Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tragedies, Crimes and Trayvon Martin

How Newt Played the ‘Race Card’ Against Obama’s Decency

By Carl Davidson
United Steel Workers Blog

Every so often an outrage happens that lights up the sky, like when lighting strikes at night, and all of a sudden everything previously hidden in darkness and shadow stands out in sharp, bright relief.

The murder of Trayvon Martin was such an event, even though it took a while for the rolling thunder of its full impact to spread across the country. Slowly at first, and then in greater leaps, the news media, after being nudged, picked it up.

I have one quarrel with most of the reports and statements. This was not so much a tragedy as a crime. It was an old-fashioned lynching dressed up with modern-day ‘gun rights’ being exercised in today’s gated communities.

But put that to the side. Most everyone now has dutifully called it a tragedy, called for an impartial investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of it and see that ‘justice is served.’ Even President Obama finally spoke up, with the proper caveats against prejudging “current investigations,’ but adding that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, a point he made to show empathy with the Martin family.

Then we have our former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who, after deploring the tragedy, came up with this attack on Obama in an interview with Sean Hannity:

“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background," Gingrich said. "Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?"

"That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot," Gingrich continued on Hannity's show. "It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

Newt, I have news for you. There’s something truly appalling here; in fact it stinks to high heaven. But it’s not Obama, and if you want to see the source of it, look in the mirror.

Gingrich fancies himself an historian, even something of an expert on the Civil War and its aftermath. He should then know something about lynching. If so, he would know that when the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, the KKK terror started in South Carolina by lynching nearly as many poor whites as Black Freedmen. The aim was to deeply drive home the wedge of the original ‘Southern Strategy’ aimed at dividing the working class in the South and elsewhere.

But as lynching rolled on over the decades, tens of thousands of Blacks bore the brunt of it. Anti-Lynching laws, also for decades, were promoted mainly by Blacks and a few radical allies, while white reactionaries blocked them.

There is nothing colorblind about lynching. It never ceases to amaze me when Republicans claim to be colorblind lovers of Dr. King, while being ‘appalled’ at what they consider the main racists in high places, who are the African Americans supposedly ‘playing the race card.’

The trade union movement over the years has paid some high tuition to learn that mutual respect among nationalities is not rooted in being ‘blind’ to each other’s distinctiveness. Solidarity with a white top and a Black bottom simply doesn’t get the job done.

But the race card is indeed being played against us. It’s been constantly played by those who would keep us under their thumbs, from Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 up to a ‘gated community’ in Stanford, Florida. If you want to see it in action, for starters, watch Fox News or the GOP campaign any day of the week—then to oppose it, gather up some friends to attend a ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rally and work to defeat every candidate and incumbent of the party of the ‘Southern Strategy’ in November.


One Graph, 1000 Words: Why Obama’s 2012 Bid Is Uphill

The 2008 Column represents vote results, the 2011 column approval ratings


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New Labor Militancy on the Rise

Worker 'Occupations' in Three States

Yield Successes, but Counterattack Begins

Worker ‘Occupation’ in West Virgina

By Mike Elk
Progressive America Rising via In These Times

March 13, 2012 - In the last few months, workers in three different states—at the Serious Materials factory in Chicago, at a Century Aluminum factory in Ravenswood, West Va., and at AT&T’s regional headquarters in Atlanta—have engaged in "occupations" that quickly produced small results for those workers. These actions—one an actual factory occupation, the other two highly visible encampments outside company facilities—have underscored the enormous potential of direct action to give workers leverage in negotiating with employers.

But just as Congress quickly outlawed the type of auto industry sit-down strikes that were so effective during the 1930s, anti-union groups are now advocating measures to counteract the success of these recent protests. The backlash has begun: Last week, a Georgia State Senate Committee passed [4] SB 469, which would ban picketing outside of the home of CEOs and give a company the right to ask a judge to force protesters—whether union or nonunion—to stop picketing outside of any business.

If these members do not stop picketing after a judge's order, the courts could fine individuals $1,000 a day. Any organization or union that sponsored the protests would be fined $10,000 a day. The bill could severely limit the ability of unions and other groups to bring aggressive anti-union employer actions to the public's attention.

Three actions, with varying successes

Last month, workers in Chicago made headlines [5] for occupying their plant for a second time to protest its abrupt closing (the first time was in December 2008, when it was operated by the Republic Windows and Doors company). Workers there won a short-term victory when the owner of the plant agreed to keep the plant open for 90 days and help the workers search for another buyer of the plant.

At around the same time, a group of retired United Steelworker union members had been camping out on a median strip in front of the shuttered Century Aluminum plant (the union calls it an "occupation"). Veterans of the famous early 1990s Ravenswood lockout—now in their 60s, 70s and even 80s—protested the company’s move to cut off retiree healthcare benefits. (To learn more about the famous 1990s Ravenswood lockout, I highly recommend Kate Bronfenbrenner and Tom Juravich’s book Ravenswood: The Steelworkers’ Victory and the Revival of American Labor).

In February 2009, Century Aluminum had shut down the plant, laying off 651 workers. Then in January 2011, Century Aluminum told its retirees that it would end all retiree healthcare—even for those not old enough to qualify for Medicare.

After learning that Century Aluminum was seeking $20 million from the state of West Virginia to re-open the smelter in Ravenswood, retirees—inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement—decided to occupy the space in front of the plant to make it known that they wouldn’t let it be re-opened until their healthcare benefits were reinstated. They camped out from mid-December to last Friday.

The public action attracted attention to the actions of Century Aluminum. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced that if the company wanted to re-open the plant it had to first restore healthcare benefits. Last Thursday, the company announced a deal [6] with the union in which they would restore retiree benefits to all workers.

"It is notable that the retiree committee, with support from politicians in their state and local community, were able to come together with the company to find a solution for an increasingly difficult issue across America," said United Steelworkers International Vice President Tom Conway in a press release [7]. "It's a settlement that will work for our retirees by giving them some stability and decent levels of health care coverage."

600 miles to the south, in Atlanta, AT&T workers continue to protest on the sidewalk in front of the company's headquarters. The "occupation" by Communication Workers of America (CWA) union members and Occupy activists began on February 13, after AT&T announced it would lay off 740 workers in the Southeast and likely shift the union work out to nonunion contractors.

In the three weeks since then, the encampment has grown from 13 tents on the first day to 23 tents, and attracted wide community support.  The action is now starting to see some results, both good and bad.

“The company has announced that they are working to reduce the number of layoffs,” says CWA Local 3204 President Walter Andrews. “We won’t know the extent of the effectiveness until the 31st of the March."

CWA Local 3204 President Walter Andrews believes the Georgia bill was introduced in response to the AT&T occupation.

“If we did what we are doing, CWA would be fined $10,000 a day and each member would be fined $1,000 a day. It’s taking away our first amendment rights. We know that we could fight this in the courts, but we both know that could take years and what will happen in the meanwhile," says Andrews.

SB 469 also contains a provision aimed at hurting private-sector unions in the "right-to-work" state of Georgia. The bill would require union members to recertify every year that they wanted union dues deducted from their paychecks. “That would kill us,” says Andrews.

Full disclosure: The United Steelworkers Union is a sponsor of In These Times.


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