models for immigrant rights organizing.
Many on the first webinar asked for more information from the panelists who joined us. See below for both their bios and publications. Also, to supplement these, we encourage everyone to read, share and discuss the many excellent articles in the DSA’s Fall 2019 Socialist Forum.
Harsha Walia is a community organizer and cofounder of No One Is Illegal. She is the author of Undoing Border Imperialism. She’s based in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.
Todd Miller is the author of Empire of Borders, Border Patrol Nation. You can read an interview that summarizes his argument on Jacobin. He writes for NACLA among other publications. He’s based in Tucson, Arizona.
Justin Akers Chacon is the author of No One is Illegal and Radicals in the Barrio. He wrote a recent article on Punto Rojo entitled The Anti-Migrant International. He is an immigrant rights activist in San Diego, California and a co-founder of the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps.
Jorge Mújica is author of Voces Migrantes: Movimiento 10 de Marzo, a member of DSA, an Organizer with Arise Chicago, and a National Council member of the National Writers Union. He is based in Chicago, Illinois.
I'm sending this for our Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC). The DSLC includes DSAers active across the labor movement — union members and retirees, workers center activists, journalists, students in labor solidarity groups, DSA Labor Branch members, and more. Help DSA support the rank and file labor movement — join the DSLC today!
The DSLC strengthens our intersectional, worker-led struggle by:
DSA National Director
PS: Nominations for the DSLC Steering Committee Election will be accepted starting 12/9/2019. As soon as nominations open, the form will be available here.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI has made no secret of her desire to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement by the end of the year, telling reporters recently that it would be her goal for the House to vote on it before Christmas. Centrist Democrats have been insisting privately that a quick passage for the trade deal is necessary for moderate members of Congress to win their competitive reelections in 2020, to show they can “do something.” Unions have made clear, though, that from their perspective, USMCA lacks real labor enforcement mechanisms, which could undermine the whole deal, further drag down wages, and eliminate more jobs.
Meanwhile, a top priority for labor has been sitting quietly on Pelosi’s desk and, unlike USMCA, already commands enough support to get it over the House finish line. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act would be the most comprehensive rewrite of U.S. labor law in decades. It would eliminate right-to-work laws, impose new penalties on employers who retaliate against union organizing, crack down on worker misclassification, and establish new rules so that employers cannot delay negotiating collective bargaining contracts. Introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., in May, it already has 215 co-sponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate.
Meanwhile. The NYT reports all is going well with Democrats and Nafta. The Democratic Leadership expects some 100 Democrats to vote yes in the House. This is how the original Nafta was passed in 1994. Some 102 Democrats and the remainder Republicans made it a majority.
Sanders on Immigration
By far the most progressive plan of any of the candidates.
This country is a nation of immigrants. Other than the native peoples of the Americas, every one of our families came here from somewhere else. Some came by choice, some by necessity, and others in chains. As we have developed as a nation, each of us has contributed to the growth and prosperity of America in our own way. And our nation has been most successful and most true to its ideals when that prosperity has been shared among all of us. In many ways, that is what this campaign is about: building a movement to create an America where everyone shares in the prosperity that they and their ancestors helped create.
Read the plan
Statement on Human Rights Violations in Bolivia
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Evo Morales – the democratically elected President of Bolivia from the MAS party (Movimiento al Socialismo, Movement Towards Socialism) – was forced to resign on November 10, in what many observers view as a coup. In the wake of Morales’ resignation, there has been mounting chaos and violence. What is happening in Bolivia is highly undemocratic and we are witnessing some of the worst human rights violations at the hands of the military and the police since the transition to civilian government in the early 1980s. We condemn the violence in the strongest terms, and call on the US and other foreign governments to immediately cease to recognize and provide any support to this regime. We urge the media to do more to document the mounting human rights abuses being committed by the Bolivian state.
On November 10, Morales’ vice president and the heads of both chambers of Congress also resigned in the face of threats of violence against top MAS officials unless they left office. The pressure campaign included the burning of MAS officials’ houses and kidnapping of relatives. This paved the way for the ascension to the presidency of Jeanine Áñez (a conservative Roman Catholic opposition leader from northeastern Bolivia, widely accused of holding racist views) on Tuesday November 12.
The circumstances surrounding the rapid-fire resignations makes Áñez’s assumption of power highly questionable. There are serious doubts about the constitutional legitimacy of her succession. Without the forced resignations by MAS officials, Áñez would not have had even a minimally plausible constitutional path to the presidency, as she was serving as Vice-President of the Senate, a position that is not in the line of presidential succession within the constitution. Additionally, Áñez, whose party received only 4% of the vote in the most recent October 20 election, declared herself President in a Senate session lacking quorum, with MAS senators who make up the legislature’s majority boycotting partly due to fears for their physical safety.
Áñez represents the radical-right sector of the Bolivian opposition, which has taken advantage of the power vacuum created by Morales’ ouster to consolidate control over the state. Áñez appears to have full support of Bolivia’s military and police. Over the course of the last week the military and police have engaged in significant and increasing repression against protests, which have been largely, though not entirely, peaceful. By the night of November 13, La Paz and Cochabamba city center streets were empty of anyone but the police, military, and self-appointed neighborhood militias. There has been ongoing looting, burning of buildings, and violence on the streets and protesters have been met with much repression. In a highly disturbing move, Áñez issued an executive order on November 15 exempting the military from criminal responsibilities related to the use of force. Áñez has said Morales will face prosecution if he returns to Bolivia. sh has also floated the idea of banning the MAS party – which is undoubtedly still Bolivia’s largest and most popular political force – from participation in future elections.
Equally disturbing has been a resurgence of public anti-Indigenous racism over the course of the last week. Shortly after Áñez was declared President, she thrust a massive Bible into the air and proclaimed “The Bible has returned to the palace!” Three days earlier on the day of Morales’ ouster, Luis Fernando Camacho, a far-right Santa Cruz businessman and ally of Áñez, went to the presidential palace and knelt before a Bible placed on top of the Bolivian flag. A pastor accompanying him announced to the press, “The Pachamama will never return to the palace.” Opposition activists burned the wiphala flag (an important symbol of Indigenous identity) on various occasions. These are extremist views that threaten to reverse decades of gains in ethnic and cultural inclusion in Bolivia.
Despite increasing violence and repression, diverse social forces have been demonstrating around the country to condemn the government of Áñez. It is important to note that they include not only MAS supporters but also a broad swath of popular sectors that repudiate the rightwing seizure of the state. Thousands of largely unarmed protesters, mostly coca-leaf growers, gathered peacefully in Sacaba, a town in the department of Cochabamba, on the morning of November 15. After unsuccessful negotiations to march to the town square, protesters tried to cross a bridge into the city of Cochabamba, heavily guarded by police and military troops. Soldiers and police fired tear gas canisters and live bullets into the crowd. During the two-hour confrontation, nine protesters were shot dead, and at least 122 were wounded. Most of the dead and injured in Sacaba suffered bullet wounds. Guadalberto Lara, the director of the town’s Mexico Hospital, told the Associated Press it is the worst violence he has seen in his 30-year career. Families of the victims held a candlelight vigil late Friday in Sacaba. A tearful woman put her hand on a casket and asked, “Is this what you call democracy? Killing us as if we counted for nothing?”
We denounce the repressive state violence unfolding in Bolivia. We also voice our concern that the international media have not been able to effectively cover the human rights violations in Bolivia as they too have been met by the violence of the military. On November 15, an Al Jazeera journalist covering protests in La Paz was gassed by the police in the streets and could no longer hold her microphone or camera. Although she later backed down, Áñez’s new minister of communications told the press that the government will not tolerate “seditious” media. This environment, in which freedom of the press is not only not guaranteed, but threatened by the government, has resulted in an alarming lack of coverage of the gross human rights violations being committed by the armed forces against civilian unarmed protesters.
We are outraged by the Áñez regime’s violations of Bolivians’ political, civil, and human rights, and by the deplorable use of deadly violence that has led to a mounting death toll of protesters and countless serious injuries. We call upon the international community to immediately and publicly condemn these acts of violence. We ask international human rights bodies and organizations to impartially investigate and document the acts of violence committed by government agents. We demand that the international community ensure that this de facto regime, which is at best highly suspect and viewed by many as lacking any legitimacy, protect the lives of peaceful protesters, respect the rights of all to freedom of assembly and speech, and strictly abide by international norms on the use of force in situations of civilian violence. We demand that the US and other foreign governments cease all support to this regime and withhold international recognition until free and fair elections – including all political parties – are held, repressive violence ceases, and the fundamental human rights of all Bolivians are respected.
Angela Davis, University of California Santa Cruz
Greg Grandin, Yale University
Molly Crabapple, Author and Artist
Javier Auyero, University of Texas, Austin
Sinclair Thomson, NYU
Brooke Larson, University of Stony Brook
Forrest Hylton, Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín
William Robinson, University of California-Santa Barbara
Sujatha Fernandes, University of Sydney (Australia)
Gianpaolo Baiocchi, NYU
Steve Ellner, Universidad de Oriente (Venezuela)
Micah Uetricht, Jacobin
Shawn Gude, Jacobin
Alex Main, Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.
John L. Hammond, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Marc Edelman, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Deborah Poole: Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore)
Judy Helmand, York University, Toronto, Canada
Susan Spronk, University of Ottawa
Mark Healey, University of Connecticut
Laura Enriquez, University of California, Berkeley
Daniel Aldana Cohen, University of Pennsylvania
John Lindsay-Poland, Global Exchange
Ben Dangl, University of Vermont
Nicole Fabricant, Towson University
Carwil Bjork-James, Vanderbilt University
Santiago Anria, Dickinson College
Gabriel Hetland, University at Albany, SUNY
Samuel Handlin, Swarthmore College
Christy Thornton, Johns Hopkins University
Thea Riofrancos, Providence College
See the full list:
No One Is Illegal!
A Webinar on Capitalism, Imperialism and BordersWhen: November 21st, 2019, 8:30pm EST, 7:30pm CST; 5:30pm PST
Sponsor: Immigrant Rights Working Group – Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
Borders throughout the world have become sites of state violence, racist discrimination, and policing of workers freedom of movement. Governments from the US to Mexico, the EU and Israel to name just a few have militarized their boundaries, policed them with guards, forced migrants to take dangerous routes where they are losing their lives in record numbers, jailed those that survive in concentration camps, and exploited others as cheap labor denied the rights of workers with citizenship. On this webinar, experts on capitalism, climate change, imperialism and migration will explain the systemic roots of population displacement, the nature and function of the new border regime and present a case for working class unity against the oppression and scapegoating of migrants in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Justin Akers Chacon, author of No One is Illegal and Radicals in the Barrio.
Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders, Border Patrol Nation, and Storming the Wall.
Harsha Walia, author of Undoing Border Imperialism, cofounder of No One Is Illegal.
Jorge Mújica, author of Voces Migrantes: Movimiento 10 de Marzo, DSA member and Organizer with Arise Chicago, National Council member of the National Writers Union.
To get involved in DSA, become a member, join the Immigrant Rights Working Group, and find out more about activist campaigns.
Ten Arguments for Open Borders, the Abolition of ICE, and an Internationalist Labor Movement (Fall 2019) ResponsesOCTOBER 31, 2019“Open Borders” is Not the Issue: A Reply to Dan La Botz
Dan La Botz has written an extensive piece on open borders in Socialist Forum. I want to critique some parts of his arguments.
La Botz is well informed in this field and makes the best case for open borders. However, the conclusions do not necessarily follow from his arguments. In my view, he is about 80% correct. At the same time, we should not assume that open borders is the only correct position for the left, nor that it is feasible. We need clarity on these issues in order to build our movement.
At the same time, most of organized labor, most of the major civil rights organizations, and the Bernie Sanders campaign do not support open borders. We should understand why.
La Botz’s descriptions of the economy and the political forces, and his analysis are very well informed. The conclusions he draws from this work go beyond the arguments he makes. I do not have the time to go through each of the arguments in detail, so I want to highlight what I see as the major problem areas.
While it is true that delegates at the 2019 DSA national convention endorsed open borders an open borders policy of DSA, not all DSA members agree with that position.
In 2018 I described some of these contradictions in a piece called “Steps Toward a Labor Informed Perspective on Immigration” on the DSA North Star caucus’s blog. Here’s a brief excerpt from that piece:
In the article, “The Left Case against Open Borders”, writer Angela Nagle gets some of the economic conditions correct, but like Trump, she argues without evidence that the problem is that unions, the Left and immigrants’ rights activists support “open borders”. Her writing follows from the position in Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders by Reihan Salam.
Developing a policy on migration for labor and the left is far more complex than presented by Nagle and other writers.
First we must deal with some of the false accusations about the role of unions in the immigration policy debates.
Writer Nagle is wrong in asserting that the left and labor favor open borders. This is accepting the false narrative of Trump and the anti- immigrant forces.
There has been a long and well developed movement for immigration reform, along with connected policy proposals – few of which argue for open borders. Progressive policies and practices have emerged from within U.S. communities and the labor movement.
I agree with La Botz that “We are in a struggle for hearts and minds on the question of immigration, a key issue in U.S. politics today.” He then locates the problems in the crisis of 9/11 and austerity policies following the economic crisis of 2008.
Those issues were important, but anti-immigrant hostility was rampant as early as 1994, when Republican governor Pete Wilson won re-election while supporting the successful Proposition 187 ballot initiative. Proposition 187 established a citizenship screening system and attempted to cut undocumented immigrants off from health care, education, and other public services. Over five million voters – 60% of Californians who voted on the initiative – cast their ballots for this harshly anti-immigrant measure. Republicans have since been repudiated in California, and it is now a sanctuary state. However, at the federal level congressional Republicans passed and Bill Clinton signed the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a repressive bill that provided for the construction of fencing along the border and criminalized many aspects of immigrant life. Over the decades there have been numerous appropriation bills to provide increased funding for the Border Patrol as well as militarization and fencing of the border. Many of the current repressive actions at the border were made possible by the Trump administration’s use of this 1996 legislation. For more on this history, see Sand and Blood: America’s Deadly Stealth War on the Mexican Border by John Carlos Frey.
While I agree with La Botz that the anti-immigrant campaigns contribute to capitalist exploitation, I do not agree that open borders campaigns will advance the rights of immigrant workers. The DSA International Committee has a number of pieces supporting the position of open borders as put forward by La Botz and this position is supported by Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez, among others. However the U.S. organized labor movement is not there, nor are major political movements such as the civil rights organizations and the Sanders campaign. We should try to understand why these groups, our usual allies, are not arguing for open borders.
La Botz argues that organized labor does not currently support an internationalist position due in some part to the shortcomings of union leadership, an analysis linked to his support for the rank-and-file strategy regarding the labor movement. This may certainly be part of the story, and the rank-and-file strategy is well worth debating. But we should be cautious in incorporating the assumptions of the rank-and-file campaign approach as a part of a strategy for responding to migration. It is only one idea, and there is only scattered evidence to support it. We need strategies based upon really existing conditions, not wished for new unions.
Instead of open borders, most progressive unions have been arguing for revised immigration and labor policies that protect the rights of migrant workers, including their right to form unions. We should work with labor unions and workers centers. But we cannot assume that the unions support the rank-and-file strategy. Instead, we should seek migration policies that are possible within the present political reality.
La Botz, in his piece, argues for an internationalist labor position. That is fine. I am all for internationalism. I hope we get there someday. While supporting internationalism, we do not all support the abolition of nation-states. That is an extreme position. We should note that this argument has been active since at least 1914 and it has not yet made significant progress. I wish the internationalists well, but I also favor working in the real world, as it is.
When La Botz proposes the abolition of borders, we have to consider what would take their place. My view of history is that nation-states, with all of their problems, have been the only instrument that has limited the exploitation of the working class. That is why working people’s movement seek to gain control of governments. They hope to use their control of governments to protect their lives, their families. Since the new deal, national governments have imposed some limits on corporations.
I accept as accurate La Botz’s descriptions of the multinational corporations. The question is, what are we going to do about it. La Botz is certainly correct that in this neoliberal era workers are losing ground. However, tell me where corporations have been limited by any power other than a nation-state.
Without national and state governments, working people would be even more exposed to abuse by the multinational ruling class – the party of Davos. For example, it is states and nations that are now suing Facebook and Google. If we no longer have nation-states, who will sue them? And, who will establish the courts in which to sue?
In his piece La Botz asserts as urgent that we overcome the divisions within the U.S. working class, and he correctly describes the important role of migrant labor within that working class. We should be opposing these divisions in the working class. This includes actions of solidarity with migrant workers, which are essential. But simply adopting an open borders policy does not overcome the divisions. Why do you think organized labor, including the sections of organized labor led by immigrants, is not pursuing open borders? It is because open borders is in part a neoliberal capitalist utopian dream or nightmare.
The Trump administration and the Republican Party want the election campaign to be about “open borders” because it mobilizes their nativist, reactionary base. The nationalist right wing will accuse those of us on the left of being in favor or open borders because that helps them to win the public debate against immigration. It fosters fear and anxiety, and places difficulties in the way of both migration and unionization.
In my decades of activist experience, few migrants have advocated for open borders. This is not a campaign emerging from the ranks of immigrant workers. Rather, migrants are seeking a way to work and feed their families and to keep them safe from violence.
Dan La Botz has done a great service by laying out the arguments for open borders. And he is correct in proposing that migration and borders are critical emerging issues facing the environmental justice movements. But instead of arguments for open borders, I urge a perspective on organizing that begins the conversation within the experience and common sense of working people. That is an argument we can win.
Duane Campbell, Sacramento DSA
La Botz responds:
In his response to my arguments for open borders, Duane Campbell writes, “open borders is in part a neoliberal capitalist utopian dream or nightmare.” He supports the efforts by the AFL-CIO and other U.S. unions to pressure the U.S. government to protect workers in this country by regulating immigration. He is correct that this has been the position of U.S. unions practically since they were founded and generally remains so today. To influence the government, the unions have allied with the Democratic Party, relying on it to propose legislation. In the last couple of decades this proposed legislation has been called “comprehensive immigration reform,” which is intended to strengthen the borders, to regulate the flow of immigrants into the United States, and which proposes an onerous process for reaching U.S. citizenship.
One has to ask, how has the labor bureaucracy that leads the unions been doing with this strategy? After the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 gave “amnesty” to a couple of million undocumented immigrants, other millions of migrants continued to enter the United States without documents. The number of undocumented immigrants rose from 5 million to 11 million. Nor did the harsher and more punitive Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 have the desired effect, and undocumented immigrants continued to come into the country. At the same time, the percentage of workers in the unions fell from 20.1% to 10.7% today.
Many workers, seeing the immigrants continued to come and that their unions continued to decline, and having bought the unions’ argument that the government could protect them, turned to Donald Trump who promised to do exactly what the unions had promised: use the government to protect them. Their votes helped elect Trump to the presidency. And he did what he promised, tightening up the border and rounding up undocumented immigrants. And union membership continued to fall. And, of course, the AFL-CIO’s alliance with the Democratic Party not only failed to protect U.S. workers, but it led to the abuse and exploitation of immigrant workers.
What is the alternative? To be more successful, U.S. unions must turn from relying on the Democratic Party and the government to protect them and engage instead in an economic and political struggle against the corporations. The unions will have to break from their “partnership” with the employers, which is generally the rule. To carry this out, the unions will need to organize not only the unorganized but also the undocumented. To do that they will have to carry out a political fight within the unions against the racism that is still prevalent in many. They must provide convincing demonstrations of the ability of workers to unite, to fight, and to win not only strikes but also the fight for pro-labor legislation. Socialists are key to raising these ideas in the workers’ movement.
Can anyone seriously think that the current top-level leadership of the unions is capable of carrying out such a transformation of the labor movement? There is little if any evidence for it. So, then, how will the union movement become capable of breaking with its past and its futile dependence on the Democratic Party? The only possibilities are these: First, either the rank-and-file movements in the unions informed by a pro-immigrant and internationalist policy raised within by democratic socialists will transform the exiting unions into organizations fighting for the working class as whole; or, second, the continued deterioration of working-class power and the decline of the workers’ standard of living, together the rising sense of indignation among working people because their needs and desires are ignored, will lead to some national uprising such as we see today in France, Chile, Lebanon, and several other nations. At such moments, nationalist sentiment sometimes comes to predominate, though strong international feelings also often develop, though the outcome is always unclear.
Open borders does not mean the abolition of the nation-state, but rather a change in the practices of the nation-state. The very word internationalism suggests that there are many nations and there will continue to be even if we win the battle for socialism in one place or another. Only on the distant horizon of the abolition of capitalism and worldwide socialism can one contemplate the abolition of the nation-state.
The only way to move toward an open borders and internationalist policy such as presented in my original article, is through a rank-and-file movement imbued with pro-immigrant and internationalist sentiments that understand the enemy is the domestic employer, not the immigrant worker. The only way that such ideas will be raised is through the active intervention of socialists in the unions, defending both workers’ immediate interests and their long-term interests around issues such as immigration and climate change.
NAFTA Is An Accomplice To Murder
Oscar Hernández Romero’s friends searched for him in garbage dumps, ravines and all the other places that could hide what they feared to find—the bullet-riddled body of a Mexican labor activist. But they’ve turned up no trace of Oscar, who disappeared near the open-pit gold mine in southwestern Mexico where workers went on strike two years ago demanding to join the independent labor union Los Mineros. Anti-union thugs murdered three other men involved in the organizing effort by workers at the Media Luna mine, and Oscar is feared dead, too. NAFTA, which siphoned a million jobs from America and mired Mexican workers in poverty, is an accomplice to murder because it incentivized the killing of labor activists like Oscar. Corporations in Mexico exploit workers and pollute the environment to slash costs, which enables them to undercut U.S. and Canadian competitors. They aggressively thwart unions because their business model requires cheap labor. That puts targets on the backs of labor organizers who work to improve conditions in Mexican factories, mills and mines. If this situation is going to change, NAFTA must change. Strong labor standards and enforcement provisions must be written into the text of the proposed new NAFTA, including an ironclad right to organize and protection for activists, so Mexican workers can join real labor unions like Los Mineros, throw out company-controlled imposter unions like the one at Media Luna and get better wages and working conditions. Without these safeguards in the new NAFTA, formally known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Mexican labor activists will risk death. And corporations will continue to fire American and Canadian workers and move operations to Mexico.
Tom Conway is president of USW, the United Steelworkers
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.