Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What happened to my country?

From: People's World

February 8 2010

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As I grabbed my grease-soiled lunch cooler and stepped out of my GM truck to head into work at Delphi Packard Electric I had to stop for a moment to digest the sight of a nearly 1/2 mile long, 1/8 mile deep parking lot that was literally empty. I reflected for a moment on two American brothers with the knowledge and ingenuity to develop high voltage ignition cable that in the early 1900s was only available abroad. From those beginnings in a factory near downtown Warren, Ohio, evolved the largest automotive electrical wiring and component business in the world.

Eventually the North River Road complex became the center hub of all engineering and development. Some of greatest advances in automotive electronics were birthed right here in Warren, Ohio. At its peak nearly 15,000 American workers filed through these doors. The huge parking lot that I gazed upon once filled to its capacity with American workers now looked like a deserted scene from an apocalyptic movie.

What happened to my country?

The regal blue engineering and research facility now stands totally empty. American engineering and manufacturing skills built this once huge empire with blood, sweat and gears. Once the hard work was complete and the business model set, little by little the corporate heads began to whittle away at this empire. Not for the sake of survival but for the seemingly insatiable desire to line their pockets in excess - at the expense of each and every American worker, union and salary, that they could eliminate.

What happened to my country?

I couldn't help but get a bit emotional as I reflected on my own family members who had helped to build this empire and the excitement I felt when I was hired into the fold. The future looked grand here at Delphi Packard. I remember vividly my first week of employment. Exiting the freeway, the first thing you saw was this gigantic parking lot with thousands of cars, the majority of them General Motors vehicles. The sense of security I felt working for such a huge America icon of this size was comforting to say the least. A place this large, I thought, could never be replaced. It was too vital an operation, if only due to its vast size, so I thought. But now each day is greeted with more uncertainty of the future of this once great American built business. No commitment from a company whose Internet pages are loaded with accolades and accomplishments of plants in China, Mexico, South America, Morocco, Turkey, and Romania - just to name a few - with their smiling faces pictured amongst brand new equipment and facilities, likely funded by a once prosperous American base. While - at what is left of the US operations - we continue to produce more product per employee to a much higher quality standard with some equipment dating back 3 or 4 decades. I can only imagine what we could do in Warren, Ohio, given a fraction of the resources that have been awarded to many of these foreign facilities.

What happened to my country?

So as I continued my walk on that cold January afternoon up the sidewalk toward the turnstiles, I could almost hear the voices and footsteps of the thousands of former employees that walked this same sidewalk, where now just a few hundred remain.

And for some reason the American flag that flies proudly at the entrance looked a bit different to me this day. I felt a bitter sense of betrayal and anger. Not toward my country which this flag proudly represents, but a company that seemingly manipulated and exploited the freedoms that the flag stands for. In my humble opinion Delphi Packard should no longer even be considered an American company considering how it has forsaken its homeland and the American workforce that played such an integral part in its success.

The sad truth is, this same scenario, in different scales of severity is being played out all over the manufacturing base of this "once" great nation. For the sake of making a chosen sect of the American populous extremely wealthy they have forsaken Joe and Jane American. What they are beginning to realize though is that Joe and Jane American are the people who drive the American and world economy. Not the CEOs and other corporate heads. Take away Joe and Jane's livelihood and you have the America that you see now. An America struggling to keep its head above water. A government attempting to operate on a tax-based income that shrinks with the loss of each living wage job as the deficit climbs to new highs.

What happened to my country?

Well I'm sure we may not all agree on the answer to that question. But one thing is for sure. The vision that drove this Nation to be a fully independent world power, and the dominating industrial force on the planet, has been lost, if not greatly blurred, due to that insatiable desire for more that I spoke of earlier. The United States of America has changed drastically in the last 15 years and, in my opinion, not for the better. Greater empires have fallen. May God Bless America ...

The author is "just another number on the Delphi roster."

Photo: 1922 Packard Model 126 Sport Phaeton steering wheel/dashboard. The Packard Electric Co. was founded in Ohio in 1890. One of its subsidiaries produced the first Packard car in 1899. In 1932 it became part of the General Motors Corp., and later became Delphi Packard Electric Systems. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/ / CC BY 2.0

Safeway janitors stop work, tired of intimidation

People's World

Safeway janitors stop work, tired of intimidation


OAKLAND, Calif. - Dozens of janitors who clean Safeway supermarkets in northern California stopped work on the night of Feb. 10, frustrated by the intimidation tactics of Safeway's janitorial services contractors, including illegal threats of termination, and their proposals to sharply cut standards for wages and benefits. Talks for a new collective bargaining agreement are now in their fifth month.

"I walked out because Safeway's janitorial contractors are not working with us to negotiate a contract which will remedy unsafe and unhealthy conditions in the stores, and help us support and build a life for our families," said Santa Rosa janitor Leodegario Acevedo.

Talks for a new contract began last October between SEIU United Service Workers West, Local 1877, representing 450 janitors at area Safeway supermarkets, and janitorial services contractors ABM, Crystal, Premier and AMS. The four contractors are proposing a big increase in the number of hours a janitor must work to be eligible for health care benefits. They want to increase wages by just 10 cents an hour per year, and seek the right unilaterally to remove janitors from their pension plan. The contractors also propose to eliminate dental benefits for new hires, increase their waiting period for medical coverage, and lower their starting pay to just $8.60 per hour.

Safeway janitors now average just $10.24 per hour. Safeway, Inc. is the third largest U.S. supermarket chain, with an estimated $44.8 billion in annual sales and consistent profits in recent years.

Safety and health are also issues in the talks, with the contractors refusing to add "green cleaning" standards to the contract. Though Safeway janitors now use toxic industrial cleaning chemicals that cause serious health problems and may pose a risk to food safety and customers' health, neither Safeway nor the contractors have been willing to take responsibility. Each claims health and safety conditions fall under the other's jurisdiction.

"Safeway wants to be seen as a responsible, neighborhood grocery store, yet they sit quietly by while their contractors propose cuts to vital benefits and refuse to assure safe working conditions for the janitors who clean their facilities," said Denise Solis, Local 1877's northern California vice president. "Ultimately," she said, "both Safeway and their individual contractors are responsible for making supermarkets safe, clean and green."

After the work stoppage, janitors say they'll continue to mobilize against the contractors' intimidation and proposed cuts, and to speak out against Safeway's silence on the issues. While the union and the contractors have more bargaining dates in the coming weeks, the janitors may soon vote on whether to authorize their bargaining committee to call an unfair labor practices strike. The janitors' last extension of the collective bargaining agreement expired Feb. 9.

"It's insulting to sit at the bargaining table with Safeway's contractors, and hear them say that Safeway won't give them the money to increase our poverty wages, maintain our health care benefits, safeguard our safety and health, and protect their own customers," said Neri Macuixtle, a Salinas janitor and bargaining committee member. "Safeway must own up to its responsibility to ensure quality jobs, safe food and healthy communities."

Since the contract talks began, janitors have visited northern California supermarkets, letting customers know about the problems harsh and dangerous cleaning products can cause to both workers and the buying public, and pressing for a switch to new "green" cleaning standards.

Photo: Janitors make their point at a Nov. 5, 2009, demonstration on the "green cleaning" issue, at a San Francisco Safeway. (PW/Marilyn Bechtel)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The U.S. and the world

From: People's World

December 2 2009

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Editor's note: Excerpted from Sam Webb's report to the CPUSA national committee meeting November 13th, 2009.

The world, it is generally acknowledged, has been torn loose from the old moorings that for decades structured life for billions of people.

This unhinging began with the Volcker "shock" in 1979 (when Federal Reserve Bank chairman Paul Volcker lifted interests rates to nearly 20 per cent), the election of Reagan a year later, and the meltdown of the Soviet Union at decade's end. But it reached a new stage with the rise of China, India, and Brazil, the resurgence of Russia, the social transformations in Venezuela and other Latin American countries; the Iraq war, and the recent world financial and economic crisis.

At the time of the Soviet collapse, defenders of U.S. imperialism declared U.S. imperial power was preeminent and that would remain the case, far into the 21st century. But obviously they badly misread the tealeaves. Though still dominant, the limits of U.S. power are narrowing and a multi-polar world is taking shape.

It is easy to imagine China rivaling the U.S. on the world scene. To go a step further and predict a civilizational re-centering from Europe and America to Asia, with all its implications, isn't out of the question either. (Although, it should be added that while trends are instructive, they become less so as they stretch far into the future. History can, and usually does, surprise.)

This transitional period, some theorists of international relations say, will bring instability, even chaos, and we should not dismiss this out of hand. In earlier periods, conflict, crisis, and war scarred the landscape as once dominant states declined and new ambitious rivals sought to take their place. Such rivalry turned the first half of the 20th century into a bloody and barbaric era.

At the same time, the past doesn't have to be prelude to the future. People and nations do learn. Historical memory can be a force for progress. The vast majority of humankind strongly desires an easing of tensions, an end to violence, and the normalization of international relations.

They want dialogue, negotiation, and a cooperative effort to address climate change, nuclear weapons proliferation, finite natural resources, swelling poverty and disease and broad-based and sustainable economic growth - not threats, war, and uneven economic development.

All of these challenges require speedy collective action. The global clock is ticking

While rivalry between states - especially in a multi-polar world - is built into the world system, the appetite and ambition of our imperialism constitutes the main obstacle to cooperation, peace, and equality.

A less malleable world
U.S. imperialism so far has been reluctant to yield ground to subordinate classes, nations, and regions entwined in the global world order. But reluctance is one thing; capacity to enforce your will is another.

U.S. imperialism doesn't have the same reserves and legitimacy as it had in the second half of the 20th century, its global power is far more circumscribed and collective resistance to the re-imposition of old imperial relationships, dressed in new forms, comes from many different quarters, including from the American people. Hundreds of millions are insisting that the new century not be a rerun of the second half of the old, in which a single country and its allies largely determined the path of global political and economic development. Such a path was unjust, unsustainable, and unacceptable then and is more so now. The world is far less malleable to the architects of imperial rule.

The current worldwide economic crisis has reinforced these sentiments. The turn to neoliberalism, financialization, and hyper globalization three decades ago not only resulted in financial and economic ruin on a world scale, but also, it is commonly understood, originated on Wall Street and in Washington.

Thus the global economic crisis has amplified the insistence of people worldwide that a new economic order be constructed - shorn of U.S. dominance. Not everybody is having it, especially in the seats of imperial power. Some want to reconstruct the old order, while some others are for minor changes that would not undercut in any significant way the dominant position of the U.S.
The outcome of this struggle is still to be decided in the decades ahead. And like everything else, it will be determined as much by human actions as the evolution of broader objective processes.
And given the immediacy of global challenges, history has to be speeded up. This is where humankind again comes in.

Foreign policy
President Obama is resetting U.S. foreign policy. In a series of speeches, he has accented human solidarity, diplomacy, cooperation, and peaceful settlement of contentious issues. In nearly every region of the world, he is engaging with states that during the Bush years were considered mortal enemies - Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and others.

In Latin America, he expressed a readiness to put relations on a different footing. In a historic speech in Prague, he voiced his wish to reduce and ultimately abolish nuclear weapons. And in an unprecedented address in Cairo he indicated his eagerness to reset relations with the Muslim world, sit down with the Iranian government, and press for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

No small achievements! What the president has said (and done) so far constitutes a turn from the policies of the previous administration and an acknowledgement that the U.S. has to adapt to new world realities and challenges
And he does so with support of some (more sober and realistic minded) sections of the ruling class.

At the same time, neither the current administration nor the more sober-minded sections of the ruling class are ready at this point to give up U.S. global primacy - top dog status.

Adjustments in policy are not the same as a change of policy. They are not equivalent to reentering the world community on the basis of reciprocity, equality and cooperation.

And yet, it would be a serious mistake to dismiss or "damn with faint praise" the new approaches of the president.

For these changes can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of people. They also create a better political environment for the progressive and anti-imperialist movements to press for a new foreign policy.

That there are inconsistencies and contradictions in words and deeds of the president and others in his administration - on policy towards Cuba, Honduras, Afghanistan, Iran, the fight against terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc - comes as no surprise. The opposition to any significant adjustments of foreign policy is enormously powerful and includes core sections of transnational corporate capital, the military-industrial and energy complexes, the Pentagon, right-wing extremists, the foreign policy lobbies, other elements of the national security state, and not least elements within the Obama administration itself.

Each, motivated by geoeconomic and geopolitical objectives and couch their imperial/hegemonic aims in the language of democracy, humanitarianism, and anti-terrorist bromides (terrorist actions are an undeniable danger and deserve a collective, proportionate, and many layered response, but shouldn't be turned into a rationalization for the protection and expansion of U.S. imperialist interests), is anxious to maintain U.S primacy in some form.

U.S. foreign policy, however, is not solely decided in elite circles. In the larger vector of struggle that determines our place in the world are found the American people and people and governments the world over.

An immediate task is to resolve the highly combustible trouble spots mentioned above in a peaceful, democratic, and just way, thereby easing tensions and weakening the hand of imperialism and political reaction worldwide.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What do Coal and Dirty Dorm Rooms Have in Common?

From: Compass

This is the weekly post from Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

Dorm room Know a college student? As this holiday weekend rolls in and many of you might have college kids coming back to your home with huge bags full of dirty laundry, we’ve got something for you.

Know a college student with a dirty room? If you're nodding your head 'yes' right now, send them this link so they can be part of our quest to find the dirtiest room in the nation (or you – the friends or parents - can take a photo and enter them yourself!).

We're betting the dirtiest room we find, no matter how filthy, is still not as dirty as the coal that powers many of our nation's campuses.

The owner of the dirtiest room -- dorm, fraternity, or apartment -- will win a free, green cleaning service from the Sierra Club.

This is another step in our Too Dirty for College Campaign, which I've written about before. We've already had folks tell university presidents that it's time to move beyond coal and power our schools with 100 percent clean-energy solutions.

Now we're proving that no matter how dirty college gets, it's not as dirty as coal.

Your room (or your kid's or friend's room) might be completely filthy, but it's still not as bad as toxic pollution, mountaintop removal and global warming. Coal is dirty, dangerous and far too old to be fueling our nation’s college campuses. It poisons people's water when we drag it out of our mountains, it fills our air with asthma and cancer-causing toxins, and then continues its dirty legacy when the waste is dumped in unlined ponds. We can do better and our schools must lead the way.

So show us that dirty room. To enter, go to this "2dirty4college" photo contest group, and join our online community. You can then upload your image by clicking "Add a photo" on the left-hand side of the page.

Again, the owner of the dirtiest room will win a free, green cleaning service from the Sierra Club. So, call that ex-boyfriend, pay a special visit to your friend's fraternity or call those gals living in the group house next door with the funky smell, and get them to enter today for the glory of being the dirtiest in country. (And a free clean up!)

Help us find the dirtiest room and show that while college can get pretty nasty, coal is still far, far worse.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Committing heresy: Nazis and the Berlin Wall

From: People's World


BERLIN — Close to my home here, I saw a frightening march Oct. 11 of Nazis, calling themselves the Nationale Sozialistische Partei Deutschlands, leaving out only the word "arbeiter" (worker) from the name Hitler used. Several thousand of them, almost all in black, many skinheads but also many all too "normal-looking" youngsters (and a smattering of very blonde girls), with the loudest loudspeaker I've heard in years blaring out their propaganda. They were agitating against democracy, denouncing the Bundestag representatives, even the cops, spreading hatred against all foreigners, but above all against the left and the leftists. At least one big banner contained a threat: "Make sure you know where the nearest antifascist club is located."

They started at Alexander-Platz, halted at the circle near my house to yell and chant for 20 minutes, then marched along to Platz der Vereinten Nationen (UN Square, once Lenin-Platz) and along Landsberger Allee, once Lenin-Allee, stopping for a meeting, perhaps by accident halfway between where the big Lenin statue was torn down after the end of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the quiet, hardly noticeable little memorial cemetery with graves and a monument to those who died in the Revolutions of 1848 and 1918-1919.

After a ranting speech in tones recalling Hitler or Goebbels, too loud for me to understand much, their leader read out 50 or more names of all their "martyrs," punctuating each name with a roll on a drum and his loud call for "rache" (revenge).

The only name I recognized was the big Nazi "hero" Horst Wessel, who died 200 meters from here in the hospital which the Nazis renamed after him until 1945. The song about his alleged murder served the Nazis as a main hymn and then as a second national anthem.

Along the main route from which began at the central Alexander-Platz there were hundreds of people walking along on both sides, shouting "Nazis raus" (Out with the Nazis"), often carrying handmade signs or some banners, including a few from the Left Party, the Young Greens, the new anti-establishment "Pirate Party" (which opposes laws limiting pirating of music) and a few from union youth and antifascist groups. Between the marchers and the protesters was a giant number of police, which walked along to protect the Nazis, or to keep the two groups apart. Scores of police vehicles, including a water cannon and an ambulance, were ahead of, next to or behind the marchers.

One man who was standing next to me watching the meeting noted that the anti-Nazis, mostly the same age as the Nazis, were also often wearing black jackets, the color in fashion these days, I guess. He seemed to lump both Nazis and anti-Nazis together, a worrisome development. I don't know how many others also thought that way.

Most of the crowd was decidedly antifascist. Some, perhaps those whose emotions led them to break though to attack the Nazis, got arrested.

Especially frightening for me: many Nazis were carrying big flags, totally black except, in white letters, the county or town they came from. These represented the "fighting groups." While some of those organized in the three officially permitted neo-Nazi parties are well-dressed and often clever tacticians (who profit from the fact that their legal parties still get state subsidies granted every party with a certain percentage of the vote), these hitherto semi-clandestine "fighting groups" are loosely allied with them, and are largely made up of the worst thugs, who go around beating up people of foreign background or of color and left-wingers, whom they call "zechen" or ticks. Even the most violent ones are rarely caught or arrested and, when they are, are usually dealt with very mildly. They gather in a number of bars and "youth centers" and purchase clothing with Nazi code-signs and paraphernalia at a number of shops in Berlin and most major cities. Some jackets have SS runes or the number 88, for Heil Hitler - H being the 8th letter of the alphabet.

They were especially excited because a few days ago two Molotov cocktails were thrown into one of their best-known bars and meeting places (aptly called "At the Executioner"), injuring a few of them, one severely. They immediately blamed this on leftist opponents of the bar, but the police are now convinced the bombs were thrown by disgruntled neo-Nazis, either because of turf quarrels or simply because the doorkeepers didn't let them in some evening.

The march, the number of pro-Nazi young people, the blaring noise and the clear dedication to a fearful past made for a frightening event stirring up countless recollections here in the middle of Berlin.

The media are currently overflowing with recollections of those heroic weeks 20 years ago and of how the oppressed people of East Germany chose freedom and forced the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is the usual blatant over-simplification of a fearfully complicated matter, told in a completely one-sided way. Somehow I could not help recalling how we in the GDR scoffed or laughed when the party officialdom rejected the word "mauer," or "wall" used almost universally for the Berlin Wall, and insisted, quite in vain, on the unwieldy term "antifascist protective barrier."

Of course, everyone knew that it was erected to keep people in, not out, which was why so many rejoiced at its fall. But watching this menacing parade made me wonder: was it perhaps, in a way and in the historical long run, also indeed a kind of protection against Nazis like these?

But even considering such matters these days, at least aloud, is of course pure heresy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

America needs warriors for justice

From: People's World

October 4 2009

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Original Source: www.huffingtonpost.com

It is beyond doubt that we are living in a period of potentially great historical change in the United States.

Just a year ago we trade unionists, progressives, and Americans of good will made history with the election of an African-American President--something many of us never thought possible -- and large majorities of pro-working family Democrats in both Houses of Congress.

With the implosion of our financial services sector and the consequent economic crisis and recession, it has become abundantly clear that unregulated, unfettered free market capitalism doesn't work for anyone. We now have irrefutable proof that greed is not good, that the markets don't by themselves work for the common good in the nation's interest, that if all the money and resources go to the top, the middle and the bottom are starved. And speaking of the middle, we now know that the middle class is in peril -- endangered by the policies of free market economics -- unfettered corporate-driven globalization, illegal and immoral union busting, contracting out, working rat, privatization, benefit busting, wage thievery -- all the policies that have made up the 30 year assault on working families and unions. While some may have doubted these truths two or four or more years ago, these truths are beyond doubt today.

Those who once held themselves up to be leaders of our society and government are now scorned -- Wall St, Bush, Cheney, AIG. The recipients of the governments bailouts continue to shovel obscene amounts of our money to executives without a clue while we suffer 10 percent unemployment, continued loss of health care, and declining wages and a consequent declining standard of living, and a potentially frightening future for our kids and grandkids and beyond.

Most importantly, our people are ready for and even demanding change. By significant majorities, Americans want a public healthcare plan included in the larger health care reform package, and Americans want the Employee Free Choice Act to be passed to once again allow American workers to freely form unions and bargain collectively.

America is ready for change.

Why then is change so hard to achieve?

Those who've prosecuted and benefited from the 30 year financial assault on America's working families refuse to let go, to give up what they've come to see as theirs -- the insurance companies, the union busters, the ABC, the Comcasts, the Walmarts, Wall St and manipulators of our finances, the Radical Rightwing including Cheney and Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove and Dick Armey and the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute.

It is clear that if we are to win the change we voted for last fall and many of us have worked for for years, we are gonna have to fight, fight hard, and fight outside the normal Washington lobbying box.

Washington politics and lobbying does not work for workers and working families.

We cannot forget that we've gotten to the verge of passing the Employee Free Choice Act by running the largest national grassroots legislative campaign in the history of the American labor movement. Over the six year course of this campaign we've put literally hundreds of thousands of people on the street and more than a million workers in motion. We delivered one and a half million signatures to the Congress, sent half a million emails, wrote 300,000 handwritten letters and made 200,000 phone calls to Senators.

That's a ton of good work. But it is more than clear that we have to do more of it.

While the Employee Free Choice Act has not yet passed, we have realized many benefits -- more than a dozen states have passed new public employee collective bargaining laws including majority authorization. Public officials from town and county commissions to city councils to state assemblies to governors and mayors to the Congress to the President of the United States now realize what hell workers go through when they try to organize and bargain for a better life. More public officials than ever have weighed in to support workers trying to organize.

We have got to ramp up our grassroots lobbying by our members.

But just as importantly, we have to ramp up our effort to engage and organize workers who don't have a union, to make use of the progress and allies we've made and enlist unorganized workers in the struggle to organize their workplaces and to fight and struggle in the public policy fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Every organizing campaign is a direct and clear reason to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

It is not enough to wait for the Employee Free Choice Act to pass. We have to demonstrate its necessity with struggle--old fashioned struggle right now, today not tomorrow. And by their actions, unorganized workers have to demonstrate the necessity for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

It is not enough to wait on the law to change.

History is not made and humanity is not advanced by those who accept the status quo. History is made and the human condition is advanced by warriors willing to struggle for a better life for their kids and grandkids, warriors who understand what they have was won by the blood and tears and sacrifice of our forebears.

America today needs warriors -- warriors to organize and struggle, to fight for change, to fight the Radical Right and corporate domination, to organize and struggle, to dare the rat bastards to stop us, to refuse to lose, to challenge the status quo, to tell those who've run our country and too many lives into the ditch that change is now, that we will fight in Washington but that we will also fight all across America.

The future is ours. Let's take it.

This article originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com and is published with the permission of the author.