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Clinton’s murder of Ricky Ray Rector

On January 24, 1992, I joined a few dozen civil rights and peace activists outside Bill Clinton’s home to protest his decision to promote his political career by murdering Ricky Ray Rector. Clinton, then Arkansas’ governor, had flown home from the campaign trail for a day specifically for the execution — hoping this judicial murder of a mentally retarded African-American man would bolster his political fortunes by demonstrating that he was “tough on crime.” (It was one of several Clinton “triangulation” moves during the campaign, and during his presidency, in which he abused African-Americans in order to curry favor with conservatives.)

Ricky Ray Rector was not innocent. He had shot a man in a fit of anger, fled, and then shot and killed the police officer who came to arrest him. Smart enough to recognize that there was no future in Arkansas for a black man who killed a police officer, Rector turned his gun on himself, blowing out a good chunk of his brain. Police rushed him to the hospital, where he was patched up and sent to jail. Basically lobotomized, with an IQ measured at 63, Rector could not recall his murders or assist his attorneys at trial. Before his grisly execution (it took nearly an hour of poking at his veins to administer the lethal injection), Rector ate his last dinner. He set aside his slice of pecan pie; when the guards asked why he said that he would eat it after the execution.

Ricky Ray Rector never got to eat that piece of pie. Bill Clinton had him killed because he thought it would get him some votes. He went on to give us the crime bill, welfare “reform,” “don’t ask don’t tell,” and an economic bonanza for the richest among us. On Friday he’s speaking at Albright College, where I teach, in support of his wife’s candidacy. I won’t be there, but I can’t help wondering where she was while her husband was killing Ricky Ray Rector. I know she wasn’t out there with us, on the picket line.

A rigged system

In “The Labor Party Illusion,” Sam Dolgoff notes the enormous practical difficulties facing any effort to reshape the government in the interests of the majority through electoral action. The system is quite literally rigged, through artful drawing of electoral districts, restrictions on the franchise (even today, millions of Americans are denied the “right” to vote based on lack of a drivers’ license, legal status, lack of a fixed address, or past criminal convictions), a governmental structure deliberately designed to restrain the majority (the Federalist Papers are quite clear about this), and of course the role of money. (He also points out that even were it practical to place workers’ “representatives” in charge, this would neither bring about a democratic society nor result in fundamental social transformation — the state is an organ for controlling the majority, and as long as a few control society’s wealth, the politicians will do their bidding.)

Lest anyone think this is a historical problem, the Sept. 26 Business Week notes that were presidents elected the same way Congressional representatives are, Mitt Romney would have won the White House in a landslide in 2012 (instead of losing by 3.5 million votes). Congressional districts have been carefully drawn to minimize the influence of workers and racial minorities. Although both houses of Congress are firmly in Republican hands, Democrats (not that they’re much better) routinely receive far more votes for their candidates.

Although it seems she’s doing her level best to lose (like Al Gore before her), it still seems likely that Hillary Clinton will be elected president. This will mean a larger military budget, more bombs dropped on the heads of our fellow workers around the world, more people in prison, and a continuation of the all-out assault on the tattered remains of our social safety net. (Trump offers a more reckless version of the same, flavored with lightly veiled promises to reinforce white supremacy.) But there is practically no chance of the Democrats taking over the House, and so the political struggles of the next four years will be between Hillary’s ruthless conservatism and the even-more-violent reactionaries in Congress.

Unless, of course, we organize a real movement in our workplaces and communities, and use direct action to get the goods.

Trusting Hillary

The current issue of Business Week includes an interview with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in which he says he trusts Hillary Clinton:

I’ve talked to her. I’ve looked into her eyes. I think I know people pretty well… I don’t have any concern that she’s going to double back on us after the election…

It’s this kind of discernment and judgment and respect for authority that’s gotten the American labor movement where it is today. (A chart accompanying the interview notes that U.S. union membership has dropped from 29% of the U.S. workforce to 11% over the past 50 years — which masks a much steeper drop in private sector union membership, offset to some extent by greater organization of government workers.)

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party platform doesn’t even promise to block the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade sell-out, which Trumka trusts Hillary to jettison (not that such pledges mean anything; I remember when the Dems used to promise to repeal Taft-Hartley, but even when they controlled all branches of government they lifted not a finger to do so – indeed, I remember “friend of labor” Jimmy Carter Taft-Harleying the coal miners, for all the good it did [they ignored the injunction, wielded their industrial power, and won their strike, proving once again that direct action gets the goods]). Since both Hillary and Bernie claimed to oppose the TPP, the fact that the platform is mum on the issue says something about who really runs the Democratic Party…

We’re also promised immigration reform, a higher minimum wage, environmental protections, and a host of other things that, if delivered, might actually incrementally improve people’s lives. But anyone who holds their breath waiting had better hope they keel over unconscious before irreversible brain damage sets in. Case in point: the deporter in chief (who during his first run for president pledged that he would put on a comfy pair of shoes and walk the picketline, should workers face attack, but somehow hasn’t managed to find even a single strike worth supporting since taking up residence in the White House his wife aptly notes was built, in part, by slaves) continues imprisoning women and children at record rates, and deporting our undocumented fellow workers at rates that make the Bushes look downright friendly. It’s gotten so ugly that even crazed xenophobe Glenn Beck organized a convoy to deliver teddy bears and toys to the imprisoned toddlers.

But Trumka trusts the Democrats. Perhaps he trusts the bosses as well (after all, they own the Democratic Party lock, stock and barrel). Nothing worth winning was ever accomplished by groveling before the polytricksters, or listening to their lies. Direct action gets the goods.



Why I don’t support “my” public radio station, pt III

Salon recently ran a piece noting that the media — “public” media included — devote endless time and space to following the bosses and their concerns, and no space at all to covering the lives and concerns of those of us who must work for a living — the vast majority of the population.

This has been going on for so long that we take it for granted. But still it galls to be harangued on-air to donate to help keep their pro-boss propaganda on the air.

Sunday afternoon, WHYY “treated” us to an interminable first-person story of a guy who scabbed on the British miners strike 30 years ago. I’m not at all sure why; the strike was crushed long ago, he was not repentant in the least (but offered no coherent explanation as to why he decided to scab – it seems he believes workers don’t have the right to withhold their labor), and he was offended by his fellow workers calling him a scab and his neighbors shunning him. Perhaps they thought they had gone to long without allowing any workers’ voices on the air, but couldn’t bring themselves to give airtime to someone who thought workers had rights. So they dredged up a scab…

A couple of days later, they mentioned unions on their newscast, although of course they did not allow any unionist to speak in their own behalf. Rather, it was a piece about how the bosses are having trouble getting their voices heard in New Jersey government because they can’t afford to buy the politicians:

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce president Tom Bracken said businesses did contribute to candidates during the last election campaign, but doubts they can match union spending.

“I’m not sure that we have the wherewithal to do that,” he said.

I’m not sure what planet they live on; but in reality the bosses hugely outspend unions on politics. New Jersey state workers’ pensions are being systematically looted (first they underfund them, then they “reform” pensions to make them more “affordable,” then they underfund them again, repeat to infinity); hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are showered on the corporations; the schools where workers send their kids are being starved of resources; etc…..

If you’re in business, it probably makes sense to finance the politicians, since the entire state apparatus was established for the purpose of keeping those on top on top, and the rest of us in our place. Unions would do better to stop wasting their funds trying to rent the polytricksters, and instead focus on organizing, building power, and shutting down business as usual.

More “free trade”

“Free trade” is increasingly like “free time”; they’re still stealing from you, but now it’s on your dime (or your time).

They’ve finally released the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, and it’s every bit as bad as expected. As Human Rights Watch says, it’s a “win-win” — unless you care about the environment, labor rights, growing inequality, human rights, access to life-saving medicines, and similar minor issues.

The Obama administration points to “protections” such as provisions “guaranteeing” Vietnamese workers the right to form independent unions, strike, and work with labor organizations around the world. But while corporations have the right to bring legal claims if environmental or labor (or health, human rights, and other measures) negatively impact their profits under the deal, workers have no enforcement mechanisms available to them under the agreement. Corporations have equal status with the governments that signed this deal on their behalf. Both can bring complaints to the TPP disputes panel (comprised of corporate attorneys and their ilk); workers have only those rights they are able to enforce through our own direct action — through strikes, boycotts, refusal to handle scabby goods and the like. Most such actions are severely restricted by existing legislation, and since any improvements to labor rights are certain to negatively impact profits the bosses are likely to bring TPP complaints should any effective protections be implemented.

“Are trade unionists who actually produce all the capital that we’re talking about here allowed to bring compalints against a country for violations?” asked John Sifton, Asian advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “No, of course not.” Instead we are asked to trust the U.S. government (an implacable foe of workers in this country) to protect the rights of our fellow workers abroad. Similar provisions exist under the Central American Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, and we can see how those have turned out.

The Obama administrations touts TPP’s strong environmental protections; the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council — both solidly mainstream organizations that would never dream of opposing capitalist exploitation — say the provisions are even weaker that those negotiated by the George W. Bush administration’s trade deals.

Candidate Obama talked quite a bit about the devastating effects of NAFTA back when he was trying to get votes. Now that he’s angling for his “legacy” (read high-paid corporate boards, lectures, and the other accoutrements of loyal service to the bosses), “free trade” deals rain down from the sky like a plague of locusts. When she was secretary of state, Ms. Clinton never saw a free trade deal she didn’t like; now that she’s out campaigning she has suddenly seen the light. But when she returns to the White House, or to the Clinton Foundation, we’ll see just how long this sudden concern for the plight of the working class and the devastation of the environment lasts.

The AFL-CIO and kindred organizations will fuss and moan, some Republicans will object to the TPP’s rhetorical restraints on the “freedoms” of corporations to despoil and exploit, and a few Democrats needing votes (but not enough to block the treaty) will speechify about environmental protections and workers rights. But all this is in the realm of shadow puppetry. Only direct action and organized action can create and enforce real protections for our planet or for the workers who create all the world’s wealth.

The “middle class” economy

The July 6 Business Week reports on a proposed rule change, cracking down on companies that give low-paid staff “manager” titles so as to avoid paying overtime. If the rule goes through (and business is fighting it hard), workers in the bottom 40% of wage earners would be automatically entitled to overtime pay, even if they are bona fide managers. (There are a great many low-paid “managers,” following a 2004 rule change that declared that even workers whose primary duties entail stocking shelves, running a cash register, etc., can be classified as managers and so excluded from overtime pay as long as their duties include “supervision” of at least two employees at some point during the work week.)

A former economic advisor to VP Joe Biden is quoted saying this rule change will reach “more middle-class workers” than anything else the Obama administration has done. And it appears that 4.7 million U.S. workers (all earning less than $970 a week) would be entitled to overtime pay for extra hours under the proposal. How such paltry wages justifies calling someone “middle class” just goes to show how flexible the concept is. For Republicans, “middle class” tax cuts benefit millionaires and their ilk; for Democrats, anyone earning minimum wage has entered the ranks of the “middle class.”

An Outbreak of Bi-Partisanship

Though you’d never know it from the pundits, we are suffering from a surfeit of bipartisan collaboration. Right after the 2014 elections we saw a budget deal staving off a federal government shutdown (it never actually shuts down in these stand-offs, of course; the bombs keep falling, the cages they call prisons are not opened, police brutality continues unabated) for another year. The backroom deal between the White House, Senate Democrats and Republicans allowed banks to return to the reckless speculation that brought on the financial crisis we are told is now over. (It’s over for the corporations and banks, which are rolling in profits, and they’re the ones who really count.)

It’s a gambler’s dream. If the bets pay off, the banks get to keep the winnings. If they fail, the taxpayers (that is, those of us who must work for a living) pick up the tab.

The deal also included more tax breaks for the rich, and a little-noticed provision allowing pension plans to slash benefits for already retired workers if the plan seems likely to run short of cash over the next 20 years. This is, of course, a real problem. For decades, employers failed to adequately fund pension plans, relying on rosy projections to paper over the gap with phony income. When the inevitable shortfall came, they slashed benefits to future retirees or turned to the federal pension guarantee fund for a bail-out (always on the backs of retirees).

Now employers can simply “adjust” pension benefits on their own, if the pension trustees agree; if they don’t agree, the bosses can go straight to the feds for permission.

Los Angeles Times economic columnist Michael Hiltzik was among the few to comment on “the backroom, last-minute congressional deal allowing benefits of millions of retired workers to be shredded.” United Parcel Service stands to save nearly $2 billion by ditching its obligations to a multi-employer pension fund it pulled out of in 2007. Workers, meanwhile, could see two-thirds of their promised pensions vanish into thin air – or more precisely, into the profit side of the bosses’ balance sheets.

And the bipartisanship continues.

Democrats and Republicans came together to restore the U.S. government’s “right” to access our phone and email records anytime it chooses. (In a “reform,” the government won’t keep the records in its own database, but instead will get them from the companies whenever it wants to look them over.)

“Free trade” deals proliferate, with support from both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan drones continue to slaughter civilians (and sometimes people the government actually meant to kill) in the most bipartisan way imaginable. Obama has set new records for deporting our fellow workers; the Republicans promise to do even more if they get the White House.

We were promised gridlock – but it’s just one more broken promise from the polytricksters…

Mock battles among brothers in exploitation

Our friends at El Libertario in Venezuela call attention to the close relations of exploitation between the U.S. and Venezuela that have only deepened since the so-called Bolivarian revolution. Oil exports are up, Venezuela’s “eco-socialist” regime has embraced tracking, and the two regimes shadow box with each other – bolstering their domestic popularity by seeming to fight enemies abroad:

The American Separation of Labor

The lockout of the Teamsters and Carpenters from the Philadelphia Convention Center continues, and the labor courts have just struck another blow against union leaders who have been trusting to the courts and to the new governor they spent huge sums to help elect, rather than to industrial action and solidarity, to return their members to the job.

First the National Labor Relations Board ruled that it did not have jurisdiction because the Convention Center Board was a public agency. Now the Pennsylvania board has ruled that it doesn’t have jurisdiction because the locked-out workers were hired and dispatched by a private contractor, not by the Convention Center. The unions say they’ll appeal, but that could take years and neither body has a record of defending workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, the picketers continue their token presence in a picketing pen set up by the police far from the loading docks where they might hope to persuade fellow Teamsters not to cross picket lines to deliver the truckloads of stuff absolutely essential to the conventions and trade shows (so far, there is not a single documented example of workers honoring the picket line) the Center relies on. Members of the four unions which have been crossing the picket lines to work the shows from day 1 continue waltzing across the lines, as do members of both locked-out locals working under different agreements.

No doubt some locals have refused to enter the scabby facility (I’ll be staying away from the Flower Show this year), but since the picketing pen is too far from the entrances to be seen they would have to know about the dispute in advance.

Union piecards have been trusting to the courts and to the politicians to get their members’ jobs back. The newly elected Democratic governor has not said one word in their behalf since ousting the Republican by a healthy margin. There’s no justice to be found in the courts.

So we see the complete bankruptcy of the American Separation of Labor. The workers can’t capitulate — they already offered to crawl back on the bosses’ terms just hours after the lock-out began. They’ve been clear that they’re ready to work on whatever conditions the bosses demand. They just want their jobs back.

But the bosses don’t need them, in part because the craft-based structures the American Separation of Labor was built around have been obsolete for more than a century. There were six unions representing the floor workers in the Convention Center, and it’s long been clear that the work wasn’t so distinctive or specialized that almost all of it couldn’t be done by someone trained in a different craft.

As long as the other workers continue scabbing, the Convention Center doesn’t need the workers it’s locked out. The only industrial power they might have would come from workers acting in solidarity with one another, rather than paying dues to “unions” competing with each other to deliver workers to the bosses under the most favorable terms. If the four scabbing unions stopped their union scabbery, the lock-out would end within a day. If Teamster drivers refused to deliver to the scab-ridden Convention Center, no trade shows or conventions could be held.

If, that is, American workers had a union movement worthy of the name…

The Bosses’ State

Pundits are celebrating the first fruits of the post-election bipartisan collaboration, the budget deal that staved off a government shutdown (the government is never actually shut down in these stand-offs, of course; the bombs keep falling, the cages they call prisons are not opened, police brutality continues unabated) for another year. There was some attention to the backroom deal between the White House, Senate Democrats and the Republicans to allow banks to return to the sort of reckless speculation that brought on the financial crisis we are told is now over. (It’s over for the corporations and banks, which are rolling in profits, and they’re the only ones who really count.) It’s a gambler’s dream. If the bets pay off, the banks get to keep the winnings. If they fail, the taxpayers (that is, those of us who must work for a living) have to pick up the tab.

But this was far from the only example of looting. In addition to a raft of tax breaks for the rich, there was a virtually ignored provision that would allow solvent pension plans to slash pension benefits for already retired workers if the plans seem likely to run short of cash in the next 20 years. This is, of course, a real problem. Employers have for decades failed to adequately fund pension plans, relying on rosy projections of robust investment returns to paper over the gap with phone income. When the inevitable fiscal crisis came, instead of coughing up the necessary cash they slashed benefits to future retirees or turned to the federal pension guarantee fund for a bail-out (one always financed on the backs of retirees). The new legislation allows employers to simply “adjust” pension benefits on their own, if the pension trustees (which often include worker “representatives”) agree; but if they don’t agree, the bosses will be allowed to go straight to the federal government for permission.

Los Angeles Times economic columnist Michael Hiltzik was among the few to even notice, and denounce, “the backroom, last-minute congressional deal allowing benefits of millions of retired workers to be shredded.” His conclusion? “It’s even worse than its critics anticipated.” But not for everyone. United Parcel Service stands to save nearly $2 billion from ditching its obligations to a multi-employer pension group it pulled out of in 2007. Workers, meanwhile, could see up to two-thirds of their promised pension benefits vanish into thin air — or more precisely, into the profit side of the bosses’ balance sheets.