Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Moving Beyond Bernie Sanders' "Political Revolution"

Just as the Sanders campaign didn't arise in a vacuum, there's no reason to expect it will leave a vacuum behind it.

By David L. Wilson, Truthout
June 29, 2016

It's been an astonishing year for the US left. Issues that mainstream politicians would have declared "off the table" just 12 months ago -- free public higher education, universal health care, the $15 minimum wage, a national ban on fracking -- are now acceptable topics for public discussion. A US politician who declared himself a socialist won more than 12 million votes, and even dared to advocate equitable treatment for Palestinians.

Bernie Sanders' campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has accomplished more than most of us could have imagined a year ago. But what happens now that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are almost certain to be our "choices" in the fall?[...]

Read the full article:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

US Left: Split, or Free at Last?

This article appeared in the July-August 1999 issue of The Socialist. I'm posting it here partly because it's no longer on line elsewhere, but also because the issues it deals with have been getting some play recently--as in this Salon piece

Many of the article's points are wrong or dated, but some aren't as off-base as they might appear at first. The WTO demonstrations hit Seattle just six months later, and many left-liberal activists did in fact break with the Democratic Party in 2000 to support Ralph Nader. The radicalization process was reversed in response to the September 11 attacks and the lunacy of the George W. Bush administration, but it started up again with the economic crisis in 2008 and the emergence of a new generation of activists. Since then we've seen the rise of the Dreamers, of Occupy, of Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter, all movements that have shown little interest in the Democratic Party. And while the Sanders campaign is taking place within the party, its whole basis is defiance of the Democratic leadership's neoliberal orthodoxy.

I think my piece's biggest mistake was missing the importance of mass incarceration in the Clinton years. And the biggest irony is that in 1999 Bernie Sanders voted to back the Clintons' hawkishness; he seems to have improved a lot since then. --DW

The US Left: Split, or Free at Last?
By David Wilson

In just two months of bombing Yugoslavia Bill Clinton has done what Lyndon Johnson needed three years to do with Vietnam: he has split the majority of US activists from the Democrats in a way that is unlikely to allow any reconciliation in the near future.

It's hard to believe that just six months ago many activists were streaming to the polls to "hold their noses and vote for the Democrats." Now these same activists are forming picket lines outside the offices of the "Progressive Caucus" Congress members, who form the hard core of the war party.

On Apr. 26 some 30 former supporters sat in on the Burlington offices of Rep. Bernie Sanders, self-described "independent socialist" of Vermont, to protest his support for Clinton's war. Sanders' staff called the cops; 15 activists were arrested. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) has had to arrest even more activists--30 of his Santa Cruz constituents since May 13. In one protest, on May 22, the Coalition to Stop the Bombing of Yugoslavia protested as Farr spoke at a Democratic Central Committee Annual Awards dinner. The activists festooned the sidewalk with slogans and pictures, distributed paper "body parts" symbolizing people blown apart by NATO cluster bombs, played a tape of bombs falling in Belgrade, and serenaded Farr with a new song: "Sam Farr, weak in the cranium, bombs the Serbs with depleted uranium!" Police arrested five protesters, including a Free Radio Santa Cruz 96.3 FM reporter who was taping the action.

Getting the Monkey Off Our Backs

Many people have written sadly about the "split in the left." It is indeed a sad, even tragic thing to watch a few once-serious leftists--people with real character and intelligence--turning themselves into cogs in a war machine. But the real split is not in the left but within the ranks of left-liberals, who have finally been forced to decide which they are: left or liberal. And most have chosen the left.

There is in fact nothing tragic about this split, which finally frees activists from an alliance with the Democrats that did nothing but impede effective organizing.

Look at the actual record of the Clinton administration. Take the doctrine of "humanitarian intervention," a bit of war propaganda cooked up in the early 1990s by Establishment think tanks like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.* Its first test was the Bush-Clinton invasion of Somalia in 1992-93. The avowed goal was to feed famine victims; the result was the massacre of hundreds of Somali civilians in the streets of Mogadishu.

Next came the comparatively bloodless 1994 invasion of Haiti, ostensibly to end the criminal rule of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and death-squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant. Both turned out to be on the CIA payroll. Cedras now lives comfortably in Panama; Constant lives in Queens, with the Clinton administration shielding him from a Haitian extradition request. The third humanitarian intervention was the NATO's brief 1995 air war in Bosnia Herzegovina, which in effect gave the international community's seal of approval to Tudjman's ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs from Croatia, legally recognized the fascist "Republika Srpska" in Bosnia, made Milosevic the "guarantor of peace" in the Balkans, and set the stage for the current war.

Understandably, the proponents of humanitarian intervention showed no interest in reviewing the records of their earlier adventures. Instead, they pushed ahead with the next intervention, recycling the rhetoric ("you can't just stand there and do nothing, we must stop the genocide, don't you care about the human tragedy?"). And now they've brought us, once more, a country bombed back to the Stone Age.

Organizing Against the Sweatshop President

Clinton's neoliberal economic agenda--NAFTA in 1993, "welfare reform" and "immigration reform" in 1996, plans to "save" Social Security, countless embargoes against developing nations, efforts to revive the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)--will prove even more destructive in the long run than his military actions.

The president is reportedly concerned about how history will remember him. Many activists are starting to see his accomplishments in terms of how many welfare recipients are forced into slave labor programs, how many undocumented immigrants are working in sweatshops, how many production jobs have moved to low-wage havens in the "Third World." When Clinton took office in 1993, about 400,000 Mexicans worked in northern Mexico's vast maquiladora zone, making $50 or less a week assembling products sold mostly in the US for the benefit of US corporations; last January the number of maquiladora employees officially passed the one million mark. History will probably remember Clinton as the sweatshop president.

Throughout the world left and grassroots organizations have been working together over the last decade to build opposition to these neoliberal economic policies. Just since the Balkan war began, the Americas have been convulsed by strikes and militant protests against IMF austerity programs, against privatization, against union-busting. In Mexico and Argentina, university and high school students organized two of the largest student strikes of the last 30 years. The Argentine strike quickly won a rollback of education cutbacks; the Mexican strike is still continuing after more than a month, with broad support from other sectors.

There are a number of reasons for the failure of activists to build this sort of resistance in the US. The main reason, of course, is that the economic crisis has yet to strike here. Although Clinton's welfare, immigration and trade policies have been a significant drag on wages, so far the effect has been not so much to hurt the majority of workers as to keep them from participating in the boom. But the left's de facto alliance with the Democrats has had an important effect on organizing. How could activists organize effectively against the neoliberal economic program when they still called neoliberal legislators "our friends in Congress," when they were still rallying to defend Sweatshop Bill from "the vast rightwing conspiracy," when they were still supporting the US's ability to intervene everywhere and anywhere it chooses?

The War Room antics in Washington have helped us kick the Democratic Party habit. Just as in 1967 and 1968, activists at last have the scary but liberating ability to act on their own. We may not use our new freedom wisely--to a large extent we failed then--but at least we have it. Now let's get down to work on some long-overdue organizing.

May 29, 1999

* See the Endowment's 1992 report, Changing Our Ways: America in the New
World, pp 50-51.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Textile Workers Mobilize in Haiti for Minimum Wage Adjustment — Press Conference

By PLASIT, via Workers Struggle
April 19, 2016

Press Conference on April 14, 2016

Greetings to all our media friends, print as well as television, that come to provide coverage for the conference that PLASIT, which is Textile Plants Union Platform, to launch the mobilization for the minimum wage adjustment for the year 2015-2016. In PLASIT, we notice that 8 months following the beginning of the fiscal year, the Supreme Salary Council finally made recommendations to the government just as it did for the past 2 years. Thus, the Council has adopted a bad habit of not respecting what is stated in Article 4.1 in the Law of 2009 on the minimum wage.

In the Supreme Salary Council, it’s mainly delaying tactics and plots going on. Management and the two so-called union representatives in the Council are dragging their feet so that management may continue to steal several months of workers’ wages. So, management will have more leeway to continue to pay workers measly wages.[...]

Read full press release:
Watch video (in Creole):

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Are Sanders and Fair Trade a Threat to the Global Poor?

By David L. Wilson, MRzine
April 13, 2016

On April 24, 2013, some 1,134 people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The building housed factories where low-wage workers, largely women, stitched garments for the U.S. and European markets.

For several years before the disaster a number of U.S. opinion makers -- notably New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof -- had been arguing that assembly plants like those at Rana Plaza were crucial to the development of economies in the Global South and therefore a boon to the world's most impoverished. The media's efforts to promote sweatshops suddenly slowed down after the collapse in Bangladesh, but they seem to be reviving now, just as we approach the third anniversary of the disaster.

The occasion for the new pro-sweatshop campaign is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' opposition to trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).[...]

Read the full article:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Review: Learning from Latin America’s Social Movements

By David L. Wilson, Upside Down World
June 10, 2014

Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein, editors. Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements. PM Press, 2014.

One thing most social movements have in common is a striking ability to take the experts by surprise.

At a forum in New York last year, a senior analyst from a leading DC-based progressive research group admitted that until a June 2009 coup forced former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya out of office, “Honduras wasn’t on our radar.” The analyst’s organization was one of the best sources of information on the country in the months following the coup, but before the headline-grabbing event it overlooked one of the most interesting political developments in the hemisphere.

A mass movement had grown up in Honduras over the previous decades based on militant unions, increasingly assertive organizations of indigenous and African-descended Hondurans, campesinos demanding effective agrarian reform, and rapidly growing feminist and LGBT groups. [...]

Read the full article:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Statements From Haiti and Bangladesh for Left Forum 2014

[These two statements from front-line labor organizations were read at the June 1 "Global Minimum Wage" forum at this year's Left Forum conference in New York City.]

Statement From Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle"), Haiti

To the comrades in attendance at the Left Forum this year:

In the name of Batay Ouvriye in Haiti, we salute all the workers, laborers and militants who are taking part in the 2014 Left Forum in the US. Also, we salute this initiative, particularly because it seeks to address a fundamental question: Reform or Revolution.

In the context of the organizational construction necessary to free all workers and all humanity, we are conscious of the need for well-coordinated linkage and relationships between vanguard organizations and the working masses, and with the popular masses in general, particularly in dominated countries. For this linkage to be effective, it must also enable us at the same time to advance toward our final objective. To achieve this, we must seek at all times to build the necessary capacity to go beyond and build the capacity to transcend. And this ability must be rooted in the very nature of what we are building, in its DNA. It is this intrinsic capacity that can ensure the necessary permanent surpassing of our struggles and organizations.

This is the only way we can struggle against the revisionism that naturally develops in struggles within the realm of bourgeois democratic rights. It is the surest way to always emerge onto the advancement that is needed each time. This is a key point.

On our side, within the necessary objective of seeking to surpass and to enable the struggles of sweatshop workers in general to move beyond their initial limits (the struggle of workers all over the world against this spreading blood-sucking form of capitalism), we are working to see how a global minimum wage can be established. This could be regional at first, maybe, taking into account the many different regional “Free Trade” agreements, but always toward the objective of achieving a comprehensive international minimum wage. This way, the working class would be able to battle, with strength, with a unity it would be building within the struggle itself. The ability to do this would enable the working class to become more and more conscious of its strength and potential, to struggle for more and to naturally enable its struggles to seek new levels, surpassing their previous objectives, developing new relationships and surpassing itself. That would once again be the role of the conscious vanguard that would emerge from the working class itself, to not only take hold of this possibility but to enact it and bring it to life.

The working class is the only class capable of moving this construction beyond and through the constant surpassing of its limits, without halting.

On the flip side, it is in the US that the upheaval we are seeking can take a shape and reach a level so high that it would project at once the emancipation we are all struggling for.

These two parameters highlight the importance of this 2014 Left Forum.

In this context, we salute once again this initiative to reflect on this necessary linkage, while the representative of our political tendency is bringing to you our vision on this ensemble of issues.

Long live the struggle of the popular masses, with laborers as their pillar, under the leadership of the working class!

Stay strong in struggle, always seeking to move beyond, and we will prevail!

Batay Ouvriye, Haiti

The Wage Struggle of Garment Workers in Bangladesh

Statement from Faiezul Hakim,
President of the Bangladesh Trade Union Federation
May 30, 2014

In Bangladesh, the garment workers are now very much class conscious. Especially, this has increased after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, a suburb near the capital Dhaka last year, on 24th April 2013. In addition, the people of Bangladesh are also now concerned about garment workers’ conditions, like their wages, lifestyle, etc. The exception is the ruling class.

In 2013, the present Government declared wages for the garment workers through a Wage Commission. It was a farce. This commission declared the minimum basic wage for a garment worker to be 5,300 Bangladeshi Taka [BDT] (1 US dollar was equivalent to 80 BDT), where the basic wage is 3,200 BDT excluding house rent , medical allowance, transportation, education allowance, etc.

The trade unions linked with left parties demanded 8000 BDT as a total monthly wage. This is also the demand of SKOP, a organization of workers and employees. In contrast, we Bangladesh Trade Union Federation raised the demand of 18,000 BDT (where the basic wage is 10,000 BDT).

We also raised the question: on what basis did you people fix the wages. According to our calculation, one adult person needs 3200 calories per day, and according to this we can find the monthly food expenditure for a 4-member of a family in Bangladesh (especially in Dhaka) to be now around 10,000 BDT. Now we want to add house rent, transportation, medical allowance, allowance for children’s education, etc. It will be then 18,000 BDT (though house rent in the city is different from the periphery).

We have a marked difference from others. These trade union leaders have agreed on our point, but they ask: how could the garment owners give this money to the workers as wages? It is their position, and the reflection of the garment owners’ position also.

It is notable that when we were part of the state of Pakistan, they paid 155 Rupees as a minimum wage after a workers upsurge in 1969. Today it is equivalent to 18,000 BDT. This is basically the minimum real wage, not a humanitarian wage.

Many garment factory owners have not yet executed the minimum wage for workers of 5,300 BDT declared by the government. And the government is not interested in supervising this. Those who executed it, introduced new tactics. Suppose, before the wage declaration, that there were 20 workers working in a line of a factory. Now there are 15 workers. It means they terminated 5 workers, and now 15 workers are doing job which was finished before by 20. It creates pressure on the workers. It is important to mention here that the anti-labor law helps the owners.

After the mass killing of garment workers in the year of 2013 in Bangladesh, in the Rana Plaza building collapse, the Government of Bangladesh formed an investigation committee. That committee investigated, but the people of Bangladesh have not heard about their findings. But people do know that the victim’ families have not received real compensation yet—not from the government, not from the owners, and not from the foreign buyers. In addition, the factory buildings for garment production are ill-designed and life threatening.

We, the Bangladesh Trade Union Federation, are trying to build our units in garments area. We are discussing among the workers about the government, the state, and the global imperialistic and capitalistic system. We are going with political questions, which are to prepare to capture state power by a working class movement—not by the present election system but by people's political insurrection. We are also raise workers’ demands: trade union rights, 8 hours working time, appointment letters, no compulsory overtime, 6-month maternity leave with wages, etc.

The wage struggle of garments workers is not a local phenomenon—it is global. So we think it is the time to establish workers’ unity all over the world, which will enhance the working class movement throughout the world. It is our duty to expose capitalism-imperialism in front of the working class and people.

By abolishing the capitalistic-imperialistic system through people's struggle, we will enter again into socialism, a humanitarian society which will save our planet.

Friday, May 30, 2014

NYC, June 1: “The Global Minimum Wage Struggle,” at Left Forum

The Global Minimum Wage Struggle

Global capital’s “race to the bottom” in imposing ever-lower—even sub-survival—wages is generating resistance around the world. With a focus on the garment industry in Bangladesh and Haiti, the speakers will discuss the importance of working class internationalism. This includes not only building solidarity, but also coordination of struggles.

Panel at Left Forum
Noon - 1:50 p.m.
Sunday, June 1
Room 1.109

• David L. Wilson, Weekly News Update on the Americas
• Kiki Makandal, Batay Ouvriye Solidarity Network, One Struggle NY
• Stephanie McMillan, political cartonist, Proletarian Alternative, One Struggle FL

Recommended reading:
Stephanie McMillan: “A Garment Worker in Bangladesh Speaks Out”
Kiki Makandal: “Ten Years of UN Military Occupation of Haiti: Background and Current Effects”
David L. Wilson: “Thinking Big: The Global Minimum Wage”